Are You A Vampire?

With the Halloween season in our midst, I thought I would ask the question that many a Twilight enthralled teenager ponders, “Am I a vampire?”

When I was a kid, the only vampires out there were the evil villains of Fright Night or Count Dracula. Nobody wanted to be a vampire. But since my childhood, vampires have received a makeover. Since then we have had Lestat from Anne Rice’s Interview With The Vampire, Angel from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Edward from Twilight.

Now it is hip and cool to pretend to be a vampire. And not just on Halloween. You can find all sorts of lists on the internet to help you figure out whether you are a real vampire or not, so you don’t even have to pretend. Why pretend to be something you are?

Let’s ponder one element of vampire mythology, the drinking of blood. The reason vampires drink blood varies depending on the author making the stuff up. The general idea though is that vampires need blood and in consuming blood they are taking the source of life from others so they can survive. Now a good vampire would only take as much as they needed to live, but that doesn’t negate the fact that he is taking from others. A vampire is a life sucker. Are you a life sucker?

We don’t have to be vampires to be life suckers. Do you profit off of others without every giving back? Are you always trying to get one over on people and come out ahead at their expense? Do you give back to your community or school or just keep enjoying the hard work of others? Do you participate in church activities without ever volunteering your own time to give back? Most people don’t have fangs, but a lot of them are still vampires, sucking out life while not giving back. Those life suckers are worse than vampires because - I’ll let you in on a secret - vampires are not real.

In Jesus, we see a different approach to life than those who suck life out of others. Instead of being a life sucker, he is a life giver.

Jesus said, “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. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him” (John 6:53-56 ESV).

I couldn’t think of a more appropriate verse for the Halloween season. We flesh eating and blood drinking. If you can get past the past the gory analogy, what you will see is that Jesus gave his life for others. We, if we claim to be His followers, should do the same. Not let people eat our flesh and drink our blood, but, like Jesus, give of ourselves to serve others. All too often we confuse Christianity with only having right thoughts and proper actions so that we can get to an eternal life in the future. What we fail to realize is that our eternal life has already begun. We are living it here in the now. We must join with Jesus in giving our lives to others to help restore the world into what it was intended to be. We are to be life givers not life suckers.

A healthy church plays a role in that. It should be a group of people that encourages, enables, and empowers each other to restore the world around them and give life to others. Vampires can have their covens and suck the life away from the world around them; I’ll take the church over that. A group of people giving life sounds way more fun to join than a group of people sucking life.

We might not drink blood when gather together as believers in Jesus, but every week we pretend too. In that act, we are reminded of the life-giving sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. An act that we can join in on if we are willing to be life givers rather than life suckers.


You might also be interested in "Are You A Zombie?"


Here is a great clip from the Colbert Report on vampires.

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Toward an Extraordinary Ordinary

It was leaf raking day at the Clem house. We had the boys, rakes, and bags ready to go. But then I couldn’t put the bag onto the trash container. It just wouldn’t stretch enough, or so I thought. Lindsay saw that I was having a difficult time, came right over, unleashed her superpowers and stretched the bag onto the container. Feeling like an idiot, I said, “I thought it wouldn’t fit, but now I see that it does.”

The next three bags were easy to put on. All it took was me knowing in my head that they actually fit. What I once thought impossible was easily doable.

A trash bag stretching to fit a container is relatively unimportant, but have you ever noticed that once humans know something is possible, it becomes much easier for everyone to do.

Our lives are filled with so many things that were once extraordinary that have now become ordinary. Things once thought impossible are now routinely done. We pick up a phone in the middle of nowhere and talk to others. We can print paper in the convenience of our homes. We can turn on our televisions and watch moving pictures instantly streaming off the internet. We live in a time where we experience an ordinary life that was once considered extraordinary.

At this time, I would like to take a little break and define my terms to avoid any confusion. When I say ordinary, I don’t mean boring. Tacos are ordinary, and I don’t find them boring. I could eat them every meal and be happy. Ordinary is commonplace, usual, or normal. This should not be confused with inferior or mediocre. We are surrounded by many great, ordinary things. When I say extraordinary, I mean exceptional or things that are beyond what we commonly experience.

Dr. Dionysius Lardner, who was a prominent scientist and economist in the early 1800s, is famous for being wrong. He couldn't see the new ordinary. Once he argued, “Rail travel at high speed is not possible because passengers, unable to breathe, would die of asphyxia.” Today, people will regularly travel at 268 mph on the Shanghai Maglev Train. There are no known reports of passengers dying of asphyxia. At that speed, if a similar high-speed rail were in place here, we would be able to get to Chicago from Ft. Wayne in around thirty-six minutes. Or for you Yankee fans, from Ft. Wayne to New York in two hours and twenty-four minutes. 268 mph is a speed that is way beyond what Dr. Lardner thought would kill humans is now routinely in use every day in China. The extraordinary has become ordinary.

Wilbur Wright, in a speech to the Aero Club in France on November 5, 1908, said, “I confess that in 1901, I said to my brother Orville that man would not fly for fifty years.” Two years later, the two Wright brothers were flying their first airplane at Kitty Hawk. The extraordinary has become ordinary.

All around us, what was once thought extraordinary has now become ordinary.

Unfortunately, spiritually speaking, the extraordinary has not become ordinary. Paul wrote, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Phil 4:13 ESV). Yet we languish as if there is no way we can live a selfless life following Jesus here on earth. We subsist, enslaved to the same old sins that others have overcome. We spiritually endure life without experiencing the power of God.

Soren Kierkegaard, a Danish Christian, wrote a parable entitled Tame Geese: A Revivalistic Meditation. It is the story of a community of talking geese who would gather together on Sundays for their religious services. “The essential content of the sermon was: what a lofty destiny the geese had, what a high goal the Creator (and every time this word was mentioned the geese curtsied and the ganders bowed the head) had set before the geese; by the aid of wings they could fly away to distant regions, blessed climes, where properly they were at home, for here they were only strangers.” The geese were made to fly, yet after hearing the goose-changing message, the geese would all get out of their seats and waddle home. Kierkegaard concluded the story with the phrase, “Man also has wings, he has an imagination.” Yet we continue to waddle.

All we have to do is look around and we can see extraordinary people living in ways that are completely ordinary to them. Then there are people who experience God in extraordinary ways. Then there is Jesus.

The extraordinary can become ordinary. We just have to know it is possible. What do you need to believe is possible? In Jesus, all things are possible. Believe.   

Try Faith Out

Have you ever wondered why everything seems to go bad all at once?

Or do you ever wonder why bad things always seem to happen to you?

What if circumstances going bad weren’t actually a bad thing?

That seems difficult to grasp because “bad things” are bad. Hence their name. Likewise, good things are usually viewed as good. Also, hence their name. But what if the good keeps us from better? What if the bad is given to prompt us to change? What if being in a bad situation can be better than being in a good one?

The writer of Hebrews wrote, “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives…God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline?” [Heb 12:5-7 (ESV)].

Ten years ago, a leadership book was written that challenged my thinking. Jim Collins wrote Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…and Others Don’t. It is an examination of great companies and what made those companies great. Now that might sound boring, but I always read things with kingdom goggles on. When reading about great companies, I was thinking about great people. What makes those great people around me great?

The premise of the book is that being good is the biggest obstacle to being great. Things are fine. We are able to make ends meet. We don’t worry about our next meal. Our children are doing well in school. All of those things that are good prevent us from changing because we are scared of messing things up. In the process of being afraid to change, we miss the greatness in store for us.

People usually do not experience greatness by accident. It is something that people have to strive and work hard for. And greatness, when we see it, appears easy. What we don’t see is all of the hours of hard work behind the scenes that made that greatness possible. We don’t see all of the good risked in order for greatness to be achieved.

So what does this have to do with us?

Chances are things are good in our lives. Because they are good, we don’t want to make the changes necessary to strive for greatness. Steve Jobs, in his commencement address at Stanford in 2005, stated, “I didn’t see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me.” He lost his good and went out to go after great. And I am thankful he did. After being fired from Apple, he went on to make Pixar. Without Pixar I would not be blessed with great movies like Finding Nemo, Cars, or Toy Story.

The good can hold us down. The good can keep us from trying new things. The good can keep us from going after what we really need to go after. The good is comfortable. The good is alluring. The good slowly suffocates and destroys. The bad can be better than the good.

If you’re down on your luck and things seem to be going bad, you are doing better than someone who just has it good because you are in a position to change. Whether you take advantage of that position or not is really what will decide whether you are living in the midst of God’s blessings tomorrow or once again wondering why you are down on your luck.

