Posts tagged ‘Life’

+ In Memoriam: George H.W. Bush +

When George H.W. Bush passed away nearly a week and a half ago, our nation lost a statesman, a war hero, and a president.

State funerals are relatively rare, but Mr. Bush, thanks in large part to his service to our nation as its president, received one.  However, when his son, George W. Bush, stood in the pulpit of the staid and storied National Cathedral to deliver a eulogy, he spoke not so much of Mr. Bush as a president, but as his father.  He reminisced:

To us, he was close to perfect.  But not totally perfect.  His short game was lousy.  He wasn’t exactly Fred Astaire on the dance floor.  The man couldn’t stomach vegetables, especially broccoli.  And by the way, he passed these genetic defects along to us.  Finally, every day of his 73 years of marriage, dad taught us all what it means to be a great husband.  He married his sweetheart.  He adored her.  He laughed and cried with her.  He was dedicated to her totally…

In his inaugural address, the 41st president of the United States said this:  “We cannot hope to only leave our children a bigger car, a bigger bank account.  We must hope to give them a sense of what it means to be a loyal friend, a loving parent.  A citizen who leaves his home, his neighborhood, and town better than he found it.  What do we want the men and women who work with us to say when we are no longer there?  That we were more driven to succeed than anyone around us, or that we stopped to ask if a sick child had gotten better, and stayed a moment there to trade a word of friendship?”  Well, dad, we’re gonna remember you for exactly that and much more.  And we are going to miss you.  Your decency, sincerity, and kind soul will stay with us forever.  So through our tears, let us know the blessings of knowing and loving you, a great and noble man, the best father a son or daughter can have.

It was this last line, at which the younger Bush choked up, that captured the hearts of many who were tuning into the service this past Wednesday, for his words were a reminder of what really matters in a life.  What is done from an oval-shaped office is certainly historically significant and nationally critical.  But what is done around a kitchen table is also significant and critical – perhaps even more so.  God calls us to love others personally long before He calls any of us to lead others politically.  George H.W. Bush knew this – and lived it.

In his book, The Road to Character, New York Times columnist David Brooks makes a distinction between what he calls “the resume virtues” and “the eulogy virtues.”  He writes:

Recently I’ve been thinking about the difference between the resume virtues and the eulogy virtues.  The resume virtues are the ones you list on your resume, the skills that you bring to the job market and that contribute to external success.  The eulogy virtues are deeper.  They’re the virtues that get talked about at your funeral, the ones that exist at the core of your being – whether you are kind, brave, honest or faithful; what kind of relationships you formed.

At Mr. Bush’s funeral, the eulogy virtues were certainly on display.  And at a time when many are openly questioning whether or not these types of virtues really matter in public service, the life of George H.W. Bush reminds us that they certainly do.  The virtues we cultivate shape the decisions we make, the wisdom we display, and the legacy we leave.

With all of this being said, we must remember that, for all of George H.W. Bush’s commendable and imitable virtues, nobody is perfect.  The younger Bush said as much about his father.  But, of course, human imperfection goes far deeper and into much more shameful territory than the humorous examples given by George W. Bush of George H.W. Bush.  The younger Bush pulled a rhetorical sleight of hand as he spoke not so much of his father’s imperfections, but of his idiosyncrasies.  But each casket is a reminder that each of us has been infected by real imperfection, the wages of which is death (Romans 6:23).  This is why, as great and as needed as eulogy virtues are, they are not enough.  Something more is needed.

Albert Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, pointed out that, at a certain moment in last Wednesday’s funeral service, during one of the prayers, Mr. Bush went from being referred to as “President George Herbert Walker Bush” and instead began being referred to as “our brother George.”  This was liturgically intentional.  The greatest thing that can be said about George H.W. Bush was not that he was a successful man with many resume virtues.  But it is also not that he was a good man with many eulogy virtues.  Instead, the greatest thing that can be said about George H.W. Bush was that he was a redeemed man, brought into the family of God by the blood of Christ – a brother in Christ.

The eulogy virtues extolled at last week’s funeral leave legacies, which make them of inestimable importance.  Redemption, however, gives hope, which makes it of eternal significance.  Our brother George may have been a good man, but, even better, one day, through faith in Christ, he will be a resurrected man.  His casket will be empty and last week’s funeral will be undone.  That’s Christ’s promise.  And that’s our hope.

Come, Lord Jesus.

