Death Be Not Proud

21 10 2009

My friend Lewis died this month. Early in the morning, while studying, I received one of those dreaded phone calls telling me that Lewis had died in the early morning hours. As I drove to his home, I found myself praying for the extended family, for the girls (two precious girls of 11 and 18), and for his steadfast and unwavering wife of twenty years.  I asked the Lord for grace, peace, and faith over each person.  I asked the Lord for wisdom in what to say and how to say it.  None of us knows the right way to discuss death. 

Death, whenever it comes up in a conversation, is the show stopper.  No one wants to talk about death.  The topic has a unique way of sneaking up and surprising you.  Just when everyone is enjoying each other, someone mentions that that person just died or this person was killed in a car accident, whatever it might be, and no one can talk after that. From that point, everything else is, might I say, trivial. The jokes aren’t as funny, the story about the trip, not as interesting.  Death trumps everyone, everything, everytime.  It’s the grim reaper in the room.

Death is the specter in the night, dressed up as a kind of dark hooded medieval monk, appearing and then disappearing in the dark trees of our mind.  It is often the dreaded nightmare of fear, darkness, and aloneness.  We fear death don’t we?  Admit it.  We all have a deep dark secret…we fear dying.  We fear our loved one’s dying even more.

Death seems to be the end of everything, so conclusive, so, so, final.  Because of our finiteness and our own mental limitations we just can’t fully grasp death.  All we know is what we’ve experienced here on earth.  All we understand is what we’ve been taught, here in the three dimensional world.  Comparisons and abstract thoughts blend into the stories we’ve heard about death and dying.  What will it feel like?  Who will be there?  Is it true that there are angels in heaven? Is St. Peter really the main greeter at those pearly gates?  Are there really gates?

There is the story of Billy Graham, standing by the bedside of his maternal grandmother, who had been in and out of consciousness, when suddenly in a surprising moment of clarity, sat up and exclaimed, “I see them, they’re all there, and the angels, so beautiful…” and then she died.  What was that?  Was it one of those many supernatural moments that God gives to remind us that everything he’s been saying about eternity is true?  Could it be that God cares enough that he would want Billy Graham, arguably the greatest evangelist of the 20th century, to have a firsthand witness of the eternity he so boldly preached about? 

I think God knows that we can’t fully grasp death.  We can feel love, feel friendship, feel forgiveness, but whoever heard of feeling death? Death is not easy to understand.  It’s a mystery wrapped in an enigma.  I believe that God in His created order, never intended death for His creation.  Death wasn’t the perfect plan in the creation of Adam and Eve.  Death is not natural. Our hearts and minds were never created to fully comprehend death.

Life was the original purpose and plan. We get life.  Our minds and hearts enjoy thinking about life.  We love talking about it, experiencing it, reveling in it.  Life is cool to talk about.  Life is all about running, laughing, joking, falling in love, and friendships.  Life is three dimensional and fun.

Jesus taught us about life.  He even said, “I came that you might have life and that you might have it abundantly.” (John 10:10b)  Jesus, with consummate insight, is offering wild possibilities in His invitation.  Jesus wants to give us life, His brand of life, His way of living.  He wants us to really live.  Jesus is all about living.

On another occasion Jesus also said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father but through Me.” (John 14:6)  Jesus seems to be saying that “the way,” and “the truth,” and “the life” are all somehow wrapped in the same package.  Could it be that Jesus has given us a “way” of living?  Could it be that Jesus has given us the “truth” about life?

Jesus understands our questions, our false hopes, our fears about death.  And he has placed himself as the ultimate anecdote for fear.  He said, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. (John 11:25)  No grand teaching on fear.  No expansive sermon on dying.  Just a simple statement about faith and trust.  Jesus is placing himself as the answer to the sum of all our fears.  Not a theory, not an explanation, not a formula.  Jesus wants us to know that He is the resurrection from death.  He is the life. 

Do you see it?  Death has nothing to be proud of.  Death has no sting, no power, and no allure (1 Cor 15:55).  Jesus has conquered death with life (Romans 6:9-10).  Jesus is the life and he has defeated death on his terms. Jesus died on the cross, went down into hell, took the keys of death and the fear of death away from satan and has secured life (Hebrews 2:15; Ephesians 4:9).  Life is secure because Jesus secured it.

For the Jesus follower, death is now swallowed up with life!  Death means life.  Death cannot be proud for life has overtaken it.  We have nothing to fear.  Fear is ravaged by the hope of life.  Life rules in our minds if Jesus reigns in our hearts.

My friend Lewis isn’t dead.  Lewis is alive.  Lewis passed from the three dimensional world into the fourth dimension of life the way I want to pass someday.  He passed from this life in his sleep, in his bedroom, with his family nearby. Lewis passed with faith, with joy, with a purpose.  Lewis is healed of his brain tumor.  Right now Lewis is living the most active, joyful, productive life he has ever lived.  C.S. Lewis once said that death is just passing from one room to the next; from one reality to another.  My good friend Lewis got up out of his bed at 4am yesterday and walked into another room and met Jesus face to face.  Now that’s a great life!





ELCA Misstep leading to Division

8 10 2009

Many of you have asked about the latest in the earlier “ELCA Misstep” blog that I wrote several weeks ago. Here’s the latest from the OneNewsNow.com, TheChurchReport.com, and The Associated Press, as used by permission from my dear friend and Vice President of Pastoral Ministries at Focus on the Family, H.B. London.

