Category: Death (Page 1 of 9)

From Death to Life

“I AM the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me will never die.” ~John 11:25-26

There’s a scene about a third of the way through the Temple of Doom movie in which Indiana Jones and his little sidekick, Short Round, are trapped in a room inside an evil castle. Short Round accidentally trips a lever and the walls start closing in. The four walls are coming in and the ceiling is coming down and long, pointed, metal spikes are coming up out of the floor and down from the ceiling. Indy and his little buddy are going to be crushed to death! The walls are coming closer and Indiana Jones is freaking out. He’s yelling at Kate Capshaw on the other side of the wall: Pull that lever! Stick your hand in there and pull that lever! But there are bugs and snakes in the wall and she just can’t do it. The spikes are coming down and the desperation builds and they zoom the camera in tight on Indiana Jones’ face. One spike comes up against his face. Another spike comes down and presses his hat against his temple. And he looks directly into the camera and says, “We. Are. Going. To. Die.”

No, you’re not. We know you’re not. Indiana Jones will never die.

He’s lowered into a pit of boiling lava, he’s walking on the outside of an airplane at 30,000 feet, he’s captured by Nazis, he’s strapped to a rotting suspension bridge a mile above a canyon floor, he’s brainwashed by murderous witch doctors – but he never dies. He keeps rescuing the children and saving the village and restoring the sacred stones and he always gets the girl and he never loses his hat.

Indiana Jones can live that way, recklessly doing what few will dare to do, because he knows he’ll never die. Why? Because he has an arrangement with George Lucas and Steven Spielberg. They’ve already determined that Indiana Jones will never die.

“Our Savior Jesus Christ has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality.” ~ 2 Timothy 1:10

Jesus Christ is the Lord of Life, the eternal author of life, the giver of all life. He came that we may have life and have it to the full. In his death and resurrection, a new age has dawned for those of us who believe. Death has nothing on you. Neither does sin. We are living right now in the new era of his resurrection. God’s Holy Spirit lives inside us. That exact same Spirit who brought Lazarus out of the grave and rolled the stone away on that third day and sat on it – that same Spirit lives inside you!

You’ve got the resurrection inside you! You’re dangerous! You’re invincible! You can’t be stopped!

And the call is still on. It’s still on.

So we don’t cower, we don’t hesitate, we don’t slow down or back off or ever walk away. Our attitude is: You can kill me, but you can’t hurt me! We know how the story ends and that impacts how we play our part.

“I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection!” ~ Philippians 3:10

So we love unconditionally and we forgive unflinchingly. We heal the sick and we feed the poor and we stand with the marginalized and the oppressed. We give and we serve uncompromisingly. We protect and provide for the widow, the orphan, and the stranger in the gate. We fight racism no matter the cost. We tear down walls no matter the opposition. And we deny ourselves and take up our crosses and unashamedly follow the one who laid down his life for the whole world!

No matter what chaos and confusion is out there, no matter what uncertainty surrounds you, sin and death do not have the final word. They do not have the final say. Our risen and reigning Lord Jesus is the author of life and he always writes the last line. And it’s good to have an arrangement with the writer.

Peace,

Allan

After Delivery

My Aunt Alice finished her race yesterday. And she ran well. She ran very well. In honor of her, I’m posting the following short story my Uncle Gerald shared with me a couple of weeks ago. This story has come to mean so much to both of them in helping to articulate the hope and the reality of everlasting life after death in the presence of our heavenly Father. Uncle Gerald has asked me to read it at Aunt Alice’s funeral this Friday in Kilgore. I’m honored. And I share it with you today, praying it encourages you, too.

In a mother’s womb were two babies. One asked the other: “Do you believe in life after delivery?” The other replied, “Well, of course! There has to be life after delivery. I believe we’ve been placed here to prepare ourselves for what will be later.”

“Nonsense,” said the first. “There is no life after delivery. What kind of life would that be?”

