Tagged: hope

Easter with the Prodigal

You know the story. The parable of the Prodigal Son from Luke 15 is one of the most well known Biblical stories. It’s a simple story of redemption as a son leaves home but returns after frittering away his inheritance. The story captures our imagination because of the father’s response. The father asks no questions and welcomes the son home with a community banquet. The son receives grace, acceptance, forgiveness, and love when he’s done nothing to deserve it.

prodigal son

I’ve heard it suggested that we should more accurately title this story “The Parable of the Prodigal Father”. You see, the word ‘prodigal’ describes someone who is ‘extravagantly wasteful or lavishly generous’. The word emphasises adjectives like: reckless, extravagant, and lavish. While the son in the story recklessly blew through his inheritance, the father lavished him with grace and forgiveness.

As I read the story this time I noticed that the father in the story always loved the son. Even when the son thought he’d be better off without his father, the father granted him the freedom to pursue his own path. The father allowed himself to be vulnerable, susceptible to the pain of rejection. Although rejected by the son, he never returned insult for insult. His love was constant.

The story ends as the son celebrates his return. He celebrates restored relationships. He celebrates forgiveness. He celebrates safety. He celebrates acceptance. He celebrates a second chance. He celebrates…

The difference was not that the father now loved the son more. The son celebrates because he now appreciates the father’s love. He experienced grace. He felt the embrace of acceptance and value. It will take him time to fully grasp the depth of his father’s love, but he now lives a new life within his father’s embrace.

When I view the resurrection through this lens it reminds me that God always gives us the freedom to reject him. I’m reminded that Jesus death was necessary because I walked away from God. I don’t quite understand that equation, but I do understand that it communicates God’s love and forgiveness for me. As I examine the empty tomb I realise the prodigal grace that he’s “wasting” on me.

Perhaps the resurrection’s greatest revelation is not that God loves me, but that I begin to appreciate what it means to be loved by God.

So I celebrate. I celebrate God’s love. I celebrate God’s power. I celebrate God’s victory. I celebrate the grace and mercy God extends to me. I celebrate the hope I have to join Jesus eternally in his new life. I celebrate being accepted. I celebrate restored relationship and the forgiveness that makes it possible.  I celebrate…

…and I hope you do too. My prayer for you today is that you may experience the wonders of life within the embrace of God.

 

 

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The Past Fuels the Future

I have regrets. I’m not immune to errors in judgement. I’ve made mistakes.

Even worse, I’ve done things wrong that weren’t mistakes. They were deliberate words and actions that I knew were wrong and I did them anyway.

I’ve accomplished things. There are things in my life that make me proud. Degrees I’ve gained. Friends I’ve kept. Family I’ve loved. Trophies for this and that. Not perfect, but proud.

When I look back on my life, some days I see the warts. Sometimes I see smiles.

The problem when my regrets fill the horizon is that I don’t look back far enough. I only look at my life. My disappointments. My hurts and pain over the last 40 years. If only I would look further into the past. 2000 years further…

When I look deeper into the past I see Jesus. I’m reminded that as he wept in the Garden of Gethsemane he looked 2000+ years into the future. He saw my shortcomings. He knew I’d disappoint him and others. He knew that at times I’d choose to ignore him. Knowing all this he still took the actions necessary to forgive me. He died for my benefit. He welcomed me into his family.

The attitude that I bring with me today often reflects how far I look into the past. Can I look backwards past my regrets just as Jesus looked forward past them? Can I look back far enough to see Jesus, or will I allow my regrets to block that view? Will I move through today with the baggage of yesterday or the freedom given me by Christ?

Each January I lead the Lawson Rd Church of Christ through a process of reflection and projection that we call Vision Sunday.

When we reflect on the past year there are always things we  wish we’d done differently. Situations that we could have handled better. People we could have loved more. How we view the past has a big influence on the future. We can criticise it. We can become discouraged by it. We can learn from it. We can be motivated by it. Or we can focus on the places God’s hand is obvious and praise him.

mlk day onToday is Martin Luther King Day in the US of A. We face the same process and the same choices. MLK Day prompts us to spend time looking both backwards and forwards. When we do so…

  • We can criticise Dr King for his shortcomings.
  • We can criticise the day.
  • We can be discouraged by aspects of the past or the lack of progress of the past 50 years.
  • We can continue to learn from the civil rights movement.
  • We can be motivated to continue the work of those who’ve gone before us.
  • Or we can look for God’s hand in our history and praise him.

