Rest Easy, Son of Krypton…

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My cousin Van Alan loved Calvin Ellis. The black Superman of Earth 23 personified the brains and brawn of Mr. Smith.
Last words of affirmation, from my family.

Dear Van,

People turn to terms such as, “Gone too soon,” when someone dear passes away unexpectedly. These days, I tend to believe God knows the day, hour, minute and second of everyone’s appointed time. We all have one. No one is exempt. Death is a guarantee.

And yet it stings anyway, knowing I’ll never receive another message; another movie; another call from you, cuzzo. In retrospect, had I known that three days after sending that last message you would be gone, I most likely would have said something profound; maybe told you how much I looked up to you when we were kids–even if you were a few months behind me. Maybe I would have told you how amazed I was, that you stuck with track and fitness all these years. It’s astounding that at 46, you were still keeping lap-times with the youngsters. Maybe I would have told you how envious I was of your comic-book collection, and how awesome it was that even now we still had a love for all things Super-Hero related.

Van, I never got to tell you that I still have the very first comic you ever introduced me to, when we were twelve years old: “The Doom Patrol”. I’m still holding on to the books of Shazaam!, back when he had a brother and sister. I never told you that, after we saw BATMAN in 1989, I took to the Dark Knight like a kid loves candy. To this day, I’ve got “The Killing Joke” wrapped in plastic, and card-board backing, just like you taught me, all those years ago. That type of care for my books paid off last year, because I actually sold my Amazing Spider-Man 300 issue for a nice chunk of change, just before the movie “Venom” hit theaters.

I wish I would’ve spoken with you about God. I would’ve wanted you to know about what He did for me; how He brought Misty and the kids into my life; how He changed my actions without making me a prude. I still love 80’s and 90’s music, same as you did. I still watch Marvel and DC movies, just like you. But, I guess I just figured we had time. I knew the day would come when I would get back down to Florida to visit, and that would be our time to talk about Him–about Jesus–the ultimate Super Hero. But I waited too late. And now, you’re gone.

I hope to see you again, in the company of the Lord, family and good friends long gone. I hope, one day we’ll be able to run together: no bad knees; no respiratory setbacks. Just clean air; the Light of the Lord shining on our glorified faces and the wind at our backs. I’m praying for the family down south and those of us up north, who will miss your smile.

I’m a bit late on Calvin Ellis, and the stories of Earth 23. Maybe in honor of you, I’ll look into his story. Maybe I’ll see what the black Superman really meant to you. And just maybe, I’ll see a bit of you in him. Rest easy, son of krpyton. You will be missed.

~ For VanDiesel 2019 ~

Don’t Go Back

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Romans 6:1-2 (CEV)–“What should we say? Should we keep on sinning, so that God’s wonderful kindness will show up even better? No, we should not! If we are dead to sin, how can we go on sinning?”

Yesterday, I read an interesting post written by an extremely talented young lady concerning the portrayal of modern-day Christianity in mainstream television. While I don’t watch the show, I was intrigued by the subject.

(Check out her post here: “Woke Christianity & The Bachelorette“)

Our culture is moving at such a fast pace, it’s amazing we’re able to keep up with the ever-changing tide. Fads come and go at the speed of the internet. And everywhere we look, Christianity is being attacked as some sort of outdated, dogmatic religion with no real place in today’s super-sophisticated society. The culture attempts to “tolerate” our faith by changing some of its doctrines a little bit each day. On the surface, it seems to be working, because we now have a generation of young and old “believers” who try to walk with one foot touching the gospel and the other foot touching the soils of the world’s culture.

What’s more, this behavior is justified (by those straddlers) by using God’s word in error. They say things…let me bring it home for a minute…we say things like,

“I can do whatever I want to do; God still loves me.”

“I’ll just do it once more. Jesus will forgive me when I pray about it tomorrow.”

“God understands I still mess up, so He’ll forgive me for this later.”

We can’t accept the free gift of undeserved grace and then turn around and trample it, by continuing to live in our sinful nature that Jesus paid for in the first place! That’s like being freed from a life of drug addiction, only to keep going back to the addiction under the false belief that every time you return to the clinic, you’ll be freed permanently.

Look, we all have baggage, and my bags may be heavier (for me) than yours are for you. When God frees us from the burdens of those bags, we’re truly free. We don’t need to go back and pick them up; carrying them with the false notion of, “Jesus will help me put them down again”. Yeah…He might. But why pick them up again?

When the woman–caught in adultery–looked up to find no one but Jesus standing over her, she was freed in that moment. But Jesus made it clear to her, “Go, and sin no more.”

