Category Archives: Faith

7 things I really hope are part of eternity

The average view of eternity is pretty boring. Who in the world thought it would be a good idea to picture heaven as strumming harps and sitting on clouds? Certainly not Jesus. Or anyone else in the Bible. That sounds to me more like life in the other place. I think it must be the devil’s tool to instill fear in people about eternity, rather than excitement. And when the New Testament Christians thought about eternity, they weren’t afraid, they were pumped up about it.

Our minds should be focused on the certainty of a mind-blowing awesome future, just as certain as the dawning of the sun each day. We get a hint of this magnificent life to come in Matthew 19:28-29:

Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life.”

I heard John Eldredge, the author of Wild at Heart and many, many other titles, talk about this last year at a conference in Nashville. He said he looked forward to that day because all the stuff he loved about this life would be returned to him and multiplied. That is an inspiring thought. No more loss, no more sadness, no more melancholy over the vaporous passing of all the lovely and satisfying things in life. Just everything we love spilling all over our lives, like a great waterfall of wonderfulness.

How might Jesus transform the world and everything in it at the “renewal of all things”?

I’m confident of certain parts of that, such as seeing my loved ones in Christ. I’m sure I’ll see my dad, give him a big hug, laugh at his dry sense of humor, and just enjoy his personality and warmth. I’ll also see my buddy Chris, who passed away last year. I’ll get to eat beef brisket with him again and see that great, welcoming smile.  I take this confidence from 1 Thessalonians 4:14, among other places. I’m also quite positive I’ll have a perfectly healthy and fit body outfitted for eternity. That’s what we’re promised in 1 Corinthians 15:53.

But how that restoration program will roll out in other areas of life is a big mystery. So here’s my top 7 list of things I hope Jesus does when he renews everything:

1) My old pets come back. There is no mention of animal resurrection in the Bible. But I can hope. I’ve never stopped loving my first cat Taffy, or my boys Pete and Snoopy from when I was a kid. Or my kids’ first dog Molly. Or our cat Callie, who came to us from our friends Roger and Lynn. Or Sunshine, the best cat I’ve ever known in my life. Or even my oldest son’s fish Gyrados, or my youngest son’s hamster Zeus. I really hope they’re there.

2) Snow in summer. My son Mark gave this one to me. “Snow in the summer would be refreshing, instead of making you more cold,” he said. I buy that. And it would melt when it hit the ground. And for lovers of snow, it could accumulate in their little patch of eternity. Why couldn’t God alter the laws of nature on a person-by-person basis? He can do that if he wants. Why not?

3) Travel to other planets. I’d like to be able to pop over to Mars for the afternoon. Or maybe get an up close look at Orion’s belt, kind of like Wall*E in that scene where he’s hanging onto that spaceship and he can sweep his hand through the rings of Jupiter. Jesus could just appear and disappear wherever and whenever he wanted. He ascended into the clouds when he left the disciples. Atmosphere didn’t matter to him anymore. And he didn’t need a rocket or other vehicle to get places. I hope that applies to me too.

4) Running really, really fast. There’s a picture of this in the Old Testament, when the prophet Elijah is able to outrun King Ahab’s chariot (see 1 Kings 18:46). Our bodies will be different in every possible way. Why couldn’t I run a one-minute mile? Or a 5-second mile? And I wouldn’t fear my heart exploding in my chest. Yeah, that would be really great.

5) Great food and no weight gain. Pasta and cake and chocolate eclairs and frozen custard and lasagna ad infinitum. Never a pound to show for all that indulgence. No more diets. No more brutal workouts to burn calories. Just eat, enjoy, and it doesn’t show.

6) Gravity suspended. Jumping out of an airplane sounds intriguing in theory, but not in practice. I’d love to be able to jump from some crazy height, such as 10,000 feet, fall to earth at astounding speed, without fear, stop in midair if I want to, then hurtle to the ground again, but then pull up and land softly on my feet. And go do it again. Never a broken limb.

