Why I Enjoyed: Hacksaw Ridge

This is a spoiler-free article. 

Hi reader! How are you? It’s been 4 months since I wrote to you through this blog, and the last time I did, I was telling you about some upcoming movies. Can’t believe more than a quarter of a year has passed again, but today, I’m going to be talking about one of those movies that has recently hit the shores of my country. It has been the talk of the town and especially among my friends in the past few weeks. By now, you would know that this film is none other than Hacksaw Ridge.

Starring Andrew Garfield, Hacksaw Ridge is a film that tells the true story of Desmond Doss, a Seventh-Day Adventist Christian who served as a combat medic during World War II – never using a single weapon.

This was the first film I’ve watched in 2017 and I had zero regrets doing so. If you haven’t caught it, I highly recommend you to do so. Here’s why.

1. It’s very Real

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“In peace, sons bury their fathers. In war, fathers bury their sons.”

This is a film about real people and real events. It’s about war. And though I’m not a fan of gore, I must say that the depiction of war in this film is very real. You could just feel a heaviness in your heart as you watch it. What a reminder to us that hate, violence and conflict is never fun or a solution without cost.

2. It’s Engaging

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“While everybody else is taking life, I’m going to be saving it.”

As soon as you step into the cinema and the film starts, you’ll be hooked. That’s exactly how I felt. If you think only the battle sequences will grip you, you will be pleasantly surprised that that’s not the case. From the start to the end, I was fully engaged (you can ask my friends who were beside me). It is an intense war film yes, but it is also one with a compelling story.

3. It talks about Love

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“Please Lord, help me get one more.”

Even though Hacksaw Ridge isn’t a romance film, it is still essentially a film about love. There are a handful of tender moments between Andrew Garfield and Teresa Palmer’s onscreen characters, but more than that, this is a film about a man’s love for God and the lives of others before anything else, even before himself.

4. It talks about Convictions

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“I don’t know how I’m going to live with myself if I don’t stay true to what I believe.”

If there’s one word I can use to describe this film, I think I would choose “inspiring” above any other word. And that is mostly because of the portrayal of Desmond Doss’ unwavering convictions. Without spoiling the details so that you can be inspired firsthand, all I can say is, go watch the movie yourself!

5. It honors real world Heroes

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“With the world so set on tearing itself apart, it don’t seem like such a bad thing to me to want to put a little bit of it back together.”

Probably one of the best things that I loved about this film is how it gave honor to one of the greatest heroes in our history. It doesn’t matter whether you believe in what Desmond Doss believed in. He’s still a hero. And I’m glad that that are people celebrating him and his deeds even today. Because what we celebrate we elevate. If we stop honoring our heroes, soon we will not have heroes left to honor.

Have you watched Hacksaw Ridge? If not, go catch it with your family and friends this weekend!

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Heroes

As soon as the word “hero” pops up, a few individuals/characters would come to your mind. If you’re a DC fan, you would probably be thinking Superman, Batman or Wonder Woman. If you’re a Marvelite, I would guess Captain America, Iron Man or Spider-Man would be some of many heroes that you will think of.

Or you could possibly be leaning towards more of Japanese manga and anime type heroes such as Goku, Naruto or One Punch Man? All the gamers here would probably mention protagonists such as Link, Master Chief or Nathan Drake. How about all the Trekkies out there? Maybe Captain Kirk and Mr Spock are your favorite heroes? Star Trek Beyond is awesome by the way; go watch it if you haven’t!

And of course for all the Star Wars fans reading this, Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, or even Darth Vader would be your go-to in terms of heroic figures. Or perhaps you’re a fan of The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Pirates of the Caribbean, James Bond, Indiana Jones, The Hunger Games😄

The list goes on and on and on. And it seems like there is no end to the number of characters we can think of in the fictional world who all share common heroic traits! But today, these are not the heroes I want to talk about. And neither am I going to talk about famous real life people in history who have done heroic things that made the world a better place.

Because while the first heroes we are reminded of are always the ones that are strong, intelligent, charismatic, confident, has a unique look and personality, has a special set of abilities, had great adventures and fights evil, I want to look at another type of hero apart from the ones we are familiar with, a type that might possibly point towards a certain reader looking at this post right now – the unlikely hero.

For all the Christians here, we read the Bible and we see the men of God who has lived before us. And if we want to talk about heroes, you would immediately think of great men like David who slayed giants, men like Moses who parted the Red Sea, and men like Paul who spread the Gospel far and wide.

And sometimes we can focus so much on their heroic deeds that we forget that actually, many of the great men chosen by God didn’t start out that great at all. David was young and inexperienced, Moses couldn’t even speak properly and Paul was anti-Christian! These men were all (less than) ordinary and were the most unlikely to be used by God for His purpose and yet God still picked them. See? Unlikely heroes.

Another unlikely hero in the Bible is a man named Gideon. And you must be thinking “who is this guy?” or “what does he have that God would choose him to be His hero?” Well I guess by now you wouldn’t be surprised, but honestly he didn’t really have much! In fact, all he had to offer when God sent an angel to him are these 4 things: worries, insecurities, doubts and fears! 😛

Haha if you don’t believe me, you can take a look at the scriptures in Judges 6:11-24. It is clearly written that Gideon asked questions in worry and doubt and didn’t even believe that God was there with him when an angel was literally standing in front of him. It is almost hilarious just reading all that.

