Augie’s Sermon on Death

Grim Reaper

Jeff Beck

Yesterday, Larry Pareigis, a music promoter I follow on Twitter, tweeted that it was Jeff Beck’s 73rd birthday.1 Anyone know who Jeff Beck is?

Yes, he is a tremendously talented guitarist…famous for his own work…but also (in part) for what he did with singer Rod Stewart. When I read Larry’s tweet, the song that immediately came to mind is a remake Jeff Beck did with Rod Stewart of “People Get Ready” – my favorite song from both…even if the track I most remember from my teenage years by Rod Stewart is “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy” back from 1978. 🙂

“People Get Ready” is a much better tune, both musically and morally, and it starts off like this:

People get ready

There’s a train a-coming

You don’t need no baggage

You just get on board

All you need is faith

To hear the diesels humming

Don’t need no ticket

You just thank the Lord2

And, sitting at Carl’s Jr. with Augie, it hit me that that song had a direct connection to the sermon about death Augie asked me to preach. Although my natural way of thinking about that song is its about Jesus’ return, the reality is that even if Jesus were to return today, the vast majority of humans will have died before the second coming. The Population Reference Bureau estimates that the total number of people that have ever lived are 107.6 Billion…and that in the middle of 2011, 6,987,000,000 were alive…that just 6.5% of all mankind are presently alive.3

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A Teachable Moment Since Abel

Cain and Abel

Cain and Abel

Let’s jump right into Scripture today by reading Genesis 4:8-12 together:

8 Cain spoke to Abel his brother. And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him. 9 Then the LORD said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?” 10 And the LORD said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground. 11 And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. 12 When you work the ground, it shall no longer yield to you its strength. You shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth.”

There are many things we can discuss around those five versus, but I want to have you ponder something it does’t speak to.

How do you think Eve felt?

Imagine you are her. You love your children. Deeply love your children. You have never experienced human death, let alone that of one of your kids. Now, not only are you now forced to deal with the loss of your second son, but he was killed by your oldest boy!

Can you imagine the heartbreak she had? Perhaps we get a glimpse of that grief and anguish in how she named her next son:

25 And Adam knew his wife again, and she bore a son and called his name Seth, for she said, “God has appointed for me another offspring instead of Abel, for Cain killed him” (Genesis 4:25).

Those words do not encapsulate the extent of the pain Eve felt at the death of Abel and the righteous banishment of Cain…but they do show she missed Abel and was constantly reminded that it was her other child that was responsible for it.

How would you feel in her situation?

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Burger King and Braxton (“It’s love, in point of fact.”)

Every Saturday since Augie was a toddler, he and I have gone out for a daddy/son only breakfast. As a dad who has travelled and worked too much, it has been an immeasurable blessing. In Antrim, New Hampshire we went to T-Bird (which has a Dunkin’ Donuts); here near Denver Burger King is our normal haunt. If you have ever had BK’s hash browns (with a liberal amount of ketchup), you will understand why. 🙂 Last week, as Augie waited at the counter for our food, I took a picture of his empty chair and tagged it as “Invisible Augie” (we always sit in the same exact place unless some nefarious person grabs his table). This week it took thick dad a bit to realize what Augie meant when he said he had to go to the counter for “Invisible Augie”…but after he mentioned a picture, I caught on. 🙂 Invisible Augie However, this week’s tragic suicide of teenager Braxton Caner made me think of how it would be if the image above became permanent. What would I do if “Invisible Augie” permanently replaced “Visible Augie”?: Visible Augie Would I still go to Burger King each week? If I did, would the empty chair be an overwhelming painful reminder of what I lost? How would I handle it? How could I handle it? I quickly banished the thought then (and am doing so now) because allowing my mind to wander into that unthinkable space would bring me to tears. Yet, in about an 15 minutes, another father, Ergun Caner, will be again faced with that unthinkable reality as he, his wife Jill, his church, and Braxton’s friends gather together to remember a child who will never be in his dad’s photos again this side of eternity: https://twitter.com/erguncaner/status/494899632023928832

