Category Archives: Studies

Heroes and Villains – Marva Munson

Prof. G.H. Dorr:  “Yes, I must confess. I often find myself more at home in these ancient volumes than I do in the hustle-bustle of the modern world. To me, paradoxically, the literature of the so-called “dead tongues” holds more currency than this morning’s newspaper. In these books, in these volumes, there is the accumulated wisdom of mankind, which succors me when the day is hard and the night lonely and long.”

Marva Munson:  “Mm. The wisdom of mankind, huh? What about the wisdom of the Lord?”

MMunson

At first glance, there is nothing particular about Mrs. Marva Munson that catches the eye.  In the 2004 film, The Ladykillers, she is a widow living alone with her cat Pickles and acts as landlord to the nefarious Professor G.H. Dorr who has rented out a room in order to use her house as a base for his scheme.  All appearances suggest that she is a typical little old lady, but her outward appearances belie a tenacity for doing what is right that puts many she encounters back on their heels.  The great battle she fights doesn’t take place in a distant location or epic landscape, nor does it contain the action we expect from such showdowns.  On the contrary, it takes place in her own living room, accompanied by a cup of tea.  When she discovers the Professor’s crime and sees through his attempts to mask it, the Professor attempts to mingle lies with smooth words in order to convince Ms. Munson to go along with their crime.  He even goes so far as to attempt to give her a cut by claiming that they are going to donate a full share of the loot to her favorite cause.  He also claims they actually caused little damage to anyone (only a penny from their pocketbooks), and suggesting that their robbery will lead to so much more good.  In the face of the Professor’s lies, she has a choice to make:  go along with the crime so that a “greater good” can be done, or turn them in, leaving all that good undone.  After much struggling and deliberation within herself, Mrs. Munson renders her answer:  stealing is just plain wrong, even if they had good intentions.  She then issues an ultimatum:  the Professor and his co-conspirators can either give back the money and accompany her to church tomorrow, or they can deal with the police.  This of course does not sit well with the robbers and sets off a series of events that unfolds throughout the remainder of the film.

The Apostle Paul writes in his first letter to the church in Corinth:  “And I, brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God.  For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.  I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling.  And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words or human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 2:1-5)  What Paul writes here may strike us as remarkable.  He says that he came to the Corinthians “in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling” and that his speech was “not with persuasive words or human wisdom”.  This seems like the exact opposite of what we think witnessing should look like.  Why would Paul’s witness be of any effect if he didn’t base it off of persuasive words and human wisdom?  Paul states that his work among the Corinthians was based on Christ alone, in demonstration of the Spirit and of power.  This is not to say that reason has no place in religion, but rather that it has a proper place as a help and a handmaid to queen faith.  It is by reason that we recognize and appreciate the divine wisdom of God manifest in Creation.  It is at the limits of our reason that we come realize the transcendent majesty of God which excels our ability to know.  We do well to recognize that many of the apostles were uneducated, such as Peter the fisherman, but we do better to also recognize that there were apostles such as Paul who were well-educated; thus forming a spectrum of backgrounds upon one foundation. (1 Corinthians 3:11)

Paul’s aim in placing his witness on Christ alone was that the Corinthians’ faith wouldn’t be based upon the wisdom of men but on the power of God.  This is the difference between mere intellectual assent and a living, growing faith.  If our faith is purely intellectual, it amounts to little more than agreeing to an argument.  We agree to the proposition that God wants to be in relationship with us, to fill us with the life that is in him, and to conform us to the image of Christ.  However, this is merely an argument:  an ordered collection of ideas.  It has no life in it.  What’s more, it has its foundation in our minds through reason rather than in Christ through faith.  Trusting in the mind is the same as trusting in the flesh and is subject to the same weaknesses.  Just as our bodies are buffeted by passions and desires, so our minds are buffeted by the subtle deceptions of the devil and the World.  We come face to face with the Professor in many ways, shapes, and forms with the same goal of persuading us to bend to sin.  Thus, it is important that we be bound to Christ as a lifeline while we explore and cultivate the vast expanse of the mind.

