Monday, July 29, 2013

The Faith of a Child

Like Alfred E. Neuman, little Maclane was thinking, "What, me worry?"
Daddy had him firmly by the hand.

Recently we spent time in the Florida panhandle at the beach – at least until torrential rains arrived, ending our idyllic hours in the sand and sending us home to equally rainy Chattanooga. During our time at Seagrove Beach, I enjoyed observing our two-year-old grandson, Maclane, who was also there with his mom and dad.

Despite the crashing of the waves and the tug of the surf with its ebbing and flowing, little Mac was undaunted. He had not a care in the world. Why? Because either his mom or dad – and sometimes both – held him by the hand, protecting him from the current as well as the possibility of losing his balance and falling into the water.

It occurred to me that Mac never seemed worried even once about whether his parents would let go of him as they ventured a bit deeper into the water. Not a single time did his face show any fear that Daddy might release him into the sea when it was well over his head.
Children are born with implicit faith
in the loving, protective grasp of a parent.

Yes, Mac was wearing “floaties” for extra protection, but he had absolute, unwavering faith that Mommy and Daddy were there to protect him and ward off any danger as they played together in the waves.

We’ve all observed similar things at the local swimming pool: A toddler standing at pool’s edge, being urged by Dad or Mom to jump into arms extended to catch them. Children seem to be born with built-in faith, never doubting their parents will feed them, care for them, protect them from the dangers that lurk all around.

Perhaps that’s why Jesus often used children as examples of the faith and trust He expects of His followers. For instance, the Lord said, “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3).

A while later, when Jesus’ disciples tried to keep children away from Him, thinking they were a bother, He responded, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matthew 19:4).

Again referring to the simple faith they exhibited, Jesus commented, “I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a child will never enter it” (Luke 18:17).

Sadly, many children experience having their faith betrayed by parents in many ways. Some of those parents, out of their own brokenness, have been uncaring to their children, selfish and even cruel. Tragically, faith in human parents is not always rewarded.

But faith in our Heavenly Father, I’ve always seen rewarded. “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you,” God promises in Hebrews 13:5. In the Old Testament, the psalmist writes,I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread” (Psalm 37:25).

There are countless other biblical passages that express the same truth – that God is constant and unfailing, always worthy of our faith and trust. As Hebrews 10:23 admonishes, “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.”

As the old children’s hymn declares, “How do I know? The Bible tells me so.”

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Fearfully . . . and Mysteriously Made?

One of the most intriguing passages in the Bible is Psalm 139:13-14, in which King David writes, “For you (God) created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made…. I know that full well.”

This passage is often cited by pro-life groups to support the personhood of the unborn, and I believe rightfully so. But what if the idea of being “fearfully and wonderfully made” extends beyond things like bones and blood, muscles and organs? What if the complexity of the unique persons that God intends for us to be extends into the very building blocks of human existence – our DNA and genetic makeup?

The God Gene, a novel by Jaymie Simmon,
raises some intriguing questions.
That’s the premise of an intriguing, fast-paced novel, The God Gene, written by Jaymie Simmon, whom I’ve become acquainted with over the past year or so. The story line surrounds Dr. Rosalind Evans, a grieving scientist funded by a pharmaceutical company to discover a cure for the disease that took the life of her young daughter. Her quest takes a startling and life-changing turn, however, when she discovers something else – the Ten Commandments, embedded in the section of genetic code under scrutiny.

How did the Ten Commandments get there? Was it a hoax, a laboratory error or computer glitch, industrial sabotage – or an actual encryption from God in the foundational building blocks of life? This discovery unwittingly places Dr. Evans in the conflicting roles of hero and heretic, revered and reviled, an instant celebrity both famous and infamous.

The God Gene is a suspenseful narrative, filled with unexpected twists and turns keeping the reader off balance and intrigued to learn what will become of the beautiful but bedeviled woman of science. An avowed atheist, Dr. Evans – and everyone around her – find the constant turning of events causing them to question everything they believe, and don't believe.

While not a scientist herself, author Simmon has done a masterful job of exploring and grasping the intricacies of genetic research and what is known about the human genome. She crafts a compelling story line without pontificating or choosing sides in the ongoing and often tumultuous debate between the scientific and the spiritual. As with all fiction, there’s an element of suspending one’s disbelief, but it also suggests a rationale for expanding one’s belief.

