Sunday, June 28, 2015

Stewards or Kings?

The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die. (Genesis 2:15-17).

The third volume in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings series is titled The Return of the King, referring to Aragorn’s assumption of the throne of Gondor once the ring has been destroyed and the evil of Mordor vanquished. Up to this point, Gondor has been ruled by a man named Denethor, who holds the hereditary title and position of Steward of Gondor, the one who oversees the running of the kingdom and keeps it going on behalf of the king. When Gandalf arrives on the eve of battle, it is clear that the Stewards have been in power so long - it has been many centuries since a king last sat on the throne - that their true purpose has been forgotten and they have all but become out-and-out rulers.

Gandalf calls Denethor on this: “Unless the king should come again?...Well, my lord Steward, it is your task to keep some kingdom still against that event, which few now look to see.” Gandalf deliberately uses his title, Steward, which comes from two Old English words meaning “house” or “hall” and “keeper” or “guardian” (as Tolkien well knew and most certainly had in mind). Yes, Gandalf knows something that Denethor does not: Aragorn, Isildur’s heir, the rightful King, is on his way. Still, that should not make a difference - Denethor should be doing everything in his power to preserve Gondor and protect it from the forces of evil so that there is a Gondor left to turn back over to the king, whether he shows up tomorrow or in another several centuries. Instead he is exploiting his position of power and has become a king (and not a very good one, it seems) in all but name, taking on all of the trappings and privileges and power without also taking on the responsibility of caring for the people.

Unfortunately, the example of the bad steward seems to be the one that humans have been wont to follow as long as we have walked upon this earth. Not even Adam and Eve fulfilled their duties as stewards of the beautiful garden into which they were placed. They took it upon themselves to do whatever they wanted instead of what God asked them to do, and because they thought they knew it all, they ate from the one tree he said to leave alone. We have been exploiting our home ever since, oftentimes more concerned for our own comfort and wealth than for leaving something worth having for the generations that will follow us.

We are stewards - keepers or guardians of this planet God has given us to call our home. What will it take for us to really be true to that name?

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Perspective II

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)

From the very beginning of Falling Skies, one of the worst things about the invading alien force is the way they kidnap human children and attach “harnesses” (actually creatures from somewhere they had taken over previously) to them in order to control their actions, basically turning them into mindless slaves. In the early episodes of the show, one of the great accomplishments of the human survivors is figuring out how to remove the harnesses without killing the children.

By the third season, the humans have allied themselves with another alien race that had also been enslaved by the invaders, and one benefit of this alliance is the access to technology that lets them remove harnesses completely and safely from children who had been captured. It also allows them to take out the spikes left over in the backs of those who, like Ben Mason, had their harnesses removed before this advanced technology was available.

In the episode “At All Costs,” Ben must decide if he wants those spikes removed or not. On the one hand, he would really like to be a normal teenager again, with nothing that makes him stand out from the crowd. On the other hand, having the harness remnants gives him certain “superpowers” - superhuman strength, for one, and the ability for potential alien allies to speak through him and communicate with the humans. These abilities make him feel needed, like there is something useful he can do. He is no longer just a kid who is in the way and has to follow the directions of the adults. As Ben tells his younger brother, being harnessed was a bad thing, but the harness remnants allow him to do good.

In thinking about this situation, I find myself returning to what I said about Paul in a recent post about perspective in the novel Ender’s Game, but I think Ben's dilemma here is an even better parallel with Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” and how it affected his ministry. I don’t believe God causes bad things to happen to people. I do believe that he gives us the strength to carry on as we walk through those dark valleys, and also the ability to learn from our trials and put that knowledge to use once we reach the other side. Paul learned that weakness made him strong by forcing him to rely on God’s grace, just as Ben has learned that having the spikes gives him a greater purpose in his community.

We all have thorns of one kind or another, and negative circumstances are never easy to deal with. I can only pray that we will let God change our perspectives in these situations and help us to see the good we can do in spite of it all.

Sunday, June 14, 2015


Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. (Matthew 28:19-20)

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. (Acts 1:8)

Bilbo Baggins’s mission is to break into the dragon-guarded mountain and take back the dwarves’ treasure.

His nephew Frodo’s mission is to carry the One Ring to Mordor and cast it into the fires of Mount Doom to destroy it, and Sauron’s power over Middle Earth along with it.

Ben Kenobi’s mission is to disable the Death Star’s tractor beam so the Millennium Falcon can get away.

Luke Skywalker’s mission is to fly his X-Wing Fighter back to the Death Star and drop a proton torpedo down an exhaust port about the size of a womp rat.

The mission of the starship Enterprise’s crew is “to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.”

What is your mission? Is it to travel to another country on the other side of an ocean to build houses for widows or lead camps for women who have been victims of human trafficking? Is it to go to another state and help with Vacation Bible School for refugee children? Is it simply to be the best likeness of Christ that you can be to the people you interact with as you go about your business in your own city or town?

Where your mission takes you is really beside the point - whether at home, to the ends of the earth, or anywhere in between, it’s all covered by Jesus’s charge to us. What does matter is that you share his love and make disciples wherever you go. That is your mission.

Sunday, June 7, 2015


Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. (Galatians 6:7-8)

Adam Mitchell first meets the Ninth Doctor and Rose Tyler when they pay a visit to the vault of alien technology belonging to Mitchell’s boss, American billionaire Henry van Statten. At the end of their adventure there, Rose convinces the Doctor to let Adam travel with them in the TARDIS. They go far into the future, to the year 200,000, and visit Sattelite Five, the news hub of the Fourth Great and Bountiful Human Empire.

As usually happens, the Doctor discovers that something fishy is going on, and while he investigates, Adam is left to his own devices for a time. The temptation of access to vast stores of knowledge about this future universe, along with an unlimited credit stick and Rose’s mobile (specially adapted to allow her to call home no matter where they are in time and space), prove to be his undoing. He goes for the deluxe package, an information port that opens up in his forehead at the snap of a finger and allows data to stream directly into his brain, and then he uses his new hardware to send information back to his parents’ answering machine in his own time, planning to decrypt it and use it to his advantage once he returns home.

The Doctor does not think very highly of Adam’s upgrades, especially after they allow the bad guys to access information about the TARDIS and the Doctor’s true identity. As punishment, Adam becomes the first companion to get kicked out of the TARDIS. The Doctor takes him home, destroys the answering machine, and warns him to lead a quiet life lest his information port open at an inopportune time and cause him to be dissected.

Adam’s story is meant as a cautionary tale - reminding us what not to do if the TARDIS ever lands in our backyard and the Doctor invites us along for a ride. It’s also a good reminder to heed God’s instructions and not to let our own selfishness blind us to the consequences of our actions on our own journeys through time and space. May we be the kind of companions remembered for our actions on behalf of the universe, not the ones who got dumped by the wayside.