Affected

I’m on Christmas vacation and this past weekend, just before the snowstorm moved in, my wife had the foresight to suggest that I grab a couple movies. So I stopped off at the library and snagged a few, including the movie “Batman Begins”. I’ve always been a Batman fan (though those who know me well will know my alltime favorite super hero). The unique thing about Batman that sets him apart from other super heroes however, is that he’s really just a normal human being with a lot of really amazing accessories: the batmobile, the batcave, the batsuit, the batbelt, the batcycle, and so on. But behind all those gadgets is Bruce Wayne, vulnerable human being. And in this way Batman seems more relatable, or dare I say it–attainable to most guys.

Guys watch Batman movies and in our mind we’re thinking things like, “I could do that if I had all that cool stuff.” and “That could be me.”

Now, I haven’t held a conference to discuss this with other guys or anything, but I’d guess that most male minds work like mine. That on some level, even in a very small, possibly diminishing way, most males see themselves (or want to see themselves) as super heroes. Maybe not the kind with a cape and a sweet ride (though we’re not opposed to that), but someone who has superhuman ability to inspire, save, set right, protect, and provide for those around us. We want to be looked at with admiration by those we care about, and maybe even invoke a sense of wonder that triggers a “How’d he do that?!?” reaction. Not to mention, have you seen the new Batmobile? I mean, c’mon!

Soon after I started the movie I was interrupted by a request from my wife to run upstairs and retrieve something from the girls’ bedroom. As I did, I noticed that I was moving about the house in a very peculiar way; lightning fast speeds and yet full of stealth, moving down the stairs swiftly, yet not making a sound, zipping from one room to another as if diabolical marauders awaited me around every corner. Corny and embarassing, I know. But if this blog is nothing else, its honest. Even after a few minutes into the movie, I felt as though I was enrolled in the Batman Training Academy and my every action would decide my worthiness to remain in training.

Within all of us is a desire to be more than we are. I’d guess that most people have a second version of themselves that they privately envision. A version of me that is better, stronger, bolder, funnier, more generous, more compassionate, kinder, more loving, and much more inspirational than the normal me. And while it sure would be nice to have a cool cape that doubles as a set of wings, I don’t think that the answer lies in what we can put on, but rather what we can put off. As for me, I must put off inhibitions, fears, pride, contentment with who I am now, and satisfaction with the current me while the second version of me stays locked inside my mind, growing bored of waiting.

I may not have a Batmobile sitting in my driveway this Christmas morning, but perhaps I can find the gumption to turn loose the bored super hero that’s waiting inside me.

Advertisements

It looks better on the rack.

We’ve all been there. Even guys. C’mon, guys. Admit it. You see something in a store hanging on a hanger and you think, “Ooo. Not bad. I think I’ll try it on.” And then you get into the dressing room, get it on, and well….not so much.

I was enjoying a wonderful day off yesterday and strolling around Short Pump Town Center with my wife. We went into one particular store that I will leave unnamed (J. Crew) and while I was strolling aimlessly among the mannequins, I noticed that they all had something in common. It wasn’t the lack of a face; it was something even more sinister. Every outfit on every mannequin had been pulled tight around the chest and waist and pinned back so that each outfit was form-fitting to each lifeless figure. Rather than just dressing the mannequins and letting the clothes speak for themselves, each mannequin was sporting a row of industrial strength straight pins down their back, bunching up the fabric in the back, but really look good out front.

And as I stood there looking at these mannequins, I was reminded of a spiritual truth.

The allure of a life centered on self is entirely like the way the enemy of our souls dresses things up in order to show us the “flash” while hiding the “trash”. He started in the Garden of Eden and hasn’t stopped since. Working with teens as I do, I could share of countless ones who sadly have succumbed to the temptations of this world, chased after a life that seeks what they can gain, and have consequently ended up a mere shell; not at all living the abundant life God offers and promises to any and all who do things His way; a life that dies to self, and becomes alive to the things, ways, words, and actions of God.

So next time you find yourself among mannequins, and especially if their clothes are pinned back, realize that behind Satan’s “flash” is waiting a huge pile of “trash”.

Awkward…

Just a few minutes ago, someone from the neighborhood (don’t know this person) knocked on my door. I opened it to find an androgynous looking person standing there with their hand holding firmly onto the collar of a large dog. They simply said, “Hi, is this your dog?” Several of the neighborhood kids (including my own) were gathered around because after all, who doesn’t like a strange dog? I responded, “Nope, not mine.” One young girl from our neighborhood was standing next to me on the front porch and asked the stranger holding the dog, “What is it, a boy or a girl?” The stranger said, “I don’t know what it is.” The girl then said, “No, not the dog. I was talking about you.”

BCE/CE

Ask the next person you see what year it is, if you dare. Endure the look you’ll get in return and wait for their answer. More than likely (unless they’re crazier than you are), they’ll eventually humor you and respond, “2009”.

And then, if you’re feeling even more audacious, go ahead and ask them why it’s 2009. What was it that happened 2009 (or so) years ago?

If they happen to give you the right answer (there’s really only one), and you’re feeling like a certified nuthouse loon, then you might as well go all the way and ask, “Why was that birth significant enough to split time in half, from BC to AD?”

