I’m selling my comic books. I know, I know. You’re probably thinking to yourself “Aaron Hanzel? The guy that’s been collecting comics for years is selling out? Giving up?”
Well, Not exactly. I still absolutely love the comic universe. I think that I always will. The truth is, I need a new car, and I’m not the type of person who says, “I don’t care if I have to be homeless, I’ll never sell my ____.” I don’t want to be homeless. Hence, selling my books.
The process of selling them has caused me to look back at how I got hooked on collecting to begin with and how it translates to today.
Year One -The Young Lad, Aaron
When I was a kid, I quickly realized that I loved superheroes. The romance of facing immeasurable odds, walking towards the chaos as the rest of world ran past me in the other direction. Finding the strength and courage to clinch my fists, furrowing my brow, and through gritted teeth whispering, “No. Not on my watch.”
I was drawn to men and women of action and of conviction. Fictional-cartoon characters like Darkwing Duck, lone cowboys like John Wayne fighting outlaws. I think of real life heroes also, Churchill, Rosa Parks, the founding fathers, Martin Luther, Corrie ten Boom, Martin Luther King, William Wallace. Wherever there is injustice, I’ve always felt it was my responsibility to oppose it, ignoring my physical or mental limitations and pursuing what I believe is right.
The Caped Crusader
When I was about 7 years old, my mom introduced me to Adam West, the Batman. You know, “Holy Toledo Batman!” quirky, funny, very ‘60s, satire of superhero comedy. The direct contrast of what I perceived a hero looked like.
A year or two later, a show called Batman: The Animated Series was created. A dark and humanistic outlook through a man, Bruce Wayne, who had lost his parents to crime and had decided that he would fight. Regardless of what people told him he could and couldn’t do, he would look death in its ugly face and whisper “No. Not on my watch.”
I read my first comic not too soon after that and became a fan. The collecting didn’t come until later, but this is where the appeal began – stories and characters fighting for justice. Good versus evil.
The Biblical Connection
This classic narrative of good vs. evil is seen in Scripture. The spirit is at odds with the flesh. A war wages on inside a born-again Christian to make the same stand through our Lord Jesus Christ. Paul to Timothy, Peter to the church, Jesus to his disciples. All a call to freedom by “fighting the good fight.” Through clinched fists holding tight to God’s word; through furrowing brows, angry at passions not meant for us; through spirit-filled conviction and propitiated righteousness, we stand opposed to sin and whisper, “No. Not on my watch.”
Jesus Vs. Evil
There is a showdown documented in Scripture when Jesus squared off with evil, known as death. There were most likely no tumble weeds or clock towers ringing in “high noon,” but you can be sure that the battle was a sight to behold.
The passage in John 11 where Jesus returns to Mary and Martha’s home and weeps with them over the loss of Lazarus. Jesus asked to be shown where they buried him, and they took him there. Then something powerful happened. Before Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, before He resurrected a death in the family and displayed his awesome power, the Bible says that when Jesus faced the grave of Lazarus, he was moved in his spirit.
Some translations say “perturbed” or “troubled.” The most accurate translation is compared to the rage of a bull. Jesus wasn’t just “troubled in his spirit;” He was enraged. Jesus hates death. HATES it.
The War Today
More recently, I think of the devastating loss in Las Vegas – senseless murder and cowardice. I think of Jesus and how much He can’t stand the wages of sin. He hated it so much that He gave his life to make sure that death did not have the final say.
Loss hurts, and pain doesn’t go away as quickly as we wish it would. But one thing is for certain. Jesus made a better way. With His fists open to nails, His brow raised in humility, and through His lips He asked the Father to pardon His persecutors.
It’s hard to imagine anything more important in my life and the lives of others than the war that was won 2,000 years ago. More appropriately, even years of comic collecting.
As we live out our faith and lean on the Lord’s heroism, I encourage you, brothers and sisters, to remember that the war of good vs. evil, the classic narrative in all of comic history, has already been won. You’re part of something bigger and eternal. Death does not get the last laugh. Wage the war against your flesh through Him who has gone before you. Clinch your fists, furrow your brows, grit your teeth and whisper in affirmation “No. Not on my watch.”
PS: In true comic book fashion, I inserted a few homages to Batman story arcs. See if you can find them all.
“A bit of green mixed into the soft blue sky. Not too much, just enough that the eye is able to be teased by its depth,” the painter thinks to himself.
He glances over his canvas at the majesty of the mountain range before him. His eyes dart left to right in small bursts, passionately diagnosing the mountain’s character. Each switchback, sharp drop and robust peak spoke to the artist of which the mountain was. This view…was beautiful.
