Thursday, May 31, 2007
Baby Hawks nesting in the window slits inside the astrological tower
Even Closer Up of the astrological tower at Harran
Close up of the astrological tower at Harran
Ancient Harran archaeological site
The gateway into Harran.
According to Gen. 11.31, the family of Abram moved from Ur of the Chaldees to Harran and lived there for a considerable period of time. Indeed Abram did not set out from there for Canaan until he was 75 according to Gen. 12. Scholars have debated where Ur is (most think it is in Iraq somewhere, though Cyrus Gordon once thought it was at the modern city of Urfa in Turkey, only 30 miles northwest of Harran), but most scholars are quite sure about the location of Biblical Harran. It is at the modern town of Harran, population 8,800 on the Turkish side of the Syrian border and near the Euphrates.
The ruins of Harran, which we visited last week are mostly from the Moslem period, with the exception of the gate (depicted above) and the astrological tower (also depicted above). Harran was at the juncture of the key east-west and north-south trade routes where the caravans stopped on their way along the silk and spice roads. The ancient city was considered so important that it attracted the wrath of Genghis Khan himself who with his Mongols destroyed it long after Biblical times. But it was once the very epicenter of the region when it came to the ancient art of astrology.
From this very tower in the second century B.C. the distance between the earth and moon was correctly calculated. Ancient astrologers were not tawdry palm readers-- they were mathematicians scanning the heavenly realms and making calculations. Think of the wise men in Matthew's Gospel. For someone on a spiritual journey, coming to Harran was like finding the ultimate ancient GPS device-- you fell right into the lap of the greatest stargazers and mystics available. It is no surprise then that Gen. 12.1-3 depicts Abram himself as receiving a revelation in this very place to move on to Canaan. As a crossroads town, Harran was an important watch and signal post as well, and they sent messages by means of trained birds to the next caravanserai-- trained birds like small hawks and carrier pigeons, just like the ones still nesting in the tower today. Imagine my surprise when I huffed and puffed up the tower only to find such birds still nesting there. Also in the center of the ruins was a huge reflection pool, also used for stargazing as in the movie 'The Nativity'.
A text without a context is just a pretext for what we want it to mean, and so studying the Bible in its original historical and archaeological context is critical. A trip to Harran, the once proud center of celestial revelations and great trade center, made me realize that Abram's family did not stop in some small backwater town on the way to the promised land. Indeed, they took up residence in the very epicenter of spiritual searching and communication, until God saw fit to reveal to Abram it was time to move on.
Wednesday, May 30, 2007
Two of Maugham's novels should be familiar to anyone who knows English literature (Of Human Bondage and The Moon and Six Pence). He was a remarkable writer who traveled all over the world, and the Painted Veil is set in China in the 1920s during a cholera epidemic and the rise of the Nationalist Movement of Chiang Kai-Shek. The movie is full of local color and culture and is a fascinating study of the relationship of 'western imperialism' to Chinese nationalism. It is superbly acted by Naomi Watts (nominated for best actress at the Oscars this year for her performance), Edward Norton, and an amazing cameo role for Diana Rigg who has now come full circle-- the former prototype for the Bond girls as Emma Peel in the TV series the Avengers, she now plays an elderly mother superior at a Catholic Convent in the interior of China. Amazing transformation, and at first she was barely recognizable.
The movie 'The Painted Veil' is beautifully filmed and capture the monsoon rains, lush green vegitation, and the honor and shame nature of the Oriental culture very well indeed. The essential story is about a British research bacteriologist/doctor who is not a clinician and yet signs on to go and deal with the cholera epidemic in China as a clinician. Before he does, he finds a girl from a 'proper' family in London to marry, who is a normal, spoiled, upper class British woman of no great ambition. The film portrays well the plight of women caught up in a system of semi-arranged marriages which prove to be loveless and bloodless. Kitty, having rejected her parents various arrangements and partly in defiance of them marries the good but painfully shy Dr. Walter Fane, who unfortunately is too self-absorbed and work-absorbed to do the proper job of being a good husband, lover, etc. Equally self-absorbed is Kitty who gives upper class girls a bad name of the ilk of "girls just wanna have fun".
What is remarkable about the movie is not just the quality of acting of Norton, Watts, and Rigg, but the way the story unfolds in an unexpected direction. The sexual dalliance between Kitty and another British man in Shanghai (the consul no less) because her husband simply neglects her and seems passionless is not surprising but what is surprising is the amazing way that this couple's relationship recovers from this disaster and they learn to love each other long long after they got married. It is a cautionary tale that reminds us that God's grace can make something good out of something tawdry and immoral. I will not spoil the story of 'loss', 'recovery' and 'loss' but it is also wonderful to see how over time and through gut wrenching experiences as many die in the cholera epidemic two persons learn how to be more self-sacrificial, indeed they learn how to give their lives for others. I can only urge you to go out and rent or see this movie. It will move you.
As for the latest fluff from Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore "Music and Lyrics" I actually enjoyed it. As a musician I have seen some mighty strange partnerships between lyricists and music writers (e.g. Elton John and Bernie Taupin) but this one takes the cake. I loved the spoof on Britany Speers with the "Cora" character, and I have to say that Grant and Barrymore were quite good together, and Grant does a fine job of being his usual charming, self-effacing, air-head self. If you like cotton candy or pure entertainment which has no pretensions of being serious cinema, this one fills the bill. It would have been better had they released it for this summer, as thus far the summer films promise to be lugubrious, over-bloated action flicks. I am hoping "Evan Almighty' is the exception.
What then about "Pirates III"? Well if you thought the long-awaited Spidey III sequel was overly long and over bloated just wait until you see Pirates III. Clocking in at 2 hours and 48 minutes this movie takes forever to get to the End of the World. Jesus could come back before this movie gets to its eschaton. The first hour is fine, and keeps the story moving along, and then it gets well and truly lost in the creation of the myth of the romance between Calypso and Davy Jones, the story of the council of thieves (aka pirates) in which we have some interesting looking characters who never get developed so busy is the camera focusing on Knightly, Bloom, and Depp. And amazingly Depp plays a secondary role in much of this film, with our friend (?) Barbosa stealing his thunder. What were they thinking? No wonder the leading film reviewers give this movie a 36%. The Jack Sparrow character is just too good to play second fiddle to a bunch of gypsies, tramps, and thieves, however fetching they may look. Yes of course there are some good scenes (I like the "four of you tried to kill me, one of you succeeded" scene), but the big final battle scene is interminable and not very convincing at all, even for a fantasy film. Lets hope for far better from the other blockbusters yet to come (especially Ocean's 13 and Harry Potter, though I have less hope for the new Fantastic Four movie). I am afraid I must say that once more 'less' would have been so much 'more' with Pirates III and we are the one's pirated by this movie. Depp is capable of depth, but this raising of him from the deeps of Davy Jones locker is all wet. Make up your mind-- is this a movie about the last Pirate round up? Is this a movie about sea myths? Is this a movie about love lost and rewon? Is this a movie about the irrepressible Jack Sparrow? It would have been better if it had been the latter.