But jokes aside, maybe some of you who are reading this are feeling the exact 4 things that Gideon was feeling. You can totally relate to him. Maybe deep down on the inside you know that the life you’re living now isn’t all there is to life. Maybe you feel that you are meant for greater things. Or maybe God Himself has even given you a great dream and a vision.

No matter what it is, you are hesitant to follow your heart, to chase after your dreams or to obey God. You ask yourself questions in worry, insecurity, doubt and fear. “What if I fail? How can it be that God has called me? Why would He choose me? Am I really strong, intelligent, charismatic, confident, good-looking, talented, experienced and holy enough to be used by God?”

Well, if you are having thoughts similar to the ones above and completely understand Gideon’s feelings, I have great news for you. You are a person with an incredibly high potential of becoming a hero for God, albeit an unlikely one. 😉

“But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty.” – 1 Corinthians 1:27

Here’s the thing. God doesn’t see the way we do, He doesn’t see the way the world does. We might have tons of worries, but God doesn’t. We just got to learn to listen to His voice and obey it. In reference to the previous scriptures in Judges 6, God didn’t even take Gideon’s worries into account and just told him to rescue Israel from its enemies! We just have to see from God’s perspective and His word will triumph over our worries.

To us, we might think that we are not the heroic type and don’t have much to offer in terms of making a difference in the world. We might feel insecure even and disqualify ourselves from becoming the person that God has created us to be. But God sees beyond all that. He sees beyond all the insecurity – a hero within. He would rather pick a person that seems to have nothing but is humble, than another who has everything and is boastful.

It’s interesting how the angel of God addresses Gideon as a “mighty hero” even before he has done anything heroic. We might not see anything mighty or heroic about ourselves, but I believe that God is seeing a mighty hero within us just as He did in Gideon. Humans might only see problems in their lives, but God sees otherwise. We see our problems but God sees our potential.

What else? Maybe today you are doubting God. You doubt the dreams, visions and promises He has placed in you. Or maybe you doubt yourself. You doubt that you have the ability to do anything significant. It doesn’t matter, just know this. Our doubts do not deny God’s divinity.

Just like how the law of gravity, no matter how much you try to doubt it, cannot be denied, God is the same. He is all-powerful and all-knowing. Our doubts cannot change the fact that He is real and has chosen us to be His unlikely heroes.

But maybe even after knowing all that, you still fear what’s to come. You know what, if you need peace, just invite God into your life and whatever situation that you’re in. Because God doesn’t just bring peace, He is peace.

“So Gideon took ten of his servants and did as the Lord had commanded. But he did it at night because he was afraid of the other members of his father’s household and the people of the town.” – Judges 6:27

So how did Gideon become a hero despite everything he was feeling and the low chances he had? He took a leap of faith. You see, faith isn’t the absence of worries, insecurities, doubts or fears. Faith is having the courage and desire to see from God’s perspective and to make a move forward despite all that. Read the verse above, it is clear that Gideon was still afraid when he obeyed God’s command! But it didn’t stop him.

Today no matter what stands against you, take the leap of faith. God is looking for more unlikely heroes in our generation. You can be one of them.

If you don’t yet know Jesus, take that first leap of faith to believe in Him. I can’t talk about heroes without mentioning the true superhero of the world – Jesus Christ. He was sent to our world to save us from our sins. He died for us and rose again to give us an abundant life, a life where anything is possible – including becoming heroes. But we got to first have faith and believe.

Truly in God, heroes can rise out of the most unlikeliest of places.

[Inspired by The Unlikely Hero, a sermon by Garrett Lee of Heart of God Church.]

Marvel Cinematic Universe for Beginners

Happy 1st of May everyone! It’s that time of the year again. That particular time of the year when adrenaline rushes through me as I walk pass the cinema in excitement BUT ALSO as I attempt to once again put together a comprehensive guide for a series of movies. That’s right. If you’ve been on Fool’s Bench for awhile now, you would probably remember Star Wars for Beginners, the result of my first shot at meeting the need of an average moviegoer.

Well today, I give you my second shot – this time for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Because even though the MCU has only existed for 8 years in contrast to the almost 40 years lifetime of Star Wars, it has birthed forth twice the number of films in one-fifth the time. And unless you are an expert in “MCU Studies” like me, you would find it hard naturally to catch up on all 12 films and digest everything before Captain America: Civil War, which may I add, is already showing in my country. So don’t even get me started on the TV series & shorts!

Once again, I must say that the highest motivating factor for me as I write these guides are my friends. I love them too much to see them walking into the cinema this weekend unprepared for Civil War like how a kid walks into the exam hall unprepared for the Mathematics paper. Okay, it’s not that bad. 😄😛

But how do you know whether this guide is for you? How do you know if you even need it? Well here are some indicators. One, you think that Captain America: Civil War is some sort of propaganda film filled with historical drama. Two, whenever you go watch an MCU film, you leave the theater as soon as the credits roll. Lastly, which is the worst of them all, you think that Iron Man and Batman are best buddies. Can relate to those examples or anything along those lines? This post is for you.

Okay! I am about to begin. But before that, I must warn you that beyond this paragraph lie potential spoilers for every single MCU film, short film and TV series before Captain America: Civil War. Of course, this article does not include every single detail there is. As much as I want to talk about every interesting fact, I also want to avoid giving you an information overload. So that is why, I have written this article in a way that relates the most to Captain America: Civil War, keeping it relevant to you now. If you find that there are missing information (which I have left out on purpose), you probably don’t need this post anyway. But for the rest of you, consider this your cheat sheet to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Let’s first talk about the universe itself, shall we?


