Friday, April 24, 2009

Preparing for Death Beyond the Funeral

The New York Times printed this story, “The Funeral: Your Last Chance to Be a Big Spender”. Funeral Director Peter Maloney believes that even in hard economic times people still want to have something special and memorable about their funeral. Here’s part of the story--

Although not all of his customers can fully express their wishes, Mr. Moloney and his brothers, who own six funeral homes on Long Island, have worked hard to arrange customized send-offs. And the touches are as varied as the customers themselves.

Bike lovers pay an extra $200 or so to take their last ride in a special hearse towed by a Harley-Davidson motorcycle. Gardeners select wildflower seed packets to include with their funeral programs. One gentleman wanted to be remembered for comforting his grandchildren with ice cream, so, after the funeral, mourners were greeted by a man in a Good Humor truck, handing out frozen treats.

“You have to give people something special,” says Mr. Moloney, who is 44 and a fourth-generation funeral director. “If you’re not, someone else will be. That means adjusting to what people want today.”

With the average funeral costing about $8,000 people would do well to give some thought and preparation for their funeral. In a former church that I served as pastor it was common for most families to own cemetery plots for years before they died. Some even purchased their casket and prepaid for the other services so that they could lock in costs and not be a burden to their family. It is tremendously thoughtful. However, these frugal church members would never have bought in to the extravagances that Maloney’s funeral homes provide.

Do I even need to point out that there is something infinitely more important than preparing for a funeral? One hundred percent of us are going to die. The Bible says, “Each person is destined to die once and after that comes judgment.” (Hebrews 9:27, NLT)

The preparations that are of the greatest significance are to follow Christ as Lord and to build a Christ-like, biblical life since we will stand before God after death (and the funeral) and give an account.

Since the “life clock” is ticking and we don’t know when ours will stop here’s a few quick reflections for the day:

--Do I have a relationship with God through faith in Christ?
--Am I more loving today than I was last year?
--Do I use my life to serve God and others as I obey God’s promptings?
--Is generosity characteristic of how I use time and money?
--Do I live as someone who is “just passing through” this world because heaven is my home?

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Is Holiness a Forgettable Subject?

This past week I gave a talk on holiness. You can listen to the talk here.

In my day to day interaction with people I encounter so much self-centeredness that I was not looking forward to giving the talk, though I thought God wanted me to, because I didn’t think that anyone would take it seriously. I presumed that most would dismiss God’s call to holiness by mentally categorizing it as a lofty ideal but not a practical pursuit.

So, I began my remarks by saying, “I’m giving a very forgettable talk today.” Surprisingly I’ve had more post-Sunday engagement about the topic of holiness than any other topic I’ve addressed in a long time. I’m wondering if the post-Sunday conversations and emails are psychologically related to my declaring that it would all be forgettable and therefore listeners determined that they wouldn’t forget it, OR, if the continued engagement is because Christ followers truly want lives of holiness?

What do you think? Because of the nature of my follow-up communications I’m choosing to believe that there is a legitimate desire (I pray hunger) for holiness.

Consequently I’m posting some of my remarks for readers that did not attend last Sunday’s gathering and for those that did and might appreciate reminders about some of the specifics.

Holiness refers to anything and everything that belongs to God. The Holy Spirit is God’s Spirit. The Holy Bible is God’s book of revelation and self-disclosure. The holy temple was God’s place of dwelling with and meeting with His people. I made the case that Jesus’ cleansing of the temple (Luke 19:45) was a picture of the attention we need to give to our lives since my body and your body are now the holy temple of God (1 Corinthians 3:16). We need to “drive out” anything and everything that compromises the holiness of our lives. A holy life is a life that is consecrated and given to God for God’s pleasure and for God’s use.

How does one live a holy and pure life?
· Live as a follower of Christ. No one ever lived life with greater holiness than Jesus. If you follow His ways and example you will live in holiness.
· Live intentionally. So much of our lives are lived on “auto-pilot”. We don’t think about what we do and why we do it. Why are you married? Why are in school? Why do you do the work you do? Why have you been given the relationships that you have? Why do you have the abilities and talents that you have?
· Live in community. I am best able to keep and maintain holiness when I am living in relationship with a group of other people that are likewise living with intentionality as followers of Christ.
· Live with wisdom. Engrave it on your heart that holiness is what makes life work well. Unholiness kills and destroys life. Unholiness is deceptive and untrue. Unholiness is NOT where all the fun and excitement is.
· Live prayerfully. Ask God daily, ask God moment by moment and situation by situation to make your life holy. If you stumble and fall and commit sin or unholiness, pray and ask God to forgive you and start holiness working in you again. David prayed to God, “create in me a clean heart, renew a right spirit within me.”

Saturday, April 18, 2009

God is Awesome and You are Precious

Below is a brief video look at the earth, solar system, galaxy and universe. The narrator is Francis Chan, a pastor in California. When you have a few minutes to prayerfully reflect, check out the video and then read the scripture that I’ve pasted below.

Psalm 8
O Lord, our Lord,
How majestic is your name in all the earth!
When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
the son of man that you care for him?
You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
and crowned him with glory and honor.

You made him ruler over the works of your hands;
You put everything under his feet.
O Lord, our Lord,
How majestic is your name in all the earth!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Debaptism & Debunking Meaningless Religious Expression

A British man who was baptized as an infant and has become an atheist in adulthood has asked the Church of England to remove his name from the rolls of those baptized. The church has refused, noting that the baptism records are a matter of history and that the man has become an atheist doesn’t change the historical fact that he had been baptized.

Sensing an opportunity to poke fun at religion and gain a bit of publicity for their organization The National Secular Society has begun a campaign to offer the rite of debaptism. For a few pounds one can purchase an unofficial certificate of debaptism. Thus far thousands have done so.

Though the infant baptism may have been significant to the atheist’s parents, it was not to him and became a source of irritation to him that he was still counted among the members of the church.

The Society has had fun and the media has had a few headlines but I wonder if there will be more to this in the future. Specifically I wonder if in this less religious day (see my post here) others will take similar steps of making anti-religion statements?

If so I think I’m in favor of it. In my denomination we have nearly 17 million members in the US. Around half that number can’t even be located. That means that it has been so long since they’ve attended the church where their membership is held no one has a current address on them. Doesn’t sound like their membership, baptism or anything else associated with the church is very meaningful.

I disagree with atheists regarding their “belief” about God but I stand with them in debunking meaningless religious expression. I find baptism one of the most meaningful expressions in the Christian faith. Likewise I’m deeply touched in worship when receiving the Lord’s Supper. Officiating weddings and funerals for committed Christians who believe the promises of God regarding marriage, life and death is a privilege and honor to me.

But then there are those times where family members or concerned others pressure their loved ones into doing something religious because they find it meaningful or because of the appearance of spirituality. The emptiness and absence of authenticity sadden me for the participant and it cheapens the experience.

Similarly I don’t think God is in favor of religious game playing. I rather think He prefers honest public statements of faithlessness and debaptism than the hypocrisy of meaningless ritual.

If you’re interested in what the certificate says--

I ________ having been subjected to the Rite of Christian Baptism in infancy (before reaching an age of consent), hereby publicly revoke any implications of that Rite and renounce the Church that carried it out. In the name of human reason, I reject all its Creeds and all other such superstition in particular, the perfidious belief that any baby needs to be cleansed by Baptism of alleged ORIGINAL SIN, and the evil power of supposed demons. I wish to be excluded henceforth from enhanced claims of church membership numbers based on past baptismal statistics used, for example, for the purpose of securing legislative privilege.”