Daniel, Babylon, and the Kingdom of God Part 4 – We Will Not Bow

no-salute-hitlerNow Nebuchadnezzar has seen the amazing truth that God’s Kingdom rules over all. He bows before Daniel after the revelation and interpretation of his dream, and he declares that Daniel’s God is the true God. And he promotes Daniel and his three Jewish friends to leadership positions in the Empire.

So the King of Babylon humbles himself and learns how to worship that true God, right?

Interestingly enough, Nebuchadnezzar has this dream that tortures and troubles him, and sees this huge statue destroyed, and his response … is to build an enormous golden statue of himself and make everyone bow down to it.

This thing was impressive. It was ninety feet tall, as tall as a football field is long, and made of gold. It spoke of the King’s power and wealth. Nebuchadnezzar set it on a plain so there would be room to worship it. He ordered his top officials to come to the field and bow to it.

As a quick thought … don’t assume because a leader who seeks power says some things that sound spiritual that their hearts have changed. Many times, in our search for qualified leadership, we can be swayed by words when actions will reveal the heart. As Abraham Lincoln said, “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” Power over others is seductive and addictive, more than any other vice we can imagine. It does not mean power WILL corrupt, but it has great power to do so and we must be careful not to be manipulated by the words of politicians and those that seek it.

Shadrach, Meschach, and Abed-nego were given power. Because of their testimony to God, they were given leadership positions. As a condition of that power, they had to bow to Nebuchadnezzar.

I’ve said it before, but if anyone had a reason to buy in to Babylon it was Daniel and his friends. God had judged and seemingly forgotten his “chosen people,” and they had been given the greatest luxuries and resources of this vast empire. If they simply went with what they could see, they would have chosen Babylon. No one outside of crazy religious people would have blamed them for bowing to maintain their position and, ultimately, their life.

But they didn’t.

Under threat of death from a fiery furnace, they refused to bow.

Nebuchadnezzar was upset. Enraged.

Their logic, and Daniel’s, was interesting. They were willing to serve Nebuchadnezzar but not worship him. There’s a difference.

As spiritual people who live in earthly nations, we must see this difference. We must recognize the difference between serving earthly leaders for peace and good … and bowing to them. Citizens of the Kingdom bow to no one, which WILL put is in conflict with the governments of this world. To what degree depends upon how much the worldly government demands our worship.

This does not mean that we seek to make the government a spiritual entity. That is how governments and leaders seek our worship, to cross that line from a humble and temporary institution to something more than its intended role. Those of the Kingdom must remind government of its limitations and the church of its eternal calling. It might enrage the government, but that is part of our call in the world.

Even if it costs our life. For Shadrach, Meschach, Abed-Nego, they know that God is able to deliver them, but “Even if he doesn’t, we WILL NOT BOW.”

We know the story. God does deliver them, giving testimony to their stand for truth and the Kingdom – you know, after a dream of its power and everything – by standing in the midst with them. The King says, “I see a fourth one in there, like a god.” An angel, or God himself or Jesus, was standing there with them. They escape unscathed.

Nebuchadnezzar “repents” and promotes them again.

Citizens of the Kingdom must realize that it is love to know this difference, to remember that we have a duty and a calling to not bow to earthly nations or leaders. We cannot lead people to truth by participating in a lie.

And it is for their good that we refuse to bow to them. It is love to tell the world that there is only one Person worthy of our worship, and that is the only true God. Our refusal to bow will seem arrogant to those that seek power, but it is the ultimate humility to worship the only One that is Worthy. Despite how offended others may be, our testimony of God’s sovereignty is serving them for their own good and for peace but with an eternal perspective from an eternal Kingdom.

Peace.

Daniel, Babylon, and the Kingdom of God Part 3 – The Dream of the Kingdom

baby-jesusSo before I begin on this next part of the series, let me say that while I was correct that it has been an historic election, I was wrong in my prediction about the ultimate result. I agreed that there were Trump supporters the pollsters didn’t and couldn’t measure for various reasons, but I did not think it would have made that big of an impact.

The main point of the post, however, is still valid. In terms of the Kingdom of God, the election did not matter. Neither Trump nor Hillary can help, hurt, or hinder the Kingdom of God. And this week’s blog is the prime example of that.

So far, I’ve talked about the type of character and faithfulness that it takes to be God’s representative in a situation. If anyone had reason to betray their faith or believe God had betrayed them, it was Daniel and his three friends. Yet they did not. Standing for truth and God will always be counter cultural, to some degree, no matter how some paint or white wash their political views. We see that clearly with Daniel.

So what was the dream? Many have studied this dream, so I will simply summarize it for us and then make some points.

