The Gospel according to Thor

October 16, 2011 1 comment

As a kid I was a comic book junkie. I started out with Superman and Batman, and couldn’t get enough. When my mother held me to three comics per week, that’s what I brought home each Sunday – plus a couple more hidden under my shirt. As I progressed through my teens, I did taper off, but there were two heroes who were very hard to say goodbye to: Thor and Green Lantern.

I was a little excited earlier this year when I heard that movies of both my old heroes, Thor and Green Lantern, were coming out this year. I generally don’t go to the theater, and I finally got around to renting the Thor DVD this weekend. So this review might be old hat to you. And if you haven’t seen the movie yet, be aware this will contain some serious spoilers.

One thing is preeminently clear from watching this movie: its creative principals are well-conversant with the Bible story. The parallels between Thor and Christ are pervasive, and other characters also line up closely with biblical persons.

It’s ironic that even as special effects have gotten more and more spectacular, they are losing their novelty and ability to hold the viewer’s interest. Gone are the days when effects could carry a film. A story will sink or swim based only on the old sure foundation of plot and character development. And so, though the effects in Thor are pretty good, they fade into the background. The real story is the spiritual development of the hero.

Thor is a brash young man destined for the throne. His father, king Odin, is old and wise and good. In his swagger, Thor retaliates for a wrong done to his kingdom, and unleashes a deadly war upon his people. For violating his fealty to the king, Thor is stripped not only of his power, which is embodied in his hammer, but of his position as heir to the throne as well. And he is cast out of his own realm and banished to earth, to live his life as a mortal.

The hammer follows him to Earth, however, and embeds itself in a rock. Thor immediately plots how to get to it and reclaim it. The moment finally comes when it is in his grasp. He smiles as he reaches out for it, tasting the power that will soon be his again. But Thor’s father had pronounced an oath over the hammer, whereby it could only be wielded by one who is worthy of its power. In what Thor thought would be his moment of triumph, he cannot free the hammer, try as he may. He cries what sounds like the death roar of a mighty lion, and falls to his knees, defeated.

If that weren’t bad enough, now taken captive, Thor is visited by his younger brother, Loki. Loki informs him that his father is dead. Thor’s foolishness and banishment has caused it, and their mother has decreed that Thor may never return. All of these are lies. Loki represents the satan figure in the story, who enviously rebels in order to rule, but his motives seem more confused than those of his biblical counterpart, in that he somehow thinks he is trying to please his father.

Once a mighty wild stallion, Thor now is broken. In tears, he expresses touching remorse for his actions and the woe they have brought on his loved ones. It was here that we began to see one aspect of the Christ story in action. I thought of the pain of the Cross, where everything went wrong for the Lord Jesus; where He suffered for sins He did not commit, and it seemed that even His Father had rejected Him. Thor’s loss at this point is complete.

Thor is now a changed man. He begins to adapt to his new mortal life by serving others in small ways, such as waiting tables, and he does so with servanthood joy. Finally, when Loki sends a robot to Earth to kill Thor and everyone else, Thor walks up to the machine and offers himself without resistance, as long as everyone else will be left to live. The robot takes him up on the offer – and kills him.

This is deep Gospel territory. What came to mind at this point were Michael Card’s “El Shaddai” lyrics, Your most awesome work was done, through the frailty of Your Son. Jesus laid aside the power and immortality of divinity in order to become a man and suffer like us, for us. He wrested the kingdom back from satan not by means of indomitable power, but by reestablishing the legal right through the humble obedience of self-sacrificial love. Thor’s death was a moving moment. (The film, directed by the Shakespearian, Richard Brannagh, had a noble feel almost throughout.)

But as Thor’s mother says at one point, there is a reason for everything the king does. Odin sent Thor into banishment to break his pride, and as soon as Thor dies, the father’s oath over the hammer is invoked. The hammer breaks loose from the rock it is embedded in, and flies into Thor’s hand. Thor is raised from death, and is restored to his former position and power. This, of course, is a picture of the resurrection. Thor goes on to stop the war he had triggered between kingdoms, and he does so sacrificially again, at the cost of destroying the way back to Earth, cutting him off from the woman he has come to love.

At the movie’s end, Thor and his father are reconciled. Thor is humble and aware of his need for wisdom, and he recognizes its rich endowment in his father.

