Friday, May 9, 2008

Whose party is it anyway?

Now that graduation season is upon us, I've been thinking....really thinking.....(the exaggerated number of periods indicates serious thinking)..............................................thinking about the way we do parties and celebrations in America....and I have a few thoughts to share. (...)

Let's see...what are the most important events/celebrations that a person might experience in his/her life?

Birth? Certainly.

The repeated numbers of graduations and school promotions you experience? Yeah.

Your wedding? Most definitely.

Death? Without question.

Now think about this: out of all of those major events that give you permission to be the center of attention for just a while--when the whole world (or at least that part of the world that knows you) gives their assent to take time to gather around your life and achievement--how many of those parties are your responsibility to plan? Answer: All but one!! This realization was a shock to me.

The only major event out of those listed where you have no responsibility whatsoever to plan for your guests is your birth. All you have to do is just show up. Your mom does the vast majority of the work. Your dad tries to look like he's helping by bringing the video camera. Even the doctor tries to look important, but most of the time, just collects a huge fee that makes it look like he/she did more than he/she really did (with notable exceptions in cases with birth complications). And then there's the relatives that would really prefer not to be present in the room when the actual event takes place, but would rather just plaster their faces against the glass of the nursery and talk about which parent you look more like.

Graduation....Now, whether it's from high school, college, or grad school, let's face it...a graduation party is just another thing for you to have to plan on top of finishing finals, papers, all of the crazy bureaucratic paper work that is required to graduate from most instiutions, and the logistics of the actual graduation day. Unless you have some very nice relatives and/or friends to plan the party for you, the actual throwing of the party seems like it is more for those who come than for you...even though the actual event that occasioned the party is your graduation.

Then there's the Big Cahuna...your wedding day. In America, the planning and execution of a wedding that usually makes everyone afterwards say, "Wow, what a big, beautiful wedding!" can feel like a nightmare that is finally over when you jump in the limo with your new spouse while picking rice or flower petals out of your hair. Once again, like the graduation, the event is supposed to be for you, but it is almost always through you in such a way that you might begin to wonder at some point who it is really for in the first place. This is why it helps to have relatives and friends so gifted at helping you (like my wife and I had) that the actual wedding day can allow you to focus your attention where it belongs.

("Thanks, mom and dad Tippin.")

But there's still one last event that people come for....your death. But as guests to all of these events, we still figured out a way to make sure that you didn't get out of your responsibility to plan it all for us, just because you've passed on to the next life. Nope. We invented the will. And while we appreciate the fact that you told us in your will where and to whom your possessions will go, we're all also hoping that you told us what songs to play at the funeral, what kinds of flowers you like best, where you would like us to bury you, and what material you want included (or excluded) from the eulogy. It might be your funeral, but you're still planning it, buster!

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

The Seasonal Gospel

Yeah, okay. I know, I know. And I have to say that I appreciate that no one has left formal, written complaints, even though you would be more than justified in doing so. I haven't posted for about six weeks. Sorry.

But here we go again.

Although winter seems to be holding on longer in Kansas than everyone wants (I think it may have reached almost freezing last night), the first day of spring was over a week ago and the temperatures are starting to show it, once in a while.

I love how the gospel is reflected in God's creation. I think the seasons are typical of that. In the fall, things start to decay, showing their age and representing the effects that sin and decay take on all of us over time. Even believers are not instantaneously delivered from the effects of the Fall at the moment of saving faith. We still age. We still suffer. We still die. We are still under the curse, waiting for the fullness of salvation to come.

In the winter, everything is dead. It represents where humanity, and the creation humans were created to rule, end up as a result of rebelling and losing our relationship with God. It is the time of death; and apart from the gracious act of an outside force, everything would stay dead. Like Lewis's Narnia, it would be a place where it is "always winter and never Christmas." In other words, it would be a place where hope does not exist--which will be the truly agonizing and torturous part of hell, I think. Whatever the physical pain and loneliness will be, above all other forms of suffering it will be the Eternal Winter--the place where "January" is the name of every month in the calendar, not just of this year, but of all the years to come. No hope. Never Christmas.

But then, the seasons of the year scream out to us that there is hope.

(Don't worry. I don't think that the seasons themselves are a part of special revelation. No one can look at the seasons alone and understand Who Christ is, what He did, and what He will do. But God has so created the world that creation augments His special revelation. It whispers to us what the written Word, proclaimed and lived out by the Church, screams at us).