I am firmly in the camp of the last three. Dr King’s vision of equality and love for all neighbors comes from the pages of Scripture and the heart of God. We’re not there yet, which means we all still have roles to play in standing against discrimination and racism. Don’t just read this and do nothing. I encourage you to take a moment and write down something you can do to encourage racial harmony.

How we look at the past, individually, as a church, or as a society, will influence the way we view and live the future. As individuals we must believe that we can make a difference. As a society we must admit the wrongs of our past and work to right them. As Christians, we acknowledge our regrets, but move forward in the power of Christ, filled with hope while working for a better tomorrow.

The psalms provide a wonderful example for using the past to motivate the present as we move into the future. They contain many examples of praising God for past faithfulness that inspires confidence in His future faithfulness. Yesterday during worship we read the first few verses of Psalm 21 and I’ve copied them here for your encouragement.

The king is glad because You, O Eternal, are strong.
    In light of Your salvation, he is singing Your name.
You have given him all he could wish for.
    After hearing his prayer, You withheld nothing.

True blessings You lavished upon the king;
    a crown of precious gold You placed upon his head.
His prayer was to live fully. You responded with even more—
    a never-ending life to enjoy.
With Your help, his fame and glory have grown;
    You raise him high and cover him in majesty.
You shower him with blessings that last forever;
    he finds joy in knowing Your presence and loving You.
For the king puts his trust in the Eternal,
    so he will not be shaken
    because of the persistent love of the Most High God.

The Power of a Disappointing Story

2015 summerblogtour

Disappointment is an experience that every one faces … and often in many varieties and shades. Sometimes disappointment comes at the hands of others, and sometimes we create it all on our own.

You know, that weight you were going to lose by now. The degree you were going to earn has somehow eluded you. The order you were hoping to establish in your daily routine escapes in the trap of too many late nights and way too early mornings. The books you wanted to write that once started remain unfinished. The commitment to write for someone else that has found you looking at an empty document, fingers stalled on the keyboard. The preacher who thought he would have been able to lead his church to greater heights.

Oh, excuse me… didn’t mean to spill MY disappointments in myself all over the place. But I bet I’m in good company.

“Life is a long preparation for something that never happens.” ~W.B. Yeats

Age has a way of sneaking up on us. Health issues slow us down when we thought before that we could be active any time we wanted to. Like the addict who swears he has no problems, we blind ourselves to reality until one day when the stark reality of who we are doesn’t leave us any way out. We realize that all the things we thought we might be, well, they aren’t likely to happen.

After the crucifixion of Jesus some disciples grappled with their own disappointment. As they tried to sift through the information … he died … the women said they saw an angel who said he was alive … but we haven’t seen him … he must be dead.

tissot the pilgrims of emmaus on the road

But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.” ~ Cleopas and another Discouraged Disciple on the road to Emmaus.

How can there be any power in a disappointing story? You get to the end of the book only to find out the main character has died. Powerful? Not really. You watch all the episodes of a show that has you hooked, but in the end they just ruined the whole thing. Disappointment. Well, we may not be able to rescue fictional works that turn sour in the end, but your life is different. It’s nonfiction, no matter how crazy the details. Disappointments – great or small – can actually turn out to be a pretty powerful experience.

Sometimes out of the rubble of disappointment is a new reality you couldn’t have designed or pictured if you tried.

Thankfully, our disappointments matter to God, and He has a way of taking even some of the bitterest moments we go through and making them into something of great significance in our life. It’s hard to understand it at the time. Not one of us wants that thread when it is being woven in. Not one of us says, ‘I can hardly wait to see where this is going to fit.’ We all say at that moment, ‘This is not the pattern I want.” ~Ravi Zacharias, The Grand Weaver

When Jesus revealed himself to the disappointed disciples on the road to Emmaus, new light was given to their faith.

Luke 24:32-33 They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?”

Instead of continuing toward Emmaus they went to Jerusalem to join the other formerly disappointed but now ecstatic disciples.

Maybe your disappointments seem irreversible. Divorce. Financial ruin. Accused. Arrested. Abandoned. Abused. Mourning the loss of a person or even a pet … disappointment is one gut-punch we don’t just walk away from.

