Monthly Archives: November 2013

Uncle Si and Operation Christmas Child: a ducky collaboration

OCC

Click on the picture to go to Operation Christmas Child

Check out this video from Samaritan’s Purse, featuring the endearing, befuddling and totally funny Uncle Si from Duck Dynasty. What a great way to combine a current TV favorite with a super awesome organization and God’s eternal purpose.

For more information about Operation Christmas Child, visit their web site: http://www.samaritanspurse.org/what-we-do/operation-christmas-child/

Have a wonderful What Does God Want Me to Do? weekend.

5 questions to ask yourself when others (apparently) have it better than you

Some people, at least on the surface, appear to have it all. They’re good looking, smart, and athletic. They’re surrounded by loving families, and not just the immediate spouse and children, but the extended family too. There seem to be no missing pieces in their lives. Their homes are larger, backyards more spacious, and the conveniences of life more prevalent. They’re educational opportunities were greater and their children’s opportunities are just as great if not greater. This isn’t right!

As I reflect on my own life, I recognize that I’ve gotten a pretty good deal. I had a 15-minute walk to school, which I enjoyed. I mostly liked my teachers. I did well in school and got good marks. I had a group of friends to hang out with at lunchtime and during recess. I had one best friend, Scott, and we played sports, board games, hung out, and did school projects together. My dad was committed to one vacation every year, and we usually spent that week in Daytona Beach, FL. My whole family got together on major holidays. I went to amusement parks. I was decent if not outstanding at sports. I have not-so-great memories but also a bunch of great memories too. Some would say I hit the lottery.

There were problems too. My dad had a drinking problem and my mom’s health wasn’t that great, but that’s the life I knew. It was a good life in many ways. The kids I went to school with had pretty similar upbringings and family situations. I thought it was a rich life —— not wealthy “rich,” but full and satisfying.

High school was comparable. There were hard times, but good times too. I had a high level of stress some days but I survived and graduated and went on to college.

Some of my college friends were from similar backgrounds to mine. In particular, my best friend in those days, John, came from a middle class suburb in Cleveland. He had two brothers and a sister; his dad was an English teacher at the high school John attended, and his mom was a friendly, doting, funny homemaker.

I had other college friends, some of whom lived in suburbs of Dayton, OH, where I grew up. That’s when I began to notice my rich life was not as rich as I had supposed. Their homes were larger, their backyards more spacious, the conveniences of life were more prevalent and educational opportunities were greater!

For the last 20+ years of my life I’ve been a suburb dweller too. My kids have grown up in this environment. My wife, whose family began in Dayton, moved to a suburb called Kettering. Her parents carved out a simple and good life there. And we’ve been able to provide a decent place to live in a comfortable, safe community with really nice schools.

Since I’ve lived here 20 years, I’ve encountered neighbors and friends who have always lived in this sociological equivalent of a quilted comforter. And that started bugging me a little.

I began to wonder why God set me in a family where I was destined to attend an inner city public school system. Granted, the inner city school system of my era was not the same as today, but it was still inner city. Why are they living in a city where they know everyone from generations back and my classmates from high school are scattered all over the place and not as well connected? Why did their life incubator provide them so much love, support, and material blessing?

OK, so before I indulge any further in this self-absorbed judge-fest, I will acknowledge that just being born in the United States, even if I’m poor by American standards, makes me one of these over-blessed people. “According to the Department of Health and Human Services, the poverty line for an individual in the 48 contiguous states and Washington, D.C., was $10,830 in 2010,” says Courtney Blair at PolicyMic.com. “Someone at the poverty line in the United States is in the top 14% of the global income distribution.”

Yeah, yeah, yeah. Enough hard facts about how great I’ve got it, back to me-absorbed bellyaching.

I’m not the first to wrestle with these blessing disparities. David verbalized it in Psalm 73:

But as for me, my feet had almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold. For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. They have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong. They are free from common human burdens; they are not plagued by human ills. Therefore pride is their necklace; they clothe themselves with violence. (v.2-6, NIV)

Of course, I can’t really say the people I envied were evil nor did I ever see them clothe themselves with violence. They seemed clothed in niceness and decentness. Actually, they might even be godly. But they were still blessed more than me. Argh!

So this is the part of the blog where I’m supposed to offer several tightly-edited life nuggets gathered from this journey of self-discovery. But really, I’m led to five questions that won’t tie this down neatly but just provoke more questioning:

1) Can I learn to deal with this? That’s really the question. God has given more to some than to others. The starting point is different but the ending point for Christians is the same. “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us” (Hebrews 12:1, NIV). We each have a race to run. Will we run our race, our way, with Him as the coach? How much ability to run, or how difficult the course, neither is in question in this verse. But will we run to the same finish line? That’s it.

