When Celebrity Dies. . . .

Another clump of celebrity deaths. . . and they all played some type of role in my childhood and young adult years. I hadn’t thought about any of them at all until their names hit the news this week.

First, there was Ed McMahon. I thought Johnny Carson was a funny guy. He was especially funny when he picked on his sidekick Ed. It was even funnier when Ed would lay a zinger on Johnny. Whenever I could, I’d stay up late watching these guys in search of a good laugh. They’d deliver. More recently I’d travel down memory lane through the Carson DVD’s my kids got me as a gift a few years ago.

Then, there was Farah Fawcett. I don’t remember ever watching Charlie’s Angels, but I have to admit that as a young twenty-something guy I certainly knew who she was. I remember that best-selling poster hanging on a few dorm room walls back at Geneva College. My college yearbook bears testimony to Fawcett’s influence on pop culture. Just take a look at the hairstyles on lots of the coeds.

Finally, there’s Michael Jackson. I loved the early version of the guy. I can still remember with great clarity the first time I heard his music. I was in 8th grade at Huntingdon Junior High School outside of Philly. It was a rainy day and after school I had walked around the corner to my buddy Bruce Lutz’s house where we were to be working on a joint Social Studies presentation. Before, during, and after working on that project we kept lifting the needle on the family’s record player and starting over on a little 45 featuring The Jackson Five. The song was “I Want You Back.” The music was fast, catchy, fun, and infectious. I was amazed that the voice I was hearing came from a kid a couple of years younger than me. It was even better to see Jackson and his brothers perform on The Ed Sullivan Show. Those infectious, high-energy hits kept coming, and today, that music transports me back to Bruce’s living room and that time in my life. After those early years, Michael Jackson lost me. But don’t use me as the benchmark for his following. We all know how big it grew.

As expected, the deaths of the two former stars have been eclipsed in the media by the death of the latter. It’s all over the television and the Internet. Shrines and memorials are popping up all over the world. This guy was big. He’ll most likely be the Elvis of the generation that follows all those Elvis followers. But as I watch the response to his death, I can’t help but wonder about what this very talented and equally odd entertainer meant to so many people. What left such massive holes in their lives that they looked to Michael Jackson to fill? Celebrity is a very, very strange phenomenon.

But other thoughts have been provoked by these deaths for me. I am reminded that while our lives on this earth take a variety of paths, they all end the same way. It doesn’t matter how much or how little one has in terms of money, fame, and attention. The heart eventually stops. Solomon pondered these realities in Ecclesiastes. If we watch the lives of the people who we look to as the bars we hope to reach, the last breath always comes. . . . and it’s always the same. That would certainly become more real to us if we were somehow able to witness the last sixty seconds of each of these lives. Life on this earth ends and it’s never pretty.

I’m reminded of how we need to view our lives not in terms of the number of days starting with our birthday and ending with our last breath, but from eternity to eternity. All of us are part of a bigger story. It is God’s story. Chapter One is titled “Creation.” It begins with the eternal God who made all things out of nothing. Those “all things” were made perfect and for His glory. Chapter Two is called “Fall.” It begins in Genesis 3:6 as all things come undone due to human rebellion and the desire to do things our way. Sadly, Chapter Two is also about the results of the fall, including spiritual death, the sufferings of life, and physical death. But thank God that His story includes Chapter Three – “Redemption.” Immediately God in His mercy and grace puts into place His plan to undo what’s been done by our rebellion. For those who have embraced the God who has embraced them and entered into Chapter Three, there is the hope of Chapter Four. “Glorification” awaits all those who are in Christ as once and for all those “all things” that came undone are restored to what they once were. . . . and whether we know it or not, all creation longs and groans for that day. If you’re unfamiliar with this story, it’s laid out in wondrous and engaging ways in the book we all call The Bible. I know that it’s an amazing story to live in. . . and the older I get, the more deeply I can’t wait to get to the end. . . which is really a new beginning that will have not end. In addition, I grieve for those who never get beyond Chapter Two before their heart stops beating.

