Thursday, February 28, 2013

No Marriage in Heaven? Isn't that a Downgrade?

Yes, Jesus taught that marriage is an institution for the Earth. At one point, Jesus told some religious leaders that were trying to trap him with a riddle that "in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven." (Matthew 22:29–30)

Something seems wrong with this picture. We commit ourselves in love to one person. We grow more and more deeply together as we spend decades doing life as a married couple. Then bam! You're dead. That's it. Friends forever.

Many people find that picture less than attractive. If going to heaven is actually a relational contraction — less intimacy and depth of friendship than we experience in marriage now — I would agree with them. But I don't think that's the case.

This is going to sound a little weird, but here's what I think: when we go to heaven, it's not that we aren't married to anyone — it's more like we are married to everyone.

On Earth in human bodies we can really only maintain so many relationships and can, perhaps, only maintain one that is as close and intertwined as a good marriage, especially since we go through cycles of failure and forgiveness, moving apart and coming closer.

When we die, I think it's not going to be like our relational ability contracts. I think it's going to expand unbelievably. While we don't have the capacity on Earth to have deep intimate relationships with very many people, when freed from the limitations of our earthly body, we will have deep intimate relationships with everyone.

It's a kind of bandwidth issue. Early in the internet, we had very limited bandwidth. As our bandwidth expands, we can video conference with several people at once. In fact, the bandwidth of the internet to support multiple person simultaneous communication exceeds the ability of people to support simultaneous communication with multiple people.

So in heaven it's not going to be that there is less intimacy than now because you aren't married. It's going to be infinite intimacy and deep friendship with everyone such as isn't even possible on Earth.

That's what I think, anyway. I, of course, have some scripture to back it up. But this is a blog post not a persuasive essay.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Jesus was born... so what?

Jesus was born… so what? So was I.

I’m not dissing Christmas. The mystery of creator becoming creation, of the Word becoming flesh, is filled with the profound message of God’s amazing love for us. But being born and living is something we all do. Resurrection, now that’s a different story!

Paul wrote to the Christians in Corinth (and to us), “…if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:14 (ESV)) The importance of the resurrection of Jesus Christ cannot be overstated.

Sin separates us from God. Sin destroys shalom. Sin brings death, both large and small. The Bible records God’s long-term plan to restore shalom and reconcile people to himself, not counting their sins against them. Gods plan is to undo sin, a plan that goes all the way to undoing death itself. “The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” (1 Corinthians 15:26 (ESV))

Jesus is the one through whom shalom is restored. Jesus is the one who, through his death, reconciles us to our heavenly Father. Jesus is the one who undoes death. But if he hasn’t undone death, he hasn’t done the job we need him to do. “…if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.” (1 Corinthians 15:17 (ESV))

But Jesus has been raised from the dead! Paul shares the message and the witnesses succinctly: “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas [Peter], then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.” (1 Corinthians 15:3–8 (ESV))

Easter changes everything! Easter is the guarantee of all God’s promises. Easter is God’s, “Yes!” to us. The words of Jesus that call us to repentance and faith contain the promise that all is forgiven and God desires us to come home like the prodigal son. The resurrection is the demonstration of the power behind the promises. God has promised to undo death and shown us his power to do so in Jesus Christ.

Easter rocks! If you are in the Orlando area, you are cordially invited to our Easter Service & Brunch on Easter Sunday. It's going to be an uplifting celebration of the most important holiday of the year.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Envy & Greed, a poem

For a message on envy, I shortened and rewrote a poem by Victor Hugo called "Envy & Avarice." ("Recasting," I call it) I thought perhaps you might enjoy it.

Envy & Greed by Victor Hugo
Recast by John Rallison

Envy and Greed, twin sisters wandered seeking
Any soul that might be open to their reeking
In sullen, sulky silence moving shore to shore

Pale Greed was hugging close a shiny treasure box
Worried always at each glance upon its locks
Thinking always, “There’s not enough, enough, yet in my store!”

While Envy stared with jealous eye unblinking,
Of that shiny box and contents always thinking.
“She’s more than me, more, still forever more.”