From there, you’ll be standing at the threshold of a conversation that–let’s say it–is the centerpiece of sanity. Know and believe the answer and you’ve got a rock to stand on in this quicksand world. Dispute, refute, and dismiss the truth and well….good luck and good night.

I was recently reminded of the different views on that miraculous birth; the one that happened some 2009 years ago. There are abbreviations that we all recognize in connection with the calendar year: BC (Before Christ) and AD (Anno Domini = “In the year of our Lord”) But there are variations of these abbreviations. In an attempt not to “offend” or “bother” non-Christians, there is the dechristianated version, BCE and CE or “Before Common Era” and “Common Era” respectively.

Now, as a Christian, you might think that I would put this on the same level as saying “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” (which by the way is not a hill I’m willing to die on). But rather if we look closer and deeper, the impotus behind the change from BC to BCE and AD to CE is one that is driven by inclusiveness. Now, stick with me here because it gets hairy and you very well may disagree with my line of thinking, which is entirely your prerogative.

Read Matthew 1:1-16. Its the part of the birth story that most people skip. It’s as boring as watching someone else’s home movies or looking at a stranger’s yearbook. It’s a lineage list of “so and so was the father of so and so and so and so was the father of so and so and so and so was the father of so and so who was the father of so and so….” See, you started dozing off during that last sentence, didn’t you?

But upon closer inspection of the genealogy list, we see a couple peculiarities. First of all, did you know that 5 women were included in that long list? “So what?” you say? Silly you. It’s peculiar because women weren’t listed in genalogies; only men were. No offense, ladies. It’s just the way things were. So the fact that Matthew (a sturdy Jew himself) included 5 women was more than noteworthy. But then Matthew climbs aboard the crazy train when you realize that 3 out of 5 of those women were Gentiles! Matthew included these women as an indication that Jesus the Messiah (meaning “Annointed One”) didn’t only come for the nation of Israel, but for all people, men and women alike. Jesus came for the common, the “vulgus” as it was in Latin, those who were not royal, those who were the Joe and Jane Schmoes. Jesus the Messiah came for you and for me, the commoners, the nobodies, the everybodies. Jesus was and is the very epitome of inclusiveness!

So, feel free as some do to have CE stand for “Christian Era”. You’re well within your rights and no one will fault you. But if you’d like to grapple with the true sense of Jesus’ incarnation and mission and the pounding of God’s heart that “It is not God’s will that any should perish, but that all come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9), then you might be okay with the shift from AD to CE.

Mortality.

Yesterday, I officiated a funeral. As a pastor, there is no greater challenge and privilege than to step into the darkest hours of a family’s life. Whether I’m speaking at a funeral or attending one, I can’t help but focus on my own mortality.

And that’s the way it’s supposed to be. Look at the instructions in Ecclesiastes 7:2:
“Better to spend your time at funerals than at parties. After all–everyone dies; so the living should take this to heart.”

Now, Solomon (the author of Ecclesiastes) wasn’t off his meds when he wrote this. He wasn’t just haven’t a crummy day. He wasn’t possessed by the spirit of Eeyore. It wasn’t a rainy day or a Monday that always brought him down. He had been and was in the course of looking the world over, searching for the meaning of any part of life that he could grab on to. His search had brought him to some astounding, sombering, and sobering conclusions, such as is found in the verse above.

My wife lives in constant fear of me dying. I suppose all wives who adore their husbands have that fear on some level. But I’d like to suggest that the thought of death is a wonderful motivator for life. Now, I’m not saying that the fear of death is a wonderful motivator; there’s a huge difference between thinking about death and fearing death. I don’t fear death. I’m saddened for what my death will bring to others, because I truly know that I am a deeply loved person by many people. I know, as humbly as I can say this, that my absence will be a hole and a pain in their lives for a time. I’m certainly saddened by that. But fearing death? Nope.

Death is not the mystery many people think it is. As I type this, I’m about 10-15 feet away from my front door. If I were to stand up, go to that door and walk through it, I’d be outside. So it is with death. Death is nothing more than a door we all (or most) will pass through. Our bodies are nothing more than containers for our spirit. My body is not me. When you come to my funeral, and if by chance my family decides to have the casket open, what you’ll see is nothing more than an expired vehicle. I’m not there. I’m with the Lord. The Apostle Paul said it perfectly and clearly: “To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.” See? I’m not there.
Don’t cry for me, Argentina.

Also the brother of a dear friend of mine passed away late last night, and we just got word this morning. I can tell you that my friend is not mourning today “as those who have no hope,” as the Apostle Paul writes. When a friend of Jesus dies, we celebrate. We worship God for the good gift of a wonderful life He has given. But Job (in the Old Testament) said it best when he looked at the loss that surrounded him and said, “The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord!” His wife’s attitude was a just a tad bit different than that. She suggested to Job that he “curse God and die.” What a sweetie.

Our view of death is hinged greatly on our view of God. Strike that. Our view of death is hinged ENTIRELY on our view of God. Is God loving, faithful, and with us? If He’s not, then the best we can do is cling to memories. If He is, then the hope we have and the peace He gives is more than enough to outweigh and overshadow the pain of human loss that we feel.