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October 29, 2012

Zombies Are for Real

After diving into Scripture this fall, I’ve found there’s more to the zombie craze than what’s on TV—essentially, the truth of Christ's resurrection.

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As a child, I always looked forward to Halloween. It was exciting to turn into a comic book super hero and receive a sweet reward for saying three words: Trick or Treat? Unfortunately, today the innocence of hunting for candy now competes with culture’s fascination with dark macabre.

I’m particularly intrigued by the growing “zombie craze.” Film critics promote innovators to the zombie film genre like 1968’s Night of the Living Dead, 2004’s Shaun of the Dead, and most recently, the AMC television series The Walking Dead.

CNN asked Max Brooks, author of World War Z, about the current fascination with zombies. Brooks explained that young people often use zombies to discuss global problems in a fun and exciting way. For example, it’s now possible to purchase a zombie survival kit, or to learn how to pack your own.

And according to Dr. Ali Khan at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, that’s important because, “If you are equipped to deal with a zombie apocalypse, you will be prepared for a hurricane, pandemic, earthquake, or terrorist attack.”

Considering Dr. Khan’s statement, I wondered, Do zombies have anything to do with our Christian faith?

I know there’s a great book on the topic: Night of the Living Dead Christian. But of course, that’s fiction. And I’m not advocating that Sunday schools start showing zombie movies. However, Scripture does mention the undead—and they aren’t the gruesome figures we find haunting late-night TV stations. Rather, they’re powerful examples that God is greater than anything the human mind can imagine.

Sure, zombies are creepy, wild, and powerful. But zombies have nothing on Jesus, the master of life and death. It gives me chills to think about the absolute confidence and authority in Jesus’ voice as he proclaims his power to John in Luke 24:39: “Look at my hands. Look at my feet. You can see that it’s really me. Touch me and make sure that I am not a ghost, because ghosts don’t have bodies, as you see that I do.”

Feeling the joy of being on the winning team gives me confidence to crush any opponent. Here’s a biblical roster of the resurrected:

• The son of Zarephath’s widow (1 Kings 17:17—24)
• The son of the great Shunammite woman (2 Kings 4)
• The dead man who comes back to life when he touches Elisha’s bones (2 Kings 13:21)
• The widow’s son at Nain (Luke 7:13—15)
• Jairus’ daughter (Matthew 9:25, Mark 5:42, and Luke 8:55)
• Lazarus (John 11:43—44)
• The saints resurrected at Jesus’ crucifixion (Matthew 27:52—53)
• A female disciple named Tabitha (Acts 9:36—42)
• Eutychus (Acts 20:9—12)
• Perhaps even Paul (Acts 14:19—20)

Accounts of biblical resurrections aren’t for just light reading, but are recorded to remind us that God’s power can break through any barrier we can imagine. That includes every area of our daily lives.

Be encouraged that the same power that raised Jesus from the dead has been given to us. As Jesus says in Matthew 10:7—8: “Go and announce to them that the Kingdom of Heaven is near. Heal the sick, raise the dead, cure those with leprosy, and cast out demons. Give as freely as you have received!”

The laws of life and death are no match for God’s divine sovereignty. So this Halloween, as I enjoy movies with friends—a buffet of scary flicks with ghosts, vampires, mummies, werewolves, and yes, even zombies, the likes of which I was never allowed to watch as a child—I can relax in the knowledge that they can’t beat the real promise and truth of resurrection. The son of both God and man died for our sins and rose from the dead, and my eventual encounter with the risen Jesus will far overshadow any terror shown on my TV screen. How do I know? Because the apostle John assures me in Revelation 1:17—18:

“When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: ‘Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.’”

Zombies, indeed.

Ken Jansen is a worship pastor and CEO of Downpour International.

October 18, 2012

The Surprising Blessing of Inconvenience

How a slower pace of life has filled my spirit.

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For 13 years, I was a busy pastor’s wife living a normal and active life of ministry in Illinois. Then God called my husband and me to minister in Zambia.

We have now moved halfway across the world, and everything has changed for us. I’m still busy with ministry, but through the process of adjusting to life in a radically different culture, I’ve learned some valuable lessons about the pace of life.