When suddenly to their surprise
The God named Gift appeared before their eyes
He said, “Great gifts I have bestowed.
I come to give you gifts where none are owed.
Choose any gift, whatever you’d like best
With only this to bear on your request.
The first to speak receives their gift untroubled
But that gift to other sister will be doubled.

Imagine what a quandary was begun
In greed or envy, what would you have done?

Each sister thought, distressed to give the other more
Contemplating long, they tried Gift’s patience sore.
Then Envy spoke with loud, triumphant cry,
“Hah! I ask for blindness in a single eye!”

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Billions of great things will happen today. Loved ones sharing life together. People creating wonderful works of every kind of craft and art. Simple acts of kindness between relatives, friends and strangers. If you read the news at the end of the day, you will hear about several bad things that happened today. Don't let your mind be infected by the fear-filled news. Enjoy the gifts of today.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Don't Cross Streams Alone

Last summer my family vacationed in the mountains in northern Georgia. I really like to hike and so decided to take a day hike all by myself. It was wonderful, peaceful and enriching for my soul. Then I came to a stream. It wasn't a big stream — just a little thing I could cross by hopping on a couple of rocks and landing dry on the other side. But suddenly I felt anxiety that was much more intense than I would have expected that crossing a stream would have generated in me.

I have hiked and crossed streams many times with no incidents or accidents. The difference, this time, was that I was alone. I was several miles from the nearest anything. Rocks can be unexpectedly slippery. I could fall and bruise something, break something or even knock myself out with no one around to help. I thought of my family. They depend on me. What would have been a non-event turned into a careful crossing. Because I was alone.

We are not made to be alone. We are hardwired/created for connection. Little bumps in the road can become major events if you feel like you have to go it alone. You don't. Take time for connection. Make and build friendships.

It can be dangerous to form deep relationships, to build love, trust and vulnerability with other people. You will probably get hurt from time to time. But the danger of building those relationships is nothing compared to the danger of living life alone. English poet, John Donne, wrote "No man is an island, entire of itself." Jesus told his disciples, "This is how people will know you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13:35) Both recognize mankind's need to live in relationship to others.

It's all about connection. We fear it and we need it. I'm not suggesting you find a stranger and spill your guts. I am saying that you, like every person on earth, need connection. Finding that connection takes time. Finding people with whom you can safely be vulnerable is a slow process. You find a friend. You share little things over time. Is this person safe? Is the vulnerability reciprocated or are they giving me the airbrushed version of themselves?

Real relationships are the gold of life and very much worth the risk. It's a dangerous thing to seek out deep relationships. It's more dangerous not to.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

When It's Time to Get to Work

A couple of days ago, I wrote about how God's Sabbath instruction had freed me to really relax on Sunday afternoon instead of worry about all the things on my todo list (read it here). Last Monday I experienced the other side of that coin.

I work from home. I wasn't feeling very good. I had the house all to myself. Nobody but me knew how I would spend the day. There's nothing wrong with taking a day off if you need one, of course, but I was really just feeling low energy and unmotivated. Then I remembered Exodus 34:21, which had given me the freedom to relax on Sunday: “Six days you shall work, but on the seventh day you shall rest. In plowing time and in harvest you shall rest."

There it was: "six days you shall work." It didn't say "six days you shall feel motivated," or "six days you shall find yourself deeply invested in work you are finding invigorating." It just said, "six days you shall work."

That was just enough to get me going. I started plugging along. The day was never easy, but I did my work. I felt more like a plow horse than an artist most of the day, but I did my work. Even though it was tough in the middle of the day, when I looked back at the end of the day, I had to admit it was a pretty productive day after all and I did some pretty good work, to boot!

This, again, reminds me of Jesus' own example of the power of the scriptures in our lives. When tempted by Satan, Jesus didn't go all zap-bam-miracle-man on Satan. That would not have provided an example we can follow. He brought the scriptures to bear on the situation. The scriptures brought the power to overcome and move forward.

