Posts tagged ‘Resurrection’

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

Ireland Legalizes Abortion

This blog was one I was hoping I would not have to write.

When I first heard the news that Ireland was voting on a referendum to repeal the Eighth Amendment to its Constitution – which recognized that both a mother and her unborn baby have an equal right to life, effectively barring abortion-on-demand – I almost began preparing a blog under the assumption that the amendment was going to be overturned.  But then I saw that polls showed a narrowing contest.  So, I waited and hoped.  My hopes were not realized.

Ireland was the last major European nation to have broad restrictions in place against abortion.  The fact that legalized abortion-on-demand has come to yet another country grieves me deeply.  Here is why:

  • I am grieved because abortion clinics tend to market themselves to minority communities, leading to a devastating and decimating loss of life among these communities.
  • I am grieved because some men will use this repeal as a hammer to pressure their hookups, their girlfriends, and, perhaps, even their wives into getting abortions they don’t want in order to appease astonishingly selfish men who do not want to raise children they don’t think they need.
  • I am grieved because I know that, for many women, abortions leave emotional and spiritual scars of guilt, shame, and pain that often go unaddressed and unadmitted.
  • I am grieved because I know that some women will not fully or truly understand that they have traded the preciousness of life for a vaunted “choice” that only proves to be shadowy and sad.
  • I am grieved because I know that, before this referendum passed, some women in Ireland whose pregnancies imperiled their lives did not receive the medical attention they needed.
  • I am grieved because I know that some people who claim the name “Christian” have self-righteously condemned those who have gotten abortions.
  • I am grieved because thousands upon thousands of little lives will now be lost as abortion comes to yet another place.

Yes, I am grieved for many reasons.  And yet, at the same time I grieve, I am not, to borrow the juxtaposition the apostle Paul uses in 1 Thessalonians 4:13, grieving without hope.  Here, again, is why:

  • I am hopeful because I know that, even as abortion clinics set up shop in minority communities, churches are there too, offering clarity and care to expectant mothers in frightening situations.
  • I am hopeful because I know that, for every selfish man, there are many brave women who will push against the pressures and persuasions of self-centeredness and, instead, heroically raise children as single mothers, or even put up children for adoption as they seek to give their precious little ones good lives instead of tragic deaths.
  • I am hopeful because I know that even as many women will surely be hurt by the abortions they endure, many more women will also discover the healing and forgiving grace of Christ and will use their pain to help others make different decisions.
  • I am hopeful because I know that even a choice of death through an abortion cannot overcome the choice of God to grant life through His Son.
  • I am hopeful because I know that, at the same time some medical professionals are foolish and harmful in their opinions and practices, many more are careful, kind, and wise in how they approach and treat their patients.
  • I am hopeful because I know that, for all the people who self-righteously judge those who have gotten abortions, many more humbly help and demonstrate Christ’s love to those who desperately need compassion and care.
  • I am hopeful because I know that the millions of children who have been lost to abortion aren’t really lost, for abortion is no match for eternal life.

I grieve what has happened in Ireland.  I grieve what has been happening since 1973 in my own country.  But I do not grieve without hope.  Indeed, I cannot grieve without hope.  For I follow a man who, when He was confronted with His own death, responded to those who were bent on His execution by saying, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).  Christ confronts death with forgiveness.  I am hopeful that Christ will confront our decisions toward death in the same way.  Abortion may have won a vote, but I am still hopeful that life will win the victory.

May 28, 2018 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

The Resurrection of Jesus in History

Caravaggio_-_The_Incredulity_of_Saint_Thomas

Yesterday, Christians around the world gathered to celebrate the defining claim of their faith:  the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.  The apostle Paul is very frank in his estimation of the importance of Christ’s resurrection:

If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith … And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.  (1 Corinthians 15:14, 17)

Paul places the full weight of Christianity’s reality and practicality on the resurrection’s actuality.  If the resurrection is not a historical fact, Paul declares, then the whole of the Christian faith is foolish.

But how can we decipher whether or not the resurrection happened historically?  N.T. Wright, in his seminal work, The Resurrection of the Son of God, notes that the empty tomb of Jesus combined with appearances from Jesus offers a compelling testimony to the historicity of the resurrection.  If only there was only an empty tomb, Christians would not have been able to claim that Jesus rose from the dead.  Likewise, if there were only phantasms of someone who looked like Jesus, Christians could not have claimed a resurrection.

