Wednesday, July 3, 2013

What I Learned From The Avengers

Confession: I love superheroes.  It's not just my kids.  I may have seen The Avengers somewhere around 25 times (that's not an exaggeration), but I still love it.  We are a Marvel Comics Universe Family, and we are not ashamed to say so.  (DC Comics...they're ok, but we're more of a Marvel family.)   One of the reasons I love those movies is because every time I see them, God shows me sometime - about His heart, about humanity, about life, etc.  You can glean a lot from superhero movies if you are paying attention!  So I have decided my next series will be What Superheroes Have Shown Me.  I am still working on stories and other things, but this will be what the next few postings will be about.  Enjoy!

            The Avengers is one of my favorite movies.  It's also a favorite of my children, so I have seen it dozens of times.  It's a great story of adventure, good vs. evil, loyalty and friendship - not to mention Robert Downey, Jr.
            One of my favorite scenes in the movie takes place about halfway through.  The Avengers have all gathered together in a room, and although they all want the same thing - to defeat the bad guys, in this case Loki's army - they have not yet become a group.  They are still individuals with extraordinary gifts and talents trying to do this thing on their own.  As the group gathers in Dr. Banner's lab, they begin to argue.  Everyone in the room is somewhat used to being in charge, and everyone thinks they have the best idea about what to do next.  Some feel betrayed by the others, and some are worried that others' gifts are going to destroy them all.  The argument among these six people becomes more and more heated to the point where the audience can hardly even hear what is being said. 
            While their fighting escalates, their enemy approaches.  No one is paying attention as those that mean to destroy them actually board their own aircraft.  Had they been vigilant or working together, they might not have been so distracted, but because they can't work together, the enemy seizes the day.  The result is the temporary loss of two of their members, countless deaths and injuries to nameless crewmen, the almost complete decimation of the Helicarrier, and the death of someone dear to them all.  
            As I was watching this the first time, I could not help but think of the Church.  The Church is made up of many people with extraordinary gifts.  Most of them have the same goal - fighting the enemy and seeing as many people saved as possible.  However, everyone has a different idea about how that should be done.  Some groups are scared of others' ideas and gifts.  Many people are used to being in charge and aren't willing to relinquish control.  As a result, we often don't see the enemy attacking until it's too late, and there are needless casualties. 
            However, there is hope.  All is not lost.  Looking back at the movie, the Avengers learn to use their gifts as a team in order to win the war.  They allow others to give the orders, and they learn that the only way to succeed is to work together.  It stops being about the individual and becomes about the team.  That's really what The Avengers is about - a group of extraordinary individuals becoming a team that comes together to save the world.    
            So the question is - can the Body of Christ learn the same lesson?  Can we stop being suspicious of each other and learn to listen to one another?  Can we all stop trying to be in control and allow our gifts to work together?  In the movie, it took a great tragedy to bring everyone together.  What kind of disaster has to happen in order for us to quit fighting each other and start fighting together?

            In the end, there is only one way to effectively fight our enemy, and no one person or group of believers can do it on their own.  We were designed to need one another.  Hopefully we can learn our lesson from The Avengers and come together to see the victory we all so desire to see. 