The painter would complete his work. Sell the painting, give it as a gift or perhaps donate it to a museum. That painting would be viewed and appreciated by many. Observers would say aloud:
- “Wow! That’s beautiful. What splendor.”
- “I’d love to go there some day.”
- “Can you imagine how long this must have taken him to paint this?”
- “When I’m sad or depressed, this always makes me feel better.”
- “A unique and subjective interpretation of the same thing. How wonderful!”
Dangers of a one-dimensional Gospel
That human response is one of the many reasons I love film, photography and visual art. It’s also one of the reasons I love the Gospel. Beauty and divine beauty working in the hearts of God’s creation.
There are, however, times that I lean toward those experiences rather than the truth those two beauties hold.
For example, when I see the Gospel at work through people and only appreciating that aspect of it, I can lose sight of what the Gospel is as it stands alone.
The Gospel is amazing as it is active in people’s lives. But it’s amazing even before that.
The Gospel is not 8.5″ x 11″
The Gospel reflects the Creator of all things. It’s purifying! It’s soul redeeming! It’s beyond definitive form or dimensions! It’s vast and timeless! It cuts into sin! It is miraculous and terrifying! It’s the good news, and it’s healing! The Gospel isn’t just subjective, its objective too.
The painter sees the mountain as a single side, of the single angle, of the single point in time. An observation obscured by the limitations he must place upon himself in order to capture any of the mountain’s beauty.
The mountain is massive and covers miles of height and width. It doesn’t fit into an 8.5″ x 11″ flat parchment. Yet we can be distracted by only what it does for us or only what it does for others. Instead of the actual scope of its true splendor, we focus on what we want to see. Paul dealt with this particular subject when writing to the Galatians.
Paul’s view of the Gospel
Paul shares his heartbreak over the Galatians abandoning the Gospel for anything other than what is truth-divine. Paul starts with the Gospel, then pursues people:
“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed” (Gal. 1:6-8).
See Paul’s amazement at their actions! See his view of the Gospel! Paul was a man who cared more for people than I may ever grasp, and he speaks to them not about what he’s seen the Gospel do in their lives, but speaks about how holy the Gospel is. He starts by telling them, “Are you out of your mind!? You want to leave grace? You want to leave Jesus Christ!?”
He tells them of how the Gospel is not formed by men or even angels. If either of them tell you otherwise, tell them to go to the bad place!
The Gospel conviction
Do I do that? Am I completely dumbfounded when I hear of the opposition to the Gospel? The flesh is at odds with the Spirit, causing my knee-jerk reaction to consider such opposition as “normal.”
When considering the majesty of Jesus Christ’s Gospel, such a holy vastness cannot be obtained without the Gospel itself. I am not capable of seeing the mountain from every angle all at once. Therefore, how can I truly see its beauty? I am not capable of valuing the Gospel any more than what the Lord sees fit of which to bless me. Only a view larger and wider than 8.5″ x 11” is possible through Christ.
Brothers and sisters, I urge you, in the name of our Christ, be astonished! The only way to properly value the Gospel of salvation is through Him who made it. Pray the Lord blesses you and pray also that the eyes of your heart open even wider still. There is no limitation except that which the Lord has placed upon himself! There is no experience that which the Spirit may not exhale into existence! There is no other way to the beauty that we were made for than Jesus Christ! Be astonished!
Recently, the entire foundation of the world was shook to its core. I’m not talking about the GOP healthcare shootout or state budget agendas. I’m talking about something much more impactful. Well, perhaps not exactly “impactful.” OK, or even “earth shaking.” Unless, of course, you’re a fan of the TV show “Doctor Who.” A Whovian (a fan of the show – which I am) would know precisely what I’m referring to. The new Doctor.
Doctor Who background
“Doctor Who” is a show revolved around a Time Lord simply referred to as The Doctor. The Time Lords have the ability to, as you would most likely assume, travel throughout time and space. This specific Time Lord, The Doctor, is a fascinating character. He is the last known survivor of the Time Lords. Against the will of his people, The Doctor stole one of the nation’s time machines-a TARDIS. T-A-R-D-I-S: Time And Relative Dimensions In Space. Now he travels throughout time and space seeking out adventure and historical events long past and yet to come.
The Multiple Doctors
There have been several actors who have portrayed The Doctor over the years. In the show, this is explained by what is called The Doctor’s “regeneration” phase. Instead of dying after one lifetime, Time Lords are given 12 regenerations. Essentially, the same person on the inside, but their appearance may change after the regeneration process is complete. This solves the issues with actor flexibility, keeps the show fresh, and adds a unique perspective to the Doctor Who character and overall lure of the show’s universe. There have been times when The Doctor didn’t want to regenerate. Times that it caught him off guard and imposed the fear of death. His quirks or clothing or even food preferences may change along with his regeneration, but The good ol’ Doctor always remained the same person. A man. A married man.