Service for the life of Braxton Caner: Saturday, Aug 2, 2014 at 2pm at New River Church (Hudson Oaks TX)- http://t.co/f5NGnj9bwM

How will he handle it? How could he handle it? With a hope that only Christians can have: https://twitter.com/erguncaner/status/494631123159220226

No words. No sermon. No funny quotes. No answers. No note. Nothing but excruciating pain & the assurance that I’ll see him in Glory

That hope does not mean we do not mourn; the tearing away of part of our heart, albeit temporarily, is still an excruciatingly painful experience. But it is a hope backed by a promise: https://twitter.com/erguncaner/status/494378251649699840

1 Thessalonians 4:13-14

Although I agree with Ergun’s choice of Scripture, I prefer to go all the way to verse 18:

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, English Standard Version).

One of the things that has blessed me in following Ergun on Twitter has been the pictures he takes with his boys. It shows a mutual love between dad and sons that is unmistakable. I only interacted once with Braxton (and his response to me no longer is available on Twitter)… https://twitter.com/AlanCult/status/484532040407056386

@braxtoncaner89 Kudos to you for standing up for your dad. @erguncaner

..but I will miss him. I will miss the selfies with him and his dad. Yes, I know that “with the voice of an archangel” Braxton will rise again (and I will get a chance to finally meet him in person), but those “empty” photographs will be a painful reminder of what sin has wrought on this earth. (For clarity’s sake I do not mean Braxton’s sin…I mean our sin…which first started with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden and which every single human, except One, has repeated in one form or another.) As my thoughts for this article started wrapping up, this exchange in the movie Serenity came to mind (where a government agent is reviewing footage of a patient’s escape with the doctor overseeing her “treatment”):

Dr. Mathias: [referring to Dr. Simon Tam who has just helped his sister, River Tam, escape] Gave up a brilliant future in medicine as well. It’s madness.

The Operative: Madness?

[Ambles over to the holographic projection of River and Simon escaping through an air vent]

The Operative: Have you looked at this scan carefully, Doctor? At his face? It’s love, in point of fact. Something a good deal more dangerous.

Look into Braxton’s face in this picture and tell me what you see (image from @erguncaner’s Twitter feed): Braxton being baptized by Ergun Caner “It’s love, in point of fact.”

I Do Not Remember…

Mark JensenMark, I do not remember how it was to live with you the first five years of my life…

But I do remember you spanking me—not as cruel torture by a decade older brother—but as a kind sibling helping his frequently-disciplined younger brother no longer feel pain when he got spanked by his parents.

Mark, I do not remember why mom and dad kicked you out of the house when you were fifteen…

But I do remember you coming to visit, sick as a dog, and me selfishly pushing you (successfully) to give me your coin collection (which you kept in one of mom’s thread and needle containers).

Mark, I do not remember the next time I saw you…

But I do remember excitedly visiting a Mark Jensen mom found listed at a nearby hospital, only to walk in and see it wasn’t you.

Mark, I do not remember the exact year I got to visit you in Seattle during one of my business trips…

But I do remember taking your picture at the top of the Space Needle. We were brothers again.

Mark, I do not remember what I did to have you insist I be out of your life again…

But I do remember during the Seattle visit how you told me that when you were kicked out of house none of your friend’s parents would allow you to stay. You didn’t say it, but you were so alone. My heart broke. So, if me being out of your life meant less pain for you, I cared enough to accept it. You had more sorrow before becoming an adult than anyone should have their whole life.

Mark, I do not remember our last interaction…

But, it doesn’t matter. You are gone. You were alone. Nobody even knows exactly when you died.

Well, Somebody remembers how we spent our first five years together, why you were kicked out of the house, when I next got to see you, the year we were atop the Space Needle together, why you last insisted we lead separate lives, our last interaction, and the exact moment you entered eternity.

Surely a God who knows whenever a sparrow falls to the ground (Matthew 10:29), knows all of that and more. All your pain and all your smiles. All your sorrows and all your joys. All your demons and all your angels. “Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.”1 You may have never realized it, but you always have been of more value.

Mark, God will show you the love you refused to receive from your family and me. Will you be in heaven? I do not know. However, I do know the God who cares for sparrows cares for you and that your demons will torture you no more.