Ms. Simmon’s insertion of the mysterious "Starry Messenger" provides a unique vehicle for escalating the suspense by raising challenging questions, and – true to the rest of her story – leading to a startling climax that will prompt many readers to ponder, “Well, what if…?”

Thousands of years ago, when Psalm 139 was written, mankind knew nothing about genetic codes. Watson and Crick and their discovery of the acclaimed DNA double helix model were yet many centuries into the future. We now understand that DNA contains the physiological coding – the molecular roadmap – that ordains things ranging from race and gender and hair color to other distinctive physical and mental qualities and traits. But what if our genes contain even more than that – specific, intentional traces of the Divine, for instance?

Many people would argue that humans are inherently good by nature, but what if that “goodness” has been built into our genetic makeup? What if our notions about good and evil, such as the nearly universal convictions that murder, stealing and lying are wrong, aren’t the result of some unexplainable evolutionary construct, but rather the handiwork of God right in the center of our gene pool?

David continued to write, “My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body” (Psalm 139:15-16). What if, unbeknownst to the Israelite king, that included the very cellular structure that defines values and morals, not just physique and individual attributes?

Jaymie Simmon doesn’t attempt to answer those questions, but through her work of fiction she poses questions many of us would like to have answered.

Monday, July 22, 2013

The Gift of Every New Day

When the sun begins to set on each day, can you say
you've treated the day as the gift that it has been?

We take so much of life for granted. Especially those of us blessed with good health. We charge through each day with our schedules, commitments, to-do lists and sundry activities, tumble into bed – and start it all over again the next day. We rarely pause to appreciate life’s little blessings, such as being able to see a pretty flower, listen to birds chirping nearby, or even take a deep breath.

Not everyone is so fortunate. We observe people that are sightless, others that sign to communicate because they can’t hear. And occasionally we learn about individuals for whom the seemingly simple act of breathing is a challenge.

My friend David is one of the latter. At 18 months old, he was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, a genetic, incurable disease that affects the lungs and digestive system. Initially David wasn’t expected to survive childhood, but thanks to very supportive parents, medical advances, excellent healthcare – and God’s grace – he has reached his 46th birthday.

He’s got a beautiful family – a wife and five children – and has achieved a successful professional career despite his disability. But David never takes any of that for granted. Just inhaling and exhaling serve as constant reminders.

David is now in the process of qualifying as a candidate for a double lung transplant. He doesn’t seek pity or sympathy. To the contrary, he’s the first to insist how abundant his life has been. He’d like to remind each of us that every new day is truly a gift. Recently he wrote the following:

“Got to spend time with the family at the lake house. I love (our children) slalom and wakeboard, riding the tube and doing flips off the boat. Things for me are not as easy as they use to be, but no less rewarding. Every day is a gift.   

Life is not to be taken for granted. I am reminded that breathing is essential. Today I jumped into the lake. Actually, I did a flip. After hitting the water I realized I had trouble catching my breath. I used to swim for hours in the water and never tire. Times have changed, but the desire to live and fight is still here. My kids have to do more themselves, but they know I am out there with them and that's what matters.”

For years I’ve made a practice of trying to keep the value of each day foremost in my mind. Many mornings I recite the biblical reminder, “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:24). From God’s perspective, each day is a gift He has freely given, filled with opportunities, challenges and surprises. When we awaken each morning, we discover He’s presented us with another day. We shouldn’t squander it.

Another passage underscores the importance of being good stewards with the time we’re given: “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise, but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:15-16). Another translation calls this "redeeming the time."

That doesn’t mean frantically trying to squeeze every ounce of productivity out of every 24-hour period, but it does advise making the effort to appreciate each day, because it’s all we’ve got. Yesterday’s gone; tomorrow might never come. All we have is today.

Some moments are breathtaking. And sometimes physical exertion leaves us momentarily short of breath. Nevertheless, if you can take a breath at all, stop and be thankful for that. It’s a gift. Just ask David.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Gnashing of Teeth – and Other Pastimes

I’ve been worrying about this blog post. Feeling anxious, fretting about how it will be received. Fearful, agonizing, wringing my hands. I’ve written about this before, but it’s worth contemplating again. It’s…worry.

