If There is a Rock and Roll Heaven

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The other day I heard that Lou Reed passed away. Reed was a moving force in Rock and Roll during the time period I was coming of age. I never was much of a fan but thought the guitar work in Sweet Jane was awesome (or groovy as we used to say). Reed and his group the Velvet Underground never reached the popularity of lets the say the Stones, Led Zeppelin or Deep Purple but they inspired other musicians to step outside the box. It was said that they only sold 30,000 copies of their first album but 30,000 bands were started because of it.

Lou Reed. Schinitzer Concert Hall Portland, OR

Lou Reed. Schinitzer Concert Hall Portland, OR (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I heard the news I thought of other artists from the 60’s and 70’s who have passed on to what’s next. In fact, back in 1974 the Righteous Brothers did a tribute song to artists that died young, usually from drug overdoses. The list in 1974 included Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison of the Doors. The Righteous Brothers did a remake in 1991 (below) to take into account other artists who had passed since 1974.

One of the lines in the tribute is “if there is a rock and roll heaven, then you know they have one hell of a band.”

Another line is, “if you believe in forever, the life is just a one night stand.”

The song is heavy on sentimentality as well as appreciating the various artists for their contributions to rock and roll history. In 1974 I reacted to it with some sentimentality (I really liked Hendrix) and a vague nod to the line that if heaven had a rock band these folks would be in it.

In 1974 I was in my agnostic days, not real sure there was a God, but if there was he would be a swell guy and when we died all good folks would be in heaven (if there was one) with him. That would include all the rock idols who died and were mentioned in the Righteous Brothers tribute song.

Then as now, people make assumptions about heaven and even more assumptions about God (if they even consider him at all) as well as assumptions about their own goodness. I was one such person. If there was a heaven and a swell God then I was probably good enough to make the cut.

When I visited YouTube to listen to Lou Reed’s Sweet Jane once more comments assumed that old Lou was now in that awesome, heavenly, rock and roll band. That saddened me.

A long time ago a wealthy young man approached Jesus and he asked what must he do to inherit eternal life. He asked the best question that anyone could ever ask and he asked the right person to boot. He didn’t like the answer because he valued something else more, but at least had the sense to ask the right question to the right person. (Mark 10:17-31)

It was with sadness that I learned of Lou Reed’s passing. It was not because I thought he was a great artist and all that sentimental stuff. What I know of Lou Reed was true of many of my rock and roll idols from the 60’s and 70’s. They may have been great musicians and singers but they rarely, if  ever considered eternal things and on the whole, as one friend noted, were lousy role models. Like me, they made assumptions and probably like that wealthy young man so many years ago never considered what Jesus had to say about what comes next and what it takes to get there.

As for God being a swell guy? I like what C.S. Lewis said in the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe:

“Aslan is a lion- the Lion, the great Lion.” “Ooh” said Susan. “I’d thought he was a man. Is he-quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion”…”Safe?” said Mr Beaver …”Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

And Cain killed Abel

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Two nights ago on the local news one of the features was a group of inner city pastors lamenting the fact that each one had lost at least one person from their congregation to gun violence. Their collective idea was to do something about it by pressing the City of Milwaukee to establish a gun buy back program. The city’s mayor appeared to be all for the idea.

The idea is nothing new. It gets recycled frequently most recently in light of the Sandy Hook massacre and its aftermath when many communities sought “to do something.”

You would think with so much history of gun buy back programs the cheerleaders for such ideas would be able to point to some sort of success. They usually don’t because they can’t find much. Even left-leaning news outlets like USA Today note that gun buy back programs are popular but not effective.

Yet the programs remain popular and it’s possible to read stories like the one in the  Chicago Sun Times article that is largely favorable to Chicago’s gun buy program run in June, 2012. The article notes that 5, 500 guns of various types were turned in ranging anywhere from semi-automatic rifles to BB guns. People got a gift card of various amounts for turning in their guns.

Gun buy back programs are popular and get a  lot of media coverage. There is something impressive about a picture with 5,000 turned in guns all stacked up. It's a powerful visual and gives people the idea that it matters, but does it?

Gun buy back programs are popular and get a lot of media coverage. There is something impressive about a picture with 5,000 turned in guns all stacked up. It’s a powerful visual and gives people the idea that it matters, but does it?

So what we have is an apparent contradiction-popular programs with a weak history of success because everyone knows that gang-bangers and criminals are not going to turn in their guns and everyone knows that Chicago is Exhibit A when it comes to gun violence despite having the strictest gun control laws anywhere. Still, the gun buy back program helped people think “they were doing something” to reduce gun violence.

