Friday, October 31, 2008

The Micronauts, Pt. 2 (or "Joining the right gang!")

Sorry I missed Wednesday, folks. We had an incident at work where I am a night watchman and simply couldn't make Wednesday's deadline.

Last night, an hour before I arrived, two cars came flying down the street we have to watch. The guard on duty - an ex-con turned pastor - saw this and drove his car around to see what the heck was going on - because we end in a cul de sac in 300 yards and there is no reason to go flying past our office at 50 mph. As he drove around and got closer, he heard a huge THOOOMMPFF! and saw that one of the cars was BURNING in an open field. The second car began hauling tail out down the street. My bud tried to block them, but in a burst of speed, they blew past, just as he yanked his wheel to narrowly avoid a BAD collision. They weren't "playing" as we say.

The got to the main drag and were gone. We didn't get the license plate number either. Rats.

Police and fire department came out, put out the fire and got all the info. Seems that the car was stolen earlier that afternoon. The previous owner showed up with his father to get some pictures for insurance purposes. We currently believe it was part of a gang initiation rite. The theft and use was only for a few hours and had no other discernable purpose. Just to do it - to show you were fearless, lawless, I guess.

I have heard of few other styles of gang intitation and this one sounds pretty tame - though I do not know if there are any other ugly details in this case. They range from shoplifting to shooting yourself (leg, arm, somewhere) to killing another human being.

Like I said, this one's tame - about 3 or 4 on the evil-gang-o-meter. We do not want to talk about the ones higher up the scale.

But we all have reasons to join a group, don't we? We all look at what it costs, and why we want to do it. From ruthless corporate ladder-climbing politics to being a Gansta Disciple, you have to "pay your dues" and "pony up" the fee to really be "in". You want to advance and become one of the top dogs? You gotta sacrifice and do it 'better' than anyone else.

In Micronauts issue one, Commander Rann joins the resistance. The son of nobility and an intrepid adventurer, he left his home a thousand years earlier and forsook everything he knew for a great adventure. He must now side with those who oppose Baron Karza's rule, and for him, it is a no-brainer. Strangely, he immediately hooks up with a thief named Bug - an Insectorvorid - and Prince Acroyear (pronounced AK-roy-uhr) of Spartak, the rightful king, who was ALSO betrayed and overthrone. Soon added to this motley crew was Princess Mari (nee Marionette) and Microtron her faithful companion, another roboid.

So in a group of 6 heroes, you have 3 royalty and two faithful servants. Bug was almost royalty it seems to me - his "gang" was more like Robin Hood and his thieves than anything else. All have lost their rightful positions in life, and all are ready to save Homeworld from Karza. But they need help.

They go through a series of adventures, make friends on Earth with the Big People, fight a psychotic NASA administrator, return to the Microverse, overthrow Prince Shaitan, restore Acroyear's throne and Rann ends up becoming a deity-level warrior who battles Baron Karza, throwing his energy form/body down into the Pit of Homeworld in a glorious final battle.
How did they accomplish this seemingly impossible task?

It all starts with joining the right team. You have to "buy in" to the program. You have to count what it will cost you to be that mighty a warrior, able to wage that level of warfare. Homelands, relationships, etc.

Or as my roommate Roger noted back in 1987, "We think it'd be cool to be Luke Skywalker, but man... his life sucks when you think about it."

The girl you think is beautiful is your sister, your uncle and aunt and home are torched, your mentor gets killed and your second one dies -and this is all because your dad is the most evil anti-hero in the universe. Whom you fight. Who ends up killing the emperor but dies in the process just as he says "You were right, son. You were right."

Ain't a very pretty life is it?

Pshaw. Its just the hero meme. Its what happens. What MUST happen.

Jesus affirms this cost and sacrifice to learn what it really means to be like Himself, the Hero of Heroes. To be a True Disciple. This ain't about salvation - you can be saved and be a baby Christian. No, this is about discipleship - what mature Christians go for. Trying to be JUST like Jesus and seeing from His perspective -easily and "naturally" the World we live in.
Luke 14:25-35
Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: "If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.

"Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, saying, 'This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.'

"Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Will he not first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.

"Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; it is thrown out.

"He who has ears to hear, let him hear."

Now as I said this is NOT about salvation - I can prove that by various texts. This is about being an Olympic-level Christ-follower - radical, un-natural in the world's eyes, and because of this commitment, able to do things other believers cannot do.

They have enough faith to face the world and say "Bring it on."

Remember David - the little shepherd boy - and Goliath? David was stunned other guys were scared of the bully. David ends up telling him he's going down before he does it in a one-shot kill.

That level of courage will cost you friends and family. They cannot go with you nor understand why you are doing it. They admire you, respect you, but they ain't a-coming along folks.

They may have counted the cost and asked for "terms of peace". Jesus graciously grants peace to all who ask for it. (Note: we are the "warring foes" in this parable - we ARE at war with God until we have peace with Him through the King - Jesus). But if we want to "fight the good fight" and "Join the Rebellion", it is going to cost like it costs every soldier going off to war - you leave everything behind.

We usually call these guys missionaries to foreign lands, but they need not be. You can do it here in America. I personally discovered AFTER the fact I had been a missionary in the Inner City. Since I was still in my hometown of Memphis, I did not count it as such - until I realized a year had passed without me seeing my buds or doing anything with my church groups. I was isolated from them RIGHT in the middle of the city.

So it is not a physical distance. It is relational distance. And therefore folks, it feels just like hatred. You are breaking off any and every relationship not connected to His Kingdom.

Remind me to tell you how my last breakup went - and I was breaking up for the sake of Christ. Oh, that hurt worse than my divorce.

It was then I earned the right to call myself a True Disciple of Jesus. And whole passages that made no sense whatsoever before suddenly became clear as day.

I don't know if I counted the cost properly to be honest.
I think I said something like "Jesus is Lord. He loves me. He has changed my life and healed my shame. [Screw] it, I'm following Him no matter the cost."

Yeah, I said something fairly carnal even as I went to follow Him. I was utterly shocked how much it hurt for me to leave my hometown. I literally wailed aloud in my car as I drove north. My heart understood what my head did not.

Jesus understood. I believe He was crying too. I thought I was saved by grace, but that is only the first part of it. I am saved from a useless life by my faith in serving Him. When I committed to follow Him, I was saying "I have no idea what will happen next, but I trust you. You are worth it."
That is an offering that is pleasing to God: our self-will. "And Abraham went out, not knowing whither he went." "Abraham believed God and God credited to him as righteousness."

Discipleship is costly because it is precious. It is true fellowship with Jesus.

I will tell you this: it was - and is - worth it to be on His Team.

One dear saint was once asked: "Does God have favorites?"

He replied: "Oh no -but He does have intimates."

I am, by His word, His brother, His intimate.

There is nothing better than that. It is worth it. It is worth it.
May you also get radical and join the resistance today.

Amen.

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Micronauts, Pt. 1

Micronauts - Time TravelerIn 1978, ROM Spaceknight was not first in my heart (but see previous blog).

The Micronauts were first.

Star Wars had, under Kenner, produced the most disappointing action figures imaginable - "oh look, Luke Skywalker can goosestep, daddy!" - and that's because Mego missed a HUGE opportunity, which they hurried to make up by unleashing some little known toys from Japan on us pre-teens: the MICRONAUTS!

To say they were a success would be a huge understatement. Every week I got a $5 allowance for mowing the lawn and doing my chores and every week I bought a Micronaut. In four years, I had about 85% of them, foregoing the less atractive models. Oh, there was nothing cooler than the interchangeable world of the Micronauts -except possibly the comic featuring them!

When it came out, I bought it without question. It also goes down as probably one of the few comics that had better internal art than on the front cover.

Illustrated by the awesome "Todd McFarlane before Todd McFarlane" Michael Golden, these toys were instantly transformed into inner-spatial heroes - beings so small they lived on molecular chains as if they were planets - who were fighting a rebellion against Baron Karza, chief scientist of Homeworld, who had discovered a way to offer immortality - for a terrible price.