1. Film Rights, Studios and Universes

The first thing that we got to address is what films are in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and what films are not. Because as much as we’d like it to be, not every film that has a “Marvel” label slapped on its opening credits belong in the same shared universe. And this is due to different film studios owning the film rights to different Marvel Comics characters. So this means for example, if you and I own two different film studios, and I bought the rights to use Iron Man in my movies, you can’t. Because you don’t have the right to. Let me explain further with a few well-known examples – namely 20th Century Fox, Sony Pictures Entertainment and Marvel Studios.

20th Century Fox

20th Century Fox owns the rights to all the X-Men characters, which is why every film in the X-Men film series are produced and distributed by them. Fox also owns the rights to the Fantastic Four. Unfortunately, these two groups of superheroes as of now do not belong in the same fictional universe. Here are all the films under 20th Century Fox:

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Now I must make a special mention about one X-Men, and that is Quicksilver. This guy is a special case. He is the only character so far that exists (or existed) simultaneously in two universes – the X-Men film series and the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The reason why this is possible could be because of the nature and history of the character itself. You see, in the comic books, Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch hang out regularly with both the X-Men and the Avengers. So I guess you can’t completely own the twin characters even if your studio has the film rights to one of the super teams.

That’s not to say that there are no limitations to their usage in film though. For example, Marvel Studios cannot mention the word “mutants” or even talk about “Magneto” when handling the two characters, while Fox can’t link Quicksilver to the Avengers. You think that’s complicated? Wait till you hear about Spider-Man!

Sony Pictures Entertainment

This is where things get a little interesting. Sony owns the rights to Spider-Man and produces & distributes all of the character’s films through Columbia Pictures (one of their studios). The movies in the original Spider-Man trilogy, as well as those in the recent The Amazing Spider-Man film series belong to them. That is why you never see Peter Parker hanging around Tony Stark. Well that is, until now. Because just last year, Sony Pictures managed to strike a deal with Marvel Studios in a way that allows Spider-Man to be reintroduced again (but hey, I’m not complaining) within the Marvel Cinematic Universe!

Based on what I know, Sony still owns the character. But because of this collaboration with Marvel Studios, Spider-Man can now exist in the MCU with a brand new cast & story, which could be the best thing that has ever happened to Spidey! And that is all that matters now, right? So enjoy these following films if you will, but when Civil War comes out, just know that the new Spider-Man and his future movie(s) are unrelated to any of these past tales:

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Marvel Studios

This film studio, now owned by Disney, is the one we want to focus on today. Because these are the guys that have brought us and will continue to expand the Marvel Cinematic Universe, our main topic of the day! “Which characters do Marvel Studios own?” Every character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. “Which characters or films are in the Marvel Cinematic Universe?” I am glad you asked.

Marvel-Cinematic-Universe

Now you see why you need this guide. Thankfully, unlike Star Wars, most if not all of the MCU stories are released and told chronologically. So there’s no confusion about that. Still, there’s just way too much content to digest in a short amount of time.  Of course, the best way to enjoy the entire MCU is to watch every single one of those movies and TV series above; or at least, all the movies. In fact, just watching all the movies would prepare you for Phase Three, which kicks off with Civil War. So if that’s your style, go ahead. You’ll understand every cross-reference, see every link, and be awed by every connection across the films. But once again, time is the problem.

If you just want to be ready for Captain America: Civil War however, I can recommend you to watch the following films. Just these 4 SHOULD be sufficient for you to fully enjoy Civil War:

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Yet again if you’re reading this, why worry? 😉 Let’s get on with the real stuff today.


2. The World

The world of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is a big one. And though so far, most of its stories take place on Earth, some of them like Guardians of the Galaxy has increased the scale of this fictional universe. And sometimes, you might forget that these stories are actually interconnected even though sometimes they happen so far apart. So today before we focus on and talk about some of the more prominent characters & events in the MCU, let me first give you a general idea of the world in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

“The Nine Realms”

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Thor explaining the concept of the Nine Realms to Jane Foster

This interesting concept was first introduced by Thor when he was banished to Earth five years ago. It basically describes how nine different planets from separate distant star systems are aligned in a figurative tree known as Yggdrasil. And yes, Earth – just like Thor’s home world Asgard, is one of these planets. How far exactly these planets are apart from one another is unclear, but what we do know is that they are far enough to exist on different planes of space with their own laws of “science” that even the greatest scientists on Earth cannot explain/understand. But of course, these are not the only planets in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. These are just nine of them that happened to be positioned in a certain way and in this case – in a tree-like alignment we call Yggdrasil. So definitely, there are many other planets and galaxies existing outside this alignment, which is what I am going to talk about next.

Neighboring Galaxies & Planets

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Okay this is pretty simple. Our Earth is part of the Solar System. Our Solar System is part of a galaxy. Our galaxy is known as the Milky Way. The Milky Way is only one out of many many galaxies in the universe. All of that is real. What I’m about to say next is fictional. The Guardians of the Galaxy and all of their shenanigans, conflicts and battles are found in a neighboring galaxy to ours. In fact, we can safely say they are in the galaxy closest to our galaxy. But still, that is pretty far away! So now you understand, right? The Guardians of the Galaxy roam a galaxy with its own stars & planets that are all outside the Nine Realms. But despite all that, you must know that they together with the Nine Realms and Earth, all exist within the same universe. Now that all the dust is cleared up, let’s talk about our planet Earth and some of its important characters & events, the usual subjects of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.