Late last night I was sitting and watching the news about Michael Jackson’s death. My 16-year-old came into the house and immediately asked, “Hey Dad. Did you hear about Michael Jackson?” “Yep,” I answered. Then he asked, “Where do you think he is?” I couldn’t answer the question with any certainty. God is, after all, a whole lot bigger than me. What I could remind him of are the words of the Apostle Paul regarding those who have embraced the God who has embraced them and entered into the Chapter Three life of following Jesus. In Philippians 1:21, Paul says, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” This reality gave Paul confidence to say that for those who are in Christ, to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord (II Cor. 5:6-8).

Today, we are reminded of these realities. Thanks be to God.

10 thoughts on “When Celebrity Dies. . . .

  1. Thanks for this great response, Walt. I was put off a great deal yesterday to see the crassness and insensitivity with which Christians handled the deaths of Jackson and Fawcett (mostly Jackson). A retweet I saw on Twitter had a good challenge to that… “…thinks death of cultural icons should bring kingdom minded soberness instead of crass callousness among Christians.” I wasn’t a fan of Jackson’s at any stage in my (albeit short) life, but a lot of attitudes were just unchristian.

    It was interesting yesterday morning because, during my quiet time, I felt a burden from the Lord to pray for Michael Jackson. I hope he met the Savior. If even his experience is like that thief on the cross, then it is sufficient (because the cross is sufficient). Thanks again for a sober, Biblical response.

    In the Gospel,


  2. Hey Walt,
    I am pretty sure where he is because of his islamic faith and unrepentant hedonistic lifestyle. his life reminds me of the OT prophets like Joel and Amos who warned of God’s wrath because of their wonton recklessness and unrighteousness. MJ represented much of what is wrong in our culture.

  3. corinthian:

    Not so sure about that, particularly since the original source for that is a tabloid, which can be trusted about as far as you can throw their press.

    I love how the word verification I have right now would read “Good word” in Greek. 😀

  4. Walt, I’m glad you weren’t able to answer the question your son posed. After all, God is the Judge and we can never say for certainty where anyone ends up. To do so makes us out to be God, who is indeed bigger than us (praises for that!).

    We also don’t know what transpired during those last moments (or 60 seconds like you mentioned), and anything is possible with God in the picture.

    Thank you for the words of wisdom. We at the moment will remember each person’s influence in our time, but eventually it will fade to history, like the apostle James wrote: “What is your life? It is a mist that is here for a while then vanishes.”

  5. It is kind of crazy how fans get so caught up in celebrities.

    With Michael Jackson, I know a lot of people can be very condemning with where he may end up after death. I try not to judge where a person may or may not go after death. It’s ultimately up to God. I do know the guy lived a very sad childhood, so I do feel very sorry for him because of that. If he did do some horrible things (only God knows what he’s exactly done in his life), it’s not an excuse – But keep in mind his horrible childhood could have played a role in how his adult life has turned out.

    I felt compelled to write my thoughts on Michael Jackson, not because I’m a huge fan (I like his music a little bit), but because of how judgmental corinthian’s comment seemed to be.

    It’s been quite a week with these deaths. You can’t help buy take inventory of your own life and value the people in your life.