God told Daniel Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, and it was this:

“You, O king, were watching; and behold, a great image! This great image, whose splendor was excellent, stood before you; and its form was awesome. This image’s head was of fine gold, its chest and arms of silver, its belly and thighs of bronze, its legs of iron, its feet partly of iron and partly of clay. You watched while a stone was cut out without hands, which struck the image on its feet of iron and clay, and broke them in pieces. Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver, and the gold were crushed together, and became like chaff from the summer threshing floors; the wind carried them away so that no trace of them was found. And the stone that struck the image became a great mountain and filled the whole earth.” – from Daniel 2

This was a powerful dream full of symbolism and meaning. Just as God gave Daniel the dream, he gave the interpretation. The statue represented kingdoms, empires. And Babylon was the first.

Now, to understand this imagery, we have to delve into a little language and cultural context. For the time, and Jews in particular, the “head” of something was the source of it. Yes, leadership and authority was involved, but that derived from an idea of the SOURCE of something. Biblical thinking was that the SOURCE of something was important, eternally important, even, and determined the end of it. Source determined end. To change the end, we must change the source.

There’s a lot to cover there, but as reference in the New Testament, when Paul talks about Jesus being the HEAD of the church or man being the HEAD of woman, he is talking about SOURCE, where it originated from. We could also reference the Old Testament ideas of building an altar from uncut stones, cut without human hands. Anything else was unworthy for sacrifice.

So Babylon is the source of worldly empires and kingdoms. We could argue the history of that, given Egypt and China and other powerful nations that were before or contemporary to Babylon. But Babylon was different, spiritually. It supplanted the Jewish nation as the power in that region, and if we follow that symbolism, then the rest of the empires after Babylon follow incredibly into place and the prophecy is amazingly accurate.

But the point of the dream is not the details of the empires, however. The point of the dream is that there is this other Kingdom that comes in (a stone uncut by human hands) and breaks into the scene after these other have had their time. This Kingdom’s impact is so great that all the others, despite the material which with they are made, are ground to dust by this Heavenly Kingdom and forgotten. It’s like they didn’t exist at all. Ever.

We could argue the details here, but we won’t. The message is simple. There is a Kingdom that is so powerful and transcendent that no other empire or nation can resist it. And this is because of the source of that Kingdom.

The source of the Kingdom is heaven, eternal, from God and the Spirit. As I’ve said before and will say again – temporal has no power over the eternal, the earth has no power over the heavenly, and man cannot stop God.

I love my country. I love America. I hope for the best. But it cannot compare or compete with the Kingdom of God. One day America will be a distant memory, or forgotten entirely. The Kingdom of God is all that will remain.

As we get into Christmas, this is what the birth of Jesus announced to the Jews who were looking and paying attention: the only Kingdom that will remain has come. The King Himself is here.

They were thinking of Daniel.

And in a world full of corruption and oppression and violence and division, this was great news. The best news ever, actually.

In a country that is full of violence and division and misinformation and political idolatry, it still is.

Peace.

 

The US Election, Daniel, and the Kingdom of God

This has been, and will continue to be, an historic election. There have been other divisive elections in our country, none more so than 1860, but the level of known corruption of one candidate compared with the lack of political experience and acumen in the other is fascinating to me, as a history major and an American. Add in the transparent failings of the media at large and the abundance of social media and leaking of digital information … there’s never been anything like it.

Fascinating in its tragedy, for sure.

But there is a spiritual side of this that is true. Not convenient, but true.

First, on the election. My prediction is that Hillary Clinton will win. Support for Trump is deceptive due to the bullying by the media and some liberals in our country, so that prediction may be off. But I say she will win because she operates in the extreme “by any means necessary” philosophy, with the goal being gaining power for herself. She has rigged one election that we have proof of, and major news outlets and our justice system refuse to hold people accountable for fair elections. Our president, who once demonized her but now supports her, even told illegal immigrants not to worry. Just go out and vote.

They are Marxists and communists in their philosophy and beliefs, so this is consistent with those inhuman beliefs.

Our justice system as a whole has decided she’s above the law, despite clear evidence she has proven unfit and immoral and corrupt.

I believe that Hillary Clinton could sacrifice kittens to Voldemort on live TV in one hand and bash in the heads of little Hatian children in the other, all while laughing with glee, and people would say, “At least she’s not Trump!” Others would praise her for being so progressive.

As an aside, let me say I have the utmost respect for those few and rare liberals who are calling her out, strong women and others like Jill Stein. I may disagree with their political positions but I honor their intellectual integrity.

