The Beauty of a Loved One Dying

I was in Liberia when I heard the news that my Uncle Glen had died. Halfway around the world, my heart filled with sadness as I heard the words over the phone. In the midst of some of the greatest poverty in the world, my heart was stilled by the lost of a beloved uncle and friend. Going to his funeral would be one of the first things that I would do when I returned.

The funeral was a bittersweet experience. My uncle had been suffering with cancer, and I felt relief at his passing. His pain was over, yet he would be greatly missed. He was the sort of Uncle who always made me feel welcomed and special at his house when I would stop by, which I didn't do nearly as much as I should have done.

As I sat there with my own children, wife, parents, and other relatives, holding my little one-year old, I could see those sitting up in the front. His sons. His daughter. His grandsons and granddaughters. And his wife of fifty-five years. My heart went out to them, for in my grief I knew that their grief was greater. I wished that I could somehow magically heal the pain and sadness, but all I had to give was my presence, a hug, and kind words.

Just after that funeral, my high school librarian and friend faced the loss of his wife after forty-three years of marriage. He posted on Facebook, "When the LOVE of your life is in the loving hands of aides and nurses of Home Hospice, all seems so irrelevant. Every moment is MOST important. Life has its journeys, even the final one."

Although it does make the passing so much more painful, there is beauty in being in love with someone for such a long time. In those final moments, we are reminded of how great of a blessing
the one we love and are about to lose has been to us all along. Sometimes we forget that important truth during the arguments and disagreements - during the ordinary moments of life. We should cherish every moment that we have with the special people in our lives. There is almost nothing more beautiful than loved shared for many, many years. That truth becomes all too real in those final days.

The passing of someone is more painful when the love shared with them is deep, rich, and long-lasting. Despite it being more painful, it is worth it. For some never get to experience the joy of true, genuine, and lifelong love.  

On January 25, 2006, officials went Joyce Carol Vincent's home to repossess it because she was extremely behind on her rent and had not been communicating with them. When they opened the door they found a decomposed body sitting in a chair. Joyce Carol Vincent had been dead for three years. Unopened Christmas presents sat on the floor. She had friends, but no deep connections. She had floated in and out of people's lives for years, and nobody in her life was close enough to her to actually check in on her when she fell off the radar. 

Some loneliness may not be as stark as that of Joyce Carol Vincent's. But that sort of loneliness is the type of loneliness that shows we are not living life the way we should. That we are missing out on something greater. We were designed to be in relationships with God and others. As Christopher McCandless, whose story was shared in Into The Wild, wrote in his journal as he was dying alone in the Alaskan wilderness, "Happiness is only real when shared."

At my uncle's funeral, my one-year old started to get fussy during the ceremony, so we made our way out to the church foyer. On the screen was a slideshow of my uncle's life. Time spent with his family. Vacations. Holidays. Just the normal, daily moments of life. Seeing his familiar smile, you could tell he was enjoying life. In the midst of the slideshow, there was a video. It was the last dance of my uncle with his wife of fifty-five years. And that same smile. As many people do in passing, they get a last burst of energy , and my uncle used his burst of energy for one last dance with his wife. His greatest friend. The love of his life. Happiness. Shared. Life as it was intended to be.

I don't envy my aunt learning to live without him. But she is doing well. She is strong, with a beautiful heart, and will learn to live with that hole left in her heart. The love people share when they are together for 55 years may make the death of one all the more sad, but that life lived together makes the life itself all the more great. There is something incredibly beautiful in dying when you are truly loved. There is something beautiful in truly living. There is something special about living and passing from this life in the Lord. There is beauty in a loved one dying. We just have to see it.

Our Obsession With Sports (or things of little value)

"Train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come" (1 Tim 4:7b-8 ESV).

We often forget how radical the teachings of Scripture are. We have learned to justify away the rough edges and waterdown the tonic of truth. We want to be able to say that we're right with God without actually caring all that much about following God. We have adopted fun sayings like "I'm spiritual but not religious" to allow ourselves to make a god in our image and follow this made up creation however we want. We, the created, have a tendency to substitute the all-powerful, loving, and sustaining Creator for a fickle, imaginary, fun-loving god who conveniently loves everything that we love and believes everything that we believe.

In his letter to his protégé Timothy, Paul noted that "bodily training is of some value." For us who live in  small towns that exalt sports, this is a tough teaching. I see sports lifted on a pedestal all of the time. It's what many brag about on Facebook. We are inundated with the athletic achievements of people and their children. Many spend hours upon hours training their children for athletic greatness. It's true that those achievements are of "some" value. The word is translated as "little" in other translations. It can also be translated "small" or "brief."

There is nothing wrong with our children having great experiences on the field or court, spending time out in the yard playing with their parents, traveling around to places with the family, and having fun. But let's not take sports out of perspective. This training that we focus on to create great athletes out of ourselves and our children is only of little value and often becomes an idol.

Now, you may think it is of more value because they may get a college scholarship.

CBS recently did an article on this. Here are few of the paragraphs from 8 Things You Should Know About SportsScholarships.
The odds of winning a NCAA sports scholarship are miniscule. Only about 2 percent of high school athletes win sports scholarships every year at NCAA colleges and universities. Yes, the odds are that dismal. For those who do snag one, the average scholarship is less than $11,000.

Full-ride sports scholarships are scarce. There are only six sports where all the scholarships are full ride. These so-called head-count sports are football, men and women's basketball, and women's gymnastics, volleyball, and tennis. In these Division I sports, athletes receive a full ride or no ride.

Scholarships can be dinky. Beyond the head-count sports, all other sports are considered "equivalency" sports. NCAA rules dictate how much money a program, such as lacrosse or track, can spend on scholarships. Coaches can slice and dice these awards as they choose, which can lead to awfully small scholarships.
So the sports training we put our children through is of "little", "small", "brief", and "some" value. Maybe we're banking on a sports scholarship or them just becoming locally famous when they are in high school through their athletic prowess. Whatever the case, we need to just make sure they are having fun and realize that these athletics skills are relatively insignificant to developing their spiritual life.

Traning our children to be godly should be more important than training them to be athletic. Now, we can even use the insignificant sports to train our kids skills that are significant, but that is often forgotten during the heat of the game.

It is of more "value" or more "profitable", depending on the translation, to invest in our children's spiritual lives.  Send them to VBS as well as or instead of a sports camp. Skip a sport event to attend church with your children rather than skipping church to do sports. That right there would teach them that God is more important than sport, although the message we often send is the other way around.

And it isn't just sports. That's just the one idol that Paul picked on in his letter to Timothy. It can be anything. It can be education, entertainment, art, or something else. Whatever we place above God is not as important as God. And yet we do it time and time again.

We have a well-meaning generation raising kids who were raised in church but have decided that church isn't important for their children. There is something about church that the parents just don't like. They want their children to have that same spirituality, but they are trying to do it outside of church. It is proving to be a fruitless policy, and we are raising a godless generation. A generation who is selfish and arrogant. A generation who is like we would be without God. A generation, who like us, needs to place growing in God above everything else. Yet when we fail to do that, we make it harder for them.

Leadership Message - Pursue Excellence

I read a quote recently that the difference between a professional and a amateur is that the professional has standards.

I know that all of you are volunteers in your ministry here, but for us to be the church God wants us to be we have to strive for excellence in every ministry we do. Being a volunteer doesn't mean that you can cut corners or be lazy about something. There is a difference between doing something with excellence and doing something poorly. We should never have poorly done ministries.

If we can't do something well, it is better to not do it. Really. None of our ministries are needed to the point that they need to be done poorly. Because not doing a ministry isn't as detrimental as doing it poorly. If something needs to be done, then we need to put the time in to do it well. It is better to do less things well, than it is to do more things poorly.

Our ministries should always be changing and trying to improve. If your ministry hasn't changed something in the last year, it should be a warning sign that you have started to coast. We always need to improve. We can fail and do a bad job, but it should never be a result of a lack of preparation, a lack of communication, or a lack of self-examination on how to improve.

So I just want to encourage all of us, in every one of our ministries, to pursue excellence. Prepare. Look for improvement. Be self-reflective. And seek to glorify God in all that we do.

Toward An Anthropological Apologetic

I have recorded here a conversation that I have had online. I don't know if this approach is more effective or not. It does spur less confrontation and more conversation than espousing the Cosmological Argument, the Fine Tuning Argument, the Presuppositional argument, etc. Anyway, here is the conversation.

Why believe in the Christian God?

Because the kingdom-vision that Jesus shares is a world worth living for.

It requires divine intervention to achieve, though, right? If so, then you're basically saying you believe because Jesus promised to give you something. And part of what you believe is that Jesus has the power and inclination to follow through on this promise.

While someone promising you something is evidence for their ability and inclination to give it to you, it's not nearly as much as would be required for believing in a god.

I absolutely didn't say it is about Jesus giving me something. I'm saying it's about the world Jesus wants to bring about. There is a big shift in Christianity right now, away from heaven-centered in the future to kingdom-centered in the now.
If there were no afterlife, I would still want to live my life by the principles Jesus taught. They are the best principles to live one's life by.
I know that this is all completely subjective, but the more objective approaches to apologetics didn't work for you.

You asked, "It requires divine intervention to achieve, though, right?" Well, if there is a God who was all-powerful and forcing His will is what He wanted, then it would already be achieved. Either He is not all-powerful or His will is something other than forcing us to be His automatons. So I believe it requires our sweat, our planning, our passion, and our sacrifice to make it happen. Now, I believe in God, so I believe He will prompt, encourage, and strengthen. But it doesn't happen without those who claim to believe in the kingdom-vision of Jesus actually doing something about it.

NB (my comments that he is replying to in quotes):
"I absolutely didn't say it is about Jesus giving me something."
He said he'd do something that you think is desirable or a good idea. Not exactly giving you something, but close enough not to affect my criticism.
"If there were no afterlife, I would still want to live my life by the principles Jesus taught. They are the best principles to live one's life by."
I can agree with someone's recommendations without thinking their other claims are true. If the extent of your religious belief is believing that Jesus' recommendations are good and worth following, then this criticism doesn't apply to you -- you have the recommendations, you agree with them, end of story. But if you think "love your neighbor as yourself" and "sell everything and give the money to the poor" are good commands and take that as evidence that the Son of Man is coming in his glory...well, I need to see how they count as evidence, and I don't.
"That's completely subjective, but the more objective approaches to apologetics didn't work for you."
If you had said that Jesus had appeared to you in a dream and that's why you believed, that would be much different. It would be real evidence for Jesus existing. Then we could argue about whether it's sufficient evidence, but at least it would be on the right track.
You're saying it would be nice if his promises came true, so you believe that they will. It would be nice if I could retire tomorrow to a Norwegian farm and ride unicorns all day, but I can't. It would be nice if I were an able-bodied and sane person -- and I am. How nice something is has very little correlation to whether it is real.

I'm not worried about his promises coming true. Christianity is about self-surrender and service; not about what I can get out of it.

So what is this kingdom-vision that Jesus shared that you find worth living for? Is it just self-surrender and service that you're enacting today?

Jesus says that the greatest commandment is to love God and to love your neighbor. That's the core of it. But it's a message of loving one's enemies. It's a message of love toward others that goes so far as to live sacrificially. It's a message of forgiveness, even when we don't want to. It's a message of loyalty to this message over one's earthly citizenship. It's a message to genuinely help the poor. It's as radical today, when actually lived, as it was when Jesus shared it.  The problem is, it isn't actually lived all that much.

All too often, the church has forgotten to live like Jesus and substituted belief statements in the place of surrendering to Jesus' kingship. Now, I do understand that belief is important, but the purpose of belief is to empower us to live like Him, not to make us comfortable while we avoid living like Him.
Obviously, God is the sticking point here. But what if we understood that we love God by loving our neighbor. That was Martin Luther's take on it. As a skeptic, you can even experience what it's like to follow Jesus' teachings without actually believing in God. This way, you can see for yourself, whether His teachings are the best life to live.

It seems like you're offering reasons to follow particular commandments but avoiding discussion of whether the ancilliary claims of godhood and immanent apocalypse and so forth are true. Are you simply not concerned with the veracity of these claims?

I take a backwards approach to believing in those claims because typical apologetics isn't working. I have yet to meet anyone who started believing because of a good, apologetical argument.

The only thing that is provable adequately for a scientific mind is that we have a book that contains the story of a man who claims to be God come to earth. That's it.

We can postulate whether these writings were made up by later authors or not. We can argue whether there is a God. But we can't prove any of that.

Many events that have happened in the past can be believed with a fair degree of certainty. But other events, for some, cannot be believed.

For example, some don't believe man went to the moon because man can't go to the moon. It's circular logic, but it is the approach most of us take toward history. We interpret history through the lenses of our present-day experience.

Believing that man went to the moon is contingent on believing that going to the moon is possible. I remember when I was in Liberia earlier this year, the people there thought the story of Americans going to the moon was a really funny, ficitional story that Americans told. To them, being on the moon is impossible. For a scientist at NASA, it's just a matter of having enough resources. Belief that man could reach the moon is much easier for a NASA scientist than it is for a Liberian who has never even flown.

So why waste time arguing things we can't prove? Why spend time arguing about whether there is a God, whether He used evolution or not in creation, whether Jesus really existed? All these arguments are impossible to prove to someone who believes that they aren't possible.

One doesn't prove themselves into following Jesus. One surrenders their life into following Jesus.
The idea that I am postulating is that this God-man, Jesus, claimed to teach the best way to live. This is something we can actually experiment with unlike the historical propositions that some find debatable.
I admit that this all becomes very subjective because how do we measure whether our way to live is the best. What is the measurement used for "best?"

The only thing I can suggest is that you take a trial run. Live the life that Jesus teaches you to live. See if it is actually best. Test it out yourself. Be scientific about it.
None of it can be proven for others. But you can actually test the proposition out yourself. Your life can be the lab; your experience can be your proof.

You say that I am "offering reasons to follow particular commandments but avoiding discussion of whether the ancilliary claims of godhood and immanent apocalypse and so forth are true" and ask, "Are you simply not concerned with the veracity of these claims?"

I think the veracity of these claims is unprovable through debate. Not that I believe the claims are false, but I don't think the Christian life works that way. The evidence of our faith should be our love. That life lived should be a magnet toward Jesus. But it's not. Not because of the teachings of Jesus but because we are actually failures at living the life we claim to want to live. Christians live in this dichotomy between forgiveness for our failures and hope for the actualization of Jesus' vision for our life and the world around us.

But here's the thing. You can try out the life Jesus wants you to live. You can then conclude whether that life leads to a better life or not. If you decide that the life that the teachings of the supposed God-man are valid, then you can wrestle with whether He is actually God and such.