2) Do I really believe God is fair? There’s something to the whole “to whom much is given” warning. Jesus says in Luke 12:48, “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” God is a blesser. He’s also fair. His scales are accurate. That should be sobering for me, especially as I consider what I have compared to lots of other people in the world.

3) He’s either able to fulfill Romans 8:28 or he’s not — what will I believe? Familiar passage here: “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them” (NLT). Some people have been given a rough start in life. They were beaten, abandoned, and abused from day one. They don’t know one or more parents. They’ve been shipped around to other people’s homes all their lives. Without minimizing the pain of all that, I must still ask myself: can he make good on Romans 8:28 or not?

4) Do I sincerely believe this life is just a warm-up for eternity when all these differences in gifting, etc. won’t matter anymore? The only question that will matter then will be, “Was I faithful with what I had?” If I can’t get past the apparent disparities of today then my hope is really probably that this life is the end-all and be-all.

5) Can I still be grateful for all He’s done for me that I clearly don’t deserve? I should be thankful, but will I, by faith, choose to be thankful?

What does it take to wake the dead?

In honor of Halloween, when everything ghoulish and strange storms the scene, I wanted to consider what it really means for someone to become undead. I mean, that has to be one of the favorite themes of American life right now, the not-alive who become alive. Turns out, Jesus has a lot to say on that topic.

So a couple weeks ago a fellow professor announced to me, “I want to see someone rise from the dead.” Of the conversations I’ve had with other professors and staff at the community college, this was probably one of the most unusual. I’ve talked with other professors about politics, culture and other things, but not much about people rising from the dead.

This same colleague said that she had been taking a class at her church on the topic. That God would want to raise people from the dead, I have no doubt. Jesus raised people a couple times, and I’ve read about reports of this happening nowadays in places where Christian missionaries are active. And these aren’t brain-eating re-animated humans, but humanoids reinstated to life as they knew it — eating dinner, going to work, playing with the kids, arguing with the spouse — in non-decaying bodies.

As a way to demonstrate the power of Jesus Christ to people who may believe anything from voodoo to relativism, resurrection from the dead would seem to be a winner. How could you deny that something powerful and good was at work in bringing a loved one back from death? It just seems like one of those events that would capture the attention of even the most cynical skeptic. Come on, this guy was dead but now he’s alive!

My colleague said she was praying for the opportunity to be involved in bringing someone back from the dead. I’ve never thought of that as something that I should or could be involved in. Jesus did say those who believed in Him would do the kind of things he did, so why not?

Of course, it’s also clear that even a resurrection won’t convince some people. In what may be the most remarkably hard-hearted response to a rising from the dead, the Jewish leaders of Jesus’ day plotted to kill not just Jesus, but his friend Lazarus, who had just been summoned from his tomb.

“The large crowd of the Jews then learned that He was there; and they came, not for Jesus’ sake only, but that they might also see Lazarus, whom He raised from the dead. But the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death also; because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and were believing in Jesus.” (John 12:9-11, NASB)

That would have to be an extreme major bummer. You die; Jesus comes by and brings you back to life; religious leaders of your community get ticked off about how your re-animation because it’s made Jesus more popular; they plan to do you in and send you back to the tomb.

There’s a parable in Luke 16 that describes a conversation between the patriarch Abraham and a rich man who’s in Hades. In the story the rich man begs Abraham to send a poor man named Lazarus (not the same man) to visit his brothers, who are still alive, and warn them to straighten out or face his fate.

“But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ But he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent!’” (Luke 16:29-30, NASB)

Seems reasonable to me. I think the dead man in Hades has a point. But not so, responds Abraham.

“But [Abraham] said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.’” (Luke 16:31, NASB)

Which I guess brought me to this realization: for the dead to become alive, it takes a softening of heart that enables us to believe that God’s truth is the truth. When I say dead in this instance, I’m talking about the condition of all people spiritually.

“As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins,” Paul writes in Ephesians 2:1. “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.” (v.4-5, NIV)

I remember hearing months after my conversion that there were many total strangers praying for my eyes to open to my own lost, hopeless, lonely situation. How could I possibly come to believe that an ancient teacher and supposed miracle worker was actually the Son of God whose death settled accounts with the Creator? It took people asking God to warm my heart to the remote notion that the Bible might actually contain a true account of this man named Jesus. And, according to Ephesians 2, God responded by opening my eyes and giving me the ability to believe. He raised me from the dead.

If I had seen someone rise from the dead that might have freaked me out in my pre-Christian state of mind, or I would have gone skeptic on the whole deal and just assumed it was staged. It does take a miracle for anyone to believe that Jesus is the unique savior of mankind, regardless what evidence we’re given.

However a person comes to faith, there were probably many prayers by God’s people for that “dead” person to find life. I’m glad someone was praying for Jesus to wake me from the dead. I am alive from the dead, but I’m no zombie.