Saturday, June 29, 2013

We Were Meant for More

            Every culture in the history of the world has had stories.  Fables, legends, tall tales...whatever you want to call them, everyone has them.  Most stories involve a hero doing something extraordinary.  The characters in these stories are stronger or faster than everyone else, or they can grant wishes or fly or perform some superhuman feat.  Today's American stories are superheroes.  We are fascinated with the idea of a hero who can do everything we can't in order to fight the battles we can't seem to win.
            What if all these stories point to something more?  What if we are obsessed with powers beyond our capabilities because deep down we yearn for what once was ours but now is lost?  We long to be more than we are - that because deep down we know we were created for more?
            The degree of power we lost in the garden cannot be understated.  The moment we made the choice to break the one and only limit we had, we gave up a vast and nearly limitless existence.  Can you imagine what we were most likely capable of?  I have dreams at night of being able to jump and sail through the air, covering miles and miles in a single bound.  Is it possible this is still in my dreams because I Was created to do just this very thing - but I am limited by the fallen world in which I live?
            Look at the course of humanity throughout history.  We are explorers and adventurers.  We continuously push higher and faster and create more and more.  But it's all artificial.  For centuries, mankind dreamed of flying, and then we finally achieved it...but just in a machine.  We want to travel, and so we invent cars and boats and trains and bikes to get us where we want to go.  We long to know what lies beyond our own atmosphere, so we build rockets and ships that will take us to the stars.  We work to be stronger, smarter, faster, better - always knowing, deep down, that we were meant for something greater than what this world has to offer.
            It's said that we only use something like 10% of our brains.  Why would we have been created with 90% of something we can't access?  What if it was because we were supposed to have much more power than we have, but we proved ourselves unable to handle it?  Look at what we have done with the knowledge we've been given.  We discovered and isolated the atom - and proceeded to split it in order to bring the most destruction the world has ever known.  We discovered the electron - and we used it to create pornography, graphic violence, and an avalanche of just plain idiocy.  We've made incredible discoveries in the medical field and used them to enhance our looks, our bodies, and our ability to kill other human beings.  Now our abilities to "do" are getting ahead of our abilities to reason - and so we have things like stem cells and cloning which have greater complications than we know how to handle.  We can't behave ourselves with the tiny bit of revelation we are allowed.  God only knows what kind of destruction we would cause if given the fullness of our brain power...which is why, in His mercy, He limited us to save us from ourselves.
            When we were removed from the original intent of creation, we were given certain restrictions.  I firmly believe it was the Lord that placed these barriers in our minds and on our capabilities.  He knows we are capable of much, much more - we are, after all, created in His image, and there is no end to what He can do.  But He has seen what we do with what we've been given, and like any good parents, He put child locks on the powerful stuff.  Bleach is an amazing cleanser, but we aren't going to hand it to the 2-year old.  She'd kill herself with that much power.  So it is between God and His sons and daughters.  He longs to be able to show us more, but He can't until we prove we can handle it.  He won't let us at the power tools until we stop hitting each other with wooden blocks.
            Where does this leave us?  The quest for knowledge is good.  We were made to be explorers.  We should climbs and jump and dig and fly.  But we will never know the fullness of our potential until that day when we stand before Dad having been proved to be trusted with all of our creationary power - not by anything we do, but by our willingness to surrender and let Christ cover it all.  That will be the sign to God that we are ready - by the fact that we've laid it all down at the cross and let the blood of Jesus cover our pathetic and futile attempts to break into that life on our own power.
            The garden is still there.  It's been protected -not from us but for us.  Someday we will go back and experience the life we were meant to live.  Until then, we must keep exploring deeper into the Father's heart and enjoy the revelation He has given us now, looking forward to the day when there will be so much more. 

            We were made for so much more than this.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Confusion, Part 4

Centuries passed...kingdoms were built...and destroyed...
            Death and destruction followed mankind like they were a hunted species.  People continue on paths disaster.  False gods rose, and idolatry was rampant throughout history.  All the while, a remnant of Shem's family remained faithful, watching and waiting and praying for salvation to come and right all that had gone wrong with mankind's fate. 

...until one day, another sort of family huddled together, far away from the site of Babel, which was still a center for evil, selfishness, death and idolatry.  This group, however, gathered for a sacred purpose.  For centuries now, this little strain of Semite people had been gathering, as commanded by God, to celebrate the harvest.  The Feast of Weeks was upon them, and the Hebrew people gathered in Jerusalem to celebrate.  Among them was a ragtag collection of misfits that, at first glance, did not look like they belonged together at all - fishermen, tax collectors, women of questionable histories, along with intellectuals and priests.  This group gathered in a room this Feast harboring a deadly secret, fearing for their lives and desperately awaiting for the promised deliverance.
            Suddenly there was in that place a sound like a violent wind.  As Peter, son of Shem Abraham, Isaac and Jacob looked on in amazement, what looked like tongues of fire came down to rest on each of them, and as people began to open their mouths, an amazing discovery was made.  This little group of warrior nobodies was speaking in languages not known to them, and the descendents of Shem that had gathered from all over the world to celebrate the harvest - parts of the family that had been unable to communicate with each other since that day so long ago - discovered that they could understand one another!  They each heard their own language spoken with ease!  The barrier of language was being broken down by the very Spirit that had placed it there to begin with - in His mercy.
            As rumors of drunkenness began to take hold, Peter, son of Shem, stood to set things right:
            "Fellow Jews, and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain..."