Trump has his issues, so much so that it is valid whether a Christian can sensibly vote for him, but for every negative about Trump, factual or imagined, Hillary is ten times worse in reality.

She is anti-religious liberty, anti-woman, anti-children, anti-democracy and will of the people, immoral, racist, and anti-feminist. All of this by her own words in her own emails.

And she will probably be president by Tuesday night.

Since the media colludes with her and the justice system refuses to hold her accountable and voters participate in the tribal division and other parties can’t find a candidate to truly unify us … America will get the president it deserves.

I do not say it with condemnation  or glee. That is tragic. It breaks my heart. I relate to the prophets of the Old Testament more than ever.

But I am not afraid.

I am not afraid because of Daniel.

I’ve been writing some blog articles on the book of Daniel and his story. The main point of those articles (and as I continue to write them) is that despite the oppressive government of Babylon and Persia, the Kingdom of God was still in control.

Story after story illustrates this. Daniel and his resistance to the luxury of the new nation. Daniel interpreting the dream through the power of God that showed the supremacy of the Kingdom of God. Three men refusing to bow to an idol and surviving a fiery furnace. Daniel and the lion’s den. All of it shows us that the power of the Kingdom does not rely upon the cooperation of the worldly government.

I am not afraid because I am a part of the Kingdom of God. It is the Kingdom of Heaven. It is eternal. We have the Spirit that raised Him from the dead.

No person or government on Earth can kill a church whose Spirit is more powerful than death. What is temporary and earthly cannot limit what is eternal and heavenly.

God’s goal is ultimately not a great America. It does not please him for it to be destroyed or divided, but his ultimate goal is a thriving, radical, loving, powerful church, discipled and operating in the Kingdom of God. He will use whatever he’s given to accomplish that.

As I’ve said before, God will sacrifice what is temporal and will not last for that which is eternal and will last.

The gates of Hell will not prevail against a church built on Christ alone.

The question to the believers in our country is not who you’re voting for. Now, don’t misunderstand, a mature believer has prayed and sought God’s wisdom on how to use that right. But there is a bigger question we need to be asking ourselves.

Are we prepared to do the work to be the church we’ve been called to be?

Will we sacrifice our convenience and luxury and entertainment for discipline and generosity? Will we decide to be missionaries in our own nation? Will we continue to laud our bigger meetings, or will we seek true discipleship in the deeper things of the Kingdom? Will we continue to slide along and compromise with the ways of the world, or will we stand in the truth and find creative ways to resist the tide of decadence and corruption and speak the truth in love? Will we unify on the person of Christ and the power of the Spirit which alone has the power to change, or will we blame other Christians who didn’t vote the way we did?

Will we be the kind of church that busts the gates of Hell wide open?

If our answers to those questions are opposite the realities of the Kingdom of God, then it will not matter who wins on Nov. 8.

Even if we wake up on Nov. 9 and Trump supporters have done the near impossible of outvoting Democrats, the dead, and illegal aliens, many of them voting more than once, God is looking for a church that will wake up to its destiny in him.

I am thankful for other Christian leaders with a greater voice than mine who have been saying much the same thing. It encourages me.

Peace.

Daniel, Babylon, and the Kingdom of God Part 2 – Bravery and Truth

braveryNebuchadnezzar had a dream.

We all have dreams, all the time, and mostly they are weird or silly. Every now and then, we have a dream where we think it means something. Those are rare. Even more rare is when we have a dream where we KNOW it means something and can’t figure it out.

God talks to us in a myriad of different ways. God is a holistic god so it should be easy to understand that his methods of speaking to us by the Spirit are as varied as our personalities and experiences. Truth is the same, don’t get me wrong, but God loves us so much that he seeks to converse with us through any avenue he can … and that includes our dreams.

Nebuchadnezzar, as we already pointed out, was a powerful king that had established an empire and finally conquered Judah and Jerusalem. And he has a dream that disturbs him, severely. Disturbs him to the degree that he put out an order to all his magicians and sorcerers and seers – tell me the dream and the interpretation or I’m going to kill you.

While not the nicest thing he could do, he was an oppressive king, after all. Of course the magicians and all complained and asked him to tell them the dream so they could interpret. He was clear. Nope. If you’re the real deal, you could tell me the dream first.

For those that advertised their spiritual prowess, that makes sense, but it terrified them because they couldn’t do it.

Enter Daniel, in the middle of his Babylonian education. He had set himself apart through his eating habits – and other ways, I’m sure – and he hears about this drama in Babylon.