7) Jesus hangs out with me for some crazy amount of time and it’s no big deal. Whenever I’m around busy people, I always have this sense of not wanting to take up too much of their time. In eternity, time should cease to exist, so that shouldn’t be an issue anymore. I should be able to sit and visit with Jesus and not worry about him needing to get somewhere or even me needing to get somewhere. No miracles to perform for Him. No blogs to write for me. Just enjoy his company. And vice versa.

This is sounding like an eternity worth looking forward to.

 

 

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Learning to find contentment when change seems to be taking a long time

Part of spiritual growth is learning to be OK with unfinished business. That can be a tough lesson for a guy who use to work in a newsroom. I prided myself on digging up a story, getting the interviews done, and the story written by our noon deadline. I was Mr. Deadline. I thrived on that. From start to finish in a couple hours. My editor liked it too. He even made a business card for me that said, “Chief Writer.” He knew I was the go-to guy when he needed to turn a story around fast.

As I’ve gone on in life and in Christ, the more I’ve discovered that very little runs like that. Hours turn into days, days into weeks . . . you know it. Whether its work projects, home projects, character growth, a friend coming to know Jesus personally, spiritual maturity, marriage communication — things seem to take time.

Not that I’m advocating passivity, but I continue to press on with what Jesus shows me today about my faith, my family, my friends, my marriage, knowing that whatever I do, I may not turn any big corners today. Or this week, month or year. Thanks to God for the times where I do see progress. That’s a blessing and a source of motivation.

I’ve gotten better at letting things sit in incomplete mode and I see that as a type of progress in my character. I had a client whose book went through 3 iterations before we got around to finally getting it into print. Stop and go, stop and go. Hurry up and wait. Get some input, wait. Get some interest, wait. Scrap the whole thing, wait. Start all over again, wait. Finally, in the spring of 2013 the book came out. I met my client in 2008 and we started work on it then.

With people and church work it’s the same. Lots of waiting while God moves in people to change them, call on them, using circumstances and human beings, including me, to love, share truth and hang in there with them. And of course it’s like that for God in my life too. Movement forward. Wait. Movement backward. Wait. Movement side to side. Wait.

I’ve learned to shake hands with unfinished business. I won’t say embrace, because that means somehow I’ve become buddies with it. No, I won’t go that far. Shaking hands is growth for me. It’s my way of saying to work-in-progress — whether it’s a character issue in my life, a book project, or what God is doing in someone around me — “Hey, I get it, this process has a life all its own and I need to be ready to go when the Lord is ready to go. I just need to keep alert to what He’s doing, because He’s the one who really runs this show.”

God is all about the undone. 2 Peter 3:9 affirms it — a thousand years is like a day with him and a day like a thousand years. While Christians may look at the world and say, “God, when are you going to wrap this up?” God looks and says, “I’m patient with the world because I don’t want anyone to perish. So I’m waiting just a bit longer.”

Now, on the flip side, I’m mighty grateful that God doesn’t rush to judge. “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin” (Exodus 34:6-7a). He is slow to anger and quick to forgive. “Be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (James 1:19). Well, this isn’t a blog about anger, but I just find that impatience and anger are close relatives in my life.

So God has been trying to teach me it’s OK to have things in a state of incompleteness. I suppose if he’s trying to make me like Jesus, this is one of those things that is very much like Jesus. Hanging with those twelve guys for 3 years. Plenty of unfinished business there. “And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns” (Philippians 1:6). We’re all unfinished business, aren’t we?

A friend of mine worked on his house for years. It always seemed to be “getting done,” but not quite done. His wife had at least made peace with that situation, having confidence I suppose that her husband would finish someday. She knew he had the drive, but not always the time or resources. She was confident in the builder.

I suppose that’s what God is trying to teach me. And I wonder sometimes if my desire to just “get things done” is an expression of unbelief in my Builder. I suppose the construction of my faith is a bit of unfinished business too. Thank God for that.