3. Important Characters

There are a lot of characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and it will be almost insane to introduce every one of them to you here. So today, I will be focusing on some of them who are more important in the MCU or more relevant to Civil War now. And I will try to keep the descriptions short! But come to think of it, who doesn’t know these guys?

Tony Stark / Iron Man

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A self-proclaimed genius, billionaire and philanthropist, Tony Stark’s life took a different turn when he was captured by terrorists 8 years ago. Forced to build a weapon of destruction, he witnessed first-hand the horrible possibilities & consequences that have resulted from weapons manufactured by his company. So instead, he built himself a mechanical suit of armor and escaped, leaving the man that he was behind; well for the most part, except his egoistic self. Eventually, he became the armored Avenger – Iron Man and continued to develop his suits & technology to fight the terrors of this world. When we last saw him in 2015, he accidentally unleashed an evil artificial intelligence named Ultron upon the world. Fortunately with the aid of all the Avengers, Ultron was stopped. Tony Stark will once again appear in Captain America: Civil War as the main man siding against the Captain.

Bruce Banner / The Hulk

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When an attempt to experiment and recreate a super soldier program from World War II goes terribly wrong, Dr. Bruce Banner turns into the Hulk – “an enormous green rage monster” whenever he gets angry, extremely stressed, or put directly into harm’s way. Originally choosing to live a life of isolation for the safety of others, Bruce Banner has since become a part of the Avengers, a team of remarkable people commonly known as “Earth’s Mightiest Heroes”, who uses their unique abilities for the protection of the world. Banner has even recently learned to control and channel his inner monster and is able to use the Hulk to his advantage… most of the time. After the Battle of Sokovia against Ultron, the Hulk left the Avengers, leaving his current whereabouts and status unknown.

Thor

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Thor was once childish, arrogant and unwise. But after his father Odin banished him to Earth for provoking a war between Asgard and the Frost Giants, he realized his mistakes and has changed ever since. After regaining his powers and ability to wield the legendary hammer Mjölnir, he went on to fight numerous battles for the Nine Realms. Some of these battles even helped to protect Earth against its enemies. And that was also how Thor became part of the Avengers, when he joined the fight against the alien forces that invaded Earth during The Battle of New York. Last year, he teamed up once more with the heroes and defeated Ultron’s army. Afterwards, he returned to Asgard to investigate mysterious forces that seemed to have orchestrated recent events.

Natasha Romanoff / Black Widow

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Having been brought up in cruel ways to become a trained killer, Natasha Romanoff is an ex-assassin turned agent who worked for S.H.I.E.L.D as a highly-skilled spy until its fall in 2014. But more than that, she is an Avenger and was one of them who stood against both the aliens in 2012, and the robotic army of Ultron in 2015. Today, together with Captain Steve Rogers, she has trained up a new group of Avengers that we will see more of in Captain America: Civil War. Of course, she will be making an appearance as well; but from what we know, she is on Tony’s side.

Clint Barton / Hawkeye

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Most commonly recognized with his trademark bow and arrow, Clint Barton was a S.H.I.E.L.D agent like Romanoff, but with skills in archery that have been trained to the peak of human ability. He has since joined the Avengers and have fought dangers no mere mortal should have ever encountered. During the period of their fight against Ultron, Clint reveals to the bewilderment of the team that he is both a husband and a father and has a family residing in a remote area. After the battle in which he nearly lost his life, Clint “retired” from the Avengers and committed himself to his family. In Captain America: Civil War however, we shall see him again fighting alongside Cap.

Steve Rogers / Captain America

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Alright, before we move on to talk about some newer characters, let’s first talk about the Captain, our titular character of Captain America: Civil War. Originally living in the time of World War II, Steve Rogers was just an ordinary man who wanted to serve in the military and help fight alongside his countrymen against the enemies. However, due to his extremely poor physical & health condition, it was impossible for him to do so. And it remained that way until he was chosen to be a subject for Project Rebirth – a secret super soldier program created for the Americans and their allies.

Steve Rogers then became the world’s first superhero and fought many battles during the war. He was also usually seen with his signature shield that was made out of vibranium – the strongest metal in the world. Eventually in one battle however, he sacrificed himself by crashing an explosive-rigged aircraft in the Arctic. Fortunately, he survived frozen in the ice and was kept in suspended animation until 70 years later when he was found and brought home by S.H.I.E.L.D. Soon after, the events of The Avengers unfolded and he became part of the team ever since.

Now, with all the original Avengers covered, it’s time to take a quick look at some of the more new/unfamiliar faces of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Sam Wilson / Falcon

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Being one of the new Avengers who are on Team Cap, Sam was first introduced during the events of Captain America: The Winter Soldier. By now, he has grown to become one of the most trusted & treasured comrades of Captain America. He wears a highly advanced wing pack and is most proficient in aerial combat.

James Rhodes / War Machine

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Alongside Tony Stark, James Rhodes is a character that has been with us since the beginning of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Also known as War Machine, he has been on countless adventures with Iron Man so obviously, you know whose team he is on. Most recently, he was seen undergoing training in the new Avengers facility.