The choice is yours. Will you choose to remain down on your luck or just good enough, or will you choose to be a person of faith and pursue the dreams laid on your heart?

If things are bad, you have nothing to lose. You might as well try faith out. Things going bad should be viewed as discipline from the Lord to guide us onto the more perfect path. It’s time for change.

If things are good, it will be much more difficult to risk it all. I hope we all have the strength to pursue the great even when the comfortableness of the good ensnares us.

Imagine. There. On the other side of faith. Right there is the future you were destined for. Will you surrender your life to Jesus and go after it? Or will you remain good? Comfortable? The choice is yours.

Is America a Christian Nation?

Two questions.

How much would it cost to end world hunger?

$30 billion per year

How much does the United States spend on the military?

$869 billion per year

3.5% (or 7/200) of our annual military budget could solve world hunger.

Okay, one more question.

What does that say about us?

"Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me."
                                                                                                                - Jesus

"If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."
                                                                                                               - Apostle Paul


John Howard Yoder on Collective Responsibility

Reading through The End of Sacrifice, a collection of essays by John Howard Yoder edited by John Nugent, I ran across this quote. This came from an essay, Capital Punishment and the Bible, that was originally published in 1960. I would assume that it was pretty relevant then, but it seems even more relevant today.
If society--family, neighborhood, and nation--deprives a child of affection, teaches him or her vice through the world's largest pornographic industry, glorifies violence through the entertainment industry, glorifies crime through the wealth it gives its gangster kings, and shuts off legitimate avenues of growth and self-expression through substandard schooling and ethnic segregation, and then this child becomes a teenager armed with a knife and excited by alcohol and other narcotics, which society permits to be sold, is not society's casting the blame on the teenager a disgraceful search for a scapegoat? Such insistence on "personal responsibility" may well be a mere screen for society's refusal to face its moral decadence in repentant honesty (31-32).

Thriving as a New Resident in a Small Rural Town

Photo by and ©2008 Dustin M. Ramsey under 
Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license. 

It is tough to connect and make friends with the towners when you move into a small town. Towners, like myself, have grown up here and been friends with one another since birth. We went to school with one another or went to school with a brother, sister, child, or parent of another towner. The connections that are shared go back years.

Unfortunately, many of these circles of friends are closed. They aren’t letting anyone new in. They will allow another superficial friendship but not an endearing one that will be there when you need it.

Towners and new residents are somewhat like Romeo and Juliet’s Montagues and Capulets with the new residents being the Capulets and the towners being the Montagues. They just don’t mingle well.

So what is a solution?

Church is a solution. I understand the purpose of Church is far greater than just making friends. But a church is not the Church unless the people in the church are friends. You may be wondering why the capital “C” and the lower case “c” in “Church” and “church.” Well, the lower case “c” stands for the local church. Local churches can be out of whack, misguided, and distracted. That’s why we have developed a vocabulary to distinguish a local church from the Church universal. The Church universal is the Church that God intended and consists of people who are totally surrendered to God who reside in all churches. Hopefully, the local church reflects the Church universal, but we all know that is not always the case. We will not reach perfection this side of the grave, but that does not mean that we should not strive for it.

Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” [John 13:34-35 (ESV)].

In the Church, people connect with one another in real, meaningful ways. A healthy church doesn’t care if you are well connected to people in the church or have lived in town forever; a healthy church cares whether you are connected to God through Jesus our Savior and King. That is the connection that matters. Whether you are a new resident to town or a long-time towner does not matter; all that matters is Jesus.

So if you’re struggling to connect with people as a new or even as a long-time resident in a small town, I encourage you to get involved in a church. But look for a church where the relationships within it reflect the love of Jesus.

Churches are not immune to acting like the Montagues and Capulets, Christians and non-Christians. Unfortunately, they are pretty prone to that dysfunctional fallacy. A healthy church is not one who views society as us versus them, Christians versus non-Christians. The paradigm in a healthy church is us loving them, Christians loving our neighbors, enemies and everyone around us. Christians are not better than anyone else. Neither are towners. The healthy church is to be known by its love, not by its elite status as being part of the “in crowd.” A healthy town should be the same.

May we all strive to be more loving to people we know and people we don’t, so that we can reflect the love of Jesus in this world.