David Platt: Heaven Is For Real

Here is short video clip of David Platt discussing the books where people recount their claim of “going to heaven” only to come back and tell us what it is like. I post it because Platt’s concern is the same concern I have. So have a listen and tell me what you think.

This Is God!

I’ve not blogged much of late because I’m very busy working on a paper for a class. But I thought I would share with you a video of me preaching :-).

This is a sermon I preached before the Picayune Church of Christ in Picayune, Mississippi on Sunday, April 13, 2014. The message is titled “This Is God!” and it is based on the text from Exodus 3:1-10.

“The good news comes to us as a promise so that we can endure with hope. And we’re able to endure because we know that suffering and death will not be the final word of life. Jesus has not only died but Jesus has been raised from death and has been exalted as the Lord. And therefore the last word, the word that endures is the promise of life in Jesus Christ.

“…So I don’t know what you’ve been told about who God is but right here in this passage in the Bible, God does tell us who he is. And God reveals himself as the Holy Creator, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob, who comes to deliver, to rescue, to redeem!”

Waiting By The Grave

IMG_0115It’s Holy Week and I sit next to a grave.* It’s the grave where my son was buried nearly twelve years ago. So no matter where I am at, there is always a part of me that is here next to his grave.

For some, a grave is a painful reminder. I understand, as it is for me too. Yet this ground in which my son was buried is also a sacred place of memory and anticipation.

It’s been five years since I have stood here in Searcy, Arkansas where my son, Kenneth James Butts, was buried nearly twelve years ago. In some ways, it seems far too long. Yet here I am and I come still asking why he died, wishing I could turn back time and change what happened.

But I can’t! So now I only a grave to stand by and remember.

Holy Ground

But this I am convinced of… That this ground has become holy ground. It’s holy ground because God has made it his place of dwelling, if only for a while.

During Holy Week we remember the final journey Jesus made into Jerusalem where he was arrested, crucified, buried and resurrected. I generally focus on the death and resurrection of Jesus. After all, these two events remind me that I am justified as a sinner and living with the hope of eternal life. But between the death and resurrection of Jesus is his burial in the tomb… a grave.

The grave is a cold and lifeless place of silence. Jesus is buried there to take his place among the dead. But God the Father is there too. Jesus is his Son, the second person of this Triune God. Jesus is the one through whom the Father has become flesh and now he is buried in the grave.

Holy Ground!

Waiting

So here I am next to my son’s grave. God knows! He knows because he’s been here, because he is here with me… with Kenny. It’s a sacred place of waiting. It’s waiting for the promise of the Father, that his Son, Jesus, would not be abandoned to the grave. That is the rest of the story remembered during Holy Week.

It’s my story and our story. By the grave there is waiting. By the grave God waits with us, just as the Father waited when his Son was laid in the grave. God waits with us as he waited for that early Sunday morning when his Son would rise.

I come to the grave not as a place of permanence but as a place of waiting, a holy ground where God waits too. And waiting in faith and hope for that day when the wait will be over, when I will no longer need to remember the past because the future will become eternally present.

But until then, I’ll be waiting!

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* This same article is published in Connecting 29 (April 17, 2014), a biweekly publication of the Columbia Church of Christ.

Quit Whining and Shine Instead

We don’t have to be geniuses to figure out that the influence of Christianity is on the decline in North America. The reasons for this are as arguable as they are many. But if only we had some better evangelistic programs… And if only we had a stronger ministry outreach among the community… Then we might just…

But might the problem just be you?

And me?

And other Christians?

For Us Who Wish to Argue

Before you reactively dismiss my accusatory question, consider these words from the Apostle Paul in Philippians 2:14-15:

Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky…

The instruction here is offered to a church where at least two sisters in Christ are in conflict with each other (cf. 4:2). And if the Philippians are like most churches, other Christians were likely already taking sides and lining themselves up against each other. Trust me, I’ve been a part of church long enough to know how that works. So the entire church then and now is put on notice

So what is Paul saying? Earlier in chapter two Paul recalled an early Christian hymn which told the story of the humility and self-sacrificial obedience which Christ lived with even to the point of death. Paul recalls this because it is the mindset that we must live with as Christians. So for Christians, “grumbling or arguing” is rooted in selfishness and is antithetical with the life of Christ we are to embody. But there’s more. When we learn to stop such grumbling and arguing, we not only become “pure and blameless” among a sinful world but we also “shine… like stars in the sky” among the world.