So far I’m just stating obvious and making an argument that has been made and made and remade and few seem to listen. No one seems want to admit the obvious and to try and figure out what the problem underneath the problem truly is. I would have hoped the Milwaukee inner city pastors would have gone a bit deeper rather than settle for a largely pointless gesture.

Let’s go back to history’s first murder. Spoiler: It does not involve a gun.

Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, “I have gotten a man with the help of the LORD.” And again, she bore his brother Abel. Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain a worker of the ground. In the course of time Cain brought to the LORD an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the LORD had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell. The LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.”   Cain spoke to Abel his brother. And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him. (Genesis 4:1-8 ESV)

This little story is often taught poorly in my opinion because some emphasize the type of offering rather than the fact that Cain was angry and resentful of his brother Abel. The Lord counsels Cain by pointing to the reality of sin. There is something wrong with Cain’s heart and Cain needs to rule it rather than it rule him.

Does not make the main point of the story and is actually silly.

Does not make the main point of the story and is actually silly.

Cain ignores the Lord’s counsel (bad plan) speaks to his brother (we do not know what was said) and then kills him, presumably with his bare hands or with the aid of a knife, large rock, or big stick.

Art work that clearly illustrates the violence within the human heart.

Art work that clearly illustrates the violence within the human heart.

The means of execution are irrelevant which is why there is no record of a rock buy back program or a knife buy back program. The issue is the human heart and the only one that can fix that is Jesus. You would think those inner city pastors would know that. I suspect they do but its way easier to blame a gun and get on TV than it is to do genuine soul work and do some serious confrontation about root issues with their congregations.

Debt Ceilings, Slavery, Responsibility

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Every now and then my credit card company sends us a nice letter telling us that they have just raised our card limits or credit card debt ceiling.

Heh, good news Bruce, we're going to raise your debt ceiling. Hint, hint, use your card more!

Heh, good news Bruce, we’re going to raise your debt ceiling. Hint, hint, use your card more!

We have neither asked for this nor have needed the limit raised. The primary reason is that many years ago we made a commitment to stay within the limits of our budget and not spend more than we could pay off within 30 days thus avoiding compounding interest. By and large we’ve been able to do that over many years.

This makes us low risk to the credit card company which is why they want to let us borrow more money from them. In other words they raise our debt ceiling without us asking in order to encourage us to borrow more knowing we are a good bet to pay it back possibly with just a little more interest because we may have to carry over a balance from month-to-month. Nice of them, don’t you think? They make it look like they are rewarding us for being a good risk and at the same time encouraging us to spend more.

It wasn’t always so with my wife and I. But we learned, by studying what the Bible said about economics that the first step in fiscal/debt matters is to take personal responsibility to pay your debts starting with the smallest one first and then chipping away at the rest. The interest savings are considerable but it requires fiscal discipline and a stick-with-it attitude to get anywhere.

There’s at least two biblical principles which come to mind that speak to debt. The first is the rich lender (like a credit card company) rules over the poor[er] making the borrower a slave of that lender (Pro, 22:7). This can be illustrated from what a collection agency does. If you default on your debts you are hounded remorselessly and your credit rating is eventually trashed. That’s slavery and you were quite willing to put yourself under those conditions. I think collection agencies are remorseless but I have little sympathy for those who put themselves under that kind of slavery.

The other principle that comes to mind is the making of a covenant (contract, legal agreement, etc) with the credit card company. If you borrow money from a credit card company you are making a covenant to pay it back. If you don’t you are not as good as your word. Paying off a debt then becomes an integrity issue. Bank bankruptcy is thought to be a protection but it’s not biblical. What it is, is a legal way to avoid the responsibility of fulfilling your end of the contract.

I think these basic principles would make a lot more sense to more people if our federal government took them seriously and set an example. They often talk like they take these principles seriously but when it comes down to action they raise the debt ceiling and raise the debt (and usually taxes) that results in the US being a slave to the foreign countries that do the lending!.

Look what then Senator Barack Obama said back in 2006 when the Senate was going debate raising the debt ceiling (again). George W. Bush was President at the time.

Follow this link to the National Debt Clock in real-time. It’s horrifying to anyone with eyes to see!