The question that remains is what to make of Paul’s statement that his witness was in demonstration of the Spirit and of power rather than persuasive words or human wisdom.  To answer this we ought to ask ourselves, what is the demonstration of the Spirit in my life?  Or, put more simply, how am I more Christ-like now than I was?  Our arguments, no matter how finely-crafted, lack the ability to show God to others.  Christ did not show us the Father by laying out a series of well-reasoned lectures.  Instead, He showed the Father through who He was. (John 14:7-11)  If we are to follow His example, we must be conformed to His image and let God be reflected in our lives and who we are.

It is in Christ that our witness truly stands and it is in Christ that we must be anchored.  It is this unyielding faith in God that is a common thread running through all the heroes of the Bible:  Abraham, Moses, Rahab, David, Elijah, Mary, and Peter are only a few of the great cloud of witnesses which surround us and urge us onward in the race of faith.  Similarly, this is the remarkable thing that we see in Mrs. Munson:  a determination to follow God despite the sundry goods and arguments laid out in all their earthly splendor before her.  Perhaps that is the thing that all heroes call us to:  to do what is right despite challenge and temptation.  Pursuing this means giving God our all and submitting to His Lordship in our lives.  This means letting God be the most important thing and guiding principle for us.

Heroes, as well as villains, come in many shapes and sizes but what doesn’t change is the choice their characters bring before us:  to pursue what is right or to give in to what is wrong.  Villains remind us of the shadows lurking in our own psyches while heroes remind us that good is still within our reach if we will but strive for it.  It is within reach of us all because it is God who calls us and equips us.  “And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till all come to the unity of faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ—from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.” (Ephesians 4:11-16)

Food for Thought:

  1. Is Christ the foundation on which my faith is built, or is it something else?
  2. In what way do I feel threatened by relying on Christ alone?
  3. Consider the awesome greatness of God that He is our all in all and all-sufficient for us.
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Heroes and Villains – Professor G. H. Dorr

“You, madam, are addressing a man, who is in fact quiet… and yet, not quiet, if I may offer you a riddle.”

– The Professor to Mrs. Munson

GHDorr2

Some villains stand out because of the threat they pose through sheer power or destructive capabilities.  Professor G.H. Dorr, on the other hand, is of a different sort.  Cutting the figure of a Southern gentleman, he seems to possess a devilish charm rather than devilish intent.  As a matter of fact, his skills seem limited to a great capacity for thought, having been “trained in the art of cogitation”, and an aptitude for speaking.  However, these tools are more than sufficient for him to manipulate others into helping him to achieve his goals.  In the 2004 film, The Ladykillers, the Professor is the mastermind behind a seemingly perfect riverboat casino heist.  Having gathered to himself the necessary personnel and skill sets, the motley crew executes his plan without a hitch, that is until the owner of the house they’ve been using as a base finds out.  The Professor then must convince the owner, one Mrs. Marva Munson not to call the police and turn them in.  When he finds that straight up lying about their actions will not work, he turns to convincing her that what they did isn’t really so bad.  He explains to her that the casino is itself little more than a den of thieves and inequity.  Not only that, but it has an insurance policy to cover such losses as being robbed and, he claims, after doing the math, their little venture will not cost anyone more than a penny.  Furthermore, he lies to Mrs. Munson, each of his accomplices and himself are going to donate a portion of their shares of the loot to charitable causes and they were going to donate a whole share to a cause particularly near and dear to her heart.  The Professor rests his case by pointing out the good that can be done the money they donate at the cost of a single cent to all those adversely affected.  When backed into a corner, Professor plays his most insidious card, trying to convince Ms. Munson that their crime is not such a bad thing and getting her to go along with it.

