Category Archives: Scripture

Paradigm Shift: The Prophetic Vision of Acts 2

There are some things that seem almost universal to most cultures. One of those things is drinking, especially at festivals and parties. Whether it’s a glass of wine to bring in the new year with a toast or a beer to go along with the barbecue at the family reunion, drinking is quite common. So it’s not surprising to discover that some of the Jewish people present in Jerusalem for Pentecost thought that the apostles were drunk when they began speaking in the native languages of all the Israelites.

But they weren’t drunk. Instead, God is pouring out his Spirit on all people just as he promised to do and the apostle Peter points this out by quoting from the prophet Joel. However, Peter says this — the outpouring of the Holy Spirit — is happening because God had raised Jesus from death and exalted him as Lord and Messiah. That’s the essence of Peter’s famous Pentecost sermon as Luke tells us in Acts 2. However, the point is neither just that God is pouring out his Spirit nor just that Jesus is now the Lord (and Luke’s point isn’t about how people get saved). The second chapter of Acts recalls how God is unleashing a new reality, a paradigm shift, that will revolutionize the way in which people understand and live life. It’s a new paradigm ruled by Jesus and formed by the power of the Spirit.

MIT philosopher Thomas Kuhn coined the term “paradigm shift” to described the changes in the criteria by which resolve problems (The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, p. 50, 109). Basically, when it comes to life, we all live out of a particular paradigm that incorporates a set or rules or criterions that help navigate through life. Whatever our paradigm is, it works until it doesn’t. That is, when the criterion of our paradigm ceases to make sense with what we are encountering in life then we undergo a paradigm shift in order to continue going forward.

Well, the outpouring of the Spirit coupled with the proclamation that God has raised the crucified Jesus from death, making him the Lord and Messiah, is a paradigm shift. It is if we believe…

“In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy. Your young will see visions. Your elders will dream dreams. Even upon my servants, men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy. I will cause wonders to occur in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and a cloud of smoke. The sun will be changed into darkness, and the moon will be changed into blood, before the great spectacular day of the Lord comes. And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

~ Acts 2:17-21

The prophetic vision of Acts 2 is the new reality that God has unleashed. It is a life in which the Spirit is poured out upon everyone… Son and daughters prophesying while the young see visions and the old dream dreams. God will pour out his Spirit on all of his servants, both men and women, and they will prophesy. But even Peter, who is the one reciting this text from the prophet Joel didn’t fully understand. It would take the Lord speaking to Peter in a dream to see that this promise wasn’t just for Jewish people, that the promise extended to the Gentiles as well (cf Acts 10:14-16).

But we all know that Peter isn’t alone. Throughout history Christians have weaponized the Bible by proof-texting a few passages to justify and universalize racial and gender inequality. Right here in America, much ink was spilled by Christians in the past to defend the institution of slavery and argue against the 19th Amendment which gave women the right to vote. And these positions were always justified on the basis of “scripture” and a “rationale” argument.

Though the social structures that differentiate between Jew and Gentile, slaves and the free, and men and women were not immediately changed, the momentum for this change begins here in Acts 2. Now virtually every Christian I know has come to the conclusion that slavery is morally wrong and yet slavery still exists in our world, in the form of human trafficking or social-economic structures that keep people oppressed. In many churches patriarchy still exists even though there is discernible evidence that along with men, God has equally gifted women to serve as ministers of the gospel. Too often racism and hatred still exists among Christians too, as less than three years ago I had a Christian man storm out of the worship gathering while I was preaching shouting that he would never go to church where there’s a “Muslim loving preacher”.

So yes, we need to hear the prophetic vision of Acts 2 again and again. The future has been unleashed with the outpouring of the Spirit and this future is ruled by the crucified, resurrected, and exalted Jesus Christ. The prophetic vision of Acts 2 is an invitation to us all, to see and embrace a new paradigm called new creation.

For us who have eyes, may we see!

