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God is with us, always

Title: God is with us, always God
Artwork by: Elly Erb (@ellyerb)
Description: Ever since I became a Christian, I’ve always known the following to be true: God loves to protect us, and He has set out a plan for each of us. My initial understanding of this knowledge was naive and has been deepened along the way in my journey with Him. Sometimes, his protection manifests as a rejection by the job you really wanted; or when a dream is shattered. Only God knows what He has in store for us, but we can be sure that He loves each of us deeply and uniquely, and that His presence and power are with us, always.

 

 

 

Avengers: Infinity War and the value of life and unity

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Screenshots taken from Official Trailer

Written By Simon Moetara, New Zealand

The Dark Lord Thanos has finally revealed himself in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and it will take the combined might of the Avengers to stop his genocidal plans of destroying half of all life in the universe.

 Avengers: Infinity War (2018) is the culmination of 10 years and 18 films (starting back in 2008 with Iron Man), and it embodies an ambitious and epic scope unseen before on screen, bringing together numerous storylines with more than 70 characters working across multiple worlds across the universe.

Thanos is Marvel’s greatest cosmic threat (save for perhaps Galactus, the colossal “Devourer of Worlds,” who dines on the life energy of entire planets). It’s a brilliant and emotive portrayal by Josh Brolin, as good a CGI performance as anything Andy Serkis has delivered, such as Gollum/Smeagol in LOTR, or the brooding Caesar in the Planet of the Apes trilogy.

We first see his purple visage smiling out at us in a post-credit sequence in the first Avengers film, but he has been standing on the fringes of all the action so far, watching from a distance, manipulating events, and biding his time. And now the Mad Titan has stepped out from the shadows and arrived center-stage. As one writer put it, He is “the coming storm, the creeping death, the threat of apocalypse and Armageddon, oblivion and omega.”

The massive Titan warlord wants the dimension-controlling Infinity Stones, six artefacts of inconceivable power that were forged into concentrated existence at the beginning of the universe, and to use them to enforce his despotic will on all of reality. At the start of Infinity War, he has one of the stones in his Infinity Gauntlet; but he needs the other five to put his twisted “plan of salvation” into action. Driven by an insane utilitarianism, inspired by a crazy cosmic pragmatism, Thanos desires to alleviate overpopulation, lack of resources, and suffering by randomly destroying half of all life in order to bring “balance” to the universe. Thanos isn’t intentionally cruel. He derives no pleasure from decimating civilizations. He actually thinks he’s helping people by randomly snuffing out billions of lives.

And against this megalomaniacal plan is arrayed Earth’s mightiest heroes: Asgardians, aliens, and androids. Scientists and soldiers. Spies and sorcerers. The philosophy of the heroes is quite different to that of the Titanic purple bad-guy. When android Vision suggests destroying the Mind Stone in his forehead (which would mean his own death) Captain America Steve Rogers responds, “We don’t trade lives.” This reflects the heroic stance.

 

The Value of Life and the Power of Love

When challenged with a worldview that says life is meaningless when confronted with the vastness and the fate of the universe, the heroes uphold that every individual life is precious. As Christian blogger Logan Judy says, “Super-hero stories have a way of becoming life-affirming stories.” In a world filled with suffering, the Avengers insist on the value of life.

Whenever we take a distant view, seeing human beings as economic units or mere numbers, it’s easy to be dismissive and to de-humanize others. But this is far from the depiction of humanity and of God in Scripture. First, every person in this world is a precious being, bearing the image of God (Gen 1:26-27). As Bible scholar John Stott declares, “It is the divine image in man which gives him an intrinsic dignity or worth, a worth which belongs to all human beings by creation, regardless of race, religion, color, culture, class sex or age.” Such a belief affirms the value of every individual life.

Second, the God in Scripture is both powerful and good, both transcendent and immanent. Christian author David Jackman notes the difficulty of speaking meaningfully of God’s love when we think of this “grubby tennis ball” of a planet, set in the vast infinity of space, our own lives as mere blips in the ever-onward surge of time, and our own individuality among countless billions. Or when we consider the world with all its evil and suffering and so many damaged lives.

Yet the apostle John tells us that the very nature of God is love (1 John 4:8). Jackman declares that, “we must realize that such an infinite yet personal Creator is not too great to be bothered with my tiny life. He is so great that he can be bothered with each of us individually.” As the early church theologian Augustine of Hippo said of God in his Confessions, “You are good and all-powerful, caring for each of us as though the only one in your care, and yet for all of us as for each individual.”

Notwithstanding Thanos’ god-like powers, his followers’ references to him as “almighty Thanos” and “Father,” and his references to others as “child” or to his plan of “salvation,” he leaves a lot to be desired in a deity. To invoke C.S. Lewis’ famous description, Thanos may be powerful, but he isn’t good.

 

Unity is Paramount

And so the heroes of the MCU must stand together against the growing power of Thanos. But at the start of Infinity War there is friction, and factions, and egos clash. Stark and Dr Strange butt heads. Thor and Starlord don’t see eye to eye. Secretary of State General Ross still sees Captain America and his crew as fugitives. Thor is wounded after the destruction of Asgard in Thor: Ragnarok (2017). James Rhodes (War Machine) is still recovering from injuries suffered in Civil War (2016).

Thanos is an adversary so powerful that you really think he might succeed. If the Avengers are to have any chance of stopping him, they must be united. The things that unite come first; that which divides can follow.