In the book of Jeremiah, God says that He will stretch out his hand against the Israelites “…Because from the least of them even to the greatest of them everyone is given to covetousness; and from the prophet even to the priest, everyone deals falsely.  They have also healed the hurt of My people slightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace!’ when there is no peace.  Were they ashamed when they had committed abomination?  No!  They were not at all ashamed; nor did they know how to blush.  Therefore they shall fall among those who fall; at the time I punish them, they shall be cast down,’ says the LORD.” (Jeremiah 6:13-15)  God calls out the prophets and priests at this time, who were supposed to lead the people back to God and to speak His word to them, for being as corrupt as the rest of the people.  Not only that, but they are unashamed of having become so.  However what is perhaps most striking is that they have healed His people slightly.  The word that gets translated as slightly carries with it the connotations of trifling or of little account.  Arguably, the prophets and priests had made little of their job to direct the people to God and therefore done little to that end.  On the contrary, they have comforted and further secured the people in their predicament by telling them that all is well when it is clearly not the case.  The prophets and priests should have been telling the people to repent and change their ways.  However, because they were also participants in the backsliding, they whitewashed the situation and lied to the people about the true state of things.

It is very tempting for us to do the same.  We try to convince ourselves and others that there is no problem or even a need to change our course when we find our way into sin.  We are all too eager to justify ourselves rather than repent and let God be our justifier.  There are many reasons why we are inclined to do this:  we shy away from admitting that we were in the wrong, or we enjoy our sin too much to let it go are just a couple of examples.  At the core, however, we find ourselves playing the role of the Professor and trying to make our vices out to be virtues.

We have readily available to us the written Word of God which is able to reveal what is in our hearts (Hebrews 4:12).  When our sinful deeds are brought to light, we are faced with the choice either to continue in the way we are going or to turn back to God.  Unfortunately, we often opt to continue on our merry way down the path of sin.  The only problem is that it requires that we become hypocrites, claiming to be in the right while doing the very things that we know from God’s Word to be wrong.  Being a hypocrite is not something that sits very well with us and so we try to rationalize the sin in our lives so that, in our minds, we aren’t doing anything wrong.  We come up with excuses about how it is a greater good than harm or how others deserve whatever harm we may be causing them (even if it is just murdering them in our hearts), or how it really isn’t that big of a deal, seeing how in the grand scheme of things it only amounts to a drop the bucket…or a single penny.

The thing that makes these lies we tell ourselves (and others for that matter) so dangerous is that they lull us right into death.  Like the prophets and priests from Jeremiah, we proclaim our peace and wellbeing when our souls are grievously wounded and rapidly bleeding out.  There are few greater harms that we can do ourselves or others than to say that we are spiritually well when we teeter on the very lip of hell.  It amounts to blinding ourselves to our real state and stopping our ears against God’s pleas to turn back while there is still time.  These lies need not be our own inventions either.  Paul writes to his protégé Timothy, “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.” (2 Timothy 4:3-4)  It is not only ourselves, but many others as well who wish to paint what is noble as wicked and what is wicked as noble.  This means that there is a large market for such lies and there are those who are all too eager to supply that market.  Thus, we cannot rely on the world at large to be our guide and teacher in matters of the soul.  Rather, our ability to stay on the straight and narrow path is a matter between God and ourselves, aided by those trustworthy souls that God brings alongside us in our pilgrimage.

What makes the Professor such an awful rogue is that he embodies that voice which gently and quietly leads us to the wrong on a daily basis.  It often comes well-dressed and expresses itself with the greatest articulation.  It is charming and seems harmless enough.  As a matter of fact, it seems to have our best interests at heart.  Nonetheless, behind the charming façade is a path that leads straight to hell.

Food for Thought:

  1. Is there a sin in my life that I have colored to be a virtue?
  2. In what ways am I tempted by the world’s lies about what is or isn’t right?
  3. Consider what a great gift it is that God has provided us with the Scriptures to be a guide and an anchor for us.

Heroes and Villains – Touko and Shigeru Fujiwara

“As I had encountered kindness, I wanted to be kind myself. I wanted to be able to do something, just like others had done for me.”

-Takashi Natsume

Shigeru_&_Touko

The Natusme Yuujinchou (Natsume’s Book of Friends) series follows a boy named Takashi Natsume who has the ability to see youkai (spirits that feature prominently in Japanese folklore).  However, those around him find his behavior disturbing as he often appears to be frightened by or talking to no one (since most people cannot see youkai).  As a result, he is considered to be a bizarre or “freaky” child.  His parents died when he was young so Takashi spent his childhood being passed from home to home.  However, this changed when he was taken in by the Fujiwaras.  Touko and Shigeru are never really involved in the youkai antics which make up the bulk of the storyline.  As a matter of fact, they very much appear to be your average middle-age couple.  What makes them exceptional is the love and kindness they show Takashi by making him a part of their family, a fact they constantly remind and assure him of.  The Fujiwara’s provide a loving base and foundation that Takashi has never known before and which helped him to, in turn, show kindness to others.