Today’s Newest Doctor
Recently the newest Doctor was announced. He is a woman. Doctor Who, like most modern shows, has interlaced social agenda and “openness” several times throughout the years, but none that has taken such a vocal stance that it might spilt the fandom forever. At least not until now.
As I scoured the Internet to see how my fellow Whovians were responding, I found an interesting divide. These are a few of the massive amount of responses I saw repeated several times:
- The content – intrigued by the idea of a woman as the hero of the show, and pushed no further into the implications of a man in a woman’s body (Or perhaps did, resulting in two additional groups of opinions).
- The conservative – appalled by the decision, exclaiming accusations of fraud against the show runners, disgusted by their ambition to sacrifice decades of the show’s reputation in order to push an agenda.
- The liberal – whole heartedly supportive. Expanding the scope of acceptance and ease of exemplifying people regardless of who they are or what they’ve done.
- The purist – continuing in faith that this decision is for the betterment of the character and the show. Perhaps The Doctor has done this as a way to throw off his enemies or to gain access to a society or other planet that supports women over men. Maybe The Doctor wanted an additional perspective to his life by observing through the attributes of a woman.
- The outsider – I’ve only seen a couple of episodes/never seen it. But any show that promotes/denotes equality I will support/denounce it.
Observations of the Divide
There are several conclusions we may draw from these responses. One spoke to me that I found very fruitful. The observation I had branched out from a video of a teenage girl on YouTube that was absolutely ecstatic after hearing the news. She said, “This is awesome! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve run around the house pretending to be The Doctor. Now that The Doctor is a woman, I don’t even have to try that hard.”
What an interesting revelation. It was now easier for her to conform to a hero because of the spoon-fed commercialism the Western World is always willing to promote in order for their sales to rise. Is that the scary truth of sinful humanity? If it’s easier in my physical life, I’ll buy, especially for my state of mind. I’d rather be given than earned. I’d rather be conforming than challenged. I’d rather relate than be convicted. I’d rather be happy than joyful. Whichever is easier right now, I’ll take that.
Unfortunately, as a Christian, I’m always tempted to fall into that perspective.
“I don’t fully understand the gifts of the spirit, so I think I’ll focus my quiet time on something like one of the Minor Prophets. I never read those.”
“How can Jesus be fully divine and fully man? I think I’ll just take my pastor’s word for it. Less of a headache that way.”
“Why do we have these specific books that make up the Bible and don’t ever add or remove any? Well, they have to be correct. Otherwise there would be a much larger outcry from other people much smarter than me.”
A quid pro quo: our complacency and satisfaction for heresy and lukewarm faith. Romans 1:21-25:
“For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.
“Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.”
Nothing is rewarded for those who do not actively pursue the truth. Rather, they are given over to sin and darkness.
I don’t know what this means for a Whovian like me. I love the show. The clever writing and rich duality that makes up The Doctor make the show so much fun and appealing. The pride and loyalty of being a fan is now tainted with unnecessary agenda-pushing controversy. Despite this, I do know I’m grateful for God’s creation – people. The Father continues to reveal such amazing and beautiful characteristics of His design through everyone. I may not agree with everyone’s opinion or sinful decisions, but I am in agreeance of an undeniable truth.
I am a sinner. A sinner who doesn’t deserve salvation any more or any less than anyone else. God keep us humble, not distracted by anything that may cause us to lose sight of how much You love us.
There’s a quote describing the Doctor from one of the episodes. It’s one of my favorite quotes. After hearing it I realized something. If someone could attempt at describing the Holy Father and Creator of everything, I imagine this to be a small taste of His majesty.
“He’s like fire and ice and rage; he’s like the night, and the storm at the heart of the sun. He’s ancient and forever. He burns at the center of time, and he can see the turn of the universe. And… he’s wonderful.”
Everyone listened Wednesday morning as Ben spoke to the men’s breakfast group about an observation he made regarding a two-phase process of the rise and fall of kingdoms:
“In the 13th century,” he began, “tribes united to mass a Mongol empire that would conquer most of Asia-Eurasia. Genghis Khan consumed nations and any resistance in his path. But when wartime was over, and ruling was required, things changed. When you think about the size and influence of empires, you have to wonder, ‘How did it end?’”
Ben went on to explain how the Persian Empire conquered, expanded and ruled for generations. Eventually it fell after ruling for so long.