God shares the dream with Daniel. The dream was clearly “bad news” for Babylon and Nebuchadnezzar, but Daniel is forced into a choice. People will die if he doesn’t share what he knows. but it’s not the wisest thing in the world to let the king know his kingdom is temporary and a better one will destroy it.

Daniel has made a habit, however, of setting himself apart and obeying in ways that could place him in danger. His character shines in this moment in two ways – in his obedience to God and in his compassion to those in Babylon.

I don’t want to move past that point too quickly. The magicians and seers and others were ungodly and wrong about many things. Who knows? Perhaps they saw the fall of Jerusalem as the fall of God or those truths. Either way, in a religious sense, these were detestable people according to the law. And yet part of Daniel’s choice is to save them, to have compassion on them as he shares a dangerous truth.

I do not want to justify saying unpopular things for their own sake, but part of our call is to stand and speak truths that the majority will not like. It isn’t to “prove we are right” but to seek to save others. Me being right does not save anyone. Me expressing the truth, as unpopular as it may be, so that people can be reconciled to the one true God may very well save some.

Did you know that “cowards” are on the list of people who don’t get to enter the Kingdom of God? To be clear, I’m not excusing people with a big mouth. But let us not let the culture determine what is or is not taboo for discussion. Agreeing with a lie is not the way to lead people to truth. That is not love. That is not compassionate, despite how contrary to the culture that might seem. It takes bravery to express truth contrary to the world.

And it will be contrary, because to express the Kingdom of God means the end to the kingdoms of this world.

Which we will discuss next week …

Peace.

Daniel, Babylon, and the Kingdom of God Part 1 – The Interpreter of Dreams

stand-apartAs we discussed last week, Daniel and his three friends were subjects of a conquering kingdom. Nebuchadnezzar and Babylon attacked and messed with Judah for a few years, first making them a vassal, but after the Kings of Israel were “rebellious” in refusing to pay tribute, King Nebuchadnezzar decides he’s had enough and just destroys Jerusalem and the Temple there.

But he takes a few “choice” young men to groom and educate. It is an interesting program of indoctrination – take intelligent, good looking young men, woo them with the palatial comforts and educate them in the imperial culture, and then use them as examples of how it is beneficial for all conquered peoples to assimilate into the new culture. Daniel and his three friends went through this.

Daniel leads his friends to separate himself and keep himself pure within this program. It is such a strict program, that when he asks the stewards over them if they could do something different, the steward is afraid of royal retribution and punishment. To summarize, “I don’t think you get to do your own thing.”

Even though God had given the Jews over to the Babylonians as a punishment, Daniel felt the conviction to be set apart for God in a real and practical way.

While Daniel is known as the interpreter of dreams, we must remember that before God uses him in this way, Daniel had been intentional about seeking God and being faithful in the midst of oppression.

Daniel decided they couldn’t consume the fine foods and wine. He and his friends would eat vegetables and drink water. And he challenges the steward: if they didn’t appear healthier after ten days, then they would give up their convictions. They challenged in faith, and God blessed them for their “fast.” They did look better. As you can imagine, eating differently would mark them every day as separate from everyone else.

And that is who God used to interpret the dream of the King.

It is not biblically more spiritual to do the “Daniel fast.” That’s not the point.

But the principles are important and instructive for us today.

How are we saying “no” to the culture around us? As our government and culture adopts more of the Marxist ideology and godless ideas, this is more and more necessary for us to discuss and examine as disciples of Christ and citizens of a different Kingdom.

We will be mocked for saying “no.” That is the reality. There will be fear of standing out. Daniel had to deal with this. But if we are going to stand for the Kingdom within an increasingly godless and perverse culture, then there must be resistance and independence, ways that we show where our citizenship lies. This will threaten earthly empires and kingdoms.

The revelation for how we say “no” to our culture and stand out is up to Jesus and the Father. We must get our revelation from him, otherwise there will be no conviction, no strength of grace for endurance in that discipline. For it will require discipline.

And we must have people walking through it with us. We must have people we are vulnerable with that we can say, “Hey, God is telling me to do this,” and then they can walk through it with us or hold us accountable. Daniel had this in his three friends.

Could Daniel have done it alone? With God’s help, yes. But God has designed us to need one another, especially in the Body of Christ in the New Covenant. We will need each other more as our culture adopts more Marxist ideology (and religion … it is a religious belief and agenda, despite what they say to the contrary).

We cannot expect God to use us in powerful ways – and he is using and will continue to use many in powerful ways – unless we are willing to stand for him first. That is essential. It must come from revelation and conviction of the Holy Spirit, and it will scare us and challenge us. It will not be comfortable. But it is essential for what God has for us in the future.

Peace.

