How To Think About Orlando

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You have certainly seen the headlines by now.

‘Voice’ singer Christina Grimmie shot and killed at Orlando concert venue

Shooter Opens Fire In Nightclub In Orlando

Alligator Snatches Toddler In Front Of Parents At Disney Resort

The question has surely come up in your mind: What in the world is going on in Orlando? After all, you understand the basics of math.  y=mx + B. With three plot points, one can see the forming of a line that appears to be sloping in the negative direction and that only can mean a downward spiral for Orlando.  It’s over.  Get outta the city as fast as you can.  There is no hope.  There is no opportunity for rebound.

As a Baylor grad and former Waco resident, I have wrestled with similar headlines before.  Branch Davidians, Baylor Basketball Scandal, Baylor Football Scandal. And, I have asked, What in the world is going on in Waco? 

But perhaps I could even ask this question in general — what are we to do when we experience a series of common events occurring in rapid succession in one particular area of life?  Because, this is much bigger than Orlando. And this is much bigger than Waco. This is a downward spiral of Job-like proportions.  And, it is far more common to life than many of us may realize.

Consider this common scenario: A woman comes home to find that her mate has walked out on her and the children.  As divorce papers are finalizing, the woman learns that her job is being eliminated. As the woman is putting their for sale sign in the front lawn, headlines indicate a cooling of the housing market.  When crying on the phone with her lawyer, the woman learns that one of her children is sick with a cold. What is she to do?

Or this scenario: Its an election year and supreme court nominations and who do I vote for and where is our country heading? What are people to do?

So. What should we do with these kinds of plot points in life?  And is there anything that can inform the way we live so that we don’t end up in a massive depression?

The Bible And God’s Providence

The place to begin is with Truth.  In the time when Jesus walked the earth, people in these types of situations would often ask, “Who sinned, this man or his family?” In their superstitious worldview, they would interpret these kinds of successive events as eternal punishments from an angry God in response to one’s personal holiness, cleanliness, or obedience.  This is not unlike the eastern notion of Karma, where good deeds are rewarded with good fortune and bad deeds in kind.

But Jesus doesn’t respond to this question with affirmation.  Instead he answered:

“It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” John 9:3-5 (ESV)

In this short reply, Jesus reminds us of several important ideas which speak to Orlando, Waco, and our own plot points of despair:

  1. God’s got this.  God is sovereign.  He is in charge.  Nothing, and I mean nothing, occurs without His permission. And He is working in this for His glory and for the good of His people (Romans 8:28).  This idea reminds us that even when events prompt hopelessness, we can still have hope in Jesus.
  2. We don’t live in Paradise yet.  In Genesis 3 we learn that humanity was removed from the perfect garden because of their willful choice to exalt self over God.  When sin entered the world, the world fell  in every way.  This idea helps us to understand why there is so much animosity between mankind.  This idea helps us to understand why there is so much animosity between man and beast.  This idea helps provide a framework for mental illness, for evil choices, hate crimes, and for tragedy.
  3. There is still work to do.  Jesus says later in John 10:10, “The thief (Satan) comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” The fact that so much evil exists, in part, reminds us of the Jesus work Christians have to do. The reason we are still alive is to help make others alive in Jesus.

Processing The Plot Points

So with this truth from John 9 in mind, I want to offer some thoughts on how to process through the plot points, whether you are thinking about Orlando, or whether you are thinking about your own personal downward spiral.

  1. Anxiety is normal, but don’t let it master you. I want to encourage us with what Paul writes in Philippians 4:6-7, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”  Anxiety often accompanies plot points of despair.  And God knows this.  That is why he has given us an antidote called prayer.  In praying to God, we get to do two significant things:
    1. We get to thank Him for everything he has given us.  With a background of thankfulness in view, our three measly plot points don’t get to seem so unbearable.  We remember that God has taken care of us in the past and God will take care of us in the future.
    2. We get to make prayer requests to God.  Supplication (Asking for God to supply) is a really good discipline because it reminds your soul as it reminds God that He is the only one who can really help you.  When you request things of God, you basically praise Him for his sole helpful ability.
  2. The slippery slope feels real, but it is not. Fatalism is the idea that we are all trolly cars linked to a defined route on a street and that once we jump on the trolly car of life, God is moving us towards a predefined point that we can’t change.  This view makes us prisoners of life on a slippery slope.  The only problem with this view is that it A: has been disproven in the experienced lives of far too many people to be a comprehensive explanation of reality and B: is not what the Bible says. The Bible tells us that God provides for creation in a way that a father provides for his children (Matthew 7:7). Within the framework of a father/child relationship we know that sometimes a child goes through rough season, but that never hinders a father from providing for his children.