I found the plot details and the dialog a bit hard to follow the first time through, but one advantage of the DVD is the ability to watch the film again on the cheap. The second time was much richer for being able to connect more of the dots. This movie is a winner at several levels, particularly the spiritual. That compliment comes from one who generally no longer bothers with most movies because of their low redeeming value.

If you enjoy seeing the Gospel story played out in different ways, and are looking for ways to relate it to those in our culture who are not conversant with the Bible, the movie Thor might well be something you would be interested in.

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Joel Osteen

October 16, 2011 Leave a comment

I have inside word that Joel Osteen is under stress. It seems a woman has been stalking him in one manner or another. While precautions have been taken, these things can take their toll. Even Jesus found it necessary – and increasingly difficult – to escape physical jeopardy, until He willingly accepted it when it was His time to go to the cross. We need to be praying for Joel, and all the church’s leaders.

I wish the body had a broader perspective toward ministers such as Joel. Joel is not perfect. I don’t go to him when I want a catechism answer. But there was a time in my life when I did go to him for encouragement, and to be reminded of the love of God. In fact, he was the only TV preacher I could listen to for a season.

Yet because he doesn’t harp on sin week in and week out, some accuse him of distorting the Gospel. They don’t understand that when Joel exhorts us to have a better attitude, or exercise faith that God is working on our behalf and will bring good out of difficult circumstances, it is implicit that our sinful attitudes must change and we must draw near to God.

It also escapes the understanding of some that the Gospel is about more than just initial salvation. Salvation is an ongoing process by which we are continually sanctified – “from glory to glory” is the way the Bible puts it – and we need encouragement and exhortation to be walking according to the fullness of our heritage in Christ. Joel is a modern day “bar Nabus” (son of encouragement), bringing us that uplifting word.

There’s also one other thing that some don’t realize. A great portion of the world’s people live trapped in dark lands where the love of God is suppressed. Joel’s message of love is beamed into those lands via satellite and the Internet. Imagine you have been born into a repressive cultural milieu, and live in terror of arbitrary and legalistic religion. Now you hear of a God who acts on our behalf from selfless love. You even see the minister quite frequently getting emotional talking about Him. What amazing evangelistic power this can have. God loves these souls, and we need to reach them with that love.

As I said, Joel is not perfect. But he has been faithful with the light he’s been given. He helped me immensely during a season of my life, and for that I will always be grateful and bless him. We need to pray for our leaders. Until the Body comes together in the unity of faith and love, we will suffer together with a lack of power.

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“Birth control” –and abortion – for all, underwritten by all, like it or not

October 6, 2011 Leave a comment

In the latest depredation by the Obama administration, Health and Human Services is proposing radical new regulations that would require private insurers – even those covering religious institutions such as churches, schools and hospitals – to fund contraceptive services with no charge or co-pay to the consumer. This ultimately forces the insurance pool to pay for these services, even when they offend the conscience of a good part of the people in that pool. Think of that when you see your skyrocketing insurance tab.

Catholics, of course, are enjoined against even simple contraception. But a little-known fact about some of the forms of contraception, in particular the ones using hormone manipulation, such as the Pill, in that they work by means of a three-stage modality. They first attempt to keep the egg from being released, and then to keep the sperm from reaching the egg, and finally, if a sperm and egg do join together, the pill makes the uterine lining inhospitable for implantation.

That is to say, that if the first two methods fail, the Pill Acts as an abortifacient.

So now, by federal decree, it will be illegal for insurance companies and medical practitioners to withhold services they find morally abhorent, and the people using them won’t have to pay a nickel for them. But the public – you and I – will.

This is the way it always is with the Left. They use the power of the state to cover over issues of individual morality, and they do it at the expense of those who do abide by moral scruples.

It’s interesting to see how Obama announced this scheme at a fundraiser:

“No longer can insurance companies discriminate against women just because you guys are the ones who have to give birth.

At this point, a member of a laughing audience shouted out: “Darn right!”

“Darn tooting,” Obama answered back—to laughter. “They have to cover things like mammograms and contraception as preventive care, no more out-of-pocket costs.”

Obama continues to think of giving birth as a negative. When he was running for the presidency three years ago, he said that if one of his daughters got pregnant, he would not want to “punish” her by making her give birth.

