As the NFL Turns (Writhes)

I must admit that football is really the only sport that I follow. I must also admit that I rather look forward to NFL opening day and watching very large children violently throw themselves around a field and smash into each other for millions of dollars. But now instead of Sunday headline games, I am treated to daily headlines detailing the bad behavior of NFL players – and everyone dancing around trying to act outraged.

It is difficult to navigate the issues laid out before us, but a few things strike me:

1) As much as I might like watching football, the whole enterprise of professional sports is not a particularly positive or Godly aspect of society – even IF the good folks in the NFL would like to convince us otherwise. Neither does it contribute to our lives as Christians. Don’t get me wrong. There is nothing wrong with enjoying a game! But it seems obvious to me that a pickup game at the neighborhood park would do us a lot better than couch sitting with a beer in hand.

2) As much as I enjoy watching football as my body wastes away, what is worse is what it does to its players. Or at least that is what am gathering. We hype them up, glamorize them, put them on pedestals, give them gobs of money to throw around, and then eventually abandon a third of them to early dementia. Some of them do well enough, though I can’t image what kind of person I would end up being after an NFL career. It wouldn’t be pretty.

3) So if we train up our players to be tough guy, kick ass, gladiator types on the field whose only purpose is to take out the opposing team, why are we surprised when they are gladiator types in real life? Why does it shock us when a player disciplines his son with a stick or knocks his girl out with an easy throw of his fist?

4) It truly is terrible anyone is injured in any way at the hand of someone else. But do we really have to be force fed every indiscretion of these sorry fellows? Does the NFL actually care about what its players do? Is there true repentance anywhere? Or is this all just a publicity stunt? These atrocities happen every day thousands of times – in our own families and communities… Why is it particularly outrageous that THESE particular individuals do it? There is something really messed up here. If a professional sports player commits some crime or indiscretion in his life, he should get his just reward – whatever it might be. But let it be noted on page two of the sports section and lets get on with…. football?

Get on with football? Well… MAYBE… But I am feeling that it just isn’t going to be the same anymore… All our dreams about what sports were… they just really were dreams. Nothing more.

In the Face of Evil, Let us Rally to Christ!

There are times when we get pretty sick. And tired. And frustrated.

We see the world falling apart. We see evil men behead the innocent on camera and post it to the internet. We have the drum beat of war in Europe for reasons beyond stupidity. Despot rulers seem to get their way as defenseless men, women and children are bombed out of their homes and communities. Egos and hubris and everything BUT Christian love and peace are being demonstrated over and over again as headlines battle for the top spot. And that is all of what happens in the ‘rest’ of the world… The headlines from this side of the oceans can seem just as bad as the tide of anti-Christs deluge our families, communities, and nation.

        And yet – we are so lazy in our faith. We are anything but zealous for the Lord. We cannot see Christ through our tears. We scowl and grumble at the Lord and each other. We are seemingly paralyzed by our fears and preserving instincts. It sure would be nice if we could do what Bob Newhart told his fearful patient in his famous TV show sketch: Just “STOP IT!” Or, as our latest Disney queen would say “Let it go!”

        But no. It sure is hard! It seems that we really are poor miserable sinners – and we like to do what we do best: sin. Just like the rest of the world.

        However, it just so happens that we have a Savior. His name is Jesus. Have you heard of Him? Lately at all? Reputable sources have said that He loves to forgive sinners; that He loves to heal the sick and comfort the mourning. Rumor has it that he lifts up the weary and makes them strong… makes them soar as eagles on a strong wind. The testimony has come down through the millennia, and even our fathers and forefathers have whispered it in our ears years long after they have lain down in their graves – that there is someone who is truly worthy of our attention, truly worthy of our worship, truly worthy of our devotion. And it behooves us to stop and consider our first love, the one who created and redeemed us, who forever pours his glorious goodness upon us – even in the face of our rebellion and hatred of His lovely and pre-ordained ways.

        In these evil days, let us throw off our dull sloth. Let us cling to our creator and redeemer, the lover of our souls… the one who goes before and suffers the cross and all our damnation.

        

In the face of every evil… Rally to the Love! Rally to the Cross! Rally to Christ!