There’s another interesting point to make about these instructions, taking notice of what Paul doesn’t say. Paul doesn’t mention a word about better evangelistic programs or stronger outreach ministries not because he’s against either but because they don’t matter much at all if the church is full of grumbling and arguing, failing to live from the mindset of Christ.

Better Posture Please

So here is why I suggested earlier that the problem is us. Whether it’s Christians vs. Christians or Christians vs. The World, we – Christians, in general – grumble about everything we don’t like or disagree with and argue in protest. Just turn on your Facebook or Twitter feed and you’ll see what I mean. For example, take the recent film Noah or the decision of World Vision to employ couples in same-sex marriages (and the subsequent reversal of that decision). Or go back to when Rob Bell published his controversial book Love Wins or every time a state attempts to pass legislation that redefines the traditional view of marriage. The typical reaction from many Christians is a barrage of grumbling and arguing. Those Christians who disagree voice their protest and then those Christians who disagree with the protest bite the bait and respond with an equal amount of protest.

Don’t get me wrong. There’s a time for speaking up but not every time is that time. It takes wisdom to know the difference and our propensity towards a reactive posture shows a lack of wisdom in this regard. More often, our grumbling and arguing is about us… we’re offended and so we complain or our way, whatever way that is, is disregarded to some extent and so we complain. And our emotive reflux blinds us from seeing what everyone else sees, just how self-serving such grumbling and arguing really is.

If we want to influence the culture at large, which is part of what evangelism and ministry aims at, it begins with us learning how to posture ourselves among the world at large. This posture takes us back to the mindset of Christ. Our gospel witness is spot on when the way we live among the world reflects the humble and self-sacrificial obedient life of Christ. This begins by ceasing to whine and complain every time someone says or does something we dislike or even disagree with. Let’s let our example lead, speaking only from the posture of Christ among the world at large and see what happens as a result. We might just be surprised how bright stars can become!

Faith, Rather than Fear

The headline read, “Chile quake: This was big but a bigger one awaits, scientist says.” This is what I saw when opening the CNN website. After an enormous earthquake off the coast of Chile which resulted in a tsunami warning being issued for most of the South American western coast, the media is already speculating about what might yet come.*

This is but one example of the fear mongering that is passed off as news in our culture. Apparently fear is big business, as it seems to draw in listeners and readers which then draws in sponsorships with deep pockets. Ultimately such fear creates an irrationally reactive culture of fear. Just think about how much money and time is invested into what may happen as a result of climate change, global terrorism, pandemic illness, and so on. This is not to suggest that such issues should be ignored. However, when the driving factor is fear and the only response is more human ingenuity, which in many ways becomes a symbol of hubris, there is reason for concern.

The Hebrew Faith

The most frequent command in the Bible is “fear not.” That’s because the ancient world had plenty of reasons for being afraid. Both moral evil and natural evil were as much of a problem then as they are now. Not having the advantage of industry and technology, that so often become idols today, the ancients believed they were at the mercy of the gods. Consequently, they offered sacrifices to idols believing that such worship would result in prospering rather than facing peril.

Israel thought differently, believing in one God, the Lord Almighty, whom they trusted. They believed that God was sovereign and yet, as evident from the book of Job, they did not believe in divine retribution where suffering is a sign of one’s sinfulness. The problem of evil was and still is a mystery. Yet, even so, they chose to walk by faith rather than live in fear.

We might recall the line, “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your, they comfort me” (Ps 23:4, NIV). The Hebrew faith understood well that the Lord was in control, striving to live by this conviction rather than living in fear.

Our Faith

Of course, it’s not always easy to live out of a faith conviction. There are a number of things that can assail our faith. Not the least of which is a catastrophic tragedy or event which threatens our existence and even our very life. In fact, as I am writing this, I am learning of the mass shooting that has taken place on Fort Hood. When such horrendous events happen, it’s normal to become concerned, feel anxiety and worry, and become fearful.

I can only imagine the sort of fear the disciples must have felt after witnessing the crucifixion of Jesus. Not only did they see Jesus, whom they had followed to Jerusalem, die in such a horrid fashion but the anxiety over what might happen to them was surely paralyzing.

Then Jesus was raised from death, just as he promised!