The Big Take Away

Three plot points are not enough to invalidate the amazing, surpassing, sovereign work of the Creator of the universe.  Even though it is tragic, scary, and unnerving to read the news today, know this Christian: God’s got this. And, He will continue to provide for and care for His children. And He will continue to give His children opportunities to share Christ so that they can bring friends with them to be with Him in Heaven.

 

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12 Thoughts on 12 Years of Marriage

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My wife and I have been married for 12 years.  We dated for a year and a half before getting engaged, which lasted one full year — so technically, my wife and I have been an item for 14 years.  Nonetheless, we celebrated 12 happy years of marriage this re-ast weekend and in turn I thought I would trot out 12 nuggets of thusfar-wisdom about married life, specifically from a Christian perspective. Here goes:

  1. Marriage really is like a Navy SEALs training program for character development. One week into marriage and I realized just how selfish I was.  12 years in, I am fully aware of my own depravity and tendency towards selfishness (BTW: Having kids is like the Navy SEALs version of the Navy SEALs version of character development). I used to have a routine that was intricately built upon my precise needs.  Then I got married and had to develop a routine that was built upon my precise needs, precisely when my wife’s needs did not interfere with my needs.  In other words, I had to start thinking about someone other than myself.  And it has been an incredibly helpful thing. In the process of marriage I have learned to consider others before myself.
  2. When someone truly loves you for who you are, it is one of the most amazing things in the world.  Think about it. You brush your teeth — a fairly revealing act about the true nature of your mouth area — in front of someone with whom you are trying to woo.  This doesn’t appear to be a pleasing gesture at first thought.  In fact, there is no way to redeem the process of brushing slimy gunk from your teeth and mouth roof.  Also, hurling all of that bile into a sink is equally gross to display in front of another.  However, when that person looks at you and smiles and says, “I love you” even with mouth bile still residing in the sink…you come to realize that you don’t have to fake it any longer.  That, my friends, is powerfully freeing.  In marriage, you get to be the real you.  You don’t have to fake it till you make it.  You get to be you, mouth nastiness and all.  And someone loves you — unconditionally.  And at this moment, you get to see a small glimpse of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
  3. Marriage is not the antidote for singleness.  Community is the antidote for isolation.  I was in community before I got married.  Marriage is just a particular form of community.  But I know lots of people who practice isolation before getting married and then they get married and are still isolated. Marriage cannot cure isolation.  But community can.  Singleness does not mean lack of community.  But often single adults are in isolation.  Marriage will not solve this.  Community will.
  4. Adventures are important for marriage.  Whether it is visiting new cities or taking staycations in your neck of the woods, healthy marriages are fueled by common experiences together.  My recommendation for any married couple is to plan for and save for adventures together.  Seriously, it is worth it.  Natalie and I were tallying it up and we have visited East Coast, West Coast, Southeast, Midwest, Canada, Mexico, Africa, and Europe together.  While these travels have broadened our horizons, they have even more so fueled our marriage.  It is not that I have visited San Francisco – it is that I have visited San Francisco with Natalie.  We have tons of shared experiences and endless inside jokes together.
  5. The ministry of home is an irresistible force for good.  As I have documented before, Natalie and I regularly have people over to our home for meals, Bible studies, and parties.  Our homes have become a location where we have seen God do amazing works of transformation. We tell couples in our pre-marital ministry to consider buying a home with ministry in mind.  One of the best things you can do is invite people over to eat dinner with you and watch how a Christian family works – it is a powerful way to model the gospel.
  6. My wife is really amazing. Seriously.
  7. That being said, I was not 100% knowledgable about who my wife was when we were preparing for marriage. And this is okay.  I knew that Natalie had strong character.  I knew she was a Christian.  I knew we had a basic chemistry.  I knew she went to bed early and was an early riser.  I knew she was frugal with money.  I knew she was adamant about gathering with a church family on Sundays to worship.  I knew she wanted to be a pastor’s wife.  These were all qualities I wanted in a spouse.  What I didn’t know, that I was pleasantly surprised to discover, is that Natalie is passionate about order in the home and in life.  This has resulted in our home being consistently perceived as hospitable and friendly to guests.  What I didn’t know is that Natalie is a rule follower.  This means that Natalie is able to hold me accountable, not to her standards, but to my own standards.  She is my biggest cheerleader, and my life coach.  All this to say — if you are engaged and reasonably sure that the person you are marrying is right for you, just understand that there is a whole lot more coming down the pipeline.  Again — this is not only okay, it is part of the adventure of marriage.
  8. Even with the best prep work, prayer, and persistence, marriage can have some difficult seasons.  Although I can look back and remember some past seasons of marriage as challenging, these seasons don’t affect us in the present.  Lets just say that up front.  However, in the midst of the particular struggle, it was a struggle.  For better or worse includes the worse and it can be the worst.  But God has been faithful to get us through them all.
  9. Mentors have been crucial for us.  Older couples.  Older singles. Wise people.  People with stories.  All of them have helped us. And this hasn’t happened by accident.  First, God has brought people into contact with us.  Second, we have actively sought out, cultivated, and kept up with many of these people.  Being mentored is both a passive and an active task and it is has been vital for the health of our marriage.
  10. Date nights are not optional.  And by date nights, I mean regular moments where the two of us connect.  Generally, this involves some type of foodstuff — coffee, tea, dessert, meal, whatever.  But Natalie and I have aimed to have a regular time just to connect with each other and assess how we are doing as individuals and as a family.  It has also given us an opportunity to go on adventures to check out the local food scene in the places we have lived.
  11. The honeymoon doesn’t have to end.  The best thing about the honeymoon is that it seems like you are living in a consequence free environment with almost no concern for the cares of the world.  And while the magical non-consequential attitude of the honeymoon leaves the minute you get back to the real world, the sense of awe, wonder, and fascination with your new mate doesn’t have to stay in the honeymoon suite.  This is why adventure is so important.  This is why date nights are important.  This is why anniversary trips are important.  Natalie and I don’t actually celebrate anniversaries, as much as we celebrate the anniversary of our honeymoon.  This has been an intentional value that helps fuel our marriage.
  12. Marriage does get better with age.  Anyone who tells you otherwise is misleading you.  I think each passing year our marriage gets easier to sustain and better in quality.  Ours is a shining example of why the “marriages have an expiration date” logic is flawed in its very foundations.  Marriages are supposed to go the distance.  They should last 40, 50, 60, 70 years.  They are a highly stable institution.  And the reason for the stability is because marriage is so fulfilling and enjoyable.  Probably because God invented it.