            And the God of all wisdom and clarity began on that morning to restore unto His people that which had been lost on that other morning over 2,000 years before in the place known as Babel - the place of confusion.  The promised helper had come, and the journey of the restoration of humanity had begun. 

Monday, June 24, 2013

Confusion, Part 3

The day started out like any other.  People gathered at the building site to begin the only work they cared about at this point.  As they picked up their tools to start, a sound like a violent wind filled the work area.  It stunned everyone, stopping them in whatever they were doing.  After several moments, the sound vanished, and slowly people began to glance around and laugh nervously, picking up their tools to work once again.  But as they opened their mouths to speak to one another, something terrifyingly spectacular occurred:

"Pick up that hammer and get back to work."
"What did you say?  What's wrong with you?"
"Quit messing around and get back to work!"
"Are you drunk again?  This early in the morning? " 
"What did you say?  Stop speaking like that!"
"What's going on?  WHAT IS GOING ON?!"

As the babble of languages grew louder, panic arose among the people.

"What's wrong with us?  Why can't you understand me?"
"Why can't I understand you?"

            Screams rose as friends strained desperately to understand one another.  The captains of the work groups couldn't communicate to their teams.  The section supervisors yelled and screamed till they were hoarse, but it was all in vain.  Nimrod's special forces began to work their way through the crowd beating workers left and right in an attempt to "stop that racket and get back to work!"  It was no use.  What was clear language between two people the night before was suddenly incomprehensible babble now. 
            Shem was watching from a distance, and as he saw the chaos grow and the panic take grip of the people, he ran to find his brothers.  They found each other at the base of the tower.  Shem started to speak to both of them, and a look of horror swept across their faces.  It slowly dawned on Shem that they could not understand him, and that they could not understand each other either.  All three of them, the pillars of the tribe, the remnant of the Flood, were no longer united in any way.  This last connection - that of culture and language - had been severed by what could only have been the mighty hand of God.  They stared at each other in shock, at an utter loss as to what to do next. 
            Eventually groups began to form around those able to communication with one another.  It was discovered that lines were loosely drawn around family groups.  Old friends looked at each other from across the plain and realized that something significant had shifted.  Mankind would never be the same again.  Best friends, lovers, branches of families - all of these were torn apart forever.  It was a rest of humanity.  Nothing would be the same again.  Adam had once been in charge of naming creation.  Now that oversight was disrupted.  Everyone would have their own names for everything.  Deception would be easier among those who could not communicate.  Speaking truth would be more difficult.  If one family or group began to veer off into unrighteousness, it would be very difficult for another family to pull them back.  And, of course, they would be able to accomplish far less - which, Shem suddenly realized, was God's mercy.  The Lord had done what he had asked - He had stopped the people from their own utter destruction by ending the possibility of the tower.   Humanity had its salvation - but once again, there was a cost. 
            Shem looked back at his brothers.  The three stared at one another for a long time.  Ham was the first one to turn away.  Shem watched his walk, shoulders straightening as he went, back to his family - his power base.   He would go on to build his kingdoms.  Nimrod would be known throughout history as a mighty warrior and king, but also as one of the first tyrants.  Kingdoms would rise from Ham's lineage, but they would turn away and worship other gods.  His descendents would be known for their great monuments, but they would be monuments unto themselves, not to the Lord.  Their pyramids and ziggurats would be famous - and infamous - throughout the rest of history.  The exploits of places like Egypt and Babylon would go on to great heights and notability.  Hittites and Canaanites would build empires.  Assyrians would conquer the world.  Ham's people would flourish, but in the end, it would all be for naught.  Ham had turned his back on the one true God, and in the course of time, his people would suffer for it.
            Shem and Japheth remained at the tower for a few moments longer, staring at each other, suffering in silence.  Then, slowly, a smile spread across Japheth's face.  He grabbed Shem and embraced him for what seemed like an eternity.  Then he ran off, and Shem suddenly realized what had happened.  This was the permission Japheth had been looking for since the flood.  He could now gather his family and whoever he could communicate with and take off for unknown lands.  His people would go to found some of the greatest civilizations in history.  One day his descendants' cultures would be widely accepted as the most intellectual and "civilized" of the world.  Empires would rise out of tribal groups,  Kingdoms would rise and fall.  His people would one day rule the known world from a place called Rome - and then fall just as far as they had risen.  The Gentiles would rise in power, but they would always be searching for something from their Semite brothers, longing for something they knew they had lost but never could quite define.  One day, God would bring these brothers back together in a spectacular display of grace and redemption. 
            Shem watched his brothers go in their two different directions.  Emotions swirled through him and flooded his heart.  He believed this was God's doing and that it was God's mercy.  But he could not help but stand and wonder  - what was to become of them?  What road would mankind take?  Where would his brothers' destinies lead them?  Was there still time to save Ham's people from the path down which they were headed?  Would mankind come to see God for who He was and fall at His feet in fear and trembling?  Or would they continue to build to their own glory?
            Shem never saw his brothers again. 

