Winning against Cancer: Reflections on Death and Stuart Scott

I remember in college being excited about watching Monday morning’s Sports
Center.  Stewart Scott was usually on as one of the top broadcasters and I loved the catch phrases he would use.  “Boo-yah!” “Cool as the other side of the pillow.”  Rich Eisen does an awesome job summing them up in this highlight reel.

Yet, what caught me was the quote from Scott’s ESPY award speech.  “When you die, it does not mean that you lose to cancer.  You beat cancer by how you live, why you live, and in the manner in which you live.”

As a pastor, as a Christian, I never like hearing someone say that they ‘lost their battle with cancer.”  Stuart Scott seemed to be a man of faith and walked, the final days of his life, as one who goes on to live.  Another quote points to this.  This quote comes from ESPN magazine back in 2010 while discussing Tim Tebow’s scriptural eyeblack.  When asked if he would be offended if someone wrote “There is no God” on their eyeblack Scott replied, “Dave, if that [is] what you want to do, I don’t care.  But Tim and I and billions of other believers in the world know you’d be wrong.  I’ve seen the workings of God many times in my life…If you don’t believe in God, watch a child be born.  Then if you still say you don’t believe in God, that’s okay.  The thing is, I think He’ll watch over you anyway!”

I just did a funeral from someone who passed away from Alzheimer’s.  At any funeral when someone has gone through a long battle with illness and disease I remind the family of what Scott echoes.  You never lose when you have faith.

During the committal service at the graveside this is what the United Methodist Book of Worship reads, and something I love, “Listen, I will tell you a mystery!  We will not all die, but we will all be changed.  For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality.  Then the saying that is written will be fulfilled: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”  “Where, O death, is your victory?  Where, O death, is your sting.” But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

We will all change, we will all die, but it is through the salvation work of God through his Son Jesus Christ that we can go on to live.

I remember distinctly the pastor of my church as a youth (Bruce Jones) announce, “Mr. ______ just won his battle with cancer.”  It caught me off guard at first but then the reality sunk in.  As people of faith, God’s love wins.  No disease, illness or tragedy ever has the last say.  Scott seemed to understand that, echo that, and live that out in the last part of his earthly journey.

To him I say thank you.  Thank you for reaching a millions with that quote and I pray that they will know the faith and the grace behind it one day for themselves.

Let us pray, “O God, who gave us birth, you are ever more ready to hear than we are to pray.  You know our needs before we ask, and our ignorance in asking.  Give to us now your grace, that as we shrink before the mystery of death, we may see the light of eternity.  Speak to us once more your solemn message of life and of death.  Help us to live as those who are prepared to die.  And when our days here are accomplished, enable us to die as those who go forth to live, so that living or dying, our life may be in you, and that nothing in life or in death will be able to separate us form your great love in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Amen.”  (UM Book of Worship)

John Wesley Quote

In his commentary on John 1:14 John Wesley writes this.  It is a great summation of our faith and what we believe.  It gives us a firm theology of Jesus that is expressed in John’s first chapter.

“Flesh sometimes signifies corrupt nature; sometimes the body; sometimes, as here, the whole man. We beheld his glory – We his apostles, particularly Peter, James, and John, Luke ix, 32. Grace and truth – We are all by nature liars and children of wrath, to whom both grace and truth are unknown. But we are made partakers of them, when we are accepted through the Beloved. The whole verse might be paraphrased thus: And in order to raise us to this dignity and happiness, the eternal Word, by a most amazing condescension, was made flesh, united himself to our miserable nature, with all its innocent infirmities. And he did not make us a transient visit, but tabernacled among us on earth, displaying his glory in a more eminent manner, than even of old in the tabernacle of Moses. And we who are now recording these things beheld his glory with so strict an attention, that we can testify, it was in every respect such a glory as became the only begotten of the Father. For it shone forth not only in his transfiguration, and in his continual miracles, but in all his tempers, ministrations, and conduct through the whole series of his life. In all he appeared full of grace and truth: he was himself most benevolent and upright; made those ample discoveries of pardon to sinners, which the Mosaic dispensation could not do: and really exhibited the most substantial blessings, whereas that was but a shadow of good things to come.”