To be honest, it hasn’t been easy adjusting to this new, slower pace. It feels as though I’ve flown back in time to the 1800s American West. Instead of living a life filled with modern conveniences, now I often cook in the dark by the light of a kerosene lantern because of low power—or no power at all. Simply living a “normal” life here takes more time and effort.

There’s no one-stop shopping here: I have to go to three or four different stores to get what I need. Doing laundry also takes longer. I fill up the washer with a hose running from the kitchen sink, set a timer to make sure it doesn’t overflow (which has happened on several occasions), and then line dry our clothes. I cook our meals from scratch, and do dishes by hand.

Emotionally and physically, basic life is harder. But it’s also been rewarding as I’ve learned to turn washing dishes, hanging clothes, and handling other daily chores into meaningful times of thinking, praying, and meditating.

Along with a slower pace, I’ve been immersed in a more relaxed and open way of spending time with others. Here in Zambia, I’m learning what I call “social rest.” In American culture, we cut to the chase in our interactions with others, especially when we have a task to accomplish or a purpose in meeting with someone. But in Zambian culture, people really spend time with one another. They love visiting and are hospitable. They linger in conversations, and invest time in learning how you’re doing, what you’ve been up to, how your family is, and so on. Here, I’m learning the value of community—of being present with others and willing to linger a while.

Adjusting to life in a different culture has been challenging, and the most difficult part for me has been facing some of my own sin. Life in Africa is difficult, and these hardships have a way of causing sin in my heart—like anger, frustration, and pride—to bubble to the surface. Living here has been a refining process as I’ve been learning to die to self, face my sin, and turn to the Cross. In Isaiah 30:15, God says: “Only in returning to me and resting in me will you be saved. In quietness and confidence is your strength.”

Focusing on Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross and the salvation he brings has been a means of both strength and rest for me as I’ve walked through spiritually refining times.

I’m learning that, when circumstances are less than ideal, our mettle is tested. Back home in the States, I used to rest in my circumstances because life was relatively easy. Here, I am learning what it means to rest in the Lord. He’s in control of my life and I’m where I’m supposed to be. I need to trust him, and I want to be someone who rests in God even during the dark times.

Life in Africa is teaching me the importance of taking time just to be—to take care of what’s “inside of the cup.” And so, I often go outside and sit in an insaka, our little, thatched, open-air hut. I soak in all the beauty in the yard and garden, and I delight in the butterflies, flowers, and weather. I pause to rest with God. Why? Because I’ve learned that if I’m too busy ministering to others and don’t take care of my own spiritual needs, then I’m running on empty. I end up with nothing to give, and others can tell. What I have found in rest—sitting at the feet of Jesus, learning from him, developing a deep prayer life—is that there, I am centered and filled.

How is God inviting you to slow down? To linger more with others? To incorporate habits of prayer and meditation into the pace of your everyday life? When have circumstances forced you to slow down and what have you learned in the process?

For more on slowing down, read this TCW Deeper Faith collection on resting in God, or download one of several TCW’s downloadable resources: Rest for the Weary, No Time for Quiet Time, and Spiritual Refreshment.

Karen Singleton is an Action International missionary in Zambia with her husband, Tracy. She also teaches language arts to seminary students. Read more at thesingletonstory.blogspot.com.

October 15, 2012

Fashion Conscious: How to Be a Responsible Steward

The $20 sweater was a great buy—but was it ultimately the best for everyone involved in my purchase?

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“I love your dress!”

“Thanks! I got it for $30—on sale!”

How many times have you had some variation on this conversation? I’ve been on both ends hundreds of times, and it almost always involves some proud disclosure of big savings.

When it comes to our consumption of clothing, we value thrift. We pride ourselves on using our resources wisely and getting the best deal possible. We want to share our triumph with our friends, our family, anyone who displays even a passing interest in what we are wearing.

As someone on a limited budget who also happens to enjoy fashion, I have spent a considerable amount of time honing my deal-finding abilities. But in all the hours spent browsing the clearance racks, signing up for any and every sample sale site, and promising myself that this time I really was only going to buy the two things on my shopping list at Target and not even look at the clothes—only to walk out with several new tanks tops I didn’t know I needed— I never questioned the idea that, when it came to shopping, thrift was the ultimate good (after style, of course).

