CELEBRATING A DEATH

Never in my life have I celebrated a person’s death.  Never.

I confess, at times, to being indifferent—particularly celebrities.  The media go super-crazy when celebrities like Liz Taylor or Michael Jackson die.  Celebrities have no impact on my life so their death means less to me than, say, the beloved saint who has been wrestling with cancer and dies at home with only a brief obituary in the paper.  Those are more touching to me than celebrities.

Today, however, I feel oddly hopeful at the death of someone.

When I heard President Obama announce Bin Laden’s death a shocking and disturbing feeling of gladness came over me.  Bin Laden changed our world for the worse, culminating a decade ago in the infamous attack.  I think of my daughters—one 16 and the other 11.  Neither one of them will ever remember America the way it was before 9-11.  I think of my nephews who are 19 and 15.  They cannot fully comprehend what Bin Laden’s death means to me.  It would be a merry thing if their lives could be made better—not just safer, but measurably better.

But, how do I feel about his death?  Emotions are complicated things, but the overall feeling is one of relief.  I also feel proud of the Navy Seals.  I know so many sailors and courageous, dedicated soldiers and I am proud for them.  Good job.  There is also a sense of justice—that might be the greatest feeling.  Ten years ago we prayed for justice.  Now that prayer, in part, has been answered.

As a Christian, though, I wonder.  Is it okay to celebrate at seasons like this?  David wrote “Mark the blameless and behold the upright, for there is a future for the man of peace.  But transgressors shall be altogether destroyed; the future of the wicked shall be cut off.” (Psalm 37:37-38 ESV).  Peace, sometimes, can only come when the wicked are dealt with harshly.  King David certainly would be celebrating the demise of evildoers.  Sometimes we forget that peacemaking is not for the faint of heart.  It is hard, and sometimes dirty work.

The world has been off-balance since Bin Laden unleashed his plans (Psalm 2:1-2).  Perhaps now the spiritual equity of justice will return some semblance of balance.  That is my prayer.

I do not celebrate Bin Laden’s death, but I am glad he is dead.  I am hopeful.

TWITTER, JAPAN, AND TRAGEDY

(WARNING–WHAT FOLLOWS MIGHT BE MORE OF A RANT)

I’m trying to get into the Twitter action (you can follow me @jamiedgreening) and one of the most interesting aspects of it is following people who keep me informed of what other people are thinking.  This twitterfication came through this morning and I’ve been mulling over it all day.

Tony Jones@jonestony Tony Jones

Maybe the most offensive thing ever posted at Out of Ur (a Christianity Today blog): http://bit.ly/ekbdtX

Well, I’m not really that easily offended, so I had to take a peek at what on earth this man was so offended about so I hit the link and read the post.  What started as curiosity turned into shock.  You can read it too at Leadership magazine’s blog site.   What was shocking was two long quotations of Christian ministry leaders in Japan who were referring to the earthquake, tsunami, and subsequent nuclear uncertainty as an “opportunity” for the gospel. 

As I read the post it reminded me of a pastor’s meeting I sat in almost ten years ago, just days after 9-11 in which pastor after pastor kept talking about how this was God bringing real revival in our land by breaking our hearts and destroying our arrogance.  I remember how horrified that thought made me.  It is ridiculous and arrogant to presume that tragedy for someone else is God’s way of getting peope’s attention.  Jesus talks about this type of tragedy in Luke 13:1-5.  Towers fall, governments oppress, earthquakes come, tsunami’s surge, and all kinds of bad things happen to all kinds of people:  the just and the unjust.  Our role as believers is never to see someone else’s pain as an opportunity but instead incarnationally to hurt and intercede as much as possible for them.  Pray for Japan, give to help Japan, and weep with those who weep.

Might some people come to faith in the Lord through this terrible time?  Yes, in the same way that the death of a loved one might cause someone to start asking spiritual questions.  But no one in the right mind would ever see the death of a loved one as a spectacular opportunity for the gospel.  Instead, we realize tragedy makes us think about eternal things and it might also help us realize who truly cares about us.  But our care must not be so that we may reap spiritual gains.  Our care must be because these people are human beings like us and their tragedy is our tragedy.  No man is an island. 