The one thing that never disappoints us is hope. Hope that is certain of what lies ahead. While our knowledge of God’s promises is secure, the road that we travel between here and there can be rugged. The reason hope never disappoints us is that we carry it with us through the dark streets of shame and uncertainty.

When God saved you He poured hope into your heart. Not just a little, but filled your heart up because He knew that there were going to be some real struggles along the way. If you’re disappointed, just clear out all the troubling thoughts and focus intently here:

Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. ~ Romans 5:1-5

If you didn’t feel some disappointment lift, read it again. See the friendship with God expressed there? The assurances just pour out of this passage.

We are justified by faith.

We have peace with God through Jesus.

We have access to grace in which we stand.

We boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God.

We … boast … in … our … sufferings (disappointing, isn’t it, that sufferings have to enter into this passage).

People who suffer endure. Character is produced. Hope, the kind that can never disappoint us, has been given to us. Because God loves us. All in the face of suffering.

So, dear friend, when you’ve felt the pangs of disappointment, remember that your story isn’t finished yet. The hopes you had might be eclipsed by a more glorious plan that God has for you – even when it’s hard to understand.

Here’s a Prayer for the Disappointed
God so often my eyes are clouded and I can’t see the Powerful Risen Savior because the ‘facts’ of the day are staring me in my face. I am disappointed because I thought maybe You would provide for me in a different way. But in faith I affirm that You know much more about my tomorrows than I do. I know you’ll walk with me through days of glory and days of gloom. Would you bring healing and serenity to my hurting heart today? I don’t have to know all the answers. I just want to know You more. Father please remind me of the power of a disappointing story and how Your hope never disappoints. This hope, found only in your son Jesus, my Brother. Amen.

Vector set of decorative elements, border and page rules frame
10 - John Dobbs picJohn Dobbs is the minister for the Forsythe Church of Christ in Monroe, Louisiana. He is married to the former Margaret Willingham. He has two children. Nicole, who has provided two beautiful grandchildren. John Robert, who is deceased. John has blogged for many years and was recently listed as a Church of Christ “Top Blog” by the Charis Website. Here are some ways to connect with him:

The Power of a Recovery Story

There comes a day in every recovery story where the rock bottom floor gets too uncomfortable. It’s cold and dark and miserable. My body aches for the release my habits bring but my head says I just can’t go there again. I gut it out until I just don’t have any guts left.

Recovery Story

It’s a long fall to get to the bottom. Along the way there are signposts and blinking billboards that tell you life will always be this way. The map of your life is laid out and there is no detour you can take. Your choices are already set into the route so you might as well just follow it anyway. The lies repeat themselves until you decide they must be truth. And even though you can see the end of this route, and it’s totally not where you want to go, you decide there is nothing you can do to stop it. And so the cycle repeats itself.

A friend once told me that when the pain gets to a 10 on a scale of 1 to 10, change becomes attractive. Because surely the pain of change can’t be as bad as the pain of the habit. On this day the pain scale rises to 100 and I determine there has to be a better way. 

Flipping open my Bible, I land in Romans. A hard book to understand sometimes, to be sure. What could I possibly see anew in a book I’d read many times before? It starts with the question of continuing in sin, banking on the love of God and His continuing grace and forgiveness to save us. Been there, done that. That’s where I was living every day. The lie that I can do what I want, handle my problems with my own brand of feel-good release and still be okay with God. The lie ringing louder, but more hollow, every time the cycle repeated. 

As I prayed to be open and to receive true release from the darkness, my eyes fell on these words,

“Could it be any clearer? Our old way of life was nailed to the cross with Christ, a decisive end to that sin-miserable life—no longer at sin’s every beck and call! What we believe is this: If we get included in Christ’s sin-conquering death, we also get included in his life-saving resurrection.

That means you must not give sin a vote in the way you conduct your lives. Don’t give it the time of day. Don’t even run little errands that are connected with that old way of life. Throw yourselves wholeheartedly and full-time—remember, you’ve been raised from the dead!—into God’s way of doing things. Sin can’t tell you how to live. After all, you’re not living under that old tyranny any longer. You’re living in the freedom of God.” Romans 6:6-7, 12-14 MSG

It couldn’t be any clearer! My sin didn’t have any power over me beyond what I let it have. I was elevating it to the power of the truth of God’s word and the truth of what Jesus did on the cross. I was giving sin a vote…every day. I was running sin’s little errands…every day.