                - Pastor Bjornstad

The Unfortunate Trajectory of Space Exploration

I am a huge fan of science in general and have always been an avid follower of NASA and space exploration. It is so exciting that next year we will see Pluto up close and the big news lately has been the European Space Agency spacecraft and their mission to land on a comet! Amazing stuff, no doubt.

But even as the discoveries that will be made can’t help to be thrilling all by themselves, I just can’t decide whether to laugh or cry (or just stand there with my mouth gaping wide) that the whole space exploration effort these days has been completely co-opted by a driving necessity in the scientific community to find an excuse for life here on earth. I heard one NASA official crow the other day about how “NASA is ALL ABOUT finding life in outer space” – and how he is so confident that they will find it very soon!

I have no problems, theologically or in principle, with finding “life” in outer space. I have no problem with being “on the lookout” for life. But it seems that pure scientific observation at NASA has had to take a back seat to this obsession with the question of life. And that is too bad. They are “spaced out” and definitely on the wrong trajectory!

Of course we do know why their trajectory is so badly off course. The brains at NASA, as brilliant as they are, are scrambled worse than eggs. And their propulsion systems are all running on the wrong fuel as well. This whole endeavor (funded by you and me the taxpayer) has become simply an intense effort to explain our existence apart from God. It has become almost the “religion” of the modern, atheistic, politically correct, scientific community. They MUST find some explanation of life because otherwise their whole world view falls apart and there must be a god. (Evidently there is this great hope in humanity apart from God!) If there is life outside of the confines of earth then they can surmise that life is not “special”, and that somehow the overwhelmingly bad odds of life arising out of a “primordial soup” on earth billions of years ago – are actually not that bad at all.

Anyway, the terrible prediction I have about all this is that we had better stock up on the antidepressant meds and have the bridges lined with nets around NASA headquarters: It is going to be tough dealing with all the disappointment!

In the meantime, in the onslaught of all the news and propaganda from NASA, I am a lot happier living with the “odds” that each and every one of us were created by an amazing God who loves us and cares for us – a God in whom we have our beginning and end, even our salvation. We indeed are so very special! I pray you will believe too!

The Debate in Christianity on Capital Punishment

Today in the news we hear of how the Arizona convicted murderer Joseph Wood seemed to have suffered over 100 minutes during his execution by lethal injection before he finally died. It is quite a story that it seems to be getting harder and harder for the state to execute its criminals because the drugs that used to be so effective in killing are unavailable now.  Drug makers have either ceased production of them or simply refuse to sell them because they object to their use in these executions.

Capital punishment has been a hot topic for many decades of course, but I am not really sure that people are all that aware of the philosophical debate generally, or the debate among Christians. Most people I think determine their view on the death sentence by how they “feel” about it… But it is really quite a fascinating topic if we stop to learn more – with good points on both sides!

The debate over capital punishment actually has broader implications – implications for the whole of our criminal justice system. The question at issue is “What is the aim of our criminal justice system?” The historic view of almost every culture and society has emphasized the “justice” issue. If a crime has been committed then the purpose of any sentence is to administer punishment. This view has been called “Retributionism”. Sounds nice and simple.

But then in the last couple centuries another idea has begun to gain a lot of traction. This idea is that the main aim of the justice system is not so much punishment, but “rehabilitation”. A couple years ago I visited the Eastern Pennsylvania State Penitentiary in Philadelphia – and the history lesson there was summed up in its name “Penitentiary”. It was where criminals were to come and learn to be “penitent”, to repent of their sin and learn to reform their lives. Its original “Rehabilitationism” vision was not so much punish criminals, but to reform them and make them into responsible citizens. This view came out of the “Enlightenment” and a high view of human nature and the capacity for the will of man to change.

So which view is more Christian? Some Christians would argue that the main point of the Bible is that God hates death and that he loves mercy. It is plain that God certainly desires the reformation of the heart life through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. They would point to places in the scripture where God spared the murderer – such as with Cain and King David. But the Retributionist Christian certainly has lots of scripture to back their view up as well. Certainly capital punishment was included in the laws given by God that governed the early Israelite nation. And certainly St. Paul admonished all Christians to respect the sword of the government that was instituted by God to keep the peace in the land.