 

Quarter-backing his faith with action

Former NFL quarterback Jon Kitna will return to the Dallas Cowboys’ roster for one game this weekend.

Great story that came out this week as the NFL ramps up for the last week of regular season. This is courtesy of the Inquisitor. What does God want me to do? I think looking at Jon Kitna’s example might be a good place to start.

— Clem

………………….

Jon Kitna is donating his paycheck to Lincoln High School in Tacoma, Washington. The retired NFL QB has been teaching math and coaching football at the Tacoma high school for the last two years. But after Tony Romo was injured last weekend, the Cowboys signed Kitna to a contract as their third string QB on Tuesday.

Jon Kitna will be donating $53,000 to the school that he led to an 8-2 record this past fall. His sophomore son, Jordan, was his starting QB. The Abes improved on their 5-5 record from their first season under Kitna, who has been coaching the team since retiring from his 15-season NFL career.

Kitna last started in the NFL for the Cowboys in 2010 when Tony Romo had a collarbone injury. Kitna was able to fill in for Romo and started nine games. The Cowboys were 4-5. Kitna does not expect to play much, as Kyle Orton is the Cowboys’ back-up. But Kitna saw Romo’s injury suffered during the Cowboys victory over the Redskins on Sunday, and reached out to Coach Jason Garrett via text.

“I told Jason if he wants me or somebody to come in and call a play and be able to pull a play off if a bad situation happened, I would be willing to do that.”

Lincoln High School is Jon Kitna’s alma mater. He played there in the late 80s and early 90s. After finishing up his NFL career in 2011, he returned to teach and coach at his home school. Speaking about his desire to give his life to helping young men, Kitna said:

“My wife and I always felt like these years in the NFL have prepared us for what our real calling in life is going to be as teachers and running a high school football program. I don’t think there’s anything that has changed from that. God has used my time in the NFL to train me to be ready to train young men to be authentic, real leaders, and to have a positive impact on society. And I want to use the avenue of football to do that. So I am very clear, and my wife is very clear in our calling.”

Jon Kitna donating his first paycheck to his high school makes complete sense considering he considers helping young men his life calling. It is great to see NFL players who understand how to use their opportunities to make a difference.

Would Jesus be friends with my friends?

What would Jesus do? That was a very popular phrase a couple years back. It’s a big question. How would Jesus respond in various situations we find ourselves in? Sometimes I have some sense of that and other times no. I can imagine myself being kind to children in the midst of a throng of adults. I’m a dad so I know how to do that, most days. I’ve never healed anyone, but I can always pray for people that God might heal them. Different I know, but I am counting on the same power source.

How about the people Jesus chose to hang out with? That’s where this can get a big tricky. He did not prefer the company of the religious leaders of his day. In fact Jesus had a reputation for hanging around with the wrong kind of people:

The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and “sinners.”’ (Luke 7:34, NIV)

So Jesus is accused of gluttony and drunkenness by the self-righteous, who would never have gone to the house of a guy like Zacchaeus, the little guy Jesus called down from the tree in Luke 19. Once again Jesus heard the familiar accusation:

All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a ‘sinner.’” (v.7)

Zacchaeus was a tax collector and a swindler. He admits it himself in a confession to Jesus:

But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” (v.8)

Jesus’ response: “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.”

Jesus didn’t just plan to have dinner at Zacchaeus’ place but intended to stay the whole day according to Luke 19:5.

It makes me wonder as I consider my “friendships”: would I be accused of picking questionable company to hang out with. Or at least making friends with people who are really different than me. Do people look at some of my friends and wonder, “How did Clem get to be friends with him?” or vice versa, “How did this person become friends with Clem?”

Not that I’m great shakes that’s for sure. I’m got plenty of flaws and made some decisions others scratch their heads about. But it’s just this: as people would see me and my buds they’d realize there’s more of a bond than just sports or playing darts. And it might make them wonder, in a cool and good way, “What’s that about?”