James “Bucky” Barnes / The Winter Soldier

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Bucky was the closest friend that Steve Rogers ever had. After Captain Rogers witnessed his demise in World War II, he was thought to be dead until he showed up again in 2014 in Washington, D.C. It turns out that he survived his fall but was brainwashed, physically enhanced and used throughout history by the rogue organization HYDRA to sow chaos whenever & wherever needed. When he’s not needed however, HYDRA would put him back to sleep in suspended animation, similar to the state that Steve Rogers was in. The last time we saw him, Bucky almost killed Captain America, but instead saved his life, seemingly to have recovered his memories.

Scott Lang / Ant-Man

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Scott Lang was once a thief, but has now become the latest superhero to be introduced to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. His unique suit allows him to command armies of ants and also to shrink in size. When he is tiny & unnoticeable, his strength is retained & even multiplied to the point in which his tiny punch can feel “like a bullet”. He has had a previous encounter with Falcon and will be appearing in Civil War on the side of Steve Rogers.

Vision

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The result of the combined efforts of Tony Stark, Bruce Banner and Thor, Vision is like the perfect version of Ultron without his twisted side. Bestowed with powers from the Mind Stone (the gem on his forehead) and created with a body laced with vibranium, Vision is also currently known as the only being other than Thor worthy of lifting Mjölnir. He is now a new Avenger siding with Tony Stark in Civil War.

Wanda Maximoff / Scarlet Witch

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Wanda Maximoff was a subject of HYDRA’s human experiments. This successfully granted her telekinetic & telepathic abilities, as well as powers of energy manipulation. After losing her twin brother in the Battle of Sokovia, she has since become an Avenger under the training of Captain Rogers and Agent Romanoff. She is also on Team Cap.

Sharon / Agent 13

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In 2014, Sharon was a S.H.I.E.L.D agent tasked to live as a neighbor to Steve Rogers to watch over and protect him from any threats. But today, she works for the CIA and will also be appearing in Captain America: Civil War. As to which side she is on in the conflict, it is still currently unclear.

Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross

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Back in 2008, General Ross was the man who led the pursuit on Dr. Bruce Banner. But of course as we all know, his plans on capturing Banner did not come into fruition. 8 years later today, he makes an appearance once again in Civil War.

HYDRA

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I’ve mentioned HYDRA a few times before, but let me explain now who they really are. Originally started as a cult, this rogue terrorist/criminal organization have turned into one of the greatest enemies of S.H.I.E.L.D and the world due to their extreme beliefs in world domination. Basically, these are the bad guys. After World War II, HYDRA was thought to have been extinguished until their re-emergence in 2014.

S.H.I.E.L.D

S.H.I.E.L.D._logo

Another organization that I’ve been talking about over and over is S.H.I.E.L.D. The Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division is an intelligence agency tasked with global security. Their job scope in recent years include protecting the world from the threats of super powered individuals. Even the knowledge of these people and their not-so-subtle activities have been successfully kept under wraps by S.H.I.E.L.D. But all these changed after some large-scale events in recent years, which I’ll be talking about now.


4. Important Events

Since Tony Stark first revealed to the world his superhero identity 8 years ago, many things have happened. But some of them I am about to list are probably considered the historical ones that have changed the world.

The Battle of New York

battle of new york

As I’ve said before, S.H.I.E.L.D has done a pretty good job over the years in keeping watch over the people who could be potential threats to the world. This includes individuals like Tony Stark and Bruce Banner, even though they might not have any ill intentions or whatsoever. More than that, they have also kept a lot of information about these people and their activities from the world – “classified” as they liked to say it. But all these efforts of keeping secrets went down the drain in 2012, when a hostile alien army invaded New York City.

Avengers_vs_Chitauri

This was the event that first united the Avengers against a common enemy, and introduced Earth’s Mightiest Heroes to the world. The battle that ensued also revealed to people across the globe that their world is even bigger and weirder than they have ever known. In the end, the Avengers successfully defeated the alien forces, though unfortunately, a trail of destruction was left behind and many still lost their lives.

The Fall of S.H.I.E.L.D

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In 2014 – two years after the Battle of New York, Captain Steve Rogers & Agent Romanoff discovered to their horror that HYDRA never ceased to exist. In fact, it has been secretly operating and expanding within the ranks of S.H.I.E.L.D. Together with Sam Wilson, they later helped prevent a global genocide in Washington, D.C and also exposed HYDRA to not just all legitimate S.H.I.E.L.D operatives, but to the general public and to the world. Once again, the battle in Washington, D.C resulted in much death and devastation. After this event, S.H.I.E.L.D was no more; at least to the world.

The Battle of Sokovia

sokovia

After the fall of S.H.I.E.L.D, the Avengers began operating independently on resources provided by Tony Stark. Specifically, they went on a hunt against HYDRA, in search of a dangerous alien scepter recovered from New York, but were now in the hands of these criminals. After a chain of events, Tony Stark created Ultron – an artificial intelligence that went sentient and turned against the Avengers. This eventually led to a catastrophic battle in Sokovia, the latest event involving our heroes a year ago. Although many lives were saved after that because of the Avengers’ victory, the Battle of Sokovia probably became one of the main triggers to the conflicts in Captain America: Civil War.


5. The Story

mcu-infinity-stones

Before I end my discussion today about the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I would like to just bring us to an overview of the entire series so far. Because beyond what we’ve seen happening so far, there is a hidden, deeper overarching story.  If you have watched all the films in Phase One & Phase Two, you would realize that a lot of them are loosely connected by similar objects filled with incredible power. And from recent events, we can identify that the source of power within these objects are actually hidden gems called Infinity Stones. Let me take one of them – the Mind Stone as an example, just to talk about why these stones are labelled the most powerful objects in existence.