Once God frees you from your “it”, leave it behind for good. Don’t go back.

Faith of a Mustard Seed

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So the Lord said, “If you have faith as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be pulled up by the roots and be planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you. “

There is an old saying, that I am about to butcher I’m sure. It goes a little something like this:

“In every family, there is a black sheep.”

That statement is supposed to be taken in the context of that one kid in every family who consistently drives the parents bananas with the questionable life choices said kid chooses faithfully. Watching the child grow up, is like watching a train barrel down the tracks headed straight at a solid wall. Apparently the conductor’s view is block, preventing a clear line of sight. Instead of yanking the breaks and stopping, she actually speeds up. As a spectator to the impending disaster, you feel helpless.

And there it is. I said it out loud (or maybe I just wrote it out loud). I feel helpless. You see, Misty and I have a couple of those “sheep” in the family. It’s hard to watch your children purposely choose paths that will lead to the same mistakes you’ve made in the past. It’s especially hard when you’ve warned them of the dangers, but they choose the paths anyway. It’s like they actually think they have secret information that will completely change the outcome of their foolish decisions.

Sometimes I look up in the sky–I mean literally–and ask God, “Are you seeing this?! What are you doing up there?! Is this our fault?”

Yeah, I know; I know. It’s rude. Don’t tempt God. Don’t question His motives. I get it. I really do. But I still struggle with trusting His plans, when my kids are doing truly stupid stuff. Sometimes my faith doesn’t feel as if it’s as big as a mustard seed; and that’s a problem! Have you seen the size of a mustard seed? Just take a glance at the picture up there! Luke 17:6 tells me all I need is for my faith to figuratively be that size, and I could literally uproot a tree. So, if I can’t pray my kids into better life choices, maybe my faith is broken. That sounds like logic, right? Nope. That sounds like a bunch of egotistical false-religion jiberish. And yet, I have to fight the urge to believe in it.

Parenting isn’t easy, and just because your kids grow into young adults doesn’t make parenting any easier than it already wasn’t. In fact, as they grow older, their bad decisions grow bolder and bigger. Watching them make mistakes becomes an exercise in faith training, for real. Seriously, my wife and I came to the realization a long time ago, that we cannot direct their steps. We don’t have the power to do it. Sure, we can take ’em to church, but we can’t force them to develope a relationship with Jesus. We can tell them of the dangers of the night life, but we can’t force them to lock themselves away after a certain hour. We can give them the ole, “Choose-your-friends-wisely” speech, but we can’t force them to stay away from certain people. Ultimately, we parents have no power over the lives of our children.

But we have the power of prayer, and we have faith in God. I believe in Romans 8:28, I believe God has a plan for my kids and I believe He keeps His promises. They may not come to pass in my time-frame, but He never lies and He’s always faithful. So, in the times that I feel like my faith is weak–especially concerning my hard-headed kids–I try to remember God’s word and I try to remember that He can be trusted.

Faith is a constant exercise. Don’t think that the folks who appear to have it altogether really do. They struggle with faith, too. Their struggles may be on a different level than yours, but make no mistake; the struggle is just as real. It’s hard to look beyond the circumstances you see, but that’s where faith grows. Right there in that space between what you can see with your eyes, and what you believe will come to pass in your heart, that’s where faith grows.

Two Seconds From Forever

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Fire in the Sky

At first glance, I thought the light falling from the sky was some sort of optical illusion brought on by a combination of my in-flight meal laboriously digesting in my belly, and the double-shot of night-time cold medicine I’d gulped down just before the dinner. The sky outside my window suddenly transformed from the darkening purple of a typical mid-west twilight, to a beautiful albeit terrifying burnt orange. I watched the clouds at fifty thousand feet part like waves split by a speedboat, as an enormous fireball cut through the earth’s atmosphere, plummeting toward the ground far below my flight. For a moment, I was lost for the words to comprehend–let alone describe–what I was witnessing.

“The end of everything as we know it,” the stranger seated next to me muttered; his voice calm like a lazy stream.

“What do you mean,” I asked absently, watching the fireball streak through the low ceiling of storm-clouds. “What was that?”

“That, my friend, was World-War-Three begun. They actually pushed the button.”

My heart imploded. I stopped breathing, and my dinner lurched up my esophagus. “It can’t be. We’re America! No one attacks us! I’m not re–”

‘Not ready’ is what I wanted to say, but never spoke another word on that side of life’s veil. The flash was blinding, deafening and silent.

