Jesus is Better than an Action Hero

Jesus is Better than an Action Hero

Recently, my pastor sent out his weekly thought to the congregation via email. His weekly thought started out something like this: “I love a good adventure story…In most of these stories, the ’hero’ is thrust into an impossible situation where there is no hope of escape and he or she will surely die…But, somehow, at the last second, and against all odds, our ‘hero’ pulls it out, the bad guy goes down…and our hero walks off into the sunset…”

This short introduction really got me thinking…

Why are we obsessed with adventure?

What is it about these stories that draws us in and captivates our attention?

Are we really so starved for excitement? Doesn’t life have enough drama of its own?

I couldn’t help but think that we crave more than just adventure and drama. If I get a call that one of my kids is on the way to the hospital, I’m not nearly as excited as when I’m on the way to see the next installment of Star Trek. But I’m sure there will be drama and excitement at both destinations.

What is it about Star Trek (insert your own adventure choice here) that fills me with excitement while the hospital fills me with fear?

Doesn’t it have to be predictability? Star Trek is pretty predictable. In fact, it’s predictable enough to make me comfortable.   When you add these last two ingredients — predictability and comfort — it’s clear why we long for this kind of adventure. The hero wins…the bad guy goes down…and everyone lives happily ever after! Oh, and don’t forget…it’s easy to see yourself as the hero in these kinds of adventures.

But take away the predictability and comfort goes right out the window with it! Then adventures become nightmares and drama is filled with anxiety.

That’s one of the reasons life is full of heartache. Life’s unpredictable, and since it’s unpredictable, it’s never going to be comfortable. You might think, for the Christian, this shouldn’t be true. The problem is, in order to get to the end of our story we have to live through the process of sanctification — an unpredictable, uncomfortable transformation, where more and more of who we thought we were is replaced with someone we never thought we could become. And much of the work must be accomplished through means we never even imagined in our scariest dreams.

I use the word scary because these means are messy. They’re outside our control, making us uncomfortable. They’re not like any novel or movie. They don’t come to a predictable resolution in two hours or less and you can’t turn to the last chapter for a glimpse at exactly what you will look like in the end.

But does that mean there’s no security at all?

Working through the ideas of adventure, comfort, drama, and predictability each begins to yield their centrality to the overarching principal of security.   We want to be safe. That’s the ultimate common denominator, right? Whether in a movie or in a novel, we want the hero to win…the bad guy to go down…and everyone to live happily ever after! There’s only one way that’s going to happen. You have to have the right author. Because, some authors don’t always let the good guy win.

So, who’s the author of your story? And is He safe?

While you’re in the middle of being transformed by sanctification, it won’t always seem safe. But God has not only promised that the hero wins…the bad guy goes down…and His people live happily ever after… God has provided us Jesus, the hero of our story.   He has already won. He has already taken the bad guy down. And one day we won’t just “walk into the sunset.” We will walk into the blinding light of the unveiled glory of God Himself. Jesus is better than any action hero.

Oh, and when we get there, what an adventure that will be!

 

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The Invisible You

The Invisible You

Have you ever wondered what it might be like to be invisible? You probably have right? You’ve probably at least day dreamed about attending your own funeral. Of course you’re not actually dead, everyone just thinks you are (think Huckleberry Finn). But everyone knows being invisible would never work out well. It never could. One reason for this is that we are designed to interact with others.

Granted, self-protection is sometimes necessary and not everyone is entitled to know everything. But, when we hide major areas of our lives from others it never ends well. Yet, even though it ends poorly, because every one of us has the ability to conceal portions of our lives we often chose isolation over interaction. Why is that?

I’m sure we could come up with lots of “reasons” for this. But let’s just look at one simple reason. We don’t want people to see that part of us. We want to keep that part secret, camouflaged, and invisible. We justify this by telling ourselves that it’s best this way. After all, no one wants to see the real me. By the way, how many times did you take that spontaneous picture before posting it to your social media page?

What if our impression is wrong? What if the point of sharing our struggles with one another isn’t so much about them seeing us? (Even though we’re constantly being bombarded with that exact message) What if it’s about something more significant?

What if it’s really about Christ?   What if it’s about others seeing Christ – at work in us?   Would this make a difference? We need to have the mindset that being able to see the work of Christ sanctifying us is needful. Others need to see the work so that they can share in the sorrows of the struggle and receive instruction from their involvement. This way everyone grows. But growth will not happen if our struggles are invisible.