...stay tuned for Part 4! 

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Confusion, Part 2

Stagnant they most certainly were.  As Shem watched the building's foundation laid and the tower start to take form and grow higher and higher, he noticed other things happening to their community.  The gardens were being neglected.  Plants were withering and fruit was dying on the vine.  The herds were wandering off or dying out from lack of food or care.  As the tribe became more and more obsessed with their monument of humanity's power and strength, their livelihood began to perish.  What's more, families were suffering.  The men began to be home less and less. They were tired at the end of a hard, long day of labor, and they were looking for some sort of comfort and pleasure...which led to the tents of prostitutes around the building site.  The men were perfectly happy to find their pleasure there rather than head home to their wives. Children were being put to work at the building site, doing dangerous work in dangerous places.  Small children could get down into hard places that adults could not go, and there had already been several deaths.  The women were being pressed into service to provide food and other needs, but as the crops and animals died out, this became harder and harder to do, and the women began to give up and just join in the building of the tower.  A feverish, obsessive need to builder higher, build stronger, be greater had overtaken the people.  As the tower went higher, the spiritual and emotional life of the people fell apart. 

            At the center of it all was Nimrod, the warrior king, with  his grandfather behind him pulling the strings.  Nimrod was a mighty hunter, and Ham was a smart, worldly man.  Nimrod began to hunt down food and find ways to provide for the people - but if it was his food, he surmised, the people would need to do what he wanted in order to obtain it.  When you control the food supply, you control the people, and very easily Ham's family slipped into the role of masters over the rest of mankind, who became their slaves.  Obsessed with building the tower, they had not even realized the extent to which they had fallen into Nimrod's power.  Ham's family controlled the majority of the tribe, and Shem and Japheth found their voices shouted down more and more.  The members of their immediate families that remained loyal to them started to fear for their lives and the lives of their children.  Every brick laid on that tower was destroying mankind.  Shem knew something drastic was going to have to happen if they were going to avoid another judgment.  God had promised He would never flood the world again, but that did not mean there would never be another set of consequences for actions.  That's what Ham was betting on - God had already destroyed the world once, He wouldn't do it again.  Shem feared this was far from the truth.   In desperation, Shem cried out to God to save them in their wicked ways and deliver them from their own foolishness.
            And then one day, the deliverance came.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Confusion, Part 1

"Have you all lost your MINDS?!"

            Shem looked around in horror at the men gathering and the tools and bricks being organized into piles.  He recognized many of the tools as being inventions of his own father - revelation from God on how to build The Great Ark.  Tools of their very salvation.  Now they were being prepped to be tools of their destruction. 

            She had been afraid of something like this happening ever since they had moved to this plain.  There was something sinister about this place.  As mankind had moved east after The Flood, they had settled on this piece of land that, on the surface, appeared very promising.  There was plenty of soil to cultivate, a good supply of water, and plenty of wildlife to sustain their existence - everything that was needed for their survival.  But Shem had always sensed that there was something in the land itself that was unholy - something they couldn't see but that had lurked beneath the surface, ready to strike.  He had had disturbing dreams of late, dreams of empires rising from the dust of the ground to steal, kill and destroy.  He feared these were visions of what was to come. 