Can Stark put aside past hurt and betrayal? Can Stark and Strange set aside their monumental egos? Can the Avengers unite after being torn apart over the differences that led to Civil War? And can they stop the Mad Titan from getting his hands on the Infinity Stones and wiping out half of all known life?

Our heroes all show courage and a willingness to sacrifice themselves for the sake of those who cannot defend themselves. However, the desire for unity is paramount in the story. It’s present in the catch-cry “Avengers Assemble”, reflecting the truth of the old adage: united we stand, divided we fall. These are very real flesh-and-blood characters, with their own pride and pain and ideals and values, but to see them all battle to overcome their individual issues and strive for the sake of others is incredibly moving.

The idea of unity is a powerful theme for God’s people (Ps 133:1). They too “assemble” as the ekklessia, the “called out ones,” i.e. the church. God desires us to reach unity in the faith (Eph 4:13) and to live in love, which “binds all things in unity” (Col 3:14). Our deep love for another “covers a multitude of sins” (1 Pet 4:8) and allows us to remain in powerful and united community, and to stand in unity against all the things that would seek to drive us apart and destroy us.

Even though it’s 160 minutes in length, the story travels along at an action-packed break-neck pace. This film is really Part 1, with Part 2 to come in May 2019. Whatever happens, the Avengers will need to assemble, to come together, and persevere in unity if they’re to stand against the growing destructive might of Thanos.

 

ODJ: God Our Restorer

July 11, 2016 

READ: Psalm 71:7-24  

You have allowed me to suffer much hardship, but you will restore me to life again and lift me up from the depths of the earth (v.20).

Tom, the manager of a car dealership, navigated Jacob around the showroom floor. Pausing at a restored Ford Ranchero pickup truck—one of Tom’s classic vehicles— tears began streaming down Jacob’s face. He then shared the happy memory of working on a farm in his youth. Year after year, no matter the weather, the farmer picked him up in a truck just like that one. Jacob would sit in the back while the farmer and his dog sat up front.

Later, Jacob left the dealership, but he also left Tom— moved by Jacob’s story—with a touched heart. Just a week later, Tom drove the Ford Ranchero to Jacob’s house and gave him the keys—blessing him with something he could only have dreamed of!

From David’s earliest days, God provided for him in special ways. As a shepherd boy, he fought off lions and bears to protect his flock (1 Samuel 17:36). He defeated the Philistine Goliath when no one else could (vv.37-51). And when jealous King Saul hounded him, David fought for his life (22:20-23). David also fought battles of the heart and mind, and although he lost many, he would always turn back to God for restoration—praising Him in return.

The author of Psalm 71 also chose to praise God when times were hard (v.14). In his old age, as his strength was failing, he asked God not to abandon him (v.9). By God’s provision, his life had been “an example to many, because [God had been his] strength and protection” (v.7). He vowed to “proclaim [God’s] power to [the] new generation, [His] mighty miracles to [them]” (v.18). Even though his enemies plotted to kill him, he knew that God would lift him up (vv.10,20).

Today, like David and the psalmist, may we rest in the power of God—our great Restorer!

—Ruth O’Reilly-Smith

365-day plan: Matthew 13:44-52

MORE
Read Psalm 3:1-3 and consider how God both protects and restores us. 
NEXT
Are you in need of God’s restorative power today? Pray and allow Him to bring newness to your life! 

(Check out Our Daily Journey website!)

ODJ: Truly Strong

April 6, 2016 

READ: Isaiah 40:12-31 

Those who trust in the Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint (v.31).

Mr. Strong, along with all the Mr. Men children’s books written by Roger Hargreaves, is still a firm favorite in our home. Following a makeover in 2008, Mr. Strong is no longer square; he now has has broader shoulders, a narrower waist, and bulging biceps, but he remains the strongest person in the world. The source of his incredible strength? It comes from all the eggs he eats! The protein in eggs is rich in leucine, an essential amino acid that plays an important role in the way muscles use glucose— contributing to strength, satisfying hunger, and providing a source of lasting energy.

Just as our bodies are nourished and sustained by good food, so too are our souls strengthened in the presence of our Creator God (Philippians 4:13; 1 Timothy 1:12). Daily responsibilities and bitter disappointments can quickly wear us down and test our resolve, so “even youths will become weak and tired, and young men will fall in exhaustion. But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength” (Isaiah 40:30—31). Indeed, a confident trust in God provides the fuel we need to be strengthened, and it helps us once again to “walk,” “run,” and “soar” (v.31).

Have you found that your energy is sapped due to tough situations? Take time today to lift your eyes and experience the presence of our incredible God (vv.22—28). As you do, may you enjoy His goodness and become strong again (Psalm 16:11). For God “gives power to the weak and strength to the powerless” (Isaiah 40:29).

When we put our hope in God rather than our employer, bank account, best friend, or physician, we’ll experience a strength that keeps us going throughout the year, no matter the circumstance. We’ll be strong in God’s power!

—Ruth O’Reilly-Smith

365-day-plan: 2 Samuel 12:1-25

MORE
Read 2 Corinthians 12:9—10 and be reminded that God’s power works best in our weakness. 
NEXT
How will you proclaim your confident hope and trust in God today? What does it mean to truly know and live out His strength? 

(Check out Our Daily Journey website!)