Wright explains the power of this combination thusly:

An empty tomb without any meetings with Jesus would have been a distressing puzzle, but not a long-term problem.  It would have proved nothing; it would have suggested nothing, except the fairly common practice of grave-robbery … Tombs were often robbed in the ancient world, adding to grief both insult and injury.[1]

Indeed, grave robbery was so common in the ancient world that emperor of Rome shortly after the time of Jesus, Claudius, issued an edict meant to intimidate anyone who would consider pillaging tombs:

Ordinance of Caesar.  It is my pleasure that graves and tombs remain undisturbed in perpetuity … If any man lay information that another has either demolished them, or has in any other way extracted the buried, or has maliciously transferred them to other places in order to wrong them, or has displaced the sealing or other stones, against such a one I order … the offender be sentenced to capital punishment.[2]

Apparently, the problem of grave robbery had become so pervasive that Claudius saw no other recourse to end it than to threaten capital punishment for it.  Wright consequently concludes:

Nobody in the pagan world would have interpreted an empty tomb as implying resurrection; everyone knew such a thing was out of the question.[3]

Wright continues by noting that mere appearances of Jesus alone could also not make a case for a resurrection:

‘Meetings’ with Jesus, likewise, could by themselves have been interpreted in a variety of ways.  Most people in the ancient world … knew that visions and appearances of recently dead people occurred … The ancient world as well as the modern knew the difference between visions and things that happen in the ‘real’ world.[4] 

It is only the combination of an empty tomb along with multiple appearances of Christ that could have given rise to the idea that Christ had, in actuality, risen from the dead.  This is part of Paul’s point when he writes that Christ “appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep” (1 Corinthians 15:6).  Paul knows that one person can suffer a delusion of a resurrection.  It is much more difficult for 500 people to have the same delusion.  And in case anyone has any questions about what these 500 saw, Paul notes that most of them are still living.  People can simply go ask them.

With all of this being said, a primary objection to the historical veracity of the resurrection remains, which is this:  dead people tend to stay that way.  I have never – and I would guess that you also have never – seen a dead person come back to life.  So how can we accept something as fact in the past when we cannot repeat it in the present?

Again, N.T. Wright offers two helpful thoughts.  The first is that history, by its very nature, is the study of that which is unrepeatable:

History is the study, not of repeatable events as in physics and chemistry, but of unrepeatable events.[5]

In other words, just because we cannot – and, in many cases should not – repeat historical events – such as the crash of the Hindenburg, the sinking of the Titanic, or the horrors of the Holocaust – does not mean that they did not happen.  To apply a standard of “repeatability” to the resurrection in order to accept its truthfulness is to apply a standard by which no other happening in history could be deemed true.

But second, and even more importantly, Wright explains that the early Christians themselves would agree that dead people stay dead!  This is what makes their claim that there was a dead person who did not stay that way all the more astounding:

The fact that dead people not ordinarily rise is itself part of early Christian belief, not an objection to it.  The early Christians insisted that what had happened to Jesus was precisely something new; was, indeed, the start of a whole new mode of existence, a new creation.  The fact that Jesus’ resurrection was, and remains, without analogy is not an objection to the early Christian claim.  It is part of the claim itself.[6]

The early Christians fully understood that what they were claiming was radically unique.  But they claimed it anyway.  Whatever one may think of the historicity of the resurrection, one must at least admit that the biblical witnesses saw something and experienced something that they could explain in no other way than in a bodily resurrection from death.

These considerations, of course, do not constitute an airtight or empirically verifiable case that the resurrection did, in fact, happen.  But history rarely affords us such luxuries.  Nevertheless, these considerations do present us with a case that makes the resurrection, according to the normal canons of history, highly probable and worthy of our consideration and, perhaps, even our embrace.  There is enough evidence that we must at least ask ourselves:  has Christ risen?  And the answer of not only Scripture, but of history, can come back, with sobriety and credibility:  Christ is risen!

Which is why, 2,000 years later, Easter is still worth celebrating.