The Apostle John writes the following:  “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.  He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.  In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him.  In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His soon to be the propitiation for our sins.  Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” (1 John 4:7-11)  John makes the bold statement that if we do not love, we do not know God.  Why?  Because God is love.  John goes on to further flesh out this idea by explaining how we have seen the love of God in action, namely:  that He sent His only begotten Son to pay the price for our sins that we might be reconciled to Him.  Paul puts it this way:  “For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.  For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die.  But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:6-8)  The love which God shows us is profound in that He loves us for ourselves, not because of ourselves.  By this I mean that God’s love is not dependent upon us.  God’s love does not come to us because of anything we are, say, or do, but because of who He is.  Love is an integral part of God’s character and we cannot know God without knowing His love.  To put it in more human terms, returning to the Fujiwaras, love and kindness is so much a part of their characters that we as observers behind the fourth wall, as well as Takashi, don’t know them without knowing that love and kindness.

After making his statement about the love of God, John goes on to say that we ought to love one another.  Why?  Because God loves us.  If God has showered so great a love on us despite our being in rebellion against Him, what excuse are we to give for not loving others, be they our siblings in Christ or not?  The same God who speaks to us through John telling us to love one another also tells us to love our enemies. (Matthew 5:43-48)  Where can such a love come from?  John provides us with an answer when he proceeds to write:  “No one has seen God at any time.  If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected (made complete) in us.  By this we know that we abide in Him , and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit.  And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son as Savior of the world.  Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God.  And we have known and believed the love that God has for us.  God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him.” (1 John 4:12-16)  It is through the indwelling of God the Holy Spirit that we are able to not only partake in this great love, but also share this love with others.  Love is one of the spiritual fruits which the Holy Spirit bears in our lives by virtue of His presence. (Galatians 5:22-23)  It is also the Spirit who enables us to confess Christ as Lord and Savior. (1 Corinthians 12:3)  When the Spirit abides in us and does His work upon our hearts, we cannot help but to love others because love is the fruit of His labors.

John is not the only one who exhorts us to love one another, Christ, when He is eating the last supper with His disciples speaks thusly:  “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another.  By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)  Now here is a remarkable thing:  Jesus says that the love we are to have for one another will be a distinguishing mark that we are His disciples.  This is because we are not to love as the world loves, but as Jesus loves, as God loves.  This unconditional and unwarranted love is an outward sign of the Holy Spirit’s work within us and if we love as Christ loves it shows that we are truly His disciples because it is apparent that we know Him.  And if we know Jesus, then we know God because Jesus is in God and God is in Jesus. (John 14:7-11)  However, we mustn’t go thinking that this love is something that we can wear as a mask and pretend to be Christians.  For if we pursue such a venture it will soon become apparent that our love is just as hollow as a mask as well.  We can only fool others for so long and we can never fool God.  The love of God is not something that can be replicated or faked which is another reason why it is a distinguishing mark of Christians.  While he was still being passed from relative to relative, it was not unusual for Takashi to stumble upon a hushed conversation between his foster family as to how to get rid of him to someone else.  This is not the case with the Fujiwaras.  There are no whisperings of disapproval or planning behind closed doors as to how to rid themselves of him.  As far as they are concerned, he is and will always be part of their family.

Looking at the Fujiwaras’ relationship with Takashi shows us a number of things.  First, it serves as a metaphor for the way that God welcomes us with open arms into His family.  The effect that their love and kindness has on Takashi, encouraging him to do likewise, serves as a reminder of the way that God’s love kindles and nourishes a flame of love within us.  This flame can be used by God, if we allow Him, to light and feed the same flame in others.  The Fujiwaras remind us that one being a hero sometimes means choosing to love and to love unconditionally on a daily basis.  As Christians, we know that when we do something as seemingly mundane as loving as God loves on a daily basis, it is showing God to others on a daily basis; for God is love.