Next week – Part 2 – The Dream of the Kingdom

Daniel, Babylon, and the Kingdom of God Introduction

daniel-lionsAs we think about the role and the reality of the Kingdom of God, it is difficult for us to reconcile current tragedies or oppressive circumstances with the notion that we are a part of a Kingdom that is supreme and will never fade, nor will it ever be shaken.

The Book of Daniel in the Old Testament is a fascinating study in this. It has the clearest revelation of the Kingdom of God, but the context is of a subjected, punished people – the Jews – under an evil and oppressive regime.

A part of this is that God states that he uses these regimes and gives them power, for a time, for his uses. First, to punish a rebellious Jewish population for their continued sin and disobedience and immorality despite numerous warnings from numerous prophets and leaders. Second, to prepare those same people for a second deliverance, of a sort.

So we can see that even though these are an oppressed people, the Kingdom is still supreme and God is in control. He has not abdicated his power because tragedy has struck. He has allowed it or used it as punishment (an extremely unpopular idea in today’s culture, but stated clearly in the OT) with the ultimate goal of redemption. Some were not deserving of punishment, and yet we see they do not lose faith. Instead, it strengthens their faith. So whether innocent or guilty, God’s love and power is used to redeem or prepare a people for his deliverance.

It is important to note that the idea of the Kingdom of God goes all the way back to the time of the Judges, if not before. The Israelites did not adopt the idea of a kingdom from other cultures. In fact, the whole struggle in the beginning was against the idea of an earthly king “like other cultures” since God was their king. They had leaders and deliverers but not kings. We see this argument with Samuel and then eventually, Saul. God is sovereign, so he used even their sinful desire for a king to prophetically speak of a God-prophet-deliverer-priest-king to come.

All this is useful context as we will begin to look at Daniel and his three friends as they are taken as slaves and brought to the Babylonian empire.

It is also interesting that Babylon is seen as the model empire. We will go into more depth with this later, but secular and scriptural history points to Babylon as the initial empire of the ancient world. There had been great civilizations and kingdoms, but Babylon is symbolic of the imperial nature of large and central governments of the world from then on. Everyone basically copied them. Daniel is intentional about contrasting the notion of empire with the Kingdom of God.

This is a blog about the Kingdom. And so as we explore the book and relate it to us today, it will have a lot to say about how we act and behave and have faith in a transcendent Kingdom while living under an earthly one, even one that oppresses us. In fact, the scripture assumes that any earthly one will oppress, sooner or later. The only one immune to such corruption is the Kingdom of God.

The revelation and story of Daniel was preeminent in the minds of the Jews when Jesus arrives and begins his ministry. When we study the ideas of the Kingdom in Daniel, it gives greater and deeper context and understanding of Jesus’ gospel – Repent, for the Kingdom of God is here. And he preached that under another Empire, Rome, that was as oppressive and violent as any other, as did the apostles afterwards, in their own way.

On a personal note, while many of us in America are disheartened by the choices for president and the overall bad leadership in our country and immoral direction, this is an important reminder that, absolutely, we should want good leaders with integrity that understand the principles of good government; however, we already exist and operate within the Perfect Government of Christ in the Kingdom of God. That is more central to our peace and righteousness than the filling of an earthly office.

Next week – Part 1 – The Interpreter of Dreams.

Peace.

Tucker and Dave vs Evil and the Theology of Fear

tucker daleAn interesting movie was made back in 2010 called Tucker and Dale vs Evil. It is a definite B-movie and I’ve only seen it free on streaming, like Netflix, so it is easy to see. As someone who has watched a great deal of horror and dark comedies, the title and description interested me. I watched it one night and laughed. It was clever and original. I can only recommend it to those that would enjoy a movie mocking the college/teen horror flicks.

The setup of the movie goes like this: a couple good ole boy rednecks (Tucker and Dale) decide to go up to a cabin for a vacation. On the way, they stop at a convenience store where a group of young college students has also stopped on their way to another cabin. These college students see the rednecks and instantly surmise that they are serial killers. A couple simple coincidences reinforce this idea, and the college students leave the convenience store glad to survive the encounter.

Wouldn’t you know, the rednecks and college students have cabins close to one another on the lake. Tucker and Dale are nice and simple guys, and as they try to meet these college students, their interactions cause even more fear in the college students, and for the rest of the movie, the college students find creative ways to kill themselves running and reacting to their assumption that Tucker and Dale are serial killers.

I love this movie. It is incredibly insightful. Yes, it is a dark comedy made to be silly and stupid and funny, but like another one of my favorite movies, Idiocracy, it makes an important statement.

