How to Catch a Crustacean

Original Photo by Kevin Connors – morgueFile

Are you a fan of lobster? It is without question a delicacy in many parts of the world, but such hasn’t always been the case. Early settlers to New England found lobsters to be so plentiful that at times they could wade into the ocean and capture them by hand. An overabundance of lobsters actually served as a common staple for prisoners. Can you imagine a law in which New World colonies restricted the number of times per week a penal institution could feed lobster to its inmates? Prisoners could be heard making statements such as, “It’s horrible in here! All we get to eat are these stinkin’ lobsters!” Of course, things are much different today; with an amazing increase in transportation and a bit of skillful marketing, lobster has essentially become the steak of seafood.

Interestingly, lobsters are negligibly senescent, meaning that they don’t show the normal symptoms of aging seen in the majority of life forms. No dimming eyesight, loose antennae or creaky claws for these guys. If not for the pleasure to our palates and the benefit to our stomachs, a lobster might live for 100 years or more. The primary downfall for the lobster, it seems, is the lobster trap.

Photo by Hartmut Inerle – CC BY-SA 3.0

A working lobster trap consists of three main parts: a combination wooden and wire frame, a rope and buoy to mark the location and bait (i.e. something that appeals to a lobster’s tastes). Mr. or Mrs. Lobster smells dead fish (or some other convenient bait) and is drawn to investigate. Access to the trap is easy as the oblivious victim races toward an easy dinner. Once the pleasant meal is consumed, however, life becomes rather unpleasant as the design of the trap turns freedom into a distant memory.

When Lucifer launched his zombie conspiracy we can image he spent considerable time designing a trap that would be effective in capturing and binding the human race. Humans are smart you know, so he had to get it right the first time. Any stupid mistakes and the opportunity to open Pandora’s Box could be lost forever.

More cunning than The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, old slewfoot determined that the most effective bait would be the very same temptation that led to his precipitous fall from glory—the desire to be as God; or more appropriately put—the desire to be like God apart from God. And the plan worked, perhaps beyond even his twisted imaginations. In eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, humanity found itself not only separated from God, but also under the devil’s crooked thumb, entrapped by a power called Sin from which no human could ever escape (or so Lucifer thought).

Thus began what we call the human condition. Upon the once peace-filled and pleasurable Garden of Eden, pain, suffering, violence and death descended like darkness—the full scope of which is yet to be seen.

Photo by Miles Teg – CC BY-SA 3.0

Christ came to deliver us from the zombie conspiracy, not only freeing us from the trap of sin, but systematically working to eliminate the three tentacles of the temptation (self-centeredness, self-sovereignty and self-glorification) that captured us in the first place. For us to experientially know true and lasting freedom, it is imperative that each of those ensnaring tentacles be thoroughly severed from our hearts.

Humans were intended to be non-senescent–unaffected by time or age. But unfortunately for us, separation from God unleashed torrents of death. If only we can get back to abiding in God’s grace, no power in hell will be able to squelch the power of the life He imparts!

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Era of the Living Dead

Evans City Cemetery – Photo by Willjay – CC BY-SA 3.0

The film begins with Barbra and Johnny visiting their father’s grave in rural Pennsylvania. Barbra is afraid to be in a cemetery at such a late hour. Johnny teases her, as any brother would, totally unaware that a zombie–a reanimated corpse–is about to knock him unconscious against a headstone. The rest is history. Night of the Living Dead proceeded to become one of the most revolutionary horror films of all time.

Until Night of the Living Dead came on the scene, horror movies were mostly innocuous—nobody took them seriously. But genuine fear dripped from the frames of this particular flick. Parents who naively took their kids to the theater reeled with regret as their unnerved children squirmed in genuine horror.

Exactly what was so scary about Night of the Living Dead? I think perhaps it was the sense that the evil inescapably was us. It is one thing when evil is out there, or when monsters can easily be identified as alien creatures from planet X. But the potential (and fear) for us and our loved ones to become the source of evil is a game changer.

Fear and death have always been closely linked. The potential for death, or loss, powerfully grips the human heart with various forms of fear–especially anxiety. It all points to a zombie-like existence in which we find ourselves longing for life, but beset by fear; for fear in and of itself is a form of death.

The intent of Lucifer’s zombie conspiracy was to usher fear and death into a world once defined by peace and life. The plan worked to the point that death and fear now characterize unredeemed humanity.