Obama’s worldview was obvious to many back in ’08, and could have been to all, because the facts were out there for ready discovery should anyone have cared enough to look. But the media was in the tank for Obama and covered for him, and the people followed en masse. Since then, despite incontrovertible revelations about serious corruption within the “reproductive services” industry, Obama has stood steadfastly behind it, vigorously protecting the hundreds of millions of public dollars Planned Parenthood extracts from the American taxpayer each year.

It would be too much to expect much else from the general public at this point, but one wonders when the religious left will wake up, if ever.

It’s quite a neat scheme, really – use the power of our own government and our own money to subvert the values we believe in. And they are doing a spectacular job of it.

In the face of this, the temptation is to look to the political realm for solutions. The political realm is necessary and has its place, of course, but by itself it is wholly inadequate. Obama’s Republican challengers – those who are running, and those who are not, has been an keen object lesson in the futility of trusting in princes. The battle is the Lord’s, and if our victory is to be real, it must be won in such a way that the glory is His alone. That is why the real action in this war is the battle of faith. There isn’t a leader that can lead, or a Constitution that can protect, unless this nation exalts the Lord as God, in the daily lives of its people and in its institutions. Unless we humble ourselves before Him, we will watch every advantage, every liberty, all truth and goodness, slip away despite our best efforts.

The empty promises of statists avail nothing but more bondage. They suck the people in with their handouts, but over the long term they rob their vitality in the bargain, and make them dependant on further handouts.

It’s time for America to disavow its unwise dependence on man, and to avow again its utter reliance on the good and abundant hand of the Almighty. Let the church arise!

Come, and let us return to the Lord; for He has torn, but He will heal us; He has stricken, but He will bind us up. After two days He will revive us; on the third day He will raise us up, that we may live in His sight. –Hos 6.1-2

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Pulpits aflame with righteousness

May 8, 2011 Leave a comment

I spent some time last week continuing to follow the story of the death of David Wilkerson, and considering what a giant legacy he has left the church. I went back and watched the film version of The Cross And The Switchblade, which is available on YouTube. It’s a great story, but the movie is dated and suffers from a mediocre screenplay. Of course the film has its moments, since it is about Jesus, but the story is worthy of a full-blown quality remake, and I hope that someday soon it gets it.

You also can view a nice video tribute to Brother Dave here.

During my stay at Times Square Church years ago, I often was reminded of the famous saying attributed to de Tocqueville:

I sought for the greatness and genius of America in her commodious harbors and her ample rivers – and it was not there . . . in her fertile fields and boundless forests and it was not there . . . in her rich mines and her vast world commerce – and it was not there . . . in her democratic Congress and her matchless Constitution – and it was not there. Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits flame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, she will cease to be great.

And I began to wonder how TSC was faring now, since Wilkerson retired. So I began scouring for sermons of the current senior pastor, Carter Conlon. The result has been amazing. The pulpit of TSC is still aflame with righteousness. Watching the sermons brought me right back to being there again. It’s nice to see the work Brother Dave began continue to give to the Body of Christ.

I’m going to embed two sermons here. The first one is perhaps the greatest sermon I have ever heard. It dramatically delineates the role of the law in the Christian life, and the related necessity of dying to self before we can live to Christ. The second is an powerful exhortation to believe God for fruitfulness.

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David Wilkerson, RIP

April 28, 2011 1 comment

Today came the sad news that Dave Wilkerson has passed away. The short press release said that it was sudden and unexpected.

Dave influenced a lot of people, including me. When he came out with The Cross and the Switchblade, it was the first time that I heard of the Cross’s power to change lives here and now, and not merely provide for the hereafter as I had been taught. When I later reached the crisis in my life that would deliver me to God’s doorstep, that message became essential to my survival.

Years later, when I was left bruised and bleeding by my first local church, I spent a season commuting down to Wilkerson’s Times Square Church. The preaching was world class, but more importantly, the Lord met me there in a very real and tangible way at a time when I desperately needed His affirmation.

One Sunday I invited a friend down to church with me. Between services, as we walked around midtown Manhattan, we were talking about family issues. I had been sensing that the Lord was calling me out of an unhealthy family situation, and as we spoke I felt led to set out a marker. I told her that if in the evening service Wilkerson would mention the incident in which Moses instructed the Israelites to strap on a sword and run though the sinning camp, each one killing his brother, companion and neighbor (Ex 32.27), then I would know that the Lord was indeed calling me to come out to freedom.

