Wednesday, December 8, 2010

In Memorium, Michael

This post tackles an uncomfortable subject: death.

We don't like to think about death. We instinctively realize that it is not the ideal. When someone close to us is taken away suddenly, we often wonder why. Despite the claims to the contrary, nobody welcomes death. We spend untold amounts of money on health care to stave it off as long as we possibly can. We also spend tremendous amounts to help us avoid the appearance of aging and weakening. However, in spite of our best efforts, we all will die.

This was brought home to me on 22 November 2010 when I received a telephone call from my younger sister. She told me that my older brother had been killed in a hunting accident. He had gone out in the morning and did not return home by nightfall. His wife was concerned and called my older sister. They could not find him so the combined efforts of three local fire and rescue departments plus a helicopter were employed in searching for him. When they did find him, he had been dead for some time. He was apparently trying to install a tree stand when he fell, injuring himself fatally.

We traveled home for services. My brother's pastor asked if I would speak at the graveside service. I agreed, hoping that I could comfort his wife, my parents, my other brother and sisters with their families, and the many other relatives and friends all of whom were grieving the loss of my brother together with us.

This is what I said at the graveside service:

Opening Remarks:

Thank you for coming to this committal service for my brother Michael. His death is a great loss and a sad occasion. Death is an enemy, not a friend. God created us to live in fellowship with Him. Adam's disobedience brought death into the world, and the sorrow we feel today comes from living in a fallen world where there is pain, suffering, and death. However, this is not the end. Listen to these words form God's holy, inspired, infallible Word.

In John 11:25, Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?”

That is the question. Do we believe this? Do we believe that Michael, though he has died shall live? Do we believe that he, while no longer here present with us in this life is now in the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ, whom he loved and served? Let us look again at God's Word.

“For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3-4).

Additionally, we read, “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable. But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ's at His coming. Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power. For He must reign til He has put all enemies under His feet. The last enemy that will be destroyed is death” (1 Cor. 15:19-26).

God's word also says, “Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed—in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: Death is swallowed up in victory. O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory? The sting of death is sin and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 15:51-57).

Finally, Scripture says, “But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words” (1 Thess. 4:13-18).

From this we see several things. First, we see that Jesus Christ died for our sins. He suffered, taking the place we deserved on the cross so that we might be reconciled to God.

Next we see that Jesus Christ arose from the dead. This is history. The grave is empty. We believe in a risen, living Savior, not a dead martyr who can only serve as a “good example.”

We also see that Christ's resurrection is the firstfruits and the assurance that if we place our faith and trust in Him for salvation, we will also be raised from the dead. Death is not the natural order of things, but an enemy that will be destroyed at Christ's coming. We are as yet corruptible. Our bodies decay. From the moment we are born, we are in the process of dying. Some of us come to the grave earlier than others and we are reminded of our own mortality. However, when Christ returns, when the last trumpet sounds and the dead are raised, then that will be in incorruption. Corruption and death shall no longer be a part of our existence. We shall be raised to ever be with the Lord.

We can take comfort in this: that Michael knew his Lord and had placed his faith and trust in the One who went first. Christ died, was buried, and was raised from the dead. So Michael has died and will be buried shortly. However, this is not the end. He shall be raised. We can take comfort in this. We grieve for him, that he is no longer here for us to enjoy his presence as before. We do not grieve without hope. We have God's Word to assure us that Michael will rise. God's word is sure. The victory is assured. Therefore, let us commit Michael's body to the ground in the hope of his resurrection. Let us yield our own lives to the Lord, not trusting in our own righteousness to save us, but in the sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ. Let us trust in our resurrected Lord to provide us with a righteousness that will enable us to rise and enjoy a “new heaven and a new earth,” the New Jerusalem where “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying; and there shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away” (Rev. 21:1a, 2a, 4).

Let us pray: Father, we gather in this solemn place to remember Michael's life and mourn his death. We do not sorrow as those who have no hope, for our hope is in Jesus Christ. We ask that you would comfort each family member and friend. May we be comforted by your Word, encouraged through happy memories, and sustained by the hope of the resurrection for all who place their faith in you. Amen.

Benediction: “The Lord bless you and keep you; The Lord make His face to shine upon you, And be gracious to you; The Lord lift up His countenance upon you, And give you peace” (Num. 6:24-26).

Note: All Scripture quotations from the New King James version.

Michael Haffly
Rest in peace

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Where is the outrage?

The world is upside down. One man threatens to burn copies of the Koran and the Islamic world is outraged and threatens violence. Saudi Arabia burns confiscated copies of The Holy Bible, and the silence is deafening. One cartoonist creates a drawing portraying the violence of Muhammad's followers, and the Islamic world explodes in riots with Imams issuing fatwahs which call for "good" Muslims to kill him. An "artist" places a crucifix in a jar of urine and the silence is deafening. If one dares to speak in less than flattering terms about Muhammad in an Islamic country, one is subject to death (although how one can blaspheme a man is beyond me). If one curses the name of Christ, he is viewed as enlightened.

Muslim controlled nations see their own style of government and attempt to impose it on the United States. Although mosque and state may be one in their view, church and state are separate in the United States. Government may impose its will in Muslim controlled countries. Government may not impose its will in the United States. Calls from Muslim run countries for the US government to stop the Koran burning by the organization claiming to be a Christian church are useless. The government does not have the constitutional authority to do so. Leaders in government can attempt to persuade the group that this action would not be good, but it cannot be imposed.

Muhammad was a man who said he received the Koran from the Angel Gabriel and wrote it down word-for-word. Paul, in Galatians, said that if anyone, even an angel from heaven came preaching any other gospel than what he had proclaimed to them, let him be accursed. The Muslim seeks to save himself by his works. The Christian is saved by God through the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. The Muslims circle around and bow toward a rock in Mecca. How is that not idolatry? Why is it that they who claim to be submissive to God do not accept God manifest in the flesh? Muhammad died and was buried. Jesus died and arose from the dead. Muhammad, and all his followers will bow the knee to Jesus Christ. It is not at the name of Muhammad, nor at the name of the moon god Allah that every knee will bow. It is at the name of Jesus Christ that every knee will bow, whether in heaven above, on the earth, or under the earth (see Philippians 2:5-11).

Muslims come here and enjoy tolerance and acceptance. Americans do not accuse all Muslims of the crimes of the few who perpetrated the attacks on September 11, 2001. Christians are not welcome, and are persecuted in many Muslim countries. Why is there no outrage over this? Where is the equity? Why would a Muslim want to come here and enjoy the freedoms that America offers and then turn around and seek to change America into the very countries they fled? God forbid that this should happen.

Is it legal to burn copies of the Koran? Yes, but it is not wise to do so. Is it legal for Imam Rauf to promote building an Islamic cultural center and mosque near the site of the terrorist attack perpetrated on September 11, 2001? Yes, but it is not wise to do so. Both men insist on their "right" to do what they want. Neither is willing to listen to and be sensitive to others who view these actions as wrong. Muslims worldwide demand that all others be sensitive to and yield to their demands that their prophet be recognized and honored. Yet, the tolerance they demand is one way. They do not show nor practice the tolerance they demand for themselves. Let tolerance become a two-way street. Let the message of Islam compete freely with the good news of Jesus Christ. When it freely does so, then I would support the building of this "cultural center" at this site. Until then, it remains a painful reminder of the triumphalism displayed by Muslim conquerors who built mosques on the sites of churches as they expanded. The name "Cordoba House" is a deliberate provocation as it is a reminder of this practice. The claim that it comes from a tolerant policy that allowed Cordoba to later become a place where Muslims, Christians, and Jews could work together does not lessen the symbolic significance of the initial destruction of Christian places of worship and building of mosques in their place.

Don't burn Korans and don't build the Cordoba Center at Park51!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Long, hot, busy summer

The title sums it up. As cold as it was in January and February, this summer has been HOT. It has been quite busy as well. We have traveled more than we thought we would due to health issues with family members. However, now we are back home, and the fall semester at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary will start tomorrow.

My courses will include Old Testament I: Pentateuch and Former Prophets, Christian Theology I, Biblical Greek I, Pastoral Ministry/Equipping Center, and Chapel Choir. Each of these will have its challenges, but the knowledge I expect to gain will be valuable.

Although I have been a Christian for a long time, and have read the Old Testament multiple times, there is a depth to it, and there is always more to learn from it. Christian Theology should be a fascinating course, but I expect it will be quite difficult. It will challenge me to examine deeply what I believe to ensure it is indeed Christian and biblical. Biblical Greek will help me to look at the New Testament and understand the nuances of language that may not be clearly expressed in a translation. Pastoral Ministry/Equipping Center will be one to help me gain practical experience in a local church setting. Chapel Choir might not seem to fit with the rest of the courses, but it is a privilege to sing and help in the worship of SEBTS chapel services. It isn't as easy as it sounds, as this choir has a high quality of singers and works on some very challenging material.

I thank God that I have the opportunity to attend SEBTS and receive the training I will need in future service to my LORD and Savior. I may have retired from active duty in the US Army, but one never retires from serving the Lord Jesus Christ.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

End of semester thoughts.

Final exams are done, all projects have been submitted, and I await the results. This has been a challenging semester. I believe that this is a worthwhile endeavor.

Before I started at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, I believed that the Bible was the inspired, inerrant Word of God. Now that I am studying it in depth, I find only increased assurance that we have a reliable copy of the original autographs. In Hermeneutics, we learned about the many copies of the New Testament text, both complete copies and fragments, which have been analyzed and which have been compiled to give us a Bible that is trustworthy. Of the thousands of documents, the majority of discrepancies are differences in spelling. There is no doctrine of Christianity which is founded on anything which is doubtful, but each major doctrine has abundant support in the Bible.

In Christian History, we learned how from the very first, the deity of Christ was not something that was in doubt. If anything, it was His humanity. One of the earliest heresies was that of the Gnostics, who viewed matter as evil and so thought that the Christ could not be contaminated by something so base as matter. We saw how the church developed, how it became corrupt, and how God raised up people who called for its reformation. We saw how America was influenced by the various religious denominations, and how we came to determine that there would be no national religion, that each state could be able to determine the issue, this being later transformed into an individual right of conscience and self-determination.

In Evangelism, we learned how evangelism shaped the church from the start. We learned how we need to recognize that we do not need programs and bureaucracy, but how we need a movement of God's Spirit, much as was seen in the First and Second Great Awakenings.

In Hebrew, we learned to research not only the meaning of individual words, but also the structure of the language to help us understand what Moses, the prophets, and the writers were inspired to write for us. Although we only touched on the surface of it, Discourse Analysis is a field that will certainly help us to understand God's word better as it helps us to see the structure revealing the main points and the background actions and activities in the Bible.

In Christian Ethics, we were certainly challenged to think more deeply than many of us had thought in our entire lives. It isn't enough to know what we ought to do. One must understand why we do what we do. We need to recognize how our worldview will impact our daily decisions about critical problems. It may seem useless to debate ethical situations, but when it comes to issues of life and death such as abortion, stem-cell research, cloning, euthanasia, capital punishment, torture, and war, we need to ahve a firm ethical foundation so we do not become caught up in a utilitarian mindset.

Although it has been challenging, this first year in seminary has been rewarding. Next semester will have its own challenges, but for now, I can take a little time to relax and rest before starting in on the next semester's work.

These are just a few of the books I have read this past year. I will not list them all. These are in no particular order.

Scott B. Rae, Moral Choices: An Introduction to Ethics
Deutsche Bibelgessellschaft, Biblia Sacra Utriusque Testamenti Editio Hebraica et Graeca
Justo L. González, The Story of Christianity
Jerry Bridges, The Gospel for Real Life
Alvin L. Reid, Radically Unchurched: Who They Are & How to Reach Them
Alvin L. Reid, Evangelism Handbook
J. Ed Komoszewski, M. James Sawyer, and Daniel B. Wallace, Reinventing Jesus: How Contemporary Skeptics Miss the Real Jesus and Mislead Popular Culture
Walter C. Kaiser Jr. and Moisés Silva, Introduction to Biblical Hermeneutics: The Search for Meaning
Gesenius' Hebrew Grammar Edited and Enlarged by E. Kautzsch, Translated by A. E. Cowley
F. Brown, S. Driver, and C. Briggs, The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon
J. Weingreen, A Practical Grammar for Classical Hebrew
John M. Frame, The Doctrine of the Christian Life

There were many others as well that I read all or parts of for this year's studies. I praise God for His blessings, and for a wonderful and supportive wife. I give to God all the glory.

Monday, May 10, 2010

How do you value a life?

In my Christian Ethics class, we have been studying many issues that impact real life. Some of them have to do with life and how we make decisions regarding life's situations. We hear much in the news of debates on abortion, fetal stem-cell research, cloning, and euthanasia. How are we to sort through all of the noise and come down to the basic issues so we can determine the right course of action?

First, I have observed through the years that many people make decisions based on emotions and feelings. Even when they profess to have thought things through, the decisions often come out in favor of what they "feel" is right. Whether they will admit it or not, they have concluded that there is no authoritative basis on which one can examine life's issues in order to determine whether any course of action is moral or immoral, right or wrong. It has become common in our so-called post-modern age to think that what is right for me may not be right for you. Each of us has our own view of what is right, and we cannot impose our "right" on you, nor can you impose your "right" on me. In short, what is being described is chaos.

Every day, we live with laws that determine our actions. When someone runs a red light and causes an accident, that person is cited for a violation. Society cannot function without a basic commonality of right and wrong. We accept that it is right for me to own something and wrong for someone else to come in at night or while I am gone and take it. We consider murder wrong and sentence the murderer to capital punishment or lifetime confinement.

How do we determine what makes something right or wrong? One may say that it is just a basic understanding among humans that we need these laws in order for society to function. That only goes so far. What makes it right? Is every law enacted by our congress, for example, a good or right law? On what basis can we judge?

As a Christian, I accept that God created all things. He is the source of authority. Man (male and female) was created in His image. We are image bearers. When Adam and Eve disobeyed God, this image was marred. Despite the fall, we still have to draw from Him the principles for living. Thomas Aquinas wrote in his Summa Theologica on the concept of "Exitus et Reditus," that is, everything flows out from God by His glory and everything returns to God for His glory (Summa Theologica I, 44-119 cited in class notes). According to Augustine, the image of God in man orients him to God in invocation, knowledge and love.(Confessions I, 1,1). If we view this as a compass, God our returning to God is viewed as True North and any departure from this true north is evil or sin. He provided grace and truth, and we owe Him our worship.

When we consider these issues of life and death, many take a purely utilitarian stance. In class, this was laid out as a bell curve with the value of life being the vertical axis and time (conception to death) being the horizontal access. Some view life as only being worth living (or allowing life to exist) if it exceeds a minimum level of functionality. In other words, a newly conceived embryo through birth starts with no value and slowly increases in value until such time as the child is born. Even then, the value to society is not very high until that child becomes a contributing member. On the other side of the bell curve, as one retires and ages, the value to society decreases to the point where that individual is viewed as no longer of sufficient value to allow for continued existence. Thus, both abortion and euthanasia are condoned since those aborted or euthanized are either not yet able to contribute, or are past the ability to contribute to society. This is a dangerous position as shown by how Nazi Germany justified the murder of millions as  "Lebensunwertes Leben" or life not worthy of living.

Our True North must be to take God's guidance from His word and apply it to our life's situations. Our value lies not in our functionality, but in the value God gives. That value begins at conception and continues to natural death. To intentionally take a life then becomes a departure from True North, and is therefore sin.

What happens then if we have made such choices? The Bible is clear. Through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ, we can find forgiveness. We must repent of our sin (not just feel sorry for having been caught, but admit that our actions were wrong and our motives impure). We must believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, who died on the cross to provide an atonement for our sins. If we do so, then we can find acceptance and we can rediscover our True North.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Not as advertised

We recently made a change in cell providers. I purchased a smart phone for me and a semi-smart phone for my wife. I had listened to the various advertisements, thought I had researched the various models adequately, and then made the commitment to execute the purchase and activation of the new service and phones.

Little did I now that for all of the hype, my new smart phone lacks a basic feature that my two previous phones had--the ability to initiate a telephone call using voice recognition from a Bluetooth headset. This little bit of information was not available in the material I viewed. Although it has many capabilities, this is a basic feature that should be present, especially since so many states either have, or are shortly going to have restrictions against hand-held phones being used while driving.

This is much like so many things that we see. Beer and other alcoholic beverages are advertised, showing the "good times" that one may have. What is not shown are the consequences of its use. We see the glamor, not the hangover. We see personal body sprays advertised to young men showing that if they use them, beautiful young women will be irresistibly attracted to them. We do not see the consequences of casual sex with multiple partners--venereal disease, emotional wreckage, skyrocketing out-of-wedlock births, etc.

The biggest failure to disclose the truth happened in Eden. The serpent said that there would be no negative effects if Eve took and ate the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Adam watched, and when he did not see anything bad happen to Eve immediately, also ate. It was only afterward that he understood.

In the case of the phone, I did find that the media system in our automobile had the capability of supplying what the phone lacked so I am able to dial hands-free and stay within the laws of the various states through which we will be driving this summer. Our lives have a similar problem. In Adam, we all sinned and are separate from God. The Bible says that we are ". . . dead in our trespasses . . . " (Ephesians 2:5). We think we can reform ourselves--make ourselves good enough so that God will have to accept us. We deceive ourselves, because Paul, quoting Psalm 14, said, "None is righteous, no, not one . . . " (Romans 3:10ff) We, like the phone, require someone outside of ourselves to save us.

That one is Jesus Christ. "God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him" (1 John 4:9b, see also v. 10). So, if we repent (which means to turn away from sin and to Jesus Christ) and place our faith in Him, we can have eternal life.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

The Wanderings Begin

I have been delaying the start of this for many years. By nature, I am reserved, and the thought of my musings being out there for all to see gave me great anxiety. Although I felt a need to move into the open forum of the Internet, my desire to maintain my privacy overrode that need, at least, until now.

Why now? I realize that there are things that need to be said. As one who has been a pilgrim for many years (If you don't understand why I am using that word, please look up John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress.), I have too often been reluctant to speak of that which has been of great importance to me--my salvation through the cross of Jesus Christ, my Lord.

I hope in this blog to address various topics related to life issues that touch us all. I will be posting from an unashamedly Christian perspective. This initial post may seem vague. Admittedly it is so. I will provide more details in later posts.

One thing that must never be forgotten: We are all pilgrims in one fashion or another. I chose to go by the way of the Cross of Christ, through the wicket gate, and on to the narrow path that leads to the Celestial City. I hope that through this blog, someone may be persuaded to investigate the claims of Christ, and find through Him salvation.