  6. Well, death bed confession aside, I think the Scriptures are very clear what happens when we reject Christ. It is sad that so many Christians lack that certainty. As far as Islam, before that he was a devout Jehovah’s Witness, so even if his Allah worship is a tabloid fib, he was not walking with Christ before that either.
    Jesus said to check the fruits, so : Hedonism, lust, pedophilia, drug abuse, hmmm, fruit looks pretty bad. Why do we so much want those who have affronted the Holiness of God to come around at the last second just so we can think better of them?? All salvation is about God’s glory, not the glory of man. If he did have a last minute conversion, great, to God be the Glory, but speculation just to untarnish a man who thought himself a god? Why even go there?
    We make Jesus into a pansy and the OT irrelevant when we wish people into the kingdom.
    If we can have certainty about salvation, we can also have at least some certainty about those not saved.
    It makes me sad that because we feel bad for someone, we think our emotion should save them.
    Anonymous, I am not judging, Jesus does when He says in John 14 that no one comes to the father except through Him. Paul is clear too that those that live lives of self glorification, partying, lust, greed ( the man was 400 million IN DEBT, that’s greed) will NOT enter the Kingdom. NOT my words, but the words of Scripture.
    Is it judgemental to apply scripture?
    and ps, scripture says not to judge hypocritically, it does not say that we don’t ever judge.

  7. corinthian:

    I am not claiming that Jackson was a Christian prior to yesterday in the least. You’re right…there wasn’t any fruit there (though I will add that pedophilia is majorly contestable among his sins).

    That said, I’m not asserting that my desire to see Michael Jackson redeemed means he was. But my desire is matched with that of my desire for all who are lost. And, yes, God is holy…but God’s holiness apart from His mercy is incomplete and unbiblical. The first display of the power of the cross that we see in Scripture is a man who had no opportunity to bear fruit: namely, the thief on a cross.

    Nowhere has anyone in this discussion suggested that Jesus is a pansy, nor has there been any assertion rooted in a belief that the OT is irrelevant…and, at least from my point of view as someone who has spent a lot of time defending the relevance and significance and unity of all Scripture and the necessity of the OT to understand the NT, I find the thought offensive.

    My only challenge to you would be this: rather than using your freedom as a believer to judge (note that I am acknowledging the freedom), might it be better for the Church itself and its edification to ask what points would better serve the souls of your brothers and sisters in Christ?

  8. Good grief… can we just let God be the judge? How does it benefit anyone to hedge bets for or against a person’s salvation? All we know is what we know, which is certainly very little. God knows all, “it is appointed unto man to die once, and then the judgement”… and who will judge? You? Me?

  9. David,
    I appreciate your thoughts. I do think though, in this day and age, we want God to be defined by our concept of love. If God is Love, and that includes His wrath and Judgement, then it needs to be a part of the Gospel message. We have too much cheap grace because we , as a church, fail to acknowledge that God’s wrath IS stored up for those who hate Him. For example, Ps 76:10 (NIV) “Surely your wrath against men brings you praise, and the survivors of your wrath are restrained.”

    I am not a hellfire kind of guy by any means, but nor do I shy from the truth that those who oppose God are due His wrath. We seem to have such a hard time with that these days, but without seeing His wrath (which is a part of His holiness) we also cannot fully know His grace. We are ALL due His wrath except for the salvation we have through Christ. What staggers me is how we need to act like God is somehow unjust if He takes the life of someone who is in so many ways opposed to Him. I am not accusing you of this, just saying that it seems to be the current of today.
    If he were not a celeb, just a guy down the street who abused drugs, molested children(according to court documents), promoted blah, blah blah, people, even Christians, would say the world is better off without him, but because we all dig his tunes, we can’t say that?
    I’m just saying, we need to think more clearly about this stuff before we make an idol, as he is, of any man.
    Again, I think many Christians are trying to wish people into heaven and ignore the rightful place of God’s wrath. This is not directed here necessarily, but t a lot of stuff I have read, so please don’t take it so personally.
    Are there any scriptures that would point us toward the kind of glorification of man we have seen in all of this?

    Please let me know if I am judging anything in a way that contradicts scripture. Paul says that we are not to judge, but that is making our own judgement. When we look to scripture, which is very clear, then we are not judging, God is. Romans 1 and 2 are clear on this point I think.

    Rom 1:32 (NEB) “They know well enough the just decree of God, that those who behave like this deserve to die, and yet they do it; not only so, they actually applaud such practices.”

    Anyway, no offense intended, just thinking out loud. Perhaps I am more the prophet and others more the pastor.

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