Until that very moment when I realized that Jesus had re-calculated the route. He broke open the HOV lane for me to bypass the detours that nearly derailed my life.

It wasn’t easy…and there was still a long road ahead. Many days spent in prayer and planning with those who provided the rest stops of accountability and a new route. But suddenly I saw that it was possible. 

Beth Moore wrote in So Long, Insecurity: You’ve Been a Bad Friend to Us,

“We’re going to have to let truth scream louder to our souls than the lies that have infected us.”

The power of a recovery story lies in the truth. The truth that God’s word always trumps the lies. The truth that Jesus’ power always trumps the enemy’s. The truth that I could access the very same power that raised Jesus from the dead to raise me from the death and depths of rock bottom.

Your truth lies there too. When you hit 10…or 100…on the pain scale, Jesus will be waiting. Waiting, with the power of your own recovery story.

Let God’s truth scream into your soul today. 

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Holly Barrett picHolly Solomon Barrett is a minister, speaker and writer who encourages all people to reclaim the redeemed life they have been given in Christ. She currently serves as Assistant Director of Residential Life for the ministry of The Crossnore School in the beautiful Blue Ridge mountains of NC. Holly’s greatest earthly joys are her adult children and three precious grandchildren. To connect with Holly, visit http://www.hollybarrett.org.

Creation 2.0

creation 01I began Sunday’s sermon with the observation that, “for many people the Bible begins with an argument.” Primarily Genesis chapter 1 is the battleground for the creation vs evolution debate.The biggest problem is that Genesis 1 wasn’t written as a scientific explanation of how the world came into existence.

I understand that for some people creation vs evolution is really a symptom of the deeper question, “Does God exist?” Some people have even converted to Christianity when they find the creation arguments persuasive. More people walk away from their faith when they find themselves unable to answer all the evolution questions.

When we make Genesis 1 all about creation vs evolution we overlook the greater significance of the creation narrative.

Genesis 1 introduces God. When the apostle John wants to introduce Jesus in the first chapter of his Gospel, God in the flesh, he utilises the language of Genesis 1.

  • In the beginning… The first three words of both Genesis and the Gospel of John.
  • The Word – Although this title has other first century significance, it is impossible to overlook the fact that God created in Genesis 1 simply by speaking. He commands, it appears.
  • He was with God in the beginning… What an amazing claim, that Jesus was with God at Creation and was integral to the Creation event.
  • In hims was life and that life was light… Life and light are prominent themes in Genesis 1.
  • As God walked in the Garden with Adam & Eve, so Jesus lived among his Creation.

The apostle Paul would later illustrate that this Creation theme is not just a clever literary method to make grandiose claims about Jesus. In 1 Corinthians 15 he describes Jesus as a “second Adam”.

The first man, Adam, came from the earth and was made from dust; the second man, Jesus, has come from heaven. The earth man shares his earth nature with all those made of earth; likewise the heavenly man shares His heavenly nature with all those made of heaven. Just as we have carried the image of the earth man in our bodies, we will also carry the image of the heavenly man in our new bodies at the resurrection.  (1 Cor. 15:47-49 VOICE)

Jesus didn’t come to earth just to teach a new ethic. Jesus came to earth to initiate a new creation.

Look at the quote, “The heavenly man shares His heavenly nature with all those made of heaven.” That sounds a bit cryptic. I know I don’t feel like I’m “made of heaven”. But over in Philippians 3:20-21 Paul tells us, “Our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.As followers of Jesus we participate in the New Creation. Our citizenship is in heaven. We share Jesus’ heavenly nature.

This doesn’t mean we’re perfect. It doesn’t mean we’re superior to anyone else. It doesn’t even guarantee that we’ll never change our minds about Jesus and return to our former life.

It does mean that we participate in something bigger than ourselves: Creation 2.0.

It does mean that the darkness has not overcome the light, nor will it.

It does mean that Jesus has defeated death.

And it does mean that while this victory is not completed and we continue to experience death, sickness and suffering, we look forward to that day when Christ finalises His victory. We look forward to the day when Jesus recreates Eden.