“The fact that we are here today to debate raising America’s debt

limit is a sign of leadership failure. It is a Sign that the US

Government cannot pay its own bills. It is a sign that we now depend on

ongoing financial assistance from foreign countries to finance our

Government’s reckless fiscal policies. …Increasing America’s debt

weakens us domestically and internationally. Leadership means that ‘the

buck stops here’. Instead, Washington is shifting the burden of bad

choices today onto the backs of our children and Grandchildren. America

has a debt problem and a failure of leadership. Americans deserve

better.” SENATOR BARACK HUSSEIN OBAMA, MARCH 2006

George Bush did increase the debt ceiling but under President Obama it has escalated and multiplied with no end in sight.

George Bush did increase the debt ceiling but under President Obama it has escalated and multiplied with no end in sight.

The quote emphasizes the leadership failure in what it means to pay off debts and responsibly not spend more than one has. Obama alludes to the slavery of borrowing from foreign countries. It’s a great quote and is biblical wisdom.

Yet today the President expects that the Congress will automatically raise the debt ceiling. He made the comment that raising the debt ceiling does not mean increasing the debt.That would be true if the federal government treated the issue like I treat my credit card when they raise my debt ceiling. But they never have and probably never will. Both sides of the aisle raise the debt limit so that they can borrow more. They pay lip service to sound biblical principles and then turn around and do the exactly the opposite.

Development of debt ceiling from 1990. Source:...

Development of debt ceiling from 1990. Source: http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/omb/budget/fy2012/assets/hist07z3.xls. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

China and Japan are the US’s biggest lenders. The are warning us of what will happen if we don’t raise our debt  ceiling. Slavery on one hand and a lack of integrity on our part on the other hand have gotten us into this mess.

We are reaping what our politicians have sown. Correction: We are reaping what we have sown because we keep electing politicians who are more about pragmatism than they are about principle. Maybe it’s true and we get the kind of government we deserve.

Here’s a link to a book that proposes solutions. Mark Leven, The Liberty Amendments

‘The fact that we are here today to debate raising America’s debt limit is a sign of leadership failure. It is a sign that the US Governmentcan not pay its own bills. It is a sign that we now depend on ongoingfinancial assistance from foreign countries to finance our Government’sreckless fiscal policies. Increasing America’s debt weakens usdomestically and internationally. Leadership means that “the buck stops

here.” Instead, Washington is shifting the burden of bad choices today

onto the backs of our children and grandchildren. America has a debt

problem and a failure of leadership. Americans deserve better.’

Read more at http://www.snopes.com/politics/obama/debtlimit.asp#wyQQpXOtclUBJuDU.99

‘The fact that we are here today to debate raising America’s debt limit is a sign of leadership failure. It is a sign that the US Governmentcan not pay its own bills. It is a sign that we now depend on ongoingfinancial assistance from foreign countries to finance our Government’sreckless fiscal policies. Increasing America’s debt weakens usdomestically and internationally. Leadership means that “the buck stops

here.” Instead, Washington is shifting the burden of bad choices today

onto the backs of our children and grandchildren. America has a debt

problem and a failure of leadership. Americans deserve better.’

Read more at http://www.snopes.com/politics/obama/debtlimit.asp#wyQQpXOtclUBJuDU.99

‘The fact that we are here today to debate raising America’s debt limit is a sign of leadership failure. It is a sign that the US Governmentcan not pay its own bills. It is a sign that we now depend on ongoingfinancial assistance from foreign countries to finance our Government’sreckless fiscal policies. Increasing America’s debt weakens usdomestically and internationally. Leadership means that “the buck stops

here.” Instead, Washington is shifting the burden of bad choices today

onto the backs of our children and grandchildren. America has a debt

problem and a failure of leadership. Americans deserve better.’

Read more at http://www.snopes.com/politics/obama/debtlimit.asp#wyQQpXOtclUBJuDU.99

‘The fact that we are here today to debate raising America’s debt limit is a sign of leadership failure. It is a sign that the US Governmentcan not pay its own bills. It is a sign that we now depend on ongoingfinancial assistance from foreign countries to finance our Government’sreckless fiscal policies. Increasing America’s debt weakens usdomestically and internationally. Leadership means that “the buck stops

here.” Instead, Washington is shifting the burden of bad choices today

onto the backs of our children and grandchildren. America has a debt

problem and a failure of leadership. Americans deserve better.’

Read more at http://www.snopes.com/politics/obama/debtlimit.asp#wyQQpXOtclUBJuDU.99

Was Jesus a Socialist or a Capitalist?

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Sometimes I like Bill O’Reilly on Fox and some times I don’t. I like it when he says he is looking out for the folks and he doesn’t allow his guests to spin the topic regardless of facts.