Conservative Lutherans Gather

More than 1,200 biblically orthodox members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the nation’s largest Lutheran denomination, spent last weekend in suburban Indianapolis praying and discussing what can be done about the left-leaning policies of their denomination. Just last month, for example, the ELCA dropped a long-held ban on partnered homosexual clergy. Delegates eventually approved a resolution directing its steering committee to report back in one year on whether these conservative churches should stay within the ELCA, form their own denomination or join another.

The meeting was sponsored by Lutheran CORE (Coalition for Reform, but changed over the weekend to Coalition for Renewal). Mark Chavez, president of Lutheran CORE, explained the need for the weekend meeting: “It’s primarily about gathering those who have had their denomination, namely the ELCA, withdraw from the Christian faith and pull away from most other Christian churches in the world.”

Chavez also commented on a letter written to denominational leaders by the presiding bishop of the ELCA, which warned of a disaster if conservative church members withhold funds: “It’s clearly an attempt to shift the responsibility for the crisis in the ELCA to those who continue to practice and believe what the ELCA says it believes — that the inspired Word of God in the Old and New Testaments [is] the authoritative source and norm for our faith.”

Lutheran CORE’s chairman, 71-year-old Rev. Paull Spring, a pastor for 44 years, received a standing ovation Friday night when he said, “God is calling us to do something. The ELCA has fallen into heresy. It is a time for confession and a time to resist. It is, please God, also a time for new life and transformation and for mission.”

“We are not dividing the church. The church is already divided,” said Rev. Paul Ulring, a member of the Lutheran CORE steering committee. “We’re just mopping up what the church did.”

“We now have two churches within one organizational structure. One church emphasizes Bible and theology; the other culture and experience,” said Rev. Kenneth Sauer in his opening remarks to the weekend convocation. “There are deep divisions over the fundamental meaning of the Gospel, the authority of Scripture and the purpose and work of the Holy Spirit. The division reaches into congregations, synods, and seminaries and agencies.” [OneNewsNow.com, TheChurchReport.com, The Associated Press]

Let’s keep the ELCA in our prayers. As predicted by many who have watched such theological charades for many years, chances are strong that this will be one of those divisively defining issues within a denomination.

There are wonderful pastors on both sides of the issue, and the breaking of fellowship will be very painful and frustrating. It’s a denominational divorce that will hurt the children more than the parents. Having grown up in the ELCA, my heart breaks for what I believe breaks the heart of God.

Carpe Diem Gloriae Dei,

Steve





ELCA Misstep leading to Division

8 10 2009

 

Many of you have asked about the latest in the earlier “ELCA Misstep” blog that I wrote several weeks ago.  Here’s the latest from the OneNewsNow.com, TheChurchReport.com, and The Associated Press, as used by permission from my dear friend and Vice President of Pastoral Ministries at Focus on the Family, H.B. London.

Conservative Lutherans Gather

More than 1,200 biblically orthodox members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the nation’s largest Lutheran denomination, spent last weekend in suburban Indianapolis praying and discussing what can be done about the left-leaning policies of their denomination. Just last month, for example, the ELCA dropped a long-held ban on partnered homosexual clergy. Delegates eventually approved a resolution directing its steering committee to report back in one year on whether these conservative churches should stay within the ELCA, form their own denomination or join another.

The meeting was sponsored by Lutheran CORE (Coalition for Reform, but changed over the weekend to Coalition for Renewal). Mark Chavez, president of Lutheran CORE, explained the need for the weekend meeting: “It’s primarily about gathering those who have had their denomination, namely the ELCA, withdraw from the Christian faith and pull away from most other Christian churches in the world.”

Chavez also commented on a letter written to denominational leaders by the presiding bishop of the ELCA, which warned of a disaster if conservative church members withhold funds: “It’s clearly an attempt to shift the responsibility for the crisis in the ELCA to those who continue to practice and believe what the ELCA says it believes — that the inspired Word of God in the Old and New Testaments [is] the authoritative source and norm for our faith.”

Lutheran CORE’s chairman, 71-year-old Rev. Paull Spring, a pastor for 44 years, received a standing ovation Friday night when he said, “God is calling us to do something. The ELCA has fallen into heresy. It is a time for confession and a time to resist. It is, please God, also a time for new life and transformation and for mission.”

“We are not dividing the church. The church is already divided,” said Rev. Paul Ulring, a member of the Lutheran CORE steering committee. “We’re just mopping up what the church did.”

“We now have two churches within one organizational structure. One church emphasizes Bible and theology; the other culture and experience,” said Rev. Kenneth Sauer in his opening remarks to the weekend convocation. “There are deep divisions over the fundamental meaning of the Gospel, the authority of Scripture and the purpose and work of the Holy Spirit. The division reaches into congregations, synods, and seminaries and agencies.” [OneNewsNow.com, TheChurchReport.com, The Associated Press]

Let’s keep the ELCA in our prayers.  As predicted by many who have watched such theological charades for many years, chances are strong that this will be one of those divisively defining issues within a denomination. 

There are wonderful pastors on both sides of the issue, and the breaking of fellowship will be very painful and frustrating.  It’s a denominational divorce that will hurt the children more than the parents.  Having grown up in the ELCA, my heart breaks for what I believe breaks the heart of God.

Carpe Diem Gloriae Dei,

Steve