Remembering Kenny: God Spoke and Hope Emerged

After Kenny died, a dark cloud came over me that eventually appeared to snuff out any light.  Hope seemed dead and my faith in God was crumbling into ruins day by day.  There was two factors that added to this darkness.  One was another baby who had become critically ill but then became well again.  That is a good thing but for me, hearing people praise God for answering the prayers made on behalf of this baby only made me wonder all the more why God didn’t answer the prayers for Kenny.  The other factor was that a little over a year after Kenny’s death, my younger brother John also died.  He left behind a wife and two children.  It was just too much and yet, little did I know but an encounter with God was just around the corner.

This is the third part of the story: of how I discovered God again in a new way that brought a renewed faith and hope.  It is part of what makes me so passionate about the gospel of Jesus Christ and the hope it offers to a broken and hurting world.

I wish the process of healing was as linear as I am going to make it appear to be.   But that is just not how healing and renewed faith are discovered.  It tends to be a messy process that take different routes for every person.

For me, the road to healing begins with a wonderful community.  From the outset  Laura and I were surrounded by a very supportive family as well as friends from Harding University, Covenant Fellowship Church, and our Wednesday Evening Bible Study group.  I don’t know how many of those people had ever ministered to a people who had lost a child, but they were very caring and supportive in the way they treated us, listened to us, ministered to us, and so on.

I also had begun seminary at Harding School of Theology (HST).  In hind-site, I would not recommend beginning seminary right after losing a child but the community at HST also was helpful.  Over the year, as my faith continued to crumble, a couple of great things happened that kept steering me towards an encounter with God.

First, my wife and I did go through some grief counseling that was provided to us free of charge which did help my wife and I to practically help each other to grieve in more healthy ways.  Second, a friend of mine gave me a pocket knife that he had sharpened along with a story about the knife.  The story basically explained that he had bought the knife to pray for someone as he sharpened it and then God revealed to him that he was to be praying for me.  In some way, this all kept God in the picture even though God was becoming very fuzzy and frustrating.

One day I was sitting in chapel at HST and was just near the breaking point.  My brother had recently died and I was just tired.  On that particular day I heard the hymn Be Still, My Soul (see below) for the first time.  The song, which now is a favorite, eloquently expressed both the grief and pain I was reeling in as well as the hope I wanted so badly.

But hope seemed so illusive…perhaps impossible at that point.  I was tired.  I felt like a man lost in a dark cave with nothing but blackness.  I was just tired of walking in what seemed to be an endless journey of nothing but more darkness.

All I wanted to know was “Why?”  Why did my son die?  Why did God seemingly not answer the prayers?  Was he unable to or did he just not care too?  Did God even hear those prayers?  While Be Still, My Soul spoke of the hope I wanted to have, I was not even sure if there was a reason to hope in God.

As I said, I was tired and was ready to give up.  I had planned to quit seminary and even had been offered a job selling Honda cars.  But then I met John Mark Hicks, who would become both a friend and a Professor of mine.  He was speaking at HST on his own spiritual journey which included the death of his first wife and his son, Joshua, later on in life.  Despite his suffering, he spoke of a deep faith in God.  So I went up to him and asked him something about how he was able to trust in God.

What John Mark Hicks pointed me to was Romans 8:28 which says, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”  At first, I was sort of disappointed because far too many people had used this verse just to dismiss my grief and struggle without even taking the time to understand.  But I gave him the benefit of the doubt since he understood what I was going through.  John Mark Hicks told me to go home and read, to learn what that “good” is about.  So that night after Laura went to bed, I pulled out my Bible and began reading through Romans, reading again through Romans, and reading, and…

At some point God spoke.  Not in audible words but nevertheless I heard God speak and he said, “Rex, my good is your redemption and if you’ll trust me, I will see that good to the end even if you don’t understand how I work that all out.”  And just like that the light began to break through the darkness, hope began to emerge.  It was like a thousand pounds being lifted from my shoulders.  I no longer needed to understand or have an answer to the question of “why?” to all my questions and yet, I found myself able to trust God again.