By using body banks, Karza could replace aging body parts year after year. It was expensive, so the rich lived the longest. If you were poor, you could sell your body parts and use mechanical versions instead. Eagerly, the populace overthrew and killed the royal family and made Baron Karza their Lord and Savior.

Karza himself was pure energy - a non-corporeal being held together by his black armor. Commander Arcturus Rann - our stalwart hero had been a pupil of his, but he had left on an immense journey of a thousand years across the Microverse to proclaim peace to all the inhabited worlds. To accomplish this arduous task, he was placed in suspended animation and his ship, the HMS Endeavor was run by Biotron his robotic companion. When he returns centuries later to Homeworld, he discovers his mentor Karza is still alive - and what he has done - but only after he is stunned unconscious and imprisoned with the rebels in the gladiator pits of Homeworld.

It wouldn't do for the son of the man you murdered come back after a thousand years and upset your rule, would it? To lead a rebellion? Of course not.

That was issue one, folks, and I haven't covered half of it. Part Flash Gordon, part Star Trek, part Star Wars, part Heavy Metal, I still think Bill Mantlo's first issue of The Micronauts ranks as one of the best single comics ever.

This epic storyline has so many hidden topics - from a hero returning to a fallen world to the seduction of carnal immortality, I'm going to have to cover the Micronauts and how they impacted my life in several parts this week, so please be patient with me.

But as you know, I can't let this go without making a reference to Jesus.

When Arcturus Rann returns, on the splash page of issue one, he is greated by an honor guard - who then turns on him and shoots him down.

That's just like Jesus. He shows up and you would think the hometown would welcome him. Not so, my friend.

Luke 4:20b-30
The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, and he began by saying to them, "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing."

All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. "Isn't this Joseph's son?" they asked.

Jesus said to them, "Surely you will quote this proverb to me: 'Physician, heal yourself! Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.'"

"I tell you the truth," he continued, "no prophet is accepted in his hometown. I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah's time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed —only Naaman the Syrian."

All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him down the cliff. But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way.


When you come home and find yourself willing and able to help others by pure faith in the power of the risen Christ, do not be surprised if they get offended. I mean, who do YOU think YOU are?

You see, folks, we get sort of sanctimonious in our fallen world - we think there is merit in powerlessness. We are perfectly glad to stay in drudgery and daily life, never admitting that God wants you to be more: we are taught only how we must be good - but not how we can be healed, holy and joyful. Powerful. "I have come that they may have life and have it to the fullest!" Jesus said that.

We get so much "wisdom" from our moral leaders, we forget that God would change our lives in an instant - if we would let Him. If we would trust Him. But nope, we think we have the right to judge God's methods. Jesus was "uppity" in their estimation (these are good church folks, BTW), saying that THEY had the problem of not believing God, of not permitting His power to flow into their lives.

You see, we want to have control - and if we can't fix it, nobody can.

Rann shows back up on Homeworld, as immortal by his travels as Karza is - only he did it by traveling to the stars and resting in hibernation. He has all his body and Karza is but a shell. But whom do the people of Homeworld support? The man back from the heavens? Oh no. They have their status quo and it must not be shaken. So Rann must escape and aid the rebels to overthrow Karza's rule.

Sometimes we get so used to a non-miraculous world, we are afraid of what we'd have to accept if we found it was OUR fault miracles did not occur. Like Neo in The Matrix, we have to wake up to our complicity. We have to trust Jesus more than we are "comfortable" with.

Do you want to see this in action? Ask yourself how do you feel when you hear of a miraculous healing. If your first response is, that was a fake - or do you believe that - or it was just for a TV show - I assure you that you will not see one. Even if they are real.

If your first response is "Praise God! Tell me all about it!" you are fine candidate for your own miracle.

Just think about it. How do you respond when a Savior shows up who is marveling at YOUR unbelief - in church?!

And remember how little time Jesus spent trying to convince the home crowd He was EXACTLY the Savior they needed, even if He wasn't the one they wanted.

Amen.

Friday, October 24, 2008

ROM: Spaceknight (and how to fight Dire Wraiths)

After this decent start, Michael Golden
gave us covers that simply rocked.
In the late 70's, Mego, Hasbro and Mattel began having comics made from their toy lines. These were the early days of cross-over marketing, and it worked surprisingly well with G. I. Joe and The Micronauts having issues running for years after the primary toys stopped production.

But one toy that had NO other extras, no villains, no vehicles, no other accoutrements or any other physical support did exceptionally well in comic format. The toy itself lacked a lot of mobility, but it had electronic sounds and flashing lights so it was cool enough for us.

ROM the Spaceknight!
As I said, Rom as a toy did not do much. He had cool rocket sounds and flashing lights, but that was it. The arms and legs had very little mobility and frankly, were a bit spindly for the body and head. In the comic though, his proportions were nicely captured in a more heroic posture. His name was taken from the "Read Only Memory" drives - R.O.M. But Bill Mantlo, the main writer for ROM: Spaceknight gave us a more righteous reason for his name: on his home planet of Galador, Rom means "first". He was the First Spaceknight of all.

Spaceknights were cyborgs, dedicated men and women, who gave up their lives and their humanity to be encased in robotic shells so they could fly through space and do battle with the Dire Wraiths - wicked, magic-using and shape-changing aliens who had nearly destroyed them and now infiltrated our more primitive Earth. In classic "Monster-Is-Good, Trusted-People-Are-Bad" Sci-Fi fashion, ROM lands in a small town in Virginia and begins dispatching said Dire Wraiths with his "Neutralizer" - a hand-held weapon that sent their alien forms into "Limbo" a sub-space realm of imprisonment (sort of like Superman's Phantom Zone) with one unfortunate side-effect.

It turned their human shells into dust.

To any outsider, it looked just like Rom had vaporized a human being. (Remember that scene in War of the Worlds with Tom Cruise running his tail off? There you go -just watch this clip if you don't recall or haven't seen it.)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rYGWG2_PB_Q#t=44

If you thought that might cause problems, you'd be right.

He ends up having only one ally - a young woman named Brandy. She falls in love with the man under the armor - talk about an unrequited love affair!

Does this concept of a cyborg alien knight fighting undercover aliens sound cool to you? It did to me.

Rom would show up, face these evil beings and in purity and power, demolish them. In an encounter with Hybrid, a Human/Dire Wraith offspring, he is attacked by the villainous Rogue from X-Men, who tries to absorbs Rom's "power". She ends up absorbing part of his goodness and nobility, which changes her soul. Soon afterwards, she repents and leaves her villainous cohorts to join the X-men - to become a heroine. A very popular one, in fact.

Rom was the cause of that ladies and gentlemen. Wow.

Is it possible to terrify people as you step out to save them? Do people always see the exercise of goodness and power as helpful?

Nope. In fact, the spiritual warfare we wage as Christians is so subtle sometimes we are in danger of seeming to be kooks for even mentioning it - but it is real nonetheless.

Mark 3:10-12
For he [Jesus] had healed many, so that those with diseases were pushing forward to touch him. Whenever the evil spirits saw him, they fell down before him and cried out, "You are the Son of God!" But he gave them strict orders not to tell who he was.

Sometimes it is best to keep a low profile. Rom was not too good at that.

Our Lord was.

But when the True Hero does show up to kick some evil tail, the demons all act the same: they start screaming and running and begging and crying out.

Mark 5:6-16
When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of him. He shouted at the top of his voice, "What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? Swear to God that you won't torture me!" For Jesus had said to him, "Come out of this man, you evil spirit!"

Then Jesus asked him, "What is your name?"

"My name is Legion," he replied,"for we are many." And he begged Jesus again and again not to send them out of the area.

A large herd of pigs was feeding on the nearby hillside. The demons begged Jesus, "Send us among the pigs; allow us to go into them." He gave them permission, and the evil spirits came out and went into the pigs. The herd, about two thousand in number, rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned.

