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A Fan's Adoration

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 BY DAN KIEHL, Senior Pastor, Oakwood Presbyterian Church

“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched - this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete.” 1 John 1:1-4

     There’s something electric that happens when we have a close encounter with a favorite leader, athlete, or celebrity. I remember vividly one of these kinds of experiences as a teenager. I’ve always been a big fan of professional baseball, and I grew up devoted to the Pittsburgh Pirates. When I was a teenager my favorite player was Omar Moreno. Never heard of him? I’m not surprised; that was part of my attraction to him. While my friends identified with Willie Stargell or Dave Parker, I was pleased that I could claim to be the only Omar fan in town. But it wasn’t just non-conformity that motivated me. I saw in Omar a glorified version of myself – a tall, lean speedster who was known for his graceful defense in center field. I’m not sure that anyone else saw the similarity between us, but it seemed terribly obvious to my inflated adolescent ego!

     My magnificent moment came in the summer of 1978, during a somewhat awkward pre-game ritual at Three Rivers Stadium called Picture Day. We fans were allowed onto the playing field with cameras in hand, while the Pirate players would shuffle nervously among us, some smiling and posing graciously, while others showed the kind of enthusiasm usually reserved for dental appointments. When I finally found my man Omar, he was almost obscured by a large crowd of fans. Much against my nature, I rudely plowed through the people and cleared a space to take my treasured photo. I still have the picture somewhere of Omar’s shocked expression. I thrust out my hand and said something profound like, “Omar, I’m your biggest fan!” and he shook his head and my hand simultaneously. I walked off the field with a big grin on my face, repeating to myself, “I just shook hands with Omar Moreno…”

     Omar didn’t deserve the extreme adulation that I gave to him, either as a baseball player or as a person. No one does, except One. I was struck by the “fan-like” language that the Apostle John used in the passage from John’s first epistle quoted above. He exults in the fact that he was privileged to not only see and hear the One who was “from the beginning,” Jesus Christ, but he even was able to touch Him. His enthusiasm is understandable when you compare his words here with his very similar preamble to his Gospel – “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through Him all things were made; without Him nothing was made that has been made. In Him was life, and that life was the light of men.” Imagine, being able to see, hear, and touch the One who is the eternal Creator God! Talk about a close encounter with a celebrity! And to think that John didn’t come away with a few condescending comments and an autograph; he was given eternal life and “the Word of life” that has the power to bring others, like me, into joyful fellowship with God the Father, God the Son, and the people of God.

     This is really what we celebrate during the Christmas season. It is the essence of incarnation and the point of Christ’s name “Immanuel” – “God with us.” The Creator, the most glorious being in the universe has become a man and He has walked among us. We aren’t given the privilege yet of seeing Him with our physical eyes or shaking His hand, but if we believe the testimony of the apostles about his life, death, and resurrection, our sins are forgiven and we enter into a real relationship with Him by faith.

     One day that faith will be sight…I can’t wait! For now, by His Spirit, He remains with us, even to the end of the age. I’m not Christ’s biggest fan – as a matter of fact, I’m still too much of a “fair-weather fan.” But I’m certainly devoted to Him. He alone deserves all my adulation and so much more. Seeing His glory is becoming more and more my greatest goal in life.

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Vulgar Language

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  ASK THE PASTOR BY DAN KIEHL, Senior Pastor, Oakwood Presbyterian Church

     Question:  “Is it sinful for Christians to use vulgar language?”

     Answer: I want to avoid being legalistic on one side of this issue, and also avoid being libertine on the other side. On the one hand, I've always been amazed by Christians that will use God's name in flippant and irreverent ways, breaking one of the ten commandments, and then react with shock and disgust when someone utters a crude word. In the halls of divine justice, saying a phrase like “Oh, God!” to express dismay and disgust is a far, far more grievous offense of God’s law than the dropping of the infamous “F-bomb” in a sentence. I'm always fascinated by how words evolve into vulgarity, why some words are considered so rebellious (or how some words, like "sucks," evolve from vulgarity into normal usage). The whole thing seems silly to me, as does the need that so many people have to insert one of these “shock-effect” words in the place of every adjective and adverb that they need in a sentence.

     At the same time, I think that we should be careful about the standards for the language that we use. Paul, in Ephesians 5:1-4, addresses this subject directly: “Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children...But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God's holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving.” What is “obscenity, foolish talk, or coarse joking?” Even in Greek these terms are vague. Obviously, the definition of those terms will vary from culture to culture and age to age, just as the definition of “modesty.” However, vagueness doesn't vacate the words of any meaning. They do apply to some portion of our English language. So, what portion is it?

     I don’t see anywhere in Scripture where the use of vulgar language is condoned. In Philippians 3:8 Paul uses the word translated as “dung” or “rubbish” (literally...“what is thrown to the dogs”), but there's no evidence that the term that he used was considered “dirty” or “vulgar” in his culture. It was a colorful, valid, and socially acceptable synonym for “worthless.”

     But, to some people’s surprise, the Bible doesn’t give a list of seven or ten “dirty” words that we are to avoid. Words that describe body parts, bodily functions, or sexual behavior aren’t inherently dirty or obscene. God created all of those things and declared them good. The sin lies in the intent behind the words. Our culture creates dirty words by debasing and demeaning these good things that God made.

     It seems to me that we as Christians are expected to be sensitive to the language of our culture and be aware of what is considered dirty, raunchy, and obscene by our peers, and then avoid the use of it, for the sake of our holiness and witness to Christ. Earlier in Ephesians 4, Paul says, "Do not let any unwholesome [corrupt, worthless] talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen." To me, vulgar words all seem to be about projecting an image and having a self-centered purpose. I can't see another person's heart, but I have to be honest – almost every time I hear a Christian use foul language it appears to me that there's an element of rebelliousness to it, or they're just trying to impress me or someone else with how “cool” they are. I can’t ever remember hearing a vulgar word used for the purpose of building another person up according to their need.

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