Fear and death were part of the conquering-war phase. The ruling, responsibility and “keeping the peace” phase are when these great empires deteriorated into time. A state of mind and embracing the values associated with the two. Those two phases: war-time and peace translate to an individual as well.
These two phases are reflected in my life as well. Over the past year, God has been doing some amazing things in my life. Good things, during good times. The handful of difficult years prior to that, issued a set of different forms of trials and tribulations. The attack of sin and self-indulgences were noticeably visible and relatively easy to identify. Presenting themselves as points to pray for and grow stronger against. I was in a war with deliberate and calculated obstacles, ones that had a name and guided my pursuit of victory. Much like conquering warlords, my enemy was on my mind all the time. I was focused on being satisfied, happy.
When war had ended and peacetime reigned, I worshiped. The Spirit convicted me of my sin and stirred in my heart a longing for the presence of God. Ushering in a new phase of vulnerability and heartache, as well as of fellowship and forgiveness that I pursued. I asked that the Lord purified me from the past of self-righteousness, for when I was in the time of war. For several months I had peace. I was given those joys, because it was that for which I was suffering. I was convinced that victory meant being happy.
This peacetime was similar to the second phase these nations had undergone. It was a time of ruling and “keep the peace”. Likewise, it was a time in my life that the sovereignty of God, in my mind, was contentment. Being satisfied in the value and design of His joys, lessons and His words made new. Biblical stories becoming fresh with the character of God; Joy multiplied. I truly thank God for that.
Comparatively, the second phase that led nations to tragic dismantlement occurred in my life as well. I was content in the joys and promises alone, satisfied in the good things described in scripture. I embraced theological depth in order to grow. I grew. The joys and promises satisfied me. I was content. The wartime victory was being satisfied in the joys of God, which is absolutely self-centeredness, if that’s my only drive. Therefore, “victory” became no different from “wartime.” I had embraced the things God has made as good, as the only value I needed. Focusing on myself.
There is nothing more damaging to a Christian’s walk with Christ than being content. The idea that I may be satisfied in the good things that God has designed should never be “it.” It is destructive. It is poisonous. It is the dismantlement of a foundation built on the idea that “because of the Lord, I know what is good, and that’s all I need”. Don’t misunderstand me. Being satisfied in Christ is totally different from being satisfied because of Christ.
Allow me to expand a little: If I pursue to embrace the majesty and apex of God’s character every day, it has to be because of who God is. This pursuit is fueled because I desire everything through Him, funneling that joy outward to appreciate and apply Christ in all His creation. You will want to see just how magnificent God is by observing His creation. Pray that the Lord reveals Himself in people, and it will change your life. That’s another blog for another time.
I was in one of the classes for my chaplaincy training when the instructor gave an interesting statistic. The majority of suicides that occur in the U.S. are males at the age of 65 and up. Men, more than women, associate their identity with their occupation. When it’s time to retire, to be content, that loss of identity is devastating.
There’s a lot of conclusions that we may draw from the psyche of men because of this (ladies, try not to get too carried away). One important aspect of this fact that men closely identify with is ceasing to do something. The same is what happens in a spiritual “peace time.” We get wrapped up in a single aspect of what makes God so amazing and make ourselves vulnerable to devastating loss when we lose sight of the rest of His character.
During peace time, if joy is your only pursuit and doubt swallows up that joy, your spirit is crushed. If embracing the promises of God is the only thing that battles corruption, faith is made weak. If the gifts of the Spirit are the only thing that affirms salvation, you will be rocked to your core. These are the dangerous examples of a hollow substance when we place our mind in the “peace time” of our lives.
My sister, Hannah, coined a phrase that I’ve found very insightful: “Don’t wish war. Wage war”. As humans, inherently sinful, we seek to be satisfied, to be content. When we realize that the immeasurable riches of Christ surpass our scale of happiness, then we are able to wage war on sin – not just talk about it when things are going well.
“This charge I entrust to you, Timothy, my child, in accordance with the prophecies previously made about you, that by them you may wage the good warfare, holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting this, some have made shipwreck of their faith” (1 Tim. 1:18).
“…wage the good warfare.” Strike hard with every blow against sin, by pursing the full character of God in prayer, scripture, and community. Narrowing the view of the blessing of God will only lead your faith to a “shipwreck.”
The last king took his place in the court room. The truth is, the pride and legacy of eight generations of kinghood preceded his every step. All of the wisdom. All of the expectations. The contrast of both weighed heavily on his name. The name that demanded respect. The name that was hated as much as it was feared. The last king was a prodigy. His name meant swift-justice, social obligation, power and in several previous generations, madness. Throughout history his name was respected around the entire Roman world.