Have you ever intentionally and in faith brought the scriptures to bear on a situation? It really can make a difference. Not like pixy dust that suddenly makes everything all sparkly and magical. But it does bring the power of God into the situation. Try it. It works.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Reading Sherlock Holmes in Faith

To me, one of the most amazing things in the Bible has always been the command to take a Sabbath (to the LORD). The Israelites were commanded by God to not work on one day per week.

Exodus 34:21 (ESV): “Six days you shall work, but on the seventh day you shall rest. In plowing time and in harvest you shall rest."

The amazing thing is not that God required that his people rest, but that there were really no exceptions. It's planting season. The weather is just right. Got to get the crops in the ground. BUT you cannot work seven days in a row. It's harvesting season. The crops are ready to be gathered in. They are ripe and continue to ripen. Get that produce harvested. BUT you cannot work seven days in a row. So one day per week, even during the planting and harvesting seasons, the Israelites had to cease from work.

That is amazing. But God had a point. It is not just "take a break." It is a Sabbath to the Lord. The Sabbath isn't just about rest, it's about trust. God commanded them not to work so that they would never forget that life is more than food, drink and clothing... much more. He commanded them to take the step of trust — to make the specific, intentional decision not to work because, as important as it is, work is not the most important thing.

That's where Sherlock Holmes comes in. I've been reading and enjoying these great mysteries. Sunday afternoon I was laying on the couch reading when I started to feel like there was work I should be doing. I can't even remember what it was. Maybe it was blogging? Whatever it was, the point is this: Life is more than work. Even if you are a pastor. God tells us to have enough faith to not work sometimes. One day per week as a matter of fact. I'm not always good at that, but I was on Sunday! I desire to live a life faithful to my God. Sunday afternoon I decided that the most faithful thing I could do was trust God enough to let the work go and enjoy some quiet time reading Sherlock Holmes... which I did.

You might want to read my other blog post on this same Bible verse about getting to work! Read it here.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

What? Lutheran pastor apologizes for participating in Newtown, CT worship service following the Sandy Hook tragedy?

There was a brouhaha in the media last week that involved the LCMS. Some have commented to me about it. Some have asked me how this could even be an issue.

Here is the situation: After the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, a community service of mourning was organized through the local interfaith clergy group. The local LCMS pastor, Rev. Morris, asked that a statement be read at the opening of the service indicating that the love and grief are shared but the clergy leading the service would like to be clear that this shared service is not an endorsement of each other's faith. Some very conservative elements within the LCMS believe that Rev. Morris violated his vows of ordination by participating in this community service. The president of our synod, Rev. Harrison, asked the conservative groups to back off. He also asked Rev. Morris to apologize to those he offended by his participation in the community service. Rev. Morris apologized that he offended people, but he did not apologize for participating in the service. It was Rev. Morris' apology that caught wind in the national media and was not presented quite accurately: "Pastor apologizes for participating in Newtown Community Memorial Service!" Rev. Harrison was trying to calm the waters in the synod by asking all parties to be conciliatory and inadvertently stirred up a storm in the national media. He has apologized and asked for grace with regard to his poor handling of this situation.

I am personally convinced that Rev. Morris did the right thing by participating in that community service and I would be embarrassed to be part of our synod if he had declined.

But today I am writing simply to explain why this is even an issue within the LCMS. For those of you who want to follow the whole sordid mess, I will post some links at the end of this blog entry. For those of you who want the short version of why this is even an issue, here it is:

Our synod's constitution includes this provision:

Article VI Conditions of Membership
Conditions for acquiring and holding membership in the Synod are the following:
  1. Acceptance of the confessional basis of Article II.
  2. Renunciation of unionism and syncretism of every
      description, such as:
           a. Serving congregations of mixed confession,
               as such, by ministers of the church;
           b. Taking part in the services and sacramental
               rites of heterodox congregations or
               of congregations of mixed confession;
            c. Participating in heterodox tract and
                missionary activities.