Creation 2.0 has begun. The Creation story of Genesis 1 introduces God. The Creation story of John 1 introduces Jesus as God. And the Bible story identifies the followers of Jesus as participants in God’s new Creation, moving towards the dawning of the eternal New Heaven and New Earth: Creation 2.0.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! (2 Cor. 5:17 NIV)

Comeback from DOUBT

Disasters always seem to prompt people to ask God questions. Christians ask God questions. People who once went to church ask God questions again. And some people straight out question God.

  • Read John 20:19-31 here.
  • You can listen to this sermon here.

Two days ago two bombs exploded at the Boston Marathon. Three people were killed, including an 8 year old boy. Additionally, at least 10 people had limbs amputated and dozens more experienced serious injuries.

In the heat of a moment like this I don’t believe there are any words powerful enough to bring comfort. We’re accustomed to the role of disease and illness in our lives, even if we abhor it. We accept that accidents happen. We acknowledge that nations fight wars that cause the loss of life. But a deliberate act of random violence against unsuspecting individuals is something we’re unprepared for. It makes no sense.

Two days after the bombing the media and public seeks answers to the questions, “Who did this?” and “Why did they do this terrible thing?”  As yet, there are no answers.

I believe many people also turn to God and ask Him an ancient question found in Judges 6:13,

If the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us?”

Perhaps we put a little twist on it and ask, “If God is good, why has all this happened to us?” but it’s basically the same question Gideon posed.

I don’t know the mind of God and how he determines when to spare us suffering and when to allow it.

I do know that suffering, pain and death were outside God’s intent for humanity. I also know that one day they will be eradicated. God’s heart abhors sin and its consequences even more than ours. He abhors it so much he personally died to make its eradication possible.

I do know that we live in the midst of a spiritual battleground, so I can’t blame God for everything. There are moments when Satan exerts his power in the world. Sometimes it happens in Somalia, or Angola, and sometimes it happens in our backyard. Sometimes the evil of sin hits people that are faceless and nameless to us. Sometimes their faces and names are all over the media and inescapable. Sometimes the face and name is someone we know and love deeply.

In one sense I like that people question God and moments like this. Asking God questions acknowledges his existence. These questions acknowledge that God might have answers no one else does. And often these questions recognise the power and authority God has because we know that he has the ability to have prevented tragedy. So these questions affirm God’s identity.

On the other hand, the questions people ask often double as accusations. I think Satan likes this. Satan likes when people accuse God of things Satan has prompted. Instead I think there’s great value in hating Satan, hating sin, and hating the consequences of sin. We should never take sin lightly and great tragedies remind us of the true evil of sin and how far removed it is from God’s love and holiness.

I don’t have all the answers. Perhaps you don’t think that I have any answers.

Here’s 3 points from my sermon Sunday that I hope encourage you.

  1. Keep taking your questions to God. As long as you’re in dialogue with God, your in the best possible place.
  2. Expect answers. Jesus addressed Thomas’ doubts by inviting him to put his hand into the hole in his side. That’s pretty invasive, but Jesus let him because he knew it would help Thomas resolve his doubts. I don’t know the time frame for these answers. Sometimes it might take years. But I do believe that God wants to answer our questions.
  3. Our faith will always require faith. Jesus makes this point in John 2:29 when he looks forward to those of us who will never see the human Jesus and he says, “blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” Jesus acknowledge that his future followers would follow by faith. We will always have to live with some questions. At times the best answer we receive from God is “trust Me.” I can never 100% prove that eternity will be better than our lives in the here and now, but I believe it. Sometimes when my world is falling apart I just have to trust that God can somehow hold it together, because I can’t, and it seems like Satan’s winning.

Here are a couple of other resources on this topic:

  • A recent guest post on this blog here.
  • A blog by a former describing his journey through the darkness of personal tragedy:  http://www.lesfergusonjr.com/
  • A friend’s blog here.
  • Some thoughts on how Christians respond to violence here.
  • A reflection on suffering and tragedy through the eyes of the book The Shack: here.

I don’t have any particular discussion questions this time, but if you have questions or perspectives you’d like to share, please leave a comment.

Easter’s Promise for the Broken Heart

Today’s post is the third in a series of guest posts centered around my church’s annual theme of “Healthy Hearts”. This month’s contributor is K. Rex Butts. His full bio is at the bottom of the post, but here’s a brief intro…

I first met Rex just months after the loss of his son. I came to know him better as we tackled grad school together. Although for the last few years geography has separated us, I stalk Rex through his blog.  I respect that Rex is willing to serve God in difficult circumstances. I also admire his willingness to ask questions that challenge the status quo. Most of all, I value his love for God, and for those seeking God. I appreciate Rex writing this article and sharing his heart with you and pray that you find it encouraging.

