A place where ideas stir the waters of our mind.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Zombies Attack!

Zombies seem to be very popular these days.  I'm not quite sure why it is so fascinating to watch dead people grossly gorge themselves on the living. I've watched my share of horror movies in the past, but I can't say that I've ever enjoyed the spectacle of a zombie feast.  With apologies to zombie aficionados (who insist that zombies are real and are preparing to survive a coming zombie apocalypse),  I do not believe that kind of zombies seen on TV or the big screen are real.

There is however, a real kind of zombie that scares me more.

These are Christians who are obsessed with the idea that the path to spirituality is found in "dying." To them, a relationship with Jesus is more about dying than living.  Pointing to Paul's exhortations to "die daily" and to "put to death whatever remains of the 'flesh,'" the spiritual quest of a Christian Zombie seems to be the pursuit of becoming more perfectly and completely dead, and making sure to stay that way. It makes me wonder how "perfectly dead" and how long I must remain that way to finally achieve their ultimate spiritual goal of "deadness!"

Christian Zombies are also simply passionate in their pursuit of "flesh" - what the Bible describes as the stubborn and willful parts of our pre-Christ nature that cannot be reconciled with the life of God. This "undead flesh" in themselves or others is terribly attractive and they do their best to make sure it is consumed (purged) everywhere.  In the process, they tend to devour their own lives, the lives of their families, churches, ministries, schools, workplaces and communities - and anyone else whose flesh they pursue. This is also known as "Legalism."

Sadly, Christian Zombies don't realize another even greater truth about death and dying that was also written by Paul in Romans Chapter 6.  In this passage, Paul notes that followers of Jesus have already both died with Him and have also been subsequently raised to life with Jesus. According to Paul, we are completely and gloriously alive! We aren't alive because we tried hard and succeeded in "killing our flesh."  We are alive because God feely gives us His life at salvation, and continues to draw us to enjoy and experience His life more fully each day. Real life is the moment-by-moment adventure of becoming more fully alive with Jesus!  We discover that as we become more fully alive with Him, our life together begins to displace the old intractable hold of the "flesh" that zombies find so irresistible.

Dead men, according to Paul, do not sin.  Furthermore, people who are dead don't do anything else either - except decay.  They don't love, feel joy, experience shalom or connect with others in life-giving relationships. Christian Zombies who are obsessed with dying to be spiritual have doomed themselves to an existence in which they do not awaken to life - and engage in a self-defeating battle to achieve ever more perfect deadness.  It is based on a theology of self-annihilation.

 Let's do more than survive the attack of the Zombies. We want to live as people that are finding ourselves ever more fully alive in Christ. And, we want our life, love, joy and peace to draw zombies to life.

Are zombies stirring up ripples in your pond today?

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Misunderstood Invitations, Part 3

Imagine for a moment that we are playing the roles of the King's Servants in a parable. Today, the King's Son is getting married, and the King has spared no expense to honor His Son by preparing a royal banquet. We don't know the King, His Son or Their Hearts well yet, but we are incredibly excited to serve.

The invitations were sent by the King weeks ago, and He joyfully honored many in His realm by including them in His plans. We carried the royal invitations to all those invited to the banquet, and were careful to keep track of the numbers who accepted the gracious invitation. And, not surprisingly, just about everyone said, "Yes, I'd love to come to the King's banquet to Honor the Son."

For weeks, the King was busy making generously abundant provision for all who planned to attend. He chose only the best wine, and let the bakers know that a big order was coming. His herdsman selected the most prized calves and sheep for the banquet. Early on the day of the banquet, the smell of roasting meat filled the palace. With mounting excitement, the King looked joyfully at His Son, and then motioned us forward. "Go," he said, "Go to my invited guests and let them know that the great feast to honor my Son is now ready."

With great anticipation, we each set off to the homes of the honored guests - only to stare in horrified disbelief as each now refused to attend. In fact, the excuses were so crazy (like buying a bunch of oxen without a test drive or warranty) that we began to wonder if anyone understood the invitation we carried to them weeks ago! What could have happened? When we heard the last refusal, we trudged home to report to the King. Our minds struggled to make sense of it all. How could the King's amazing plans all fall apart like this?