Mark, I do not remember the last time I told you, “I love you.”

But I do.


1 Matthew 10:31, English Standard Version.

UPDATE: With info from a sibling, corrected a couple of ages in the post.

Why I Am a Heretic

I am no longer going to update this post. Instead please see the Beliefs page to read the most up-to-date list of what I believe.

AKA, "What I Believe"

Guy preaching with a staff and a stone tabletI had an interesting conversation with a Twitter friend, and after he agreed to an uncomfortable implication of his belief system I commended him on being willing to admit it. I then suggested that someone else who held that same belief system would not be willing to make the same admission, to which he replied:

Yes, I believe he would. I probably wouldn’t just throw that out there in the public forum of twitter. He may not be comfortable with saying

To which I replied:

Why not? If it is true it’s to God’s sovereign glory isn’t it?

My response would seem a whole ‘lot more apropos if you understood what belief system it was in response to. 🙂

Either way, although I can understand choosing a proper forum for airing one’s beliefs, I kind of was taken aback at the idea that someone who has no problem debating for his theological worldview then wouldn’t be willing to lay all his cards on the table.

So, here are all my cards. Traditional Christians will find plenty to consider me a heretic, but I’m not going to do a bait-and-switch on you. (Most of this is from a post I did a couple years back on fahrner.us. All biblical quotes are from the English Standard Version. Oh, and I reserve the right to modify this post at any time, so if you want to beat me over the head with my own words, be sure to grab a screenshot. :-)) [Read more…]

I Dreamt I Died Last Night

Nightmares

How many here have had a nightmare?

[ Wait for people to respond…and assuming nobody says no… ]

I kind of figured, short of a newborn baby, everyone present for this sermon would confirm they have had bad dreams.

What are they about?

Being chased?

Being attacked by some evil power?

Falling?

A bad day at work?

Someone being especially mean to you?

Maybe the worst kind I had growing up was dreaming all night that I was at school, only to wake up and find it was time to…that's right…get ready and go to school. 🙂

Although I think, in some ways, my worse type of dream that has reoccurred over my life is being out and about and suddenly being naked. I know that may sound humorous to you, but if you've ever had that dream and aren't build like a model, it can be quite disconcerting. 🙂

I Dreamt I Died Last Night

Last week, however, was the first time I recall ever saying, first to myself and then to my wife, "I dreamt I died last night." Of course, what I meant (more exactly) was, "Last night, I dreamt I died."

Michelle seemed to find that extra freaky…I was just lucky to ever remember that I had the dream…let alone a couple specifics about it.

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20 Days

Perhaps one of the worst reports we can hear is that of a baby unexpectedly passing away overnight. As a parent of a three year-old, I don't want to even consider what it would mean to tuck my tike into bed one evening and then find he's no longer breathing in the morning. Can anyone argue with Theoden in "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers" when he says, "No parent should have to bury their child"?

Especially when that child is only 20 days old.

And the death of an infant leads to many questions. Perhaps the most common type can be summed up in a single word.

Why?

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Donne on the Brain

May 21

A couple of recent events…on national, one local…are the genesis of this sermon. Well, I should probably say one non-event, and one tragic event…birthed these words. Perhaps the incidents will cause you to consider some of the same things I did.

First, the national non-event. As most of you are probably aware, non-believers (and quite a few Christians) had a field-day as May 21 approached because an aging preacher, Harold Camping, was predicting the Rapture on that Saturday. As the complete lack of an increase in missing persons reports attests, Mr. Camping was mistaken…something he even admits. However, he is convinced his error was only in thinking something physical was going to happen that day…instead it was a spiritual Judgment Day…

But he is sticking by his prediction that the world completely ends on October 21.

Boy, I can’t wait for the ridicule to be repeated weeks leading up to that Friday…as we Christian believers are often lumped in with that false prophet, even if it is only implicitly…

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Poof!

Within some Seventh-day Adventist circles there is a joke connected with how strict Adventists are unlikely to wear jewelry (even a wedding band is avoided). The only jewelry allowed has to be functional—for example, a watch. (To be fair, although I might come to a more tempered conclusion, they have valid reasons for their aversion to bling.)

