Fitness or Fatness Accumulates

Over time anything will accumulate: lint, dust, garbage, fat, money, skill, fitness.

I hit my mid-life crisis at 50, not 40. At the time I was nearing the big 5-0 mark I was also working with a small group of young teenagers, who had more energy than sense. I wanted to keep up with them. Additionally, I was experiencing what many in our country suffer with: back pain. These forces combined to convince me that I needed to get into shape. I had accumulated an excess of fat and a decline in health.

I got back to the gym, and I started running. I hate running. I ran, quite slowly at first, and not very far, but I kept it up. Fitness improved, and the accumulated extra fat disappeared. By the time I hit my 50th birthday I was at 7.5 % body fat. Not bad for an old guy.

However, this was not easy to maintain. I had been working out twice a day toward the end of my fitness plan, and my diet was strict. It was a healthy and sustainable diet, but there was no room for doughnuts and pie; in fact, I didn’t eat bread either. Why was I doing this again? Oh, yeah, energy, health, and vanity.

Now, here’s something they don’t tell you in the gym. Not everybody is happy when you get this fit. In fact, I have to say that I encountered not a little jealousy and resentment. I think some folks prefer a fat preacher. That way they aren’t convicted about their own lack of fitness and self-discipline. Did I mention that I believe there was vanity involved here, a bit of narcissism on my part. When you get that into your own body, it’s unavoidable. Then I injured myself. First, my shoulders, then I broke my clavicle, which I never had fixed.

All of these forces led to a dramatic decrease in both the quantity and quality of workouts. I stopped running. I compromised on my strict diet, still healthy but a doughnut here and a muffin there. Over time my fitness level declined, and my fat percentage went up to 19.5%. My skinny jeans didn’t fit any more. I know, I know, you’re probably glad about that. Why is this old guy wearing skinny jeans, anyhow? Hey, my waist was at 29; I was out to prove something. I had gotten into the best condition of my entire life. Now, I’m back to being a lumpy old guy.

Everything accumulates over time, and fitness is no exception. Today, I started running again. I never quit going to the gym: I just haven’t been serious since my injury. Don’t know that I’ll be able to lift like I used to, not without surgery. What I know is this: I need to get back in condition. I need to lose some flab. It’s not necessary to get back to 7.5% bodyfat, but I need to drop about 10% of what I’ve accumulated in order to be healthy.  I am meeting myself where I am, and I’ll keep going. I’ve returned to my diet, mostly. It’s going to take time, but if I stick with it, and fitness will accumulate, body fat will decrease, and I’ll be healthy again.

Advertisements

What Is Evil?

The sixth century Christian theologian and church leader Augustine of Hippo defined evil as a “privation of the good”— that is, an absence of good, or its reduction in something. Pure evil (if that is possible) would be the complete absence good. Darkness is the absence of light. Death is the absence of life. Nothing is the absence of being. God created everything good. Evil is when the good in something is in some way diminished.

“When, however, a thing is corrupted, its corruption is an evil because it is, by just so much, a privation of the good. Where there is no privation of the good, there is no evil. Where there is evil, there is a corresponding diminution of the good. (Augustine, from the Enchiridion)

So, could it be that there is evil in the world due to the absence of a good God? This is not a way to circle back around and say that evil proves God doesn’t exist. He must or nothing else would. And, as I’ve shown, if there’s no God, then there’s no objective good or right either. For a short time there were a small but vocal group of thinkers who proposed God is dead. The idea here is, the creator may have existed, but doesn’t any longer. There are many problems with this idea, not the least of which is that God is self-existent and the sustainer of existence. God cannot die, and without God everything would cease to exist.

However, could God choose not to be present and/or refuse to take any action the world? Deists believe that God is no longer involved with his creation, and probably has little or no concern with our world. I don’t believe we need to go that far in order to recognize that God could elect to remove his manifest presence from the world. Would this limit God’s omnipotence and/or omnipresence? Not at all. God could remain everywhere, but refuse to make his presence felt and known. Most importantly God can choose not to intervene in the world.

“Behold, the LORD’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or his ear dull, that it cannot hear; but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear.”
(Isaiah 59:1–2, ESV)

Sin separates human beings from God’s presence, even though God continues to surround everything and everyone. “In him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). Sin limits us, not God. Sin interferes with our ability to perceive God and enjoy his manifest presence. Sin deprives us of communion and communication with God. In a very real sense every sin reduces good, both in our individual lives and in the world, because it separates us from God, who is good. This is why, although all sin is not equal, all sin is evil because all sin separates us from God’s presence. The absence of God’s manifest presence results in the manifestation of all kinds of evil.

I believe evil is more than a privation, however. Evil is also a perversion of God’s purpose for the world. Over and again in the Bible’s first creation account we read the refrain, “And God saw that it was good.” Then, when God finished creating everything we are told: “And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good” (Genesis 1:31). Evil is a distortion of God’s design, a disruption of the created order. Let me offer two examples. I would ask you to look past how politically charged each has become. Try to understand how each illustration exemplifies human perversion of God’s purpose and distortion of his design.

God created the earth to renew itself. As an example, humans and animals breath in oxygen and breath out carbon dioxide as a byproduct. Carbon dioxide can poison us, but plants use it to create energy and life for themselves. They take in sunlight and carbon dioxide and create oxygen as a byproduct through the process of photosynthesis. This is an amazing partnership. Rainforests help control excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which makes up the majority of so-called greenhouse gasses, which most scientists agree contribute to climate change. When human beings wantonly cut down rainforests they are disturbing the amazing balance of God’s design for our environment. The consequences are many and varied.

God created sex, gender and marriage. God designed human beings to be male or female. Sexual immorality of all types is a perversion of God’s design for human intimacy and procreation. Jesus reaffirmed this when he quoted from Genesis account of creation in his teaching about marriage.