"Surely," we reasoned to ourselves, "nobody would dishonor the King and His Son by refusing their invitation. How could they?" Deciding that our reasoning was correct, we pondered further.

"If the King knew that nobody was coming, why was He so joyful - and why did He go to all the trouble of creating such incredible banquet? And why would He ask us to work so hard to fulfill His plans?” We scratched our head in bewilderment, and finally concluded, "Our King is wise, and would neither spend His time nor waste our time on plans that just don't work out." The reason for The King's joy continued to escape us.

Our next thought so terrified us that we stopped dead in our tracks. "This must be my fault! The King had a plan, told me about it, sent me to help fulfill it, and the whole thing failed miserably. The King can't be wrong, so I must have failed as a messenger!” Horrified by our thoughts, our minds raced to figure out what we should, could or might have done to ensure a better outcome. With downcast faces and eyes full of shame, we walked home to face The King.

And so, our story ends for now with 2 questions:

     1. Is our joy the exquisite, delightful pleasure of walking and working with the King?

     2. Can Our King's Heart actually send us on a mission that He knows will not seem to succeed?

What kind of ripples do your answers make?

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Misunderstood Invitations, Part 2

I am not at all sure how faith in the life of a believer works.  People who have impressive credentials have done their best to explain it. Some argue that it is a completely supernatural gift of the Holy Spirit. Others contend that it is rooted in just "believing" what scripture says. 

These don't feel particularly satisfying to me.

Suppose someone I never met sent me letters telling me that they loved me so much, that they chose me to invest my life savings in their new venture.  In return, they guaranteed the plan would produce returns so massive - that I'd never have to work for anything again.  All I need to do is trust them and act now! Should I believe them on the basis of their letters?  Should I just wait until "goose bumps" cover my skin and a massive sense of "go for it" rises up in me? 

To me, faith is all about believing the one who is speaking with me because I know and trust the person speaking with me.  Ongoing, active faith means ongoing, active relationship.

The verse, "Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God" is interesting.  In Greek, "Word of God" in this passage refers to something that is uttered or something spontaneously spoken by God.  It suggests active dialogue, speaking and listening - a conversation with God.  It implies the kind of relationship in which trust grows because I am getting to know God better as we interact on our journey together.

So what does this have to do with misunderstood invitations, and our discussion yesterday?

When Jesus invites us to allow Him to take the seeds of our dreams and plant them in the ground to die, it's hard to watch. It's almost impossible, unless we know the Gardener who tills the ground, sows the seed, and nurtures new growth. This isn't about trusting that the seeds will grow when I want them to.  This isn't about periodically digging up the seeds to see if they are sprouting, and then trying to replant them without damaging the seeds!

This is about knowing the Gardener who loves me and highly prizes the seeds we dream together. He is able to take the seeds of dreams, plant them in the ground and produce a great harvest. Even if I never see those seeds sprout - or grow into the dreams we shared - He will produce new growth in our relationship because of our experience. This is fruit that is satisfying, tasty and worth waiting for!

What kind of ripples are your seeds and dreams producing in you?

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Misunderstood Invitations, Part 1

The goal I was working towards was awesomely exciting.  God was intricately involved in the original idea, the planning, and preparation.  It seemed that we were creating an adventure together, and I still think it was "His idea."  I was stunned when the bottom suddenly dropped out and the plans I'd been carefully talking with Jesus about for months fell apart.

When this happened, I didn't feel angry or sad.  I felt a lot of disappointment.  I remembered the verse that says, "Hope deferred makes the heart sick," and that really describes what I felt.  The fact that God was so involved in the birth and planning of the goal made it much harder to handle than if I had just run out to "do my own thing."

I also had a million questions.  Did I just hear wrong?  Did I miss God?  Was there something else He had in mind that I just missed?  Could I have messed up something God actually wanted? 

I couldn't find easy or satisfying answers to any of my questions.  The only thing I knew was to keep talking with Jesus.