Chitauri_Scepter_HYDRA

The Mind Stone was found within the scepter that the Avengers recovered last year. And you know the things it can achieve. It allowed whoever that wielded the scepter to control the minds of people; it gave Wanda Maximoff her enhanced abilities and powers; it created the mind of Ultron but it also gave life and power to Vision. And all these are probably only some of the many feats that an Infinity Stone is capable of.

Vision_AoU
Notice the Mind Stone on Vision’s forehead

You must be wondering why we are talking about these Infinity Stones. The reason is because there a total of six Infinity Stones and so far, we’ve already found four of them. Why does that matter? Because I know that someone is looking for them – someone we still know almost nothing about. He is none other than Thanos, a cosmic figure apparently regarded as the most powerful being in the entire universe.

thanosthrone

If you’ve ever seen the mid-credits scene from The Avengers (that’s why you should always stay till the end), you would know that since the Battle of New York, Thanos has been the mysterious force pulling the strings in the background, directly and indirectly causing many of the events in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. For example, it was his army that invaded Earth in 2012 even though on the surface, it looked like it was Thor’s evil brother Loki leading the charge. His goal in doing things like that is to obtain all six Infinity Stones for his own desires. And when (not if) that happens, the entire universe will be in trouble because he will be unstoppable. Do you now see how the entire MCU has been leading us towards its climax in Phase 3 – Infinity War? And just saying, Thanos has become impatient and has planned to retrieve the Stones personally. Great danger awaits.

So as you can see, in a sense, Thanos was the one who has inadvertently caused the formation of the Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy. And though we have yet to see much of him, he is a looming threat that have caused and will continue to cause much opposition for our heroes. But for now, we got to first deal with what’s currently happening on Earth.

Captain America: Civil War kicks off Phase Three of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and will show us some repercussions of things that have happened previously in Phase One & Two. And though our heroes were involved previously in disastrous events and will be blamed, I place all the fault on Thanos. It’s only because of his lust for power that all these bad things could happen. Unfortunately, no one in the MCU knows that yet.

And that is all I have for you now. Hopefully I have helped you have a better idea of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, prepared you for Phase Three and also excited you for Captain America: Civil War! Personally, I can’t wait to find out what Black Panther is all about and how Spider-Man is now going to fit into the entire universe. Last tip; and I can’t stress this enough guys – always stay till the end of any MCU film, after EVERY single credit has rolled. Have a great time in the cinema. 😉

The Parables of Jesus Part 2: The Love of God

Note: The following is a detailed write-up of Pastor How‘s message over the weekend of October 10th & 11th. “The Parables of Jesus Part 2” is the second of 3 parts in this opening season of  a new sermon series, which will be covered across multiple seasons over the next few years. If you haven’t already, check out my write-up of the first part before moving on with this post.

Parables – stories that provide earthly analogies for the heavenly messages behind them.

Commonly used by Jesus, their purpose is to help our worldly minds comprehend and understand spiritual principles more easily. Because naturally, we have no concept of Heaven to begin with.

Hearing you will hear and shall not understand,
And seeing you will see and not perceive;
15 For the hearts of this people have grown dull.
Their ears are hard of hearing,
And their eyes they have closed,
Lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears,
Lest they should understand with their hearts and turn,
So that I should heal them.” – Matthew 13:14-15

Pastor How kicked off the second part of The Parables of Jesus by addressing our hearts. Just as the verse above says, spiritual things must be understood with our hearts. If we do not engage our hearts while listening to God’s Word or reading Scriptures, we will either hear and not understand or see but not perceive. Still not understanding what’s all these “seeing but not seeing” and “hearing but not hearing”? Well, Pastor How gave us an example:

fedex-cropped

This is the FedEx logo. Some of you may already know about this, some of you may not, but hidden within this iconic logo is an arrow:

fedex-arrow

That’s what “seeing but not seeing” means! Before we found out about the arrow, most of us must have seen the FedEx logo like hundreds of times. We’ve seen it online, on TV, on billboards. Yet every time we look at it, we see the logo yes, but we don’t see the arrow hidden within it. Personally for myself, it’s only recently that I found out about the hidden arrow, and it wasn’t even by my own eyes! The Internet told me!

The reason why we normal everyday people would not notice this interesting design is because most of us would not be so interested in FedEx’s logo, as compared to its services, that we would stop and study it intently. To most of us, the logo needs not be taken seriously. In fact, most of us would just have a glance at it. Besides, its the services that count. Why engage our hearts in looking at the logo?

You are starting to get this, aren’t you? To engage Jesus, we need to engage our hearts. Just like in the everyday relationships with our friends, family and partner, the heart must be involved. It is only when our hearts are involved in our relationships, that true understanding can be gained about the other person!

“Christianity is not a religion, but a relationship with God.”

We always say that Christianity is not a religion, but a relationship with God. If that is true, then our hearts must be engaged. Pastor How shows us something interesting:

heart_sp_how

He said that in order to hear God, we must do it with our hearts. Because it’s within our hearts that we can find our spiritual “ear” that will hear the voice of Christ. With that, he went on to discuss the 5th parable in Matthew 13.