“He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”” (Matthew 19:4–6, ESV)

Many people are perverting God’s design in this critical area. Sexual perversion has become more common because many forms have become socially accepted, even celebrated.

Evil is the opposite of good. God is good. Thus, anyone or anything opposed to God would be evil. Anything that perverts God’s purpose and design is evil.

The Wrath of God

God may still pour out his wrath on people who have rejected his Son and persist in doing evil.

Many times our first impulse is to think that God is punishing people by sending natural disasters such as tornado, hurricane or earthquake. It is never that simple. It was once the province of Christians to speak of God punishing or judging groups of people for their sin, but now we have celebrity prophets. The latest to offer an opinion is Jennifer Lawrence, who believes that hurricanes are hitting southern states because Mother Nature is angry with Trump voters. Apparently Ms. Lawrence is a priestess of the Great Mother.

There are many other reasons why disasters occur, and the primary purpose is to bring people to the point of hope in God and his promise of heaven. God may also use trouble to correct his people, and test our faith.

However, we cannot dismiss the possibility that God may still punish people by pouring out his wrath. Salvation is first and foremost salvation from God’s wrath. What happens when people continue to reject God’s solution for sin? What happens when they persist in doing evil? What happens when they call evil good and good evil? We see all of this happening in the USA today. Are we foolish enough to believe that the Judge of all humankind will fail to act? This is the God who destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah for their perverse sexual evil. This is the God whose “soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence” (Psalm 11:5). This is the Righteous Judge who clearly states that he feels indignation every day because of violence and evil (Psalm 7:11). This is the God who inspired the Apostle Paul to write in his letter to the Romans:
“The wrath of God revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of those who by their wickedness suppress the truth” (1:18, NRSV).
The wrath of God IS revealed.

Jesus Christ died on the cross to turn away God’s wrath from all who will believe. Since Christ’s resurrection we have been in an age of grace. That is why God’s wrath is not yet poured out in full strength on all evil and injustice. However, there are times when God acts. We must not automatically make the assumption, the oversimplified assumption, that God is angry with a community because they face a disastrous storm. However, we cannot automatically dismiss the possibility either. God is sovereign and just. He should be feared. The biggest problem today is that people do not fear God.

“a time to plant and a time to uproot what was planted…” (Ecc. 3:2)

Let’s look at the case of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. It would be easy to assume that the debauchery of the Big Easy provoked God to pour out his wrath on the city. I am no prophet and am unwilling to state that that was God’s primary purpose for Katrina. However, neither am I willing to dismiss the possibility. I will say that many who were in extreme poverty in New Orleans were driven out of the city and have settled other places such as Garland Texas, where I live. Many of these folks were given new lives and fresh starts as the result of Katrina. Perhaps most would rather the storm never happened. It is likely many would have preferred staying in their city to being forcibly uprooted. God had a plan. Perhaps the Sovereign Lord disciplined the city. If so, did anybody learn? Have they turned away from sin and evil. Where is the fear of God?

God may also send or allow disaster or tragedy to bring us to our knees to repent and seek him. Jesus addressed this very issue, and it is recorded in the Gospel of Luke.

“There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2 And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? 3 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. 4 Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? 5 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016. (Luke 13:1-5).

So, as America faces the second catastrophic hurricane within a week, as major wildfires burn in four western states, do people recognize a need to repent? I believe Jesus would say, “Do you think the people of Houston are worse sinners than other Americans? Do you think the residents of Montana are worse sinners than other Americans? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, this may happen to you.

The most powerful earthquake ever to hit Mexico struck a few days ago, killing 64 people. Do you think the people of Mexico, or the city of Juchitan in Oaxaca state, where 36 died and a third of the homes collapsed, are worse sinners than people in North America, or other nations in Central or South America? To this Jesus might well say, “I tell you, no, but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.”

You and I live in a dark, dangerous, cursed world. Certainly we see the beauty and order of its origin. The weather in north Texas is beautiful today, Fall is coming, the air is cooler. A couple of weeks ago we saw the perfection of God’s original creation via the solar eclipse. However, two years ago a tornado swept through Garland and Rowlett, destroying hundreds of homes and taking half a dozen lives We’ve been hit with destructive hail and floods in recent years. Did we learn what God was trying to teach us? Have we had a change of heart and mind as a result of our own calamity?

Do you realize that although God’s original creation is perfect, this is a fallen world, which lies under God’s curse. Are you still seeking fulfillment here? Do you still love this world? “Do not love the world or the things in it! If you love the world, the love of the Father is not in you!” (1 John 2:15, cf. James 4:4) We need to be saved, my friends. We need to become part of the new creation and the coming kingdom of God. And we need to live our lives as exiles and strangers here on earth (1 Peter 2:11). This old creation longs to be set free with the children of God.

“For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, no willingly, but because of him who subjected it in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.” (Romans 8:19-22, ESV)

Are you one of God’s children? Have you received the Lord Jesus?
“To as many as received him, those who believed in his name, he gave the right to be children of God” (John 1:12). One day there will come a great renewal of the earth and sky, and we who have been made new creations in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17), will live forever the presence of God in his new creation. This isn’t heaven, friends, but heaven is coming!

If you have faith in Jesus Christ, the suffering here is as close to hell as you’ll ever get. If you don’t believe, the beauty here is as close to heaven as you’ll ever get.

What about our nation? Is God saying something to America right now? I believe the Lord has always protected this great nation, because it was founded on faith in Christ. It has always been imperfect, but God has kept us safe because of the faith of his people. Today, America has moved further and further from her founding principles, fewer and fewer people have genuine faith in Jesus. God briefly lifted his hand of protection from America on September 11th, 2001, and evil came rushing in. Do we realize how often God turns evil away from our nation? Do we understand how blessed we’ve been? How often does God intervene and keep disaster, tragedy and evil from befalling us?
America, America!
God shed his grace on thee!
Why have you turned your back on your God? Get ready for more disasters, more tragedies, more evil.

