Saturday, September 06, 2008

Dumb Commercials


Even dumber

Both ran several times during this afternoon's Ohio State-Ohio University football game. They're both mute-the-sound moments.

The first is absurdly juvenile. Both make zero sense. Think about this when you go back to work: People actually get paid for to write this stuff. And supposedly intelligent people, including Bill Gates and Jerry Seinfeld, appear in them.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Putting Things in Buckeye Perspective

This editorial cartoon from The Columbus Dispatch puts things in perspective, the woman in it asking the question that all Ohio State football fans have been wondering about all week long: Will Beanie Wells be able to play in tomorrow's game?

The answer is, "No." But hopefully, he'll be ready for next week's showdown with USC.

Go, Buckeyes!

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Where Do We Go When We Die?

Twice in the past two days I've been asked, “What happens to the follower of Jesus who dies? Do we go into some sort of sleepy holding pattern or do we go immediately to heaven with God?”

First, it should be said that people who entrust their lives to Jesus Christ can face death and what lies beyond with confidence.

The first-century preacher Paul writes in the New Testament portion of the Bible: “...we know that if the earthly tent we live in [our bodies] is destroyed, we have a building from God...eternal in the heavens.” [Second Corinthians 5:1]

From Jesus Himself, we have the assurance that all who believe in Him won’t forever be erased or go to hell, but live with God forever, something He tells us in the Bible’s most famous passage, John 3:16.

Jesus-Followers know that whatever lies ahead, they belong to Jesus Christ. period.

But the Bible seems to say two different things about what happens to followers of Christ when they die.

There are numerous passages that intimate believers fall asleep, awaiting what the Bible calls “the day of the Lord,” when Jesus returns and brings them back to life again.

In the Old Testament, for example, the book of Daniel says, “Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake; some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt.” [Daniel 12:2]

In a New Testament account of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, we’re told that Jesus knows that his friend, Lazarus, has died and says of it that Lazarus has “fallen asleep.” [John 11:11]

Paul, in another place in the New Testament, spoke of the more than 500 believers who had seen the risen Jesus, and then noted that while most were still living, some had “fallen asleep.” [First Corinthians 15:6]

On the other hand, there are passages of the Bible which intimate that the Christian’s transfer to heaven follows death immediately.

For example, there are the words Jesus spoke to one of the criminals executed on a cross at the same time as He was. The criminal turns from sin and pleads with Jesus, Who hardly had the look of a king at this point, “Jesus, remember me when you come into Your kingdom.” Jesus replies, “Truly, I tell you, today you will be with me in Pardise.” [Luke 23:39-43]

So, what are we to make of these seemingly conflicting teachings? An important principle to apply in understanding the Bible is this: When confronted with such apparent conflicts, we should avoid the easy-outs of harmonizing or of choosing one teaching over another.

Christians believe that the entire Bible was inspired by God. [Second Timothy 3:16] Nothing is there accidentally.

Beyond that, particularly as it relates to the New Testament’s witness for Jesus, the Bible is a far more historically-reliable document, written closer to the events it describes, than almost any other historical writings we have from the ancient world. The whole Bible deserves a fair hearing from fair-minded people.

So, I would say that these seemingly conflicting perspectives on what happens to the Christian who dies are both true.

I believe that these two teachings--death as sleep, on the one hand, and immediate transfer to eternity with the God we know in Christ, on the other--are really two perspectives of the same experience, two sides of a single coin.

From the earthly perspective, the believer has fallen asleep. They’ll remain that way, dead, as Jesus’ dead body remained from Good Friday through the first Easter Sunday morning, until Jesus returns and rouses them to life again.

But from the perspective of eternity, which is a state of timelessness, what C.S. Lewis called “the eternal now,” believers who have died already are in heaven, already in God’s presence.

This is what I believe. I could be wrong. But no matter the actual facts, believers in Jesus know, as Paul writes, that “whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.” [Romans 14:8

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

'When Tragedy Hits the Innocent'

Earlier today, at our church I had a discussion with our congregational Women of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, on the question of why God allows human suffering. I drew in part on a four-part series I wrote four years ago called, When Tragedy Hits the Innocent. Below are links to all four installments. I hope that you find them helpful.

Part One
Part Two
Part Three
Part Four

Lutheran Disaster Relief Needs Donations for Hurricane Gustav Recovery

[From the Southern Ohio Synod, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, comes the following press release.]

LDR [Lutheran Disaster Relief] Ohio is coordinating resources to assist over 2 million people who were evacuated when Hurricane Gustav struck the Gulf Shore states on September 1, 2008.