I personally take the view that although God certainly does desire every chance for repentance and loves mercy, and that every opportunity should be taken to minister to the criminal so that he might repent and reform his life, all this does not take away from the principal of justice in the Kingdom of the Left (Civil realm) and that the government and society have every “right” to implement capital punishment. HOWEVER: I also take the view that capital punishment is not a requirement of government and that in mercy we might desire to cease its practice. I suppose the one thing that makes me hesitate the most in being a vocal advocate for it is that our Justice System is so fallible. The sinful and often corrupt law enforcement and Judicial system has proved so incredibly wrong so many times that you have to suspect that almost any conviction is suspect. It is so very difficult for me to think about how many people have been wrongly executed.

Ultimately with this and so many of our vexing problems in life, the reality is that there is most definitely no “good” answer. We desperately need good sound thinking on the subject, but we also need a fleeing to the Savior who loves us even though we can’t get a handle on life. Even the fact that we even NEED a criminal justice system is sobering! It drives me to repentance and love for my savior Jesus the Christ!

Ships Passing In the Night – Guns Blazing?

It was always encouraged in the seminary that every pastor should have relationships outside of the church. Although I have never had hugely important social outlets outside the church, for the last few years I have been a member of a local club of interest. I tried to enjoy it as much as I could. And I did enjoy it. It was important for me. I enjoyed it even though people generally don’t know how to handle being “friends” with a pastor. I felt the club members’ pain, and I gave them credit for at least trying to be nice to me – especially if they were not particularly religious themselves.

But something really sad has happened over just the last few months. With the rise of the gay rights issue, my relationships with several members of the club have just really soured. The problem started, of course, because being “friends” on Facebook exposes me to many of their views on marriage and their bolder and bolder expressions of anger and outward contempt toward the Christian faith and its opposition to “gay marriage”. But then, being the Christian fool that I am, I attempted to at least give something of a considered defense of our Christian faith and life. I tried valiantly to do this in a very humble way – but it was to absolutely terrible affect. This was so disappointing for me. It was disappointing not because I dreamed of actually changing the minds of these younger and seemingly quite articulate and educated individuals. It was disappointing because all I wanted to do was help them come to a basic understanding as to WHY a Christian could think the way he does on the issue. I failed miserably!

A few things disturbed me especially. Firstly, the basic tenants of Christianity were so incredibly foreign to the minds of these individuals. Sinful human nature, Repentance and Good Works, Grace, Salvation, Heaven, Hell – so much of it was completely misunderstood. Often it was like they had never even heard of these concepts.

Of course that was bad enough for me to come to grips with. But the worst of it was that they either didn’t have the mental framework or conceptual tools to understand the Christian faith, or they just so truly hated anything that smacked of religion that they simply could not – or would not – understand it. Nor could they consider how they might live alongside of someone who thought like a Christian. You get the distinct feeling that for some of them a Christian was trash and needed to be discarded.

Finally, the third issue that disturbed me was that absolutely no one else had anything to say in support of my attempts to dialogue and explain. Plenty of others had plenty to say about Christians (i.e. me) being bigots, etc., but no other person in all my discussions defended a Godly and reasonable point of view along with me. I heard someone today talk about a “silent majority” who are not well equipped to make a defense of what they believe… But at this moment, I am not sure I feel that is a good explanation – even if it is true.

This whole experience has been vexing for me. Not only do I just mourn for lost friendship, but I am struggling over how I am to live my very public faith out in the world where it is not accepted. How can I have meaningful relationships with those outside the church? The huge problem we have in our nation today is that we are becoming more and more polarized in our thinking and beliefs… and for some reason we can’t seem to communicate and understand each other. You would think that technology like Facebook would be a really great at bringing the world together. Unfortunately, studies have shown that, left to our own devices, people will gather only Facebook “friends” who have similar views and concerns. I know this to be true for myself! We have failed in the skills of both understanding each other – and disagreeing with each other!

I do believe it is important to have friends outside the church… But what are the limits? Sometimes I have no heart to go to another club meeting when it has been plainly said by a number of them how they feel about Christians. What am I to do when they do not want to be friends with me? It is true that Jesus said he came not to bring peace, but the sword and division… but am I really ready for that truth of the name of Jesus to come true? Perhaps I should I just be a “secret” Christian and just keep all my beliefs to myself? Haha… Now THAT will be the day! But this is my prayer… that the Lord help us in this difficult time to live with each other!