___________________________________

[1] N.T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God (Minneapolis:  Fortress Press, 2003), 688.
[2] Ibid., 708-709.
[3] Ibid., 689.
[4] Ibid., 689, 690.
[5] Ibid., 686.
[6] Ibid., 712.

April 2, 2018 at 5:15 am 1 comment

The Austin Bombings Come To An End

The city of Austin is breathing a sigh of relief.  After a total of five explosions spread over 19 days, the man responsible for planting nail-filled bombs wrapped in innocent looking parcels on porches and sidewalks all over the city blew himself up as police officers were closing in to apprehend him near a northside Austin hotel in the early morning hours of last Wednesday.

The bomber turned out to be 23-year-old Mark Anthony Conditt from Pflugerville – a northeastern suburb of Austin.  According to his grandmother, he came from a tight-knit family, was homeschooled, and later attended Austin Community College, but did not graduate.

His family is shocked by his crimes and released a statement that reads, in part:

We are devastated and broken at the news that our family could be involved in such an awful way. We had no idea of the darkness that Mark must have been in … Right now our prayers are for those families that have lost loved ones, for those impacted in any way, and for the soul of our Mark. We are grieving and we are in shock.

There is no other word to describe Mark Conditt’s actions but “evil.”  Human depravity was on full display in this man’s attacks.  Thus, as our nation grapples with this sickening spate of bombings, it is worth it for us to reflect on the dangers of and collateral from human sin.  Here, then, are three thoughts on sin and its consequences.

Sin defies logic.

Following the Las Vegas shooting, when the motive of the gunman began to elude – and, to this day, still eludes – investigators, I wrote:

The questions of “why” will always be, in some sense, unanswerable – even if a motive is discovered and a record of the assailant’s thinking is uncovered … Sin never leads people to act sanely.

What was true then is still true now.  Even as law enforcement officials continue to try to untangle this bomber’s motives, it remains unfathomable how any grievance, any grudge, or any goal could drive anyone to commit these kinds of monstrous, and seemingly random, crimes.  And yet, what feels utterly inscrutable has a strange way of becoming tragically possible when the darkness of human depravity collides with the astounding faculties of our God-given rationality.  Sin corrupts and darkens minds.  It makes the unthinkable, reasonable and the ghastly, justifiable.  Mark Conditt’s actions are a consummate case-in-point.

Sin desires death.

The apostle Paul writes, “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23).  We can be tempted to excuse the apostle’s words here as a bit of hyperbole until we are confronted with a case like this.  The bomber’s sin took the lives of two innocent people and, ultimately, his sin cost him his own life.  Sin has a cunning way of leading us down a corridor to catastrophe before we even realize what is happening.  The alcoholic who poisons his liver, the reckless driver who is killed in an accident, and the despot who commits genocide against his own people are only a few examples of just how slippery the slope can be from sin to death.  And it’s awfully tough to stop ourselves halfway down the slope.  This is why it’s best not even to start down it.  The Psalmist says of God’s righteousness: “Your righteousness is like the highest mountains” (Psalm 36:6).  Let’s stay on the summit and off of the slopes.

Sin doesn’t succeed. 

This bomber saw five of his devilish devices detonated.  He did not succeed, however, in taking five lives.  This bomber thought he could perpetually terrorize a city.  His plans were frustrated, however, by law enforcement officials who deserve our gratitude.  This bomber’s sin got cut off and cut short again and again.  He did not succeed – at least not as much as he wanted to.

Sadly, the fact remains that two lives are still lost because of Mark Conditt. There is a 39-year-old father, Anthony Stephan House, who won’t be coming home to his 8-year-old daughter because of this bomber.  There is a 17-year-old aspiring musician, Draylen Mason, who will never get to experience college life at the University of Texas because of this bomber.

Even in these tragic cases, however, sin’s victory is tenuously temporary.  The Christian Church will celebrate this Sunday that Christ has conquered death.  And because Christ is risen, we too will rise.  To quote, once again, the apostle Paul: “Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Corinthians 15:20).  Nails on a cross could not hold Christ down.  And by faith in Him, nails from a bomb cannot take victims out.

This week, we can take comfort in these words:  Christ is risen.