Funds are needed to transport the Disaster Response Shower Trailer to the Gulfport, Mississippi area. Additionally, donations of building supplies, furniture, and appliances are being accepted to fill the Disaster Response semi-truck. Funds are needed to cover transportation costs.

In the coming weeks, volunteers will be needed to start home repairs and rebuilds. Information for volunteer reception centers will be made available as the centers are established. Monetary donations will be used to assist families with special needs that are not addressed by government services.

To donate items for the semi-truck and for other information, please contact Mary Woodward, LDR Ohio Disaster Coordinator, at 740-732-6700. To make monetary donations, please forward donations to LDR Ohio, 810 Main St., Caldwell, Ohio 43724 or to donate online go to the Lutheran Disaster Response Hurricane Response website.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

The Cross: The Only Way to Life

[I shared this during worship with the people of Saint Matthew Lutheran Church in Logan, Ohio this morning.]

Matthew 16:21-28
As if it hasn’t lasted long enough already, we now have about nine weeks left in the US presidential election. Throughout this period, the candidates of both parties will tell us a lot of things, much of it things we want to hear designed to win us over.

Today’s Gospel lesson shows us that Jesus never took the advice of political “handlers.” Otherwise, He wouldn’t have said any of what He says to us today.

Let’s set the scene. Our lesson is a continuation of an incident that made up last Sunday’s Gospel lesson. In it, Jesus applauds the confession of one of his disciples. The man whose parents named him Simon confessed that Jesus was the Messiah, the Savior King for whom the Jews had been waiting for centuries. Jesus applauded the disciple’s confession, noting that the man had reached this conclusion about Jesus not through intellectual analysis or his emotions, but as a result of that truth being revealed by God to Simon’s open mind. And then, Jesus gave Simon a new name: Peter, a word meaning rock. On the rock of Simon’s confession, Jesus would build his church. Not even death would destroy His Church, Jesus says.

Immediately after this, Jesus tells Simon and the other disciples what would happen to Him as the Messiah: “I’m going to Jerusalem to be spurned by the leaders of our people, to suffer at their hands, to be executed at their prompting, and on the third day following my death, rise again.”

This isn’t what Simon the Rock of faith or the other disciples had in mind at all.

And it isn’t the sort of thing designed to win people over.

Nobody wants a Savor King, a Christ, Who suffers and dies, even if death is followed by resurrection.

Whether from love and loyalty for Jesus, or from fear that his dreams for peace and prosperity are being threatened, or from a combination of both fears, Peter's reaction to Jesus is immediate and forceful.

“God forbid, Lord” Peter tells Jesus, “this will never happen to you!” Then Jesus gives Simon a new name. Thundering with anger, Jesus says, “Get behind me, Satan.” Jesus goes on: “You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things, but on human things.”

Jesus was saying that the problem with the man who he’d just designated as the stand-in for the whole Church--for you and me--was being satanic, opposing the plans of God, because he spent too much time thinking like everybody else. Jesus drives His point home when He says, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”

What exactly did Jesus have in mind when He told us to take up our crosses and follow Him?

Father Andrew Greeley tells the fictional story of a family packing up to return home after a long summer vacation. The family’s oldest child is to be a senior in high school and the parents are dreading going back. They wish somehow they could freeze time and have their lives remain as they are. They feel so in control and so happy. But the high school senior finally talks sense to his parents. “We have to move on. We can’t live in the past without taking away the present and the future.” Wise words!

They remind me of the lyrics from the bridge of a song by the late Christian music pioneer Larry Norman: “It all comes down to who you crucify/You either kiss the future or the past goodbye.”

The cross that Jesus was calling Simon Peter and the other disciples to bear represented their very human dreams of comfort and ease, of vindication and revenge, of prosperity and power. They were the dreams that we all entertain.

Understandably, Peter and the overwhelming majority of those in first-century Judea held onto stubborn dreams that their country would be freed of the Romans when the Messiah came and that the Messiah would bring them endless prosperity. They would be control. That’s really what all of we earth-bound thinkers want when we’re completely honest.

But Jesus points out that’s faulty thinking. What good is it to have all the money and all the power we want in this life if their our real and most basic needs aren’t met? Or, as Jesus put it: “For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life?”

The real problem of Simon and his people, is our sin. That's our real problem too, our inborn alienation from God that causes us to turn away from God and that gives rise to all the stupid, tragic, horrible things we do to ourselves and to each other.

Taking up the cross means renouncing short-term gain in favor of living under the reign of the God we know in Jesus Christ.