            He had tried to speak to his brothers about his concerns.  As the oldest elders in the tribe of man, and some of the last people that actually experienced the Great Flood that had so shaped their destiny, the three of them held great sway among the people.  He had moved into a priesthood status, his brother Ham was considered a king of sorts, and Japheth had the position of a great elder among the people.  If the three of them had come together and said "we will not establish ourselves here," it would have been enough.  But the brothers, although leaders, were not united in their feelings or beliefs. 

            Ham had been distant and hostile ever since the incident with their father's drunkenness.  From that moment on, there was a schism between his family and Ham's.  Ham resented the curse called down on his lineage, and he scoffed at the idea of Shem's family ruling over his own.  They barely spoke anymore.  Besides, Ham had been the one to advocate settling in this territory.  He had led the people there to start a new life, and instead of dedicating it to the Lord and thanking God for His provision, Ham had encouraged the people in their own endeavors and strength - and selfishness.  Shem knew Ham remembered why they were all still alive and that there was only one God and people needed to follow His ways with fear and trembling.  Why was he doing this?  It was as if Ham's anger and bitterness leftover from that moment of weakness with his father had left Ham at eternal odds with God, and he was  going to do everything he could to rebel.

            Ham was, in fact, in favor of this latest folly, this building to the heavens as a sign of their own importance.  He had encouraged his grandson, Nimrod, to do something that would unite the people and solidify his own power.  Ham had seen the potential in his grandson and wanted to use it to the advantage of his family's position within the tribe.  Nimrod was a mighty warrior and hunter, and he had a natural leadership quality about him.  People followed him.  Ham suggested strongly to him that some sort of physical monument to mark their new home would be a project that would be popular with the people and give him, Nimrod, the opportunity to establish himself as a leader.  Nimrod was smart enough to see the wisdom in such a move, and it was he that suggested creating a tower, a tower so big it could touch the face of God.  It would be a symbol of his power and strength and possibly equate him with the God of the Flood.  Shem had tried, as the spiritual leader of the family, to go to Ham and knock some sense into him, but Ham had refused to see him.  It was clear that the split between their families was growing to an irreconcilable place.  Ham had made his decision about what his life and family was going to be.

            And then there was Japheth.  Shem knew his brother longed to explore the world beyond their little corner of it.  He felt an obligation to go where the majority wanted to go - they had always been together, always moved as a group.  It was how they survived in those first few decades after the Flood.  Alone in all the world, given the task of starting over, their family was bound together with a sense of purpose and loyalty to one another.  However, as time wore on, their families grew larger and larger, and the tribe was no longer a small band of warriors fighting for their existence.  Shem knew Japheth needed a release to move on.  In talking with him about the idiocy of the tower, he could see the pain on his brother's face.  While Ham had intentionally split himself from his brothers, Japheth didn't want to split the family, but Ham's treachery made it harder for Japheth to do what Shem knew deep down he needed to do.  Shem had been before the Lord, asking what to do about Japheth and the longing that Shem knew was hidden in his heart, but so far the Lord had been silent on the matter. 
            As far as the tower went, Japheth knew it was wrong, but he didn't know what to do about it.  He and Shem had discussed in long into the night for many nights.  Japheth simply was not as powerful as Ham and Nimrod.  The people looked to them for guidance.  Japheth was respected as an elder, but Ham held the real power.  Shem was respected and followed as one of God's prophets among them, but given the choice between the two brothers, the people followed Ham, not Shem.  The draw of power and the glittering dazzlement of Nimrod's brand of leadership sent people flocking to them.  Ham's plan for his family to hold the power of the tribe of mankind was working.  Japheth longed to take his family and search for lands far beyond, and Shem knew there needed to be a breaking up of this mass of people to move on to the greater things the Lord had for them across the face of the earth.  But here they all were, bound to this place and this project, allowing themselves to be tied down and stagnant in their growth.