That changed when I read Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion by Elizabeth Kline. Many of the facts she shares about what makes a $20 pair of pants possible drove home the point that when it comes to clothes, we must consider more than just cost if we wish to honor God as stewards of our resources. She argues that we’re kidding ourselves if we believe the person who made those pants were paid a fair wage, or that it could be made of quality, sustainable fabric, or that it reflects a designer’s original, creative work.

Even beyond issues of ethical wages and environmental sustainability, cheap clothes perpetuate the cycle of consumption. We have come to view clothing as disposable, and we don’t think twice about dropping a seemingly insignificant amount of cash on an article of clothing we know won’t last and might not even fit us that well. When it rips, or when we just don’t like it anymore, we’ll buy another one. We have detached clothing from its sources and methods of production; this is not a healthy way to view our possessions.
I finished the book with the overwhelming question: what now? Sure, it would be great to be able to make my own clothes, or to buy garments only from designers committed to ethical production and quality fit and fabric. But I have limited time, and limited resources.
So I set myself a challenge: in the second half of 2012, I would not purchase any new clothing unless it was used or vintage, or if it was made from high-quality, sustainable fabrics, by a person who had been paid a living wage.

It didn’t take long to realize that my issues with consumption were far deeper than I initially realized. Barely a day went by that I wasn’t struck by an impulsive desire for an article of clothing I needed to complete an outfit, to wear to a specific event, or to replace another article of clothing showing light signs of wear. I had to talk myself down from lunchtime trips to Target, post-work stops at H&M, a swing by Nordstrom Rack. When I went home, I often realized I already owned something that would work just fine. And if I didn’t, I forced myself to wear something I had anyway.

Clothing consumption isn’t just about the ubiquitous availability and low cost of fashionable items. More often than not, it’s a reflection of our dissatisfaction, of our belief that an article of clothing or a pair of shoes will transform us into a different person—all for only $17.99! But this is, of course, far from the truth. Yet another new article of clothing, cheaply made and cheaply bought, only magnifies the deficiency when we just as quickly realize we are, in fact, no different from how we were before—though perhaps out $17.99.
When I forced myself to stop distracting myself from any and every emotional hole with something new, I had to do the hard, sometimes long, work of facing those insecurities instead.

Recently, the words of Revelations 21:5 have struck me: “Behold, I am making all things new.” Through fast fashion, I had been trying to make myself new, settling for the superficial, when God promises real, lasting, meaningful change. He wants to make me not just more like myself, but more like himself. And that is something no $20 sweater could ever hope to offer.

What do you think? How do your shopping choices reflect God’s stewardship and loving our neighbors all around the world?

Laura Leonard is associate editor of BuildingChurchLeaders.com and is also a contributing writer for the TCW Blog and Her.meneutics. Follow Laura on Twitter at @lmarieleonard.

October 11, 2012

Suffering 101: The Required Class We Wish We Could Ditch

When life provides us with unwelcome doses of pain, do we cling to God or run away?

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I must admit I wasn’t thrilled a few weeks back when my husband signed us up for an upcoming class at church. . .on the Book of Job.

The teacher is great and the fellowship will be fantastic. But Job?

That book is all about suffering. It’s about horribly difficult questions about pain and heartache and God not intervening or, even worse, playing an apparently complicit role in that suffering. It doesn’t have the ending I want—the ending in which God answers the hard questions and, poof!, turns back the hands of time to magically erase all the suffering. No, Job wades right into the deep, dark muck of pain—the muck I strive hard to avoid.

It’s a human instinct to avoid pain, to steer clear of what hurts, to run like the dickens from heartache.

But what Job, and in fact the entire witness of Scripture, tells us is that suffering is unavoidable and inescapable. It will touch our lives. It’s a “class” we’re all signed up for, whether we like it or not. After all, Jesus reminds us: “Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows” (John 16:33.) And he definitely had his share as well.

Will we learn from suffering? Will we grow in and through it?