And all God’s people said AMEN!

Ministry Matters™ | Articles | Jesus Is My Candidate

Ministry Matters™ | Articles | Jesus Is My Candidate

I have been struggling with this election.  I am tired of the “end of times” talk out there.  If _____ is elected the world will end in the next four years.  I am tired of the emails that blast people who are voting for whoever the ‘other’ candidate.  I am also tired of hearing that the most imporant thing Christians can do this November is vote.

Now I firmly believe voting is important and it is a wonderful right that we have in this country.  There are people who have died for that right in other places and we should take it seriously.  But as a Christian who worships a God of no nation I hate limiting God to our borders and our politics.  God is bigger than that and what we do as Christians is bigger than that.

I like how this article asks some good questions about making Jesus our candidate.  I also like the idea of Election Day Communion or what I have heard in some other places, a prayer vigil on the day after the election.

In a time when the country is split and fighting against one another we need to remember some things and this may be the most important thing we as Christians can do on Nov. 3rd.  We can remember we are all God’s Children, we are all created by God and in God’s image.  We are all loved by God and given grace, forgiveness and joy.

WWJS – Where Would Jesus Stand

Brian, via Facebook, states a good question, “If Jesus was a friend to women with reputations, which side of the picket line is he on here?” He is referring to this story about a strip club owner and some of the dancers who are protesting a nearby church on Sunday mornings. It seems the New Beginning Ministry congregation has been video tapping license plates and calling the dancers ‘home wreckers’ while they walk in and out of their place of employment. The owner got tired of it and decided to protest the church’s service. Now on Sunday mornings a bikini clad woman could be seen holding up signs about “false prophets” in front of their church.

Where would Jesus stand? Seriously, where would he stand?

There is truth in trying to deter business, like the strip club, from plaguing a community. Making money off of exploiting women, booze, and married men is not really biblical living. I have known ministers get a local corner store’s liquor license removed so that the bad influences standing on the street corner would go away and make the church’s neighborhood safer. So I don’t blame the church for wanting to get rid of the strip club.

Men, and heck women too, going into the club to ‘minister’ to the ladies in the name of Jesus may not be the best approach either. That reeks of hypocrisy.

My guess is that Jesus would be offering a late night meal for the women when they get off work, providing child care during work hours, or seeking to help these women break the cycle they are caught in. The XXXChurch has made their name doing this and it has been successful. Powerful ministry can be done out of the context of a loving relationship with another person.

I don’t think Jesus would protest. Yes he over turned tables, was fine with confrontation, and spoke his mind, but I don’t think he stood outside the Pharisees house with a sign telling them “turn and burn” (he just did that to their faces). When Christians protest, like stated in this article, they turn a moment of sharing the love of Christ into a “we’re better than you” situation. By holding up signs or yelling cross words at another human being, you are dehumanizing them, not loving them.

Where would Jesus stand?

John 20:1-18 – Easter Sermon – Living the Resurrection

John 20:1-18

Living the Resurrection

04-04-10

On Saturday, March 20th at 1:32 PM Eastern Standard Time it became official, Spring was here. That was the official time for the Vernal Equinox or Spring Equinox. On this day the Sun rises and sets on the equator and all over the world, for those 24 hours, the day and night are the same amount of time. Skip ahead ten days to March 30th and it is the first full moon after the Spring Equinox. Now we are here on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the Spring Equinox, that must mean one thing. It’s Easter! That must mean, HE HAS RISEN!

Here we are. Easter morning. Our bellies are full of the wonderful breakfast. The end of the long 40 days is here. You can eat whatever you gave up now or you can stop what ever you added. Our journey into our souls can now rest for another year and we can bask in the reality that death could not keep our Lord. Sin has now been defeated and we can find assurance that we are going be with God one day because of all this. Because he sent his Son. Because his Son died our death on Good Friday and then rose again today. HE HAS RISEN!