March 26, 2018 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

In Memoriam: Billy Graham (1918-2018)

Billy Graham was 99 when he entered his rest with Jesus last Wednesday.  The man who was a pastor to presidents and plebeians alike leaves a legacy that is difficult to overestimate.  Reverend Graham accomplished many things over his long ministry.  He founded what has become the practically official periodical of evangelical Christianity, Christianity TodayHe served as the president of Youth for Christ and headed the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.  He steadfastly, but also humbly, confessed a traditional, broadly orthodox Christianity, defending such doctrines as justification by faith, the sufficiency of Christ as the world’s singular Savior, the reality of heaven and hell, and the inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture.  He declared these doctrines at a time when many churches, especially in the mid-twentieth-century, were drifting into modernism and began to deny these, along with many other, core tenets.  But Reverend Graham will perhaps be most remembered for his moving crusades, where he preached the gospel to stadiums chocked full of eager listeners and curious onlookers.  His association estimates that he preached the gospel to an estimated 215 million people in 185 countries over the course of his ministry.

I remember attending one of Billy Graham’s crusades as a child.  His passion for the gospel was infectious as his preaching resonated sonorously through the stadium in which I was sitting.  At the end of the evening, as he always did, he invited people to trust in Christ and come forward to receive prayer.  Thousands walked down to the stage that night as strains of “Just As I Am” wafted across the hall.  To say the least, it was a moving experience.

Whenever I remember my experience at this Billy Graham crusade, I am reminded of a conversation that Jesus has with Martha shortly after her brother Lazarus has died of a devastating illness.  Martha, understandably, is distraught and politely registers her disappointment that Jesus was not around before her brother died to lend some help and, perhaps, a miraculous healing to him.  “Lord,” Martha complains, “if You had been here, my brother would not have died” (John 11:21).  Jesus, who never intended to heal Lazarus of the sickness that ailed him, but instead to raise Lazarus from the death that overtook him, responds, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in Me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in Me will never die” (John 11:25-26).  These words are some of the most famous in Scripture not only because they describe what Jesus would do for Lazarus, but because they reveal who Jesus is for everyone.  Jesus is the resurrection and the life.  What is less famous, however, is the question that Jesus asks Martha next: “Do you believe this” (John 11:26)?

This simple question was the question behind every Billy Graham crusade.  After Reverend Graham would proclaim Christ and His death for sinners, after he would declare that Christ’s resurrection can mean your resurrection, and after he would explain how Christ can bear your burdens and carry your cares, he would ask, “Do you believe this?”

When Jesus asks this question of Martha, she responds, “Yes, Lord” (John 11:27).  When Reverend Graham asked it of millions, they responded with a “yes” as well.

As one who is part of the Lutheran confession of the Christian faith, I have, over the years, heard many in my tradition criticize Reverend Graham for the way in which he often spoke of faith in terms of a “decision.”  His ministry even publishes a magazine titled DecisionIt is certainly true that Scripture does not speak of faith as a decision of the will, but as a gift from God.  The apostle Paul writes, “It is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8).  Unfortunately, some in my tradition have become so concerned about the possibility of implying that faith is somehow an act of the will that they refuse to invite people to faith at all.  They forget to ask Jesus’ question: “Do you believe this?”

It is in this precious question of Christ that we can best come to understand and appreciate Reverend Graham’s legacy.  He was never afraid to ask this question.  And neither should we.  Sometimes, a simple invitation, because it is a reflection of Jesus’ invitation, bears the fruit of faith.  This is why this question is the question our world needs.  When was the last time you asked it?

Even without a sermon, a choir, and a stadium, when you ask this question, someone might just answer, “Yes.”  And all of heaven will rejoice (Luke 15:7) – including, with what I would guess might be an especially bright smile, Billy Graham.

February 26, 2018 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

The Parkland Innocents

It happened again, this time at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.  Near the close of the school day last Wednesday, a gunman opened fire in the high school’s freshman hall, killing 17 and wounding another 14.

The scenes that unfolded in Parkland have become achingly familiar. There were law enforcement officials swarming the campus.  There were kids filing out with their hands on their heads.  There were paramedics, rushing to stabilize the wounded and, awfully, to confirm the dead.