Tucker and Dale were NOT serial killers, and as the movie continues, they are horrified at the deaths and try to help. But because these educated college students worked with their original assumption, they interpreted what they saw through that assumption. These educated college students were educated enough to kill themselves. They were killed by their own fear.

We live in a culture where more access to information through the internet has ironically led us to have more surface relationships, less real community, and more blanket assumptions based on less facts. We’ve become more divided and closed minded about our tribal positions while being more “educated” than ever before. This happens with every group, but the most accepted group of people to make assumptions about and demonize are the “conservative Christians.”

Conservative Christians are uneducated, bigoted, stupid, superstitious, mean, racist, tyrannical, hate science … and the list goes on. It is the one group it is acceptable to call names. You are educated and cool and progressive if you completely demonize and dismiss this group of people.

We have a current president, supposedly highly educated and tolerant and open-minded (debatable on each point), who said about people in certain areas that voted against him that they were holding on to their “God and guns.” Not possible that they disagree with his policies that trap people into poverty and are based on a lack of science, history, and logic. It must be that they are stupid. Yeah, that’s it.

Of course, we must dismiss that most of the current universities were begun by people who believed conservative values, in education, in the progress of humanity as the image of their Creator. Or that “conservative” Christians have been responsible for countless schools and the rise of education in places that others would never go around the world.

That is not to say that conservatives or Christians are not capable of horrible things. Every human is. But they also do not possess a monopoly on them.

The greatest crime among many in our media is not killing or stealing to get ahead. The greatest crime is to be a conservative Christian. Anything is acceptable except that. Anything.

And so our educated culture runs from the identity and perception with such zeal that they run into buzz saws and axes and creative ways of killing ourselves, all in the name of not being like those we demonize. Any help that conservative Christians attempt to give is interpreted based on that filter and only confirms the perception.

Fear does interesting things. They’ve done studies on the brain, and fear and stress lowers our IQ. Making decisions based on fear is more about survival than progress. Despite how intelligent we try to make ourselves sound, the root of fear is the same and the result is the same – death and destruction, like those college students with Tucker and Dale.

If we believe the wisdom of God, then he tells us that he has not given us a “spirit of fear” but “power, love, and sound mind.” God is good and wants the best for all, and if fear is a root of death and destruction, then God would want to give us something greater and more beneficial.

So what is the solution? For all of us, whether Christian or not, whether conservative or not, let us not look at another and assume because they have perspectives we do not agree with or like, no matter what the issues are, that they are immediate enemies and unworthy of input. When we make those immediate judgments, it says more about our character than theirs. And each individual is worthy of that chance to be a friend as a created person loved by God, no matter who they are.

Peace.

 

 

 

Seeing the Kingdom in Suicide Squad

suicide squadSuicide Squad was released a few weeks ago. It has been a hit with fans and panned by critics. Certain aspects were controversial, but overall, as a writer and comic book lover, I enjoyed the movie despite it’s plot and production problems. This post, however, isn’t to weigh in as a formal critique. Instead, I will explore why it has become so popular as it is rooted in the purpose of the Kingdom. I will try to avoid serious spoilers.

Suicide Squad began in the comics. As comics became darker with Frank Miller and Alan Moore and others through the 80’s. The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen proposed the realistic concept that our superheroes might not be as moral or pure as we may have thought. That influenced everything from Superman to Batman, especially in DC, where the heroes were more “heroic” even in their personal lives, although it did affect Marvel, as well.

By the 90’s, more adults were buying comics, and so the writing matured. The heroes turned darker and the villains were humanized. What if our heroes were to turn evil or get out of control? So the gubmint in the comics decides to form a team of villains they could control.

Hence, the Suicide Squad. When the movie was first announced, the comic fans were excited. We loved the idea when it came out, and since Harley Quinn became such a popular character, seeing her in the movies for the first time appealed to us.

Even though the critics have tried to destroy the movie, it continues to be popular. Why? And how does this connect to the Kingdom?

While the writing has matured over the last 30 years, superheroes are somewhat difficult to relate to. They have superpowers we don’t have … and they consistently use them for good. It is inspiring and cool, but we don’t fully relate to it.

What we do relate to is criminals who want to do better but seem stuck in a cycle of selfish behavior.

And we relate to the reality of a large institution that will use us only if it can control us.

So even though the movie was severely problematic, it was wildly popular.

These are disturbed and decadent individuals, but their dreams were simple and universal – time with a daughter, a stable marriage filled with love, the return of lost loved ones. Redemption.

And yet their whole life, including their individual choices, are obstacles to their dreams.

These are the people the world turns to when the impossible needs to happen. They are forced to accept, but that control does not last. It cannot.