I must end with an analogy. With the rise of the Roman Empire 'entertainment' took an odd turn. Previously the Romans had tried out serious Greek drama and comedy, but found it all too serious and tedious, so they requisition Plautus, Terence and even Horace to write scripts to make them giggle, but whose plots were eminently forgettable. And then something worse happened-- the demand for special effects on the Roman stage. Suddenly there were plays with talking donkeys, blood spurting out of cow's bladders, acrobats pretending to be soldiers, and the like. You catch my drift. What happened was the complete cheapening of the art.
Modern American movie producers could learn a lesson from this. Just because they can make longer more CG enhanced films does not always mean they ought to do so. Unfortunately Pirates III owes too much to the 'I've got a big budget and I'll do what I bloody well like so long as it sells' mentality. I don't care that this film is No. 1 around the world. That was based on the previous films' track record, especially the first one. What I do care about is not wasting good characters, good story line, and decent acting for the sake of pandering to the lust for ever larger effects etc. More bang for the buck often leaves the audience with buckshot, rather than an arrow straight to the heart. Repent and do better. The Turkish audience I saw this with knew they were being had. They did not applaud at the end (as they are won't to do) and there were few wows or giggles along the way. Let's hope American audiences wake up and demand better as well.
Sunday, May 20, 2007
For me it was very disconcerting. I looked down and I saw all these old people. Every single one of them, and I do mean all of them, were older than me. At the very bottom of the heap was a man who was as old as Methuselah-- he had this really long white hair and more wrinkles than an elephant. I noticed that the higher up one gets on this human totem pole, the younger the people are. This seemed odd because it meant that the oldest person was carrying the most weight down there at the bottom, whereas the youngest, namely me, was shouldering nothing especially now that I was on the top. And then I saw something that almost made me fall off.
The two persons immediately below me, on whose shoulders I was standing were my parents. Most disconcerting was the fact that I was standing immediately on my mother's shoulders. She was all hunched over to bear my weight, and I could see her wrinkled brow concentrating hard to hold me up. I thought-- "this is all wrong. Shouldn't I be supporting her now that she is old. Why must we stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before us?"
Then it hit me. All this stuff in our world about our radical individuality is a myth. No human being ever brought herself into the world. No human being ever nursed himself from birth. No human being ever taught himself to read or write or play a musical instrument. No baby ever went out and bought his own wardrobe. I thought about myself. Most everything of what I have learned in life I have learned because of others who went before me and wrote it down, or taught me, or shared it with me. I am what I am in large part because of the efforts of others. I am not a self made man. No one is. There never has been such a person. We are indebted to, and dependent on those who have gone before us, and most particularly on those who have loved us into existence and then on into adulthood.
The wind was blowing hard in my face, and I was beginning to feel really guilty about standing on my Mom's shoulders. Didn't this hurt her? But she was smiling, which allayed some of my fears. Why had I done all this climbing up the heap of humanity? What was it all for, all this striving? Then it hit me-- look up. I remember the advice my father had given me-- when you are facing adversity look up. Look over it and beyond it. See yourself on the other side of it. But when I looked up this time, I saw what Stephen had seen just before he died-- I saw the Son of Man standing way up high beyond me. He had welcoming arms. I sort of hoped to ascend right into his presence right then. But that's not what happened.
What happened shocked me. Here came someone else clamoring up the human totem pole. They were straining hard and looking up all the time. At first they were so far down I couldn't see who it was. Then I began to recognize the face--it was an adult face but younger than mine. It was my son. Here he came. All 6 feet 1 of him. He was way bigger than me. I saw him climb up beyond my parents and then he stepped into my hand hold, and then he hoisted himself on top on my shoulders. At first the sheer weight of him was crushing. Then I shifted a bit and began to get used to the load. Then it dawned on me that I needed to get used to-- for the forseeable future.
The foreseeable future. What was that anyway? Why had I done all this climbing for all these years. And then I heard my son speak. His voice was a little distant since he was higher than me, but I could just make it out. This was no tower of Babel or babble because no one was talking, just shouldering the load above him. No one except the one now of top-- my son. And I heard him say distinctly-- "I see Jesus, much more clearly than I ever imagined I would." At that moment I realized what it was all for, all this striving, sweating, straining, climbing. It was not for me-- it was for those who came after me. I stood up taller then, standing proud. It had all been worth it. It was worth shouldering this load. The wind swept the tears from my eyes.
Saturday, May 19, 2007
NOT TO WORRY
Two business executives meet at for lunch. Gene asks “How’s your health?” Ed said, "I feel great! My ulcers are gone. And I don’t have a care in the world!"
Gene says, "How did that happen?"
Ed said, "Well, you know my doctor told me my ulcers were caused from worrying. So, I hired myself a professional worrier. Whenever something worrisome comes up, I turn it over to him, and he does all my worrying for me!"
Gene says, "Wow, I’d like to hire someone like that! How much does he charge?"
Ed says "One hundred thousand dollars!" Gene asked, "How in the world can you afford $100,000?"
Ed says, "I don’t know. I let him worry about that!"
Wouldn’t it be great if you knew someone who could handle all of your worries? All of your anxieties? All of your stresses?
Guess what? I know someone like that! I know someone who can handle all these things! As we look at Matthew chapter 6, verses 25-34, we’ll see that He gives us 5 reasons why we do not need to worry about anything in our lives. Then we’ll get into the nitty gritty and talk about HOW to stop worrying.
In verses 19-21, Jesus is telling us not to base our lives around the acquisition of earthly treasures. And then in verses 22-23, he explains why. He says that if you keep your eyes focused on the things of God, your body will be full of light. But if your eyes are always focused on the things of this world, then your body and soul will be full of darkness.
“Therefore, since we are not supposed to base our lives around the things of this world, there’s no need to worry about them! Jesus says in verse 25 “Do not worry about your life.”
Notice that Jesus isn’t giving us a suggestion. He isn’t saying, “Well, in my humble opinion, it might be a good idea not to worry!” No! In the original Greek, this is a strong command! Do not worry!
The Greek New Testament word for worry means to be divided and distracted. The word is used in Luke 10:41 to describe Martha. Jesus says in verse 41 “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen to spend time with ME. She has chosen what is better and it will not be taken away from her.”
Martha is yelling at Mary for spending time with Jesus instead of helping with the housework. But she is so stressed out that she needs to spend time with Jesus just as much as Mary does! She needs to give her worries over to the Lord.
Jesus is teaching us the same thing in Matthew chapter 6. The first thing that He says is that worry is UNREASONABLE. Verse 25 says “Is not life more important than food and the body more important than clothes?” In other words, God has already given you the two earthly treasures that are more valuable than anything else! He’s given you life! And He’s given you a body! Since God has already given you the most important stuff, how reasonable is it to worry about the lesser stuff like food and clothing?