Spring comes. January does not last forever. Death does not ultimately win. April and May come with new life!!

It is really great, I think, that Good Friday and Easter fall during springtime in this northern hemisphere of ours. We have the added benefit of celebrating New Life because of our union with Christ and His resurrection at the same time that leaves are returning on the trees, grass is turning greener, and flowers are beginning to come up again. Hope has found a resting place. It is rekindled. But harvest has yet to come. It is still a time of planting, not reaping. It is still a time when unexpected freezes can come and ruin crops. It is a time when severe wind, hail, floods, and tornadoes can destroy.

This is where we live now. We live in an age of "already, but not yet." As Martin Luther said, "Our Lord has written the promise of the resurrection, not in books alone, but in every leaf in spring-time" (taken from Modern Reformation magazine, March/April 2008, vol. 17, no. 2, page 9). We live in an age where our hope has been proclaimed and we have been given the Spirit as a promise of the coming harvest.

But we are still not living in that harvest yet. We are to be obedient planters and gardeners, under the guidance and empowerment of the Chief Vine-dresser through His Son. But we will taste those freezes and those floods. We will know what it is to sow the same patch of barren ground for long years, hoping for a bountiful crop, when only a few shoots seem to come up from our labors. But you never know what the harvest will bring. You never know how much fruit will come until summer arrives.

I'm still waiting for summer. So are you. Don't' believe those who want to say that it is here. Don't listen to those who say that it is time to come in from the fields and enjoy hot-dogs, watermelon and swimming pools. It's not that time, yet. Trust me. When it is, you will know.

Everyone will know.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

A Christian Theology of the Body

One of my favorite contemporary theologians is N.T. Wright, Bishop of Durham, Enlgand and fourth highest bishop in the Anglican Church. He is a prolific writer and has written several books. I would highly recommend The Resurrection of the Son of God and his more popular level book, Simply Christian.

I have posted here a link to a Time magazine interview where the Time writer asks Wright several questions about his theology on the importance of the human body in Scripture. Wright, I believe, corrects a lot of wrong thinking that passes for orthodoxy in Christian circles. The link is:,8599,1710844,00.html

This link was recommended reading to me from my oldest, younger brother, Stephen. He sent me the link on Facebook and then asked me what I thought about it. Here are my thoughts below. After reading them, I would invite thoughts of your own on Wright's interview or on my own comments.


"Yeah, everything Wright said is exactly what we are supposed to believe. It is the teaching of the Bible, orthodox creeds of the early, medieval, and Reformation churches, and should be what we hold to today.

"In fact, you see doubt casted on [Wright's view] of the [End Times and our resurrection] as early as the New Testament itself, I believe. This is why the Apostle John wrote so vehemently in his First Epistle that those who are true Christians are those that confess that Jesus Christ came "in the flesh," that is, as a true human being. He was writing this to his early church community because there were false teachers among them confusing them about the human nature of Christ, teaching instead that Christ was not fully human, or only appeared to be human, like a ghost. But John understood that confessing the full, physical humanity of Christ was absolutely essential for our own salvation (Christ had to identify with those He saved) and for future, bodily resurrection.

"You see, our belief in Christ's full humanity and our value of human physicality are linked. God loves bodies so much that He created them. He loves bodies so much that He took one on Himself. He loves bodies so much that He raised Christ's body (which He still has today) as a "downpayment," or "promissory note" that He will resurrect all bodies some day in the future...some for judgment, and some destined for glory.

"But in our day, we have so de-valued the body (much as the Gnostic heretics of the second century that Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Tertullian, and Origen wrote against), that we think the most important thing we have to give to the world is information. "If we can just tell them the message, give them information about the gospel, then we are doing the only important thing that matters in Christian missions."

"But a true Christian theology means that we don't just want to get a rational, ethereal, verbal message into the minds of people. We care about their bodies as well. This is why for centuries the Church has cared about founding hospitals, clinics, food banks, and education that can help people find gainful employment. The gospel is not just for our souls, a message for our minds. It also affects our bodies. It affects the way we are to treat the bodies of others now (note that Paul says our BODIES are temples of the Holy Spirit--1 Cor 3 and 6), and it affects the state of our bodies later when Christ returns.