Many centuries before Night of the Living Dead was filmed in Evans City, Pennsylvania, the Apostle Paul wrote of another sort of living dead. In speaking of widows he stated, “But she who gives herself to wanton pleasure is dead even while she lives” (1 Timothy 5:6). Imagine that, a seemingly harmless widow proclaimed to be a sort of zombie long before film was ever conceived. Now that’s truly scary!

Photo by Joe Shalbotnik – CC BY 2.0

Paul’s words remind me of a lobster pound a traveler might find along the coast of Maine. Right there, in full view for patrons to see, is an open tank with live lobsters crawling around. I mean, technically they are alive, but in a greater sense those lobsters are already dead. They repeatedly circle the tank (what else is there to do?), their once powerful pinchers banded shut as they jostle for meaningless advantage. The finality of death is inevitable, and unless a savior of sorts purchases those crustaceans and releases them into the ocean, it is only a matter of time until they are boiling in a pot and then lying on a plate.

Since Lucifer initiated the zombie conspiracy, death and fear have continued to hold captive the general population of the human race. Like the lobsters in the tank, like the widows of 1 Timothy 5:6, ours is the Era of the Living Dead. Powerless, hopeless, and beset with fear, we scurry about, jostling for meaningless advantage, pursuing only momentary pleasures; doing what we can to forget about the giant hand of death that will, in its season, tear us from the only world we’ve ever known.

If this all sounds very morbid and repulsive, that is only because it is very morbid and repulsive. The Gospel of Jesus Christ isn’t simply a nice, optional message. The Gospel is our only genuine hope.

Photo by Ted Van Pelt – CC BY 2.0

the zombie conspiracy

“Night of the Living Dead” by George A. Romero – Public Domain

Zombie movies. Vampire films. Crime shows. Violent video games. What’s the common thread? It appears that our culture is increasingly preoccupied with death. Somehow, I don’t think this is a good sign.

There are those who would tell us that the real zombie conspiracy involves government authorities covering up the coming zombie apocalypse, but I beg to differ. My concern is with the seeds of death that have been planted in the hearts of people who deep down inside desire life.

This current resurgence of our illogical fascination with death is but another rotten bite of the fruit from the proverbial apple. The serpent’s goal was to separate mankind from God, the one true source of life. Separation from life propels humanity in only one real direction—toward death. Not only did the human race die spiritually, not only do we die physically, but death becomes an unhealthy preoccupation.

Over the next several posts I’m going to explore the zombie conspiracy and its far reaching impact upon the human race. By recognizing the plan of death we are better able to orient ourselves to the true life of God.

Photo by Eitan f – Public Domain

Two trees grew in the center of the Garden of Eden—the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. That there were two trees rather than one speaks loudly of the importance of freedom and choice in our relationship with God. But love wasn’t the only reason those trees were there. For God to create a truly harmonious society, an essential issue had to be dealt with: God is so amazing that all who look upon Him are tempted by the desire to be Him.

It was through such a desire that perhaps the greatest and most beautiful angel of all time fell to such morbid depths as to be called the devil, the embodiment of evil, the very presence of death. How it all began, we can only guess, but the Bible provides us with some prophetic imagery illustrating what came down:

“How you have fallen from heaven, O star of the morning, son of the dawn! You have been cut down to the earth, you who have weakened the nations! But you said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God, and I will sit on the mount of assembly in the recesses of the north. I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.’” Isaiah 14:12-14 (NASB)

Illustration for John Milton’s “Paradise Lost“ by Gustave Doré, 1866 – Public Domain

Many scholars believe that the star of the morning, Lucifer served as the worship leader in heaven. Standing near the throne of God, adorned in magnificent beauty, he led the entire host of heaven in glorious worship of their Creator. Somewhere along the line Lucifer looked at God’s beauty and preeminence, gazed over the myriads of angels bowing low in worship, and then riveted his attention on his own beauty (a beauty given by God). Immersed in the glory and majesty of it all, a simple seed thought began to grow until it consumed Lucifer’s entire being. He, and he alone, should be sitting on the throne of the universe, basking in the worship and adoration of the angels.

For His part, for reasons perhaps beyond us, the King of the universe remained silent as Lucifer schemed and plotted, recruiting a third of the angels for a planned coup against the one true source of life. The zombie conspiracy had begun.

Whitney Houston – More Than One Reason to Mourn

Photo by Egghead06 - CC BY 3.0

I agree with so many others that Whitney Houston had an uncommon measure of God-given talent. In today’s world of media hype and shallow stardom, she stands as one of the few who possessed a truly magnificent voice. Most would be envious of her success, but more and more we are seeing that in the shadows of fame linger deadly forces intent on ensaring the unsuspecting.

