Saturday, September 11, 2010

Choose Life

I will not die but live, and will proclaim what the LORD has done. (Psalm 118.17)

The Living Dead

Has anyone else noticed while we in our generation brawl mightily against one another, waging wars of words and violence, the next generation has become obsessed with the living dead? If, like me, you have very little interest in zombies and vampires, your reading and entertainment options are sharply curtailed. While one could argue every generation goes through a phase of dark, magical thinking, the sudden surge of interest in the past couple years suggests something more than intrigue with otherworldly lore may be involved here. The armchair sociologist in me wants to read deeper implications into this. Do our youth embrace this universe because there one needs only a thermometer to discern genuine humanity? Perhaps they’re responding to contradictions littered through fantasies where the non-living are often most alive to compassion, tolerance, justice, and fidelity. Both notions seem valid, particularly when one puts down the latest Twilight Saga volume for a newspaper, or turns off Zombieland to catch the latest melodrama unfolding on FOX News. Is it any wonder moral urgency thrumming in the land of the undead beckons young people desperately clinging to ideals taught by adults who’ve abandoned all pretense of honoring them?

Our constant tearing at one another overwhelms us with walking wounded. Healing virtues hold so little value they’re scantly felt. Calls for righteousness and reason are dead on arrival, their advocates marginalized as dreamers and radicals. With each torrent of cruelty and injustice, we who follow Christ find it increasingly difficult to fix our place in this world—in part, because much of the poison appears to originate in our house. The name of Jesus has been commoditized as an imprimatur of hatred, prejudice, and criminality, inflicting defeatism and shame on His true believers. Given the wrongs committed by usurping Christ’s authority, it’s understandable we may feel it best to withdraw into our little sphere, where people play nice and love prevails. Yet if not we, then who will summon courage to bind broken hearts? To bring light to darkness? To speak justice and compassion? To prove faith, hope, and love truly abide? Who will help today’s youth choose life?

The Name of the Lord

Biology ensures our perpetuity. But the life of our species and planet must be nurtured tenderly, tenaciously. When we observe those falling prey to greed and power-lust—when these evils become prerequisites for prominence and leadership in our society—we must move quickly, decisively to answer with unflinching resolve. We accomplish this not in our strength for our sake. We emulate the example in Psalm 118, whose author is surrounded by broken mindsets, institutions, and leadership. Confidence he can’t be defeated resounds so strongly, the repetitive style obtains oratorical force. He’s preaching. “The LORD is with me; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?” he declares once and again. “The LORD is with me; he is my helper. I will look in triumph on my enemies.” (v6-7) Another one-two punch instantly follows: “It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in man. [Again.] It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in princes.” (v8-9) And he caps both doubles off with a triplet: “All the nations surrounded me, but in the name of the LORD I cut them off. They surrounded me on every side, but [again] in the name of the LORD I cut them off. They swarmed around me like bees, but they died out as quickly as burning thorns; [again] in the name of the LORD I cut them off.”

The name of the Lord—so grossly brutalized by zealots and strivers—belongs to us. We are given authority to act under its aegis in Mark 16.17-18, where Jesus says, “These signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak with new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.” By ourselves, we’re nothing. But the name of the Lord transforms us into a force to be reckoned with. Just look at what Jesus says we can do in His name. We confront evil and send it packing. We change the conversation. We disarm slippery, cold-blooded sneaks before they strike. Poisonous attitudes and behaviors pose no threat to us. We heal. Using the psalmist’s paradigm, when deadly evil, talk, deceit, and agents envelop us, in the name of the Lord, we cut them off. We don’t tolerate them. We don’t reason with them. We don’t acknowledge their authority, respect their privileges, indulge their behavior, or clean up after them. We cut them off.

The Life Inside

The decisiveness of our actions is based on a decision that defines and binds us together: we choose life. Each of us comes to Christ and commits to His way because He is Life—the Bread of Life, the Water of Life, Life to the Full, and Eternal Life. Life before or without Christ no longer compels us. The Life inside us is the life we live. Galatians 2.20 splendidly conveys this truth: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer 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.” In light of this, when we see where the psalmist’s courage and tenacity lead, we join him, saying, “I will not die but live, and will proclaim what the LORD has done.” (v17)

Being alive in Christ means being alive in this world, refuting powers of sin and death, defying fatal influences, and opposing destructive ideologies. We are brave, articulate beings placed in every corner to answer defeat with triumph, hatred with compassion, cruelty with kindness, and selfishness with sacrifice. We recognize every issue troubling our society is a matter of life and death. In reality, our world is actually more like the alternative universe of pop fiction than we presume, clearer and more balanced than it often appears—with one exception. We’re not the living dead; we are gloriously, vibrantly, powerfully alive. We choose life to proclaim life in the name of Life.

We have been given authority to proclaim Life in a world overtaken by deadly ideologies and practices.


Sherry Peyton said...

Tim you are so right. I was so happy to see so many people stepping up yesterday and refusing to concede the day to hatred and division. So many embraced compassion, tolerance, friendship, and dignity to all people, of all faiths, of all persuasions. We have a wonderful time at our local Islamic center. It was a breath of fresh air and three times more people showed up than expected. Praise to God--let us all stand up and preach truth!

Tim said...

Sherry, I was so certain I posted a response to your comment--but it didn't turn up.

I'm so delighted to hear about the interfaith gathering! These sorts of events give me great hope. What we saw on 9/11 this year is a refusal to allow our values and ethics to get hijacked by a bunch of extremists.

I'm starting to feel life choices taking shape around us! Thank God!

Peace and courage!

Hayden said...

I haven't read the whole entry yet because the title made me think a lot about the past few months. A few months ago I didn't want to live, I didn't want to be around anymore at all and I was angry with God. I was so angry with him that I just didn't care anymore. I was in a very dark place and I'm slowly finding my way out and realizing that God loves me and wants me to succeed and has put these people in my life for a reason. I'm sorry if this comment is completely missing the point, but I wanted to share this.

Tim said...

Hayden, your comment is the point. Grace and love are the keys to turn our thoughts toward life. We choose life because it's the one gift we can't minimize, no matter how tempted we are to do so.

I'm so grateful that you're coming back to us, joining we who've found life in spite of darkness, hope in spite of despair. These are true and good things worthy of true and good people like you.

You bless us by being with us, dear brother!

Peace, joy, and love to you always,

genevieve said...

Tim, many people are very interested in the afterlife. They know that much of our cherished institutions are crumbling before them. I'm happy to say that there are those who are laboring in the Lord.

I corresspond online with a number of hurting people. God is till working in people's hearts.

Tim said...

Genevieve, you touch on an excellent point. Too many of us are waiting for life to come instead of choosing life we've been given. Your work and the efforts of so many who gather here attest to the beauty that can unfold when ignore the nay-sayers and persist in bringing life and light to those in need!

Thank you, dear friend, for this powerful insight.

Blessings and much, much life!