The sermon that night had nothing to do with family or ungodly soul ties. I had almost put away my challenge to God, when suddenly Dave turned away from his prepared notes and ran a sidebar on how following Christ was more important than any human relationship, including family. This was, he said, the same God who told Moses to have the people run through the crowd and kill their own brothers. Wilkerson then returned to his prepared notes and continued on. It was an amazing moment.

Another time, the backup worship leader was leading us in worship. It was good worship, but nothing more. But at the end he simply would not quit pressing in on Heaven’s gates. We kept praising and praising, and suddenly the Spirit began to fall. At some point I fell still, and I became aware of dozens of people behind me praising in tongues. Then, to my amazement, they were all praising in tongues in unison. It probably was a miracle of hearing, similar to what happened on the first Pentecost. A rush of the Holy Spirit came over me, and I felt embraced by Father’s love.

After several months, my season at Times Square Church was over, but I always have remained thankful for the work Dave raised up, and that God met me there so powerfully at a time when I really needed it.

To this day I have subscribed to Dave’s daily devotional, and I have found it filled with deep insights that only someone deeply in love with God, and fully seasoned in both life and the Word, could give out.

Dave ran a golden race, and will receive his reward. He will be missed. Well done, faithful servant.

Update: Here’s Dave’s last devotional, When All Means Fail, and it’s one of his best. Must reading. And here’s an article on his death. He was driving and swerved into the oncoming lane. His wife Gwen was in the car, and is currently in critical condition.

And here’s Part 2 of Nicky Cruz’s testimony:

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Regain your health

April 22, 2011 Leave a comment

Eight years ago I undertook a quest to restore my health. I saw pictures of myself at my sister’s funeral, and they did not reflect anyone I wanted myself to be. Over the years I had steadily put on weight and lost energy. It was time to do something about it.

I tried every diet under the sun, and massive exercise. And I studied up on nutrition. I made plenty of mistakes, but I made progress. Eventually I settled in at moderate exercise and a quality weight loss of 43 pounds. I looked great and felt great.

But sadly, some years after my high point I slipped back, and now I am about 20 lbs more than I want to be. I have returned to the constant evening energy cravings that had been my downfall, and my energy levels, stamina and disease resistance are much lower than I need them to be.

This week I came across an outstanding presentation that provided me with the much-need reminder of what the basic problem is in my diet, and the diets of most people in the West. It is so powerful and so clear that I am on my third viewing of it already, and it immediately led me to make the necessary adjustments for regaining my health.

Contrary to what most people believe, those adjustments are not difficult. Essentially, they consist in returning to the diet that sustained life for all the centuries of human existence prior to the last, when huge commercial interests and attendant politics took over the food industry.

Specifically, the changes involve eliminating processed sugar, increasing fiber intake, and bringing undamaged fat intake back up to where it should be.

The compelling video I’m going to post below will give the details, but essentially, decades ago, when America went on its errant low-fat craze in order to facilitate cardiac health, it made up for the lack of satiety by increasing the processed sugars, fructose and sucrose. At the same time, fiber levels went way down, as processed food became an important part of our diet. Fiber is taken out of processed food because it interferes with processing and storage. And food processors fell in love with the cheaper and highly stable trans-fats that completed this evil trinity’s assault on our health.

This was an absolute disaster, as these processed sugars are metabolized completely differently than normal glucose, and cut off the satiety mechanism that tells the brain you’ve had enough to eat. At the same time they ironically jack up blood lipids. So in effect, we put ourselves on a high-consumption, high-fat diet. Not only have we done nothing for cardiac health, we have set off a nuclear explosion of obesity, diabetes, and other degenerative diseases, all of them with overtones of cancer.

Please, give this video a careful viewing. The authorities whose job it is to protect us have done a horrendous job. They are shot through with political and commercial interests, and public health is about the last thing on their minds. People at this point are so confused they don’t know what to eat. They live in constant apprehension of doing something nutritionally wrong, yet still they gain weight. Does this seem reasonable? Or the way, even in a fallen world, that God designed a normal life to be led? No, instead, the simple truth is that the deck has been stacked against us, and there is no way to win the game according to house rules.