Since God loves you enough to give you life, then I’m thinking that He loves you enough to give you the other things that you need. You might not have the exact job that you want, or the car that you want, or the 42 inch SamSung LCD Television that you want. But God will always make sure that you have what you need.
Let me ask you this: How many of you have ever been worried about your finances? How many of you have ever been worried about your health? How many of you have been worried about school or work?
The next time that happens, I want you to say, “Lord, I’m not being reasonable. You’ve been taking care of your people for thousands of years. I think I can trust you to take care of me. Help me to trust and obey, for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.”
And then beginning with verse 26, Jesus gives us two illustrations of why worrying is unreasonable. He says “look at the birds. They don’t sow or reap or store away in barns. They don’t worry about where the next meal is going to come from. All they do is fly around and look for the food, and God makes sure they can find it!”
Then in verse 28, Jesus says “Look at the lilies of the field! Look at how colorful they are! Look at how pretty they are! Those flowers are indisputable evidence that God knows how to take care of His creation!”
The fact of the matter is, animals don't worry, trees don’t worry, and plants don't worry. There's only one thing in all of God's creation that worries – that’s us. Human beings.
And God did not design us to be able to take the stress of worrying. That's why when we worry, we get back aches, stomach aches, headaches. I read that this year there will be 7.5 billion headaches in America. Every day Americans consume fifteen tons of aspirin. You know why? We’re worried. We're up tight.
The Bible says in Proverbs 12:25, "An anxious heart weighs a man down." Worry will weigh you down even more than work. If you worry about something, you're much more fatigued than if you just went out and did some work. Worrying is simply unreasonable.
The second thing Jesus says is that worrying is UNPRODUCTIVE. It doesn't work. It's useless. It’s is like rocking in a rocking chair. You've got a lot of activity, but you don't go anywhere. You don’t make any progress. That's what worry is. It doesn’t change yesterday. It doesn’t affect tomorrow. All it can do is make you miserable today.
Jesus says in verse 27, “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?” Not only will worrying not add anything to your life, it might end up SHORTENING your life! If you have a heart condition or a digestive condition, worrying can make your symptoms worse!
Worrying is stewing without doing. It is unreasonable, and it is unproductive.
The third thing Jesus says is that worry is UNNECESSARY. Verse 30 says that since God clothes the grass of the field which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?" In other words, “Since God knows how to take care of the birds of the air and the grass of the field, then what makes you think He can’t take care of you?”
New Testament scholar Leon Morris puts it like this: “since God takes such good care of the lower orders of creation, God will certainly take care of the crown of His creation.” Psalm 145:15 says “The eyes of all creation look to you, and you give them their food at the proper time.”
Not only is worry unreasonable, unproductive, and unnecessary. It is UNCHRISTIAN. Verse 31 says “31So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' 32For the PAGANS run after all these things!
In other words, “Worrying about what we’re going to eat and what we’re going to wear is something that NON-Christians do! THEY’RE the ones who are always worried about money and food and social status! THEY’RE the ones who panic every time the price of gas goes up! THEY’RE the ones who are trying to make it through this life without the one true God!”
Worry is atheism in action. It's acting as if there's no God. It's saying, "I don’t believe that there’s anyone out there who can take care of me. I don’t believe that God can help me with my two sick toddlers at home! I don’t believe that God cares about the fact that I barely have enough to make my monthly mortgage payment! I’ve got to take matters into my own hands!”
Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to say that work and planning for the future are bad things. Even birds don’t sit around waiting for God to drop the food into their beaks. But I am saying that when we worry about the things of this life, we’re acting like atheists. We’re forgetting that God is actively involved in our lives. We’re forgetting to trust and obey.
You say, Well Pastor Marc, what should we do instead of all this worrying and all this fretting?” I’m glad you asked! Jesus says in verse 33, “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well.” If you put your relationship with God ahead of everything else, He’ll make sure that you have everything you need.
Trusting God to provide eliminates the need for worrying. In Genesis 12, God tells Abram “Leave your country, your people and your father's household and go to the land I will show you.
2 "I will make you into a great nation
and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
and you will be a blessing.”
And Abram could have said, “But Lord, how can I leave my country when I don’t know where I’m going? How am I going to make it financially? How am I going to be able to support my family? What if the people in the land of Canaan are hostile toward me?”
Abram could have worried himself right out of the will of God. But instead, the Bible tells us in Genesis 15:6 that “Abram believed the Lord, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” And as a result, God blessed him and made him the father of many nations. Trusting God to provide eliminates the need for worrying.
And over in Philippians 4:6, Paul says “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” In other words, “if you hand everything over to God in prayer, He will provide you with peace of heart and peace of mind. And He’ll take care of all the other worries in your life, because verse 19 goes on to say that “my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.” There can be no doubt that Trusting God to provide eliminates the need for worrying.
So let me ask you: What's got you worried this morning? The economy? Your job? A personal problem? Your marriage? Health? A problem with friends? A problem at school?
Jesus Christ has made it possible for you to live without worry. There's absolutely no reason for you to live with worry in your life. It is simply a matter of coming to Christ, putting your life in His hands and trusting Him on a day by day, moment by moment basis.
I want to help you get started with that. I want you to write down on an index card your biggest worries. You don’t need to sign your card.
Then right before we sing the final hymn, I’m going have you come up to the altar, one row at a time. And I’m going to ask you to put your worries in this worry box. It’s your way of saying, “God, I’m giving you all my anxieties. I’m asking you handle all the things that stress me out.” Jesus says “Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.”
Maybe your biggest worry is your salvation. You’re not sure if you’re going to heaven when you die. Write that down on the card. Tell the Lord that you want to walk out of church this morning with the gift of eternal life. John 6:40 says that “everyone who looks to the Son of God and believes in Him will have eternal life.” Let’s pray together.
Friday, May 18, 2007
Whose wife would not sit tight
On the roof her bath was visible
Especially in daylight
It came to the king's attention
Who found it quite a sight
So he summoned her to his palace
To have a special night
This led to the inevitable
This Sheba was a delight
But the consequences became quite visible
So David flexed his royal might
He sent her husband into battle
For he was a fierce Hittite
And told his boys "stand back"
So the dust he would soon bite
He thought he'd solved the problem
But actually not quite,
For Nathan, his moral conscience
Nagged away about wrong and right
Until the king repented
And pled to be washed white,
He wrote Ps. 51 as penance
Cause his life was such a fright.
So learn this lesson about bathing,
And outdoor hot tubs too
Don't let it all hang out
Or trouble will start to brew.
In an age of indoor plumbing,
There's no excuse for you,
Because always Someone's watching
To see if you'll be true.
Thursday, May 17, 2007
Wednesday, May 16, 2007
The NY Times article this morning is a helpful summary of his life and career in ministry. Here is the link---
Jerry Falwell has often been called a fundamentalist, and if by fundamentalist you mean a very conservative person who believes the Bible is totally true, then I suppose the term applies. Fundamentalism however is more of a mindset than a theological position to be honest. I ran into fundamentalist liberals while at Harvard. They were so utterly convinced of their liberal opinions about the Bible that no amount of evidence or logic could convince them otherwise. One thing about Jerry Falwell, he did actually change his mind about things, he did also apologize for things he said when he was convinced he had spoken in an untrue or unChristian manner. Indeed, some people even say he had moderated on various things in the last decade. By moderate I mean he had gone from being a fundamentalist of sorts to being more of an Evangelical, at least on some issues.
If we assess the growth and transformation of Jerry Falwell, you could say that the changes in his college that he founded mirrored the changes in the man. The school has gone from being Liberty Baptist College (a school I once visited, checking on one of my church members in the early 80s, and found the place rather like Bob Jones University-- no public displays of affection allowed, and there was all this security, a kind of bunker mentality) to being Liberty University, more like a mainstream Evangelical school where some of my friends teach.
Yet Dr. Falwell did not change his mind on one thing-- the welding together of certain Biblical views and certain loyalties to American values was seen as the Christian thing to do. Jerry always wore his patriotism on one sleeve and his Christian commitments on the other, and sometimes you couldn't tell the difference between the two. There was a reason for this-- Jerry genuinely believed the notion that America was founded on a Christian platform of ideas and ideals. Well, Judeo-Christian, is what he called it. This indeed was the basis of his being able to bring together strange bedfellows in the Moral Majority, those who were pro-life, pro-family, pro-America. As a Dispensationalist, he was almost equally passionate about Israel, never mind that the government of Israel was a secular democracy rather like America's democracy.
You always new where Jerry stood on issues. He was honest, a person of integrity, passionate, forthright, and whether you agreed with him or not, you knew where he stood, and you had to admire him because he had such courage in his convictions. I for one disagreed with him on a whole host of issues, and found especially unhealthy the marriage of a commitment to a certain kind of patrotism and a particular political party with real Christianity, but Jerry Falwell was my brother in Christ, and I knew him to be a man who strove to serve the Lord in all he did and said, and was a big enough man to admit when he was wrong. He was like the passionate and convicted preacher who said of himself "I am never in doubt, but often wrong".
We have not discussed the role that Jerry Falwell may or may not have played in the fundamentalist take over of the Southern Baptist convention and then various Southern Baptist seminaries. This is too big a topic to address in this particular posting. But if you judge the measure of a man by the influence he has in various ways and places, Jerry Falwell was a giant of a man, standing only behind towering figures like Billy Graham in the degree he influenced the Conservative Protestant Church in America, and certainly he had more influence in politics than Billy ever sought or wielded.
But I choose today to remember the Jerry Falwell who was not anti-intellectual and did not see education as a threat to one's faith. I choose to remember the Jerry Falwell who out of his love for Christ founded a school which has become a vibrant large Evangelical institution. This is not the work of someone who really deserves the pejorative label fundamentalist. Jerry was always committed to the fundamentals of the faith, but a commitment to the anti-intellectualism of fundamentalism was not who Dr. Falwell was at heart. Jerry was always fighting the battle against the forces of evil and secularism as he saw them. He understood we are in a battle for the soul of the culture. Whatever differences I may have had with him, and there are many, the ground is level at the foot of the cross, and on that issue we both stood together as devout conservative Christians. Jerry lifted up Christ constantly and with courage , and so should we. God bless you and keep you Jerry. We hardly knew ye.
Tuesday, May 15, 2007
After starting a new diet I altered my drive to work to avoid passing my favorite bakery. I accidentally drove by the bakery this morning, and as I approached, there in the window were a host of goodies. I felt this was no accident, so I prayed ... "Lord, it's up to you, if you want me to have any of those delicious goodies, create a parking place for me directly in front of the bakery." And sure enough, on the eighth time around the block , there it was!
God is so Good!"
Saturday, May 12, 2007
Let's start with the obvious. Paul says in 1 Cor. 15 that for people who believe in the future resurrection of the faithful, which involves a resurrection like Christ's own, that they should not be grieving like pagans who have no hope. How then do we grieve as people who do have hope? You will notice that Paul doesn't suggest we should not grieve.
Of course if there is someone we deeply love who dies, we are going to grieve. That's only natural. We will miss them. There will be a void in our lives, and so on. But if we truly believe they've gone to a better place, then it needs to be said that grieving while natural, is something we are doing for ourselves! That is-- we are mourning or bemoaning our own loss. In other words, we are not grieving FOR the deceased, because they are indeed in the presence of the Lord, we are grieving because we miss them, because we have a void in our lives and so on.
Let me explain it this way. Pagan grieving is often two sided. You genuinely are grieving for the deceased because you believe either: 1) they have ceased to exist altogether; 2) they have not gone to a better place but quite possibly to a worse one, one less full of life and love and joy. But Christian grieving should never be two sided. It should never be other centered on the deceased, rather than self-centered. And here's a general rule. We should never mourn for long the loss of something self-centered, what ever it is. That's just feeling sorry for ourselves, and however natural, it is a selfish, self-centered thing that Christians should have enough hope and trust to get beyond. Of course if it is someone you deeply love you don't get over it--- rather you get beyond it. Is your trust in God deep enough, is your hope in the future and the afterlife strong enough that you can unmask the impostor called self-centered grieving if it goes on too long?
When I was pastoring four churches at once, I had a lot of widows and some widowers to minister to. Now many of them were living in the past. They felt like their life had basically ended when their spouse died. And yet many of them were devoutly Christian. The more time I spent with them I realized that this was a mixed and mixed up situation. The grieving had gone on far too long, and it had become a pity party. Some of it of course reflected how much they loved and missed the deceased. But if you probed deeper you discovered that some of it reflected they were still feeling sorry for themselves, and in fact they had an inadequate trust and belief in what comes next-- in the other world and the afterlife as it concerns devout Christians? Why had this happened?
There are probably a plethora of factors, but there are two I'd like to share: 1) these folks had not had good enough and vibrant enough teaching about the afterlife to make it seem real to them, rather than a vague possibility or distant hope; 2) their teaching about the grace of God was inadequate such that they believed they had to earn a spot in heaven, and they were doubtful they had done enough; 3) on the other end of the spectrum was a very different religion that had been pounded into their psyche by the culture. It's the religion that says "This life is all there is" or "You only go around once in life so you need to grab for all the gusto you can get", or "He who dies with the most toys wins" and so on.
Unfortunately in a secular society the default religion is a religion of hospitals, doctors, and medicine because the mantra is-- this life is all there is, so you must prop it up, rescue it, and delay the inevitable as long as humanly possible. Never mind that this sometimes leads to the bankrupting of whole families, who are guilted into shelling out top dollar so an ancient person can live six more months.
Well I am hear to say as a Christian---THIS LIFE IS NOT ALL THERE IS. In fact, this life is not even the best of all there is. The future is as bright as the promises of God. And if you really believe that, such a belief should effect everything in your life ranging from what medical decisions you make towards the end of a life (e.g. is this procedure prolonging the living or just prolonging the dying of a person who is after all on the way to Jesus) to how you grieve once the person is dead.
Our theology of everlasting life ought to permeate all our thinking and affect all sorts of decision making. For one thing it should cause us to realize that we need not prop up this life at all costs to a family and their resources. We should honestly not want our families to do this for us, and we should say so. But back to our original subject for a moment. Grieving is for the living, and if it is about a Christian, if it goes on too long, then it is an act of selfishness, not an act of a person who wishes the best for the deceased: 1) the deceased wouldn't want us to be grieving if they are with the Lord; 2) in any case they are coming back at the resurrection as is true of all those who are in Christ; and 3) grieving as one who has no hope is not only self-centered, it can be a reflection of lack of faith-- a profound spiritual problem.
So what does proper grieving look like? Well the funeral in the first place should be a celebration of the life of the deceased. The minister should neither attempt to preach the person into heaven or hell. It's too late for that. Funerals are actually mainly for the living, so they can get some closure on things, and Christian funerals ought to be joyful occasions, not filled with funeral dirges and continually long faces. They should of course be occasions when people are allowed the catharsis of grieving and accepting that the person is dead, but at the same time such a service should be permeated by joy, by celebration, by bearing witness to happy moments with the deceased and so on. It should be like the sense of excitement and anticipation that happens at the launch of astronauts into space-- they are going into a far country and we can't go with them, but we can be happy for them, not only because they are likely coming back, but also because the journey into the far country will enrich them, be good for them.
The dead in Christ are now immune to sin, suffering, and sorrow. The dead in Christ are immune to disease, decay, and death. They are in a place where God can wipe away the tears from every eye. HALLELUAH. This is worth celebrating. We commit them into the ground "ashes to ashes, dust to dust, in sure and certain hope of the resurrection". Indeed. I agree that a Christian funeral of someone deeply loved will be a bittersweet occasion. Grieving and closure should happen, but joy should burst out as well to show us the way to get beyond the grief. Joyful grieving is not an oxymoron-- it's the Christian way to grieve, such that finally the joy overrules and gets one beyond the grieving.
So back to Paul for a minute. Paul thinks that what we believe about the future resurrection should change our whole approach to grieving. We should not grieve like the pagans who have no hope, because we have a living one. We have a Lord who not merely gives resurrection he IS the resurrection and the life, and anyone who clings to him will find that its contagious-- we derive life and resurrection from him, from being close to and holding on to him. If you have no joy in your religion, if joy does not permeate the way you look at both life, and that old impostor death , then you have a leak in your Christianity somewhere, and its time to go in for a check up with a counselor or pastor.
Night does not last forever, and joy comes in the morning. Easter morning. And we are supposed to be Easter people living in a Good Friday world. When people look at the way you live and the way you die, will they be able to tell you are an Easter person? One of the profound truths about Christianity is that it does not deny the reality of suffering and death, it simply says there are greater forces in this world. God's yes to life, is louder than death's no. Death has been dealt with in the present not by its denial, nor even by it ceasing to happen, but by it being transcended, much as human weakness can be transcended in a human life by grace. As Paul learned "God's power is made perfect in our weakness". So will you let the power of a great hope and a great joy transform the way you grieve and the way you look at both life and death? I would hope so. I would truly hope so.
And one more thing. We need to stop talking about lost loved ones if they are Christians. They are not lost. We might feel at a loss, but they are not lost. They've simply gone on to the next stage of life. They've gotten a promotion. They are indeed in a better place. Why in the world would we begrudge them that, or mourn that?
Tuesday, May 08, 2007
In essence, Latin and South American liberation theology had as its major theme that God had an especial concern for the poor and oppressed, which is true enough, and that the church itself should reflect God's agenda which was understood to involve "a preferential option for the poor". But this theology was not content to simply deal in depth with what the Bible has to say about poverty and wealth. It welded such materials to a Marxist liberation schema, involving political action of various sorts, and in some cases even supported Marxist guerrillas in some countries, in their opposition to the governments of the region. Interestingly enough, some of these folks have had enough influence that one at least has come to power supporting various aspects of this ideology, and openly opposing the U.S.'s support of oppressive regimes in various countries in the region. I will let you guess which country's president I am referring to.
At the heart of this theology is not only a political or ideological reading of the Bible and what it means by liberation and salvation is inherently political and only to a lesser degree spiritual. It also entails an assumption that some sort of communistic or socialistic approach to government is more nearly in line with what the Bible says about corporate responsibilty, shared wealth, societal governance and the like.
Needless to say, the Vatican has been concerned all along about this theology, and its advocacy by various of its priests, and some in fact, like Leonardo Boff have left the priesthood (in his case in 1992) in order to continue to support this theology and its praxis. If you were to ask who was the former Pope's point man in opposing this theology in past decades, the answer would be Cardinal Ratzinger. And now of course, he is Pope Benedict, and you can read all about his coming trip to Brazil. Here is the link
That trip ought to produce some Mallox moments for some of the Catholic faithful in Brazil.
My concern at this juncture is to talk about one of the linchpin notions of this theology--- namely the idea that there is a "preferential option for the poor" in the Bible, and behind that on the part of God Almighty. In one sense this theology is the anti-prosperity Gospel and the ultimate share the wealth theology. How exactly does one reconcile what the Bible says about God showing no favoritism and being no respecter of persons (see e.g. Acts 10) with this notion of the preferential option for the poor?
Well, in some respects these two ideas cannot be reconciled. God doesn't love a person less or more based on their income bracket. For that matter, God doesn't bless anyone more or less based on their income bracket. Nor does the Bible suggest that poverty in itself is a virtue. Yes indeed God and Jesus and others show great concern for the plight of the poor, in many forms wishing to alleviate or even eliminate the problem. All this is clear enough. What is not the case is that the NT or the OT suggests that a Marxist approach to dealing with the problem is the most Christian way to attack the issues that poverty entails.
Consider for example the way the Jerusalem community came to grips with the poverty of its own widows, and the general problem of people in need as recounted in Acts 1-5. The situation was not resolved by attempting to change the government, get more government funds or the like. The situation was resolved by the Christian community taking care of their own. Both of the summaries in Acts 2 and Acts 4 speak not of a communistic ideology (as opposed to a capitalist one-- there was no communism or free market capitalism in the modern sense in Bible times), but rather of a sort of communalism.
No one was claiming any exclusive right to property, and whoever was in need was to be taken care of by the Christian community. The story of Ananias and Sapphira is very revealing. Their sin was not retaining some of the assets they had liquidated. Their sin was lying to the Holy Spirit. Notice what Peter asks Ananias-- "Didn't it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold was not the money at your disposal?" (Acts 5.4). The answer to these questions was yes. But the ideology of that community was that to whom more was given more was required, and the more they ought to give. But the matter was left in the individual's hands-- it was not settled by a tax system, nor by a community of goods system either, so far as we can tell.