Hidden-Treasure

44 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” – Matthew 13:44

Once again, we have a “traditional interpretation” of this parable here. Usually, we would think that in this verse above, the “man” refers to us and the “treasure” refers to Jesus. So our interpretation of this verse would be something along the lines of us finding Jesus, selling everything we have to buy and live with Him happily ever after. But if you study it closely and engage your heart in doing so, you would realize again that this does not make sense! Here’s why.

10 for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.” – Luke 19:10

Across the pages of the Bible, you would see verses like Luke 19:10 that describes God as the One who is finding and seeking us, not the other way around! For example, how often would you see someone who has never been exposed to Christianity before suddenly realizing one day that he needs to find God? Personally for myself, before I knew about Jesus, I just lived life my way (though it was purposeless) and never had a single thought about God or gods in general. I had to be invited to church. And I was stubborn at first! The Holy Spirit had to persuade me before I believed in Christ. So very quickly we can see here that God is the One who seeks us. How? Through our Christian friends who invite us to church. When? When our hearts are open. Why? Because He loves us.

Now I don’t know about other religions and beliefs, but in Christianity, it’s never about Man looking for God or Man becoming God. In Christianity, it’s always about God loving us and looking for us. In fact, God loved us so much He didn’t just stop at looking for us; He became one of us. God became Man. This is the greatest love story ever told – that God would love us so much He gave up His Godhood to pursue us. If you’re reading this, get this – God doesn’t only love you from the moon and back. He loves you from Heaven and back. Use your heart and you’ll understand this.

Remember the “keys” that were given to us in the previous part of this series? The ones that would help us interpret all the parables? Let’s look at some of them together with what we’ve gathered here today and interpret The Parables of the Hidden Treasure even further.

The “man” refers to Jesus.
The “treasure hidden in a field” refers to us.
The “field” refers to the world.

In this Parable of the Hidden Treasure, the “man” who found treasure in a field, and for joy over it goes and sells all that he has to buy that field refers to Jesus. We who believe in Jesus are the “treasure(s)” that He has found. And just like in the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares, the “field” here refers to the world. So what does this mean? It means that God didn’t just “buy” us Christians, He bought the entire world.

16 For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” – John 3:16

As long as our hearts are open, God will find us somehow. If you’re not yet a Christian today, this especially applies to you. When your heart is open, God will somehow find you. For me, it was through a cousin. For you, it could be through a relative, a friend or an article like this, I don’t know. But open up your heart today to His love and your life will never be the same again. Jesus saw us as His treasures so much so that He would purchase us at the highest price of dying for our sins. But it’s up to us now whether we would like to accept that love into our lives and become the treasures that He has always seen us as, or not.

23 You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of men.” – 1 Corinthians 7:23

Once again Pastor How emphasizes the fact that we can’t buy God and His love. We are saved by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8). It’s like how a child can never buy his father’s love. A child cannot go up to his father, offer him money and ask for his love. A father loves his child for who he is (his child), not for what he can offer to him! So in the same way, there’s nothing we can sell to buy Jesus.

“There’s nothing good we can do for Jesus to love us more; there’s nothing bad we can do for Him to love us less.”

Jesus is the One who gave up and sold everything, including His Godhood to buy us. But some of you may be wondering, why must He do so? Wasn’t there another way? Take this following analogy from Pastor How as an example:

Say you’re an animal lover on the way home today. As you are walking across the street, you spot a group of puppies and their mother huddled together beside an alley. You thought “Aww so cute! Let me go take a look at them.” So you walk towards them, and as you’re doing so, you notice that they’re all bruised, dirty and hungry. And because of your love for animals, you know of a place called “Dog Heaven” where dogs are clean, well-taken care of and fed with the best food a dog can ever have. So of course, you immediately think of bringing these dogs there! But as you try to carry the puppies, their mother barks aggressively at you. You then try to explain to these dogs that you’re trying to help them and bring them to great place. Here’s the problem, they will never understand your intentions because you’re speaking English, not “Doggish”. As a result, it is almost impossible to lead these dogs to “Dog Heaven”.

But consider this. What if you had a superpower that can transform you into a dog? You’ll take the shape of a dog, speak “Doggish” and of course be able to lead them to “Dog Heaven”! That’s exactly why God had to become Man, giving up his Godhood just to come and lead us to Heaven. We were bruised by past hurts, dirty in our sins and hungering for something greater in life. God saw all that and came to save us.

I bet that no matter how much you love animals or dogs, and even if you had a superpower, you will never give up your “humanhood” just to lead these dogs to “Dog Heaven”. That shows the scale of God’s love for us. He became the Word in flesh just so that we can understand Him and be led to Heaven.

Though he was God,
    he did not think of equality with God
    as something to cling to.
Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
    he took the humble position of a slave
    and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form,
    he humbled himself in obedience to God
    and died a criminal’s death on a cross.” – Philippians 2:6-8 (NLT)


Pearl

45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, 46 who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it.” – Matthew 13:45-46

The Parable of the Hidden Treasure is not the only parable in Matthew 13 that shows God’s love for us. The Parable of the Pearl of Great Price does the same too. And with the previous understanding of the Parable of the Hidden Treasure, we can immediately see more “keys” here in the 6th parable:

The “merchant seeking beautiful pearls” refers to Jesus.
The “beautiful pearls” refer to us.

As you read this parable, you would see its similarity to the Parable of the Hidden Treasure. But why exactly do God see us as “pearls”? Pastor How explains that the pearl is different from gemstones like emerald, ruby and sapphire. It is a product of a living organism. Watch this following video and learn how pearls are formed.