I spent some time the other night watching Nightline’s tribute to Whitney and a number of interviews highlighted the sadness of the situation. I couldn’t help but feel as though they weren’t just talking about Houston’s untimely death, but also the precipitous fall of her amazing career in conjunction with the downward spiral of her personal life. It is indeed all very sad, but I also see an underlying sense of tragedy that I just can’t seem to shake.

How is it that Whitney Houston could cut her teeth singing Gospel music, but never fully comprehend the power of the Gospel as it gives freedom over the power of sin? I don’t say this to be critical of Houston herself, for by no means is she alone. (Elvis Pressley quickly comes to mind.)

Photo by click - morgueFile

The temptations that accompany fame can be intense, but the roots of these types of problems go far deeper than the natural eye perceives. I honestly don’t think that most church attenders truly understand the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In a very real sense this means that the typical pastor also struggles to comprehend and communicate the transformational power of the Gospel. Of course, we all have much to learn, myself included, but as a whole it seems to me that we can do much better than we are.

A transformed life begins with a clear understanding of the Gospel of grace:

“. . . because of the hope laid up for you in heaven, of which you previously heard in the word of truth, the gospel which has come to you, just as in all the world also it is constantly bearing fruit and increasing, even as it has been doing in you also since the day you heard of it and understood the grace of God in truth . . . .” Colossians 1:5-6 (NASB)

An incomplete or errant understanding of grace creates so many of our problems. Some churches emphasize grace as the unmerited favor of God, and that it is. But grace is also the God-given life-force enabling us to do all that God calls us to do, including living in victory over the power of sin. This doesn’t mean that genuine Christians will be perfect, but that sin becomes a self-centered choice rather than an enslaving compulsion.

Photo by Mark Strozier - CC BY 2.0

The Gospel of grace is not to be equated with a Get Out of Jail Free card enabling us to do as our hearts desire and still go to heaven. The amazing power of grace renders sin powerless, and living by faith is essential because only through faith are we freed from pride and able to abide in grace.

But beyond selfishness, sin has traps to which entertainers are especially vulnerable. It’s here perhaps that our greatest measure of ignorance lies. Human nature strives to exalt itself by attempting to live up to standards of all types, whether they be moral or identity related. We simply don’t realize that the power of death quickly envelopes those who attempt to forge their identities in the furnace of human performance.

The undiscerning reader may think that I am judging Whitney Houston’s salvation. I am not; that issue is way beyond me. It’s her personal downward spiral I am addressing, and not for the purpose of condemnation. In many ways I feel as though the church has failed Whitney, Elvis and a host of others. Sure, all are ultimately accountable for their own actions, but I can’t help but wonder how much pain and death could be spared if only we better understood (and thus lived) the dynamics of God’s amazing Gospel of grace.

There is more to God—so much more—than any of us are experiencing. Let’s turn our hearts to dig deeper into His truth and we’ll find ourselves celebrating hope much more than we’ll be mourning death!

For a more in-depth look at these issues, please refer to a 15-minute video clip about grace from The Search for Me identity series and the following resources on my Hidden Trails blog page: Your Promise and the SfMe Audio Files.

Renewing our Focus

Creative Commons License 2.0 by marfis75

This week our intern Sam unexpectedly lost his grandfather. Nobody knew it was coming. Suddenly—in an instant—he was ushered into the next life. Family and friends who remain are left to grieve and mourn their loss.

For months Sam has played an integral role as we prepare to film our life-changing Search for Me identity series. We’ve been putting a lot of work into this important project and by God’s grace plans were slowly beginning to come together. We were only two days out when everything changed.

There’s nothing like a serious illness or the death of a loved one to bring life back into focus. In an instant we remember that material possessions aren’t all that important and that the affairs of life cannot be our first priority. In my case, I am reminded that ministry is about touching people, not just getting things done. Yes, we will complete the project in due season, but only after we’ve had this opportunity to renew our focus.

All of this relates amazingly well to our recent emphasis on conflict resolution. Sam had a close relationship with his grandfather, and to the best of my knowledge there were no unresolved barriers between them. As difficult as it is to endure this loss, the pain would be far worse if they had not been at peace with one another.

There comes a time when we have to ask ourselves what we value more—being right or being connected. I’m not suggesting that we become weak-willed doormats who always take the blame regardless of the circumstances, but I am convinced that stupid human pride often separates us from people that truly matter.

Are you currently at odds with someone who truly is important to you? Today would be a good day to renew your focus and reach out with the love of Christ.