Those tending the pigs ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, and the people went out to see what had happened. When they came to Jesus, they saw the man who had been possessed by the legion of demons, sitting there, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. Those who had seen it told the people what had happened to the demon-possessed man — and told about the pigs as well. Then the people began to plead with Jesus to leave their region.

I loved Rom coming from another world to destroy the Dire Wraiths.

What do you think Jesus is doing here? Yeah. The same.

God was reaching my heart before I knew it. He was touching my imagination and my desire through a toy and a comic book based on that toy, but still it came down to destroying the works of the devil, to being a knight in shining armor.

I have seen the demon-possessed in India. I have not had the privilege of setting someone fully free, but I have aided and/or alerted another so they could. We had a success. We had a failure. But we knew what we were dealing with, and it was not human.

Its cool, you know? To find you can do something like Jesus. To set people free.

Does this upset you? It should. We are talking about unnatural things that can overrun the human soul.

There are Dire Wraiths among us. There are those who want to use humans as playthings. We can invite them in; we can cast them out. But that last ability is only by the Spirit and the Name Above All Names.

Jesus wins. Just be sure you know Him and He knows you, or you might find yourself getting beaten badly.

Be the first to be a spaceknight on your block: call on Jesus Christ, the Firstborn of God to empower you.

Amen.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Avengers Mansion

It must have been 1975 when I first visited them. I was in 4th grade when a schoolfriend named Ellis introduced me to The Mighty Avengers. I started collecting about issue 144, missed a few, and began buying them religiously by issue 158 - just in time to have Wonder Man and the Vision begin duking it out, and for George Perez to return with the Grim Reaper attacking his half-brother Simon Williams aka Wonder Man.

I wanted to know everything about my heroes: what their base looked like, what rooms it had, what it could do.

There were several tantalizing glimpses, and George Perez (who also drew the Justice League of America) loved to put his signature "Perez-tech" (lines and conduits and breakers and whatnot) all over the place. But even cooler was the hi-security meeting room, where each member had his or her own chair with their logo on the back of it. [Note to self: if you find a way to manufacture those, you will make a killing on eBay.]


Oh - I was in heaven. Just look at this cover from issue 160 but pay attention to the background behind our heroes.

It is totally unnecessary - our heroes are the focal point - yet it is also totally necessary - we must understand this is not a "normal room" - we are deep inside a secure sanctum, full of technological riches we can barely fathom.

Whatever all that stuff is, it doesn't come cheap, and you cannot get it at K-Mart at any price.

The Avengers built their mansion to give themselves an ultra-secure home and fortress, but also to plan and organize, so they could launch on their next adventure. Once in a while, we got to see them play, or work out, or relax - but it was always a personal, light-hearted interlude before we accepted the NEXT Earth-shaking challenge.


[Cap admiring the early snowfall even as he polishes his shield - with Turtle Wax. Ms. Marvel guest stars.]

I loved it all. I loved the Avengers. I loved the Mansion. I loved the Quinjet. I wanted to join them- or at least see them up close and visit their home. I had a longing, a deep longing, to be somewhere else, where no one worried about getting the bills paid or spent most of their time trapped in a classroom or walking down a school hall being bullied. I didn't mind learning, but why all the dullness and dreariness and powerlessness? Wasn't there a better place? A place where heroes gathered and respected one another even as they fought evil and saved lives?

It hurt, not having this place. I wanted it so badly, but I knew it was only a cool fantasy. Something was SO right about it - and it was unobtainable.

Vicariously, I visited the Avengers every month the next 5 years of my life. John Byrne showed up and aided Perez, having done the X-Mansion. Oh, that was just fine - until he left and went over to the FF's Baxter Building. I still recall when Perez stopped doing work for The Avengers (around issue 200) and the book just went downhill.

I was 18 when I couldn't visit the Avengers Mansion anymore.

It was over. Or was it?

Fifteen years later I found them again. It was in a compound, all sitting in their separate chairs. I had the keys to the grounds and kept everything secure for them. I had become Jarvis, the faithful butler -and the Avengers? Those who fought evil daily and gathered together for wisdom and power to wage their battles, who were they?

They were the staff of The Neighborhood School.

Every morning, I attended a mandatory prayer meeting, entering into the throneroom of God, to lift before the Almighty the tasks we had to accomplish, the children we had to save. I was the first Boarding School Supervisor, and as such, I lived right on campus - a secured compound on the edge of the Binghampton Area of Memphis. A rough area to be sure, but that was where I had to serve.

And now? Well, eight years ago I was sent by God to a home here in Wheaton, IL. Respectfully, it needed a man coming from that kind of arena to fight was happening here. Heroin addiction was destroying a home and two lives within it, and it needed rescuing. Now, every week that same home is worship center, with prayer and a Bible study, helping men and women receive the empowerment that comes from Jesus.

You see, as a child, I longed to belong to a group of Avengers. Mighty men and women who fought evil and saved lives. Who put aside all other differences so they could make a difference in the world.

Jesus thinks that's cool. Listen to what he told His disciples He would give them, if they got "crazy" and "radical" in following Him:

Matthew 19:27-29
Peter answered him, "We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?"

Jesus said to them, "I tell you the truth, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life.

We are also told later on that we are already seated (past tense) in heavenlies in this passage:

Ephesians 2:6-7
And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.
What I want you and I to take away from this is not arrogance -we are too incompetent to obtain these things - but humility. We have been given a great position simply by letting go of our old controlling ways. By letting go, and accepting what Jesus Has Done and Who He Is, we can change the world.

If we follow Jesus - let Him take us to where He wants us to go in life - He promises current authority and future glory. Remember - the disciples could cast out demons and heal people. They were untrained and uneducated men for the most part. But once they quit the Mundane Life, they got to embrace Regal Fellowship with Christ. They became co-laborers, working miracles and changing lives.

They became superheroes. They became the Mighty Avengers.

Jesus even promises them camaraderie:

"I tell you the truth- you who have followed Me will sit on 12 Thrones, judging the 12 Tribes of Israel!"
Wow. That met that need in my heart for significance, for having a chair with my name on it. But how do we do it? How do we become great rulers, empowered by God? What awesome thing must we do? Jesus tells us that too.
"For the son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and give his life as a ransom for many."
We must serve. In other words, we get into the Mansion by being Jarvis, the butler.

You can clean and vacuum, can't you bunky? Sure you can.

And frankly, if you do, you will know more about the Avenger's Mansion - that true heavenly realm - than anyone else who's "in the world."

Amen.


And by the way -



AVENGERS ASSEMBLE!!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Secret Origins, Pt. 3

I don't know how old I was when it happened, when I met the 20th century myth. I think it was either in a Justice League of America or a Detective Comics 100 pager. Who am I talking about?

The World Greatest Detective, of course. Batman.

Him who has legions of fanboys and is probably the most re-iterated character in history outside of Jesus Christ. (Ain't blasphemy, just a fact. O.K. maybe Superman beats him, but just barely.)

I grew up with Batman being drawn by Dick Giordano, Neal Adams, Michael Golden and Jim Aparo. You've got to remember - this was before the movies. The only time I ever saw the Dark Knight on film was the lamentable camp version made famous by Adam West.

Oh, it broke my heart. All coolness was destroyed. The mythical dark, brooding intellect that hunted criminals at night using his skills, his wealth and his ultra-advanced technology was reduced to a sad parody, an act of humilation for us who sulked in our suburban bedrooms over the injustices of life, casting longing glances at the crimson haze of big city lights glowering over our neighbors' rooftops.

We knew there was a noble urban warrior reflecting and reasoning somewhere, brilliantly deducing the way to stop the latest atrocities being committed in our cities. Urban blight was being broadcast in full-color on our Magnavox TVs and no pre-teen could escape noticing it. The city had troubles, and it needed help. Big serious help.

We didn't need a joke. We needed a dark avenger -a man who had committed all of his resources to stopping the criminal elite.

Even the Mego action figure was a disappointment. After an initial casting with a REMOVABLE hood (shown here) - and I owned one that I had to return because it had a broken hand - they switched us to that wretched "almost-but-not-quite Burt Ward" camp-friendly version.