So…the story goes…these Adventists get to heaven and everyone gets a crown but them. Obviously they are a bit perplexed, but God quickly explains that they get a special one.

And then He reveals crowns with a clocks in their centers. 🙂

Now, for some reason that joke comes to mind when I think of another humorous hypothetical celestial situation. We all know that pride is one of the seven deadly sins (see Proverbs 6:16-19)…so one time I was thinking of a scenario after a saint arrives in heaven. He's really, really excited to finally see Jesus face to face…and (of course) he isn't disappointed. [Read more…]

Osama

Last night, just before turning my iPad off and going to sleep, it really felt like I should set my Facebook status based on the death of Osama bin Laden. This is what I settled on:

‎”Say to them, As I live, declares the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die…?” (Ezekiel 33:11, ESV)

I look forward to a future where _nobody_ dies, but for now I am thankful for those who protect us from those like Osama bin Laden.

Followed by immediately adding this comment:

Although, I much rather everyone, including our worst enemies, be saved…as would our Lord: “…God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:3b-4).

Now, I am not near as Christ-like as those quotes might imply. I am glad that there has been closure on this aspect of that evil day over nine years ago, and I am happy that a person who wanted to kill my family, friends, neighbors, and me is no longer around to try to fulfill his wishes.

But I do stand by those statements and, as unlikely as it is, hope somehow God reached Osama just before before a bullet ended his life and he’ll unexpectedly greet me when I arrive in heaven.

Finally, to those who might quickly suggest I am judging someone’s eternal fate—agreed, I cannot read any individual’s heart and only God decides whether we are sheep or goats…wheat or tares. Let’s just all throw political correctness and faux saintliness aside, be honest about it, and admit that if Christians and/or Jews are right, the most likely resting place for this infamous terrorist is with the wicked (whether it’s Rob Bell’s, John MacArthur’s, or some other version of hell).

And that fact should make us cry, not celebrate.

The End

Earthquake mapIf you click on the image, you’ll see that the “10-degree Map Centered at 40°N, 140°E” (generated Saturday, March 12, 15:22:22 UTC) says, “255 earthquakes on this map.”1 First, imagine having lived through the original estimated 8.9 magnitude quake—one that appears to have shifted Japan’s main island by 8 feet and the earth’s axis by 4 inches.2 Depending on where you were in Japan when the quake hit, you watched anything from books falling off shelves to a 30-foot high tsunami “that swept across rice fields, engulfed entire towns, dragged houses onto highways, and tossed cars and boats like toys.3

Then, as you continue to listen to the news of evacuations around nuclear power plants (and of a large explosion in the building that houses the reactor at one), 5.57 million people without power (and 1 million without water), “the coastal city of Rikuzentakata…virtually destroyed by [the] tidal wave,” four missing trains (with an unknown quantity of passengers), 3,400 buildings either completely or partially destroyed, and 200 fires…4
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Going Down in a Blaze of Glory

Text messages

How many of you use your cell phones for text messaging?

Do you text a lot? A little?

Do you get any automatic text messages? For instance, do you…like me…get the weather every day on your handset? For instance today…

[ Read them this morning’s forecast. ]

Along with the weather at 8:30 each morning, around 7:30 every night my cell phone gets a message with a Bible verse. Sometimes the Scripture choice seems very random…a verse that appears meaningless within the limits of old-fashioned "Short Message Service" (SMS) messaging of 160 characters1.

Other times it appears spot-on…something the Lord Himself could have caused to be beamed from heaven, through Verizon’s cellular towards, and to my phone.

And if you do the quick mental math, the timing of the daily Scripture means that one came through as I was leading Bible study this past Wednesday…and everyone had the opportunity of hearing a rather disconcerting…but cool…"Droid" as it arrived (since I didn’t turn the ringer off).