Besides the horror of the shooting itself, there is the added tragedy that the sheer volume of these kinds of events has, in some ways, deadened their effect on our collective psyche.  And yet, long after the SWAT teams and paramedics leave, long after the news crews move on to the next story, and long after the national attention fades, for the students and staff of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, the pain and terror of this shooting will remain.  Days like these may be forgotten by those who watch them on the news, but they will not be forgotten by those who live through them in real time.

Sadly, these types of tragedies have also become occasions for hot takes filled with political rancor, with those who offer their “thoughts and prayers” being labeled as disingenuous by some while those who argue for a debate on gun control being accused as opportunistic by others.  Fights erupt on social media while comfort and aid to victims often get overlooked.

As Christians, we are called to “mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15).  It is incumbent upon us, then, to care about and, if opportunities arise, to care for those who are affected.  While many in our culture are fighting predictably, we should be thinking critically about what events like these say about and mean for our culture so that we can offer a hopeful voice on behalf of the innocents who have had their lives unjustly extinguished.

According to the liturgical tradition of the Church, this past Wednesday was both Ash Wednesday and the Feast Day of Saint Valentine.  Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the season of Lent, when the Church focuses on Christ’s death and resurrection for us and for our salvation.  Saint Valentine was a third-century bishop in Rome who was beheaded for his faith, tradition has it, on February 14, 269.

The death of Saint Valentine reminds us that, all too often, innocents can unjustly lose their lives at the hands of evil perpetrators, as did the innocents in Parkland.  The season of Lent promises us, however, that even when innocents are killed, their lives are not ultimately lost.  For Lent points us to a moment when an innocent – The Innocent – was unjustly killed on a cross by evil perpetrators.  But in this instance, the evil perpetrators didn’t win.  The Innocent did when He conquered their cross.  And this Innocent promises life by faith in Him to the many innocents who have lost their lives since – be that by beating, by beheading, by blade, or by bullet.

A gunman took the lives of 17 students this past Wednesday.  But Jesus has plans to bring their lives back.

A rifleman, it turns out, is no match for a resurrection.

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

Charlie Gard and the Tenacity of Hope

Screen Shot 2017-07-05 at 5.49.30 PM

Credit:  Independent

There is a hardly a more compelling example of the ravages of disease warring against the hope for life than that of Charlie Gard.  Charlie is almost a year old now, born last August in the U.K.  Shortly after his birth, it was discovered that he had a rare genetic condition known as mitochondrial DNA depletion syndrome, which affects vital internal organs such as, as in Charlie’s case, the kidneys and brain.  At present, Charlie is being kept alive by a ventilator, but the hospital at which Charlie is staying asked a judge back in March to rule that life support should be discontinued, which the judge ruled in support of in April.  Charlie’s parents appealed the ruling, but did not get it overturned.  Both President Trump and Pope Francis have signaled their support for Charlie, with the pope even offering Charlie a spot at the Vatican pediatric hospital for continuing treatment.  Charlie’s parents have asked to have their son transferred to the U.S. for an experimental treatment, which has had some limited success, but the U.K. hospital has refused to do so, citing legal hurdles.

The issues in this dispute are legion.  Should a judge have the ability to trump parents’ wishes with regard to their own child, provided that the parents are seeking the genuine welfare and, in this case, the continued life, of their son?  Are Charlie’s parents seeking the correct course of action, considering their son is not able to live, at least at this point, apart from extraordinary and continuous medical intervention?  And what are the hopes for some sort of improvement or change in Charlie’s condition if he is moved elsewhere to receive treatment?

It is the last of these questions that is most captivating to me because it is the question that sits in the background of the first two questions.  The U.K. believes there is no real hope for Charlie’s recovery.  Charlie’s parents believe there is enough hope for, at minimum, some sort of improvement that they want to continue his life support and investigate an experimental treatment.  This battle royal, then, boils down to hope.

Over the course of my ministry, I have known more than one person who was terminally ill and, when presented with an option for an experimental treatment, declined and instead chose to go into hospice because they did not see any real hope for healing, even with the treatment.  This does not mean, however, that these people did not have any hope.  Their hope was simply located in a different place – not in a treatment, but in a Lord who can call even the dead to life.  Whether it is a temporary stay on death by means of a medical treatment, or an eternal resurrection on the Last Day by means of a trumpet call and a returning Christ, hope for life, it seems, will not be squelched.

