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.

Nicholas Cage in a movie about the Rapture?

left behindI haven’t heard much about Nicholas Cage since his money troubles were rolled out in the media last year. And now, this: starring in the reboot of the 2000 film Left Behind. What does God want me to do about this? Pray. This could end up being a very interesting conversation starter about what Christians believe, especially about the return of Christ. On IMDb one person responded to this film: “Is the rapture just an evangelical American thing?” Another interesting casting choice: Lea Thompson, best known for her role as Marty McFly’s mom Lorraine in the Back to the Future films, but also for her current role as Kathryn Kennish on the ABC Family series Switched at BirthPray with me about how God might want Christians to use this film to discuss Jesus and who He really is. The original producer, Paul Lalonde, is still involved, so hopefully the story stays true to the heart of the books. One last note: the director is Vic Alexander, who has assistant director credits for Thor (2011) and The Amazing Spider Man (2012). This is his directorial debut.

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.

Clap your hands!

To all those who’ve wondered what happened to What Does God Want Me to Do?: We’re back! And better than ever. And to celebrate, let’s play a little old school Audio Adrenaline:

 

Clap those hands everyone. See you soon.

iGod

ipod boyI’ve wondered about so many who seem surgically attached to their electronic devices. I’ve got a theory, and it goes back to how I use my computer and social networking sites. These things are addictive! If you’re feeling lonely, just tweet or text or check your Facebook account. If you’re feeling a little aimless, do the same and see what you can stir up or is getting stirred up by someone else. Instead of relying on our ability to stimulate ourselves, we’re constantly looking to the laptop, cell phone, or handheld device to entertain us or motivate us or at least keep us busy doing something instead of nothing.

But here’s something else I’ve noted. Such extreme dependence on being plugged in, instead of being a great way to build your friendships, is actually a negative. Note the word “extreme” in my previous sentence; there is a healthy way to use this stuff. I am not anti-Facebook or anti-Twitter or anti-cell phone.

I have seen unhealthy dependence in my own life. Because of this I’ve made choices not to look at social media for a time because I was trying to get something from those connections that needed to come from my relationship with God or my face-to-face relationship with other human beings. Or I was using social media as a way to avoid some constructive endeavor, a project that would be healthy for me and fruitful for others.  Even now I got stuck for a minute about what to say next and my mind instantly thought, “Hey, you should check your email.” Nothing wrong with that, but I think use of these communication tools has to be reined in a bit. I don’t have to give in to every impulse to post a new status update or check out what’s happening on Yahoo.

I think about the Apostle Paul’s statement, “I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.” (1 Corinthians 9:26-27, NIV).

Am I slave to my impulses? Have I got the ability to gut-check each thought and determine if looking at LinkedIn is a good decision right now or do I just need to keep rolling with this blog? I know God has given these things for our enjoyment but I shouldn’t be mastered by them either.

“From now on those who…buy something, [should use it] as if it were not theirs to keep; those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away.” (1 Corinthians 7:29-31)

So, happy Facebooking, Tweeting, posting, chatting, texting and everything else this fall. May these tools be your servants for good rather than masters that distract you from God’s best.

Teaching kids how to love you in the future

Talked with a friend today about a rarity in family life that wasn’t a rarity a generation or so ago: children seeing their parents interact regularly and often with grandparents. My friend and I have had the rare privilege and challenge of being an example to our children in this area.

A few years back my own mom was living in an assisted living facility. We’d see her at least once a week and usually take the kids along. It was mildly amusing and also bittersweet the way the other residents would react to David and Bethany, as if they’d never seen anyone younger than 20 before in their lives. They weren’t interested in a creepy way, but in an affectionate and lonely way. I don’t think many of those residents saw their own children or their children’s children.

My mom came to live with us 5 years ago and I realized today that our interactions with my mom are offering my sons and daughter a blueprint for their future relationship with Julia and I. Of course, they aren’t robots who will only act in accordance with their programming. They will make their own choices about relating with us.

As I think about Paul’s comment that we should follow the example of Christ, it does make me pause. What kind of a template are we creating for the youngsters? Do  our children see us spending time with my mom, inviting her to things, listening, resolving disagreements, laughing with her or do they see us avoiding her, getting agitated, speaking poorly of her? Lord, I hope more the former and not so much the latter.

I hope, that in our own imperfect way, Julia and I (and the kids) are obeying the command of 1 Timothy 5:4,

But if a widow has children or grandchildren, these should learn first of all to put their religion into practice by caring for their own family and so repaying their parents and grandparents, for this is pleasing to God. (NIV)

How interesting that church members’ interactions with aging parents was at the heart of Paul’s guidance about leading the church. How important is this area to God? So important that care for widows is one of the most talked about ethical issues in the Bible, Old and New Testaments.

And it isn’t just about aging moms and dads. Paul goes on in 1 Tim 5:8,

If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

Maybe you’ll visit an aging relative this Christmas, perhaps a parent, but maybe an aunt or uncle. Maybe it’s your dad’s cousin or your mom’s high school friend who became like family. Maybe you’re the last family tie this person has. Maybe, just maybe, this is a good time to reflect and pray on how the Lord may want you to bring the Christmas spirit into the rest of the year with this older person. Or maybe it’s a time to celebrate how God has helped you to love them and ask him for power and grace to stay faithful. Either way, happy Christmas to you and to all you love, both young and old.

 

 

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.