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Its Art…Or Just Someone’s Glasses?

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Perhaps you have had a similar experience — you are sitting through an English or Art class and your classmates seem to intuitively grasp some deep meaning within a story of literature or work of art. Meanwhile, you are looking at the cover of the book or straining  with a puzzled gaze at the work of art thinking, “Is there really some deeper meaning in all of this?”

Well, two teenagers in San Francisco decided to call BS on the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art this past month.  Having walked through the exhibit of puzzling items that were cleverly displayed as “modern art” the teenagers “looked at it and we were like, ‘This is pretty easy. We could make this ourselves.’” The two teenagers found a blank wall with open space and decided to place a pair of eye glasses on the ground.

CjMSUbPUUAAsvovRather than stand around to form the first crowd, the teenagers walked away to observe from a distance. Within three minutes museum patrons took note of the glasses and began openly admiring the work of “art” by taking pictures and launching into deep discussions about the meaning of life, beauty, and reality.

What Does This All Mean?

This incident illustrates many things.  So allow me to be meta here and draw meaning from the act of people drawing meaning from something that was, by design, meant to be meaningless.

  1. This story illustrates the value of authorial intent when trying to interpret meaning.  One of the best features of DVD movies is the director’s commentary audio.  While sometimes laborious, hearing the director’s commentary helps viewers appreciate the whats and the whys behind a film’s construction.  Often times, this can take a film from an enjoyable rental to a “I’ve got to own it” purchase.The reason that DVD commentaries, podcasts about book histories, and other historical methods appeal to consumers of art is that we want to know why we are interacting something. Every director of a film had a reason why he or she made the film  Every painter had a reason why they were putting paint on a canvas.   Every writer had a reason why they put pen to paper. Understanding an author’s intent is crucial in the appreciation of art in any form.This gets us back to the art mockery in the SFMoMA.  The authors behind the glasses display had no intention or purpose in displaying the glasses on the floor.  And yet, what they witnessed, in turn, was a group of patrons who were conditioned to pull meaning out of random and meaningless objects. Therein lies the humor and tragedy in the prank — a problematic feature of modernity — our culture is lacking the ability to locate authority and therefore lacking in the ability to interpret things in culturally helpful ways.
  2. This story illustrates the unfortunate prominence of group think. Many of us start reading a book or watching a film or listening to music because we are told by our culture that this artifact is worth exploring.  What we don’t get from culture is why this artifact is worth exploring.  The answer to the “why” question is closely related to authorial intent.  The author will tell us what this meant to him or her.  That first order meaning will then frame a context of exploration that allows us to determine what a particular art form means to us. But this process is far too complex for the commercial society in which we dwell.  Marketers won’t spend too much time telling you why a song is good, they will just simply tell you that a song is good.  The pitch is, “Just listen to it because it is good.  Trust us.”  And because some popular cultural figure agrees, it begins the process of group think where people perpetuate the messaging that the art is good without ever considering first order meaning or second order meaning.  And this approach is quite successful from a monetary standpoint.  However, at the end of the day this approach is just a monetized version of two teenagers placing glasses on the floor of the SFMoMA and laughing as patrons take pictures.  And it is not ultimately helpful for cultivating a society that learns how to appreciate art.

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Five Quick Takes On The Baylor Situation

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As a double Baylor alumnus I have been disheartened at the recent news and information concerning my alma mater.  That university officials would systematically permit sexual abuse in order to maintain a favorable public image for a winning football program is evil. And yet, having grown up in football-crazed Texas, I am sad to say that I am not entirely shocked that this occurred.  Perhaps this is the most disheartening reality of all.