What must believers do? We must pray. We must believe in a good, loving and just God, who is angry with wickedness, violence and injustice every day. We must all repent. Everybody needs to be saved! In an age of grace God’s goal is always for all people to turn to Jesus Christ. especially when he chooses to allow or send calamity upon a community,
“… not wishing for any to perish but that all come to repentance”
(2 Peter 3:9).
“There is therefore no condemnation for those that are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).

To escape God’s wrath of God, fear Him, repent of your sins, run to our good and loving Father, receive Jesus Christ into your heart now. Put your hope in God who promises that you will never be separated from his love, no matter what (Romans 8:28-39).

Pray for our nation to repent, and hide yourself in Christ until the wrath of God passes by.

“Go, my people, enter your rooms and shut the doors behind you; hide yourselves for a little while until his wrath has passed by. See the LORD is coming out of his dwelling to punish the people of earth for their sins. The earth will disclose the blood shed on it; the earth will conceal its slain no longer” (Isaiah 26:20-21).

Children of Illegal Immigrants 

Question: did you decide who your parents would be? Did you decide where you would be born? Did your parents care for you? Is there anything they would not have done to make certain that you could not only survive but succeed?

President Trump has cancelled DACA, a remedy for the children of illegal immigrants put in place by President Obama. This would be catastrophic, except it does not go into effect for six months, providing Congress with an opportunity to give children of illegal immigrants a chance to remain in the United States legally.

Our nation has the right and responsibility to control its borders. Those who come here illegally are in violation of the United States sovereignty and laws. However, the motives of those individuals may be good. Certainly, their children, who have been raised as Americans, and who are contributing citizens, should not be deported to a country that they do not know.

So what do we do? We must follow rule of law, and although my compassion would dictate that we retain the children of illegal immigrants, I believe we must obey the law. That said, Congress now has the opportunity to change or make laws which would permit the children of illegal immigrants who are contributing citizens of this country to remain here legally. It is right and good that our lawmakers should do just that.

Several organizations have concluded that removal of the children of illegal immigrants would open up thousands of jobs for those who are here illegally. That may or may not be true; however, I want you to put yourself in the position of one of these children. Do you remember what life was like when you were five or eight years old? How much control did you have over your life as a child? Did you have any say about what your parents did with you, where they took you,  or where they put you in school?

Thousands, even hundreds of thousands, of children were brought into this country illegally by well-meaning parents. They have been raised as Americans; they are contributing citizens; they pay taxes. Except for official documents they are, in fact, Americans. Now, some have the idea that because their parents brought them here illegally these innocents should be sent back to a country that they have little or no memory of.  This is simply wrong.

I believe that we need to enforce our borders and control who enters this country. I believe that illegal immigration is wrong. I also believe that we need to have a clear path for those outside this country who long to come here to obtain citizenship. I believe that we need to provide opportunities for those who are willing to work in this country to work and pay taxes. We need to stop our present schizophrenic approach to immigration, wherein the US officially denies entry, but has various cities and counties that provide sanctuary for violators.

The answer to this mess is to fix our immigration laws. Give children of illegal immigrants the opportunity to remain here legally if they were brought here before they were capable of making any determination of their own, and if they are successfully pursuing an education, or are working a job and contributing to this country.

There Is a Time and Purpose for Everything 

The Teacher in Ecclesiastes states that there is a time and a season for everything. 

 “a time to be born, and a time to die; 

  a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; 

  a time to kill, and a time to heal; 

  a time to break down, and a time to build up; 

  a time to weep, and a time to laugh; 

  a time to mourn, and a time to dance; 

  a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; 

  a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; 

  a time to seek, and a time to lose; 

  a time to keep, and a time to cast away; 

  a time to tear, and a time to sew; 

  a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; 

 a time to love, and a time to hate; 

  a time for war, and a time for peace.” 

(Ecclesiastes 3:2-8)

“Just because you can’t see or imagine a good reason why God would allow something bad to happen doesn’t mean there can’t be one.” -Tim Keller
That there is an appointed time or season implies God has a purpose and a foreordained plan, even if he is not the direct cause of something. God may intervene in nature or in history and order something to occur, or he may allow an event due to the free will of people, or the blind operation of nature’s laws. Since God has the power to intervene, we rightly see him as ultimately responsible. 

God has a purpose, which is being worked out in the world. You and I have free will and the responsibility to seek God and discover his will, and the way he intends things to be.

God “works all things after the counsel of his will” (Ephesians 1:11). God’s will is bound to his character, and God is love. Therefore, nothing God wills is outside his love. God always has a reason and a purpose for causing or permitting things to happen. We call this Providence.

God is not the direct (efficient) cause of severe weather events like Hurricane Harvey, but he is the final cause. That is, God has a reason for creating the world, and the laws by which it operates, and for giving humans a will and permitting them the freedom to exercise it. He has a reason for permitting humans to sin, and for placing the entire earth under a curse of separation from his immediate life-giving care. God has a reason for subjecting the creation to futility and bondage to corruption (see Romans 8:20-21). 

God’s plan has always been for the present creation to be temporary. Even before the fall, Eden was not intended to be the final state. God realized that human beings would sin, and that has always been part of his plan. God is not the efficient cause of sin, but he has a purpose for permitting it.

The final cause, the purpose for every event that takes place under heaven, is the hope of eternal life with God. This hope involves God’s plan to adopt believers as his children and make them like his only begotten Son. This hope extends to the recreation of heaven and earth. God’s purpose for creating everything is so you and I may have a relationship with him as Abba-Father for all eternity.  What an amazing plan!  So, hang on: This ain’t heaven… yet. But heaven is coming!