Ten years later I am a person full of hope.  I believe God is redeeming the world in Jesus Christ, making all things new (cf. Rev 21:5) and that includes us…you…me.  I don’t understand everything about how that is happening and there are things about God which are remain mystery.  I’m ok with that.  I wish Kenny was still alive and would give almost anything to hold him just one more time.  I cannot contemplate the thought of embracing Kenny in the new heaven and new earth without some tears of joy.  Further more, as terrible as it has been to lose a son, God has used this journey to give me a faith and hope that I did not have before.  For that, I am thankful.

Thank you for reading this story, a story about Kenny and I.  But most importantly, a story about God.

*****

The following video is of the choral group Libera singing the hymn Be Still, My Soul set to a video with images of the Holocaust.

*****

See also part 1 and 2 of this “Remembering Kenny” trilogy:

Remembering Kenny: God, Where Were You?

In yesterday’s post, The Joy of My Son’s Life, I recalled the life that Kenny did live, sharing some of the great memories I have of his life.  With this post I want to share the dark and difficult part of the story, Kenny’s death.

The day was Friday, August 2, 2002.  Laura and I brought Kenny home believing he was as healthy as a healthy baby could be.  Obviously that was not the case.  About an hour later Kenny suddenly stopped breathing.  911 was called and EMS came, taking Kenny immediately to a local trauma center.  Laura and I quickly followed and were eventually joined at the trauma center by many friends, who all were praying for Kenny.

Then, about an hour later, after exhausting every means to resuscitate Kenny with no avail, out came the doctor.  His words were shattering.  I remember them like they were yesterday.  “I’m sorry, we have pronounced your son dead.”

And with those eight simple words, a darkness came over me that would remain for nearly a year and a half.

The doctors did allow Laura and I to come in and hold our son, or his body, one last time.  Laura did not stay long but I couldn’t leave.  My son was gone.  And all of those prayers…where did they go.  Where was God when my son was dying?  How can this be happening?  Is this really happening?

I never doubted the existence of God and as strange as it may sound, seeing my son’s lifeless body only enhance my belief in God’s existence.  You see, life is not simply a matter of biology.  While all people are physical specimens, we all have an “image” which makes us uniquely human with all of our beauty and goodness as God’s creation.  That was gone, missing from my son’s lifeless body.  Did that just appear by accident or was it the image of God, created by God?

I was convinced that Kenny’s life – from the miracle of his birth (all births are miracles, are they not?) to the beauty that made him uniquely Kenny, that gave him glory and honor (cf. Ps 8:5) – was evidence of God’s existence.  But where was God when we needed him the most, when Kenny needed him the most?

That first night after Kenny’s death, I was awakened from my sleep due to my crying.  The anguish was so great that my stomach began to crap up as though it was being tied into knots and I had trouble catching my breath.  I remember asking “why?” when my son was so innocent…he didn’t deserve this.

The question of why began haunting me.  What happened to all of those prayer’s for Kenny that Laura and I and many other had prayed?  Did God hear them?  Did they matter to God?  Such questions crippled my faith because I could not resolve the tension that these unanswered questions left with all of my grief and pain.

It was difficult to carry on while trying to believe that there was any reason to have hope.  Yet to remain in that place of such darkness was to accept that life was hopeless and that seemed even more unbearable.

In tomorrow’s post I will share how discovered hope and had my faith renewed.  But for now, I want to recognize the importance of this place in the journey.  It has been ten years since Kenny’s death and I still do not have the answer to many of my “why” questions.  That is, I don’t know why Kenny died, just as I don’t know why suffering exists (and I’m skeptical of those who so easily claim to know).  However, when people endure such tragedies, this stepping into the darkness with the deep questions of faith is so necessary and acceptable if we are to discover faith and hope again.  For in between that Friday when Jesus was crucified and that Easter Sunday when he was resurrected is a very long and dark  Saturday, when the prayer of “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Ps 22:1; Mk 15:34) is met with the silence of God.