EASTER’S PROMISE

I was asked to write on the question of whether or not God can heal the heart.  That’s a great question and especially a great question to ask around Easter Sunday.  Easter among Christians means hearing a lot of talk about the death and resurrection of Jesus.  It’s the story of Jesus dying on the cross on that Good Friday and then rising from the empty tomb on that Resurrection Sunday.

I love the story and as one who believes in Jesus Christ and follows him, I want this story to shape my life…and yours too.  But sometimes that’s hard.  Sometimes, very hard!

This summer will mark eleven years since my wife and I buried our oldest child, Kenneth James Butts.  His death was crushing!  All of the prayers for a healthy child…  Every hope and dream we had for our son growing up to serve God…

            The most difficult thing about such suffering is the way it paralyzes life.  Time stops in a way.  While the rest of the world continues on, oblivious to horror, the pause button on life has not only been pushed but seems stuck.  As a believer, the question is whether or not God can heal the broken heart, restore hope, and give a reason for continuing on in faith.

broken heart 02

Struggling With Faith

            Catastrophic suffering, which comes in many forms, may be something that a person never “gets over” so to speak.  I don’t think I have overcome the death of my son but I have learned how to live with it.  That’s what I tell others too.  The question is how?

I want to suggest that it’s a choice of learning to have faith in God again.  However, I don’t mean a faith that suppresses all questions in exchange for absolute certainty.  How could such certainty ever exist again when suffering has opened the door to so many unanswered questions.  What I mean by faith is the choice to trust in God and the promise he makes in the crucified and resurrected Jesus Christ (even when many unanswered questions that remain).

In Romans 8, the Apostle Paul writes, “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose” (v. 28, NRSV).[1]  I don’t believe that this verse is meant to eliminate all faith questions.  Rather, given the context in which Paul describes the Christian life as having “present sufferings” (v. 18) and “groaning” while in wait for the “redemption of our bodies” (vv. 22-23), Paul was offering a word of hope.  This word of hope is grounded in the history of what God has done in Christ, namely through the death and resurrection, and what that means for the future.

There is still so much about God and life that remains mystery.  We’ll likely never know or understand fully why we suffer.  What Paul says reminds us that God is at work for our good, which is our redemption in Christ, and God will get that done.  That’s why Paul goes on to say “in all things we are more than conquerors” in Christ Jesus (v. 37).  Can we trust God with that?

Choosing Faith

            Trusting God again or for the first time isn’t easy.  It takes time, a lot of time too.  Forget any programmatic “how to” process.  It doesn’t exist or at least I haven’t discovered one yet.  But we can choose to believe in the promise that God is still redemptively at work for our good and that in the end all things will somehow work together for this good.

Before my son died, I had a faith of absolute certainty.  When it came to the way God and life worked, I was sure.  With absolute certainty, I was sure.  My son’s death shattered that certainty.  But for nearly two years, I kept trying to gain back that certainty.  I nearly lost all faith in God doing so.  The problem was that the faith I had — absolute certainty —  was gone for good.  I couldn’t go back living as though what had happened didn’t happen, so there wasn’t any possible way to get the certainty I longed for again.  But I did and still do believe that God is redemptively at work in Jesus Christ and so I chose to trust God again and trust what he is doing in Christ.

That choice didn’t eliminate my questions but it freed me from needing the answers… and the need for absolute certainty, which really isn’t faith.  In place of that old faith, I gained a new faith that was assurance.  It was assurance that God is still at work even though I don’t always understand.  This new faith was healing, a healing deep within my heart in the sense that I had hope again.  I was able to go on living again.  God undid the pause button on my life and pushed the play button again.

If you are reading this and you have endured some form of suffering, I hope my own story might help you towards healing in your heart.  I write this with the hope that it gives you the courage to choose faith.  I share this story in hope that you can lean into the Easter story, the story of the crucified and resurrected Jesus Christ, trusting God to heal.

May God bless us all, even in the midst of uncertainties, to trust him and his Easter’s promise!