It’s an important question for any of us who are serious about trying to follow the example of Jesus and do what he would do in our place. Are we building friendships on the number one qualifier of all from the Lord’s POV: openness to God and the message about Jesus Christ. If we are looking at friendships that way, we’ll end up in some excellent and unique company.

Uncle Si and Operation Christmas Child: a ducky collaboration

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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.

Narrow way or awkward way?

A1c“For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” (NASB, Matthew 7:14)

I suppose I’ve always sensed, at least since I really got into my faith about 1985 or so, that I needed to be there as much as possible for my wife, children, parents, friends and anyone else Jesus wanted me to hang with.

Because that’s been the big factor of my life, I’m a work-at-home dad and ministry guy. I wish I could say I’m always quick to tell people that. But I don’t usually say this. Am I ashamed of the life I’m confident Jesus has led me to? I don’t think so, but then sometimes I’m sucked into the manly game of “I am what I do” and I’m not sure my way of life will go down real well with certain people.

At a recent conference my default setting was “I’m a writer and editor.” That’s why I was there; a client of mine was rolling out a book I had helped her write. So it made sense. Plus I was networking, hoping to plant seeds that might bloom into future business. “I’m a work-at-home dad and ministry guy” just didn’t seem like the best intro for a let-me-help-you-write-your-next-book pitch.

Just the other day, as I was shopping for carpet shampoo (OK, all respect you may have had is out the window now), the shop owner asked me what I did. I said I was an English teacher at a local community college. This is also true. So sometimes my answer is just a function of who I’m with and what the goal of the conversation is.

I get funny looks from people sometimes when I do share about working part-time, or working at home. People won’t say it out loud, but I pick up from the furrowed forehead or the slightly raised eyebrow that they’re suspicious. Now, what they’re suspicious of I’m not sure. Maybe they think I play Mafia Wars or FarmVille all day.

B21d1I have to tell you, the hardest part about this odd arrangement of working, ministry and family life is the feeling that I’m a slacker. Wouldn’t a real man have a full time job and devote the majority of his productive hours at an office? I know that being a “real man” has nothing to do with holding a full-time job, but more with being a hard worker whatever I do, leading my family to know and follow the Lord, and loving those who can’t love back or won’t love back. Even still, it gets me sometimes.

And now’s the time for the “but I’m loved by Jesus” spiel. Which is absolutely true. And I’ll toss in Psalm 139 while I’m at it: yes, I am fearfully and wonderfully made; all God’s works are wonderful. That means me. And you too. All accurate and very proper to ponder. But the fact is, trying to live a life where you’re mainly available for God and the people He brings in your life can be weird. You’re constantly shaking out your work life, family life, hobbies and free time through the sifter question, “Is this a direction that will make me more available to follow Jesus or not?”

Not that I have any doubts about running major and minor life matters through the grid of that question. I’m just saying it can be odd. Other times, and really most of the time, it’s awesome because I have to dig more deeply into what God’s Word says, rather than what my feelings say or society thinks. It’s amazing that I’m a work-at-home dad and ministry guy.

The Holy Spirit will lift me too, and remind me this life is not what it’s about. This existence is prelude to the life that is really life, as Paul notes in 1 Timothy 6:19. So if I’m orienting myself today around the priorities of the next life — which has to do with Jesus and relating to other people— that will be awkward at times. It should be. And that’s OK. Better awkward now than awkward later.

 

Boy Meets God

boy-meets-world-movie-poster-1993-1010718957When I wandered into the kitchen this afternoon,  my daughter was watching an old episode of Boy Meets World. For those in the 20-to-30-something generation, Boy Meets World holds the same nostalgic value as The Brady Bunch and The Partridge Family holds for those in my generation. Wholesome family situation comedy, corny but sincere, and a nice show to watch with the rest of the family on a Friday night.