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” (Revelation. 21:1-5).
For now, there are events that take place in our world and in our lives for which God does not reveal the an immediate purpose. 
However, we can be assured that a good and just God has good reason for what he does, and the ultimate purpose is to make the saints holy like Jesus, and to bring many sons and daughters to His glory (Heb. 2:10, Rom 8:29-30)

We can be assured, then, that whatever happens will result in our good and God’s glory (Romsns 8:28).

God is Sovereign, and Good

When tragedy strikes, such as Hurricane Harvey and the flooding in Houston, it may be cause for people to question God’s goodness, even his existence. Here are two good things that may come from such tragedy.

Tragedy teaches the world what is truly important.

Catastrophe is a powerful values clarification exercise.

I am too focused on mundane trivialities, convinced that my priorities are most important, consumed by consumerism, absorbed in my personal world and wearied by the exigencies of life. When tragedy strikes and I am forced to pay attention to more important matters. I empathize with the hurt and loss of others.

The Dallas Cowboys and the Houston Texans rightly cancelled their preseason game in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, so that Texans players could be with their families. JJ Watt has raised in excess of four million dollars for victims. Football and the rivalries we make so much of become meaningless in the face of disaster.

Tragedy makes us realize what is truly important: loving other people and caring for their needs along with–and even above–our own. When a disaster like Katrina or Harvey strikes, many of us realize that this life is not all there is, and we choose to live by faith in the God who promises eternal life. “…as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are temporary, but what is unseen is eternal… So we walk by faith and not by sight” (2 Corinthians 4:18 & 5:7).

When a mass shooting happens we realize that good and evil are not just a matter of what we do and don’t like. We realize that there is something dramatically wrong with the world. And we have the opportunity to cry out for help and wisdom to the almighty, good and loving God from whom the world has turned. Each of us may turn back to this God. A faith revival could begin. What is your response to tragedy? Do you despair? Do you turn away in apathy indifference in an effort to preserve your own emotions? Do you blame God, complain to God, or do you cry out in faith, and act out in love?

Both nations that sought to take over the world during WWII believed that they were racially superior. In the wake of WWII the American attitude toward race was ripe for change. Enter Martin Luther King Jr. and the willingness not only to speak out and push for immediate change, but to suffer to see it through. The horrendous way civil rights protesters were treated was a tragedy, and many people were moved by it. However, the root of racism—a belief in the superiority of one’s own ethnic group— was cut when Hitler was defeated, and severed entirely when the empire of the rising sun was stopped. Intransigent racism continues to exist even today, but it is difficult to maintain the superiority of one’s own group when you have the example of between 35 and 60 million people dead as the result of that belief, when you have 6 million Jews who were murdered because of that belief.

The reality of a universal good and evil is well accepted today, even among atheists. That may well be due to the intense examples of evil we have witnessed since 911. It is extremely difficult to maintain that good and evil are completely relative when faced with suicide bombers, mass shooters and the chronic daily examples of murder, rape and senseless violence.

Now, I am not trying to convince you that everyone learns the lessons that tragedy teaches, or that everybody comes to the same conclusion. 911 may have helped to forge a consensus regarding the objective and universal existence of good and evil. In fact, 911 and the subsequent horrors we’ve witnessed may have already brought about the demise of postmodern relativism. However, the same event motivated the rise of the so-called new atheists and their spate of books aimed at extinguishing faith in God, especially monotheistic faith as exemplified by Judaism, Christianity and Islam. So, not everyone arrives at the same conclusions when facing terrorism and tragedy. Some draw closer to God, some curse him, and some disbelieve in his existence. However, it is difficult remain truly agnostic in the wake of a Hurricane Harvey or Katrina or the 250,000 who died in the tsunami that struck Indonesia in 2004.

Some will question the goodness of God for bringing or permitting a disaster like Harvey. I saw a Tweet from one such skeptic who asked, “There are a lot of Christians in Texas, so any of you want to explain your god doing this? The Tweet is wrong on multiple levels:  is the guy blaming god, or seeking to disprove his existence, and why is he baiting Texas’ Christian population? Whatever his purpose, it is grossly insensitive to the suffering of many in South Texas. However, a reply from Trey Bedrick has a positive observation as a result of the compassionate responses of many people in our nation to this tragedy: “Yeah. I see my God bringing people together of every race to help one another in a time our country was on the verge of race wars.” How long this effect will last is unknown, but fighting over over hundred year old statues seems insignificant when people have lost everything.

Tragedy is an unavoidable values clarification exercise. I place this under the heading God Is Sovereign for good reason. God allows catastrophes to happen, or He may cause tragedy to discipline or punish. Unless you’re a genuine prophet, you cannot say why. You aren’t the judge. None of us—no human who has ever lived— would have the right to let evil take place just so people will realize what is important or affirm the reality of good and evil. God can. God has that right. Because he is God. I may question him, but it would be better to fear him, fall on my face before him and cry out for mercy, comfort and help in times of trouble.

Heroes are born from the womb of tragedy.

As we’ve seen, tragedy presents a test of what’s truly important,. Those who realize that what’s important is love, compassion, concern for other people, and who take the opportunity to do good and help those in an emergency, are heroes.

As I write this, heroes are everywhere in south Texas in the wake of Hurricane Harvey and the overwhelming deluge of rain that has flooded a large part of Houston. The so called Cajun Navy, a group of volunteers from Louisiana, brought their boats and have been rescuing people stranded by the flood. One man and his friends have focused on rescuing people’s pets. Pictures of heroes are posted on social media: a man, carrying children through waist deep water, another man carrying a woman and her baby, another with a rope and reaching out for others who are in danger of being swept along by flowing water. We have a friend, one of my former youth from FHBC days, named Charles Lauersdorf. He’s a marine who has been to Iraq five times. Charlie wanted to help, so he bought a boat and went down to Houston. One of his marine buddies volunteered to go and keep a watch for looters who were reported to be shooting at boats. These are two of many men went and are still down there.