Tomorrow we will stand on the other side of Easter. We will celebrate this for 50 days. The Great 50 days start today. The season of Easter is longer than the season of preparation for it. That is because as we dived into the depth of our souls, confessed our sins and then witnessed what God did for us, we then celebrate because we are Easter people. We get the chance to live on the other side of the resurrection. We have to figure out how to do that though.

Did you hear the one about the preacher, the lawyer and the stand-up comedian? Her name is Rev. Susan Sparks from Madison Avenue Baptist Church in New York City. You heard me a woman Baptist minister who went to school for a lawyer and became a stand-up comedian who then went on to become a minister. Her life is a joke. I was introduced to her through the podcast I listen to from Day 1. As I listened to her sermon for today I was touched by the way she framed her Easter message.

Before we get there though let’s back up. Each Sunday is called a little Easter and each Sunday we should come here to celebrate, proclaim, and worship the one who was resurrected from the dead today. Every Sunday we should shout with joy, HE IS RISEN. But we don’t always. I don’t always preach about the resurrection and I have to confess that the only other time I talk about life after death is a peppering of sermons throughout the year and at funerals. That is where we think most often the message of the resurrection to be true. As we stare death in the eye we thank God that our Lord does not let that be the end for us.

Yet the resurrection is not something that we should wait until our funeral to proclaim. As Rev. Sparks said, “Death can come long before the end of life.” She went on in her sermon to talk about Resurrection Biscuits. Her grandmother lives in South Carolina and apparently is a great cook, like most southern grandparents. Yet there is one thing her grandmother can’t cook and that is biscuits. This is where any good southern person would then chime in, “Bless her heart,” which makes it okay to talk about someone’s grandmother like that. Apparently what would happen with Rev. Spark’s grandmother is that she refused to use baking soda or baking powder in anything. When her biscuits came out of the oven they made hockey pucks look soft and fluffy. Her family said that if you dropped one on the ground that it could wake the dead, thus their nickname for them, “Resurrection Biscuits.”[1]

All her grandmother needed was one more ingredient and her biscuits would come to life instead waking the dead. Rev. Sparks in her sermon goes on to explain how we all need that one ingredient in our lives to make us whole and that ingredient is the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Without it, “death can come long before the end of life.”

Do you know anyone who is walking around dead in this world? They exist only because they are here and there is no other purpose for their lives. Life has smacked them hard across the face and now they are stunned and lost. They couldn’t believe that they had to bury their own child. They don’t know what to do since they haven’t worked in 2 years. They just can’t fight this disease any longer. They can’t see past the day of the accident. They are stuck, without purpose, without vigor, without life. They are the dead walking in this world.

Mary was like that. After the Sabbath was over she collected the things she needed to prepare Jesus’ body and she made her way down to the tomb. The Gospels name her as one of the women there who actually watched Jesus die on the cross. She heard the hammers hit the nails that pierced his hands and feet. She heard his cries of pain and watched him attempt to push himself up in order that he could breath. She was there when the solider stuck the spear into Jesus’ side and water and blood ran out. She had watched Jesus die, her Lord, the one she followed, the one she loved. Pain brought her to the tomb. Anguish and depression guided her to the place of her Lord’s burial. It was there she was prepared to meet the worst thing that had happened.

We have moments that we cannot stand to relive. We have places of pain and of suffering. In the book “The Shack,” that we read last summer, the main character Mack is called by God back to place of his greatest pain. He was called back to the cabin where they found his daughter’s dress and blood. It is there that the reality of her kidnapping and murder came crashing down upon him. We have those shacks as well. Places we cannot go, issues we don’t want to face, people we don’t ever want to meet again because death takes over in our souls when that happens. Then we transform into the walking dead as we are consumed.