The villains are ultimately given the choice. The government can no longer control them. They could leave if they choose and not fulfill the mission. But these villains and misfits decide to do good, of their own volition. For the good of others. To save the world, they learned to work together.

It reminds me of the Kingdom. We have all made mistakes, have regrets, and lose hope. If we are honest, we are all misfits and villains. But we want to be heroes in the story. We want to do what is good and right for the right reasons. We want a chance for redemption.

Through the transformation of Jesus in the Kingdom, God gives us all that chance. The invitation is open to everyone, whether we feel we are beyond redemption or not, whether we feel filled with the devil or not. God extends his love to all, inviting us to come and participate in the power and mission to save the world from evil.

And then we join in with other villains, or former villains, to work together for good, for a mission. I pray we all find that team in our lives.

Peace.

 

Why Christians Love Science More than Anyone Else

creationWe have developed, over time, this concept in our modern culture that assumes Christians who believe in a single God who created all that is seen (which is a very diverse group in and of itself, not simply the extreme Ken Hamm Creationist) are uneducated and ignorant and “hate” science.

To be clear, the issue is when these individuals question the scientific validity of cross-species macro evolution and evolution as a creative event. They are believers in a “flat earth” and “closed minded,” despite the evidence to the contrary.

While I will not excuse how religious authorities have suppressed certain movements either in the past or currently, I will say that some of the stories surrounding these issues are so exaggerated as to be legitimate propaganda tools more than reasonable and balanced explorations of how the very preponderance of education in the west is directly due to Christian evangelical influence, not to mention how Christianity is more involved in raising the educational level and living standards of the poor throughout the world than any other group.

None of this is the general point of this article. I am not attempting to debate how right or wrong Christians are in their beliefs or even evolutionists. The point is to help people understand why Christians, despite the propaganda, love science more than any other group.

Christians follow Jesus Christ, the Son of God. God and His Son, together, created the world and the universe through an act of word and will. Not only do we follow Christ, we believe that we are born of the Creator. We do not only have an intimate relationship with the Father through the Son and the Spirit, we are born of Him. We were born again upon repentance and God is our Father.

So when we discover the design of this world, how things work, or when we see the beauty and the amazing things that we discover as we explore (Christians are, by nature, educators and explorers since knowledge and truth are paramount in Christianity), we smile in a sense of awe but also feel a personal connection to creation since our Daddy did it.

I am a creative person. I will not say what I create is good, for several reasons, but I write songs and books. I create series for church discipleship, make them my own. My point is this – my children see me create things all the time.

And it interests them. They feel a connection to what I create. “Daddy, is that your book?” “Daddy, did you write that song?” “Daddy, I like that song.” Whether or not it is quality work, my children feel a sense of pride in something their daddy made.

I have a friend on FB, and his father passed away not long ago. His father was a blues guitarist and made a record back in the 60’s. The record is rare and goes for $2k or more online, if you can find an original. He is willing to pay top dollar for this record. Not because it is good, even though it probably is … but because his father made it.

My grandfather wrote a book called Struggle in the Coal Fields, a book which is used at universities to help study the issues surrounding the coal industry and unions in the early 1900’s. I own a copy for one reason. He was my grandfather. I bought a copy for my father for one reason, his father wrote it.

Now if you go to my children and point to a book I wrote, and you say, “Your father didn’t write that.” Of course they will argue with you. They will say, “No, he wrote it. He told me he did.” They will point to my name on the cover. They will tell you how they see my character in every line.

(As an aside, it was interesting when people read The Living Stone, they continually said, “I could hear you saying all this.”)

One reason Christians have been at the forefront of science through history is for this reason, the discovery of the design of this world and the wonder within is deepened within us, further than someone who doesn’t have a relationship with God as their Father can understand. In effect, we love science more.

I am not trying to establish that Christians are more correct or incorrect in their scientific or religious assertions, only to help those who use name calling as an argumentative device to understand instead of demonize.

When we see a sunset that takes our breath away, it is personal for us. It is our Father who took our breath away. We see His hand in the way things work, in the good science can do. Ironic that a culture that increasingly accepts someone’s self-identity as legal reality, in fact celebrates it, despite all the evidence to the contrary, will so easily dismiss a whole group of people that seek to further love their Father.

Or perhaps not so ironic after all. Our Father told us about that, too.

Peace.

 

How Dystopian Fiction Expresses the Longing for the Kingdom

v for vendettaIf you know me, you know I love sci-fi and comic books and fantasy. When I was younger, some science fiction took on the elements of how great the future could be, how advancements in technology and culture would lead us to a utopian existence. Star Trek was the most popular of these ideas, on how “in the future” we would get rid of poverty and money and ownership (all that evil stuff!) and realize what is essentially a Marxist dream. Other sci-fi stories did the same to another degree or from other perspectives.