"Modernism, the philosophical beliefs arising out of the European Enlightenment of the 18th and 19th centuries, is the main culprit as to why we so de-emphasize and often teach heresy regarding the human body, in my estimation. Modernism told us a whole lot of things that were wrong (and some things that were right, as well). But one of those wrong things was to emphasize rational thought and the human mind as the ultimate source of knowledge, the ultimate arbiter of all truth claims, and our ultimate hope for human better-ment and salvation (hope in science, especially). With such a radical, extreme emphasis on human rationality and thinking, it is no wonder that Western man has come to exalt the mind to such an extent that we often view the body as just a temporary "earth-suit" that we will one day escape. (I have actually heard our bodies referred to as "earth-suits" by SCOPE ministries teachings).

"In my opinion--a point that Wright does not touch on much--it is the uncritical wedding of modern thinking and sub-Christian theology that has allowed so many in Christian circles to develop such unbiblical thinking about the body, soul, salvation, and the End Times.

"I look forward to talking to you more about it this weekend, if you want.

"Love ya,
Your brother."

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Going for the Under-dog and Trash Talkin'

Well, one of the best football games of the year was saved for last (especially if you were a Giants fan). I normally do not cheer for the Giants during the regular season, but I was definitely going for them against the "invincible" Patriots on Sunday. So were a lot of other people.

In fact, everyone at our youth group Super Bowl party this last Sunday was a Giants fan, except for two students. And that was the case, despite the fact that only one of our students is actually from New York. What is it about this year's match up that could cause so many central Kansans to all of a sudden cheer for a bunch of "yankees"? What is it about the Super Bowl this year that brought about such an environment this last Sunday so that well over a dozen "instant-made" Giants fans (just add water) in our group stood on their feet for the last three minutes of play-clock, hoping against the odds that Eli Manning could lead his team to victory?

Well, I certainly don't want to pretend to know the minds of all the screaming fans, but I have thought about one issue that might be a cause of Giant-ism in our youth group. I wonder if so many of us cheered for NY because of the younger generation's disdain for so-called "invincibility?" In other words, it seems to me that the younger generation is instantly skeptical and instantly opposed to any so-called claim to invincibility or perfection. We don't like it when someone claims to be without fault, pretends to have it all together, masquerades as unbeatable, wearing armor reportedly without chinks. This generation hates pride. It hates the idea of someone having a status that places them far above the rest of us.

You might think that this characterizes everyone's feelings. Maybe. But I think the younger generation is even more against pretended perfection than generations before us. For the Super Bowl, that translated into many Mid-Westerners going for New York!! I know I was. I would love to hear any more thoughts on this one.

And that brings up another topic...trash-talkin'. Man, I heard some good trash-talkin' this last Sunday...especially between the many Giants fans and the two Patriots fans at our party. I heard Tom Brady called a "pretty-boy" about three dozen times. I heard the Patriots called a bunch of "cheaters" about fifteen times. I heard Eli Manning called "weak" and "incapable" of leading his team to victory. Someone told Eli Manning that his grandmother could have made a better pass than the "wounded duck" thrown by Manning to a wide-open receiver that dropped dead to the ground. I myself threatened to wrestle both Patriots fans to the ground and serve them a bowl full of pain if the Patriots scored one more time.

Gladly, I was able to do that. It felt good.

So, here is the assignment. Let me know of any good trash talkin' you heard this last weekend or during the exciting football season that just ended on Sunday. I could use some more ammo for next year.

Friday, January 25, 2008

A Shout-Out to Student Wrestlers

Last night, my wife and I were treated to our first wrestling match of all time. It was quite an experience.

We watched Hesston High School take on Remington and Southeast Saline High Schools. The wrestlers we especially came to watch were high school youth group members Travis and Clint Janzen and Shawn Moffett. They were awesome.

This man is not Travis, Clint, or Shawn.

He does remind me of our pastor, however.

There were no pile-drivers. No men jumping twenty feet into the air off of flimsy ropes and then pretending to land with all of their force on top of their overly muscular opponent. No one smashed anyone else over the head with a chair. It was just good, ole' fashion "wrastlin'." The Greek way, baby!! (except the guys we watched were wearing clothes....the Greeks and Romans didn't. Good improvment on our part, I think).

Let me tell you: wrestling is tough work!! It hurt just to watch those guys go at it for three, two-minute periods. It takes incredible strength, technique, strategy, and patience to wrestle well. And it's not all about who is the strongest. Sometimes, it's a lot more about endurance and waiting patiently for your opponent to make a mistake that you are able to exploit.