The issue in question revolves around "unionism" and "syncretism". The word "heterodox" means not conforming with accepted standards or beliefs. In the case of the LCMS, a heterodox congregation is any congregation that does not subscribe to the Lutheran Confessions, most specifically the unaltered Augsburg Confession of 1580. "Unionism" refers more specifically to joining together in worship, choosing to be in union with each other and act as though fellowship exists when it does not because the two bodies do not share a common confession. (e.g. a Lutheran church and a Baptist church decide to hold a service together). "Syncretism" has more to do with the adopting of heterodox practices, often for the sake of peace. (A crass example would be kneeling toward Mecca during a Christian service so that Muslims feel comfortable and honored.) A major principle behind this forbidding of unionism and syncretism is that we do not want to give the false impression that we approve of the beliefs of whatever 'other' is involved in the unionism or syncretism and, thereby, give poor witness to Christ and even damage the faith of those who witness the unionism and syncretism.

There are those — I am not among them — who believe Rev. Morris engaged in unionism and syncretism by participating in this public service. Wrong as I think these folks are, they are acting (in their own eyes) out of concern for people's souls. I don't think anybody I know would look at two people sharing the dais at such an event and construe that as 'fellowship' in any way but the shared grief around which the event revolves. But my task in this entry is not to convince you one way or another about the rightness of Rev. Morris' position. It is simply to explain how this could possibly be an issue since on the face of things it seems like participation is undeniably the right thing to do.

Love all the way 'round is the answer. Even if those who opposed Rev. Morris's participation seem hateful to you, love is still the answer. People are not lifted out of hatred and judgment by hatred and judgment against their hateful and judgmental positions. Speak the truth in love, that's how we grow up into Christ. If you dig into it, you will see that it is primarily the conservatives who opposed Rev. Morris' participation and the media that have dramatized the issue. The letters and conversations among the actual parties involved have been fraternal and kind.
Here are some links for you, if you want them:

I will leave it to you to search for media coverage if you'd like. It won't be hard to find. For myself, I absolutely believe that Rev. Morris did the right thing.

God bless!
Pastor John

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Values: Growing toward peace by clarifying values

Tomorrow is Transfiguration Sunday... a mountaintop experience! Unfortunately, we don't live on the mountaintop. And while mountaintop experiences can be motivating and initiate positive change in our lives, humans just are not built to change in a weekend without something truly extraordinary happening (like a near death experience). We have to come down off the mountain and grow moment by moment, day by day, bathed in grace, into the person God made each of us to be. The Bible calls this process "growing up into Christ," "being transformed by the renewing of our minds," and "working out our salvation," among other things.

Sometimes there is a great deal of tension between the way we are and the way we think we'd like to be. Here's a little concept I've come up with that's given me more shalom (peace) in my life. Perhaps it will give you some, too. It's a way of eliminating some unnecessary tension in the gap between who we are and who we want to be. We'll talk more about it tomorrow at church.

We all have several types of values. The first is "practiced values." These are the values we are actually living out right now. Then there are "aspirational values." These are the values we would like to see lived in our lives but we aren't there yet. The gap between these two areas is where we grow. It's that tender area where we must admit that we are not where we want to be.

But we can get this gap confused with the gap between our practiced values and two other types of values that we often seek to grow toward, but should really lay aside.

"Respected Values" are the values we see in others that we respect. We make a mistake when we think that we want to adopt a value just because we respect it. For instance, I really respect people who are very neat and completely organized, but that is not my value. I have spent too much time in self-judgment about not being super neat because I so respect people who are. But you know what? It's not really a value to me. I like eclectic and even a little cluttered. It is so peace-giving to simply acknowledge that while I like my office reasonably tidy and organized, it will never be neat as a pin because while I respect that, it's not really a value of mine.

"Image Values" are the values that we'd like others to see in us. The problem is immediately apparent. We never want to hand our peace over to anyone else. It is between us and the God who has demonstrated infinite love for us in Christ Jesus. When your values are image-based, you are trying to find your self-worth in what other people think about you. That's a bad road, fraught with danger and leading you directly away from shalom.

This values framework may help you grow in peace. Reflect on your values and goals, the things you would like to be, and see which of those things fit in which category. If they are "Respected Values," go on respecting them but don't judge yourself for not moving toward them. If they are "Image Values," drop them. You are God's workmanship and nobody else has any business judging you.

For your truly aspirational values, adopt little habits and disciplines that create an environment in your life where God's grace can transform you more and more.