            [1] Unfortunately, this passage has often been used as a prooftext offered in response to suffering.  Whether offered as a pastoral response to the pain experienced by those who suffer or as a polemical response to the doubts experienced by the suffering, using this verse as a proof text often comes across as dismissive of the problem.  In other words, it is like trying to put a bandaid on a gaping wound and acting as though that it helpful when in fact it is not.  There isn’t any prooftext which can heal the wounds of suffering.  Only God can do that.  This passage is merely a window to see that redemptive work of God and that is how I use this passage here.

Bio: K. Rex Butts serves as the preacher and minister with the Columbia Church of Christ in Columbia, Maryland. He holds a Master of Divinity degree from Harding School of Theology in Memphis, Tennessee, has written numerous articles for Christian publications, and post regular blogs and other materials at www.kingdomseeking.com. Additionally, he has been married to Laura for fourteen years and together they are raising two children.

If this article has encouraged you, please return the favour by leaving a comment to let Rex know. Or perhaps you have questions or comments. I know Rex will check in and respond. So don’t be shy!

For additional perspective on this difficult subject, John Mark Hicks shared his reflection of death and resurrection on his blog here.

Matthew 28: Resurrection

  • Read Matthew 28 here.
  • If you missed Sunday’s sermon (24 April), you can listen to it here.

RESURRECTION! What wonderful thought.  That single word turns death into life, it brings light to darkness, it grasps victory from defeat and transforms despair into hope. RESURRECTION!

At the moment of Jesus’ death, his disciples, who had earlier pledged to leave their homes, their businesses, and their families to follow Jesus, now leave him… hanging on a cross.  The emotional and actual darkness of Friday not only sucked the life out of Jesus, it sucked the life out of his movement, and out of his teaching.  From the disciples perspective,hHis years of ministry, his miracles, his healings, his tenderness, his compassion, his vision for the earth, all died with him there on the cross.

That’s why RESURRECTION is a wonderful word.  Resurrection embraces the despair and pain of the cross, but it moves us beyond the cross.  It moves us beyond death.  It moves us beyond sin.  It moves us even beyond forgiveness.  Resurrection carries us to life, to eternity, and even into the presence of God.

At the core of the kingdom of heaven, we don’t find death, even Christ’s death, but life.  Acts 4:33 summarizes the apostles’ message and the resurrection is front and centre, “With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus “.  Again in Acts 17:18 Paul’s is described as “preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection.”  As citizens of the kingdom of heaven we’re called to live our lives with a resurrection perspective.

So what does it mean to live with a resurrection perspective?  I love the description Matthew gives in 28:8) of the women who found the empty tomb and who spoke with the angel.  They hurried away from the tomb afraid, yet filled with joy.  They weren’t detached from reality.  They felt fear.  They felt uncertainty.  But their outlook on life was not one that ended in suffering and death.  They had a new outlook.  A perspective that lifted their vision above their current circumstances to a glimpse of eternity: A glimpse that brought them joy.

  • When you think about the Gospel message, how important is Jesus resurrection in your mind?
  • Does the cross, or the empty tomb provide the greatest motivation for you in your Christian walk?
  • The phrase, “Afraid, yet filled with joy.” really stuck in my mind. Can you relate it to your life in the Kingdom?

Colossians 1: Little People – Big Picture

  • Read Colossians 1:1-8 here.
  • If you missed Sunday’s sermon (3 October), you can listen to it here.

One of the more difficult challenges to reading and understanding the Bible is trying to connect with the original first century audience.  We don’t always know very much about them.  They lived 2,000 years ago.  How much could they have in common with us?

As we begin a new series on the book of Colossians, I want to introduce you to the citizens of the town of Colossae.  At the time of writing the letter, Paul had never visited Colossae  (2:1).  According to the commentaries I read, it was small city some distance inland from Ephesus, in what is today southwestern Turkey.  Although it had been a prominent city 200 years or so previously, it was now the smallest of three cities within a few miles of each other.  Laodicea and Hierapolis are both mentioned in 4:13, and both were larger than Colossae.

So basically, the letter is written to a young, probably small, church in a small town.  It had been planted by a companion of Paul, Epaphras (1:7) who was now in prison with Paul (Philemon 1:23).