I remember attending a parent-player meeting for my high school athletics program where a department official discussed consequences for illegal and immoral behavior during the upcoming calendar year. As the official read from a printed handout, the list went something like this:  Theft would result in automatic suspension from team membership.  Marijuana use would result in automatic suspension from team membership.  Alcohol use would result in a one game suspension from team membership.

I remember nudging my dad at this statement and mouthing the words, “Can you believe this?”  He shushed me and told me get real.  After all, he said, high school students were going to be drinking and I needed to check into reality and not be so legalistic.

I remember thinking at that time that this was an egregious act of cowardice on the part of the athletic department, because it indicated something of a law outside of the law for high school athletics.  My experience in the upcoming seasons of athletics only served to bear out this reality.  Simply put, if you were a stud athlete, you could break certain rules, by which other non-stud athletes had to abide.

I wish that high school athletics didn’t work this way — but, sadly, they do.  I wish that college athletics didn’t work this way — but, sadly, they do. Heck, I wish that professional athletics didn’t work this way — but, sadly, they do.

So that brings us back to Baylor.  What exact lessons should we be taking away from the findings of Pepper Hamilton? Here are a few from my perspective:

  1. The world needs more leadership, not control. And there is a difference.  Leadership says, “Here is the vision of where we want to go, here are the values that drive us, here are the steps and strategies that will get us there, and here are the leaders that will help us achieve our vision.”  Control says, “We have a machine that is moving, a status quo to maintain, and a visible personality to perpetuate.  Therefore, maintain at all costs.”  Baylor seems to have entered into troubling waters when it chose controlling the momentum over and against upholding the values inherent in the vision.  Transparency early on would have perhaps cost Baylor some wins in the short term.  But if the vision was true, then it would have worked out any way — meaning that being a bit more transparent would have been beneficial in the long run.
  2. Always side with the victim.  Always. When someone says they are being bullied, when someone says they have been raped, when someone says they have been victimized, what is the harm in believing them to be honest until proven a liar? Logically speaking, there is always a greater cost of not believing a victim.  And Baylor has learned that the hard way.
  3. This isn’t a uniquely Baylor thing. This is a college-wide thing. Baylor is on the news at the end of May in 2016 because they did something that no other college has done.  I am not talking about covering up rape — Florida State has done that in just as evil of a manner.  Baylor is in the news because they did something unique — they chose to become transparent when they could have easily continued to cover up.  In this way, I am proud that Baylor has chosen to do the right thing after years of doing the wrong thing.  While I wish that Baylor had done the right thing from the start, I will have to settle for Baylor doing the right thing starting now.
  4. This isn’t a uniquely college thing, this is an all of life thing. If today you are under the impression that athletics is the only arena where permissive rule breaking occurs, you are as sadly mistaken and naive as I was in that athletic meeting.  This kind of permissive system of evil occurs daily on places like the financial districts of Wall Street, board rooms in corporate headquarters, back rooms of Silicon Valley startups, and leadership meetings in church communities.  Any place that has human beings trying to gain and control success is going to have the temptation to look the other way. In this way, I hope that Baylor is providing a template on how to come clean after being so dirty for so long.
  5. Money and Government may still be our idols.  It is unfortunate that threat of legal suit and Title IX blowback may have actually been the leading catalysts for this come to Jesus meeting at Baylor.  It still seems that in 2016, we are still more fearful of legal repercussions and government intervention than of the wrath of God.  What I read in the Pepper Hamilton report is the use of moral (read Biblical) language to characterize a failure to do the legal thing and failure to do the governmental thing. I understand many of the technicalities of this brief and do not fault PH or Baylor.  Still, it would have been nice of a Christian university to give a timeline like this: “We were in a season of confession and prayer as a staff and when we came across this issue we realized that we were collectively out of sync with the Holy Spirit over this issue of sexual assault.  Thus, we hired an outside firm to help us to be more accountable to Jesus and to our values.”  Maybe I am still too naive.