The second said, “I don’t know, but there will be more light than we have here. Maybe we will walk with our legs and eat with our mouths. Maybe we will have other senses that we can’t understand now.”

The first replied, “That is absurd. Walking is impossible. And eating with our mouths? Ridiculous! The umbilical cord supplies nutrition and everything we need. Life after delivery is not logical.”

The second insisted, “Well, I think there is something else and maybe it’s different than it is here. Maybe we won’t need this physical cord anymore.”

The first replied, “Hogwash! Plus, if there is life after delivery, why has no one ever come back from there? Delivery is the end of life. After delivery, there is nothing but darkness and silence and oblivion. It takes us nowhere.”

“Well, I don’t know,” said the second, “but certainly we will meet Mother and she will take care of us.”

The first replied, “Mother? You actually believe in Mother? That’s laughable. If Mother exists, where is she?”

The second said, “She is all around us. We are surrounded by her. We are of her. It is in her that we live. Without her, this world would not and could not exist. And neither could we.”

Said the first, “Well, I don’t see her, so it’s only logical that she doesn’t exist.”

To which the second replied, “Sometimes, when you’re in silence and you focus and listen, you can perceive her presence and you can hear her loving voice calling down from above.”

God bless Aunt Alice. May he receive her into his faithful arms. And may God bless Uncle Gerald and our whole family with his merciful blessings of comfort and peace and joy.

Peace,

Allan

God Bless Vernon Camp

I needed the right guy. I can’t remember now exactly what the sermon was about, but I was using as an illustration the overwhelming number of choices we have to make every day. You don’t just go to the store to pick up some toothpaste, there’s a whole aisle of 37 brands and 193 varieties of toothpaste! You don’t just buy shampoo, there are six long shelves of shampoos from which to choose, an endless myriad of brands and smells and hair types and colors. Sometimes these choices can paralyze us. And I needed somebody to meet me at the Wal-Mart so I could take his picture in the bread aisle, holding up two different loaves of bread, and looking very confused. This person had to be a good actor. He had to have a great personality. He had to appreciate a good gag. This needed to be a guy the whole church knew and loved. And it had to be somebody who was never confused about anything, a decisive guy who knew what he wanted and always got it immediately.

That guy was Vernon Camp. I called. He said “Yes.” And he was perfect.

I told the church I was at the grocery store taking pictures of the shampoo and toothpaste choices and I came across Vernon in the bread aisle. Melba had sent him to the store for a loaf of bread the day before yesterday and he was still there trying to decide which one to buy!

This was just four months into my ministry here at Central. I didn’t realize at the time that Vernon Camp was already pretty famous.

On the day he graduated from high school in 1946, Vernon and a buddy hitchhiked to Ardmore, Oklahoma so they could enlist in the Navy, put in their two years, and go to college on the G.I. Bill. He enrolled at the University of Oklahoma in 1948 and was a walk-on for second-year head football coach Bud Wilkinson — the very beginning for OU’s most glorious days. During those four years, Vernon never played in an actual game, but he suited up in the Sooners’ Crimson and Cream uniforms for every practice and stood at the ready on the sidelines for every contest. During those four years, OU went 39-4, won four conference titles, two Sugar Bowls, and one national championship. That explains pretty well his obsession with everything OU. He hated that I always referred to his alma mater as “Zero-U.” He loved rubbing it in my face every second Sunday in October.

While he was at OU, Vernon was a member of the university’s glee club. They were so good they actually performed on the Ed Sullivan Show in New York City. Vernon was practically as famous as The Beatles and Elvis — they shared the same stage!

We buried Vernon on Tuesday. Ladies and Gentlemen, Vernon has left the building.