As Mary headed to that tomb early in the morning she carried the weight of solitude, for no one else was with her. She carried the weight of the oils and perfumes to seal death around Jesus. She carried the pain of what she witnessed on Friday. All that weight bore down on her soul and she wept. Then she arrived at the tomb and saw the stone rolled away. She ran to tell the disciples who came running as well. After Peter and John headed back home, she sat there and wept outside the tomb, once again alone. There she feels dead.

Life is hard. There is nothing about life that is easy. Kids just don’t sleep well and they get sick, which means that you don’t sleep and soon you will be sick. The people in our Sunday School classes get smaller and smaller as we bid them farewell and celebrate their lives. Family issues seem to never go away and consume all of our thoughts and time. Loneliness keeps creeping in and devours our passions and hopes for the future. It is there we feel dead.

Then a man asks Mary, “Why are you crying.” “They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus. “Woman,” he said, “why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?” Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!”

It is in our despair, in our grief, in our pain, in our suffering that the Risen Lord and Savior meets us and calls out our name. It is in life that our Lord transforms us to be an Easter People. Yes, one of the perks of following Christ is eternity in the presence of God after death but before we get there Christ, through his resurrection, saves our life.

Today as came into worship death was still all around us. The cross was still dead and the altar still barren. Now it is full of life. Where death used to be there is now life. Death could not keep our Lord and the small and big deaths in our life do not keep Christ from meeting us there and calling our name. That is the promise of Easter; that is the promise of resurrection.

Resurrection is promised at the end of our life but what is wonderful is that we can proclaim its power now as we live. We can live in the resurrection knowing that no matter what happens to us and no matter where life takes us, the Risen Lord, will be there. As Mack spent the weekend with God in that cabin of his worst nightmare he was transformed. As we see God in our midst when we visit our pain and our issues we too will be transformed, from death to life. Because today, TODAY, we proclaim boldly that he has risen, He Has Risen, HE HAS RISEN!

And all God’s people said…Amen.

Cheap Grace, Costly Grace – Reflections on Luke 13:1-9


This has always seemed like an odd parable to me. A fig tree not bearing fruit. After three years, it seems that the owner had it right when he said to cut down the tree and make room for one who is making fruit. Yet the farmer knew he could had some things he could do and see if that would help. As I read this again I realized that I didn’t have a clue what Jesus was getting at and what type of message this held for my congregation on Sunday.

The more I read it though the more I realized that it was about grace, costly grace. Not the cheap kind you can buy at Walmart or in bulk at Costco. My mind went to Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s book The Cost of Discipleship where he explains these two concepts.

Cheap Grace = “Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of the Church…Cheap grace means the justification of sin without the justification of the sinner. Grace alone does everything, they say, and so everything can remain as it was before…Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline.” (pp. 43-44)

Costly Grace = “Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock. Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it call us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son; “Ye were bought at a price,” and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God.”

YEAH, THAT’LL PREACH!!

A story I won’t share in my sermon but I will be hinting at is a situation I am ministering to at the moment. Without getting too detailed, a person’s daughter is going through a hard time in her marriage. She has been abused and was at the brink of divorce the husband convinced her he could change. He cut her off for 2 1/2 months from her family and now is seeking forgiveness via email of his mother-in-law. There is no repentance in the email, only seeking forgiveness. To offer it at this moment in time is cheap grace.

A husband who abuses his wife has many things to deal with. There are acts of anger, jealousy, control, and trust that have to be delved into. I have had a run in with this husband and in my opinion he has a lot of work to do. To go from striking your wife and threatening her life with their children watching to marital bliss in 3 months stinks of a wolf in sheep’s clothing. I hope there has been recovery but my advice to the mother-in-law is to tread lightly.

The gardener promises the owner that he will dig up the soil and put manure on it. Manure if stacked high only stinks. But if spread out will make things flourish. Cheap grace piles it on and hopes for the best. Costly grace digs up the soil and spreads the poop around until the tree and flourish and grow once more.

Costly grace is sought after by the sinner and given freely by our God. It cost God everything, and it costs us everything as well. If we are not willing to do the work, then off to shop at Walmart we go.