Go figure!

I have become a Christmas – Easter blogger (My last blog was just before Christmas.).  I apologize for this, but I have a good excuse.  Remember, I write a newsletter article every month (You can access these articles from this webpage.).  I also preach almost every Sunday.  These other “blogs” have a different purpose than this one.  If you go way back to the beginning of this blog, you will remember that the purpose of this blog is to convince a skeptical person to try to believe in Jesus.  In this regard, an Easter blog poses the most challenging communication task imaginable.  I am attempting to convince you, a religious skeptic, that Jesus rose from the dead as Christians claim he did.  Preposterous!  People do not rise from the dead!  And yet, that is the central claim of Christianity (Around AD 55, Paul (formerly Saul) of Tarsus, wrote, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile…and we Christians are of all people most to be pitied.” (1 Corinthians 15:17ff)How true.  Paul offers proof of the resurrection, but it is all subjective –“I delivered to you what I received –that Christ…was raised on the third day and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve, then to more than five hundred at one time, then to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all, to me.”  (1 Corinthians 15:3-8)   There are no objective, or scientifically verifiable accounts of Jesus or anyone else rising from the dead.  And yet, people like me, a scientist (BS Biochemistry, U of M, 1971) believe it. Go figure!

In Search of the Lost Chord

I know I haven’t written anything in my blog for a long time and I can understand why no one would be looking for a new entry.  But, here it is –just in time for Christmas.  In 1968, when the Moody Blues released the song, “In Search of the Lost Chord,” I sensed the spirituality of the song, but couldn’t conceptualize anything.  I now equate the Lost Chord with Jesus. The Lost Chord resolves the dissonance of creation.  Whatever is not right with the universe is made right by the resolving chord.  The Christmas story is the story of how that resolving chord came into the world.  When you think about it, the chord that resolves a dissonance in music is there from the very beginning –hence the Gospel of John begins, “In the beginning was the Word (logos).” Jesus freaks like to think about what that says about Jesus.  I like to think what it says about God.  Merry Christmas.

Annual Christmas Concert

Join us for our Annual Christmas Concert - Sunday, December 15th at 10:45 a.m. in the St. Olaf sanctuary. This wonderful concert will feature St Olaf Lutheran and First Lutheran Church of Crystal Combined Choirs, Chamber Choir and Orchestra, all under the direction of Jerry Bursch.

After the concert, please join us for a holiday bake sale!

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Stand Your Ground vs Turn the Other Cheek

Jesus taught to respond to violence and the threat of violence nonviolently.  We may no like this approach, but, as usual, Jesus had our best interests in mind when he taught us to turn the other cheek.  To return violence with violence only perpetuates an endless cycle of violence.  But, moreso, it keeps one’s conscience clean.  Killing in self-defense usually produces guilt because there is usually an alternative, such as turning the other cheek, which could have been employed.  There is, of course, the necessity to defend the innocent, but to reduce the amount of unnecessary violence, this is best left to sanctioned authority. People acting according to stand your ground laws are not usually sanctioned authorities or necessarily defending the innocent.  This type of law opens up too many possibilities to be effective at creating social order in which we are free to love the neighbor.  In the case of George Zimmerman, the Florida stand your ground law created a murder that would not have happened had not George Zimmerman gone out of his way against the advice of a civil authority (911 operator).  I was happy to see that Attorney General Eric Holder is looking into a federal review of stand your ground laws.

Happy Easter

It is nearing Easter, so I will tell an Easter story.  It will be a retelling of a story told to me by a youth pastor friend of mine.  It is a true story.  Eddie’s parents had more interest in him coming to church than he did.  He came to keep the peace in the family. But, he didn’t make it easy for my friend the youth pastor.  “Why should I believe in any of that make-believe stuff,” he would tell my friend.  “I don’t need your Jesus!”  One night, after the last youth had left the building, he heard a knock at the door.  It was Eddie.  His face was white as a sheet and he was sobbing.  “I had a little too much to drink tonight and I think I hit someone walking across the street.”  My friend was stunned.  He didn’t know what to say.  Fear rose up in his throat and he blurted out, “Jesus Christ, Eddie. Now you really need Jesus!”

There was no joy in Eddie’s Easter that year.  But, in his search for forgiveness, he found Jesus.  Of course, it was not the Jesus of the resurrection.  It was the Jesus of the cross.  Eddie needed a God who could forgive him the disastrous consequences of his carelessness (The pedestrian died.).  He found that God, not floating six inches above the tulips on a sunny Easter morning, but nailed to a cross under a black sky, muttering,  “Father, forgive them.”

Of course, had he not been raised from the dead, it would have been no different than the thousands of crucifixions, executions and slaughters before him.  But, this one was different because in this one God acted to end the power of tyrannical brutality.  That’s why you hear about it. Fortunately for Eddie, and for all of us, the forgiveness that deflected that power covered less egregious offenses as well. Happy Easter!

 

“How beautiful upon the mountain are the feet of those who bring good news!” (Isaiah 52:7) When I read this verse of scripture, I see sandaled feet of ancient messengers. Their feet were indeed beautiful when they brought good news instead of bad.  To his followers, Jesus’ appearance after his death was GOOD NEWS, so they named their message, “good news,” which we translate as “Gospel.”  We are accustomed to think of death as the end of life as we know it.  Well, good news! It is not.  We are accustomed to worry that the world is heading toward disaster.  Well, good news! It is not.  And, we are accustomed –at least some of us –to think we are not worthy of blessings.  Well, good news! We are!