There’s a lot to like about Vernon Camp and there’s a ton that we’re going to miss. He helped people. He selflessly served others in the name and manner of our Lord. For more than 20 years he faithfully delivered Meals on Wheels here in Amarillo. He loved to serve and visit. He would say, “This isn’t just the only meal some of these people get every day, it’s the only time they get to talk to somebody.” Every Christmas he bought brand new shoes for all the kids at High Plains Children’s Home, totally under the radar. Thirty-five years ago he co-signed a loan for a set of tires for a guy he barely knew. On his 80th birthday he was pouring concrete for one of his sons. At 87 he was clearing brush and digging up trees for another son and his family. He was always helping people, taking care of people, showing people the love of Christ. He led the family prayer at meal times, insisting that everybody hold hands in a circle.

For 57 years he served as a faithful member of this church family at Central. Serving homemade ice cream. Hosting the Family Life Group. Singing in the choirs. Loving and encouraging the preacher. Greeting visitors. Making the B.K. class so much fun. And being such a dear and great friend to so many. He made so many of us better. He made all of us better. Without Vernon by his side, I’m afraid Bobby Sumrow is going to lose a lot of his charm.

He had that stroke two years ago while they were in Oklahoma. Then the bad fall off the ladder in the garage. The blood clot in his brain that had to be removed. (I showed up in his room right after the surgery wearing a Texas Longhorns shirt. I told him I wanted it to be the first thing he saw when he woke up so he might think he had died and this is what everybody wears in heaven.) Then the Alzheimer’s. And it seems like it happened so fast.

But he never complained. He never lost his cheerful demeanor. He knew he was slipping. He knew the clock was ticking. But he never lost his desire to sing. He never lost his eagerness to laugh. He never wavered in his faith and trust in our God. A couple of times over the last few months he told Melba, “When it’s time, I’m ready.”

Vernon Camp finished his race early last Thursday morning at 89 years of age. Loved and cherished by God, forgiven by the blood of Christ, overflowing with the Spirit of the Lord.

The past six months or so Vernon was unable to remember our names. And that’s hard. But it’s OK because God remembers. God remembers Vernon and he is faithful. And we remember. We remember Vernon. We’ll never forget the ways his gentleness and grace reflect the glory of our Lord. And we’ll take care of Melba. And we’ll encourage his family by remembering with them how much Vernon touched our lives.

May God bless Vernon Camp and receive him into his faithful arms. And may God bless all of us with the strength and the faith and the confidence that he is able to keep what we’ve entrusted to him until that great day.

Peace,

Allan

About Sister Butler

butlercolisseumWe buried Sister Butler on Saturday. I call her Sister Butler because we’re both old-school Church of Christ. Actually, that’s not entirely true. I call most people, even people younger than me, Brother and Sister because I’m old-school Church of Christ. Susan Butler is just the first and only one who’s ever said to me in response, “I really appreciate that you call me Sister Butler.” That’s all I need. Just give me a tiny bit of positive feedback like that and I’m a broken record.

I love Susan because she loves my daughter Valerie so much. She taught Valerie at Amarillo High School when Valerie was — how do I put this? — going through a rough stretch. There comes a time in every teenage girl’s life when she needs somebody other than her parents to affirm her beauty and her worth, to listen to her and sympathize, to talk to her, to challenge her, and to believe in her. I thank God that Mrs. Butler and Valerie crossed paths at Amarillo High. I praise him for helping my daughter through Susan in ways I’m just not equipped to help.

Susan sees teaching not as a job, but as a ministry, as a calling from our God to love kids. She’s the teacher who goes the extra mile, who has the extra conversation, who asks about her students’ lives outside of school. She tells her students she loves them, she tells them she’s proud of them. If you’re one of Mrs. Butler’s students, she challenges you to do more than you think you can; she really, really believes you can do it; that causes you to really believe you can do it; and that is really awesome.

butlerdinnerShe believes in high expectations and expresses them to her kids. She’s not shy about it. She knows how things are supposed to look and how people are supposed to behave: how a young lady is supposed to act, how a Christian is supposed to live, how a wife and mother fulfills her responsibilities. She prayed over her students and quoted Scripture to them. For Mrs. Butler, teaching is about love and relationships and giving herself to others.