More than baseball, worry seems to have assumed national pastime status. If there’s anything we can worry about, we will. We even worry when we have nothing to worry about – surely there’s something we should worry about, which worries us.

Take the stock market, our revered economic “indicator.” Many times it rises and falls according to what “might” or “could” happen, based on the latest positive or negative developments. The market’s huge pendulum swings are propelled by fear, worry about the future.

The weather worries us. Experts predict hurricanes, tornadoes, blizzards, heat waves, or other kinds of severe weather…and we worry. What if this? Or, what if that? Is it because of climate change? If so, let’s worry about what can be done about it.

Alfred E. Neuman of MAD magazine
used to say, "What - me worry?" But
most of us haven't followed his lead.
If such things aren’t sufficient for keeping you happily worried, you can worry about loved ones – or your family as a unit. Or your career, finances, health problems, whether your car will start in the morning. If you’re a big sports fan, you can worry about whether State U will lose that key recruit to the archrival, or whether your team can outbid other teams for the latest superstar’s services.

People on every side of the political spectrum worry about our nation’s direction. What’s the destiny of our society, the “land of the free”?

Recently, TV adapted Stephen King’s sprawling novel, Under the Dome, for a 13-week summer run. What if, as in the story, a giant, impermeable dome fell on your community? No one could get out – and no one could get in. Now that’s something to worry about! It could occur, you know. Stuff happens.

Some people worry about being in an airplane crash. I always liked a friend’s philosophical take on that. He would say, “If you’re destined to die in a plane crash, and don’t get on a plane, then one will fall on your house.”

As a society, we love to worry. We complain, moan, groan, toss and turn in our beds. One thing we don’t often see, but seems like it would be fun to watch, is gnashing of teeth. Maybe people in biblical times worried even more than us, because it talks a lot about teeth gnashing. For instance, it says, “The wicked man will see and be vexed, he will gnash his teeth and waste away…” (Psalm 112:10).

Jesus also referred to this worrisome tendency. He said, “But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 8:12).

One thing’s certain – if you’re gnashing your teeth, your anxiety level must be really high. “Gnash, gnash, gnash!” “Hey, could you keep the noise down?”

That’s why the Bible offers a “cure” for teeth gnashing: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, that transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).

Jesus gave His followers the right perspective. “Do not worry about your life…. Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?... And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it…. But seek first his kingdom, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Luke 12:22-31).

Years ago, Alfred E. Neuman, fictitious mascot and cover boy of MAD magazine, offered the motto, “What – me worry?” And singer Bobby McFerrin’s lilting little Caribbean tune suggested, “Don’t worry, be happy.” But let’s face it – we live in an oftentimes scary, always unpredictable world. There’s so much to worry about.

That is, unless we believe God’s in control, as He promises: “For I know the plans I have for you…plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11). Rest in that and we can face each day with anticipation, rather than trepidation.

Pray. Ask. Have faith, trusting God for every one of your needs – and all your circumstances. Jesus is saying, “Enough of that worrying. I’ve got this!” And just think, in heaven there will be no worrying. No gnashing of teeth. 

Monday, July 15, 2013

‘Show and Tell’ All Over Again

Had I been a NASCAR fan as a boy, I might have brought
model cars like these to "Show and Tell."

Do you remember “Show and Tell” day? I’m not sure they still do that in schools, but “back in the day” we had show-and-tell once a week. As I recall, it was optional and whoever thought to bring something in got to go in front of the class with their chosen item, show it off, and then tell about it.

Weapons weren’t an issue in schools in those days, so there was no concern little Billy would bring in dad’s pistol, shotgun or prize hunting knife. Most of the time featured items were things like stamp collections, favorite dolls and stuffed animals, plastic dinosaurs, something from grandma’s memorabilia, model cars and airplanes, maybe a live hamster or gerbil. I don’t think pythons were permitted.

The rules were simple: If you brought something from home at the appointed hour the teacher would call on you to walk before the class, show the item of your choice, and tell whatever you wanted about it.

Being shy, I think I “forgot” to bring something to class most of the time, but do remember taking my dad’s wartime medals to school once and explaining what each represented.