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December 10, 2018 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Digitizing Life After Death

Digital Brain

Credit: Martin420

There seems to be something hardwired into humans that wants to cheat death.  Writing for NBC News, Kevin Van Aelst, in his article “Disrupting death: Technologists explore ways to digitize life,” chronicles a new bevy of scientific experiments designed to con the grim reaper.

In one experiment, researchers work at mapping brain connections in an attempt to digitize the mind so that, even after a body dies, a “human being can live in on virtual form.”  In another experiment:

Artificial intelligence specialists are developing digital avatars that replicate users’ personalities and can continue to communicate with loved ones after their owners have passed away … The program, Augmented Eternity, will then be able to communicate memories of your life and answer questions on certain topics, such as your political views, depending on what information is stored in your data.

Even before these technologies have been thoroughly tested and refined, their limits are glaring.  Having someone live on as a digitized mind makes bioethicist John Harris wonder, because “we are so much flesh and blood creatures,” what it would be like to “continue to exist in a disembodied state.”  Another woman, who created an avatar of a friend she lost, describes the avatar as a “sort of digital tomb to come to and mourn” and freely admits that her friend is no longer alive – at least in any sort of meaningful way.  In other words, for all of science and technology’s attempts to cheat death, its reality and finality still loom large.

Christ does what science and technology cannot.  All of our experiments, from digitizing minds to fashioning avatars, only succeed in mimicking life after death.  Christ actually gives life after death.  As He says to Martha: “I am the resurrection and the life.  The one who believes in Me will live, even though they die” (John 11:25).  The Christian hope is much more than a digital grave that a person can pay a visit to in order to hear a phantom voice.  It is a real life that we are promised.

The scientific and technological advances that address life and death are both problematic in that they blur distinctions between the two and promising in that they give us insight into the two.  But whatever their problems and promises may be, this much is clear:  they will always only be partial.  Only Christ can give real life – a life that is “to the full” (John 10:10).

July 30, 2018 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

The Mandalay Bay Moves to Protect Itself

This past week, MGM Resorts International filed a lawsuit against the victims of last October’s Las Vegas shooting, when a gunman opened fire from his suite in the Mandalay Bay, an MGM property, into a group of concert goers below.  The lawsuit does not seek any money from the victims, but argues that MGM cannot be held responsible for any deaths, injuries, or damages that occurred during the shooting.  Legal experts believe that MGM is attempting to shield itself against protracted battles in state courts, which could be sympathetic to the victims, and instead push any cases up to the federal court system, which MGM believes to be more attuned to their interests.

This is the kind of story that invokes a reflexive revulsion in many.  There is a hotel that is suing shooting victims?

The Psalmist writes:

No one can redeem the life of another or give to God a ransom for them – the ransom for a life is costly, no payment is ever enough – so that they should live on forever and not see decay. (Psalm 49:7-9)

In a culture where lawsuits are plentiful, the Psalmist reminds us that, in a tragedy like the Las Vegas shooting, even the most lavish remuneration of cash does not lead to a restoration of life. This is not to say that negligent parties should not be held accountable and that monetary penalties should not be imposed; it is only to say that any action we take after death will always be incomplete.  This is because, ultimately, life is not a commodity, but a gift, and the only way to truly address the loss of one gift is with another, even greater, gift.  But what gift can be greater than that of a life?

Jesus offers a greater gift.  For He takes a life that is lost and replaces with a new life that is eternal.  He takes death itself – even when death rears its head in the most tragic ways imaginable, as in the case of the Mandalay Bay shooting – and turns it into an opportunity for an upgrade to a resurrected life with Christ for all who trust in Christ.  Christ does more than just pay for death.  He conquers it.  And Christ offers what no payment can – a promise that we can “live on forever and not see decay.”

I pray that MGM does the right thing and treats the victims of this terrible shooting, along with their families, with the respect and support they need and deserve, even if doing so costs the hotel chain some money.  I am thankful, however, that while MGM may rightly honor the lives lost, Jesus can actually restore them.

July 23, 2018 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

A Tragic Spate of Suicides

One week.  Two tragic deaths.

First, it was iconic fashion designer Kate Spade, who was found dead in her apartment Tuesday night after she had hung herself.  Then last Friday, it was celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain who, while working on an upcoming episode of his CNN show “Parts Unknown,” also hung himself at the hotel where he was staying in Kaysersberg, France.