ARRRRGGGHH!!

So those artists who kept his dark knight/warrior image alive for us were our heroes. They knew. They understood. Even today, that early 70s art and its atmospheric coloring in bluish reds and aqua blues still takes my breath away.

Batman has recently been returned to urban glory - and we are grateful. We middle-aged men now snuggle warmly with our Christian Bale likeness action figures. (I mean... uhmmmm... I don't.... OTHER men do. Friends I know.)

But one thing always bothered me as a Christian. I always liked Batman, but I couldn't find an archetype in scripture to compare him to. He should be there, somewhere. Superman is a conglomeration of Moses/Samson/Jesus. Shouldn't his most famous ally in fighting crime have a similar Biblical counterpart or two?

A wealthy man. A man willing to wage war against crime. A fearless man. An international man of mystery. King David or Solomon his son? Close. But I realized that was just part of it. They were not quite right, though I dug David's acting insane to escape from his enemies. Kudos for that. But something was always missing.

When I thought of Abraham and of Gideon, it suddenly clicked.

Abraham was very wealthy but never let that stop him from risking his life, fighting evil and trusting God. Gideon was more fearful, but he stood up in the middle of corrupt society, after striking a blow for God under teh cover of darkness, and ended up using a little night-time theatrics to soundly defeat Israel's enemies.

Warriors. Wealthy and wise, but warriors nonetheless.

But what made them click together in my mind was that they were nighttime warriors. "After-hours" heroes, so to speak.
Genesis 14:11-16
The four kings seized all the goods of Sodom and Gomorrah and all their food; then they went away. They also carried off Abram's nephew Lot and his possessions, since he was living in Sodom.

One who had escaped came and reported this to Abram the Hebrew. Now Abram was living near the great trees of Mamre the Amorite, a brother of Eshcol and Aner, all of whom were allied with Abram. When Abram heard that his relative had been taken captive, he called out the 318 trained men born in his household and went in pursuit as far as Dan.

During the night Abram divided his men to attack them and he routed them, pursuing them as far as Hobah, north of Damascus. He recovered all the goods and brought back his relative Lot and his possessions, together with the women and the other people.
And in Gideon's case:
Judges 7:19-21
Gideon and the hundred men with him reached the edge of the camp at the beginning of the middle watch, just after they had changed the guard. They blew their trumpets and broke the jars that were in their hands. The three companies blew the trumpets and smashed the jars.

Grasping the torches in their left hands and holding in their right hands the trumpets they were to blow, they shouted, "A sword for the LORD and for Gideon!" While each man held his position around the camp, all the Midianites ran, crying out as they fled.

I never saw this before, but these men had to do their hardest warfare in the middle of the night. The stronghold of evil, and they took them on - and scared the Hell out of them! Literally!

So I rest easier now I have discovered this. That God sends some of us out in the darkest night so we can be Dark Knights. We take evil on in its home ground and rescue the lost and wounded.

But we have more resources that our favorite detective. We are, like Gideon, empowered by God and like Abraham called by God.

So geek out and slip on that mask and fill up your utility belts, kids.

God likes dark detectives and caped crusaders who generously use all their resources and wits in His service. Especially at night. Especially at night.

Amen.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Secret Origins, Pt. 2

We've been talking about how unplanned events happen to men to make them heroes this week. In the case of Steve Austin (The Six Million Dollar Man) we see that Steve becomes a hero because he survives the tragedy that befell him, much like Joseph overcoming his destruction at the hands of his brothers.

In the case of Peter Parker (Spider-man), we see that Peter was a social misfit - and once empowered, he became selfish only to be corrected by his emotional culpability in causing his Uncle Ben's death: he snottily let a robber escape and that man later kills his kind uncle.

Heroes don't ask for the job, but somehow they get it all the same. No matter how foolish they were beforehand. Now I want to talk about heroes who have to be humbled before they are heroes. I want to talk about Thor.

Thor has gone through several re-iterations, but the Thor I grew up with was the Dr. Donald Blake version: a frail but brilliant physician who needed a walking cane to get around. Gentle and able with that gentleness to help others in their weaknesses, we see Dr. Blake as a compassionate man, unwilling to harm anyone. But his origin is that - while on vacation in Scandinavia - he and his assistant Jane Foster are faced with a terrible force of invading aliens. Real over-the-top stuff. In trying to hide from them, they find shelter in nearby cave and a rockslide separates Dr. Blake from her.

In trying to find some sort of lever to move said rocks, Donald Blake finds a stick laying on the ground. He struggles under his own power, but cannot begin to move them. Finally, in sheer anger and frustration, he strikes the rocks with it - only to find himself transformed in a flash of light and thunder! He's become 6'8" blond powerhouse, rippling with muscles and holding a large hammer!

"Whosoever holds this HAMMER, if he be worthy, shall possess the power of THOR!"

Real Excalibur-ish stuff. Real "oh-boy-are-the-bad-guys-in-for-it-now!!" stuff.

Thor comes blasting out of the cave. Thor whips butt. Aliens leave. 'Nuff said, True believer.

But just anyone can get this power, this power of Thor? Wellllll - no. You have to be worthy or you cannot even begin to pick up the hammer. What makes a man "worthy" enough? Self-sacrifice. Humility. Nobility. Few others have actually wielded his hammer Mjolnir (myoll-nur). Steve Rogers was one. An alien hero named Beta-Ray Bill was another. Both willing to give up their personal lives to aid their people/nation. Good guys. Heart-rendingly sacrificial.

But the reason Donald Blake got the power of Thor wasn't because he was such a nice guy from the get-go. It was because he had become humble. Truly humble.

You see (we the readers find out much later), Donald Blake wasn't first.

Thor was first.

Thor had been stomping around in Asgard (Heaven) and Midgard (Earth), was needing a lesson in humility, so Odin, the "All-father", transformed him, sent him to Earth to live as a mere man to straighten him out - a weak mortal, a crippled man. And instead of being a warrior, he became a physician, a healer.

When the time was right, Odin called him out and permitted him to be empowered AGAIN, his lesson in humility having been learned.

Heroic Warrior -> Overconfident -> Humbled -> Healer -> Leader -> Real Hero

That's the pattern we see.

You can also see it here, in Moses, once proud Prince of Egypt, as he now faces the living God - after he had killed a man




I chose this snippet because a large STICK is used by God for Moses to show his rightful authority over the Israelites. Stan Lee, who is Jewish, could not resist giving us a powerhouse hero who was known for carrying a big stick. ;)

But like Moses, we want to run from our destiny as leaders. We know it will be tough. We know we will face opposition. We don't have a choice really, though, folks. Once we have been humbled - so having power doesn't go to our heads - we can be lifted up.

It was true for Joseph. It was true for Peter Parker and the apostle Paul and Thor and its true for us.

"Humility comes before honor" goes the proverb. It must, if it is to be a blessing. It must.

It was pride that caused the archangel Lucifer to become Satan. C. S. Lewis that nearly over-quoted Oxford don wrote this on the sin of pride:
"According to Christian teachers, the essential vice, the utmost evil, is Pride. Unchastity, anger, greed, drunkenness, and all that, are mere fleabites in comparison: it was through Pride that the devil became the devil: Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind."
Oh - one last kicker - so you don't fall into some false, self-effacing whininess about 'how BAD you are.' (Read Lewis's full essay.)

Jesus Christ affirms as THE Son of God we are to be 'gods'. No - not God Himself or Lord of Creation -but rather His progeny, and thus little 'gods' in every good sense you can imagine. I know, I know. Don't freak out. I am only quoting scripture:

John 10:32-36
Jesus said to them, "I have shown you many great miracles from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?"

"We are not stoning you for any of these," replied the Jews, "but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God."

Jesus answered them, "Is it not written in your Law, 'I have said you are gods'? If he called them 'gods,' to whom the word of God came—and the Scripture cannot be broken— what about the one whom the Father set apart as his very own and sent into the world? Why then do you accuse me of blasphemy because I said, 'I am God's Son'?