The single stipulation of this activity was it had two parts: Show – and Tell. You couldn’t go forward, face the class, and just tell them about something you left at home. And you couldn’t just show the items; you had to say something about them. It definitely was not show-or-tell. It was both-and, not either-or.

As I ponder what we often call the “Christian faith,” it occurs to me that it, too, is show-and-tell.

Over the years I’ve taken part in evangelistic conferences, events and training programs, and most of the time the emphasis is on the words: How to say the right things, or how to say things right, hopefully to persuade the hearer.

Speakers at these activities often refer to “witnessing.” What strikes me about this, however, is the Bible rarely uses “witness” as a verb. It says we are to “bear witness” (a noun) – in other words, carry testimony about our faith to those that will listen. In most cases, the Scriptures use witness not as something believers do, but rather what they are.

For instance, in Acts 1:8 we find Jesus’ exhortation to His followers: “And you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” He also instructed them, “…let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).

People within the Christian culture have become skilled in using the words of the Gospel, but perhaps one reason we’re not more effective is because of a lack of emphasis on the works of the Gospel. As someone been said, if your walk doesn’t equal your talk, the less you say the better.

An overbearing employer professing to be a follower of Christ, for example, that doesn’t treat employees with fairness, compassion, sensitivity and understanding isn’t likely to be listened to when she talks about Jesus. An employee that’s always telling people about Christ, but fails to do his work diligently and with excellence, undermines his own witness.

A husband might be a pillar in his church, but if he abuses or demeans his wife or children, he has no platform from which to speak about Jesus – at home or in public. And a physician that often talks about her faith, but uses coarse language or demonstrates a lack of personal integrity, conceals the light He wants her to shine.

We need to ask ourselves, “How’s my show-and-tell?” Whether at work, in our homes, in a restaurant, on a golf course, sports arena or wherever we happen to be – are our actions speaking louder than our words? If accused in a court of law about our “witness,” would there be enough evidence to convict us?

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Benefits of a New Balance

Paying a bill the other day, I noticed the statement listed my new balance. It occurred to me this phrase – “new balance” – has multiple meanings, ones that are strikingly different.

The new balance the billing statement cited, of course, was the remainder on the debt that was yet to be paid. But then I considered New Balance shoes, which many people use for walking and running. The name promises both comfort and a proper fit and balance for wearers engaged in various forms of exercise.

When considering a "new balance," there
are many ways of applying the phrase.
There’s the new balance some people are demanding to alleviate the logjam of partisan politics and posturing that has slowed legislative progress in Congress. In sports sometimes we hear cries for a new balance to correct what’s perceived as a competitive imbalance at both collegiate and professional levels.

When economists review the balance of trade, the comparison of a nation’s imports and exports, they sometimes declare a new balance is necessary.

Even the Bible makes the promise of a new balance. Because similar to my bill, there’s a debt – in this case, a spiritual one – to be paid.

There are some who consider God’s acceptance in terms of a balance scale: Do enough good that outweighs the bad you’ve done, and you’ll be okay. Sounds right, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, the Bible contradicts that rationale. It states, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). In other words, we’re way out of balance.

If we argue, “Well, what about all the good I’ve done?” the Scriptures respond, “all our righteous acts are like filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6) To emphasize this point, Romans 3:10-12 declares, “There is no one righteous, not even one…there is no one who does good, not even one.”

Put another way, even when we do good things, they are typically tainted with bad – pride, improper motives, selfishness and self-centeredness. What seems good to us is totally unacceptable to God.

That leaves us with a dilemma. As the jailer asked the apostle Paul and Silas, “what must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:30). Or we might ask, “How then can I get right with God?”

Returning to the debt analogy, whenever we receive a billing statement that cites our “new balance,” it’s saying even though we’ve made a payment, we’re still indebted. Spiritually, every day we’re running up a “tab” of sin we can’t possibly pay – conscious and subconscious rebellion against God and disobedience to His standards. This ultimately is why Jesus came – and went to the cross.

As someone has said, “Jesus paid a debt He did not owe, to save those who owed a debt they could not pay.” The last word He said before dying on the cross was “Tetelestai," which means, “It is finished" (John 19:30). This word also was used on business documents or receipts in New Testament times to show a bill had been paid in full.