It’s interesting because the formation of pearls are caused by its oyster’s defense against irritation and discomfort, which can be compared to how we go through pains and problems in life. That’s why God calls us “pearls”. Because through life, we can develop strength and character through hardships and struggles (like mentioned in the part 1 of the series) and become “beautiful pearls of great price” to God. As we are tested by pressures and tempted by pleasures, would we still continue to pursue holiness? Man always look at appearances, but God looks at the heart. To Him, nothing is beautiful like holiness.

Whatever that we have gone through, or are going through right now in the kingdom of heaven is for us to become “pearls of great price”. Before Pastor How concluded his sermon for the weekend, he shared with us a story about a great hero – Irena Sendler. Some of you may have heard of her before, some of you may not. But here’s her story:

sendler-compilation

In 1939, at the beginning of World War II, Nazi Germany and its allies invaded Poland. About a year after, under Hitler’s rule, a ghetto was constructed in its capital of Warsaw, where all the Jewish population in the area were rounded up at. It’s in this ghetto where the Jewish awaited their deaths – by starvation, disease or execution. Young children and newborn babies were not spared too. It was indeed dark days that these people lived in, and none of them had a future. Their lives were not even theirs anymore. But in this huge darkness, little glimmers of light and hope shone as a woman decided to light a candle and do something about it.

Irena Sendler had moved to Warsaw prior to the events of World War II and worked as a nurse and social worker. Due to her position and occupation, she was given a permit that allowed her to enter the Warsaw Ghetto to check for signs of diseases that are spreading and prevent any such virus from spreading beyond the ghetto. What she decided to do was to use her job as an advantage and rescue as many Jewish children from the ghetto as possible. Using various means, she entered the ghetto and spoke to Jewish parents about her plan. Having no other choice, these parents would entrust their children to Sendler in the hopes that they would have a future besides certain death.

With the help of her co-workers, she would then take this children and smuggle them out. Sometimes, she would use stretchers with sick people to hide the children underneath them. At other times she would carry these children inside coffins among dead people. When she’s desperate to get as many children out as possible, she would drive an ambulance to the ghetto and put them all inside. She would also bring dogs along on the ambulance. These dogs are trained to bark at the sight of the Nazi soldiers. The fierce barks of the dogs would discourage the Nazi soldiers from checking the ambulance and at the same time drown out the cries of the children within.

sendler

After successfully smuggling out the children, she would place them under the care of good Polish families. Furthermore, she would help make false documents to give these children new identities that replaced their Jewish names. But she didn’t just stop there. She even kept a record of all these children, including their real names, parents’ names, false names and names of the family that adopted them. All these were done in her hopes that one day, these children can be reunited with their biological parents. For fear that the Nazi would one day find these records, she put them all into glass bottles and buried them in the backyard of her home. In total, Irena Sendler and her co-workers saved approximately 2500 children from death. So many lives were saved just because 1 person decided to make a difference.

Unfortunately in 1943, Irena’s deeds were discovered and she was captured by the Nazi Germans. They tortured her and forced her to reveal the locations of all those children, as well as her comrades. However, she refused to do so, even after she was brutally beaten and her limbs were all broken one by one. Eventually, after being unable to gather any solid information from Sendler, the Nazi gave up and decided to execute her. What they didn’t expect was that Sendler’s co-workers would bribe the executioner on the way to her execution, saving her from her demise. The executioner recorded Irena Sendler as being executed but in actual fact, she has not been killed. After being rescued, Irena Sendler went into hiding.

A couple of years later, the war ended and Irena Sendler would return to her old home and dig up all the records that she buried. With her co-workers, they would then try to reunite the hidden children with their Jewish families. Of course, most of these efforts were to no avail, as most of their parents have already died during the war. But it doesn’t change the fact that 2500 kids were saved from tragic death that occurred to millions of Jews. In 2008, at the age of 98, Irena Sendler passed away peacefully and returned Home to be with the Lord. This is how she looked like towards the end of her life:

irena-sendlerThis is what true joy looks like.

You can see immediately from the photo that Irena Sendler had true joy on the inside of her because she knew that she lived a life full of purpose in God. She is the prime example of a “pearl of great price.” Of such, God calls “beautiful”. You know, when I am at the end of my life, I want to be able to look back and smile at the things I’ve done for Christ. I want to be able to smile like Irena Sendler here. But before we become pearls of great price, we must first be Christians that are willing to pay a high price. Irena Sandler paid a high price for her great deeds. Now it’s our turn to do so in our individual ways.

And with that, we’ve come to the end of The Parables of Jesus Part 2. You must be thinking where the last 2 parables (7 & 8) are. Well originally at the end of Part 1, Pastor How did say that the last 4 parables in Matthew 13 would be covered here in Part 2. But he gave us all a pleasant surprise because instead of covering all 4 parables in this part, he will be extending it over to a Part 3 on October 24th and 25th! And he describes that in the next part, a sacred secret will be revealed.

This series has been so mind-blowing and life-changing that I can’t wait to hear the last part of this season already! If you read to this point, you are seriously amazing and I thank you for doing so. But you know what, like I always say, nothing compares to hearing this message for yourself in church. If you haven’t thought about coming to Heart of God Church yet, start now! Just saying, I will not be posting a write-up of the 3rd part; secrets are only revealed to those who seek them. So don’t miss your chance of uncovering the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven on October 24th and 25th! See you in church.