It is down to this: if you want to be healthy, you must take it on yourself. You must educate yourself, and you must be willing to abandon the cultural norms that have been thrust upon us. Our culture has become toxic not only morally and spiritually, but physically as well. The corruption in our society is affecting every level of our existence. It is time to fight back, intelligently.

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Discipleship: time for a complete personal reevaluation

April 2, 2011 Leave a comment

Recently I combed carefully through the Book of Acts again, looking for what the Holy Spirit might have for me there. My special interest was in ecclesiology, but what really motivated me was to discover what made the early church so different from us today.

Just twenty years or so after the Ascension of Jesus, the church, by the testimony of a credible neutral, if not hostile, witness, had “turned the world upside down”. Now, if that describes your ecclesial experience, then a) I’m happy for you, and b) please contact me with information about how I can join your movement. Because, as for me, I see the church as compromised, disjointed and struggling. All that is ok, provided we’re moving in the right direction, but I wonder.

And so I began searching Acts once again to see what it was in the church DNA that we have lost. Before long, I came upon a curious little thing that writer Luke kept repeating. On the missionary journeys with Paul, he kept referring to the believers as “disciples”.

When I first noticed this, I easily dismissed it as a reference to the small band of missionaries that accompanied Paul. Paul’s MO was this: he typically would enter a town, preach Jesus in the synagogue, win converts, get thrown out of the synagogue, and then start a separate house church in the town, composed of both Jewish and Gentile believers in Christ. Mere days or short weeks later, Paul and his band were gone, often forced out by persecution, and headed for the next town.

So I figured that Luke’s use of the term “disciples” couldn’t possible refer to the brand new Christians. They were mere babies in the faith; they could only handle milk, not meat. So I reasoned.

But as I read on, I came across solid evidence that those new converts to the Lord were exactly whom Luke was referencing as disciples. And with that understanding, my eyes were opened to the difference between the church in the Book of Acts and the current state of the church in the West.

Paul and his band did not preach a cultural Christianity, or mere morals. They preached total consecration to the Savior and to His church. Baptism was a symbol of dying to Christ, of leaving all the things of the previous life behind. It was not to be entered into lightly. And the persecution that continually dogged Paul was vivid evidence to any prospective new believer that if he were to accept Christ, he could expect the same in his own life.

Consider the power the church would have to change lives and impact the nations, if we were to shed our preoccupation with loveless doctrinal minutia and structures, and focus on radical obedience to the Holy Spirit; if we were to abandon materialism and individualism and dedicate ourselves to each other. This is the power the nascent church wielded, that caused it to thrive in a hostile environment.

I’ve heard that Chinese church leaders continue to ask the West to send more bibles, but not to send popular Western Christian books. Their greatest fear is not persecution, under which they have thrived for decades, very similarly to the church’s experience in the Book of Acts, it is becoming infected with self-centered consumerism under the flag of religion.

And so, I concluded that the key to awakening the church lies in discipleship. Funny, that’s exactly what Jesus indicated as He left this earth:

Then Jesus came near and said to them, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.

Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,

teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” -Matt 28:18-20

We need to get back to basics. And it needs to happen now, in you and in me. The world is ripe for a final revival unlike anything it’s ever seen.

Not everyone is going to be willing to become a disciple. The cost is too great. Jesus understood that from the start. The Sermon on the Mount is universally acknowledged to be the greatest concentrated spiritual teaching in history, but look at how it happened:

When He saw the crowds, He went up on the mountain, and after He sat down, His disciples came to Him. -Matt 5:1

Jesus never trusted crowds. Here he drew himself away from the crowds, to a remote place. Only those people who were willing to climb the mountain after Him would hear his intimate disclosure of Kingdom principles. The rest remained down below, awaiting their next “blessing”.

Another time, Jesus was walking on a road, with large crowds following. He turned abruptly and proclaimed:

“If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his own father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters — yes, and even his own life — he cannot be My disciple.

Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. -Luke 14:26-27

Jesus purposely thinned the crowds. He would rather have a few who are serious than many who are just going along for the ride.

Yesterday I came across this video by Andrew Strom that speaks to the church’s need to recapture discipleship. Because these things have been reverberating in me lately, I found it riveting. I believe you will too. The sermon begins at around 11 minutes in.

Be blessed,
p.

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