Food for Thought:

  1. In what ways is God calling me to love as He loves?
  2. How might I better cooperate with the work of the Holy Spirit on my heart?
  3. Consider how marvelous it is that God loves us so much as to cause His Holy Spirit to dwell in us and fill us with His love to the point that it overflows from within us.

Heroes and Villains – Relius Clover

“Yes… that dark, inorganic mass.  I’m sure you saw it during the course of repairing Ada.  That object… THAT is a person’s true form.  Strip away the veneer… and people are nothing more than things.”

-Relius to his son

Relius1

At first glance, Relius Clover may remind you of the phantom of the opera.  However, what lies hidden behind his mask is far more dreadful than the phantom’s disfigurements.  Relius is considered to be one of the most brilliant minds in the world of the Blazblue videogames.  During a catastrophic lab accident, he was thrown into another dimension which spat him out 80 years in the future.  During that transport, he saw what he believed to be a person’s true form:  a ball of bluish light.  Since then, the mind behind his mask regards people as mere things, impersonal objects that are either of use or a hindrance to his research and goal of creating the perfect human being.  While pursuing this research, he has conducted experiments that have turned his wife, Ignis, and daughter, Ada, into weaponized puppets.  When his son, Carl, demands an explanation why he would do such a thing to his own daughter, Relius responds, “I was searching for something.  Ada was of use to me during the process, that’s all, like any other tool.”  Relius’ ruthless ambition and ghastly creations have earned him the moniker:  “The Mad Puppeteer”.

Relius’ villainy brings to light our own tendency to dehumanize others and reduce them to various means to our ends.  Judas Iscariot’s response to Mary (the sister of Martha) anointing Jesus serves to illustrate one way in which we do this:  “But one of His disciples, Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, who would betray Him, said, ‘Why was this fragrant oil not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?’  This he said, not that he cared for the poor, but because he was a thief, and had the money box; and he used to take what was put in it.” (John 12:4-6)  On the surface, Judas’ concern seems practical, perhaps even admirable.  Would it not be better to sell the oil and donate the proceeds to the poor rather than “wasting” it?  John, however, writes of Judas’ true motives:  to get more money into the money box which he plans to take for himself.  Judas is concerned about himself uses the poor as a means.  Many times we pull a similar maneuver when we may engage in service with a wrong heart.  We are doing it so that we can help ourselves to the honor we ought to give fully to God.  Like Judas, we are using the people we claim to serve as a means to an end.

In contrast to the impersonal and dehumanizing view embodied by Relius, God has demonstrated time and time again that He is a deeply personal God.  We read that God spoke with Moses in the tabernacle of meeting “face to face, as a man speaks to his friend.” (Exodus 33:11)  This isn’t to say that Moses literally saw God’s face because that is not something that anyone can do in this world (see later in that chapter:  Exodus 33:18-23).  However, the language conveys the intimacy of the conversation between God and Moses.  God wasn’t speaking to Moses in a removed or distant way, but as a “man speaks to his friend.”  Later, in the book of 1 Kings, when Elijah is in the depths of despair, God speaks to him in a cave in the wilderness with instruction and encouragement. (1 Kings 19:1-18)

God even went so far as to be incarnated as a human in the person of Christ Jesus:  “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)  “Inasmuch as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil.  And release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.  For indeed He does not give aid to angels, but He does give aid to the seed of Abraham.  Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.  For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted.” (Hebrews 2:14-18)  Christ is God coming in flesh and blood to come alongside us in our sufferings and infirmities, identifying with our humanity.  Furthermore, when Christ ascends to prepare a place for us, He does not leave us alone:  “If you love Me, keep My commandments.  And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever—the Spirit of truth, who the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you.  I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you.” (John 14:15-18)  Even now, God dwells within us in the form of the Holy Spirit.  God does not deal with us in a distant fashion, but closely as His beloved children.

