Monday, October 13, 2014

Like a Thief in the Night

When I was a boy in church, sometimes the sermons our pastor preached didn’t seem relevant to me. So during the service, I would often open the Bible to Revelation because the dragons and the blood hail and the curses seemed much more exciting. Out of a similar motivation, several years ago I picked up the first Left Behind book by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins and read about 70 pages. And from what I can tell, the newest movie adaptation of the story starring Nicolas Cage is born out of the same twofold purpose: to entertain us and to scare us all – into becoming Christians.

For those of us familiar with the Left Behind story, it doesn’t seem like much has changed. When the rapture happens, pilot Rayford Steele (played by the one and only Nicolas Cage) is flying his plane, while daughter Chloe Steele (played by Cassi Thomson) is in the mall with her brother. In a flash of white, half the plane’s passengers and several mall shoppers disappear, leaving behind only clothes and personal items. Within minutes, there’s fighting, looting, people getting trampled in doorways, cars bursting through walls, airplanes crashing into parking lots, and everybody panicking and screaming and freaking out. And on the one hand, from my red velvet chair in the theater, it seemed a little bit unrealistic that things would so quickly turn to mass looting, violence, and rioting – but then on the other hand, it’s also pretty difficult to imagine how people really would react in a rapture-type situation.

Church members generally aren’t drawn to Christian movies by the promise of good acting – we are drawn because we want to see biblical truth translated up onto the silver screen. But if our creative impulses, at their very root, come from being made in the image of our God, the Creator, then we should understand better than anyone the value of the balance between beauty and truth. God himself embodies that balance. And even if this new Left Behind isn’t exactly bringing us the same kind of cheesy, made-for-Christians-only type of movie production, so many of the characters still seem to act so unnaturally, and much, if not most, of the dialogue still feels contrived. 

Some people might want to call the film “good for a Christian movie,” but I say that it’s terrible that we ever even use that phrase at all. It shouldn’t be the case that "Christian" movies are held to a lower standard than “secular” movies. As beings made in our Creator’s image who also have the ability to create good things, God’s very being calls us to a much higher standard than that. We Christians should be setting the standard in every area of art, beauty, and truth if we want to truly reflect God's image to the world.

Regarding the plot’s central idea: I don’t even know how common it is to believe in the idea of a pre-tribulation rapture. Growing up in Arkansas in the Bible Belt, that was one of the main ways people in church thought about the end times. But I guess over the past few years, the books I’ve read and the people I’ve heard speak have encouraged me to think less about leaving earth at the end to go to Heaven and more about bringing Heaven to the earth in the here and now. This is not to say that I’m great or even good at doing that. But I’ve also heard it said that the answer is usually found somewhere between two extremes. So as a church, have we become too obsessed with thinking about our future? Or is it possible also that some of us have become way too focused on the present?

Evan is a 2014-2015 team member with a degree from the University of Arkansas in English Literature.

Monday, April 21, 2014

A Team Member Says Goodbye

Team Member Interns travel around the country as part of a team of four—two guys and two girls. Teams speak at schools, churches, and conferences about worldviews, pop-culture, discipleship, technology, and so much more. 

If you're interested or know someone who would be interested in being a traveling Team Member Intern for the 2014-2015 school year, please go to for more details. Deadline to apply is May 15, 2014! We currently have spots available for 2 guys and 5 girls.


I had the amazing opportunity of working for Axis for a year and a half. Looking back, I am amazed at how God was able to use me. He broke me and stretched me in so many incredible ways. 

Starting out, I had no idea what I was in for, and even after all this time at Axis, when I try to describe what I got to do, I can never do it justice. After my first trip, I had many people asking me how it was, what I thought, and if I liked it so far. Though it was a great first trip, I recall summing it up in three words: “It. Was. Hard.”

The biggest thing I have learned through my time at Axis is that God is able to use every situation. He is able to use me when I feel insecure and not good enough. There were times on the road when I felt so empty and drained, but God showed up, no matter where I was and no matter what I had done. I fail so often, but He has continued to show His grace and power every single day.