Charlie posted the following on Fb while he was on his boat (Aug. 30, 2017):  “Having listened to thousands of calls for Rescue over the radio, I have YET to hear skin color used as a reference…. “Family of 4”, “two elderly people”, “3 women and 2 kids and 4 dogs and a bird”…but no skin color. Why not? Because it doesn’t effing matter! Rant over.”

One of Charlies marine buddies posted in response:  “Yeah, I liked it when we were all green.”

Tragedy reveals heroes, and heroes don’t rescue a skin color, they rescue a person (or in some cases an animal!). Can’t say the same for the race baiters and political opportunists who have shown their contempt for Texas in the wake of Harvey  Trump pledged a million dollars, other unlikely celebs like Miley Cyrus have stepped up to give huge sums. Don’t look to the media to determine who the heroes are. The real heroes sure aren’t marching in the streets, waving Nazi flags, and shouting about the supremacy of the white race,  nor are they wearing black, covering their faces like terrorists do, inciting and committing violence, rioting and chanting: “No Trump, no wall, no America at all!”

The Walking Dead

So, what’s the deal with Zombies? Why are so many people so entertained by programs like Walking Dead? The first Zombie movie with cultural influence came out in 1968, and was called “Night of the Living Dead.” Even though it was in black and white, it was too scary for me to watch as a kid. Next, there was “Dawn of the Dead,” which came out in 1978, then “Day of the Dead” in 1985, and the remake of Dawn of the Dead in 2003, and finally Land of the Dead hit theaters in 2005. Oh, and there was the 20004 British spoof called “Shaun of the Dead,” and in 2013 there was even a zombie romantic comedy (imagine that!) titled Warm Bodies. And last, but certainly not least, is the hit TV series Walking Dead. All of these movies, the TV show, and the video game “Resident Evil” either originated from, or were influenced by, the legendary George Romero, who passed away on July 16th of this year (2017). RIP

Zombies in Voodoo
But did you know, Zombies are an actual part of the belief system of voodoo, particularly as it is practiced in Haiti? Voodoo teaches that a dead person can be revived in a ritual performed by a priest or priestess (houngan or mambo). The walking dead then remains under the control of the one who revived it.

Zombies All Around Us
The truth is, there is no such thing as a real Zombie. Is there? Well, at least, the Zombies of voodoo, George Romero movies and the Walking Dead TV series don’t exist. But, is it possible that there’s another kind of Zombie… one that’s born infected with death and each year becomes more and more like a zombie? Maybe the walking dead are all around us and we sense it subconsciously. Is that the reason some of us are so entertained by the Walking Dead? Are there Zombies among us?

Question:
What would cause a pair of young men to hop on the DART train’s blue line with the express intent of “hittin’ a lick” in downtown Garland where, as they later stated, “all the rich people live.” What would cause these two cousins to search in vain for a “chopper” before boarding the train? For the uninitiated a “chopper” is an AK 47 assault rifle. What would cause these two to share a smoke and have a nice 30 minute conversation with Matt Butler and Steven Swann outside Butler’s Christian record studio in downtown Garland, with the intent of sizing Butler and Swann up. What would cause Demarius Cummings to turn to his cousin and affirm, “that’s our lick.” And what would cause James Broadnax to pull a revolver out of his wasteband, turn and fire, hitting both Bulter and Swann in the body. And what would cause Broadnax to walk up to each of his victims and “pop” them in the head? This incident took place in 2008 about two blocks from our church on the same night our the worship team practiced. What would cause Broadnax and Cummings to boast to their friends and relatives about the murders and the fact that they stole Steven Swann’s 17 year old car? What would cause James Broadnax to hurl a profanity laced insult at Butler and Swann’s parents in a jailhouse interview, after getting caught a few days later? And what would cause Cummings to scream, curse and fight four bailiff’s as he resisted returning to a courtroom to hear victim impact statements three years later?
James Broadnax and Demarius Cummings are the walking dead.

Question:
What would cause a woman to drink, do ecstasy and smoke weed, then drive? What would cause her to continue getting drunk and high as she cruised from club to club for most of the night? What would cause this woman to drive her car home and park it in the garage… with a man she hit impaled alive on the broken glass of her windshield? What would cause this woman to check on the man periodically, not to help him, but in the hope that he would soon die? What would cause this woman and her friends to finally remove the mans body from the windshield and hide it?

The woman was Chante Mallard, the man she hit and could have saved was Gregory Biggs. The incident took place in 2001 in Ft. Worth, Texas.
Chante Mallard is a monster, and neither you nor I could ever do such a thing, could we?
Chante Mallard is a zombie.

Question:
What would cause a celebrity who appears to have it all to build an amusement park on his sprawling estate, in order to lure children there? What would cause him to show them pornography, give them wine, and have them sleep with him with the express purpose of consuming their innocence.

What would cause a mother to use her children to make money by pimping them out to a sexual predator?

All of this reminds us of the story of Hansel and Gretel, whose mother suggested to their father that they be abandoned in the forest, because the parents could no longer afford to feed them. Deep in the forest a wicked old witch had built a house made of bread with a roof of cake and windows of clear sugar to lure children to her, so that she could eat them.

Question:
Why would a young man to have unprotected sex with his girlfriend?
Why would the girl to choose to abort their baby?
Why do 40 percent of HIV positive people hide this fact from their sexual partners?
Why would a couple who fell in love as teenagers and got married in their twenties to get divorced in their thirties?
Why would a man leave his wife and forsake his children?
Why would a father refuse to make child support payments?
They’re all zombies.

