If Death is Not the End

My grandma died when she was 62 and that was way too early.

Our rides in her beat up old red car that we lovingly referred to as “the Klunker,” our hot summer evenings talking on her front porch, and our quick trips to the local restaurant with the best milkshakes in town… were all cut short by an insidious and dreadful disease called Alzheimer’s.

She would never get a chance to meet my beautiful wife or hold my kids in her arms.

Neither would my grandpa who died of cancer when he was 80.

When I held his hand as he lie asleep in his hospital bed just a couple of days before he passed, I thought about the countless nights I spent at his house, the smell of breakfast and pipe smoke each morning, his flat top haircut, and either a Bible on his lap or Andy Griffith on the television.

Some memories never fade.

But while there is immense joy in being able to remember all of the time we spent together, it is coupled with the haunting reminder that our lives have absolutely no power over death. Whether it is my grandma, my grandpa, me, or even you, our end is certain.

And that reality, our powerlessness to death, is one of utter sadness and despair, because death is our final ending.

So much for family and friends and relationships.
So much for our pursuits and endeavors.
So much for parties and celebrations and having friends over for dinner.
So much for art and music and creativity.
So much for sunsets and mountains and shooting stars.
So much for the smell of breakfast in the morning and sitting on front porches in the summer.

It all comes to a crushing, brutal, and inconsequential end in death.

And you can’t help but feel as if we have been short-changed somehow, like it all should have meant something.

All of this time on earth for absolutely nothing in the end… except for the assurance of death.

But if death is our end and our end is meaningless and inconsequential… then wouldn’t all things leading to that end be meaningless and inconsequential as well?

Said another way- if death is the end toward which all life is moving… then why does anything in our lives matter at all?  Why ascribe any purpose to it whatsoever? It is all death in the end anyway.  

Yet we live and breathe and act each day as if it matters, like it has some sort of importance or significance.  We ironically fight for life as if it is worth something, like it has meaning and value. We grieve when loved ones die. We treat cancer and search for the cure for AIDS and go to the family doctor and try to eat healthy… because we prefer life over death. We spend our time, energy, and resources protecting and defending life and standing for those who cannot defend themselves.

But why do this if it is all death in the end… and life is of no consequence?  Why do we even have a preference for life over death?  Why involve ourselves in any pursuit or endeavor while we are alive?  Why waste our time on anything at all?

Why should we paint and design and build? Why should we continue to create and imagine and dream?  Why play music and write stories and cry when there are happy endings in movies and plays if it all just tragically ends?

Why?

I think the answer is simple:  Death is not our end.  

And if death is not our end, and if there is actually a purpose toward which we are moving, then all things leading toward that purpose is full of meaning and is well worth our time.

That is precisely why the resurrection of Jesus Christ is so important for humanity… because it gives us hope and assurance that, while we were powerless against death, only God has the power to defeat it.  Therefore life, not death, is the purpose toward which we are moving and everything we do to that end is valuable.

That is the very foundation of faith.  It is the belief that God is working toward the renewal of all things, and by virtue of asking God to be the active and present center of our lives,  we begin participating in that renewal right now.  It is a life that looks like Jesus in everything we do.

And it is that reality, God’s power and victory over death demonstrated in Jesus Christ, which is the pinnacle of human happiness and joy… because life prevails and gives us meaning and purpose today.

Family and friends and relationships all matter.
Parties and celebrations and having friends over for dinner is a foretaste of how life will be one day.
Art and music and creativity is a reflection of what we were made to do and what we will continue to do at the renewal of all things.
Sunsets and mountains and shooting stars are a present glimpse of new creation when death is finally exhausted.
And yes, the smell of breakfast in the morning and sitting on front porches in the summer with everyone we love is just the beginning of how good life will be when Christ returns.

No more pain. No more tears. No more death. No more decay.

So live and breathe and act each day as if it matters, like it has some sort of importance or significance… because it does!

For in Christ’s resurrection… all things are made new…. even and especially you.

This is My Body Given For You (Kind of)

This Good Friday I would like to offer some thoughts and a challenge to you about the death of Christ.

The typical Christian thought of Christ’s Passion is that it was something done “for us.”

