Ministry Journey Blog

Thoughts on Ministry

25 Apr

Living in the Resurrection

Posted in Uncategorized on 25.04.12 by Merlyn

Published in Connections Magazine (March/April 2012)

Learn about Connections here

Living in the Resurrection

by Rev. Marcus J Carlson

Jesus Christ is risen! In this issue we celebrate Easter, the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. Each year after spending the season of Lent reflecting on Christ’s journey to the cross, I am ready for the celebration of Easter Sunday. As Lutherans, we have a tremendous theology and understanding of the cross, yet we must always remember we are a resurrection people. We believe Jesus rose from the dead, and so we must live in the resurrection. What does it mean to live in the resurrection? What does it look like for individuals, families, churches and the world to live in the resurrection?

Several years ago, a television show came out that has since run its course called My Name is Earl. The show was about a man who won the lottery and as a result felt that fate, or Karma, required him to make up for every bad thing that he had done in his life. The show shared a variety of stories that affirmed this line of thinking. The basic gist of Karma is that if you do bad things, bad things will happen to you. If you do good things, good things will happen to you. When we, as followers of Christ think about this, we readily recognize that this is a false line of thinking, especially the preposterous way that this show often depicted Karma. Karma is the New Age, postmodern version of a works theology. If we are to be honest, however, we at times hold a view incredibly similar to Karma. When something bad happens we wonder why God is doing this bad thing to us, or why God is allowing it to happen. We wonder what we have done wrong. We feel and live in tremendous guilt when we sin and often look for ways to make up for our sin, while living in our mistakes instead of grace. I am not suggesting we not have remorse for our sin, nor am I suggesting we not engage in authentic repentance. What I am suggesting is that oftentimes we allow suffering and sin to have more power in our lives than grace. When we do so, we fail to live in the resurrection.

The resurrection is the story of new life. Christ died for our sins. We are saved and as we are reminded in 2 Corinthians, we have new life in Jesus Christ. This new life does not exempt us from sin or suffering, but it does guarantee that sin and suffering do not get the final word. Christ was victorious over death. God has made a promise to His people fulfilled in Christ, and it’s a promise God is not going to break. When we live in the resurrection, we recognize that God can redeem all things. God can make all things new. Whether is a major event or a minor issue, regardless of whether is a story of joy or suffering, God is redeeming all things. God wants to take every event, experience, and part of our lives, our families, our churches and our world and make them new creations.  It can be tremendously difficult in a time of pain, grief or suffering to see the good; there is no denying that. One of the greatest tools we have in healing from these situations comes when we are able to look for the good that God is, has and wants to do in the midst of the difficulty we are facing. Every individual, family, church and community faces difficulty, but those who live in the hope and promise of the resurrection are able to find not only healing, but also new life.  To say that God redeems all things recognizes that through the resurrection, God has promised to take all things, the good, the bad and the ugly, and make them new. To live in the resurrection is to look for the ways God might be redeeming every circumstance, experience and relationship. To live in the resurrection is to reject Karma and believe that even in the midst of sin, suffering, grief and pain, God can write a new, better and more powerful story that not only brings healing and hope, but a new life as well.

Recently, we had one of those weeks in our house where almost everyone had some sort of health issue or ailment. It is one of those frustrating times where you wonder why everyone has to be struggling all at once. Even though it is not terrible, you secretly wonder if it can get any worse, but don’t want to say it out loud for fear that it will (a different form of Karma thinking). I did not mind much when I was feeling terrible, but when my wife Jessica got sick, I suddenly felt a lot worse. Then, when my precious little four-year-old princess Abigail got sick, I felt awful. Jessica and I (suffering from different ailments) both wished that we could take away Abby’s sickness. We hated to see her sick, uncomfortable and in pain. We would have gladly taken her illness from her. Ironically, this gave us a rather simple glimpse into the power of story of the cross. As parents and as human beings we often wish we could take on the suffering of those we love. It’s the beauty of the human story, it reminds us of the holiness and power of love and it demonstrates the potential of human beings.

The great news is that the story does not end with our desire to take on the suffering, because there is more to the story. There is the story of redemption that profoundly and mysteriously declares that God will make all things new. To live in the resurrection means we believe with our whole being that God can take anything and not only create good from it. God can, will and desires to make all things new so we might experience healing and live in hope and so that God’s grace may be known to all the world. It’s hard to realize this when you marriage is falling apart or when your son or daughter has wandered off in ways that makes the story of the prodigal son look like a walk in the park, but it is the truth of the Easter story. Somehow, in some miraculous and mysterious way God is going to take these situations and others and make them new in a way that not only brings great joy, but proclaims his love story to anyone who is willing to watch and listen.

To live in the resurrection is to look for and engage with the glorious, redemptive work God is doing in our lives, in our families, in our churches, our communities and the world. Living in the resurrection is trusting that God is going to do amazing things in our lives, our children, our families and our churches even when things seem dark and hopeless. After all, that is the story of Easter when after the darkest hours of the history of the world, the greatest story of redemption broke forth in a way that will never cease to amaze all of creation.

Jesus Christ is risen! May we be a resurrection people. May our lives, our families, our churches and our world reflect the power of the resurrection.

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04 Apr

The problem of Christian Celebrity

Posted in Uncategorized on 04.04.12 by Merlyn

I continue to argue that the world has changed the church and not the other way around. As one of my college professors and mentors, Tony Campolo said ‘the church is the taillight of every social movement.’ The church reflects the world far more than it reflects the kingdom. One example of this is Christian celebrity. Whether it is a mega church pastor like Bill Hybels, a youth ministry superstar like Doug Fields, a sports star like Tim Tebow or any other celebrity in a religious or secular field; it is hard to discern the difference between how Christians approach these and other celebrities and those who are not Christ followers. As a church we tend to idolize, sermonize about and point to Christian celebrities. Pastors and other church staff desire to be known, speak, write several books and have large ministries. These dreams along with Christian celebrities have become idols. Looking at the Kingdom narrative and the life of Jesus, you do not see much value on these things. Surely Jesus attracted a crowd, but was that because he was a celebrity? Jesus’ church had 12 active members with many irregular and inactive members. Only once was Jesus afforded a celebration, on what we know as Palm Sunday. The disciples were not at all celebrities, most were common men with a few exceptions, and even those exceptions were not celebrities. One who had a lot of clout before following Jesus was the one who went on to betray him. While there is value in honoring and celebrating public figures who sincerely share and live out their faith, we have most certainly gone too far. Instead of seeking to be like Christ we compare ourselves to celebrities and others who seem to have been more successful around us. This is idol worship and it’s a distraction that Satan just loves to have his way with. At the end of the day, there is Christ and then there is everyone else who all happen to not be the Christ. Sure we must honor those who have had success, those who genuinely serve, those who work hard for the kingdom and many others, but in the end the things that matter the most is our love for God, others, and self and our ability to be faithful, not because of the results we hope to garner, but because we trust God with our whole lives.



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