The concept of resurrection is a stumbling block for many people.  It is a stumbling block because it is unscientific.  It emerges from an age when myth shrouded reality, or stated more crudely, when superstition reigned.  But, that is what makes it all the more remarkable –that it was a real event among all the superstitious and fake appearances of the dead, then and now.  Now, if you think the resurrection is a stumbling block, what about the incarnation? We are not as familiar with that word, but it means God becoming flesh (human) like us. The incarnation, too, can be a stumbling block because for God to become human sounds like mythology.  But, again, that is what makes it so remarkable –that Jesus was a real “divine” man among the many mythological and phony ones. But, the circumstances of Jesus’ divinity were like no other.  He was not numbered among the great people of the earth.  He was born into lowliness, in a barn, from oppressed peasant parents.  As in his death, his power was perfected in lowliness, and that has saved the world. Merry Christmas!

Donate to St. Olaf Community Campus Thursday!

Thursday, Nov. 15 is Give To The Max day in Minnesota. Each donation between midnight and midnight on Thursday at the St. Olaf Community Campus (SOCC) page gives the organization another chance to win an extra grant of up to $10,000. Please share the link with your friends and followers! Set your alarm and plan to make a gift!

Give to the MAX Nov. 15!

Give to the MAX Nov. 15!

Vote Tuesday!

For information about voting on tuesday, visit www.mnvotes.org. Remember – if you’re not registered you can register at the polls. North Minneapolis typically has low voter turnout–Let’s change that! Talk to your neighbors today to make sure they plan to vote and know how!

St. Olaf is part of the “Vote NO” coalition. We hope you will join us as people of fait voting NO!

On the Freedom of a Christian

I have often heard people say, “I’m spiritual, but not religious.”  Often, these are people I hang around with and with whom I share common spiritual sentiments.  When questioned, these SBNR folk (spiritual but not religious) usually say something about the restriction of spiritual freedom. The word, “dogma” is often used.  I am sympathetic with the desire for spiritual freedom.  But, I find the Gospel to nurture spiritual freedom rather than repress it.  I grieve that my friends heard a repressive Gospel somewhere.  The reason a church might use fear to manipulate people lies at the heart of why the Gospel is liberating.  The Gospel is liberating because it frees us from ourselves.  Our will is captive to sin, but faith in Jesus Christ provides the way to freedom. Martin Luther captured these contrasting ideas in his two treatises, “The Bondage of the Will,” and “On the Freedom of a Christian.”  Let me use the recent “Twilight” scandal for instance.  Twilight star, Kristen Stewart, had an affair on her boyfriend, co-star Rob Pattinson, which will likely break up the relationship though she has expressed her regret and apology.  Fans are upset. “How could she do such a thing?” they ask.  Fans adore the couple and painfully expressed their sadness and anger over her fling.  We crave the chaste, monogamous, committed relationship formerly portrayed by the couple because we are created with this expectation.  But, because our will is in bondage to sin, it can’t be counted on to follow through with what’s best for us –unless we hand it over to our creator and move forward in life with a partnership with God.  Within this partnership, the “restrictions” on our freedom take on the characteristic of being helpful, rather than harmful.  In this light, the “dogma” of religion, in this case, the dogma of  mutual, chaste, committed relationships.  Sad to say, this dogma is so necessary that Kristen and Rob will probably not be able to put their relationship back together, but forgiveness is available from God, if not from Rob, and Kristen will hopefully move forward with a new understanding of the sanctity of marriage.  This is the “good news” of Jesus Christ.

Religion

As I picked my donut off the tray and slid a cup of coffee into my hand, I felt nervous about how I was going to meet people.  It was my first day at Bethlehem Lutheran Church and I had stayed for the fellowship time just so I could meet people. I had decided to actually join a church and Bethlehem was it.  It hadn’t been too long before that I had first stepped into a church after a 5 year hiatus.  And now I was actually joining this thriving Christian community in south Minneapolis. But everybody was busy greeting their friends and I was anxious about breaking the ice. Then up sidled Rudy. Rudy seemed like he didn’t belong in a church. He was obviously rough around the edges –he broke the ice with an off-color joke, one of many I was to hear in the weeks to come.  “Hey, come on over guys! Meet the new guy!”  “Sledge hammer” would describe Rudy’s welcoming style. The church is anything but perfect, but people like Rudy keep it honest.  Unfortunately, I don’t have Rudy’s natural humility. I kept my distance for a long time -5 years.  I tried atheism, agnosticism, Eastern religion, even yoga.  All good, but all lacking.  None touched on the personal God of Christianity.  That God could love me as a person as if God were a person himself or herself was the most astounding thing to me. But, that only opened my heart to the recognition that God loves everybody like that.  And so I stepped back into church. Previously, I had regarded what they did in church as cartoonish and the people as hypocrits. But, seeing the Church as the place where people who love God gather, no matter how cartoonish or imperfect it may be, changed that and I matured spiritually that day.

 

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