The way of the cross isn’t the path we would choose if we were looking for self-preservation as the world sees self-preservation. But it’s the only way to the future that God wants to give to us, to eternity with God.

I’m terrified of water. It’s irrational, but because of my fear, I’ve never learned to swim. That’s why I could identify with the person I read about who was learning to swim.* He wanted to keep his foot on the bottom of the pool. But the instructor pointed out that there are no half measures in learning to swim. “If you keep yourself anchored there, you’ll never get the hang of it,” he said. In just the same way, if you and I are going to get the new life that Jesus wants to give us, we have to let go of the old life that’s pulling us down.

This call of Jesus to take up our cross and follow Him causes people to do strange things.

A couple I once knew joined a congregation that was struggling and had little to offer their family. Why had they done that when there were larger congregations with lots of programs and plenty of money just down the street? “Because,” the woman said, “we were looking for a place where we could serve. This congregation needed us more.” It was a strange thing to do, but that couple took up their cross to follow Jesus.

The pastor of a wealthy suburban church once shocked us by taking a call to a congregation that was in an impoverished area. “Why did you do that?” a colleague had asked. “Well,” he said, “this was the last place on earth we would have chosen to go. We figured that when God called us here, it was where we were supposed to be.” That pastor and his family bore the cross and followed Jesus.

A few weeks ago, Ann was visiting with old friends from Cincinnati when one of them made a racist joke about Senator Obama. Now, it doesn’t matter what your opinion of Obama or whether you intend to vote for him or not, racial prejudice is sin. Ann turned to her friend and said, “Vicky, I love you. But that isn’t funny.” Ann bore the cross, risking tearing up the moorings of acceptance from a friend, to follow Jesus in loving God and loving neighbor. I don’t know whether I would have chosen Christ or to protect myself at that moment. But I am proud and inspired by the choice Ann made!**

A man had been a quiet drunk for years. Although he made it to work each day and even rose within his company, his addiction to alcohol had frozen him emotionally and spiritually. At home, he had few real connections with his family. He drank because he couldn’t or didn’t want to deal with the messiness of life. He walled himself off beneath a veneer of booze and false optimism. It was too painful to him. One day though, he confided to a doctor friend that he had a problem. From then, he began a detox program and started the painful work of rebuilding his life. Why had he done that? He could have gone on and nobody would have been the wiser. He did it, he said, because he’d come to believe that exposing himself to the realities of life sober was better than anesthetizing himself from them with drink. He bore his cross. He committed himself to living life, to loving God and neighbor, no matter what pain and difficulty it might bring. The old self began to die so the new self, the self turned to God, could live.

And what about you? Are you protecting yourself from life, looking out for number one and so denying yourself the life with God that belongs to those who follow Jesus Christ?

It’s a life filled with challenges, to be sure. It’s not an easy way. But it is the way to eternity, the way to peace with God and peace with ourselves. The only way.

I pray that you—and I—will let God give us the faith and the courage to follow Jesus and so become the people and the church God calls us to be.

Take some time this week to do an inventory of your life. Is there anything in your life to which you’re clinging, even otherwise innocent things, that are preventing you from following Jesus. They may be as innocuous as spending too much time watching TV or as serious as withholding forgiveness or being abusive toward a family member. Whatever prevents you from following Jesus, take up the cross. Admit the problem to God. Enlist the help you need. And commit yourself to following Christ in every facet of your life. Amen

*This represents my own slight reworking of an illustration used by N.T. Wright in explaining this passage of the Bible.

**In the coming weeks of this campaign, you and I may face many such calls to carry the cross and follow Jesus when we're subjected to other bigoted jokes about senior citizens directed at John McCain and women directed at Sarah Palin. Those bigoted jokes will also be expressions of sin and as Christians, we can't allow ourselves to be party to them!

ABOUT THE ILLUSTRATION: I love the pen and ink representation of this passage created by Cerezo Barredo. Notice that Peter holds keys in his hands. Peter, the stand-in for the Church, holds the keys to the kingdom which Jesus entrusts to the Church: the power to declare or withhold the forgiveness of God, to repentant or unrepentant sinners, respectively. This is a great way of conveying the truth that the Church, composed of finite, sinful human beings, is both divine and human. Similarly, individual Christians are saints and sinners.

[This is an unadorned acoustic version of 'The Weight of the World' performed by the song's composer, the late Larry Norman. Throughout his life, Norman wrestled with his demons, but seemed always to come back to Christ. The performance here was originally part of a medley that cuts off the song abruptly. But it's a great song that has been covered by such diverse artists as Lost and Found and Ringo Starr.]

[You can donate to this site. See here for more information.]