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Binge Watching Jesus: Imitation And Discipleship

Doug As Superman (1985)
Doug As Superman (1985)
Doug As Hulk (1986)
Doug As Hulk (1986)
Doug as He-Man
Doug as He-Man (1987)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Growing up I loved watching epic hero films.  I loved them so much that I would inevitably adopt the culture and lifestyle of the heroes and live it out in my daily life.  When I first saw Superman I decided to wear my red caped pajamas to school for remainder of the school week.  I dyed myself green after watching The Incredible Hulk because I wanted to be like Lou Ferrigno. I only ate pizza after seeing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and I only wore underwear after seeing Masters of The Universe. In short, I entered into discipleship after these heroes.

Doug As Ninja Turtle (1990)
Doug As Ninja Turtle (1990)
Doug As Flash (1991)
Doug As Flash (1991)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Recently my daughter has begun to demonstrate this same adoption of culture and lifestyle. Only, it is not with superheroes — it is with Netflix-type shows.   My wife has been watching Call The Midwife, a PBS period drama about obstetrical care in the 1960s in England.  My daughter has occasionally walked in and asked what is happening on the television and so my wife explained as best she could that these women are pregnant and that these nurses are helping to deliver the baby.  So, it came as no surprise that we found our daughter delivering small dolls from the stomach of her much larger teddy bear.  Last night I swear I heard her yell out, “Oh no, the baby is in breach position.”  My daughter also loves watching Dancing With The Stars.  Soon she began mimicking the routines in her bedroom and then begging us to give her scores for her routine.  But her favorite show is Fixer Upper.  Shortly after watching the first season for third time we found our daughter yelling out “Demo Day” before banging on her bedroom walls.  Afterwards, she came into our living room and said, “Are you ready to see your Fixer Upper?” before rolling back an invisible canvas in reveal of her remodel.  And if we don’t begin crying and screaming, “Oh my goodness!” our daughter will instruct us to do so as it is in keeping with the tone of the show.

In reflecting on this humorous facet of parenthood, I began asking myself an important question: Why does my daughter imitate these shows in such precise detail with little to no apparent struggle?  No one instructed her to obey the shows.  No one told her that there were rules to follow.  No one demanded that she work on her strict obedience to the shows.  And yet I see her intuitively becoming a young disciple of Chip and JoJo.

The Great Commission, Discipleship, And Obedience

People who tend to talk about the Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20, tend to emphasize three important things (teaching the Bible, going, and making disciples) and yet tend to miss one important thing — obedience to Jesus is the outcome of The Great Commission and the metric that Jesus’ gives for Christians to evaluate the effectiveness of their own personal ministries. Yes Jesus wants Christians to make disciples, and yes disciple making will entail going to places, baptizing people, and teaching the Bible.  But obedience and life change is the metric for evaluating this.

So why is it that we might de-emphasize this key component of Matthew 28?  Perhaps it is because obedience sounds so…well…old school.  Obedience feels like the proverbial older deacon in the church who is yelling at us to slow down.  There doesn’t seem to be any fun in obedience. We prefer focusing on fun things like teaching and going and the like.