I don’t like him when he discusses matters of faith and religion with someone. I suspect his book “Killing Jesus” which he markets as pure history has something to do with his willingness to discuss matters of faith.  Such was the case when he recently had a female, liberal Catholic professor from Notre Dame on his program.

Whaddya mean you don't like me if I talk about faith and religion?

Whaddya mean you don’t like me if I talk about faith and religion?

O’Reilly claims that his book Killing Jesus is not doctrinal, just factual history. The professor accused O’Reilly of cherry picking his facts to make her argument that Jesus was a socialist (and advocated free health care) and that the rich were obligated to sell all their possessions and distribute them to the poor. She said that a failure to do so would result in eternal damnation for the rich. The woman is supposed to be Catholic theologian so that was quite the statement!

O’Reilly responded by telling her she was misreading the gospel and that if she really believed that she was a loon. O’Reilly also said she should not take the parable literally but agreed with her that in general Jesus did care for the poor (and advocated charity). You can read about it here. 

So, why don’t I like it when O’Reilly wades into matters of faith?

The O’Reilly Show makes for good political theater. The show is part serious and part entertaining. The time allotment for each guest is short, forcing the guest and O’Reilly to be succinct and marshal their arguments in summary form. The theater comes in when most guests evade the question and attempt to “spin” the subject.  By and large, it’s a formula that works and usually O’Reilly’s arguments are far more cogent and to the point than the guests.

The format does not work so much when matters of faith are discussed. O’Reilly’s argument with the liberal Catholic professor (O’Reilly is Catholic as well) is a good case in point.

The text they apparently were discussing (without directly referring to it) was Luke 18:18-30. (Also found in Matt. 19:16-30; Mark 10:17-31)

And a ruler asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother.’” And he said, “All these I have kept from my youth.” When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” But when he heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich. Jesus, seeing that he had become sad, said, “How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” Those who heard it said, “Then who can be saved?” But he said, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.” And Peter said, “See, we have left our homes and followed you.” And he said to them, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive many times more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life.” (Luke 18:18-30 ESV)

O’Reilly’s encounter with the liberal Catholic professor moved from a general argument that Jesus was a socialist that advocated free health care to O’Reilly’s generalization that she misunderstood the gospel and that parables should not be taken literally. Their discussion centered on the above text but neither quoted it accurately nor even referred to it in a specific way thus leaving the listener to choose between two interpretations of a text never worked through.

Since they were talking about matters of heaven and hell (which they both appeared to believe in) one would hope that they would at least discuss the text. I was left with the observation that neither one really knew what they were talking about with the liberal being the more guilty with her over-the-top agenda to make Jesus into some kind of collectivist.

First, the text implied in their discussion is not a parable. It really happened. O’Reilly is fond of saying that much of the Bible is allegory, meaning that the interpreter must look for a deeper meaning in a text rather than focusing on a literal  meaning and a more obvious plain meaning. O’Reilly’s views seem to line up with a traditional Catholic method of interpretation dating to medieval times. The above text (also found in Matthew and Mark) are neither parable nor allegory. It’s Jesus teaching on salvation by answering a question presented to him by a young man with a lot of money.

The rich young ruler starts the dialogue by asking what he must do inherit eternal life?

Jesus answers the question with a question of his own then a statement. He says, “why do you call me good, there is no one good except God.”

The question is rhetorical. Jesus does not pause for an answer.

The rich young ruler does not recognize Jesus as God, only as a good teacher. It would have been interesting if O’Reilly and his liberal guest would have dealt with this key question. Is Jesus God or merely a good teacher as the rich young ruler seemed to assume. I believe Jesus asked the question, why do you call me good in order to provoke the young man to ponder Jesus’ identity. Then as now, there could not be a more important question. There are consequences to believing that Jesus is just a good teacher just as there are consequences to be believing he is God.

Rather than wait for the rich young ruler to answer Jesus makes another statement. Jesus acknowledges that the man knows the commandments (law). Jesus mentions five specifically, “Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother.”

The rich young ruler replies that he has kept all the commandments (the ones mentioned and the ones not mentioned) since he was a boy.

Jesus does not debate the veracity of the young man’s statement that he had kept the law [in its entirety]. Instead he says, “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”

As a stand alone statement it appears that the liberal Catholic professor is on to something. Jesus clearly says that the rich young man lacks one thing. But what dies he lack?

Remember that the young man is commandment oriented. He goes so far as to say he has kept the commandments. Which commandment does Jesus point to that the young man has not kept? Which of the Ten Commandments commands a person to sell all that he has and distribute all of it to the poor?