And that is the foundation of Christianity: that Christ was given sacrificially over to death so as to atone for the sins of humanity and bridge the divide between God and man.

It was in that sacrificial act that God moved decisively in history and did something “for us.”

We didn’t reach this conclusion by happenstance, for Jesus himself asserted that he was giving his broken body for each one of us.

In fact, we can still hear the echo of Jesus’ pronouncement during his final meal just moments before he would be arrested, beaten, and crucified, “This is my body, given for you.”

So while we, as Christians, have been on solid footing in our understanding that the death of Christ was something done on our behalf, I would propose that the pronouncement of Jesus is something more than any of us have ever imagined- not just something done “for us,” but also as something being done through us by God as well.

“This my body, given for you,” is not simply a statement continually reminding us of who Jesus was and what he did.  It is also a declaration of what his Body (the Church) will continue to do.

And the implications of this larger understanding have the potential to breathe fresh life into the Church, but more importantly- to change the world.

It is a step forward from a position of being perpetual recipients and into a position of being recipients and then extenders.

This is captured nicely in the parable of the servants.

Three servants were each given something.

Two of the servants extended what they had been given.

One servant held onto what was generously given and extended nothing.

It was this foolish servant who was reprimanded for not extending what had been given.

The lesson for each of us is: what we have been freely given… we ought to freely extend.

As Christ’s body was given for us… we have become his Body in order to give ourselves for others.

As was the pattern and shape of Christ being broken and poured out for us, so we become the Body of Christ by allowing ourselves to be broken open and our blood poured out for the world.

And becoming his Body means that we take on the exact pattern and shape of his life, with a willingness and determination to even go to our death in order to demonstrate God’s radical love.

But doing this confronts every way we have fought against truly being his body, broken for the world.

Christ’s body would not stand up and fight… his body would lie down in surrender.

Christ’s body would not break people down… his body would allow itself to be broken for the world.

Christ’s body would not seek to be exalted… his body would be ridiculed among the sinners.

Christ’s body would not be self-righteous… his body would be meek and humble.

Christ’s body would not be accusing or condemning… his body would be gentle and empathetic.

Christ’s body would not be legislating morality… his body would be teaching and demonstrating a higher way and extending grace.

Christ’s body would not be shunning sinners… his body would be washing their feet.

Christ’s body would not be casting people aside… his body would be joining them where they are at.

Christ’s body would not be pronouncing judgment… his body would be defending the cause of the weak, the poor, and the oppressed.

Christ’s body would not be casting stones… his body would be making peace.

Christ’s body would not be sitting at the exclusive table for the religious… his body would be sitting among the outcasts and sinners.

Christ’s body would not be despising and hating… his body would be loving.

In the same way that Christ embodied the beauty, richness, and fullness of God’s generous mercy, forgiveness, love, and grace by becoming the least of these… so ought his Body on earth right now.

But the truth is that we are all too eager to unconditionally receive God’s love, grace, forgiveness, mercy, and all-consuming love… but painfully conditional or absent in extending it.

But guess what?

It’s not ours to give.  It’s God’s.

And we have been generously entrusted with what God has given us so as to further extend it.

God’s full expression was on display in the body of Jesus Christ… and nothing short of that ought to be on display through the Body of Christ in the world today.

What we have been lavished in and showered with… flows freely.

And that’s where real Life is found- giving ourselves, our lives, our bodies for others.

While it is true that we, as Christians, would rather die than to ever stop living in God’s all-consuming, enveloping, and overwhelming love.

It can not stop there.

This all-consuming, enveloping, and overwhelming love is not simply meant to be received.

It is meant to be given as well.

And here is what that means.

It means that we would rather die than to ever stop giving that kind of all-consuming, enveloping, and overwhelming love.

Again, what is received… is meant to be given.

On this Good Friday as we join our Savior at his table… let us join him in his proclamation to all of the world, “This is my body, given for you.”

Peace…

Brandon

contending for the heart of the Church…

I watched an online video recently that was an advertisement for a men’s hygienic product. I am not big on commercials…but I watched this particular one because so many people had hyped it as something so unbelievable that it needed to be seen.

The video shows a Major League baseball player being interviewed in foul territory near right field with both his and the interviewers’ backs facing home plate. Within seconds, a player taking batting practice hits a line drive that is careening toward the head of the interviewer. Just a split second before the liner hits her in the head, the player being interviewed, with uncanny cat-like reflexes, turns, puts up his hand, and catches the ball.

It was unbelievable.

I even commented on the video as to how unbelievable it was that he caught the ball with just a glimpse out of the corner of his eye.

And then I found out that the video was not real.

It was digitally produced.

I had mixed emotions about the video- on one hand it was a marvel of digital video production, but on the other hand the video elicited in me an uncomfortable and poignant reality of how easily we can be deceived or manipulated into believing something about an incident, a person, or a group of people that may be completely fabricated.

Granted, manipulating and manufacturing images and information for the sake of propaganda is as old as humanity. I get that. I am just not sure that we are savvy enough to pick up on it when we are the targets of it or when we are in the midst of it. And consequently, we can very easily be moved and shaped by deception and manipulation with the means and ends being division, chaos, hatred, name-calling, retribution, brutality, and murder.

All because we are easily moved and swayed by what others want us to believe about situations, individuals, and groups of people.

I would argue vehemently that in the midst of social and cultural upheaval and chaos, if a person and/or a group of people do not have a value system on which to stand and through which to live that transcends situation and/or circumstance, he/she/they will be easily swayed and manipulated by inferior value systems and ideologies, propaganda, and misinformation.

I say all of this with the Church in the very forefront of my mind.

When the foundation of your life and identity is that of Christ’s teachings and the way of this resurrected Christ, there is no amount of manipulation, misinformation, or propaganda that can influence or change how you view situations and/or people. Because the way of the resurrected Christ is consistent and does not change based upon whether information or situations have been manipulated or propagandized. The way of the resurrected Christ continues to love, serve, extend mercy and grace, stand against injustice peacefully, and forgive every individual and every group of people no matter the situations or circumstances. The way of the resurrected Christ, the model of new humanity, does not initiate, participate, or join in conflict, chaos, hatred, name-calling, retribution, brutality, or murder.

Quite oppositely, if the foundation upon which your life and identity is anything less than Christ’s teachings and the way of the resurrected Christ, you may very easily be blown by the changing winds of public opinion, manipulation, misinformation, or even propaganda. If your foundation is less than Christ, which is consistent and does not change even when information, situations, or circumstances change, you may also come to believe that conflict, chaos, hatred, name-calling, retribution, brutality, or even murder is warranted and justified in situations, even if it is the product of misinformation, manipulation, or propaganda.

We have reached a point, I believe, in the world when there are so many positions, angles, self-interested ideologies, and half-truths that we are not sure what truth is anymore. Multiply that reality with purposeful misinformation, manipulation, and propaganda and we are all virtually lost, becoming the product of what we are consuming. We will believe almost anything that affirms what we already believe, even if it isn’t accurate, and the consequence is that it slowly turns us into people who are against one another. God help us for being people who build our houses upon the sinking sand.

In these turbulent and chaotic times, of which will continue to try men’s souls, the love of many will grow cold and it is beyond imperative for the Church to bear witness to the transcendent truth of God in the teachings of Jesus Christ and through the life of the resurrected Christ. For it was Jesus standing in the presence of Pontius Pilate who said that “[He] came into the world to bear witness to the Truth. Everyone who is of the Truth, who is a friend of the Truth, who belongs to the Truth, hears and listens to [his voice].”

The voice of Truth is piercing through the cacophony of competing interests of misinformation, manipulation, half-truths, and propaganda…and calling the Church to be the new humanity, the resurrection community, which demonstrates the love, service, mercy, grace, peace, and forgiveness of God to every individual and to every group of people no matter the situations or circumstances. Let us be those who are known for our love of Republicans and Democrats, Liberals and Conservatives, the 99% and 1%, the Trayvon’s and the Zimmerman’s, U.S. citizens and Iranian citizens, black, white, brown, red, rich, poor, prisoner, free, gay, straight, Muslim, Hindu, Catholic, Protestant, Anglican, and every other classification of people this world has made…because we all are people. And as God loved us…so let our love, our mercy, our grace, our service, and our forgiveness transcend those things that work to divide us and cause us to hate one another.

It is more important now than it has ever been.

peace…

brandon