Despite the incredible personal nature of the competition, the students from all three schools showed great sportsmanship and kindness to one another, even though one guy had just finished physically dominating the other. That was the best part, for me: watching the guy who technically lost show a humble, undiminished, and congratulatory spirit towards the winner, whose unrelenting body had just been used to smash him against the mat only seconds before. It takes grace to have such an attitude.

All three of our wrestling men were very good at what they did. The Janzen brothers have been wrestling since first grade and kindegarten. Shawn just started last year, but showed incredible skill despite his short career. It was enjoyable for Ellen and I just to watch one of the oldest sports in the world being played so well. It was intense and fun.

I wanted to throw out a public "great job, guys" to these three students who pursue a sport that largely goes unnoticed in our culture. In their honor, I want to request my own plastic Travis, Clint, and Shawn wrestling action figures modeled after those shown below. If anyone reading this knows how to make them, call me. Let's git 'er done.

I'm not sure why these guys are holding hands. Kind of weird. But I like their boots.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

A Great Ministry Tool, or Just a Great Excuse?

Alrighty. I've been silent for long enough, on this one. Most of you know, anyway. So it's time to just let it out.....Here goes....

A little over two weeks ago, I bought a Playstation 3.

There. I said it. (Or wrote it, I guess).

My sweet-dog PS3, baby!!

Now, there are three types of people in this world. First, there are those that think that all video-game playing is a complete waste of time. I've known such people. They're usually very successful and disciplined. They usually get up before people living in other time zones and read three different newspapers before their first cup of coffee, which they drink just for the taste, because caffeine is not needed for them to operate at any time, in any place. They sit at the head of their companies, own large houses, fancy cars, and take vacations for the purpose of seeing other parts of the world they might be interested in buying.

Okay. I lied. I don't know any such people. But I bet such a person doesn't play video games...(probably because he knows I could bring the spank machine in a game of NCAA College Football 2008 on my new Sony PS3).

The second kind of person is a type of person I really have known. They live for one reason, and one reason only...the complete domination of all cyber-space and virtual reality by means of the fictitious character they have spent weeks of play-time constructing on their favorite video game platform. I have literally known guys who have spent thousands (thousands!!) of dollars to attend Grace University (my alma mater, a private Christian school in Omaha, NE) and then failed to even attend most of their classes because they just had to know whether or not they could push buttons fast enough to get their medieval warlord into the dark castle of doom before lunch. I kid you not. I have known a few such college men who had to leave the school because the evil demons of the video game console had replaced their brains with a cool-looking controller (but not a controller as cool as my new SixAxis Bluetooth Wireless controller for my new Sony PS3...suckers).

Then there is the third type of person. I'm not as as successful or robotic as the first type of person. And I graduated Grace University without actually playing a video game, believe it or not. So you know that I can't be one of the first two types.

But I might be of the Third Kind. The Third Kind is the kind who takes a really long time before he even purchases a video game console (my new Sony PS3 is the first console I've ever owned). Deep in his heart, he's always wanted one, but has been too embarrassed to admit it. He's never wanted one badly enough to get a paper route in order to save up, but doesn't mind blowing all of his Christmas money on it.

And here's the kicker. The Third Kind rationalizes the purchase of such a machine with an idea that rings with so much truth that it might actually be true. Here's the idea: "A new video game console could be used to bring more students over. When those students come over, they will be ushered to a new dimension of fun. In this new dimension, they will also have plenty of opportunities to have fun with other people, including their rad, bad, youth pastor."

You know what? That idea is true. It's already proven true for me.

But is that why I really bought the machine? I don't know. I'm not sure I ever will.

But whether or not my new Sony PS3 is a great ministry tool or whether or not I used that logic as a great excuse, you are always invited over for a good time.

Let the games begin...(in moderation, of course).

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

This one took a while

For this week, I want to refer everyone to a post that I began thinking about back in mid-December, before Christmas. It has taken a while for me to finish, but I wanted to make sure that my sources were right. The post is entitled "Meditations of an Ex-Protester Protesting Evangelical Protester-ism."

The post is not directed towards any one person or group of people beyond those represented by the poll numbers on plugginonline's website.

I hope it is challenging and encouraging for you. Please feel free to voice your ideas, even if they contradict mine. That's partly what a blog is for!!

in our Lord,
John Buerger