Perhaps when we arrive in heaven, we will be presented with a bill representing our spiritual debt, one we could never repay. But on the bill will be stamped, in blood red, the word, “Tetelestai.” Or perhaps, for those that can’t read Greek, “Paid in full.”

We’ll have a new balance – a zero balance. The debt has been satisfied. Can you imagine? 

Monday, July 8, 2013

Muddling Through Life’s Messes

In college I learned a new word: Prerequisite. It meant you had to take certain courses before you could take more advanced ones. For instance, I couldn’t take Journalism 312 before I’d taken Journalism 205. Before you took American Literature 210, you had to take freshman English 101.

Life’s like that, too. There are prerequisites for advancing to the next stage of development. Learning to walk before you run, for instance. Being taught to print before you write in cursive. (Although printing these days has become just a prerequisite for texting.)

Another prerequisite of everyday living, it seems, is that you have to endure messes to achieve masterpieces.

The construction mess prepares for future grandeur.
Our local mall, for example, is more than 30 years old and the new owner is doing major renovations. Construction is underway, so things are messy. But for all the shopkeepers and shoppers, putting up with the present mess will be worth it when the work is finished, resulting in a bright, better-than-new retail center.

As every parent knows, the euphoria of a infant’s birth is quickly followed by…messes. Dirty diapers, spit-up, baby food everywhere but in the mouth. But parents also will tell you the messes are worthwhile. Because they’ve envisioned what their baby will become in childhood and eventually, adulthood.

After living in the same house for many years, my wife and I have undertaken a number of remodeling and fix-up projects. Remodeled kitchen and bathrooms, landscaping, painting, wallpaper, and a new roof. Since I operate out of a home office, such undertakings cause an annoyance – even though I’m not the one doing most of the work. But in the end, disturbances and minor aggravation are worth enduring.

The same holds true spiritually. In fact, the Bible states, Where there are no oxen, the feeding trough is empty, but an abundant harvest comes through the strength of an ox” (Proverbs 14:4). Stated another way, you won’t get any milk unless you’re willing to put up with manure.

Like buildings undergoing
renovation, our lives also
are "under construction."
If anyone’s ever told you the so-called “Christian life” is easy, he or she lied. Because (spoiler alert) it’s not. We’re told to “rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope” (Romans 5:3).

In case we’ve missed that passage, James 1:2-4 reiterates, “Consider it pure joy, my brethren, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

Even when we’re doing what we should, God sometimes sees fit to “mess” with us so we’ll become even more productive. Jesus said, “He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful” (John 15:2).

Looking over the course of my life, even after committing my life to Christ, I see lots of messes. Some of my own making, some that the Lord allowed simply because “in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). From His perspective, I’ve been “under construction.”

So the next time you look around your life and find a mess, take heart. It’s not easy, convenient or fun. But somewhere in the midst of the mess, God is creating a masterpiece.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Freedom – Reality and Fantasy

Are we facing the sunset of freedom as we have known it?

July 4th – Independence Day – will always be one of my favorite holidays. I can’t help it. As George M. Cohan wrote in his famous song, “I’m a Yankee doodle dandy, a Yankee doodle do or die…born on the fourth of July.” If I wasn’t born waving an American flag, I’m pretty sure my dad handed me one soon afterward.

Independence Day is a lot more than fireworks (although I enjoy them) and wearing shirts adorned with American flags (although I have some and wear them). It’s a day to celebrate freedom and liberty, and all they entail. Our nation has championed freedom like none other.

But it’s a funny thing, freedom. Of late we have seem to taken rights, privileges and entitlements and mashed them all together. I’m pretty certain the founding fathers never envisioned some of the “rights” and freedoms we’ve collectively embraced as a society.

At the same time, other freedoms have been curtailed. Like speech – free, it seems, only if what you have to say fits political correctness parameters. And religion – free only if kept utterly private, not permitted to overflow into one’s public life and actions. Speak up about what you believe – as least if it relates to the Bible – and there’s hell to pay.

I’m all for the idea that all men (and women and children) are created equal, endowed by their Creator (can we say that anymore?) with certain unalienable rights. Everyone should enjoy the fruits of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

The “American way,” however, used to mean that to find happiness, you worked for it. Why should that be different today? In some quarters today, freedom and entitlement have become synonymous.