She made Valerie fall in love with teaching and put her on the path to becoming a teacher. She kept Valerie after class to ask her how she was doing and to catch up on her whole life. She encouraged Valerie and motivated her to do her very best. She Valerie she was proud of her all the time. Constantly. She hugged Valerie. She loved Valerie. And she changed Valerie’s life.

I love Sister Butler for that.

And I love her because I feel like she was my own personal cheerleader. I’ve only known Susan for a little over five years, but I’ve never doubted for one moment that she loves me. I always felt like she was really proud of me. And I know she wanted me to succeed wildly.

Susan is just so encouraging. Every single word out of her mouth to me — every word! — was carefully selected and measured and spoken to build me up. After a three-minute conversation with Susan, I felt like I was one of the greatest preachers in the history of the world. And it always seemed like she sought me out with a phone call or a text or a “Hey, come here, I want to tell you something” at the very moments when I felt like I was one of the worst preachers in the history of the world.

“Allan, you are really communicating to this church.”
“Allan, that really spoke to me.”
“Allan, you really made me think about that passage yesterday.”
“Allan, God is really talking to me through you.”
“Allan, I prayed for you this morning.”

Is there anything else a preacher would ever want to hear from a member of his congregation? Susan Butler really lifted me up.

butlerzaneWhen she was diagnosed with lung cancer in the fall of 2013, the doctors gave her only two years to live. Two years? She’s not even 60! It was devastating. It was awful. She was just a year-and-a-half away from retiring, she had those grandbabies coming, the best part of her wonderful life was just beginning. It wasn’t fair. It was cruel.

And there were questions and fears and uncertainties, of course. But she never wavered in her faith in our God to protect her and to provide for her everything she needs. She never stopped encouraging others and loving people and considering the needs of others more important than her own.

It wasn’t two years, it was a little more than three because, well, Susan Butler is also a little stubborn. And when her loving husband Steve and their precious daughters delivered the news last week to Susan, she was good with it. It wasn’t a problem. She was fine. She was ready to die. She had fought valiantly and suffered faithfully and it was time. There wasn’t any anxiety about it — no fear, no questions. She was certain it was time and she was certain she was ready.

Tuesday night Sister Butler passed from this life to the next surrounded by her family, forgiven by her Lord, and wrapped in the loving arms of her God. Friday night the funeral home in Canyon was jam-packed with people, young and old, sharing stories of Susan’s loving spirit and encouraging nature. Saturday the chapel at Central was filled to capacity with her family, her church family, her fellow teachers, her former students, and about a million flower arrangements. The tributes to Susan’s life of sacrifice and service for the sake of others went well into the night. The glory and praise to God brought by her life continues through all eternity.

May God bless all the Butlers with his comfort and peace and, yes, his joy. May God receive sweet Susan into his faithful arms. And may God bless all of us with the strength and faith and confidence that he is able to keep what we’ve entrusted to him until that great day.

In honor of Sister Butler, why don’t you go out of your way to say something really nice to somebody today. Encourage somebody. Tell somebody how proud you are of what they’re doing. Tell somebody you believe in them. It would honor Susan and it would bring praise to her/our God.

Peace,

Allan

Resurrection of the Flesh

heavenlight

“So it will be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power!” ~1 Corinthians 15:42-43

Christians believe in the resurrection of the body, not the immortality of the soul. The resurrection is a physical, bodily resurrection. When Jesus was raised, God didn’t leave his body in the tomb. The Scriptures go out of their way to show us this. After the resurrection, the first thing Jesus did with his disciples in all four biblical accounts is eat and drink with them to prove he was not just a spirit. He even says it in bright red letters, “Look, I’m not a ghost! A ghost doesn’t have flesh and bones!”

You’re not going to be an angel. You’re not going to be a ghost. No matter how much you threaten it or how badly you want it, you’re not going to be able to haunt anybody after you die.