Question:
Why have mass shootings become so common? On April 20th, 1999 the nation was shocked when Dylan Klebold and Erik Harris walked into Columbine High School and fatally shot 13 of their classmates. On April 16, 2007 the nation was rocked when Seung Hui Cho shot and killed 27 fellow Virginia Tech students and 5 faculty members. In a rambling diatribe Cho expressed jealousy and contempt for “wealthy brats” at his school. We were horrified in December (14) 2012 when 20 year old Adam Lanza slipped into Sandy Hook Elementary school and murdered 20 little kids in cold blood.
The shock has worn off. Mass shootings are now a regular occurrence in the USA. The term “active shooter” has made its way into our vocabulary. What has caused this?

Question:
What would cause a group to march waving Confederate and Nazi flags to promote white supremacy? And what would cause a group of self-righteous social justice warriors calling themselves Antifa to counter-protest and incite violence? What caused 20 year old Hitler-loving James Alex Fields to drive his nearly new Dodge Challenger into those protestors, killing 32 year old Heather Heyer, and injuring 19 others? Was it terrorism, hatred, rage, fear, mental illness? Or are they all the walking dead?

What caused 22 year old Younes Abouyaaqoub to drive a van into a crowd the next day in Spain, killing 13 people? Why do terrorists blow themselves up? Is it really for God? Or is there a personal interest? Islamic extremists, for their part, teach that those who kill infidels will have a hero’s welcome in heaven, where they’ll live in a pleasure garden with 70 virgins.

Self-Centeredness

If you think there is no answer to these questions, you would be mistaken.
If you think the motives for the crimes I’ve described are varied, you would only be partially correct, because there is indeed one underlying cause.
If you think the answer to these questions is a bad environment, poor parenting, poverty, or a lack of education, you are mislead.
If you think people are born to do evil, you would only be partially correct.
“Man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward.”
If you think the cause is Satan, you would only be partially right.
If you think the reason is evil, you would only be partially right.
If you think the answer to these questions is sin, you’re close.

The real answer, the underlying motive of all of the horrible things I’ve mentioned, and many more reported daily by the voyeuristic news media, probably seems quite harmless. In fact, the cause is common to all human beings. It could be called Original Sin. The basic motive for all evil action is self-centeredness.

Not everyone will agree with me on this. In fact, Philosophers like Ayn Rand have advocated for selfishness as a powerful, positive and proper motive for all human action. (Nico Machiavelli is another example.)

Even Christian psychologists and teachers have reinforced the natural human bent toward self-centeredness by twisting Jesus’ command to “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
If you’ve been in a typical Christian church or school for any period of time, you have likely heard this false teaching, which goes something like this:
Jesus said, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” So, it’s impossible to love your neighbor if you do not love yourself first.
“Love yourself first” is a gross misinterpretation of both Jesus and the OT text he quoted. It perverts the Lord’s command for me to love my neighbor by turning it into an affirmation of my natural bent to pursue my own self interest. This is a critical error that originates from humanist philosophy and has been long popularized through psychology. It is not at all what Jesus taught.

Thesis
Today I want to make the case that self centeredness is at the root of every form of human evil. For centuries philosophers and theologians have debated whether human beings are essentially good or evil. John Calvin taught humans are totally depraved. Thomas Hobbes observed that without the rule of law and the threat of punishment life would be “solitary, nasty, brutish and short.”
Jean Jaques Rousseau and Henry David Thoreau both supported the notion that people are basically good, believing that it is society which corrupts human nature. In truth, humans are capable of great good, and extreme evil. All humans are inherently selfish. Observe the patients in any mental institution and you will see that most, if not all, display an excess of self-absorption. Unchecked, selfishness will destroy every relationship you have. The consequence of teaching three generations of children to love themselves first is a crisis of narcissism, which is now destroying our nation.

Self-centeredness is the root of injustice.
It is the root of cruelty.
It is the root of murder.
It is the root of every form of stealing.
It is the primary reason for lying.
It is the root of every type of sexual perversion.
It is the root of jealousy and envy.
Selfishness is the basis for capitalism,
and the reason socialism and communism always fail.
Self-centeredness is at the root of humanism.
It is human nature apart from Christ.
It is Original Sin.
Self-centeredness is the opposite of love,
which is why loving yourself first is a contradiction.
Following self makes me God’s rival, and makes him my enemy.
It is self-centeredness that turns people into zombies.

Jesus’ Teaching
Jesus did not teach me to love myself first. He taught me to love the Lord my God with all of my heart and soul, mind and strength, and then to love my neighbor as I already (naturally) love myself (Mt. 22:37-40). The Lord’s purpose is to move me away from self-centeredness and toward compassion. Also, love here doesn’t refer to some kind of affection, a good feeling about God and myself. Rather, love is looking out for the best interest of the one l choose to care for. That, in fact is what I do for myself: I take care of my needs, seek to fulfill my desires, and pursue my passion. Jesus commanded me to care about those nearby the same way I do myself.

Now, it is true that some of us do a poor job of taking care of ourselves, others have self-destructive tendencies, even self-hatred. If you struggle with these issues, then “love your neighbor as yourself” is not the best analogy. Does that mean I’m wrong. That you do need to learn to love yourself first? No, in fact Jesus gave us a new commandment with a new analogy. “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another as I have loved you” (John 13:34-35). What you need first is to receive Jesus’ love. Then you will be able to love others the same way Jesus loves you. That is the answer.

Obeying Jesus’ command to love God and others will cause me to forget about myself. Love is inherently selfless. The more selfish I am, the less capable I am of love. Jesus commands every genuine Christian (disciple) to deny self, take up the cross and follow Him (Mk. 8:34-35). Jesus Christ warned that I cannot follow Him if I fail or refuse to deny myself. Indeed, I must not love myself first. I have to put self-interest, and even my concern for those closest to me, far beneath the surpassing love I have for Jesus Christ. (Lk. 14:26-27). The Apostle Paul teaches me to have the same mindset that Jesus Christ had: even though he existed in the form of God, he did not consider equality with God an thing to be grasped but emptied himself, taking on the form of a slave. The Son of God became a man and humbled himself to the point of death, even the awful death of crucifixion (Ph. 2:6-11).