Much in life can cause us pain and suffering: physical illness, the death of a loved one, the betrayal or abandonment of a spouse, the rebellion of a child, the loss of a job, the breakup of a relationship, and so much more. Thankfully, blessedly, Christianity honestly addresses the heartaches we face in this life. It doesn’t offer pat answers or magical cures. But it does invite us to cling to the God who is present with us in the pain—and to somehow, with God’s help, courageously wade our way through that muck to the other side. And it does promise that, as we cling to God and endure in faith, we will grow in character and mature in faith through the crucible of pain (Romans 5:3–5.)

How have you grown through heartache? How have you experienced the truth that, no matter how deeply it hurts, God will not leave you or forsake you?

For inspirational stories of women who have found hope in the midst of suffering, read this TCW interview with Mary Beth Chapman, or this recent article, “When God Doesn’t Answer.” TCW also offers downloadable resources for small group and church study: see TCW’s Transformation in the Midst of Suffering PDF in the TCW online store.

Kelli B. Trujillo is a TCW regular contributor and the author of the Flourishing Faith devotional series for women, which includes Cultivate Your Character. www.kellitrujillo.com

October 8, 2012

Danger: Being Too "Nice" Can Wreck You & Your Relationships

How to respond when being a good Christian girl goes bad

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It sounds like a plot from a bad soap opera: there’s the crazy ex-boyfriend who won’t move on, and the nice girl he claims he can’t live without. The phone calls I received over the course of the past six months didn’t concern a television show, however—they were reports from my family, and the girl was my younger sister, Lucy.




“Evan called six times today.”

“Evan was admitted to the hospital.”

“Lucy had to get a new cell phone number.”

“Evan tried to corner her at work.”

“Evan snuck into the house last night.”

The experience was many different kinds of awful. Lucy and Evan’s relationship escalated from rocky to unsettling to alarming as Evan pursued increasingly dramatic courses of action to win Lucy back: relentless phone calls, incoherent and cruel emails, a suicide attempt, and outright stalking, all culminating in a Notice of Criminal Trespass from our family that legally barred Evan from attempting any further contact with Lucy or her relations.

Throughout the ordeal, our family struggled to determine how best to handle this complicated situation. As Evan’s words and actions grew more and more irrational, Lucy felt increasingly trapped, caught between her desire to exit a bad relationship and her sense of responsibility toward a lost soul. Every time she moved to end the relationship for good, he would make her feel guilty for abandoning him.

“Love is sacrifice,” Evan would insist to Lucy. “You aren’t loving me like God calls you to.”

As concerned friends learned of the emotional torment Lucy was suffering from, I heard similar stories of women stuck in relationships that were dissolving beyond repair, but in which they felt compelled to stay because their boyfriends were dependent on them for happiness. Like Lucy, these women were what the world would call nice Christian girls: raised to extend kindness and forgiveness; cautious about the movies they watched and the words they used; friendly and accommodating, and sensitive to the sorrows of others. They wouldn’t—couldn’t—kick the guy to the curb. Because that’s not what nice girls do.

Evan often accused Lucy of un-Christian behavior. “If you really care about me, how can you be so unfair to me?”

What was this nice Christian girl supposed to say to that?

Here’s the thing—“nice” has nothing to do with it. In fact, striving to do the “nice” thing is a recipe for spiritual disaster. God doesn’t call us to be a force for nice but a force for good. Too often we mistake one for the other, and that’s dangerous.

When being nice becomes our foremost priority, we choose what action is least destructive instead of most needed. We end up making decisions about what we can concede rather than what we can build. And ultimately, we shut God out of the equation, denying his role and ability to take care of the hearts at stake. We risk living in fear rather than trusting in Christ.

Nice Christian girls have big hearts—they feel others’ hurts acutely, and they want to help heal the broken people around them. But while love is indeed self-sacrifice, it is not self-destruction. Love “rejoices with the truth.” And the truth is that there is one Savior—Jesus Christ, our refuge and deliverer, who redeems the broken and saves the lost. Jesus sacrificed himself to the cross not because it was a nice thing to do, but because it was a necessary thing to do, and only he was ordained to do it. We are not that powerful or perfect. We love better when we love God first—when we admit that we will always be inadequate, and that we can never be enough for others.