Observations at a High School Honor’s Banquet

My dear daughter Hannah is graduating in a couple weeks and earlier this evening we went to the award’s banquet. It was actually a fine affair and it should have been an encouragement to the top students of the High School. Some interesting things stood out for me as I observed the proceedings…

1) Wonder Women rule! Yes indeed. Eight out of ten students of the month were girls. Top five GPA scores were all owned by the girls. By far the most awards were given to girls. What was even more interesting is that many of the top girls were going on to study science. You hate to say anything that could be seen as taking away from all this excellence. But, there really is something pitiful about the fact that boys are so left behind. The consensus in my family is that there are plenty of smart boys, but many are just plain lazy, or they simply have no interest in their studies.

2) Vocational survey:

Out of all the 35 students honored tonight I counted not one going on to study the humanities (languages, literature, philosophy, religion, and visual and performing arts, history, anthropology, area studies, communication studies, cultural studies, law and linguistics) except Hannah (music).

Out of all the 35 students I don’t think there were any going into human service vocations, but two were going into teaching (including Hannah), three into nursing, two into physician assistant, two into pharmacy, and two into psychology.

Hannah was the only student going into a church vocation, and that was contrasted with 2 or 3 of the students going into vocations associated with sports management and training, vocations that 30 years ago I don’t even think were heard of.

3) The superintendent of the school district spoke at the end and encouraged the kids to be good leaders in society and to find the vocation they love so that going to “work” would never be a chore. He also encouraged the kids to forget doing what they do for the money. He told them of his mother’s advice to him when someone asked him the question “What do you make?”: She said “Look him straight in the eye and say ‘I make a DIFFERENCE!’” How wonderful is that! Even though I am not expecting anyone will ever remember to say that, I hope they do!

I am not sure exactly what you can draw from all of this, as it is only one school… but I am thinking that these stats are fairly pedestrian and I just wish that there was more “imagination” in the goals of these kids. The vocations that demonstrate beauty and life such as the arts and humanities are so lacking. We need to light a fire in our children’s hearts and minds!  The exception to these pedestrian results is those top girls who were going into the sciences. Kudos to them! And… of course I AM thankful there is my lovely Hannah, who herself truly excelled in the sciences and math, but has her eyes presently set on making music to the Lord and sharing its joys with so many! She is making a huge difference with a fabulous imagination!

Understanding and Dealing with Race

Recently there has been a lot of noise in the media about the owner of an NBA team for taped (private) comments he made to his mistress that were mysteriously “leaked”. These comments demonstrated an attitude toward African Americans that horrified the general populace and disgraced the NBA. They were ironic because the vast majority of this owner’s very team members is African American – and he makes millions of dollars off of them. The end result is that the NBA has banned him for life to have anything to do with the NBA (can’t even go to a game) and they are going to force him to sell the team.

But we are not being honest with ourselves in our outrage. It is a sad fact that no matter what we do as individuals and governments, no matter our high and good ideals to win the battle against racism, we are never going to be rid of this great division in society.

We publicly stand aghast at what people say out loud, but the reality is we all are guilty. We say and think we aren’t racist, but all the studies show that we actually are. Every one of us. We treat people who are different from us differently. I know I certainly do – even though I hate it. And mostly we treat others for the worse, not the better.

Then the other day I was reading another blogger and he was reflecting on the matter differently than I had ever thought. I had always just viewed the fact of different races as something neutral. But if we understand the different races that are located in the different corners of the world are connected with the Fall of Man into sin and the division and dispersion of humanity after attempting to build the Tower of Babel, we can conclude that the races we have are a direct result of sin and the punishment of God on humanity. Perhaps we can be brave and even associate the different racial characteristics and differences (even besides skin color) to this curse of God.

Now, of course this does not somehow give any of us excuse for racism! But maybe this understanding will give us the liberty to examine our own heart and repent of our sin without somehow thinking that the next fellow has somehow overcome racism. It will allow us to accept that perhaps our different races are (generally speaking) differently gifted (to put it positively). What it does is allows us to help each other forgive our neighbor who struggles with racism just like we do. And yes, as always, it points us to our Savior Jesus Christ who loves to forgive us.