1 Corinthians 6 says “By his power God raised the Lord from the dead and he will raise us also.” Romans 8 tells us we’re looking forward to the redemption of our bodies, not redemption from our bodies. God’s physical, fleshly, earthly creation is good; it’s very good. He’s not going to destroy the world, he’s redeeming it. He’s not going to destroy your body; he’s going to raise it and restore it.

There’s this very pagan, very Greek, and now very Western belief — conviction, really — that our true selves are our spirits. My true self is my soul and my body is just a temporary shell. My true self, my spirit, is trapped in my body and some glad morning when this life is o’er, I’ll fly away! Like a bird flying away from prison bars, my soul will leave my body and I’ll live forever as a spirit, my true eternal self. So my body dies, but I really don’t. I continue to live on and pass over to the spiritual realm where I came from and where I really belong.

That is not what Christians believe.

We talk like it, though. We’ll look into a casket at a funeral and say, “That’s not really him. That’s just his body.” Or we’ll say, “She’s not really dead. Her spirit never died.”

That’s not true.

That kind of thinking and talking denies the terrible reality of death. The Bible never pretends that death’s not that big a deal because we don’t actually die, we just “pass on” to our new kind of living. According to Scripture, death is real and total and dreadful. Our Lord didn’t face death with the calmness of somebody just taking a trip to the other side. He faced it with loud cries and tears that God would spare him from death. He sweat blood in the garden and begged God to avoid death.

Death is hideous and terrible because it means the end of us. Scripture calls death the awful enemy, not the welcome friend.

Our hope is not the indestructibility of our bodies or the immortality of our souls. Our hope is in the creative power of God Almighty! Our God calls things that are not as though they are and he makes the dead live again! Our hope is not in some internal capacity we have within ourselves, it’s in the power of God who raised Jesus from the grave and promises to do the exact same thing for us!

Peace,

Allan

Resurrection Hope

resurrectionbodies“If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all people.” ~1 Corinthians 15:19

Where is your hope? If your hope is in your health, you’re in trouble because you can’t control that. You can’t count on your health. There are lots of people in your life who can testify to that.

Is your hope in your money or your retirement account or your investments? I pray it’s not. You can’t control your money, either. There’s no guarantee with money. So what if you’ve got a million dollars, how much is it worth when the economy tanks?

Where is your hope? Do you even think about it?

So many of us are talking on the Bluetooth while we’re tapping out a text while we’re ordering at the drive-thru at McDonald’s on the way to a meeting that starts in three-and-a-half minutes. We’re just flying from place to place and going and doing and chasing and getting so frantically, we don’t ever think about the things we’re pursuing. What am I really hoping for?

The truth is we’re all going to die. The truth is that, eventually, you are going to stop breathing, you’re going to die, we’re going to put your body in a box, we’re going to put that box in the ground, we’re going to go inside and eat fried chicken and green bean casserole, and then in about two generations we’re going to forget everything about you. That’s the truth.

(Aren’t you glad you decided to read my blog today?)

There’s got to be more. There had better be more.

“Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him.” ~1 Corinthians 15:20-23

Our hope is in the resurrection of the body. That means, yes, our God has the final word over death. God has the final say. Not crippling disease, not mental illness, not violent crime, not war, not starvation — our Father has the final say. Your life on this earth might be long and happy or your life might be a bitter experience of pain and groaning. Whatever ravages the hostile powers might inflict on your body or the bodies of those you love, the empty tomb of Jesus and the resurrection promise of God fill us with a genuine hope that the body sown in weakness will be raised in power to life.

“By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also.” ~1 Corinthians 6:14

We put undo hope in things that can’t deliver. We don’t rely on God like we should. We put more trust in ourselves and our stuff. It’s not because we intentionally downplay or reject the promises of God, I think it’s because we don’t slow down enough to allow ourselves time to truly reflect.

“Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be ignorant about death or to grieve like the rest of people who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe…we will be with the Lord forever.” ~1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

Peace,

Allan

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