Thoughts at Twilight

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When I was a kid, my dreams were often filled with visions of cartoon characters of my favorite shows, make-believe adventures with my closest friends and my brother, fantasies of strange creatures and the ever familiar flying experience. I looked forward to sleep in my youth. Sure I had to contend with nightmares every once in awhile but, by and large, my dreams were a place of happiness.

As I grew up, life became complicated by my life-choices. Along the way, I think I lost that childhood innocence of dreaming. Oh I still dreamed, but the visions took on a materialistic turn. Where fantastic creatures and unbelievable companions once reigned, now desires for fancy houses, beautiful cars, stacks of money piles and 24/7 parties took over. The world’s influences rearranged then corrupted my fantasies.

Lately, I miss the innocence of those fantastic dreams. Part of the beauty of writing Paraclete’s Promise, was the return to that make-believe world; bringing outlandish adventures to life through Timothy’s dreams was like revisiting an old friend. The cares of adulting, the pressures of professional performance; the worries of debt all seemed to melt away while journeying with Timothy. The dreams were once again whimsical and fun; frightening but wonderful at the same time. And I always seemed to awaken refreshed. Ready to take on a new day.

I think it’s time to revisit those dreams again. Set aside the worries and cares of the world for just a few hours of reality, in exchange for the timeless journeys of the fantastic. I want to remember what it’s like to dream amazing stories, and wake ready to share them with the world.

I think a story’s coming…

Strength in My Weakness – Numbers

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2 Corinthians 12:8-10 – New International Version (NIV)

Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

2 Corinthians 12:8-10 – Contemporary English Version (CEV)

Three times I begged the Lord to make this suffering go away. But he replied, “My kindness is all you need. My power is strongest when you are weak.” So if Christ keeps giving me his power, I will gladly brag about how weak I am. Yes, I am glad to be weak or insulted or mistreated or to have troubles and sufferings, if it is for Christ. Because when I am weak, I am strong.

I own a thorn. For years, it’s been my secret shame. Honestly, until very recently, its official name was unknown to me. I only thought of it as a small issue unique to me, and pridefully decided to overcome it alone. I didn’t tell my wife or my closest friends. Never even considered addressing the deeper levels of the issue with God. And yet, no matter how hard I try, I can never climb over it. It’s beyond my ability to handle alone.

The apostle Paul knew a thing or two about relying on the Lord for strength, in times of weakness. In his second letter to the Corinthian church, he told the brethren how he continued to face suffering. But God—refusing to remove the source of that suffering from Paul—instead reminded him that His grace was enough to not only sustain Paul, but to give him strength through the suffering. Paul eventually grew to understand and even embrace his human weaknesses, recognizing God’s supernatural strength working through his own human weaknesses. God’s grace was strong enough to carry Paul through his personal obstacles; obstacles he could not conquer on his own.

Christians want to hope God removes every obstacle blocking our paths. But sometimes, God leaves that thing right where it is, giving us no other alternative but to lean on Him for strength in dealing with that thing. It is by His grace that we are able to keep moving forward through some of our most troubling trials. And though He may not remove all sufferings—remember, Jesus promised us we would face trials and sufferings—God walks through those times, carrying us when we cannot walk on our own.

Last week, I took a particular type of test and scored low on the scale. I’m kind of an over-achiever so, under any other circumstances, this would have been a real problem for me. But there was actual comfort in now knowing. In fact, I had peace in discovering it’s an actual thing—my own thorn—and I’ve secretly struggled with it my entire life.

Dyscalculia is akin to dyslexia and I’m pretty sure it’s with me. I have a hard time dealing with and processing numbers. In particular, 6s and 9s tend to flip on me pretty easily. Digits in large numbers sometimes switch places entirely, causing me to constantly double back to make sure they’re correct. Sometimes, I come up with different answers to the same problem, when using a calculator, because I’ve flipped a digit or two someplace, so I constantly have to recheck my math for even the smallest calculations. I can’t remember a time when I scored a perfect 100% on any math test…ever. I took collegiate pre-calculus three times while at Western Michigan University and finally passed with a low grade. Budgets terrify me. Numerical graphs are a nightmare. Number-only charts mock me, because I have a hard time visualizing what they mean. For a really-long time, I simply thought of myself as being numbers-dumb. With that type of shame, I hid my problem from those closest to me…including God, as if He didn’t already know.

But recently, my wife has been by my side to help me out, whether she knows it or not. See, she’s discovering its depths just like I am. And she’s been supportive and patient. For years, I let the enemy convince me that she would look at me differently, if she knew my struggle. But God’s grace is sufficient. And, I understand now that she’s going to be right by my side whenever I need help.