If we are being conformed to Christ’s likeness, it means that we are learning to interact with people as just that:  people.  One of the most poignant instances where we see Christ’s heart for humanity comes from Matthew 9:35-38, “Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people.  But when He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd.  Then He said to His disciples, ‘The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few.  Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into the His harvest.’”  Christ does not regard the weary, confused multitudes with disdain or detachment.  His heart is moved because they are each important to Him and He seeks each of them as a shepherd seeks a lost sheep.

It is tempting for us to become jaded and detached from others.  The news stream seems to show us nothing but the worst of humanity:  selfishness, corruption, murder, etc.  It often reaches the point that we come view such events as impersonal news stories when they are, in fact, human events which bring about human suffering.  In the midst of our increasingly busy schedules, we may come to view people as aids or obstacles to us.  We see them as being of use or hindrances to our goals, just as Relius does.

We should not deceive ourselves, thinking that we are so different from Relius.  Although we may not undergo the same trans-dimensional experience he did, each time we choose to treat others as means rather than as people, each time we choose to view others as less than human, we are teaching ourselves to think like him.  We are practicing viewing the world through Relius’ mask rather than through the eyes of Christ.

Food for Thought:

  1. Under what circumstances do I tend to treat people as things rather than human beings?
  2. How is Christ calling me to view others as He does?
  3. Consider the love which God has for us that, though He is Creator and we are created, He treats us as His beloved children.

Heroes and Villains – Ryu

“Sometimes the most important battle, is the battle within…”

-Ryu

Ryu

Ryu is one of the most well known video game characters, right up with the likes of Mario and Megaman.  He made his first appearance in the 1987 arcade game “Street Fighter” and has since become something of a mascot for the Street Fighter series and the company which created it, Capcom.  Ryu is a martial artist who travels the world fighting all kinds of opponents seeking to further hone his skills.  Despite his benign goals, he is plagued by a dark power within him, the Satsui no Hado or dark hado.  The Satsui no Hado (translated as “Surge of Murderous Intent”) is a sinister power that arises within individuals when they become so consumed with rage or the desire for power that they are willing to kill for it.  In Ryu’s case, it was awakened in him when he was pushed to his absolute limit while fighting a powerful opponent.  He eventually loses control of himself and wins the bout with a single vicious attack powered by the dark hado.  Ever since that time it has threatened to consume him and take away his heart and his humanity.  Ryu’s heroics do not lie primarily in fighting villains, but in his struggle with the evil within himself.

Like Ryu’s Satsui no Hado, sin is and remains a constant threat to us during our lives here on earth.  Paul writes about our struggle against it in Romans 7:21-25:  “I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good.  For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man.  But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members.”  Even though sin’s power over us has been broken, this does not mean that evil remains idle.  God’s warning to Cain back in Genesis 4:7 is every bit as applicable to us today:  “If you do well, will you not be accepted?  And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door.  And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it.”  Sin no longer has the last word, but that doesn’t stop it from constantly trying to coax and cajole us back into its service.  It lies at our door (“crouching” in the English Standard Version) accosting us at every opportunity.  God also wants us and seeks us at every turn, but His desire for us is very different than sin’s.  Sin wants us so that it can consume us.  God wants us so that we may be filled with Him thereby receiving life everlasting and being shaped into the person He created us to be.

With sin so persistently after us, Paul advises us to think of our Christian walk as an athletic contest.  He writes, “Do you not know that those who run a race all run, but one receives the prize?  Run in such a way that you may obtain it.  And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things.  Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown.  Therefore I run thus:  not with uncertainty.  Thus I fight:  not as one who beats the air.  But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.” (1 Corinthians 9:24-27)  The prize that athletes receive for winning a contest is a perishable one, one that does not last (as a matter of fact, Paul is probably here referring to the crown of laurels that was awarded in ancient Greece, a crown of leaves and branches that would wither).  Paul states, however, that in our Christian walks we are striving for a crown of eternal consequence.  The imperishable crown of which he speaks is the crown of life used as a metaphor for the eternal life with and in God that we receive. (Revalation 2:10, 3:11)  The contest of Christianity has the highest stakes and we compete, not against others, but against ourselves, sin, and the devil.