When we attempt to thrive while making parts of ourselves invisible, we fight against the very purpose God has intended.  We don’t receive the blessing of others coming alongside to bear our burdens. Others don’t get to share in the joy of seeing God’s grace poured out on our behalf. Even the church is forced to suffer in silence when God’s people cut themselves off from one another. By overly concentrating on concealment and self-protection, everyone is robbed of the insights God intends for us to glean from our experiences. We also miss the opportunity to see the gracious work of Jesus Christ molding us into His image.

We all know it isn’t easy to share our struggles with sin or suffering. As long as you focus on yourself it never will be. But, it is possible if you allow yourself to share what Jesus is doing “in you.” Do you know why? Because seeing what Jesus is doing “in you” – is more significant!

Seeing Jesus is better. Make my heart believe!

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Defined by a Prefix

I was reminded the other day of a young man I met years ago who was a “born leader.” I can’t describe for you all of the traits he portrayed, which verified this for me; I can only say that is was obvious. This young man didn’t appear to have to work at being a leader; it just seemed natural. I thought it was just who he was. One of the obvious ways in which this ability routinely showed itself, was the way he was able to make sure everyone was included in whatever we were doing. It was amazing to watch this 11 year old do this week after week without any apparent effort. This brings me to my title: Defined by a prefix.

 So I ask this question: Are you a person who tries to be inclusive or is your tendency to be exclusive? Do you seek to bring new people into your circle or are you someone ‘circling the wagons.’ The difference in the spelling of these two words, inclusive and exclusive, is only two little letters. But the difference those two little letters make in defining who you are, is huge!

This problem is not associated with age, or social status, or intellectual ability. In fact, despite all the cultural differences we see throughout the world exclusivity remains pervasive. That’s because our natural inclination is to be inwardly focused.

So if our natural inclination is to be focused on ourselves, why does this 11 year old always appear to be reaching out? Although it appeared to be quite natural we must admit that at least some of this character trait was taught and then nurtured along, most likely by his parents.

But they must have instilled more than an ideal based on how you interact with others. If you have ever tried to control, demand or guide another’s actions or attitudes you know this is true. The more I think about it the more I realize that part of this young man’s ability to include others rested in his confidence, in who he was. He was content. He was satisfied. He was comfortable. This allowed him the freedom to bring others into his circle. He had no need to protect himself. He had no need to build himself up. He really could just be himself. There is a lesson there for all of us.

Being content with himself allowed this young man to focus his attention outward. It allowed him to look for opportunities to bring others into the group. He made it look easy. For the rest of us it seems more difficult. We must work at it. We must force our gaze to turn away from ourselves. We must be looking to bring others into our circle. The funny thing is, while we are working hard to make this happen those around us might just think we’re acting natural. Of course we will secretly know we’re not.

God created us to be inclusive. So, the next time you find yourself in a group, look around. I think you might be surprised at how many people are longing to belong. If an 11 year old can make including others look easy, we have no excuse for being exclusive.

 

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Roads

There is a road in the desert, which runs straight through

No thinking required, suddenly a car

Like a mirage it appears and then is gone

But I don’t turn around

There is a road in the city, which stops at every corner

All that is seen is red or green

Commotion is on every side

But I don’t look around

There is a road in the country, which winds through the trees

At every corner a new pattern of shadow and light appears

A deer stands in the middle of the road

But I don’t slow down

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My Dull Heart a Corporate problem

My Dull Heart – A Corporate Problem

Do you like a good mystery? Do you enjoy watching a well-directed suspense/thriller at the movie theater? Did you know that it can sometimes be even more enjoyable to watch a good mystery or thriller for the second time with someone who is seeing it for the first time! Of course the reason it can be so much fun is simple; you already know who did it! You already know what happens when they open up that closet door!

It’s fun to have special knowledge isn’t it? Especially when it’s knowledge that offers you an advantage. But there are times when you might find your knowledge to be a source of sorrow. For example: Do you remember the show “$ 100,000 Pyramid?” The contestant is on the last square, the top one. You, as a member of the audience can see the answer. It’s so simple, why do they not get the answer! The clues all seem so perfect! Time is running out…Oh too bad you lose!

I recently had the opportunity to see several people standing next to a sign with a very graphic picture on it. This picture was an enlarged photograph of an aborted baby girl. But these people, the ones standing next to the picture, were not Pro-Life. They were actually carrying signs touting their belief that American women should have the right to murder their unborn babies if they so desired. I could not believe they could stand next to the picture of that aborted child and actually remain steadfast in their belief! I kept asking myself how could they be so blind? How can their hearts be so dull to the horror depicted on the sign being held less than 20 feet from them?