After we wrapped up our study, I read the message to those who were hanging around:

Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his. — Numbers 23:10

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Reacting to a Shooting

Pistol with bloodThis past Saturday a lone gunman allowed the demons in his mind to escape in the form of a deluge of bullets, starting with one into the brain of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. By the time bystanders were able to wrestle him to the ground six people had been killed (including a nine year-old girl) and fourteen more had been injured. As of writing this article, Congresswoman Giffords is holding on in intensive care, but she is not out of the woods yet. This morning President Obama and his wife held a national moment of silence for our country to corporately remember the dead, the injured, and their family and friends (who are also victims of the demented assailant).

When a tragedy happens (especially of this magnitude), people naturally want to understand how it could occur—and to have swift judgment and punishment of the perpetrator(s). Every initial indication is that Jared Lee Loughner acted alone (and that he was a psychopath with a strange brew of political beliefs), but anyone watching, reading, or hearing the news know that our predilection for blaming was instantaneously in full force. We were informed that the rhetoric of the Tea Party, Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, and conservatism in general drove the shooter to target the congresswoman and spray her supporters with deathly lead. Myriad liberal talking heads, and the majority of the media, were quick to incriminate the aforementioned list—although the media often did it by (for example) "innocently" juxtaposing mentions of Sarah Palin’s map that had a gunsight over Congresswoman Giffords’ district during last November’s election with discussions of the gunman’s motivation. (When they wanted to really establish the connection they quoted Giffords herself stating that Palin’s "targeted list" could lead to violence—"When people do that, they have to realize that there are consequences to that action"1).

And depending on your political bend, you were likely either joining the condemnatory chorus or decrying how hypocritical it was that those who said not to jump to conclusions about motives when Major Nidal Malik Hasan gunned-down thirteen at Fort Hood last year now couldn’t wait for the smoke from the bullets to clear before damning various people and groups.

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Symphony of Christ, 4th Movement: The Culmination

Recap

We are now through three of the Symphony of Christ’s four movements…

The Promise

In the first we saw the creation of the heavens and the earth; our original parents almost immediately blow it by losing trust in God; and our Lord…instead of giving us the destruction we deserved…giving a promise of a Messiah instead. Perhaps what stood out most in that movement was how, by demonstration, God confirmed His words in Exodus 34:6-7:

The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, "The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, 7 keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation" (ESV).

The Anticipation

In the second movement we heard the repeated melody of a promised savior in the Old Testament…and by the time our Lord was due to arrive, expectation in Israel was high for a Messiah:

  • An earthly king who would rule the world or
  • A suffering servant who would bear our sins or
  • An apocalyptic judge who would come in the clouds from heaven

The Incarnation

The Promised One arrived in the third movement. We heard much of the Nativity Story, and discussed 10 reasons Jesus came:

  • To redeem us
  • To adopt us
  • To make us rich—but not in a "health and wealth" kind of way—true riches!
  • To destroy the Devil
  • To deliver us
  • To become our high priest
  • To provide a propitiation for our sins
  • To help us when we are tempted
  • To sympathize with our weaknesses…and (most of all)…
  • To manifest the Father…to show people what God is really like!

When the movement completed we were left staring into the eyes of the ultimate "sibling savior"…an infant who wasn’t born to provide bone marrow for her brother or sister. No, the treatment our disease required was so extreme our Sibling Savior was born to die

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Remembering a Friend of God

November 29, 2010

Pine cone and BibleToday I wondered how the early Christians reacted to the news of Paul’s passing. How about those closest to him—the ones who were his partners in the gospel? Did the Philippians remember Paul’s letter to them—how he desired to "depart and be with Christ" (Philippians 1:23, ESV)—and then celebrate the fact he finally was granted his wish? Did Timothy smile and think about the "crown of righteousness" his mentor received because he "fought the good fight…finished the race…kept the faith" (2 Timothy 4:7-8)?

No, I suspect that their initial reaction to hearing that Paul had finally paid the ultimate price for preaching the gospel in season and out of season (2 Timothy 4:2) was the same as mine this morning at the news that Graham Maxwell had passed away overnight. Paul’s death was not unexpected; he specifically told Timothy he did not have long—that the "time of [his] departure [had] come" (2 Timothy 4:6). Neither was Graham’s a surprise—his family saw how he was losing the battle with age and were by his side during his final moments.

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