Theologically, the irrepressibility of hope for life makes sense because, in the beginning, death was not part of God’s plan.  Contrary to Yoda, death is not a natural part of life – and we know it, even if only intuitively.  Death, Scripture says, is an enemy to be defeated.  And though Charlie’s parents cannot conquer death like Christ, they do seem voraciously intent on confronting death through the very best that medicine has to offer their son.

It does unsettle me that a judge would arrogate to himself the prerogative of telling two parents whether or not their son can receive a potentially life-saving treatment.  I will confess that, according to the information at hand, the hospital is probably correct in its estimation of Charlie’s recovery prospects.  But hope has a funny way of looking beyond the information at hand to divine intervention.  And that is a hope that is worth holding on to.  Indeed, as Christians, we know that is the hope Jesus died to give and rose to secure.  I hope the hospital and the British legal system can respect that hope.

July 10, 2017 at 5:15 am 2 comments

Reflections on London

Lodnon

As I finish my preparations for worship at Concordia tomorrow, I do so knowing that people across the world are hurting tonight as terrorists have launched an attack yet again, this time in London.

As I’ve been reflecting on another tragic night, I cannot help but hold out hope.  Here’s why.  Terrorists strike.  They quickly detonate a bomb, or mow down people using a car.  Terrorists strike.  Our God, however, does something more.  He abides.  He abides with us to comfort us in our distress.  He abides with us to dry our eyes when they are filled with tears.  He abides with us to give us strength when we are weak.  Terrorists strike.  Our God abides.

And abiding is better.

Abiding is better because it outlasts a strike.    Abiding is better because long after terrorists disappear into the shadows to plan their next sinister attack, our God remains by the sides of those who have lost loved ones.  Abiding is better because long after the police clear, loved ones are laid to rest, and today’s tragic story gets coopted by the next big tragic story, our God will not forget the events of this night.

One of my favorite hymns is “Abide with Me.”  Two of its verses are especially poignant to me tonight.  The first of these verses is for those who are mourning losses in these attacks.  The hymn reminds us of how Christ’s abiding presence can comfort us in our loss:

Come not in terrors, as the King of kings;
But kind and good, with healing in Thy wings;
Tears for all woes, a heart for every plea;
Come, Friend of sinners, and abide with me!

In a world of terror, we do not need Christ to be our terrible Judge.  Instead, we need Him to be our gentle Healer.  May Christ begin the healing process in all those who are grieving.

The second of the verses reminds us of the hope that we have for the lost:

I fear no foe, with Thee at hand to bless;
Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness:
Where is death’s sting? Where, grave, thy victory?
I triumph still if Thou abide with me.

Terrorists struck tonight.  And with them, death struck.  But when Christ abides with us, we triumph.

Terrorism doesn’t stand a chance.

Praying for London.

June 3, 2017 at 10:35 pm Leave a comment

Terror in Manchester

Manchester Town Hall

Terror struck again, this time at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England.  What began as a night of fun for fans of the pop music diva ended with 22 dead, many of them children, and 59 others wounded when a suicide bomber detonated himself in the middle of the concert arena.  ISIS quickly claimed responsibility for the attack, which was carried out by 22-year-old Salman Abedi who seems to have become radicalized after travelling to Syria.

Once again, the world is left struggling with what can only be described as a senseless and ghastly act of violence.  As I have after other similar attacks, I want to offer a few thoughts on how to process yet another week marred by a terrorist’s malice.  Here are three things to consider.

Sin is real.

In general, we want to believe that people are good.  Sure, there may an occasional evil outlier, but, overall, we like to assume that people are hardwired for goodness.  The steady stream of terrorist attacks, however, indicates differently.  Indeed, the tragedy in Manchester was the most widely reported terrorist attack of last week, but three additional attacks were also launched this past week – one in Egypt, another in the Philippines, and yet another in Indonesia.  Heinous acts of evil are rampant.  Sin is all too real.