But obedience is still a component of discipleship no matter how we feel about it.  So is there a vision for embracing a joyful side of obedience?

Why Imitation Is Helpful For Obedience

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Thomas à Kempis, one leader of discipleship thought

Thomas à Kempis was a Dutch Catholic priest most notable for his work, The Imitation of Christ.  The goal of this book, and the educational program that sprung from his book, was to train people in obeying Jesus through imitating everything Jesus did.  Thomas discovered that imitation is like the sugar that helps the medicine of obedience go down with much less struggle.

What disciple-makers like Thomas have discovered is that obedience is inherent in imitation. When we strive to imitate someone we learn to obey, not out of dry obligation, but out of the joy before us.  I became obedient to the Ninja Turtle way because of the joy of imitating their ways.  My daughter is obedient to Chip and JoJo out of the joy of imitating their ways. Likewise, Jesus understood that if we can become enthralled with Jesus, we will begin to imitate Him in all things.  And this imitation will involve obedience to everything He taught.

Imitation, then, is the vision for obedience to Jesus in discipleship. Imitation, then, puts all of scripture into a workable paradigm. Jesus’s teaching on loving our enemies, for example, not only makes philosophical sense as a teaching, but it becomes a way of life that we see Jesus living out. And we love our enemies out of imitation of Jesus. Likewise, Jesus’ teaching on not being anxious makes theological sense, but it also becomes a lifestyle imitation precisely because we see Jesus not being anxious.

So today, if you are someone who is struggling with obedience in a particular area, can I encourage you to stop trying to obey (in a dry, rigid, rule following manner).  Instead, can I encourage you to spend your efforts reading the Bible to catch a vision about how Jesus is living then focus your efforts on imitating Him in that area?

Discipleship is not about following rules, it is about following Jesus.  Discipleship is meant to feel like binge watching a Netflix show about the King of Kings and then immediately going to imitate Him in all things.

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Why Are So Many Celebrities Dying?

My buddy Amine texted me in a panic yesterday to tell me about Prince dying.  I thought it was a morbid joke (because Amine likes to set me up for his clever bits of comedy). I expected the texts to keep coming — which they did — “God is weeping tears of purple rain.  Doves are crying. He is driving his little red corvette in heaven.”

But no, Prince is dead.  And with that news another great icon from the 1980s has passed away joining Sir Alan Rickman, David Bowie, and others. While reading the news coverage, I stumbled upon this BBC news commentary piece that asks, “Why are so many celebrities dying in 2016?”

I clicked on the article to discover the type of answer the BBC provided. In a sociologically descriptive manner, the BBC writer sees so many celebrities dying in 2016 because they are aging out.  In other words, it is the normal wear and tear of the human life.  Those stars who were born in the 50s and 60s, who came to fame in the 80s, are now becoming 60 and 70 years of age and settling into the natural and normal bell curve of the human experience.  So, in summary, celebrities are dying because of the math of aging.

I found this to be a cold approach to the question because it failed to address the question people are really asking.

But, why must people die?

In other words, how has science or living well or dieting or technology not helped us to extend or even avoid this process of death and dying?  This is the real question that I suspect many people are wrestling with today.  In fact, it is what philosophers understand to be one of the four great worldview shaping questions:

  1. Who am I?
  2. Where did I come from?
  3. Where am I going when I die?
  4. What is the purpose of life?

The last two questions are inextricably linked, for as a person concludes the ultimate absolute truth and reality of death they will also begin to formulate a purpose for living.  If there is no afterlife and death means finality then the purpose of life is merely to have as much fun and to try to be as happy as possible, no matter how fleeting happiness is. That is how some people answer the latter two questions. Others agree with the finality of death, but hold that this life’s purpose is to live in harmony with fellow human beings as much as it is possible.  Still others hold to the purpose statement that calculates a balance between pursuing the maximum amount of selfish happiness while not trying to harm other human beings. These thinkers may not be aware that their calculations are attempting to construct a moral reality without the consequence of judgement in an afterlife.  This is thorny calculus.

Some groups postulate that a form of afterlife does indeed exist and that there will be a moral reckoning of the present life in this afterlife. Almost every prominent world religion, for example, proposes just such a scenario, leaving religious followers to conclude that this life is meant to be one of living a morality tied to a religious code. Christianity, as a preferred example, teaches that God will judge all human beings first by how they responded to the good news of His Son, Jesus and secondarily, by how those who believed in Jesus for salvation lived in obedience to the teachings and commands of Jesus.