But there was another thought I also couldn’t get rid of. I kept wondering: If my sin was depicted on a sign right next to me would I be willing to carry my own sign touting the idea that I think this particular sin is OK? Experience tells me I often do.

That’s because my heart tends to be dull to my own sin. I go limping between two positions. I want to serve God, the one whom I say I love, while at the same time I want to serve my own self-interests. This paralyzes me to some extent and I end up not fulfilling either desire.

But my personal affliction has corporate effects. If my heart is dull, then as far as I affect the church, the heart of the Church is dull! In 1 Kings 18 Elijah challenges the people by saying: If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him. Silence was their response! And the people did not answer him a word.”

What the people needed was a personal change in their own hearts! The question is: How can we affect a change of the heart? This was Elijah’s prayer: “O LORD, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, and that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your word. Answer me, O LORD, answer me, that this people may know that you, O LORD, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.”

We must understand that God is the initiator of repentance. He is the initiator of change. We need to know that He moves in the people for His glory. All of this is true for the people in the Church as well as those outside the Church. It is true both personally and corporately. The first thing Elijah asks for is that the people would know God. He then asks for the people to know God’s servant. Finally, he asks for God to give them the knowledge that He has turned their hearts from idolatry to worship!

What a great example, an example, which the Church would be wise to follow. We should start with prayer. Praying for God to be known in the hearts of people. Praying that people would know the servants of God (those who faithfully preach the word). Praying that those servants would preach with eyes that have been opened to the invasiveness of sin and the need for repentance. Then praying for God to turn the hearts of people, both in and outside of the church, back from serving sin to true worship.

The best part about praying for God to be glorified is the fact that we already know the outcome! God has revealed to us that He will be victorious. This does not remove our responsibility but it does give us the freedom to be bold with our prayers and our preaching!

The Church has been given the best story, the story of God taking on flesh and dwelling among us. Knowing this story seems to make our hearts dull. But it shouldn’t! Instead, it should spur us on so that we are able to be witnesses to God’s work of redemption.

Where I am blind to my own sin my prayer is that God would open my eyes. Where my heart is dull I pray that God would enliven me. May God also do the same for those of you who are blind or dull of heart.

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Flat surfaces, Hinges, and Mirrored Ceilings

When I was first married, my wife and I had a completely different concept of time. To be exact, we had a different idea of what it meant to be ‘on time’. My military background had taught me to be 15 minutes early for everything. On time for her meant up to 15 minutes late! I try not to hold her lack of military experience against her.

Over the years I have realized we also have a dissimilar opinion when it comes to flat surfaces. I believe flat surfaces have distinct purposes. For example, a bed is a flat surface made for sleeping. She, on the other hand, has a more general definition of purpose. For example, a bed is a place to sleep, or stack clothing, or lay out your earrings.

I keep telling myself that flat surfaces are a necessity of life. They are easier to walk on. Where would we be without flat surfaces? Chairs are really just a flat surface with legs. Without tables where would we eat or study? Without counter tops where would we make our sandwiches?

That’s where this whole thing got started in the first place. Flat surfaces in my house tend to be used for all sorts of unintended purposes. The counter top collects mail, and lunch boxes, papers, groceries, and dishes. It is very difficult to make a sandwich when there is no ‘open’ space left on the counter top – made for food preparation. This led to my statement that one day I was going to install hinges on all flat surfaces. This way I could easily raise said flat surface just the right amount to deposit unwanted material on the floor. Thereby opening up enough free space to make my sandwich (It all seemed very logical at the time).

I thought I had myself prepared for marital bliss until just the other day. I was attempting to rid the house of one more ‘stink-bug’ (Look them up on the web if you are unfamiliar with the term). While climbing on a stool to reach the ceiling, I spied the top of the refrigerator. In my defense, I thought my statement seemed innocent enough at the time. All I said was: “We should probably clean the top of this sometime.”

My lovely wife’s response was brief and honest. “I thought about that the other day and decided if I can’t see it – it doesn’t need to be cleaned.” I found myself in a real quandary. Do I attempt to lower all things in the house to a level of 5 feet or less? Do I have to lower the ceilings as well to keep things in proportion? That’s when I distinctly heard my wife say: “If you wanted me to see it, you would have to put mirrors on the ceiling.” She may have been joking, but I found myself intrigued by this solution.

So if you ever come to my house and happen to see me tip a counter top up on hinges…Look up…. you might just see yourself on the ceiling!