It is true that the vast majority of people, thankfully, will never be party to a terrorist plot.  Every one of us, however, will struggle with some kind of sin.  Whether it be the sin of deception, or lust, or pride, or anger, none of us can escape the sirens of our sinister sides.  Because we live in a broken world, we have to live with the sad fact that the sin of terrorism will continue to be “out there.”  But because we ourselves are broken people, we also have to live with the sad fact that we will continue to struggle with sin in us.  The apostle Paul is right when he writes, “For all have sinned” (Romans 3:23).  Sin is real and is everywhere.

Righteousness is real.

We may struggle against sin, but we also yearn for righteousness.  We recoil in disgust against terrorism precisely because we know it’s wicked and we yearn for what is right.  But how do we know what is right and that terrorism is wrong?  Paul explains that, even if we do not know God, we know what is right and wrong because God has written righteousness on our hearts: “When [people], who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts” (Romans 2:14-15).  This is why, in the face of evil, we appeal to and press toward righteousness.

Justice is coming.

In his famous “I Have a Dream” speech, Martin Luther King Jr. declared, “We refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt.”  At a time when racism was rampant, Dr. King believed justice would ultimately triumph.  And although racism still spreads its ugly tentacles through our society, justice has been slowly but surely bludgeoning the evil of racism over the 54 years since Dr. King’s speech.  What is true of racism is also true of ISIS and other organizations like it.  The evil of ISIS is simply no match for the justice of God.  ISIS may delight in the death of the innocent, but a day will come when “there will be no more death” (Revelation 21:4), for “death will be swallowed up in victory” (1 Corinthians 15:54) through Christ.  Indeed, Christ has already defeated death by His resurrection.  And because of Christ’s resurrection, those who lose their lives in Him do not lose their lives forever.  Death, for them, is but a pause in the drumbeat of life.  Their resurrections are soon to come when Jesus comes.

So after a week when a terrorist did his worst, we can take comfort in the biblical promise of everlasting life.  To quote the poet and pastor John Donne:

One short sleep past, we wake eternally 
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.

May 29, 2017 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Death Is Dying

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Even as we celebrated Easter yesterday, it was difficult not to be burdened by the death we see around us every day.  This past Sunday, 44 worshipers lost their lives at St. George Church in Tanta and St. Mark’s Cathedral in Alexandria, both in Egypt, when ISIS suicide bombers detonated themselves in the middle of these churches’ Palm Sunday worship services.  Closer to home, in San Bernardino, a man signed himself into an elementary school at the front desk and then proceeded to walk into the classroom where his estranged wife was teaching and fatally shoot her while also wounding two students, one of whom later died from the injuries he sustained.  After his shooting spree, he took his own life.  Then, of course, earlier this month, there were the sarin gas attacks by the Assad regime against his own people in northwestern Syria.  Death is all around us.

And this is why I am so glad we get to celebrate Easter.

The story of Easter is a story of many things.  It is a story of joy, as the people close to Jesus realize the man who they thought was dead has risen.  It is a story of fear, as the women who come to the tomb that first Easter morning encounter angelic beings who startle and scare them with their fantastic message.  But it is also a story of subversion.  It is a story of subverting all those who prefer death to life.

N.T. Wright explains the subversive nature of Easter well:

Who…was it who didn’t want the dead to be raised?  Not simply the intellectually timid or the rationalists.  It was, and is, those in power, the social and intellectual tyrants and bullies; the Caesars who would be threatened by a Lord of the world who had defeated the tyrant’s last weapon, death itself; the Herods who would be horrified at the postmortem validation of the true King of the Jews.[1]

In a world where terrorist attacks, school shootings, and chemical bombings instill fear into all who see and hear about them, the resurrection of Jesus reminds us that, in the words of the prophet, “no weapon forged against [us] will prevail” (Isaiah 54:17), even if these weapons kill us, for “the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us” (2 Corinthians 4:14).  A tyrant may kill us.  But God will raise us.  This is Easter’s promise.  And this is why it is so good to celebrate Easter at a time like this.  For Easter reminds us that even if this world full of death, we need not fear.  Christ has risen.  And because He has risen, we will rise.

Take that, death.

___________________________________

[1] N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope (New York:  HarperOne, 2008), 75.

April 17, 2017 at 5:15 am 2 comments

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