In that moment, I had to step forward in trying to find God in all of this.  I was scared as I did not want to lose my faith and yet I felt like I had very little faith. Even worse, the more I stepped forward the more the haunting the darkness seemed as the questions came with me.  However, in looking back ten years afterwards, I can say that when in darkness , if we will have the faith to step into that darkness then we will reach that place where the darkness gives way to The Light.

———-

This video is of the song “Can You Here Me?” by Mark Schultz.  Although the song was written about a mother and father who’s child was sick with cancer, the song captures exactly how I felt after Kenny’s death.

*****

See also part 1 and 3 of this “Remembering Kenny” trilogy:

Remembering Kenny: The Joy of My Son’s Life!

Ten years ago my wife Laura and I welcomed our first child into this world. Kenneth “Kenny” James Butts was born at approximately 8:30 in the morning on July 31, 2002.  Kenny unexpectedly died on August 2, 2002 and there has not been a day since that I have not missed my son.  The picture to the left was his first formal picture taken at the hospital, which he peacefully slept through.  Rather than focusing on his death, for this post I want to focus on his life since there is so much to celebrate about it.  In the following two posts, I want to discuss the horror of losing a son and then how I discovered hope in the midst of suffering.

About the life of Kenny…

As I said, Kenny was born in the morning.  Laura and I were living in Searcy, Arkansas at the time.  It was on a Wednesday morning and Laura gave birth to him through a cesarian delivery in an operating room, so we were on a lower level then the maternity ward.  The nurses let me hold Kenny and show him to Laura.  We both shed tears of joy, for we both were captivated by this bundle of joy with a love that goes beyond description (if you’re a parent, you understand).  We named Kenny after both of his Grandpas, Kenneth Butts and James Martin.

I was allowed to carry Kenny upstairs to the maternity ward where I proudly introduced him to “Grandpa Jim” and “Grandma Jan” Martin.  Realizing how crowded and stressful the maternity room can be after a new baby is born, Kenny’s “Grandma Mary” (my mother) had not planned on coming down until the following week.  So I called my mom on the phone and remember being nearly incapable of saying anything due to the joyous emotion that had overcome me (that was a great feeling).  Over the next two days, many friends from Harding University, Covenant Fellowship Church, and our Wednesday Evening Bible Study Group stopped by.  Even though we were tired (especially Laura who was recovering from surgery), I am so glad that we allowed all of these friends to share in the joy of our son’s life.

There are many great memories too.

  • Kenny taught me my first lesson about changing diapers on little boys – keep ’em covered up or else you get the front of your shirt peed on, which happened to me.
  • On the second day of Kenny’s life I read to him from God’s word.  This was the passage I read to him: “Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these'” (Matthew 19:14).  I wanted my son to know that from the day of his birth, he was welcome to be in the presence of Jesus.
  • When we brought Kenny home, I also had the opportunity to sit down and bond with him as father and son should…we watched the Chicago Cubs baseball game together.  The truth is, I wanted to indoctrinate Kenny into which baseball team he would root for.
  • We also have pictures of Kenny sleeping peacefully on his mother’s shoulder after getting his belly filled.  Again, the word “beautiful” comes to mind but that is a beauty that words can’t begin to capture.

Like all children, Kenny brought great joy to us.  He will always be our child, our first child.  Before Kenny was ever born, our prayer for him was simple.  We prayed that he would grow up to love and serve God.  We didn’t have any particular vocation or geographical location in mind.  Whether he became a pediatrician, plumber, or preacher and whether he lived a mile down the road or half way around the globe, that did not matter.  We just wanted to raise Kenny to love and serve God.

While Kenny never got the opportunity to grow up and be an adult, Laura and I praise God that he forever loves and serves God.  We only had three days with him but those three days are still better than nothing at all.

Below is a video with the song and lyrics to Mark Schultz’s song Remember Me.  The song was played at Kenny’s memorial service and I share it with you.  When I listen to the song, I remember not just the life that Kenny lived but the life he now lives safely in heaven with Jesus.

Kenny: I do remember and I’ll never forget.  I love you always, your dad!

*****

See also part 2 and 3 of this “Remembering Kenny” trilogy: