Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Respect and Modivation

For only the third time all year the Chicago Bears, who play in Sunday's Super Bowl, are an underdog. The Indianapolis Colts are seven point favorites to beat the Bears and boy are Bears fans furious. Bear fans, players, and coaches feel like the media has not respected their team all season long. Coach Smith is playing up the underdog card thinking it will give his players some more motivation. I guess winning a championship is not enough motivation for the Bears to perform at their best. People are sending letters to newspapers decrying the nation's lack of respect for the powerful NFC Champions.

I'm not a Bears fan, but as an alum and fan of the University of Michigan Wolverines I know a thing or two about lack of respect. When Michigan was not invited to the National Championship Game a couple months ago I was furious, convinced that Michigan and the Big Ten were not receiving the respect they deserved. Surly Ohio State and the team who's only loss was to Ohio State were the best teams in the nation. But after the Wolverines and Buckeyes got blown out in their final games this month there was no longer any room for crying.

It does not matter what people say about or think about your football team. 20 point favorites or 20 point underdogs is actually all quite pointless. Life is not about what people think it is about how you act. Bear fans and Michigan fans can cry all day. But in the end it is performance that matters.

We have no control over what people think of us, but we do have control over what choices we make. There are alot of Christians out there who are well respected by others. Maybe you are respected. But such respect should never be your motivation for living faith. Jesus says in Matthew 6:6a "When you pray, go away by yourself, shut the door behind you, and pray to your Father in private." Live your faith because you believe in God. Live your faith because your thankful for what Christ has done for you. Pray to the Lord because you need to pray. With Christ as your only motivation you will be free to be the best disciple for Christ you can be. Save your whine and tears for something much more important.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Always Reforming

This week I attended two meetings with leaders and pastors from congregations in the area I live. I think it's important to make connections with other Christians in order to talk about the joys and struggles of serving Christ. Unfortunately more struggles came to the surface of these meetings than joys. It seems that wherever I look traditional Christian churches are struggling with how to best serve the Lord in 2007 and still hold on to those traditions that they hold so dear.

For example, today I received an e-mail newsletter from Wartburg Seminary listing several education opportunities they are offering. One is called "Redeeming Congregational Conflict: Discovering Shalom in the Midst of Conflict." Another lecture is titled: "Reclaiming the 'C' Word: Daring to be Church Again." A lecture in March will ponder this topic: "Living Together in the 21st Century: The State of the Bible in North America."

No question about it, people are rethinking who and what church is and even what role the Bible plays in society. Has it always been this way? After all, the collection of letters we have from Paul in the New Testament are products of early Jesus followers being in conflict and trying to determine what "church" is? Did not the Reformation in the 1500's ask the same questions?

It saddens me to see Christian brothers and sisters struggling with faith and discouraged about the future. But for me, I always find hope in the gospel found in Scripture. The Word is the rock our faith and our hope is built upon. Through God's Word and his grace freely given in the Sacraments we are propelled to mission. The "church" is the body of Christ, a collection of diverse people living, working, and loving together as one body. If what we call church today is not that, then it will die. So no wonder so many hunger to get back on track. No wonder so many are worried. Actually that's the description of one those lectures at Wartburg. Maybe I should sign up.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Death, Funerals, and a New Year

Occasionally unrelated events from different parts of the globe come together to teach a larger lesson. I think this happened in the end of 2006 when singer James Brown, President Gerald Ford, and Saddam Hussein all died within days of one another.

James Brown was a popular singer for decades and a voice for many African Americans who have felt alienated by society. His was a life of many ups and downs, but the impact his life had on others was reflected in the thousands who mourned his passing. His funeral became a time to honor his life. But with several "costume" changes, a gold casket, and huge musical productions his funeral might have gone a little over-the-top. Like the Egyptian pharaohs ready to rule in the afterlife, he was buried with his riches.

President Ford was never elected president or vice-president, but his nearly 900 days as President of the United States have been remembered in a positive light. Chances are that a hundred years from now history will not remember a whole lot about President Ford. He was neither a bad nor a great president. But we admire the way he handled himself and led this nation during a difficult time. His funeral was treated with all the pomp and regalia that would be expected of the greatest of history's leaders. I believe the events of Ford's funerals are more a reflection of us than of him. For some reason we need to lift presidents as greater than life. Chances are that from now on all presidential funerals we see in our lifetime will be much like what we saw last week. Before President Reagan's funeral in 2005 presidential funerals were much less grandiose. But all of that has changed. Even Chris Matthews on MSNBC wanted to see more horse drawn caissons, and less "ordinary" hearses for such events. Again, this is a refection our need to make these presidents bigger than life.

Saddam Hussein tried to lift himself up as greater than life. He had more palaces than Herod the Great, and more statues of himself around Iraq than Lenin had in Moscow. But in the end, because he placed himself in such high esteem at expense of the people he ruled, he invited his own downfall. His final moments were spent with a noose around his neck and political opponents taunting him in a ugly execution scene.

Humans are not gods. James Brown's riches will not matter in the Kingdom of Heaven. Pomp, bands, salutes, horses, lying-in-state, and funeral after funeral does not make President Ford our greatest president. Yes we admire and respect the job he did, but he is not god. Saddam Hussein's years as a tyrannical dictator ended much like Adolf Hitler's... with his country in ruins and his life coming to a violent end.

Praise be to God who gives us the promise of new life through Jesus. Also, praise God for the great cloud of witnesses who have served faithfully and inspire us through the way they served. But as we remember great, and not-so-great, people who have died, let's not forget Christ who gives us all the victory through his sacrifice on the cross. People are people, but Jesus is Lord.