Folks, we Christ-followers are to judge angels one day. We might as well let God humble us as much as possible NOW so we will be glorious and honorable and loving and kind and in eternal glory as soon as possible.

God does not have grandsons. He only has sons.

Go be a healer and watch your glory return, son.

Amen.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Secret Origins, Pt. 1

Monday I covered one of the most common hero archetypes: the accidental hero. Though talented in some area, they are empowered in another after a terrible tragedy or loss to be the force for good they are meant to be. They had no intention of being a hero, they just ended up with the job.

Superman is not an accidental hero. Neither is Batman.

Spider-Man is, however. He was a geek who got bitten by a radioactive spider and then could take on the toughest guys you'd imagine and win. He is nowhere as powerful as Superman, but with a little help from some Red Sun radiation, he did give the son of Krypton a good pounding once upon a time. It was all a mistake, of course, and later they teamed up to defeat Lex Luthor and Doc Octopus (Superman vs. Spider-man)

Where was I? Oh yeah. Accidental heroes. Power that was given without the receivers consent, plan or desire. It could be argued that Superman does fit this category, since dear old Dad Jor-El sent him to Earth. But there never was a time when Kal-el was not empowered and different from us, at least to some extent. When you can be run over by a tractor at age 8 and get up unharmed, you pretty much've figured out the bullies in school are not going to be a real threat.
The other thing to keep in mind is that Kal-El and Bruce Wayne are sons of nobility. I have never read any writer who emphasizes this aspect of their genetics (probably for fear of elitist prejudice), but the fact is Dr. Wayne and Chief Scientist Jor-El must have produced some pretty good looking, sharp-minded boys, no matter how humbly they were raised, whether by the Kents or dear old Alfred Pennyworth.

Not so with dear Peter. He's a kid from Queens. In fact, at first when he gets his powers he gets downright cocky and wants to use them to make some money. But it doesn't last long. In fact, he indirectly causes the death of his uncle by his inaction.

That clarifies his mission for him. Gets him on the right track. He's a hero from then on.

I've been thinking about some people I know that call themselves children of God. Some believe that they are sons of God by birth. Some believe that they are sons and daughters of Him because they have special rites or religious practices. I can see why they think that. They want to be part of the process of being good. But the fact is, they lack real power. They themselves have not been changed by God.

That process is by invitation only. God invites and when we answer, He changes us. He makes us truthful, loving, and powerful in His way. They are empowered (i.e. made powerful enough to change their world) by Him. He invites many to go through this, but few do it.

I guess they are scared. I was. But, like Peter Parker, one day I was transformed by a power greater than myself. I was terrified at first. Then I got it. He wasn't asking me to be better, but to surrender to His plan for my life.

He wanted me to be a hero for him, but all I wanted was to make some moolah. And I do not necessarily mean cash, if you know what I mean. *sigh*

Jesus told a parable about how hard it is for God to get people to become REAL heroes - to become part of the life-changing family of God. Look at the way the invitation is rejected by all the "normal" people UNTIL the Master says "Fine. I'll get the damaged and crippled, the scoundrels and homeless, highwaymen and low-lifes to come and party with me!"

Luke 14:15-24
When one of those at the table with him heard this, he said to Jesus, "Blessed is the man who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God!"
Jesus replied: "A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, 'Come, for everything is now ready.'
"But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, 'I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.'
"Another said, 'I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I'm on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.'
"Still another said, 'I just got married, so I can't come.'
"The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, 'Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.'
" 'Sir,' the servant said, 'what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.'
"Then the master told his servant, 'Go out to the roads and country lanes and make them come in, so that my house will be full. I tell you, not one of those men who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.' "

Now I want to use this passage in a strange way, but you can still see it.

Let us suppose the wedding banquet is a very active participant party. It is a metaphor for getting together with God and having an exciting time, and it is 'Invitation Only'. Black tie. You have to imagine that it cost a lot to get put together.

Directly Jesus is informing this guy who says it sure will be cool to party in heaven, "Yeah," says Jesus. "But we keep inviting people, and they don't come. They are 'too busy'."

So Jesus lets these intelligent men in on a little secret: God ain't gonna wring His hands over the people who refuse to show up. He'll just get more guests. As He rather directly told Moses in Exodus, He could MAKE a whole new people from just him. He doesn't need the Israelites at ALL.

When God is rejected by the competent, He goes and grabs the incompetent. Then He grabs the truly lost and wicked. The people you and I do not ever think will work.

Of the three heroes above, do you know who's the most heroic, IMHO? Spider-Man. He has the rougher start, with no money nor invulnerability, so he has to work the hardest to be a hero. He had to repent of his selfishness. He has to fill-in for the uncle who died. He struggles just to get his uniform washed -or at least he did when I grew up with him in the 70's.

God calls and invites, but few answer. It is a fact. So you know what God does?

He grabs those who will truly appreciate the gift of salvation. Who do not think it is all about them and their goals. Its about Jesus. Uncouth, loud, obnoxious at times, they tell everyone how GOOD God was to them. How Jesus is Lord and men should repent. Strangely, it works. People do change and come to Jesus.

They got their powers by "accident": one day, they just opened a Bible, listened to a sermon on TV or found a tract telling them the way to salvation. Totally unplanned by them.

But you and I know better. They were invited - rather strongly, I think - from the King of the Universe to come to His feast. To party with Him. To share delicious mouth-watering spiritual food with all their buds.
You can take a bite of God's banquet the day Jesus takes a bite of you. (You know what I mean.)

Amen.

Monday, October 13, 2008

The Six Million Dollar Man - Crash, Burn, Survive, Recover, Live, Save, Rescue

Its the same old story, and we never tire of it.

The Six Million Dollar Man.

Oh, how I ran home every day to watch this show at 3:30 p.m. on ABC. I was in 8th grade at Christian Prep School - Southern Baptist Educational Center - and it was the only thing that kept my soul alive.

The intro to this show STILL stands up as one of the best edited, most exciting openings for any TV show. You get the whole story in 60 seconds. You are pumping by the time it finishes. And remember, this has overlays and fades that were incredibly challenging to do back in the days of non-digital editing. In fact, the production quality of the opening is SO good, using great stock footage, you forgot how low-budget this show actually was.

Come back in time 30 years and be a kid again. Just watch this intro and see if you agree:





Oh - that was one PAINFUL crash wasn't it? But by the end we see Steve running like the wind.

I read the very adult book by Martin Caidin it was based upon - Cyborg. I had no idea it was rated R and I am certain I was not the only 13 year old who went "Whoooa! I hope mom doesn't catch me reading this!"

But it showed the pathos of what that crash did to Steve as a man, as a once-competent USAF pilot, only one arm from being "a basket case".

Dr. Rudy Wells is very patient, tries all he can to help Steve until one day he just snaps and says "God [blast it], Austin! I didn't shove you into that PLANE!"

And that puts an end to Steve's self-pity and moaning. He snaps back and becomes something new. A cyborg. A special agent for the U.S.

Funny how common that is in heroic literature. (I liked the concept so much I made my own superheroic version of Steve Austin - go see on the new V&V forums.)

But I digress. I want to deal with something you and I fight and how much we are like Steve Austin. How the utter destruction of our hopes and dreams MUST happen if we are to be heroes.
I know. That's a radical statement. But I cannot find the example of good person becomes hero without heartbreak. I wish I could. If you find one, let me know, O.K.?

Now I mean HERO, not "nice person" or "altruistic and kind person". I mean face down evil, battle evil, save victims, speaks truth when it hurts, never gives up, hero.

You see why they have to be crushed? They have to be more than 'normal'. They have to be made of sterner stuff. Pride cannot be part of the equation - it will turn them into a villain.

When we read the story of Joseph in the Bible, do you know what we see? A conscientious handsome young man with a bright future that gets smeared by 1) his brothers, 2) his employer's wife (Potiphar's wife), and 3) a fellow sufferer (Pharoah's cupbearer who was locked up with him but forgot him for two more years).

He had it all. Then he was so envied by his brothers they nearly killed him. Instead they dumped him off on a slave trader and told dear old dad he'd died. After years in an Egyptian prison for a crime he did NOT commit, he gets a chance to serve Pharoah and save the entire land of Egypt from death by starvation. He is well-liked and trusted, even in prison. Brother Yun mentions this in his latest book Living Water. He says Joseph must have learned forgiveness and trusting God early on, because scripture gives no evidence he was bitter; just the opposite: "And Joseph found favor in the eyes of the captain of the prison."

Yes, he teases his brothers and tests them later on, but if he had truly held on to his bitterness, they would have been killed outright. He had POWER second only to PHAROAH.

Joseph learned to serve. Joseph could be trusted with any task, small or great. But that can turn into a horrible "Go do better" form of ethical teaching if you are not careful. Too many pastors are too stupid to avoid that trap.

The key to forgiveness, to accepting circumstances and be glorious, to get better not bitter from it takes a great deal of faith that God is just. God is the final judge. God can use the evil of others to test and temper your soul. The final product speaks for itself. Do you become a hero or a horror? Do you meditate on God's sovereignty or on how badly you were treated?

Hear the words of Joseph - and if you hate "preaching" remember that Col. Steve Austin, our fictional cyborg was supposed to be some 50% machine but stayed humane, kind and compassionate. After all his loss, he faces the men who put him there, and they are terrified:

Genesis 50:15-21
When Joseph's brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, "What if Joseph holds a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrongs we did to him?"

So they sent word to Joseph, saying, "Your father left these instructions before he died: 'This is what you are to say to Joseph: I ask you to forgive your brothers the sins and the wrongs they committed in treating you so badly.' Now please forgive the sins of the servants of the God of your father."

When their message came to him, Joseph wept.

His brothers then came and threw themselves down before him. "We are your slaves," they said. But Joseph said to them, "Don't be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don't be afraid. I will provide for you and your children."

And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them.

They were terrified of how Joseph would pay them back for screwing him over. But you know what? He had already caught on he HAD to forgive them.

He was not God. Yeah - they meant to do it - no doubts! But Joseph saw how God used THEIR evil for a greater good. That kind of revelation doesn't happen if you stay bitter.

You can't be a hero if you can't take the process, folks. You've got to be hammered flat and folded over a few times. Then you can be a sword a samurai would be proud to use.

Otherwise you are just a gray lump being beaten again and again. A block of dull metal unfit for use.

Let God forge you. Forgive the tools He must use. They are so eager to be a part of the process, He must smile wryly when He unleashes them on you. "You have no idea who you are hitting. That's my son. I've already destined him for glory. You're just a tool."

Better than he was before. Better. Faster. Stronger.

That's the goal, dear reader. That's the art and craft of God.

From Isaiah 40:30-31:

Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the LORD
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.

Wait on the Lord. Serve His people. You will be flying soon enough.

Amen.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Brother Yun, The Heavenly Man

Well, reader, I am going to have to take a break from this blog for a while to refresh, renew and restore my heart and mind. I noticed my last posts were a bit - eh - LONG, adn I have a new job as night watchman.

But before I take that break, I want to tell you that I met a real live, breathing superhero here in Chicagoland.

His name is Brother Yun (pronounced Yewn), aka the Heavenly Man.

He got his nom de guerre the way any cool superhero does - by others who saw his brave and heroic actions.

Brother Yun is a Chinese pastor who has been beaten multiple times, had his legs shattered and then walked out of a maximum security prison, and went on a medically impossible 74-day fast from all food and water, all for Christ's sake.

These are truly superheroic abilities, and Brother Yun has done them only and utterly by the Holy Spirit's power and for the cause of Jesus Christ and the spread of His Gospel.

If you have ever read about the apostles in the book of Acts and the great miracles they did and experienced, then you will understand Brother Yun's life. He is a modern-day Apostle Paul from China. As Paul was to the Gentiles, so Yun is to many of the Christians in China.

He preaches repentance and a whole-hearted devotion to following Jesus Christ. He is earnestly serious and you can read his amazing, jaw-dropping, "I do NOT believe this" biography in a book entitled The Heavenly Man published by Monarch/Zondervan. He has another book which just came out that addresses, like Paul would, we Christians in the West, called Living Water.

It ain't for the faint of heart. He does not lacerate or angrily attack our Westernized version of Christianity to simply be heartless, but he is saddened that Jesus is loved so little here in America.

I understand that. Unfortunately, Yun also convicts me of a growing bitterness from which I have to repent and let the Lord Jesus alone judge.

So if you want to read a modern-day apostle who's just a poor man who loved Jesus so much he became miraculously empowered by the Holy Spirit and is now internationally known, I think you ought to get a copy of this book. You will not want to put it down.

Oh - I almost forgot. Do you know why is he called Brother Yun? Well, Yun means "cloud/heavens" In Chinese (IIRC) , and one day as he was walking to a house-church meeting, he was arrested. He had to warn the Believers inside, even as the police asked him "Where are you from? What is your address?"

He shouted loudly, successfully alerting the church group, "I have no home! My home is in heaven! I am a heavenly man!"

And it stuck. Soon all Chinese Christians knew him by this name. Now we do too.

May you receive as glorious a name as you learn to serve Christ and Christ alone.


Amen.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

DC Heroes RPG & the Power of Exponentiality

It was the summer of 1985 and I was at my friend Greg Love's house when we began digging into the contents of the newest RPG for superheroes by Mayfair Games: DC Heroes.

We excitedly tore into the rulebooks, wanting to find out how strong Superman REALLY was, how smart Batman was, how fast the Flash was! Having cut our teeth on FGU's Villains and Vigilantes to produce our own superheroes, were used to Hit Points, d20's and d10's and using Power points to fuel our powers.

We were blown away, to say the least.

It wasn't like anything we had played before.

"APs? What are those?"

It was brilliant work. Too brilliant for us to appreciate, I'm afraid. This was SO new in style and substance, I felt I was in a school classroom, not perusing a game. It took a lot of time to grok what we were reading.

You see, the designers had to fit Superman and Jimmy Olsen into the same game system, on the same scale, in the same environment. They did not want to give Superman a triple-digit Strength score (that wouldn't bother me, but that's what they said), so they came up with the idea of an logarithmic scale to measure power and abilities. A Strength score of 2 was Normal for humans. A Strength of 3 was able to lift twice that. A 4 could lift twice THAT. So if my hero had a cool score of 4 in Strength and yours had a Strength of 6, you could lift four times as much as me.

Thankfully, Greg was more familiar with this concept due to his computer nerdiness. Its the way bits and bytes work in computers. (Alright... remember kids, this was waaayyy back in the mid-80s, so we used Kilobytes!) 1 Kilobyte or Kb, was stepped up to 2 Kb when you added one more Yes/No gate, then if you added another Yes/No gate, you got 4 Kb... then 8 Kb, 16Kb, 32 Kb, 64 Kb, 128 Kb, 256 Kb, 512 Kb, and at last 1024 Kb - which equaled 1 Megabyte.

So he understood the power of exponential growth, or as I define it, exponentialty. I did not.

Champions, Mutants and Masterminds, and even to some extent V&V (the Carrying Capacity chart) used this concept to emulate the super-powered universe of metahumans. It is too big to be contained in a linear scale with exact measurements being used for every detail.

BTW, Superman's Strength was 50 APs - 50 "Attribute Points" as they were called. Jimmy Olsen was a 2. So Superman was 2 48th power stronger than Jimmy Olsen. 64, 000,000,000,000 [64 trillion] times stronger! Jimmy could lift 200 lbs, his best friend could lift 12,800,000,000,000,000 lbs or 6,400,000,000,000 tons [6.4 trillion tons]!

Suddenly the pithy brilliance of having that gargantuan number expressed as "50 APs" on a logarithmic scale made a lot of sense. You needed that kind of simplicity to handle cosmic-spanning heroes and heroines.

You need to think in exponential terms for God's workings as well. From the Creation in Genesis to the book of Revelations, we are shown a picture of a Creator God who explodes into action and accomplishes His will in less time than it takes to write this sentence.

Seven years ago I read a book by Dr. Richard Swensen, a physician who was a Christ-follower, entitled Hurtling towards Oblivion: a Logical Argument for the End of the Age. In it he clearly declares himself to be NO fatalist, but he goes on to logically argue that humanity is on an exponential curve of development technologically, medically, militarily and biologically - and that growth curve will not - in his opinion, cannot - end pleasantly. It is a very short book, but he describes a pragmatic point of view that we are not going to solve all our problems and move into a utopian future. Why, you may ask?

Because at the same time good things are replicating and growing at this fantastic rate of speed, so are the bad things. We have the internet; we also have porn, phishing and spam from the same source. We have better health care; we also have AIDs. When it comes to biological warfare, the picture gets even uglier with bio-terrorism.

This was written before Sept. 11th. Remember how after that dark day, a powdered Anthrax virus was mailed and caused a handful of deaths? Just by touching them?

He does not go into details, but as a physician, he knows intimately how a virus can kill a host. Even if everything else is sound and healthy, it only takes one virus to kill a human being. Something that you normally cannot see with the naked eye.

How does something so small become so lethal? By replicating, of course. Linearly? No, it must split and divide and grow exponentially.

Here's what is truly scary though: the vast majority of any lethal growth is virtually undetectable until it hits the final stages. This is the problem with predictions. You must keep factoring in exponential growth possibilities and that is hard for us as humans to grok, to accept.

He gives an example of this "late realization" by imagining trying to fill up the Pacific basin using a teaspoon of water, doubling one step at a time.

It would take 80 doublings to fill that vast expanse of water. That's all. (In DC Heroes its 50 APs of Area.)

But do you know how filled up the basin would be at 70 doublings? Less than one-tenth of one percent (.001%)!

Those last ten steps blow you away. The first seventy were just a warm-up in comparison.

Do you know what Jesus said about the end of the Age? How no one could predict when or where it would happen, just gave some identifying marks of it? That's because mankind cannot see cosmic-level events coming. We can only see them after the fact. We are too busy with survival, with day-to-day stuff to see eternity bearing down on us.

We think linearly. We think tomorrow will be better because we will have more information.

I am afraid not.

We are hurtling toward the future where we and all we know and see will cease to exist. This isn't fear-mongering - this is a fact. And there is no hope of surviving it.

Unless the Bible is true, and there is something greater.

"Christ has come. Christ has died. Christ has risen!" goes the liturgy.

I believe God understands your fear of death because His Son died. I think He understands your anger because He also lived in the universe we live in through Jesus. I think He knows how quickly it can come into being -and how blazingly fast it will end.

Do yourself this favor: imagine that God knows more than you. Imagine also that Jesus never tried to use fear to motivate people - only love.

When you love someone, you tell them the truth. You tell them as soon as you can, if a danger is coming.

Dear reader, from the Y2K bug to 9/11 to our present economic crisis, I think we are getting all the fair warnings we need to NOT place our hopes in this world.

It doesn't matter if we survive those events. We have no cause to pat ourselves on the back for survival -that just may be God's mercy before the final blow comes.

What matters is if we learn from them how exponentially fast our world and resources can collapse.

Trust Jesus, and fear no more.

You will be exponentially grateful you did so.

Amen.

Monday, October 6, 2008

From Robin to Nightwing: A Not-So-Misplaced Childhood

You almost want to pity poor Robin, the Boy Wonder.

Though he got famous by being Batman's sidekick, it must have been doubly hard for him to leave and become his own man, to forge his own identity.

His costume has gone through some 5-6 changes as far as I can tell and the current one doesn't do a lot for me. Still, it is another step in the right direction. I do like the name.

I wonder what it would be like, growing up under a grim vigilante, always 'on mission', never getting a break from it, never really getting a chance to grieve over his parents death, and never having a normal childhood.

I mean, your foster dad is Batman! Think on that for a second. You never get a chance to just ignore the world's villainy: "Hey, Bruce - can we get out - maybe go to the circus?" "Good thinking, Robin! The Joker must be hidden there!" "Uhmmmm - that's not what I was thinking..."

To be fair, though, Bruce and Alfred treated him well. He turned out differently than Batman - less obsessive, better adjusted, more able to work and socialize with others. He is a better leader than Batman (see Teen Titans) and a better acrobat, due to his earlier training. He's no slouch in crime fighting.

But still you pity him for the loss and being called to urban warfare so early in life.

That's a little like one of Jesus' ancestors - King David. And Samuel, the priest who anointed him to be the next king - he too was called out as a small boy. John the Baptist was called from his mother's womb. So was Jeremiah.

I wonder, is a "missed" or "misplaced" childhood normal for heroes?

Do you remember that scene in Its a Wonderful Life, where George Bailey is having his last meal with his dad, and explains how he wants to get out of the town? He's given Harry his job to do, just as he did. His father says "Harry's awfully young for that job, George." George replies, "He's no younger than I was when I did it!"

"Well - you were born older, George."

"What's that?"

"I said, 'You were born older.'"

You see, some of us know how to take on responsibility at age 8. Some at 10. Others at 18. Others - ehhh, not until they have children adn get serious. But Mr. Bailey is right: George was born older than his brother. He was born with a greater maturity in his soul.

Bruce Wayne did not begin to fight crime until he left college and returned to become Batman.

Dick Grayson began fighting crime when he was eight years old.

Guess who is actually more mature? Guess who has less fears and anxieties?

Robin did not lose his childhood to an obsessive vigilante. He was sent to help him. Oh sure, I know the editorial reasons, etc. - the 'real world' reasons.

But pick it apart using a Divine Perspective. Have you ever noticed how children can keep a clearer head than adults at times? How they can teach their elders right from wrong?

I guess what I saying - what I am learning is that I did not lose so much of my childhood as I imagined. I just got tested earlier; I had to accept loss earlier than most. Thankfully, in Christ, I can be stronger and wiser than my father or my grandfather.

I was taught scripture at an early age. I was caring for a woman dying of cancer at the age of 17. We were poor, but never looked it. I owned two pairs of jeans and one pair of sneakers for four years. I can live on next to nothing with few friends, no business allies and no specific job for years.

So when I look at what I do not have according to the 'normal' pattern of the world, I must also see what I have according to God's sovereign providence.

That kills the self pity. And that brings us back to our featured hero.

Don't pity Dick Grayson. He was raised by a billionnaire, had an exciting childhood, currently leads one of the most powerful supergroups in the world and is friends with nearly every superhero in the DC Universe. We tend to forget that part of the equation.

"You know Superman?"

"Sure. I know all the Justice League."

So do you dear saint, after a fashion. If you are in Christ, you are on par with the greatest saints in history. Jesus is your elder brother, and you know all His "super" friends. ;)

They are listed in the Bible -and in history.

Keep that in mind. You are not a 'sidekick'. You are a hero.

Amen.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Iron Man DVD: Ultimate Edition

Last night I bought the Iron Man DVD: Ultimate 2-Disc Edition at Best Buy.

I got my prize home and, since I had already seen the movie three times, I watched the Special Features instead. It ran for four hours. Whoa.

I watched and learned how director Jon Favreau lost weight to play Happy Hogan, Tony Stark's driver/bodyguard (he did a pretty good job of self-casting I must say), how Robert Downey, Jr. shared how they made coffee or tea in prison using a sock, so they incorporated that in his cave scenes with Yinsen, how the special effects guys and technical graphics guys desinged the look and feel of the CGI aspects of the film, how the architectural design of Stark's mansion was changed due to the casting of Downey and how his sensitivities as an actor were used, confirmed and even challenged by Favreau who at times said, "You'll have to be a grown man and deal with it."

I loved it. I learned a LOT by just listening to the writers and actors interact. Favereau is, IMHO, a straight-up responsible director who will not kill off the creative input or choke the process to get just what he wants. I am amazed at this. It is SOOO difficult to find this.