As I popped a couple pieces of bread in the toaster I noticed the episode centered on a character named Shawn, who was the best friend of the main character Corey. Shawn came from a broken family and different people rally around him during the course of the show. In this episode Shawn had been tempted to join a cult, but one of his teachers, Mr. Turner, was talking to him about the dangers of such a move. At the end of the episode the teacher is in an accident. Shawn slips into Mr. Turner’s  hospital room, and begins a conversation with God, which starts at about 19:35 on the video and ends about 20:35. It’s worth a watch so it’s included here.

“God, I don’t want to be empty inside anymore.” Hearing that was like a shotgun blast in a canyon. It was the most theologically correct thing I’d heard on TV in years. We are empty, till we find ourselves filled by God. And that’s why Jesus told the very empty Samaritan woman he met,

Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again,but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life. (John 4:13-14, NIV)

And apparently the writers of the show realized this classic human problem too. And even though I saw this episode 16 years after it first appeared, I was still encouraged to see it on ABC Family today. Because today, 16 years ago, or 100 years in the future, the ultimate need of man has been and always will be for living water that will never run out. Maybe some kid, hanging out after school watching the tube, caught that message too. I can only hope.

Vischer Gets Visceral

Phil and Bob pictureSo I got to hear Phil Vischer last week in Chicago. Phil created VeggieTales, the smash hit Christian animated series featuring armless, legless talking vegetables. Further proof that with God all things are possible.  

I’d heard rumors of Phil’s story and read a few headlines which indicated things had not gone so well for Bob, Larry and the gang. But it was a whole other matter to have the Visch stand in front of a banquet room full of communication pros and lay out the whole rotten tomato (no offense to Bob). It was one more example of how one man had been brought back to the big question, “What does God want me to do?”

In 1993, Vischer, along with business partner Mike Nawrocki, had produced the first VeggieTales show, Where’s God When I’m S-scared?” Sales were mainly word of mouth at first but word spread quickly. By 2000, their production company, Big Idea Inc., had blossomed from 3 to 200 employees. People were touting Phil as the next Walt – Walt Disney that is. The PBS newsmagazine Religions & Ethics NewsWeekly named Phil one of its “Top 10 People to Watch” on the American spiritual landscape, along with the likes of Bishop T.D. Jakes.

Then the roof caved in. Big Idea’s massive personnel ramp-up occurred at the same time as a gigantic sales slump. Even the VeggieTales’ first full-length motion picture, Jonah, could not right the ship. Big Idea was dragging anchor. Then Vischer and company were hit with a lawsuit from a distributor claiming breach of contract. “God could have saved the company,” Vischer reported. “He could have but he didn’t; the distributor got all they wanted and more.”

Bankruptcy was next. And in one last prayer meeting at Big Idea, attended by only 13 of 65 remaining employees, Vischer sounded the call to battle once more, assuring the baker’s dozen that God could still act. Then one lady, a true prayer warrior, came up to him and delivered the prophetic blow: “This isn’t about God and Big Idea; this is about God and Phil.”

Phil found himself on the outside looking in as another company took over his creation. He made what he viewed as a magnanimous offer to serve as creative director for the new owners. “No thanks, we’ve hired another guy for that job,” was the reply. That was the last straw. But then he was confronted with Jeremiah 29, where the Israelites were commanded by God to pray for the prosperity of Babylon, not wish for its sudden destruction.

Finally he approached the new owners about serving in whatever role that would help – making editorial notes on scripts for instance. In exchange he would get a couple pennies for every dollar earned off his veggie pals. That money has now funded new ventures, such as Vischer’s What’s In the Bible puppetry-based DVD series or his online program, Jelly Telly (www.jellytelly.com).

“Seven years ago my dream died,” Phil related. “But I learned that impact doesn’t occur when you’re pursuing impact but when you’re pursuing God.” I think Bob and Larry would be proud.