The fact that Evan was convinced Lucy was his only solace did not make it so: in fact, it indicated just the opposite. Evan was looking for justification in a fellow fallen human being, which meant he needed the Lord all the more deeply and desperately.

So what does love look like when a relationship falls apart?

For Lucy, it was surrendering Evan to God’s care. It was cutting herself off from him so that he might find healing apart from her. It was crying over his difficult journey. It was praying for him every day. It was trusting that if the door between them should ever be opened again, God would make it abundantly clear.

As Christian women, we need to reevaluate who we are supposed to be—first in Christ, and then in our relationships. We need to recognize our limits and boundaries. We need to remember the one who possesses the real power of restoration and trust him to love better than we ever could. We need to stop being so nice.

Shaye Gordon is a pseudonym for a writer living in the Midwest.

October 1, 2012

Insignificant

I went on vacation ready to fix my grandiose life. God had other plans.

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Two weeks ago, I headed to a beach house in North Carolina with my pregnant sister, her husband, a couple of their closest friends, and my dearest friend in the whole world, Steph. It would be my first real vacation in years, and I was ready to, in addition to having extremely long, productive, life-changing quiet times with God, accomplish several personal goals, including regular morning runs, a tan for my pasty Irish skin, the consumption of healthy food, and at least five edifying novels during my time on the beach.

The only goal I managed to achieve of the 10 I initially set for myself was to stay off the internet.

In all other aspects, I was a total failure.

The health food was the first to crumble—have you ever had North Carolina barbeque? I made my brother-in-law stop at the same place on the way to and from the island so I could enjoy the same pulled-pork sandwich twice in a row. My stomach yearns to eat like that more often.

Running was a sham—I ran for exactly three minutes, on the second to last day of vacation. I think one more minute would have killed me.

I read half of one book.

Concerning my life, I figured out . . . nothing.

It was in this nothingness that Jesus restored sanity to my soul.

One night, I stayed up later than everyone else and sat on the deck, soaking up the ocean waves and Scripture before I went to sleep. Alone with the water, I flipped through the Psalms and landed on Psalm 116:7: “Return to your rest, my soul, for the LORD has been good to you.”

Gazing over the vast Atlantic, something of the hardness inside me began to melt at the thought of these truths: I am insignificant; I am a tiny grain of sand; I will fail; and, next to the greatness of my God, I am a stupid sheep.

What a relief, I thought.

I’d spent so much time recently trying my hardest to do, win, be, succeed, that I’d forgotten, once again, that God is in control. That he is always good. And that he does actually want me to enjoy life, not just win at it.

Yes, it’s okay that I have goals. It’s healthy. But to live a life hidden in Christ means placing those goals at the foot of the Cross, then backing away.

I’ve learned that, instead of viewing my days as one never-ending checklist, I can relax and surrender, because there are more important things God calls me to do: like glorify him. Or love the people he’s placed in my life. Or simply have fun.

For the rest of my vacation, I settled into the practice of enjoyment. I stared at the ocean with wide eyes. I didn’t wear a stitch of makeup. I made dumb jokes and quoted funny movies with my friends and family. I listened to the sound of the waves crashing on the shore. I talked to my sister. I didn’t think about how to solve or fix anything. I felt the sand on my feet and studied seashells, wondering at how God managed to create such perfect homes for the tiny creatures that live in the sea. I barely showered. I boogie-boarded. I stared at the ocean some more.

It was awesome.

When I returned to the daily grind, I faced many of the problems I thought I’d left behind. But now, every time I start to sense that my lists, goals, and problems are taking over and overwhelming me, I close my eyes.

When my eyes close, I remember what the ocean looked like, and think of how the vastness of God dwarfs even the deepest seas. I remember feeling completely free of my burdens, and picture myself walking onto that North Carolina beach, standing with my neck craned upward, in awe of the sky. I’d never seen so many stars. Or maybe, I’d never given myself the time to look up at them before.

Suddenly, I’m grateful to be a mere speck of sand on the beach.

Ashley Moore is the editorial coordinator for Today's Christian Woman, GiftedforLeadership.com, and ChristianBibleStudies.com, and is also a contributing writer to the TCW blog. Follow Ashley on Twitter @ashgmoore.

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