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A Whale of a Contradiction

OK I admit it, there is no cable television at my house. No satellite either. That means no Nascar, no all-day sports; I don’t get the “happy” channel. (That’s what my wife calls the Home and Garden channel) And, if that isn’t enough, we don’t get Phineas and Ferb either. I know you must think that’s shocking. Of course this doesn’t stop me from getting my fill of cable TV whenever the opportunity arises, like vacation. I do like “Deadliest Catch”.

One of the new shows is “Whale Wars”. Now I am no expert on the exact premise of the show but this is my impression. 1) There are various ships in international waters hunting and killing whales. As far as I can tell they are doing this within the current legal guidelines. 2) Along with these ships is another ship whose purpose is to make it difficult (if not impossible) for the whaling ships to actually kill whales.

Two questions. First, if the whaling ships are acting illegally, then shouldn’t legal action be effective in stopping their illegal behavior? (or am I being too naïve?) Second, if the whaling ships are acting legally, then shouldn’t action be brought against those attacking them?

Imagine if you will, a ship out to protect crabs in the Bering Sea. They could have their own show called “Crustacean Conflicts”. It could bring a whole new aspect to “Deadliest Catch”. However, I can’t help but think that the whaling ships seem docile compared to the reaction one might expect the crew of a Crab-boat to have.

It’s funny (not really) how humans elevate some parts of creation over others. What is it that makes whales more important than crabs? Is it looks? Maybe it’s simply the number of crabs available. When supply goes up value does tend to go down!
Maybe that’s why humans are also losing their value, and losing their dignity; there are just too many of us.

But, the dignity that every member of the human race has is based not on quantity but on quality. Not just any quality either but the quality of “being created in the image and likeness of God.” If our culture had a perspective that elevated the created dignity of mankind (instead of the created dignity of whales) we would have completely different shows. Shows that support saving human lives. One might be called “The fight for the fetus”. The show itself would profile the struggle against the rising number of unborn children murdered each year in America. (1.2 million in 2008 http://www.mccl.org/Page.aspx?pid=400)

The truth is we should not want to overfish whales or crabs. But before that can happen we will first have to recapture human value, which humans in society should have already.

When I am on vacation for a week and I am able to watch cable to my hearts content. It takes less than a week to have my ‘fill’.

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Heaven – Different Yet the Same

Ephesians 1:3 “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places,” (ESV)

So often when confronted with the certainty of death we seek to know the reality of heaven. Even Christians tend to offer heaven mainly as a place where all of our suffering will be over. We describe heaven as a place of perfection where we reap the benefits of our union with Christ. When we do this we put ourselves at the center of our happiness in heaven. We need to remember that heaven is actually more than that! Heaven is where Christ our Lord is!

Although it is true that we will not suffer anymore, although it is true that heaven is a place of perfection, if Christ were not there it would not be heaven. This is the first message that a person needs to hear about heaven! And this actually gives us an avenue to reveal God’s goodness here on earth.

Like our tendency to forget the centrality of Christ IS heaven we can also forget the centrality of Christ here on earth. Ephesians 1:3 states God has “blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places”. Paul goes on to name these spiritual blessings. They are: election, adoption, redemption, forgiveness of sins, the revelation of God’s purpose in history, sealing by the Holy Spirit, and an inheritance.

God “chose us in Him before the foundations of the world” and not only chose us but chose to adopt us as children. We have been (past tense) brought into the household of God. This is where we are spiritually speaking even now. We have our sins completely and perfectly forgiven. We know, even now, even while living in this fallen world, what the eternal purpose of God is. This knowledge, forgiveness, redemption and election cannot be taken away from us because we are sealed with the Holy Spirit.

One day we will receive our full inheritance. We will live in the presence of Christ. We will live without suffering in a place where there is only perfection. As wonderful as that will be, our election, our adoption, our redemption, the forgiveness we have already received, and our knowledge of God’s purpose in history will be the same. Heaven will be different, but it will have aspects that are still the same. I pray we can rejoice in what we eagerly wait for, while also rejoicing just as much in what we currently have.

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Work or Pleasure!

Is getting onto the web easy or difficult? I want so desperately to think it will be easy. However, just working to get this post online has proven itself more difficult than I would like. With that said, I do like a challenge! Of course I like good challenges, like eating one more slice of pizza. Sadly, pizza is not a word I have found yet while putting this together. I am learning some new words though…like WordPress. I also keep hearing the word ‘easy’. But like the word pizza, easy seems to be just as elusive.

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