Notice as well how Paul in various of his early letters (Galatians, 1 and 2 Corinthians) urges his Gentile converts to contribute to the fund for the saints in Jerusalem suffering from the famine and the resulting food shortage. It is assumed that the church ought to take care of its poor, whoever and where ever they are. What is not assumed is that a communist ideology or praxis was the way to solve the problem. The assumption is that one has to justify keeping such resources when there are people need, not justify giving and sharing them.
Now it needs to be said that the whole modern notion of charity is all wrong. Charity assumes "what's mine is mine, and if a choose to share it, which is optional, I am a generous and charitable person." From a Christian point of view, the earth is the Lord's and we are merely stewards of it, not owners of it. So giving is not optional, its a part of loving one's neighbor and bearing one another's burdens as Gal. 6 says. And there is an especial responsibility to "do good to the household of God". Nowhere in the NT are Christians commanded to bless themselves or their physical families first, and then others.
To the contrary, Christians are called out by Paul and others to be truly self-sacrificial. Phil. 2.3-4 says "Do nothing at all out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather in humility value others above yourself, not looking to your own interests, but rather to the interests of others." Then Paul cites the example of the totally self-sacrificial Jesus.
When one has a proper theology of generosity and stewardship then one is looking for opportunities to help others and be self-sacrificial. No one need provide a rationale. It is interesting to me, that the only time in the NT we are told about a church collection, it has to do with setting aside money on the first day of the week for the poor in Jerusalem (cf. 1 Cor. 16; 2 Cor. 8-9; Rom 15). So yes indeed, there is a great concern for the poor, and a belief that there should be no starving or poor Christians anywhere-- that if there are, it is a failure of the body of Christ to take care of their own, and do good to the household of faith.
So, what I would want to say is that Marxist liberation theology is no more a correct reading of what the Bible says about wealth and poverty than the prosperity Gospel. Both are soundly critiqued in the Bible. I don't think either Marxist liberationist theology or prosperity theology has a future in God's plans for us. I will leave you with a story.
When a twister came through Ohio where we lived some years ago, it destroyed numerous homes. The towns effected were all screaming for FEMA and federal assistance and waiting for the government to do some. The local mainline and Evangelical and Catholic churches did what little they could on the basis of their benevolence funds and agencies, but it was a drop in the bucket. The hotlines to insurance companies were on speed dial.
Meanwhile, the morning after the disaster, the Amish, who had no insurance, and accepted no government help, began to rebuild everything in the communities they lived in for FREE. They rebuilt their own houses and barns, and then they went about rebuilding their neighbors houses and barns--- free. After they were done, they asked for nothing in return, and went back to their own normal communal life. Which response more nearly approximates what we see in Acts 1-5 and elsewhere?
Think about these things.
Here is the link to the article in HaAretz, the Jerusalem newspaper--
Why should we believe this claim after the bogus one about the tomb of Jesus? In the first place the locale is right. The Herodium was a fortress which Herod built near Jerusalem so he would have a place to flee to in a hurry if an enemy was closing in. It is a fascinating site which involved the feat of shaving off several hills in order to build up the one on top of which this fortress is perched. There is also the fact that this claim by Netzer comports with what Josephus tells us about the demise of Herod the not so Great.
Stay tuned for further developments.
Maybe next we will find the tomb of Abraham. Oh wait, I'm going to the cave of Abraham in Haran in Turkey in two weeks. I'll let you know what I find.
Sunday, May 06, 2007
Four brothers left home for college, and they became successful doctors and lawyers and prospered.
Some years later, they chatted after having dinner together. They discussed the gifts they were able to give their elderly mother who lived far away in another city.
The first said, "I had a big house built for Mama."
The second said, "I had a hundred thousand dollar theater built in the house."
The third said, "I had my Mercedes dealer deliver an SL600 to her."
The fourth said, "You know how Mama loved reading the Bible and you know she can't read anymore because she can't see very well. I met this preacher who told me about a parrot that can recite the entire bible. It took twenty preachers 12 years to teach him. I had to pledge to contribute $100,000 a year for twenty years to the church, but it was worth it. Mama just has to name the chapter and verse and the parrot will recite it."
The other brothers were impressed.
After the holidays Mama sent out her Thank You notes. She wrote:
"Milton, the house you built is so huge. I live in only one room, but I have to clean the whole house. Thanks anyway."
"Marvin, I am too old to travel. I stay home, I have my groceries delivered, so I never use the Mercedes. The thought was good. Thanks."
"Michael, you gave me an expensive theater with Dolby sound, it could hold 50 people, but all of my friends are dead, I've lost my hearing and I'm nearly blind. I'll never use it. Thank you for the gesture just the same."
"Dearest Melvin, you were the only son to have the good sense to give a little thought to your gift. The chicken was delicious. Thank you."
Saturday, May 05, 2007
The heros of Marvel comics have seen something of a renaissance in the last ten years, thanks in no small part to a Hollywood looking for more fun summer fare-- the season of the year when they make most of their money. It is not an accident that Marvel Comics have only come to life late in the super-hero movie game, because the technology required to bring Marvel comics to the big screen is a relatively recent phenomenon. Whether we are talking about Spiderman, The Fantastic Four, the Incredible Hulk, Dare Devil, or the X Men, all of these comic book stars would not likely translate well to the big screen in an era before CG and special effects reached their recent heights.
Clearly enough the Spiderman series, now apparently completed as a trilogy, is the flagship product of the line, hence the pressure to make these movies really hum. Both of the first two movies, with Tobey McGuire and Kirsten Dunst starring were very well done, and had their moments of real pathos and drama, not to mention spine-tingling action from time to time. Stan Lee is a master of misanthrops, not only with his villains, but also with his mis-fit heroes as well. One of the secrets that made his and Steve Ditko's creations so compelling is that most of his heroes became heroes by accident, through something unusual happening to an ordinary person. Thus ordinary persons could more easily fantasize about being one of these heroes. There is also the 'outcast' or me vs. the world aspect to these heroes as well, just perfect for teenagers who used to read comic books(in the 60s and 70s B.C-- before computers that is) and thought they had a lot against them already. Such were the factors that made the comic books such fun reading.
But does this third episode maintain the standard of excellence of the first two, while still being true to the story lines of the comics themselves? Well the answer is-- not entirely. The movie in itself is too long, well over two hours, and it is too dark for small children as well. Too much evil to swallow in one gulp. Mr. Rami apparently felt it necessary to tie up all loose ends with the series coming to an end, and this is part of the reason for the bloating in this third episode. Not only do we bring back Harry (the son of the Green Goblin), but we introduce the Sandman. And not only do we bring in Flint Darko (aka Sandman), we also turn a Bugle photographer into yet another super villain bent on destroying Spiderman. The odds are not even, and the odd want to get even in this movie. One super bad guy would have been enough and did we really need to throw in evil inter-galactic goo ( which would have fit better in Men in Black) as well?
Then of course there is the sometimes torrid sometimes sputtering romance of Mary Jane and Peter Parker. This subplot is important and could have been a nice point and counterpoint with the super-hero drama segments, but not satisfied with this, we bring in girlfriend number two--- Gwen Stacy the daughter of the police chief, who turns out to be a blonde bombshell (just like in the comic book). This also is too much, and it is not really possible to develop in tandem a relationship that originally was a sequel to the relationship between Peter and M.J.
Do the special effects come to the rescue? Well, yes and no. They certainly are special. My son and I saw the movie in its Digital and High Def form-- and you almost needed sunglasses it was so bright, crisp, clean, and clear. It was like the visual form of digital audio. Sometimes between the quality of the pictures and the special effects it was mesmerizing. Sometimes it was just mind numbing. Especially well done was the Sandman sequences, but was it really necessary to turn him into a sort of Gigantor Godzilla figure in the end before he goes exit stage right? Probably not. And here is where I say that this was a movie which had too much rope and money to play with. it would have been a much better movie if someone had put it on a diet, and tightened up things here and there. True, there are some nice humorous touches along the way (Stan Lee makes a cameo appearance and gets to say "Nuff Said"-- which was his byline in answering the letters we used to send him that were printed in the magazine). And there is some 'realism' along the way--- Peter Parker turns out to be a little too self-absorbed as his fame grows. But on the whole this third episode disappointed. It was both too much, and too little of what we needed to see, at the same time. Let's hope the third installment of the Pirates of the Caribbean does a better job of rounding out a tale in three acts. My spider sense is tingling--- will they resist a 4th episode of Spiderman if this once makes a zillion? We shall see.
Thursday, May 03, 2007
"Some twelve years ago, I stood watching my university students file into the classroom for our first session in the Theology of Faith. That was the day I first saw Tommy. My eyes and my mind both blinked. He was combing his long flaxen hair, which hung six inches below his > shoulders. It was the first time I had ever seen a boy with hair that long. I guess it was just coming into fashion then. I know in my mind that it isn't what's on your head but what's in it that counts; but on that day I was unprepared and my emotions flipped. I immediately filed Tommy under "S" for strange...very strange.
"Tommy turned out to be the "atheist in residence" in my Theology of Faith course. He constantly objected to, smirked at, or whined about the possibility of an unconditionally loving Father/God. We lived with each other in relative peace for one semester, although I admit he was for me at times a serious pain in the back pew. When he came up at the end of the course to turn in his final exam, he asked in a cynical tone,
"Do you think I'll ever find God?"
I decided instantly on a little shock therapy.
"No!" I said very emphatically.
"Why not," he responded, "I thought that was the product you were pushing."
I let him get five steps from the classroom door and then called out,
"Tommy! I don't think you'll ever find Him, but I am absolutely certain that He will find you!" He shrugged a little and left my class and my life I felt slightly disappointed at the thought that he had missed my clever line "He will find you! " At least I thought it was clever.
"Later I heard that Tommy had graduated and I was duly grateful. Then a sad report came. I heard that Tommy had terminal cancer. Before I could search him out, he came to see me. When he walked into my office, his body was very badly wasted and the long hair had all fallen out as a result of chemotherapy. But his eyes were bright and his voice was firm, for the first time, I believe.
"Tommy, I've thought about you so often I hear you are sick," I blurted out.
"Oh, yes, very sick. I have cancer in both lungs. It's a matter of weeks."
"Can you talk about it, Tom?" I asked.
"Sure, what would you like to know?" he replied.
"What's it like to be only twenty-four and dying?"
"Well, it could be worse."
"Well, like being fifty and having no values or ideals, like being fifty and thinking that booze, seducing women, and making money are the real biggies' in life."
I began to look through my mental file cabinet under 'S' where I had filed Tommy as strange. (It seems as though everybody I try to reject by classification, God sends back into my life to educate me.)
"But what I really came to see you about," Tom said, "is something you said to me on the last day of class." (He remembered!) He continued, "I asked you if you thought I would ever find God and you said, 'No!' which surprised me. Then you said, 'But He will find you.' I thought about that a lot, even though my search for God was hardly intense at that time. (My clever line. He thought about that a lot!)
"But when the doctors removed a lump from my groin and told me that it was malignant, that's when I got serious about locating God. And when the malignancy spread into my vital organs, I really began banging bloody fists against the bronze doors of heaven. But God did not come out.. In fact, nothing happened. Did you ever try anything for a long time with great effort and with no success? You get psychologically glutted, fed up with trying. And then you quit.
"Well, one day I woke up, and instead of throwing a few more futile appeals over that high brick wall to a God who may be or may not be there, I just quit. I decided that I didn't really care about God, about an after life, or anything like that. I decided to spend what time I had left doing something more profitable. I thought about you and your class and I remembered something else you had said: " The essential sadness is to go through life without loving. But it would be almost equally sad to go through life and leave this world without ever telling those you loved that you had loved them.'"
"So, I began with the hardest one, my Dad. He was reading the newspaper when I approached him. "Dad."
"Yes, what?" he asked without lowering the newspaper.
"Dad, I would like to talk with you."
"I mean . . It's really important".
The newspaper came down three slow inches. "What is it?"
"Dad, I love you I just wanted you to know that."
Tom smiled at me and said it with obvious satisfaction, as though he felt a warm and secret joy flowing inside of him.
"The newspaper fluttered to the floor. Then my father did two things I could never remember him ever doing before. He cried and he hugged me. We talked all night, even though he had to go to work the next morning. It felt so good to be close to my father, to see his tears, to feel his hug, to hear him say that he loved me. "
"It was easier with my mother and little brother. They cried with me, too, and we hugged each other, and started saying real nice things to each other. We shared the things we had been keeping secret for so many years.
"I was only sorry about one thing --- that I had waited so long. Here I was, just beginning to open up to all the people I had actually been close to."
"Then, one day I turned around and God was there. He didn't come to me when I pleaded with Him. I guess I was like an animal trainer holding out a hoop, 'C'mon, jump through. C'mon, I'll give You three days, three weeks.'
"Apparently God does things in His own way and at His own hour. But the important thing is that He was there. He found me! You were right. He found me even after I stopped looking for Him."
"Tommy," I practically gasped, "I think you are saying something very important and much more universal than you realize. To me, at least, you are saying that the surest way to find God is not to make Him a private possession, a problem solver, or an instant consolation in time of need, but rather by opening to love. You know, the Apostle John said that. He said: 'God is love, and anyone who lives in love is living with God and God is living in him.' Tom, could I ask you a favor? You know, when I had you in class you were a real pain. But (laughingly) you can make it all up to me now. Would you come into my present Theology of Faith course and tell them what you have just told me? If I told them the same thing it wouldn't be half as effective as if you were to tell it."
"Ooh I was ready for you, but I don't know if I'm ready for your class."
"Tom, think about it. If and when you are ready, give me a call."In a few days Tom called, said he was ready for the class, that he wanted to do that for God and for me. So we scheduled a date. However, he never made it. He had another appointment, far more important than the one with me and my class. Of course, his life was not really ended by his death, only changed. He made the great step from faith into vision. He found a life far more beautiful than the eye of man has ever seen or the ear of man has ever heard or the mind of man has ever imagined.
Before he died, we talked one last time. "I'm not going to make it to your class," he said.
"I know, Tom."
"Will you tell them for me? Will you tell the whole world for me?"
"I will, Tom. I'll tell them. I'll do my best"
So, to all of you who have been kind enough to read this simple story about God's love, thank you for listening. And to you, Tommy, somewhere in the sunlit, verdant hills of heaven --- I told them, Tommy as best I could.
If this story means anything to you, please pass it on to a friend or two. It is a true story and is not enhanced for publicity purposes.
Rev. John Powell, Professor Loyola University in Chicago
And for those who doubt this story --- it appears as truth - check the website below:
The story of Tommy, the atheist theology student who was found by God-Truth! <http://www.truthorfiction.com/rumors/j/johnpowell.htm
Wednesday, May 02, 2007
Frankly, its not much of a debate. Dawkins makes no points, and O' Reilly winds up sounding frivolous and silly, with a faith only a narcissistic Gnostic could love ("its true for me, it may not be true for you").
In the Presence of Martyrs: A Reflection from Turkey
Recently Dindy [Mark's wife] and I attended a funeral here in Izmir. I have attended many funerals, but this was my first in Turkey. And it was also the first time I attended the funeral of a martyr. I have been teaching and writing about martyrs and martyrdom for many years. We live in biblical Smyrna noted as the place where Polycarp was martyred in the second century. But such martyrdoms are personally and historically distant.
Then on April 18 three believers-Necati Aydýn and Uður Yüksel (Turks) and Tilman Geske (German)-were tortured and murdered in the southeastern city of Malatya. Needless to say, this brutal act deeply shook the Christian community, both national and expatriate. Persecution in Turkey to this point had taken the form of harassment, intimidation, and imprisonment, but never death. (If you are not familiar with the details of the story, see a summary at http://edition.cnn.com/2007/WORLD/europe/04/20/turkey.christians.ap/index.html.)
On Saturday, April 21, Necatis funeral took place on the grounds of an historic Protestant church in Buca, a suburb of Izmir. Necati had lived and fellowshipped in this city for many years, and was well known and loved. (He had portrayed Jesus in a Passion play in the past.) The sanctuary was too small to contain the crowd of around 500 persons who came from throughout the country to attend. So the service was held outdoors on a balmy spring afternoon.
As we entered the church grounds, people were given a picture of Necati to pin on their clothing. Therefore throughout the crowd Necatis smiling face radiated forth. Before the service I wandered in the church's cemetery among the gravestones that belonged to British believers who had lived and died in Izmir in the nineteenth century. On most gravestones were chiseled scripture verses, many from the book of Job. One verse that especially caught my attention was James 4:14: "What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes." Standing in such an historic place only reiterated the truth of that verse.
The Turkish media were there in full force and recorded the entire service. The cameras were indeed intrusive, but nevertheless tolerated because the nation was seeing what a Christian home-going was all about. (Of course, the Turkish security police were also present, making note of those in attendance.)
The next two hours were a unique tribute to Necati as eulogies were given to him and worship and prayers offered to his Lord. Especially moving was a time of special prayer for his wife Shemsa and their two children. After the funeral a motorcade took Necatis body to the Christian cemetery at Karabaðlar for internment. I had passed this cemetery numerous times to and from the airport, and had wondered about the crosses that marked its graves. Such a sight is unusual in this largely Muslim country.
At the grave site there were again prayers, scripture reading, and worship. And tears flowed once more because of this senseless death of a beloved brother and friend. Then Necati was laid to rest-ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Before leaving the cemetery I again wandered among the crosses that marked the graves of other believers who had died in Smyrna decades before. And I reflected that this cemetery was especially hallowed now because a martyr had been buried in its midst.
The collective grieving of the Christian community in Turkey has continued, and this past Saturday, April 28, a memorial service for the three martyrs was held at the Anglican Church near our apartment. The church was packed when I arrived, and I had to stand for the three-hour service. Taped to the walls were the pictures of the three men-youthful, handsome, full of Gods joy and love. (Their pictures can be seen at http://www.compassdirect.org/en/display.php?page=news&length=long&lang=en&idelement=4836.)
Personal remembrances, worship, and the ministry of the word comforted those who were gathered, and the sweet presence of the Lord filled the sanctuary. The most memorable part of the service occurred when the widows of Tilman and Necati shared their hearts with the congregation. Their words of forgiveness for these senseless acts to their loved ones have demonstrated the compassion of Christ to a nation searching for truth and reality at this time.
Tears came to everyones eyes as Necatis young son sang "Jesus loves the Little Children of the World". Special prayer followed for these families as they stood directly under a wooden banner inscribed with Genesis 28:17: "This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven". These three martyrs have passed through that gate of heaven. Necati, Uður, and Tilman have received their white robes, their crowns, and their palm branches. God has wiped away the tears of sorrow and pain experienced in the final hours of their earthly lives. Although I never met them, my life has been profoundly affected by their witness. How can someone not be changed when he has been in the presence of martyrs?
Dr. Mark Wilson Director, Seven Churches Network
I would just add the words of my favorite modern hymn---
"For all the saints who from their labors rest.
Who thee by faith before the Lord confessed.
Thy Name O Jesus, Be forever blessed--- Alleluia Alleluia.
Thou wast their Rock, their Fortress and their Might;
Thou, Lord, their Captain in the well fought fight;
Thou, in the darkness drear, their one true Light.
For the Apostles’ glorious company,
Who bearing forth the Cross o’er land and sea,
Shook all the mighty world, we sing to Thee:
For the Evangelists, by whose blest word,
Like fourfold streams, the garden of the Lord,
Is fair and fruitful, be Thy Name adored.
For Martyrs, who with rapture kindled eye,
Saw the bright crown descending from the sky,
And seeing, grasped it, Thee we glorify.
O blest communion, fellowship divine!
We feebly struggle, they in glory shine;
All are one in Thee, for all are Thine.
O may Thy soldiers, faithful, true and bold,
Fight as the saints who nobly fought of old,
And win with them the victor’s crown of gold.
And when the strife is fierce, the warfare long,
Steals on the ear the distant triumph song,
And hearts are brave, again, and arms are strong.
The golden evening brightens in the west;
Soon, soon to faithful warriors comes their rest;
Sweet is the calm of paradise the blessed.
But lo! there breaks a yet more glorious day;
The saints triumphant rise in bright array;
The King of glory passes on His way.
From earth’s wide bounds, from ocean’s farthest coast,
Through gates of pearl streams in the countless host,
And singing to Father, Son and Holy Ghost: