I Wish I Were A Hobbit

Ok, confession time. I am a huge fan of the Lord of the Rings series by J. R. R. Tolkien. That isn’t to say that I dress like Gandalf on the weekends, but I have read the books and I own all three of the films (extended director’s edition…duh). This is partly because I love good literature and good movies. Both forms of Tolkien’s trilogy have their own flare, but in the end these are some wonderfully written books and great stories.

One of the reasons I love this story is that there are so many different cultures that Tolkien created and wrote about. This reflects one of the wonderful things about God, that he loves variety of all types, especially in people. Now as funny as it may be, I love the portrayal of the life of the hobbits in the beginning of the first installment of the story. When I watch the film I always wish that I could live in the shire. How cool would it be to live in that serene natural setting where life is simple and everything is good? The hobbits are good-natured, hearty, and, as we see in the story, courageous people. Maybe I just wish I could throw big parties outside under paper lanterns and eat off of clay dishes…or maybe I wish I could just be a writer and a gardener living in the woods. Ok, that may be a little much…

While this way of life is obviously fictional and a bit utopian, It gets me thinking about why I am drawn to it like I am. Perhaps there is something to the line in the prologue “all hobbits share a love for things that grow.” Perhaps this strikes a chord in us, the people whom God created and set in a garden of all places. Perhaps it is a natural environment like the shire where we are meant to thrive, a place where we could more readily understand the words of a Teacher who says “I am the vine, you are the branches.”

Now I’m no tree-hugger. I appreciate the advances of technology and the conveniences that it brings (I’m writing this on a computer after all). But maybe there are lessons to be learned from stories like this one. Maybe they can tell us something about ourselves.

If you find yourself drawn to something you see or read about in a story, a sense of adventure, of simplicity, or of courage, don’t be too quick to dismiss it. The heart can tell us things that we would otherwise be ignorant of. As C.S. Lewis (a contemporary and friend of Tolkien) wrote concerning heaven: “If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.” I think we were made for simplicity, made for courage, and made, ultimately, for the worship of God. If we listen, we will hear our hearts testify that this is true. Give it a try.

Body Systems and Systematic Theology

I was in the gym a few weeks ago, trying my hand at some standard “dip” exercises, when in the middle of my set I felt that all-too-familiar “twinge” of a muscle being pulled.
I think we’ve all felt that little pull, and I would guess that we all think the same thing when we do: “Hmm, that was interesting,” and continue with our workout. Which is exactly what I did.

But there was one problem: I couldn’t continue my workout. I stepped down away from the bars and tested the motion of my neck and shoulders. What I felt was not good. I thought I’d walk it off so I headed up toward the treadmills but no dice either. The pain in my neck was so bad that I couldn’t even walk without it bothering me. That’s never happened to me before.

As much as I hated to admit it, I knew it was time to bail. I headed out to my car and on the way home I knew this wasn’t going to go away by itself. I had to go to the chiropractor.

I’ll spare you all the boring details (I’m feeling much better now) but it got me thinking about the body and the many complexities that we walk around in every day. Muscles, tendons, vessels, vesicles, nerves, cells, membranes, plasms, and on and on it goes. Even things as superficial as what we eat or apply to the surface of our skin can have huge repercussions on all the systems in our body.

Similar to our physical body, the body of truth that we as Christians embrace is extremely complex. Have you ever been in a sermon or read a book and after talking to another person about it wondered if you (or the other person) got some sort of misprinted book in the wrong cover or hears a different language than you? It happens all the time! Partly due to our personality differences for sure, but also due to the largeness and intricacy of the truth scripture and the various interpretations and applications.

Let me point one thing out, and I hope you’ll understand me (see what I did there?). Before I do, let me say that I believe no one can fully comprehend who God is or what he has revealed in his word. It is full of mystery and we could spend endless lifetimes plumbing the depths of the truth he has revealed. But as I have looked at the scope of the scripture (in my limited lifespan) there is one principle that sticks out: the highest end of God’s work and word is to reflect the glory back to himself so that he may be worshiped, honored, and loved by all of his creation. It begins with him and goes back to him, as Paul says in Romans 11, “For from him, through him, and to him are all things.”

The second principle found in the bible is this: that human beings (and created things in general) can flourish greatly under the blessing of God and conversely suffer greatly without it. Sin is a perfect example of this because it leads to death. Most people don’t want to die, yet we are all drawn to sin’s powerful pull on our lives and surroundings. Ironic.

What is apparent to me is that sadly many people, sermons, songs, and books prefer to focus on the secondary reason for God’s doing everything (our benefit) and not the primary reason (his glory). It’s like food. Food was given to us first for our nourishment and second for our enjoyment. While some foods give cause to doubt this (Tiramisu? I mean, come on, that one HAS to be made just to ENJOY!), we get into lots of trouble when we mix the order of these purposes and pursue food for pleasure despite our nutritional needs.

What I want us to do today as Christians, is to work to look past our own immediate needs and see God’s great passion for his name and glory. He is God, after all, and the only one who is qualified to do everything to make himself look awesome.

LEAD is a Verb

Floss your teeth. Take a little string and run it in between your bicuspids to keep them clean. It’s so simple, and yet so difficult. Isn’t it funny how the most important things are hardest to do? Compliment your wife. Exercise thirty minutes a day. Read more. Simple sometimes seems impossible.

I can’t seem to get flossing down consistently. My flossing stints usually last about a week (hey, I’m trying to get better!). I don’t ever leave the brushing ritual behind (and hopefully I’m not killing people with my breath!), but every time I try to add another, albeit simple, task to that routine, it feels like trying to lift a boulder.

I, like many of you, want to be a good leader who faithfully stewards what God has given to me, but so often I find myself falling short. I seem to be too much intention and not enough action. Sadly we often judge ourselves on our intentions and others on their actions. I wonder what would happen if we could really see ourselves as others see us, by what we do instead of what we intend to do. As I’ve reflected on leadership, it just keeps coming to my mind in this simple phrase: Leadership is taking action.

Lead is a verb. No, not the heavy metal used to make bullets, I’m talking about leadership. So often the difference between great leadership and a lack thereof can be summed up in one word: action. Leaders take action.

I’ve resolved to learn this principle in my own life, taking baby steps along the way to try and get there. In what ways can I take action and help something make the journey from ideation to completion without falling off into oblivion along the way? I think it starts with picking up the floss and starting. One tooth at a time, one day at a time. I don’t have to floss every day of my life right now. I just have to floss this day. Action starts now, and it’s never too early or too late to start leading. Where can you start?

Imagination is the Heart (of the matter)

I’m sitting in an airplane taxiing down the runway towards the gate. I’ve just arrived back in Atlanta from an out of town vacation. I look out the window and notice one of the food service trucks getting ready for a plane to pull up to the gate. The side of the truck is brilliantly decorated with a photo of fresh green vegetables, wet with dew and looking like they were picked minutes before the picture was taken. Two things strike me about this image. First, it sticks out against the gray, dingy pavement and the exhaust-stained machinery all around it. Second, for a moment it actually makes me believe that the food on that plane is going to be good. Well, maybe not good, but at least better than if the truck just said “Food” on the side. Curious, isn’t it?

Imagination is a powerful faculty. In fact, as I’ve reflected on it, it is one of the most powerful things about our human minds. It is what makes marketing work. I can believe that the truck is carrying fresh healthy food because of the picture on the side of it. I believe that the salad from the fast food restaurant actually has real fruit in it because that is how it is marketed to me. Pictures tell a story and my imagination fills in the details.

Savvy shoppers understand this and can get around being duped by good marketing. But imagination is the engine behind some more serious dilemmas in life. Take fear for example. Most fear is 1% circumstance and 99% imagination. Swimming in the ocean, my fear of being eaten by some gigantic sea creature does not come from my experience but from my imagination. I have never even seen a gigantic sea creature in the ocean (in real life), but my mind (and memories of images placed there by movies and television) fills in the gaps for me and causes fear to rise up in me. In reality I’m perfectly safe…in the pool.

Lust is another perfect example of this. It is not the object of lust that makes it appealing, but rather what my imagination does with the object that creates the desire. Imagination takes an idea and runs wild with it, creating the illusion that it will make me happy. Reality is light years away from what lust promises. And yet imagination can be incredibly convincing! This is why pornography is so devastating. It simultaneously poisons the imagination with its illicit “steroids of fantasy,” while destroying the mind’s ability to imagine (because it leaves nothing to imagine). Lust is thus a lethal parasite to the imagination.

Knowing the truth about imagination helps me in three ways. First, it helps me see that the battle begins in my mind. So often I underestimate the importance of my thoughts. It is so vital that I learn to recognize destructive thoughts and take them captive in obedience to God’s word (2 Cor. 10:5).

Second, it helps me see that I am my biggest problem. Many of us make the mistake of blaming our problems on our surroundings. In fact, it is not the surroundings that are the source of our greatest struggle but what lies within us that leads us astray.

Finally, it clues me in to God’s design for my imagination. The imagination was given to us by God. It was meant to give us all kinds of insight into who he is and what he has done. The stories of the bible come to life through a sanctified imagination. That is why it is so vitally important to guard our minds and protect them so they can be used for God’s glory.

“Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.” 2 Timothy 2:7