We can understand how one could extrapolate that conclusion. The West, and America specifically, achieved a certain amount of rapid progress and wealth over a short amount of time, and continued to give hope with the advances in civil rights through the 60’s. In the future, who’s to say what is possible? And with fantasy, there was the same hope of an idyllic existence, especially with the Tolkien-esque idea of the elves, who seem to have it all figured out.

There were dystopian views in sci-fi, and fantasy, as well. Social commentary is the root of sci-fi, especially. But over the years, we have few, if any, true utopian stories in science fiction. Even in modern Star Trek, the Federation of Planets suffer corruption and internal conflict. And with the popularity of worlds like The Hunger Games and others, dystopian stories have become the rage, the norm.

That’s not even discussing the Zombie Apocalypse narratives that were once B-movie fare but are now major games, movies, and shows, making millions.

It is fascinating that our culture is more and more comfortable with a pessimistic view of the future – the whole world is going to hell in a handbasket. While our society and politics become even more and more godless and Marxist, the corruption only increases and takes us further into despair about what is to come. We’re chronically disenfranchised … with everything. Religion, politics, philosophy, economics, whatever. It’s all crap. And our pop culture is reflecting and communicating that sense.

And in reality, everyone – conservative, Christian, liberal, atheist, agnostic, everyone – we all connect with that dystopian view of the future, even as we blame the other side for it.

God forbid we blame ourselves. But that’s another post.

We all understand tyranny, oppression. We believe that authority and power has been abused and will continue to be.

While that is interesting, it is not the most fascinating part to me.

What is fascinating to me is that all of these stories, in all of them, the only response is to fight the tyranny. The heroic response is to do whatever we can to throw off that oppression.

This is on the one hand, a very American idea. Our philosophical foundations were a Declaration of Independence due to an extensive list of grievances, of how the big, powerful Empire, the most powerful one at the time, perhaps in the history of the world, had abused their power. The American colonists revolted, formed their own government, and political history since changed.

Also, this is the longing of the human heart. To make our own choices. To see justice done. To feel a sense of unity around a noble purpose. And that longing comes from a Creator who has purpose, and since he created us in his image, downloaded purpose into us.

I take the fascination one step further, however. The end of these stories is always the death of the Emperor, the destruction of the oppressive system. The towers of tyranny are toppled, and the story ends there.

We almost never see anything better replacing it in these movies. So we can agree and connect with a feeling of oppression, a philosophy of self-determination and freedom, and fighting to the death for that right, and yet when it comes to seeing how the world works after the tyranny has been abolished, we don’t see how it should functionally occur.

Take the recent Star Wars movie, the Force Awakens. We left Return of the Jedi full of hope and the death of the evil Dark Side Emperor. What comes next? The struggles of a new Republic to establish a fair and just system in the place of the Empire? (To be fair, the novels did explore some of that, and those stories were pretty good overall.)

Nope. Not in the next movie. In the next movie, we have yet another all-powerful First Order taking over the galaxy. The First Order uses their weapon to take out this new Republic, you know, the one we never even experienced or saw how it worked. This vague idea of a government, a republic, was destroyed in fire. And we’re back again to tyranny and oppression.

So we have this longing for freedom and justice and a government that ensures what is truly right, leaders that don’t abuse power but use it wisely and for good, and yet we can’t even conceive of what that would really look like, or at least agree in our own agendas as to what that would be.

As usual, this all makes sense when you understand there is a Kingdom of God.

The Kingdom of God is that perfect government, that utopia that we all long for and yet imperfectly express. It is a real longing but vague in the details for one reason – it must be revealed by the King.

Even now, there is a freedom, a power, a means of resistance to the oppression and tyranny of the world. Make no mistake, the systems of the world will always devolve into tyranny. It is their nature. Now, however, we belong to and exist within an eternal power over and above all of those temporary systems. If we are disciples of Christ, we are children of the King and heirs of that Kingdom, and we possess the power of that Kingdom.

We also wait for a further revealing of that Kingdom, in a new heaven and earth, where what we know and experience through Christ is realized in the earth around them. We who experience it now long for that even more than the world to whom their longing is vague and misunderstood. We have drunk from the fount and know the sea into which we will plunge. It does not now exist as a government of this world.

But it does exist. There is only one way to see it, to enter it, to be a part of it, be born of it and inherit it, however, and that is by falling in love with and following the King.

Peace.