When I started, I was scared to simply start a conversation with high schoolers (they are intimidating!). But God started out strong with challenging me. He showed me a lot of doubts and insecurities I had not realized I was struggling with. Speaking to large groups has a way of doing that to you. And every time I presented, I felt like God was teaching me more through the presentation. When you start to talk about the same stuff over and over and ask students to ask themselves deep questions about their lives, it’s hard not to ask yourself the same questions. 

I have learned a lot about what the family of Christ looks like through my Internship with Axis. Yes, I have my biological family and my close friends, but traveling around the country has shown me how big my family really is. With every school, church, and host home we went to, my family got bigger and bigger. Now I have family all over the country—family that laughed, talked, and prayed with us and impacted us in more ways than they know. 

Every team I have been a part of has taught me something different and valuable. I learned about leadership and respect from my team directors. I learned about love and community from my fellow team members. I learned from the people that work at Axis what a servant heart looks like and was humbled by it many times. 

Don’t get me wrong—there are definitely differences and frustrations while traveling simply because of the nature of relationships, but what I learned from being in these relationships with others is love. It sounds so simple. Christ talks about loving others so much throughout the gospels, and He considers it the greatest commandment. Love. That is how we should be different—by how we love. 

Love is a decision, not just a feeling. In Scripture, Jesus calls us to love not just our neighbors but also our enemies. It is easy to love people who love you back, but I have learned that it is difficult to love when someone is hard to love or when he/she doesn’t love you back. When there are students who do not care or when I am frustrated with a team member, I still need to love, especially when it’s difficult.

Overall, Axis was more than just a job for me. When I look back on my time with Axis, I see faces:

Faces of the team members who were strangers initially but who turned into family and taught me so many things. 

Faces of host families who were so gracious to open their homes to us. 

Faces of administrators and teachers who were so encouraging and who work so hard to love their students amidst spiritual warfare. 

Faces of parents who want, so badly, to relate to and understand their kids because they love them.

And faces of students who have touched my life. Students who have had the courage to tell me their life stories that break my heart. Students I can pray for and have had conversations with and can see God’s amazing work in their lives. 

That is what Axis is about. And it is the hardest, most rewarding part of the Internship. 


Monday, April 7, 2014

Famous Words in Webcomic Form: "Zen Pencils" Gives New Voice to Powerful Ideas

Image credit: Gavin Aun Thang & Zen Pencils
Somewhere between Calvin and Hobbes, Mohandas Gandhi, and Steve Jobs, there's an Internet gem called Zen Pencils.  And it's changing lives.

At its most basic level, Zen Pencils is a webcomic, part of a genre of art and story-telling born from the unique technological and self-publishing opportunities of the Internet. (Examples range from XKCD, an innovative and sardonic comic told entirely with stick figures, to Sheldon, a three-panel strip about a naïve and rich child genius and his talking duck.)

But Zen Pencils is unique in its genre. Each beautifully crafted strip is created from a quotation by some of history’s and literature's greatest figures, including Nelson Mandela, C.S. Lewis, and Carl Sagan. The footnotes to these comics are well-researched and insightful – a great reason to read the comic in its own right.

Zen Pencils is the result of creator Gavin Aung Than's decision to make a living as a freelance artist, instead of through a graphic design job. The project went from virtually unknown to signing a book deal in a little less than three years. The entrepreneurial bent is obvious in comics like “Make Gifts for People” and “What If Money Was No Object?” The comic also seems to favor the work of famous anti-theists like Richard Dawkins and Caitlin Moran.

Most importantly, Zen Pencils is having life-changing impacts on its readers.  The accompanying blog is full of stories of readers who decided to take a leap and do something they never had the courage to do before, like take an overseas trip or start a business. Clearly these are powerful words.

Ultimately, Zen Pencils asks a new generation to wrestle with the dangerously powerful ideas that continue to shape the world, in a creative way all its own. With that idea, Axis couldn't agree more. We’re all for something that encourages an apathetic and distracted generation to leave its apathy behind and begin thinking, even when it’s hard. And it's an added bonus when that thinking leads to action and changed lives.

The best thing any parent can do throughout the journey is be there . . . to ask tough questions, to guide them, to offer wisdom, to listen to their questions and doubts, to love them, and to help them become thoughtful adults who know why they believe what they believe.

Lucas Zellers is a regular contributor to the Axis blog and a former intern.