We are facing nothing short of a suicide epidemic in our country.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that suicide rates are up almost 30 percent nationwide since 1999.  During this time period, only one state saw a decrease in suicides: Nevada.  And Nevada’s rate decreased by only 1 percent.  In North Dakota, the suicide rate jumped more than 57 percent during this time period.  In 2016, nearly 45,000 people took their own lives across the United States, making suicide more than twice as common as homicide and the tenth leading cause of death overall.

We have a problem.

Mental illness certainly plays a role in many of these terrible deaths.  But more than half of the suicides in 27 states involved people who had no known mental health concerns.

Of course, no explanation, no matter how clinical or comprehensive it may be, can ever even begin to blunt the pain of a life lost on those left behind.  Mental health diagnoses of diseases like clinical depression often only leave people wondering why physicians weren’t able to help.  Suicide notes often raise more question than they answer.  It seems no explanation can really answer the furious and frustrated one-word interrogation of “why?”.  This is because this is an interrogation birthed by pain and bathed in pain. You see, there is a creeping realization that comes with death – a realization that a person who was once with us has now gone away from us and we will no longer be able to see them, talk to them, or hold them.  As many a grieving person has muttered after the suicide of a loved one: they were taken from us too soon.

The horror of suicide needs some sort of hope.  But hope is hard to find in something as final and gruesome as death.  This is why we need the gospel, for the gospel reminds us that there is a death that undoes death.  While suicide takes people we love from us, the gospel declares that Jesus, out of love, gave His life for us.  As the apostle Paul puts it in Romans 5:8: “God demonstrates His own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Suicides may feel final, but the cross of Christ reminds us that they do not have to be.  The cross’s effects held on for three days before the cross was double-crossed by an empty tomb.  The effects of a dark moment of despair that leads to a tragic end by one’s own hand may hold on for a little longer, but their days too are numbered.  A resurrection is on its way.

And so, to anyone who is suffering, perhaps in silence, let me say simply this:  you do not have to escape despair through your own death, because despair has already been defeated by Jesus’ death.

He’s your reason to live.

If you’re struggling with thoughts of suicide, you are loved and there is help.  Talk to a counselor or a pastor at your church.  If you need immediate help, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.  Do it now.  The life God has given you is far too valuable to lose.

June 11, 2018 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Down Syndrome, Life, and Death

Baby Feet

When Eve gives birth to her first son, Cain, she declares, “With the help of the LORD I have brought forth a man” (Genesis 4:1).  With these words, Eve acknowledges a fundamental reality about conception, birth, and life in general:  without God, the creation and sustentation of life is impossible. Each life is a miracle of God and a gift from God.

Sadly, this reality has become lost on far too many.  Life is no longer hailed as something God gives, but is instead touted as something we can create and, even more disturbingly, control.  The latest example of this kind of thinking comes in an op-ed piece in The Washington Post by Ruth Marcus, the paper’s deputy editorial page editor, titled, “I would’ve aborted a fetus with Down syndrome. Women need that right.”  Ms. Marcus explains:

I have had two children; I was old enough, when I became pregnant, that it made sense to do the testing for Down syndrome.  Back then, it was amniocentesis, performed after 15 weeks; now, chorionic villus sampling can provide a conclusive determination as early as nine weeks.  I can say without hesitation that, tragic as it would have felt and ghastly as a second-trimester abortion would have been, I would have terminated those pregnancies had the testing come back positive.  I would have grieved the loss and moved on.

According to her opinion piece, Ms. Marcus’ concern over whether or not a woman should be able to abort a child with Down Syndrome comes, at least in part, because of HB205, a bill introduced by Utah State Representative Karianne Lisonbee, which would ban doctors in that state from performing abortions for the sole reason of a Down Syndrome diagnosis.  Ms. Marcus passionately defends her position, going even so far as to conclude:

Technological advances in prenatal testing pose difficult moral choices about what, if any, genetic anomaly or defect justifies an abortion.  Nearsightedness? Being short?  There are creepy, eugenic aspects of the new technology that call for vigorous public debate.  But in the end, the Constitution mandates – and a proper understanding of the rights of the individual against those of the state underscores – that these excruciating choices be left to individual women, not to government officials who believe they know best.

Ms. Marcus admits that choosing whether to keep or abort a baby based on certain physical traits or genetic anomalies has “creepy, eugenic aspects.”  But such moral maladies are not nearly unnerving enough for her to even consider the possibility that some sort guardrail may be good for the human will when it comes to abortion.  The ability to choose an abortion, in her view, is supreme and must remain unassailable.

Ms. Marcus flatly denies what Eve once declared: “With the help of the LORD I have brought forth a man.”  She has exculpated herself from the moral responsibilities intrinsic in the front phrase of Eve’s sentence and has left herself with only, “I have brought forth a man.”  She has made herself the source and sustainer of any life that comes from her womb.  And as the source and sustainer of such life, she believes that she should have the ability to decide whether the life inside of her is indeed worthy of life, or is instead better served by death.

Part of what makes Eve’s statement so intriguing is that it seems to be pious and prideful at the same time.  On the one hand, Eve acknowledges that God is the giver of life.  Indeed, Martin Luther notes that Eve may have believed her son “would be the man who would crush the head of the serpent”[1] – that is, she may have believed her son would be the Messiah God had promised in Genesis 3:15 after the fall into sin.  On the other hand, what she names her son is telling.  She names him “Cain,” which is a play on the Hebrew word for the phrase, “I have brought forth.”  Eve names her son in a way the emphasizes her action instead of God’s gift.

Countless years and 60 million American abortions later, this emphasis has not changed.  Maybe it should.  As the fall into sin reminds us, human sovereignty is never far away from human depravity, which is why our demand to be able to choose death never works as well as God’s sovereignty over life.

_____________________________________

[1] Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, vol. 1, Jaroslav Pelikan, ed. (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1958), 242.

March 19, 2018 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Advocating for Life

Screen Shot 2018-01-25 at 10.36.33 AM

Over these past few weeks, lots of big news has been breaking regarding the abortion industry.  Perhaps most notably, it was announced a week ago that Cecile Richards, who is the president of Planned Parenthood, has decided to step down from her position.  Mrs. Richards’ time at the helm of Planned Parenthood has been marked by scandal, as a series of exposés were published accusing her organization of trafficking fetal parts, and by a total of some 3.5 million abortions.

Also in the news, new research has been published in the controversial Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons, which claims to shed light on the emotional pain that many women experience after going through an abortion.  If the study’s findings are even close to accurate, they are shocking:

13% reported having visited a psychiatrist, psychologist, or counselor prior to the first pregnancy resulting in an abortion, compared to 67.5% who sought such professional services after their first abortion. Only 6.6% of respondents reported using prescription drugs for psychological health prior to the first pregnancy that ended in abortion, compared with 51% who reported prescription drug use after the first abortion.

Abortion, this study asserts, has deep, lasting, and adverse effects on women’s emotional health.

Digging deeper into the study, some of the individual responses given by women to researchers concerning how their abortions affected them are nothing short of heartbreaking.  When asked, “What are the most significant positives, if any, that have come from your decision to abort?” one woman responded:

None, there are no positives.  My life is no better, it is much worse.  I carry the pain of a child lost forever.  Although I know I am forgiven and have worked through the guilt and shame, the heart-wrenching pain is still there.  I would rather have been a single mother of two and have my baby here to love and dote on than the pain of empty arms.

Another woman explained:

My child is dead and by my own choice.  I spent years of anger, shame, and grief.  It damaged my relationship with my husband, my children, and my God.  For 30 years I did not speak of it to anyone but my husband.  My grief overwhelmed him and left him powerless and ashamed.  For years I cried every Sunday in church, experienced dark depressions, thoughts of suicide, and flashes of anger.

Clearly, the abortions these women endured were devastating to their emotional health.

Along with this research, there is also a proposed bill that addresses the care of babies who are born alive in failed abortion attempts.  Representative Marsha Blackburn has introduced the “Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act,” which requires doctors, if a baby is born alive during an attempted abortion, to provide the same level of care for that child that would be offered to any child born at the same gestational age and to immediately admit that child to a hospital for further care.  The House of Representatives has already passed the bill.  It now awaits consideration in the Senate.

In all this news, opponents of abortion, among which I count myself, have much on which to reflect.  A successful and, I should add, gigantic March for Life in Washington D.C. a few weeks ago demonstrates that the advocates for babies in the womb are both many and organized.  Through academic investigation, state and federal legislation, mass demonstration, and, of course, one-on-one conversation, the cause of life marches forward.  It marches forward for the babies who have yet to be born, and it marches forward for the women who have been emotionally scarred by their decisions to terminate their pregnancies.  Babies in the womb deserve our protection and advocacy.  Women who are hurting because of a decision to abort deserve our sympathy and support.  The devastation abortion leaves – both in the lives of mothers and the deaths of children – must be revealed for what it is.

As a Christian, I am a firm believer that life is stubborn.  It wants to triumph, even over death.  This the promise of Easter.  And this is what leads to hope for a world without abortion.

February 5, 2018 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

The Dogs of North Korea

The more we learn about North Korea, the more sickening the regime there looks.  Recently, U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley held a meeting on human rights in North Korea, which featured Ji Hyeon-A, a woman who escaped from North Korea to South Korea in 2007.  Fox News reported on her remarks:

“Pregnant women were forced into harsh labor all day,” she said. “At night, we heard pregnant mothers screaming and babies died without ever being able to see their mothers.”

North Korea does not allow for mixed-race babies, she said. At one detention center, she described how inmates starved to death. Their dead bodies, she said, were given to the guard dogs for food.

This is horrifying.  But it is also tragically common in this isolated nation.  So, how are we to respond?

First, we should pray for the protection of the citizens of North Korea.  Living under the nation’s current dictator, Kim Jong-un, or its prior dictator, Kim Jong-il, as did Ji Hyeon-A, has to be terrifying emotionally, psychologically, spiritually, and physically.  Just this past week it was reported that North Korea’s top military official, Hwang Pyong-so, second only to Kim Jong-il himself, is suspected dead after falling out of favor with the supreme leader.  In North Korea, there is no reasonable assurance of life.  Thus, prayers for the thousands whose lives are in danger every day are in order.  In Psalm 22, the Psalmist prays:

But You, LORD, do not be far from me. You are my strength; come quickly to help me. Deliver me from the sword, my precious life from the power of the dogs.  (Psalm 22:19-20)

The Psalmist’s prayer echoes an all-too-literal North Korean fear.  For those who face the grisly specter of being fed to dogs, we must pray.  For those who are oppressed or threatened in any way in North Korea, we must pray.

But we must go further.  Our prayers must include not only petitions for protection, but cries for justice.  The evil of the North Korean regime must be stopped.

When John has a vision of heaven in Revelation, he sees both those saved by God’s grace and those condemned by God’s judgment.  He explains the scene thusly:

Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city. Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.  (Revelation 22:14-15)

John offers a laundry list of those who will be “outside” salvation on the Last Day.  But what is most interesting about this list is who heads it: “the dogs.”  Considering dogs are such a ubiquitous part of American families that they have garnered the moniker of “man’s best friend,” the idea that dogs would be excluded from God’s kingdom may puzzle us.  But in the ancient world, dogs were considered to be not pets, but dangerous, disease-ridden scavengers.  They were reviled.  In his vision, then, John sees dogs as symbols of all that is evil.

Those who feed people who have died to literal dogs can only be called dogs themselves, in the biblical sense.  Yet, we have the assurance that, one day, these dogs will find themselves on the “outside,” just like John foresees – whether this means they lose power in this age, or in the age to come.

In Psalm 22, shortly before the Psalmist prays that God would deliver him from the dogs, he declares:

Dogs surround me, a pack of villains encircles me; they pierce my hands and my feet. (Psalm 22:16)

This psalm, it turns out, is not only a prayer for deliverance, but a prophecy of things to come – a prophecy of One who, just like in the psalm, would be surrounded by His enemies and pierced for them (Psalm 22:16; Luke 24:39), a prophecy of One who, just like in the psalm, would die humiliated as His enemies divided His clothes and cast lots for them (Psalm 22:18; Matthew 27:35), and a prophecy of one who, just like in the psalm, would cry out in despair, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me” (Psalm 22:1; Matthew 27:46)?

Jesus, just like the North Koreans, knew the horror of being surrounded by dogs while in the throes of death.  Jesus, just like the North Koreans, experienced the most diabolical evils humans could perpetrate.  But Jesus, while suffering death at the hands of evil, was not overcome by it.  The dogs that surrounded Him were defeated when His tomb turned up empty.  And the dogs that surround many in North Korea will be defeated when our tombs turn up empty too.

The dogs may maul.  But Jesus’ resurrection is the promise of their defeat, and it is offered to all.

December 18, 2017 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

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