Radical Inversion
I cannot serve myself and love myself and put myself first. In fact, I must be last in order to become first (Lk. 13:30). I must humble myself before the mighty hand of God and let Him raise me up at the proper time (1 Pt. 5:6). “For no one on earth can exalt a man, whether in the east or west or from the wilderness. God exalts one and puts another down” (Ps. 75:7). Only those God raises up will stay up. Those who attain success, fame, fortune and power from any source other than God may rise only to fall. Like the fable of Icarus, when these high flyers get too close to the sun, their manufactured wings of wax and feathers melt, and they come crashing to to the ground. Self-centered celebrities, star athletes, politicians and preachers: all fall down. The higher they rise, the further they have to fall.

Even those whom God raises up must remain vigilant in their humility before the Lord, rejecting self-centeredness and the temptation to believe they’ve earned success. Rick Warren lists a lack of humility among leaders, including and especially pastors, as a global giant that must be felled. Almost invariably those who achieve great power, wealth or celebrity are (or become) intolerably arrogant. Selfish ambition has been their lifelong pursuit. In promoting their brand, they’ve actually created an idolatrous self image. A Christian may covet a platform to proclaim the Gospel, then end up enjoying the adoration of their fans. Soon enough God will send in an iconoclast to break down this self-made idol.

Often it is their own perverse lusts, abuse of power, corruption, or addiction that shames them or brings them down. Micheal Jackson, Bill Cosby, Bill Clinton, Anthony Weiner. Or they struggle with hidden demons that drive them to suicide. Robin Williams, Chris Cornell, Chester Bennington. Celebrity drug overdoses and suicides are so common, you’d think we’d learn that being an idol is destructive to the soul. “Pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before the fall” (Pr. 16:18). If I become my own man, light my own torch, an do it my way, I’ll lie down in torment (Is. 50:11). The rich and famous are not the happiest people, the successful are not the most fulfilled. You and I are not made to be served, but like Jesus we are to serve and to give up our lives. We must humble ourselves, change and become like little children, or we’ll never enter heaven. Those who are humble like little children will be greatest in the God’s kingdom (Mt. 18:3-4).

“The love of Christ compels us” (2 Cr. 5:14a).
I must stop being moved by selfish ambition and self-centered concern. My self love must be replaced by something higher…Self absorption must be replaced by Christ obsession! The love of Christ compels those who believe in him. We love others the way Christ loves us. “For God so loved the world that he gave…” Christ is the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. Those of you whom the Father chose, he chose to become like Christ. God is love. If we know God, we will be lovers too. I cannot live a life of love and live for myself. I do not live for “me” any longer, and every time I default back to that original sin, I become sick, sad and loveless like the world I am here to help save. I’ve become a zombie!

Paul spoke prophetically to Timothy about this (2 Tm. 3:1-5):
“But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God—having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them.”
The first statement reveals the root problem: “People will be lovers of themselves.” Lifewell, we must be people on mission to save men and women from themselves, and from the world and the devil who would convince them that they should live and believe in themselves. The way it is done is to point all men and women to Jesus Christ. If I am going to live a life of love, I must live a Christ-focused life.

But how do I do that? How can I escape myself? Who will worry about me, understand me take and take care of my needs? I have no choice. I have to look out for myself first…

Zombies in the room!
Wait a minute. What is that smell?! Do my ears deceive me, or can I hear a low moan? Is it a hallucination, or do my eyes see…Zombies! Yes, they’re here. Look around you. Look at yourself! Could you be a Zombie, one of the living dead? Are you selfish? Are you living a meaningless, purposeless existence, trudging mindlessly through each day, seeking someone or something to make you feel alive?

To survive you may be feeding off of those whom you believe to be more alive than you. That’s why you covet and envy the beautiful people, celebrities, athletes, film stars, rock stars, comedians. That’s why some of you cling so desperately to your significant other. That’s why our dying world is so obsessed with sex! Sure sex is pleasurable, but sex is also consumption. It allows you to merge your dying flesh with someone who makes you feel alive. If you’re not doing this with another person, your probably doing it in your fantasy world with images you have burned into your mind from some scene or screen. If you’re too timid to consume another, you might be consuming yourself narcissistically. Do you stare at yourself in the mirror? How many selfies do you take? This consumption of flesh to stay alive is the root behind homosexuality. It is why our nation is fixated on youth. There are those who feed on the young, which is the reason there are increasing numbers of pedophiles. They’re all Zombies! We’re living among the walking dead.

“Christ died for all, therefore all died” (2 Cr. 5:14b).
You are either one of the living dead, or the once dead who live. Either way, we are all dead. What are you dead to: this world, or Christ?
When Christ died on the cross, he eliminated for all time the possibility of hope on earth apart from himself.
We must stop seeking happiness and fulfillment in anything apart from Jesus. When I come to Jesus I become dead to everything outside Him. Paul said, “…in the cross of Christ… the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Gl. 6:14). The cross is a cutting line. The cross divided history. The cross is unavoidable. You have the blood of an innocent man all over you. Either your sin makes you guilty of Christ’s blood to your condemnation, or your faith in his blood justifies you from every sin and the result is eternal glorification. You are dead to God or dead to the world: it all depends on where you put your faith. If you trust the God who sent his Son to die for you, then you’ll live with him forever. But first you must die.