Interestingly, Christianity teaches that if you believe in Jesus you will have an abundant life. This abundant life is both in the present life as well as in the eternal life and these two lives are in continuity with one another because of the power of Jesus.  It also teaches that living in obedience to Jesus’ commands will bring maximum joy in this life while also maximizing your ability to love all humans around you.  In other words, Jesus provides the way for humans to be happy without sacrificing doing good towards fellow mankind.  It is the best of both worlds on a temporal and spiritual level.

Which returns us to the question at hand — Why are so many people dying.  I think this is a helpful question to consider from time to time, including times like today, for life assessment reasons. If the Bible is not true, then morality is a manmade construct and there is no consequence for living selfishly, other than trying to live in some type of harmony with fellow human beings.  If you can make a lot of money, then you can buffer yourself from normal consequences and do whatever makes you happy in a consequence free environment. And when you die, you die.  End of the game.

However, if the Bible is true then both this life and the afterlife matter.  And, if your aim is to live at harmony with humans while maximizing your own joy in life, then it seems reasonable to consider Jesus and His teachings.

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What Suffering Produces

In this sermon, I tried to help our church family see that suffering is essential to the development of Biblical hope in Jesus. As Paul lays it out in Romans 5, if someone is walking in shame, then God’s plan for them is to enter into suffering in Christ to produce hope.

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But Jesus Never Claims To Be God…

Over at 22Words, John Piper’s son Abraham’s site of wonderful aggregate cultural goodness, there is a post about 30 of the most misquoted lines in Western culture.  One misquote that stands out is the line where Darth Vader reveals his identity to Luke in Star Wars Episode 5: The Empire Strikes Back.

Now, anyone who is a fan of Star Wars and found themselves near a spinning fan blade can admit to pulling the fan close to their mouth whilst exclaiming in a low voice — a la Tommy Boy — “Luke, I am your father.” Every time we meet someone named Luke we inevitably make this joke.  Any father who wants to reinforce his authority over his children jokes in this manner.  We all say it — “Luke, I am your father.”

Here is the problem — Darth Vader doesn’t say, “Luke, I am your father.”  He says, “I am your father.”  But everyone who has seen that seen summarizes it with the line, “Luke, I am your father” because we all essentially understand the thrust of the logic of that scene.  Darth Vader is revealing himself not to simply be a father, but to be Luke’s father — which means that Luke is the son of Darth Vader. Pretty basic exegetical analysis of that scene.

How This Scene Helps Us In Apologetics

Often times in conversations with my non-Christian friends and neighbors, I will hear someone make the assertion that Jesus never claimed to be God. They will look to texts like John 10:30 “I and the Father are one” and take the straightforward literal translation and conclude that Jesus did not claim to be God.  My Mormon friends make such an accusation.  My atheist friends make a similar allegation.  My Bahá’í friends justify this claim with similar logic.

And, let me say, that I understand the basis for such counter-claims.  After all, evangelical Christians claim to be people of the Book who use a straightforward literal interpretation of scripture.  So when we look to passages like John 10:30 and then begin to interpret it using a more sophisticated interpretive approach, we set ourselves up for such comebacks from our non-Christian friends.  I will admit my own inconsistencies in this matter.

But lets get to the truth at hand here.  Everyone who watches Darth Vader’s confession knows what he is claiming — that He is Luke’s father — despite the fact that he never says the exact wording, “Luke, I am your father.” His intent is clearly understood by the audience.

Likewise, when Jesus says “The Father and I are one” His intent is clearly understood by the audience.  We can have exegetical side conversations about straightforward verses nuanced meaning in interpretation until we are red in the face. But that doesn’t change the reality that we can confidently know that Darth is Luke’s father and we can confidently know that Jesus is God based on the evidence of language and authorial intent.

So, the next time your Mormon friends knock on the door, invite them in, offer them some non-caffeinated drinks, and show them The Empire Strikes Back.  Then start up that conversation about John 10:30 and see where it leads.  You may be able to argue about exegetical technicality, but you can’t argue with Darth Vader.

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Everybody Suffers, But Christians Suffer Best

In this sermon, I wanted to make the argument that Christians suffer in the best way possible.  The reason? Jesus Christ is sovereign over our suffering and able to work all things together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purposes (Romans 8:28).

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