For now we pray and give.  There are many different outlets for giving, but click here for one through our denomination.

ABUSING THE HOLY

This Sunday I finish a sermon series on the Ark of the Covenant titled “Relic or Relevant:  The Ark Adventures.”  I have had a blast preaching it, especially since one of my friends built a replica and put it in the worship center!  I am posting a section of an earlier sermon, from two weeks ago, when I talked about the abuses of the ark.  This is “Story One” form the Old Testament book of 1 Samuel.   The whole sermon should be on our church’s website (www.fbcpo.org)  as an audio podcast soon.

The first story is perhaps the easiest.  The time period is the days in Ancient Israel just before the birth of the monarchy.   There are no kings in Israel yet, only judges and priests.  The problem was in this time period that the priest, a man named Eli was getting old and not tending to his duties.  He had let things slip and was not vigilant in the things that mattered to God.  Eli let his two sons run things.  Their names were Ted Haggard and Jimmy Swaggart.  No, not really, but they did have  lot in common with those frauds.  Actually, their names were Phineas and Hophni.  Sorry, not Phineas and Ferb.

Phineas and Hophni were horrible, abusive, lazy, gluttonous immoral evil people and Eli did nothing about it.  He cared about keeping his family happy more than loving God.  God was in the process of sending a prophet named Samuel to bring reform, but not before Eli and his evil sons make a horrible decision.

Israel was at war with the Philistines and, to summarize, things were not going well.  So, the brain trust of Israel decides they should bring the Ark out and wave it before the Philistines and that would solve the problem.  So they march the Ark out and summarily loose the battle and the Ark is captured by their enemies.

That is story one—how the Ark was lost.

The plan of these Israelites might have worked had two things been present.  No, I don’t mean a good cavalry and generals.  I mean if God had told them to do this, then maybe it would have worked.  It also might have worked had the people who tried it were actually living their lives according to the pattern God wanted.  Tucked away inside the Ark is the Ten Commandments.  It had been a long time since people had lived by those rules.

They were guilty of trying to drag God out when they needed him and ignoring him in the rest of their life.

This reminds me of two things.  One, it reminds me of prayer.  Do we not do this kind of garbage all the time?  How many times have you and people you care about lived lives completely away from God’s plan yet when someone gets sick or they get sick they want to start praying to God to make it better, to get the job back, or to make the lost puppy come home.

I, personally, see it all the time.  People make messes of their lives and then call me and tell me to fix it and ask me to pray about it.  Now, these people never repent of their sin or change their ways.  They just want God to perform and then they can get back to what they were doing.

So, don’t go getting indignant with the Israelites.  We do the same thing.

The second thing story 1 reminds me is 9-11.  I hope it is not too soon to talk about this, but I still think its true and probably should be noted in our discussion this morning.  It has only been 9 years, but, its been 9 years.  Following 9-11 America went to church in droves.  Almost every church in the nation reported an increase in attendance and participation.  People sang, people prayed, people were baptized and we all talked about how in her time of need America had turned to God in a great revival.

That lasted until we invaded Afghanistan and then it faded altogether after we toppled Iraq.  When we flexed our muscles and got a little justice we no longer worried about the Lord.  We got what we wanted—God answered our prayers and now church attendance in most of the nation has dwindled again.  I’m happy to report FBC doesn’t have this problem, our growth curve has been rather steady, but nationally we are more pagan today than we were on 9-10-2001.

If that stings, its probably because its true.

What we did after 9-11 and what we do with our prayers all the time—is mimic these old Israelites by turning something holy into something profane.  Prayer is holy.  In fact, prayer might be the most holy thing we do.  However, we turn it into something profane by ignoring the God to whom we’re talking.  We treat him like we do the person at the drive thru window at McDonald’s.  We say our prayers and we expect God to deliver the goods.  We manipulate the holy and expect God to perform.

This is a practically pagan approach to spirituality and, it is unacceptable.