Little “i am” must Die
To truly live I must die to Zombie me. To preserve my life, I must lose it. Unless the seed falls to the ground and dies it abides alone and remains unchanged, but if it dies it produces a harvest of fruit (Jn. 12:24). There can be no compromise or coexistence between Christ and the old egotistical, egocentric, ambitious little god “i”. Self is an idol who shall be given no quarter and shown no mercy. Little “i am” must die. This happens when I give up, give in and repent of my plans, dreams, and self-esteem, and when I identify Christ’s cross as my own. Remember, Simon of Cyrene carried the cross for Christ, and that symbol of a man carrying the cross is a picture of me (and you). Jesus stated clearly that in order to follow him I must deny myself and take up my cross. You see, it wasn’t Jesus’ cross that Simon carried, but his own, and yours, and mine. Yet Jesus died in our place on that cross. More than that, Jesus represented you and me on that cross. He died AS ME. He became my sin! Now, I must count my old self as crucified, dead and buried!

“For I have been crucified with Christ and no longer do I live but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gl. 2:20). “Knowing this, that the old self was crucified with Christ that the body of sin might be done away with, so that we might no longer be slaves to sin” (Rm. 6:6). “For you died and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, you too will appear with him in glory” (Cl. 3:3-4).
Hallelujah!

Feed on Christ
To go on living a zombie must feed, and so must you and I. Yet God is the only one who can give life. He is the only one who possesses immortality. Feeding on pretty flesh is death to the soul, eternal death. No, we must feed on Christ’s flesh and blood to really live, and live forever.
“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink” (Jn. 6:53-55).
Now, do you understand why we eat the Lord’s Supper? It is a symbol of what Jesus was talking about here. We must consume Christ to live. We must be absorbed and obsessed with Jesus alone. To have this kind of passion for anyone or anything else is sick. It is like eating rotten meat. It leads to eternal death and hell. It is idolatry. Jesus said:
“Do you take offense at this? It is the Spirit who gives life. The flesh profits nothing. The words that I spoke to you are spirit and life.”
(Jn. 6:61b & 63).

Passion
There’s a lot of talk about passion in our time. What is your passion? Is it money? Sex? Food? Boxing or UFC? Is it politics or social justice? Painting, music, movies, sports, food, wine, craft beer, video games, technology or cars? Is you passion your husband or wife, your family or home? Your passion may be worthy or it may be worthless. However, only Christ is worthy of your undivided, undiluted, absolutely committed passionate love. If you’re among the chosen, if you’ve chosen to follow Jesus Christ, then you’re a part of the church. The church is the bride of Christ. We’ve been selected by the groom to make love to him for all eternity. There will be no marriage or sex in heaven. Your marriage covenant is dissolved by death. If you belong to Jesus, you’ll be married to Him and be intimate with him for all eternity. This is spiritual, it is a mystery, but it is we’re talking about God who is love.

“I have counted everything garbage that I may gain Christ,” said the Apostle (Ph. 3:8). Why? Because Jesus is worthy! Because of his surpassing greatness and glory. Because Jesus Christ is what human beings are supposed to be: lovers and servants of the Most High God. Christ Jesus has the glory, and the honor and the power forever. Amen! I’d rather be a floor polisher in the temple of YHWH than to dwell in a palace here on earth. I don’t know what God is going to do with me for the little time I have left on earth. I don’t know if I’ll have much of a reward in the kingdom. I do know it ain’t about me, or you, or Lifewell, or America, or Democrats or Republicans, or climate change, or social justice. No, it’s all about Christ Jesus. I’m submitted to him. He can do whatever he wants with me. Christo-centricity is my electricity. Christ is life, the rest is… well, worthless compared to Christ. “Whom have I in heaven but you, and earth has nothing I desire besides you” (Ps. 73:25)

What are you all about right now? Are you egocentric or Christo-centric? Who do you live for? What do you feed on? Are you one of the living dead, or one of the dead who lives forever? Come to Jesus and die to yourself. “Whoever loves his life, loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life” (Jn. 12:25)

Under Someone’s Power
According to voodoo doctrine, a Zombie is under the power of the person who performed the ritual to revive it from death. Let’s use that as an analogy: without Christ Jesus, you’re under the power of whatever you turn to for life. This could be something bad, like drugs, alcohol, porn, or immoral sex. “Truly, truly the one who sins is a slave to sin” (Jn. 8:32). Or you could be under the power of someone good, like a close friend, a spouse, or your kids. Even the best relationship is bound to go bad when you’re dependent on that person for life and happiness.

The real master over you is the one who deceived you into believing that you could obtain life and happiness from any source other than the one true and living God. The master I speak of is the the evil god of this world, the Prince of the Power of the Air, the Father of Lies who uses deception and delusion to keep the world under his dark spell. However, when you hear the truth of the Gospel of Christ, the spell is broken long enough for you to make a choice. “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of Christ (Rm. 10:17).

This reminds me of the story of Prince Rilian in C. S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia. The prince is imprisoned underground by the evil queen of the underworld. The greatest evil, however, is that most of the time the prince does not even know who he is. The witch queen has put him under a spell, which has erased his memory and identity. However, for one hour each night he comes to his senses. During this time the Queen puts him in a room alone and has him tied to a silver chair. In the book of the same name, Prince Rilian is freed from the silver chair, and his enchantment, when he calls on the name of Aslan in front of Eustace, Jill and Puddleglum, the heroes whom Aslan the Lion has sent to release him. In Narnia, Aslan is the type of Christ, who is the Lion of the Tribe of Judah in the Bible.

If you’re self-centered and follow your own desires and inclinations, then you are really under the evil spell of the Father of Lies. But right now you’re hearing the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which can and will set you free, if only you believe and obey (Jn. 8:31-32). “The one whom the Son sets free is free indeed!” (Jn. 8:35) I implore you to come out from the seduction of this evil master. Recognize the lie of living for yourself and loving yourself first. You’ve been created to live for the glory of the Great King of Kings, Jesus Christ. Call on the name of Jesus to save you (Rm. 10:9-10, 13). Have you come to your senses? There you sit in your own silver chair. In the name of the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, I say to you: Arise! Your bonds are cut. Stand and confess Christ before the heroes of Lifewell, whom God has put in your life to help release you from your Zombie-like existence (Mt. 10:32-33).