When Jesus appeared to his disciples, his first words were “Peace be with you!” (Jn 20:19). Though this was a customary Jewish greeting, it took on new meaning because the disciples could now truly be at peace. Jesus, the Messiah, had overcome the impossible, defeating the worst enemy which is death. What more could the Jewish and Roman authorities do to him? They exhausted the limits of their power and still came up empty. God was victorious and the result was true peace, knowing that now all the evil, including death itself, had been defeated.

That victory is the promise of our victory too, as Paul reminds us (cf. 1 Cor 15:56-57). As Easter approaches, we remember the death and resurrection of Jesus. However, we must remember this story – the good news – with regularity so that it becomes the story we react to throughout our days. In doing so, we learn to respond in faith rather than fear.

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* This same article is published in Connecting 29 (April 2, 2014), a biweekly publication of the Columbia Church of Christ.

N.T. Wright on Gospel and Mission

Recently N.T. Wright lectured at Oklahoma Christian University. Below is a YouTube video of one of those lectures, probably a “chapel sermon,” on the relationship between gospel and mission, the vocational challenge we have as followers of Jesus. I believe you will really be encouraged and challenged by what you here, so do yourself a favor and listen.

How To Lose A Fight and Win… With Christ!

When it comes to an argument, I’m going to win. Believe me when I say this, as I’ve had much practice in the art of argument. You see, I grew up with four siblings and that means, in part, excelling in the art of winning an argument. And when it comes to the Bible and all the doctrinal issues we think are important to being Christians, I’m going to win those arguments too. I know my Bible and my educational background is in Bible, ministry, and theology. I’m not trying to brag, I’m just trying to explain my confidence in my ability to win the argument.

But I’ve learned that I can win an argument and still lose!

Some Attitude Please!

The Apostle Paul writes a letter to the Philippians, a church where some Christians have a disagreement with each other. He writes in Phil 2:5-11:

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death — even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

This is all about the attitude we must have. Paul recalls this early Christian hymn which tells the story of Jesus. It’s a story of humility, serving, and obedience leading to self-sacrifice and these are the virtues which must shape our attitudes, leading to the Christ-like virtuous practice.

Arguments are about being right and winning. Arguments start because there are disagreements and when we disagree on some matter, it’s because we believe we’re right and the others are wrong. So an argument is about being right but far too often, the fact that we’re right or at least think we’re right is eclipsed with the need to win. The problem though is that winning often comes at the expense of relationships, which is Paul’s concern in Philippians. And since the church, yesterday and today, is the reconciled family of God, there’s a big problem when we sacrifice relationships on the altar of winning the argument.

If we’re going to have the attitude of Christ then we must learn to value relationships over being right. Jesus was right as right could be as he came into this world with divine right and yet he chose to be wronged. So if we’re going to have this attitude then we have to ask ourselves if we can be wronged? Can we let go of our way even when we know we’re right? This is what the text is asking of us.

To Fight or Not Fight…

I know there are some issues worth fighting for without backing down. The other day I was asked what, if any, issues would I fight without any compromise. I replied,

When the gospel is practically denied to people because of their race, ethnicity, religious background, sinfulness, etc… I’ll fight for that because, as we sometimes sing, “The blessed gospel is for all…”

That’s not the only issue but in my experience, most of the issues we think require a “No-Retreat, No Compromise” stance are so only because we want them to be and tell ourselves such. We hate to lose, and so we dig our heels in and stand our ground. It takes discernment to know the difference between the very few non-negotiable issues and the many other issues.

I write as a minister who knows how much the attitude of Christ is needed in the local church. But I also think we need to develop this mindset beyond the local church and practice it among the larger Christian community. I’m thinking in particular of the way we have social-media conversations, especially in the interaction that takes place among Evangelicals, Emergents, Missionals, Neo-Reformed, Mainliners, etc… There are many great things about blogging, Facebook, Twitter, etc… But the emotive debating over some Christians say/do is not one of them. And we know this when we step back and put some distance between ourselves and the issue rather than just reacting.

As I suggested earlier, I’ve learned that we can win the argument and still lose. But I’ve also learned that we can lose the argument and win. Christ did! It takes faith, some grace and patience, and some gospel imagination. Remember…. Christ chose to be wronged rather than assert his divine right and since then men and women of every tongue and tribe have been professing him as Lord.

So if we want to win, we need to start learning how to lose. And when we do, everybody wins… We win with Christ!