Although Christ has won the victory for us against sin, we cannot sit back and rest on our laurels, for we must follow Christ in order to cross the finish line.  Paul urges us to be deliberate in our living:  “Therefore I run thus:  not with uncertainty.  Thus I fight:  not as one who beats the air.”  The decision to follow Jesus is a deliberate setting of ourselves against our former ways and a decision that we must make many times each day (as many times as sin urges us to return to it).  Making this decision is no easy task.  Just like a martial artist (or any other athlete) we must train ourselves as we pursue our goal.  Martial artists train themselves by such means as weightlifting, practicing kata, running drills, cardiovascular exercises, etc.  Christians train themselves by meditating, reading Scripture, praying, serving, etc.  The goal is the same:  to further immerse oneself in and become more proficient at one’s art.  The Christian’s art is to rely on God alone and become ever more conformed to Christ’s image.

Ryu’s training and travels may serve as a metaphor for the kind of pilgrimage that Christians are on.  Though he is well traveled, Ryu’s destination is not a physical place, but an intangible one:  ever further mastery of his art.  Likewise Christians, no matter how far we go or how spiritually mature we become, have no physical destination.  As a matter of fact our destination cannot be found in this world, tangible or intangible.  “These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.  For those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland.  And truly if they had called to mind that country from which they had come out, they would have had opportunity to return.  But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country.  Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them.” (Hebrews 11:13-16)  Christians constantly seek the heavenly country that God has prepared for them in eternity.  The Kingdom of Heaven which grows in our hearts is a foretaste of the rest which awaits us.  Despite the constant attack of the dark hado upon him, Ryu remains dedicated to his journey.  Likewise, despite sin’s attack we ought to remain dedicated to our Christian journey.

It is worth noting that Ryu doesn’t have a perfect track record when it comes to resisting the dark hado.  There have been times that it has successfully taken over him, but he was able to come to his senses again, not due to his abilities alone but with the help of his friends who called him back to himself.  Ryu’s battle with the dark hado is not a solitary one, but one in which he is helped and supported by others.  Our battle against sin is not a solitary one either.  God is always with us and He has also created the Church in which we are able to help and support one another as fellow pilgrims.  We cannot stand alone against sin because there will be times that we stumble or lose our way and need others to help us up and to lead us back to the straight and narrow way.

Ryu shows us that being a hero isn’t always about battling villains but sometimes consists in battling the evil that dwells within us.  It is about the daily resisting of that evil and the training that helps us to resist.  For Christians, this means learning to rely on God rather than ourselves and to draw from His strength rather than our own.  “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man:  but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13)

Food for Thought:

  1. Am I actively following Christ’s call to heaven or am I sitting idle and waiting for heaven to come to me?
  2. Do I merely go through the motions and fight as one who beats the air or do I discipline myself and bring myself in subjection to Christ?
  3. Consider what a mercy it is that God helps me in my struggle to follow Him.

Heroes and Villains – The Ringwraiths

“Nine he gave to Mortal Men, proud and great, and so ensnared them.  Long ago they fell under the dominion of the One, and they became Ringwraiths, shadows under his great Shadow, his most terrible servants.”

-Gandalf concerning the Ringwraiths

Nazgul_1

They cast a shadow far before them and seem to materialize out of the rumors whispered throughout Middle Earth.  The Ringwraiths’ sinister presence leaves an impression on any audience.  Originally humans, the Ringwraiths, or Nazgûl, were each given a ring of power by Sauron (the chief antagonist of Tolkien’s trilogy) which corrupted them and eventually led to them being enslaved to his will.  Despite their former glory and vivacity, they have been rendered mere shades that lead a nightmarish existence between worlds.  They ruthlessly and tirelessly serve their master and inspire fear and despair wherever they tread.

Dark as the Nazgûl are, their story casts light on the nature of sin in our lives.  James writes:  “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone.  But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed.  Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it full-grown, brings forth death.” (James 1:13-15)  James states that sin has its beginnings in desire.  This is why we cannot be right with God just by doing the right things (being a “good person”, following the Law, etc.).  Despite our outward appearance, our first loyalty is still to ourselves and sin rather than God.  Our own efforts are not able to get deep enough to reach sin’s root.  Thus, though we may chop and hack away at the branches, they will quickly grow back, tougher than ever.