So, I told Him how I felt - about the disappointment and all the unanswered questions. I had a strong sense that Jesus was with me, understood my disappointment and was not upset at me.  He was just as loving, kind and gentle with me as ever. He also didn't answer any of my questions.  I told Him that I was open to Him correcting me if I had just run out ahead on my own. His silent response was deafeningly loud. I didn't know what else to do, so I just kept talking with Him and trying my best to quiet and listen. 

Then, this morning I read, "Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone, but if it dies, it bears much fruit." Suddenly, I realized what Jesus was trying to tell me.  He simply wanted me to let the dreams and plans we made together fall into the ground and die. This wasn't about "missing Him" or plans that were wrong.  It was just about letting the plans go - and turning them fully over to His care.

I understood immediately that if the dreams we shared together were God's plans, then they would bear more fruit than I dreamed possible.  He was actually extending an invitation to me to grow more fruit together.  This was not even so much about death of a vision as it was about giving the vision a chance to bear the kind of fruit that God produces when good seed falls into the ground and dies.

I wonder how much disappointment is related to misunderstood invitations to increased blessing? 

What kind of ripples are your plans making - in you and around you - today?

Sunday, May 19, 2013

History as Destiny?

Speeches made by guest speakers at high school graduations tend to be nostalgic, fluffy, and loaded with "wise" words of inspiration.  In other words, most everyone nods at the speaker enough to stay awake, and wonders how long it will be before their child crosses the stage to receive a diploma and a congratulatory handshake.

But, a speaker at Jordan's graduation yesterday got my attention.

She was introduced as someone who spent years laboring at a full-time job while she attended school just about every night of the week. She worked incredibly hard, endured and overcame tough obstacles to attain her dream of becoming a teacher. The intro was enough to make me stop checking my watch and pay attention.

My ears perked up when she said, "Our history does not have to be our destiny."  She went on to explain that where we come from and where we've been do not have to define our future - and that our destiny does not have to look like our past.

I pondered her words.

Dallas Willard once explained that the purpose of spiritual disciplines is to help us do the things we can to change the things we can't.  In other words, there are many things in my life that I can't change right now - no matter how hard I try.  Followers of Jesus are better off spending their time, effort and energy to create room to connect with Someone Who Loves Them today - than trying to move mountains that refuse to budge right now. When I find Belonging today, I become more fully alive and am pointed towards my destiny.

Many of us want change.  We want our lives to be different. We want our future to be better than our past.  I wonder how many of us miss our destiny because we focus on the "big picture" of how we want our lives to turn out - rather than on the small, seemingly insignificant - and less exciting steps we can take today.

Changing the dynamics of the ripples we make in a big pond can be a joyful journey when taken with friends. Brothers, sisters and One who is closer than a brother make excellent companions.

What kind of ripples are we making today?

Saturday, May 18, 2013

What kind of ripple are you?

I was the first to arrive at the pool area last week.  The warm salt and mineral water in the pool was smooth and completely undisturbed.  I dropped my towel on a nearby chair, and got ready to start 50 minutes of walking in the pool to rehab my leg and back.  Just then, I had those Jesus-follower moments that says "Pay attention...I want to show you something." 

Easing slowly into the pool, I immediately disturbed the tranquility of the water.  Though I was walking gently, I was making ripples in the water that followed me for the entire length of the pool. It takes me exactly 44 steps to make a complete circuit around the pool, and each movement generated new waves.  And no, counting my steps does not make me OCD!  There's just not too much to do walking around in a pool for nearly an hour!

After a while, I became curious and stopped moving.  I wanted to see what happened to the water when I stood as motionless as possible, just breathing and maintaining my balance.  The ripples stopped...almost.  I realized that as long as I was alive, breathing and standing in the water, I would make ripples and waves of some kind.

The verse, "If the salt looses it's saltiness, what good is it" came to mind.  My next thought was, "What about ripples?  If I'm alive, I'm going to make some kind of ripples...someplace.  A life that no longer makes ripples has lost it's savor - and has forgotten what it means to be fully alive.

So, what kind of ripples are we making?