God may not remove this thing from me. Or, maybe He will if I ask him to specifically take it away, by name; now that I know what it is. Either way, I understand where Paul was coming from when he wrote those words in 2 Corinthians. I have comfort knowing my wife supports and believes in me. I have courage knowing that God will be with me when numbers challenge me. His grace is sufficient.

Friends, I’m 46 years old and finally coming to terms with an issue I’ve harbored my entire life. God, in His loving kindness, brought understanding and peace into my situation. Just as important, He made it okay for me to share with others. He turned my weakness into a source of His strength and I have a confidence like never before, because I know those who are most important to me are by my side. I don’t have to be ashamed of my personal struggle anymore. So, be encouraged if you’re facing something monumental. God is greater than anything you may face. You may not ever be able to fully defeat all of your struggles, but God’s grace will supply the strength to push through, when you do not have it on your own.

The Harry Potter Palaver

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To be clear, this discussion’s crosshairs are trained on my brothers and sisters in Christ. I’d like to open up a double-standard dialogue that seems to be swept under the rug often. Let me set the table.

Star Wars films, Lord of the Rings: Trilogy, The Hobbit: Trilogy, The Avengers films, Shazaam!, Aladdin. What’s a common denominator in all of these great works of art? Magic is present.

  • Star Wars—The Force
  • Lord of the Rings—Wizardry
  • The Hobbit—more Wizardry
  • The Avengers—Magic and Sorcery
  • Shazaam!—more Magic
  • Aladdin—even more Magic

Now, I’m not trying to advocate what you choose to watch versus what you stay away from. That’s your business. Quite often, I hear church folk say to kids, “If Jesus was in the room, would you be watching that?” My intent is not to condemn or accuse you of hypocrisy in regards to your choice of movies. This is more a question I’m hoping will actually invite conversation.

The aforementioned films and trilogies are considered cinematic classics and desirable movies to watch, based solely on their content and storylines. No self-acclaimed movie buff would dare turn a scowl toward the movies on the list. In truth, it’s the fantasy elements that make most of these movies entertaining. We all enjoy the mesmerizing action and human emotional elements of these films.

So why is it that the Christian community has declared war on the Harry Potter films and their spinoff prequels? Usually, when I ask this question of some of my Christian-friends, the immediate answer revolves around the Potter films promoting dark magic. But, when I bring up something like, “Well so do ‘The Lord of the Rings’ films; so what’s the difference,” I’m usually met with either a subject change, or an awkward stare.

Personally, I always thought the Potter films were about the never-ending struggle between good and evil, just like the rest of the films and trilogies on my list. It just seems, in my opinion, that while we Christians take no issue with Doctor Strange mastering the dark arts in the name of protecting humanity, or Gandalf the Grey (or the White depending on which trilogy you’re in) wielding magic in defense of the light, we are up in arms about Professor Dumbledore teaching Harry Potter to be a Wizard.

How exactly does that work, without being hypocritical?   

Personally, the Harry Potter films don’t bother me, because I’ve watched them along with everything else on my list. It’s entertainment. I don’t really think there was any malicious intent involved in the creation of any of them any more than C.S. Lewis had, while penning The Chronicles of Narnia. I think my question is more pointed at the “why”. Why were the Potter films blacklisted among the Christian community where the others were not? Why are the Potter films deemed dangerous, where the other films are not? Why is the House of Gryffindor more of a threat to our spiritual growth, than The Jedi Temple?

I think what I’d like to see is a hard stance from the Christian community regarding such entertainment. I’d like to see Christians take one stance or another, either completely for fantasy, or totally against it. See, I witnessed a Pastor condemn the Harry Potter films in front of a group of kids, but enthusiastically post photos of his family at the theater on opening day for one of the Star Wars movies. That’s not confusing? Like I said, I’m all for the entertainment of the films. Fantasy is my favorite genre of story, so I like them all. But, I think it sets a bad example and maybe even confuses kids if we begin to pick and choose which fantasy movies are fine to watch, when they all contain the same content.

I enjoyed watching Harry grow up learning his craft, back in the day. I think it would be interesting to see what his children’s adventures would be like today. The thing is, I understand that it’s all entertainment, just like the Wizards of The Lord of the Rings, or the Sith and Jedi of Star Wars, or the Genie of Aladdin. It’s all entertainment. That’s why we watch it. It entertains.  

I’m interested to hear your thoughts on the subject. Drop a comment, and let me know how you feel about it.