In the case of the Nazgûl, their desire for greater power and prestige led them to accept the nine rings from Sauron.  It was at this point that their fates were sealed because they had given him the foothold he needed to corrupt them.  It is worth noting that we find ourselves in the same straits because our desire is already in rebellion against God, leading us away from Him and indulging our pride, greed, and base sensuality.  The difference is that we have a Savior who has broken the power of darkness over us and given us a way of escape that we may “have life and have it more abundantly”.  Part of the renewing work that God does within us is to reclaim our desires so that they are conformed to Christ.  That is to say, we come to desire the same things as God:  we are pleased by the same things which please God, we are saddened by the same things which sadden God, etc.

Sinful desire, in its due course, eventually gives rise to sinful action:  the outworking of that desire.  The rebellion that began as desire has diffused throughout our body like a poison and manifests itself as words, deeds, and thoughts.  In the Book of Romans, Paul admonishes:  “Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey its lusts.  And do not present our members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.” (Romans 6:12-13)  When we fall into sin, we surrender to our sinful desires and allow them to rule over us.  As Christians, the times when we stumble ought to serve as a stark reminder that we must seek the grace of God daily and constantly strive to remain in His love, for sin only requires a small foothold to scale the walls of our heart.  The Ringwraiths did not become shades overnight, but were slowly and steadily consumed by the power of the rings they held and brought under Sauron’s dominion.  It is often said of them that they are slaves to his will.  The desire in which they took the rings led them, inevitably, to give their very beings over to serve the will of Sauron.

Sin ultimately leads to death, and not mere physical death.  The death that we die through sin is more extensive than that:  sin leads to our spiritual death.  It may be the misery that we find under the veneer of sinful pleasure or it may be the emptiness that we are left with when the moment of sinful delight is gone.  Regardless of the form, sin always leaves us less of who we are.  God creates us all to be beautiful mirrors who each reflect His likeness in a unique way.  (How else can finite creatures begin to show the likeness of the infinite Creator in the world?)  The result of sin is to warp and tarnish us so that we are no longer what we’re created to be.  We become bent upon ourselves so that we reflect nothing and take part in nothing other than our continuing destruction until sin is cast into hell to be infinitely destroyed and us as well because we cling to it.

What is perhaps most horrifying about the Ringwraiths is what they are, or rather, what they are not.  They are vacuums of existence, having been gutted and hollowed out by the power of the rings and filled with Sauron’s evil.  They really are personifications of darkness, being mere extensions of Sauron’s will.  When we allow sin to reign in us, it hollows us out and we are consumed rather than conformed.  Life becomes death to us and death, our existence.  “…when desire has conceived, it give birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.”

The Ringwraiths provide a representation of what we become when we allow ourselves to be consumed by sin.  We lose ourselves and become a mere shadow within a greater shadow.  This is the end that awaits us and we ourselves can do nothing about it.  It appears that we are destined to be wraiths.  We cry with Paul “O wretched man that I am!  Who will deliver me from this body of death?”  However, a door is open to us that we may leave our death-defined existence and enter into life.  Through His sacrifice on the cross, Christ has made a way for us.  Thus He says, “I am the door.  If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.  The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy.  I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” (John 10:9-10)

Food for Thought:

  1. What is the sin in my life holding me back from?  How can I better pursue those things by making Christ my top priority?
  2. What does it mean to have life in Christ and have it abundantly?
  3. Consider what an excellent thing it is to receive life in and from Christ.

Heroes and Villains – Introduction

Good guys and bad guys, protagonists and antagonists, heroes and villains; whatever you call them, most of the characters we encounter in stories can be placed into one of these two categories.  The age-old struggle between the two camps has fueled storytelling across numerous mediums.  What I think so fascinates us about them are the images of ourselves that they reflect:  Heroes often show us the best of ourselves and the person we strive to be.  Villains, on the other hand, show us the less savory parts of ourselves and provide sobering reminders of what we can become.  Over the course of the next six weeks, we are going to be looking at some heroes and villains and what they can show us about ourselves and our relationship with God.

We’ll be starting this series with some villains (nine to be exact) who have become more widely known in recent years when the world they terrorized leapt from the printed page to the silver screen.