The name is Herod. King Herod Agrippa was all too familiar with his heritage, and he was to be the last. Perhaps he knew or even feared the eventual fate of his family’s name. Regardless, he sat down to fulfill his duties on that day – the day a man in chains was placed before him to plead his defense and innocence.
This accused man was different. He was a man of faith and a former Jewish zealot. King Agrippa was familiar with Jewish prophecy and the Scriptures. Not a scholar by any means, but he had been exposed to such religious laws and customs when issuing a verdict.
The court consisted of several people: King Agrippa, his mother Bernice, guards, the accused, and the accuser, Governor Festus. Depending on the time of day, this particular instance would be subject to the elements. The sun fresh in the sky or one that hung center over the land. Either way, the only sense of relief from its scorching rays would be the occasional refracted breeze gently passing through shadow and stone. Resting, only for a moment, pressed against skin then pursing on as if it had purpose and responsibility to continue its journey. It’s momentum passing around obstacles defending themselves against it, but mattered little to the wind’s design.
The last king decided that the time had come. King Agrippa spoke, “You have permission to speak for yourself.” The King listened as the accused made, what he thought would be, his defense of innocence. The man in chains spoke:
“I consider myself fortunate that it is before you, King Agrippa, I am going to make my defense today against all the accusations of the Jews, especially because you are familiar with all the customs and controversies of the Jews. Therefore, I beg you to listen to me patiently.
“My manner of life from my youth, spent from the beginning among my own nation and in Jerusalem, is known by all the Jews. They have known for a long time, if they are willing to testify, that according to the strictest party of our religion I have lived as a Pharisee. And now I stand here on trial because of my hope in the promise made by God to our fathers, to which our 12 tribes hope to attain, as they earnestly worship night and day. And for this hope I am accused by Jews, O king! Why is it thought incredible by any of you that God raises the dead?
“I myself was convinced that I ought to do many things in opposing the name of Jesus of Nazareth. And I did so in Jerusalem. I not only locked up many of the saints in prison after receiving authority from the chief priests, but when they were put to death I cast my vote against them. And I punished them often in all the synagogues and tried to make them blaspheme, and in raging fury against them I persecuted them even to foreign cities.
“In this connection I journeyed to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests. At midday, O king, I saw on the way a light from heaven, brighter than the sun that shone around me and those who journeyed with me. And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’ And I said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. But rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles—to whom I am sending you to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’
“Therefore, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, but declared first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout all the region of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance. For this reason the Jews seized me in the temple and tried to kill me. To this day I have had the help that comes from God, and so I stand here testifying both to small and great, saying nothing but what the prophets and Moses said would come to pass: that the Christ must suffer and that, by being the first to rise from the dead, he would proclaim light both to our people and to the Gentiles.”
And as he was saying these things in his defense, Festus said with a loud voice, “Paul, you are out of your mind; your great learning is driving you out of your mind.”
But Paul said, “I am not out of my mind, most excellent Festus, but I am speaking true and rational words. For the king knows about these things, and to him I speak boldly. For I am persuaded that none of these things has escaped his notice, for this has not been done in a corner. King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you believe.”
And Agrippa said to Paul, “In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?”
And Paul said, “Whether short or long, I would to God that not only you but also all who hear me this day might become such as I am—except for these chains.”
Then the king rose, and the governor and Bernice and those who were sitting with them. And when they had withdrawn, they said to one another, “This man is doing nothing to deserve death or imprisonment.” And Agrippa said to Festus, “This man could have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar.”” (Acts 26:2-32).
Paul would continue this journey, all the while proclaiming the truth of the Gospel and the transformation he experienced. Neither of which required his defense but rather his offense.
Paul did not counterbalance argument with opinionated bullet points. He spoke with truth, in power and confidence. Allowing the Gospel to cut through opinion and biased judgement. The truth does not require anyone’s approval. It does not desire an arsenal of wisdom or knowledge, and it is not isolated to social status or age or gender. It does not require advanced maturity or fame or a strategy of defense. Despite obstacles and firm stance, the truth is offense. Every time. The truth is easily identified by its unwavering mission no matter who or what stands in the way.
The truth is more powerful than even a king’s lineage. It’s the purposeful power of a breeze. And the truth is not the defense but the offense that is the gospel.
Fast forward almost 2,000 years, and the Truth has not lost any of its attributes. Whether one chooses to listen or not, it doesn’t change what is at the core of the Gospel.
Just like Paul, we can share with the same strength and unwavering confidence. Completely at peace that being witnesses of the rebirth in Christ is not just personal but especially the very essence of truth.