But Paul doesn’t spend the whole letter correcting the church.  He spends the majority of the letter encouraging the church by pointing out the grandeur and majesty of Jesus Christ.  He points people away from their present setting to the big picture of what God has done and is continuing to do through Jesus.  Then he describes how the big picture of God should impact the lives of these Christians in a young church in a little town.

Because of this I’m labeling this study of Colossians, “Little People: Big Picture.

It’s often easy to get the impression that the big churches we encounter are somehow closer to the biblical model than the small churches.  God’s blessed them with growth.  They must be doing something right.  Their elders must be better.  Their preacher must be better.  Their ministries must be better. etc. etc.  Yet the majority of churches in the U.S.A (75%), and I suspect around the world, have an attendance of 150 or less.  While I don’t believe it should be our goal, small churches are probably closer to the NT church experience than the large churches are.

When Paul writes to the Colossians, he’s not looking to praise or critique their eloquence, or efficiency, or Bible Class curriculum.  In fact, he opens his letter by praising their faith and love that spring from their heavenly hope (1:3-5).  He then equates these elements with the “gospel that has come to you” (1:5).

Paul is excited that this church has grasped and practices the basics of the Good News of Jesus Christ.  What a tremendous starting point: The Big Picture.  There’s a directory of Churches of Christ published by 21st Century Christian that distinguishes between churches that describe themselves as “one cup churches” or “non-institutional churches” among other descriptions.  It seems to me that those issues pale into insignificance compared to what Paul looks for in a church: their faith, love and hope.

Wouldn’t it be interesting to review a directory that distinguished congregations based on their grasp of faith, love and hope?  I know its not the job of any human to really make that judgment, but if you were looking for a new church home, wouldn’t they be core elements to seek in a congregation?  A healthy small church has a firm grasp of God’s big picture!

I only have 2 questions this week.  Please share a comment:

  • How would you recognise whether a church was strong or weak in the areas of faith, love and hope?
  • How would you identify if you personally were strong or weak in the areas of faith, love and hope?

Jeremiah 32: Our Impossible God

  • Read Jeremiah 32 here.
  • If you missed Sunday’s sermon (May 2) you can listen to it here soon.

I have been taught that one of the responsibilities of a minister (christian?) is to see people the way God sees them: to see them the way than can be, not just the way they are.  That’s a difficult task.  It’s much more natural to view people the way they are now, with their struggles, troubles, and difficulties often resulting from their past.  It’s difficult to picture that new member with strange piercings and clothing choices as a future deacon or elder, or even Sunday School teacher.

When I come to the Lord’s Table each Sunday, my thoughts often reflect on my past shortcoming and my present repentance.  I have difficulty reminding myself of how the Holy Spirit is currently at work sanctifying me, making me holy, and transforming me into the image of Christ.  While the view out the windshield is much more attractive, I spend a lot of time looking in the rear view mirror.

In Jeremiah 32:6-12 God tells Jeremiah to purchase a piece of property.  At the time, this made no sense.  Jerusalem was surrounded by the Babylonian army and the siege ramps were nearing the top of the wall.  In addition, Jeremiah was locked up by the king, and he was prophesying that the city was about to be destroyed.  This is not a good time to invest in property!

But God has a reason for making Jeremiah buy the land.

In v27 God asks, “I am the LORD, the God of the whole human race. Is anything too hard [impossible] for me?”  The nation of Judah thought they were God’s people and therefore it was impossible for Jerusalem to be destroyed.  God proved to them that nothing is impossible for Him.  But once they are in captivity they will think their nation has been destroyed, that it has not future, just a past, and God will again demonstrate that nothing is impossible for Him by returning the nation from captivity to the land and rebuilding it.  Jeremiah purchases the property as a statement of faith that after the devastation they will regain the land.  God will not forsake them.

We often feel overwhelmed by our current circumstances and allow them to not only cloud our future, but to obscure our vision of God.  We can allow the status quo to strip God of His power to accomplish the impossible.  We often need God to ask us, ” I am the LORD, the God of the whole human race. Is anything too hard [impossible] for me?

We might not answer “Yes” to God’s face, but our actions and attitudes often provide that answer.

  • Does a discussion like this make you want to say, “Yes, but I have to do my part too”? Is that a healthy response? or a sign of weak faith?
  • Have you been influenced by someone who saw your potential rather than your limitations?  How did they encourage you?
  • What have you found helpful in reminding yourself to hand a situation over to God?