Answer. None. See Exodus 20:1-17. The law given to Moses and known to Jews like the rich young ruler says nothing about selling all that one owns and giving it all to the poor.

Yet, Jesus tells him he should sell everything, give it to the poor and he will reap treasure in heaven. Then Jesus adds, “come follow me.”

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:21 ESV)

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
(Matthew 6:21 ESV)

In other words, will the rich young ruler be willing to give up all his earthly treasure in order to follow Jesus. Think back to Jesus’ first question and first statement, why do you call me good, no one is good but God.

If the rich young ruler recognizes that Jesus is God then he will give up everything and follow him. This is born out later in the passage when Peter wonders what the fate of those will be who have given up all to follow Jesus. Jesus assures Peter and the other disciples that following him is the key to eternal life and reward (vs 28-30).

The rich young ruler is fixated on the giving up riches part of Jesus’ statement rather than the invitation to follow Jesus at the end of the statement. The young man is interested in eternal life but is more interested in holding on to an earthly treasure. The man’s treasure is his god and not Jesus.

Jesus was speaking to an educated Jew who by his own words said he kept the commandments. But did he?

“You shall have no other gods before me. “(Exodus 20:3 ESV)

The young man has not even kept the first commandment much less the other nine. The young man’s god was his treasure. He loved it more than he loved God. O’Reilly and his professor guest did not breach the key issue and instead argued about moralisms and their own version of works righteousness. They both misunderstand the gospel.

Jesus notices that the young man has become sad and says, “How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”

It’s a drop the bomb type of statement and again as a stand alone statement seems to say if only the young man would sell all and give it all to the poor he would go through the eye of the needle and enter the kingdom of God.

More often than not Jesus’ questions and comments are designed to provoke thought. The passage deals with how a person obtains salvation. Jesus has just demonstrated that salvation is not obtained by keeping the law. The rich young ruler stumbled where all stumble, having other gods in our lives that crowd out the true God.Those that genuinely follow Jesus and trust in him and his finished work on the cross “get” the main issue of the heart and that is putting away all forms of idolatry in order to follow Christ. In other words, you cannot worship your treasure and worship God at the same time (Matt. 6:24).

The disciples are mystified by Jesus’ comment on how difficult it is for the wealthy to enter the kingdom of heaven. The text does not go into this but the average Jew believed that wealth was a sign of God’s blessing due to the person’s ability to keep the law. The Pharisees were wealthy and if anyone was to be saved it would be them. Their question of who can be saved comes from that point of view. Jesus’ answer shatters their assumptions by answering, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.”

So, the rich can be saved because it is possible with God just as it is impossible with man. Why is it possible with God? Jesus does not say in the passage. He only says God can do it while man cannot. Among other things Jesus statement indicates the fruitless pursuit of works righteousness to inherit eternal life.

So, was Jesus a socialist or a capitalist? One thing is for certain, you can’t make either case from this passage.

Bravo Veterans

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The World War 2 Memorial in Washington D.C.

The World War 2 Memorial in Washington D.C.

The caption, A Grateful Nation Remembers” is appropriate. Whatever political differences the country had at the time, the country came together and helped win WW2. The Memorial recognizes the over 400,00 casualties the US suffered in that war. A grateful nation responded with this beautiful memorial.

Stars and Stripes (and other outlets) reports that yesterday WW2 veterans stormed the memorial which had been closed by the Obama Administration in order to blame shift Republicans for the government shutdown.

Park Police stand by as the veterans push their way to THEIR memorial.

Park Police stand by as the veterans push their way to THEIR memorial.

Personally, I hope they do it again and again to shame our petty, all or nothing President. If I lived in D.C. I’d help them.

Boot Camp Religion

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Some good thoughts here on what it means to be a pastor from my military chaplain friend.

Mere Inkling

drill instructorShould pastors be more like cheerleaders, or drill instructors? That’s an interesting question recently posed by the president of World Vision United States.

While flying to Saint Louis, I brought along several magazines I hadn’t had an opportunity to read. (The opportunity to read for an extended period is about the only thing I still enjoy about long distance travel.)

One of the magazines included a review of Unfinished: Believing is Only the Beginning by Richard Stearns.

It included an interesting comparison which intrigued both as a pastor and a military chaplain.

The great commandments of Scripture have now become just great suggestions, offered like fortune cookies, to take with us or leave behind in the pews. Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). If churches are going to lead a revolution to change…

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