Makes me wonder about the future of freedom.

Flags and crosses represent freedom,
but in very different ways.
But in pondering this elusive notion of freedom, I’m also reminded of a freedom that’s not in jeopardy, that wasn’t established by our Constitution – or any nation’s constitution, for that matter. It wasn’t decreed by an august legislative body. This freedom is offered in, of all places, the Bible. Galatians 5:1 tells us,“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free." The next verse elaborates, “Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened by a yoke of slavery.”

This “slavery” has nothing to do with the issues that erupted into the Civil War, when black Americans were considered nothing more than property to slave owners. The slavery viewed in the biblical passage concerns bondage to sin – rebellion against God and separation from Him.

Romans 6:1-7 explains by virtue of Jesus Christ’s death on the cross, “our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin – because anyone who has died has been freed from sin.”

Put in every day terms, this means we can’t use the excuse, “The devil made me do it!” The devil might suggest something, and we might agree the idea sounds good, but we don’t have to do it. Followers of Jesus are forever freed from sin’s power and domination.

Hard to believe? Yes, but that’s what the Scriptures declare.

So as we ponder Independence Day's heritage and hope, remember disciples of Christ have an independence day of their own. But instead of a flag, its symbol is a cross. A cross that announces, So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36).

Monday, July 1, 2013

An Undead-ly Fascination

Humanity has a love-hate obsession that just won’t die.

We hate to contemplate our own death. Can you recall ever thinking, “I can’t wait to go to the funeral home to make my final arrangements”? Probably not. And we buy life insurance – just in case – all the while hoping we’ll somehow become the exception and kick the Grim Reaper in the bottom when he comes calling.

At the same time, death offers a strange attraction. Some people scan the obits the first thing every morning, reasoning if they’re not in them, then it’s okay to proceed with the day’s plans. TV news usually opens its first minutes with the daily body count – murders, accidents, natural disasters and other calamities.

One of movie director Woody Allen’s most famous lines is, “I’m not afraid of dying. I just don’t want to be there when it happens.” (I second that motion.)

But in recent years, death has ascended to unprecedented heights of popularity. More accurately, “un-death.”

We have a morbid
fascination with zombies,
vampires and such.
For the life of me, I can’t understand the current fascination with the “undead” – vampires and zombies, fictional but very profitable entities of literary and film fancy. When I was a boy, Bela Lugosi became a film legend portraying the vampire, Dracula. Boris Karloff also rose to movie stardom as Frankenstein’s monster (comprised of recycled body parts), and the Mummy. A late-night horror movie hostess was named Vampira. But there was never the obsession we see today.

Anne Rice perhaps started things off, crafting a lucrative career writing best-selling vampire novels. Author Stephenie Meyer trumped that success with her four-book Twilight series aimed at young adult readers, featuring vampires, werewolves and other such things. Film adaptations of her books have scored big at the box office.

“The Mummy” was resurrected, so to speak, in films from 1999 to 2008. Currently, “The Walking Dead” is a popular cable TV series. And the film, “World War Z,” starring Brad Pitt, recently opened, depicting yet another zombie apocalypse. There’s even a horror film director named Rob Zombie.

So what’s the deal? Why, if we fear the specter of death, do we find it so difficult to look away?

I think there’s a spiritual root to this contradiction. The Bible states we were “dead in our trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1). In other words, without the saving life of Jesus Christ, people are like spiritual zombies – walking around physically, but being dead spiritually, disconnected from God their Creator.

The good news is we don’t have to remain that way. The passage goes on to say, “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions…” (Ephesians 2:4). Another passage declares much the same: “When you were dead in your sins…God made you alive in Christ” (Colossians 2:13).

Without Christ, the Scriptures proclaim, we are the real “walking dead” – breathing, hearts beating – but totally separated from God. Jesus, Himself resurrected from the dead, is the only one that can rescue us from spiritual death. “For it by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).

Once this spiritual transaction has taken place, we can appropriate the new life given to us. “Count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 6:11).

So when you hear about the next zombie film or vampire novel, remember the true “walking dead,” an apt description of humankind apart from the saving grace of Christ. I didn’t say that – God did.