Too many creatives are control freaks because the person or persons wanting to take control have their own agenda and fears - they cannot see where you are going so they take it to a place where they are comfortable - and that is usually a safe, banal place we have all been to before.

Therefore, you learn early on, do NOT let another person touch your baby! They will simply molest it. There is a reason The Incredible Hulk was almost excellent. When Ed Norton does not go around promoting a film he wrote and starred in, you have a clue that something unhappy happened in the creative process, no matter how much 'spin' is put on it.

There are parts of entire scenes, complete full architectural renderings I saw on this DVD that are GOOD. There is nothing wrong about them - but they missed the heart of the story or did not build upon it constructively and so were not used.

You create. You edit. You edit out bad stuff. You edit out good stuff.

Favreau understands this process -so he lets it run far more creatively than most would. He also came in with great peformances, great effects, on TIME and under BUDGET.

In other words, the process never overwhelmed him. He stayed on target.

We see the same with Jesus as He directs His disciples. He's got to keep them on target. He wants them to get glory and honor they have never had before. He knows it will take a lot of freedom and empowerment. It will also take some editing. We ourselves will have to edit out bad things in our lives - pride, abusive speech, lying, fornication, drunkness, lust, anger...

But He himself will also have to edit out some good things in our lives to keep us on target and close to Himself. Marriage, children, money, homes, retirements, etc.

For me, raised a materialistic consumer in America, this is a stunning blow. Raised in a land of multiple choices, I did not understand this at first. Jesus says we have to be pruned to bear more fruit for God. We have to be edited for our own glory. Here, see what I mean:

John 15:1-3, 5, 6, 15-17
"I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit He prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.

"I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.

"I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. This is my command: Love each other."
Note that:
  1. Jesus says they are already "clean" - not sinning with their bodies, not grieving other lives - they're "good guys" now, all cleaned up,
  2. Jesus says they need further focus and direction. Fruit trees consistently bear MORE fruit with a judicious pruning (or "editing"),
  3. He calls them friends - FRIENDS - though He is deity incarnate, and
  4. He cast them for this role. They think the decision was all theirs but in fact, He chose them first.

In other words, Jesus is the Director for His disciples in the worldwide released film: "Redemption". God is the Producer, letting Jesus play the Lead.

Do you know why Robert Downey, Jr. was chosen for this role? Because of his great acting ability and BECAUSE of his awful past. He has a lot in common with the character of Tony Stark. He understands his addictive personality and lifetyle like none of us can.

But if he's in prison, he cannot do his work. He has to daily make sure evil things are not a part of his life. He also has to edit out "good things" to do his work - foods you and I can eat, drinks you and I can drink, he cannot. He has to learn his lines and take his cue from the Director. Why? So a great story will be produced and presented for the hearts and minds of audiences worldwide.

A story of redemption.

What makes it great does not rest solely on the acting abilities of Robert Downey, Jr. nor of any one part of the crew. The person most responsible in the end for making it the film is the Director, who refused to be LESS than a friend to his people, even with all the challenges facing him.

When we sing, as Christians, "Oh What a Friend We Have in Jesus" let us keep in mind it was Jesus who decided to become our Friend, to clean us up with His Word, to cut out what was unfruitful in our relationships and to do something that will last forever: bringing souls to God.

One of the common complaints about Christians is "They are a bunch of hypocrites!" But we are all hypocrites. Hypocrite' in the Greek simply means actor. We are all actors -acting for one reason or another, in motion for one agenda or another. The world's indeed a stage, full of drama and choices and circumstances WAY out of our control, and Jesus Christ has cast us for the roles we play, as His personal friends -if we have listened to Him and have been cleansed by His words.

The true disciple of Christ realizes pruning is not punishment nor a terrible loss.

It is prep -for the greatest role of all time: becoming a soul-saving son of God.

Amen.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Columbo: the Power of Humility

It is a beautiful crisp Fall day here at Wheaton College. As a visitor, I get to sup from all the resources they have available. I have been wondering whether or not to attend, to get a Masters in something - say Biblical Studies - but I don't think it'll happen.

I don't like the idea a person has to spend as much money as for a small home to get an education, especially one we can get by reading the Word and studying on our own. Just can't justify it.

But I do love the men and women here. I am impressed that they love Jesus and seek to make Him known. The Lord also reminded me of how many gracious Christian men work here that I know on sight and personally. No, we're not close buddies or anything, but if you work at Wheaton College, and know your stuff, you probably love Jesus. And if you have spent hours and hours a week studying the Bible, you and I have a lot in common.

I feel like a redneck sometimes and very tactless. Thankfully, if the subject is freedom in grace and the power of God, I can be tactless - like Paul was, like Jesus was.

Recently my landlady and I have re-discovered Columbo. I love his self-effacing style, his lack of pretension, his very humble roots and appetites. Again and again, he closes the loop on a murderer by being importune, by remembering all the facts and refusing to ignore details. He's also relentless in his pursuit of truth.

There are only a couple of times Columbo really comes out and verbally slams the person who committed the crime - and that's only after they get uppity and need a dressing down. Watch this clip below - the first part is the earliest incarnation of the lieutenant - before Peter Falk took him over.






That is more like Jesus than you may guess at first.

Columbo has all the authority he needs to slap cuffs on any suspect. He could harrass them and abuse them like so many cops on other shows do (and that is precisely what he threatens in the first part of the clip, isn't it?) But once Falk got a hold of him, he came up with the legendary modus operandi we all know. "Excuse me sir - I'm sorry to bother you - just one last question..."

It is calculated. It is intentional. Pay attention and you will see Columbo get closer and closer to the real murderer as time goes on - but what gives them away each episode is how they begin to "aid" him in finding justifications for erroneous facts.

Columbo knows they did it the moment they begin "helping". Falk as Columbo actually smiles pleasantly and says invariably: "You're probably right, sir/ma'am. That must have been it." But he knows. He knows.

Intentionally Columbo makes every attempt to stay a friend to these villains until he reveals he knows the truth.

He's brilliant - honestly brilliant - and takes his sweet time "to get his man."

Watch this clip - he's talking to a certified genius of "The Sigma Club", the killer and he explains he's always had to face off with "smart people":






So much like Jesus.

You see, freedom and truth are not found in academia or in just using our mind. Its being in humble, working what's before you, accepting the facts as they are, not as other people twist or distort them -nor as you want them to be.

Jesus tells us hard things about ourselves, but we can take it because He is so humble, so gracious. You ever wonder why he called himself "the son of Man"? Some uppity-schmuck theologian misses the point entirely when they say its a messianic title. That's true, but not why He said it.

He's being self-effacing. He KNOWS He is deity incarnate. He KNEW the Father before time began. He's pulling a Columbo if you get my drift. He wears that title Himself to show His disciples that they are not here to be "BMOC"s (Big Men on Campus), but to be servants.

Again, I'm using Eugene Peterson's The Message for Mark 10:41-45:
When the other ten heard of this conversation, they lost their tempers with James and John. Jesus got them together to settle things down.

"You've observed how godless rulers throw their weight around," he said, "and when people get a little power how quickly it goes to their heads. It's not going to be that way with you. Whoever wants to be great must become a servant. Whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave. That is what the Son of Man has done: He came to serve, not to be served—and then to give away his life in exchange for many who are held hostage."

Yesterday I heard a message from Dr. James McDonald of Harvest Bible Chapel. He covered this very subject (Wow - God's on to me.) He pointed out its not the people with real legitimate authority who spend their time and authority caring for others we fear and dread.

Its the underpaid "security guard at the library, the president of the homeowner's association, the administrator who's only got a tiny amount of authority" - these people wield their power to control and edit other lives. They are painful to watch in action.

To be great, you must serve. No matter how smart you are. No matter how much authority you have.

In humility. In humility.

Which may be the hardest work of all.

Thanks, Frank!

(Columbo's first name, don't you know? Well... I think its a good guess anyway.)

Amen.