About Sister Butler

Central Church Family, Death, Faith, Valerie 2 Comments »

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

1 Corinthians, Death, Resurrection 2 Comments »

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

1 Corinthians, 1 Thessalonians, Death, Promise, Resurrection No Comments »

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

He Will Come to Judge

Creation, Death, Jesus, Matthew, Psalms 2 Comments »

“On the third day he rose again from the dead, ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of the Father Almighty, from which he will come to judge the living and the dead.” ~from the Apostles’ Creed

RightHandSaintsNobody wants to see a judge. Appearing before a judge is not at the top of anybody’s list of enjoyable things to do. Not even lawyers, as sick as they are, want to go see a judge (sorry, that’s a cheap shot; I should apologize to Utsinger, Flow, the Egglestons, J. Bailey, and maybe even a couple of judges). If you walk into any government building or have a conversation with any government official and she says, “The judge wants to see you” or “You’ll need to appear before the judge” all your organs start to shut down. It’s not fun.

“The Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done.” ~Matthew 16:7

This is a tough topic. The idea of a judgment is offensive to our culture. In this age of uber-tolerance, in this age of “Don’t judge me!” society bristles at the concept of any kind of judgment on almost anything. This might be Christianity’s most offensive doctrine. Our culture has no problem at all with a God of supreme love who supports us and accepts us no matter how we live. But it strongly objects to a God who punishes people. We have no problem with a forgiving God, but we can’t accept a God who judges.

Well, guess what? It’s both. We know it to be both.

Christians believe that God is both a God of love and of justice. Lots of people struggle with that. They believe a loving God can’t be a judging God. I’ve been asked this before, and maybe somebody’s asked you, “How can a God of love also be a God of anger and wrath? If God is loving and perfect, then he should forgive and accept everybody, right? He shouldn’t ever get angry.”

All loving persons are sometimes filled with anger because of their love. I’m grateful to Tim Keller’s insights here from his eye-opening “The Reason for God.” If you really love a person and someone harms that person, you get angry. If someone hurts your spouse or harms your child, you get ticked off. Even if they are the ones hurting themselves, you get angry. Think about how you feel when someone you love deeply is being damaged by terrible decisions or stupid actions or bad relationships. You don’t just tolerate it with kind of an apathetic “whatever” like you would if she were a stranger. Far from it! You get mad. Angry. Anger is not the opposite of love; hate is the opposite of love. God’s wrath is not a cranky explosion; it’s his determined opposition to the cancer of sin that’s eating out the guts of the human race he loves with his whole being.

The Bible says God’s wrath flows from his love and delight in his creation. He gets angry at evil and injustice because it’s destroying his creation’s peace and integrity.

“The Lord is righteous in all his ways and loving toward all he has made… The Lord watches over all who love him, but all the wicked he will destroy.” ~Psalm 145:17-20

Another thing I hear is that believing in a God who judges makes Christians very narrow-minded people. We’re exclusivists and we’re divisive and it might even make us violent people because we believe in God’s judgment. Now, hold on. Everyone believes that actions have consequences. Everyone believes that bad actions have harmful consequences. But because Christians believe that souls never die, Christians also believe that our actions affect us forever. Even non-Christians believe that there are terrible moral actions like lying and murder and exploitation and cruelty and self-centeredness. But since they don’t believe in an afterlife, they don’t think the consequences of those bad actions go on into eternity. Does that make Christians narrow-minded, because we believe wrongdoing has more long-term consequences than non-Christians do? It doesn’t make us narrow just because we believe the consequences of wrong actions are more serious.

We believe that today Christ Jesus sits at the right hand of the Father Almighty, from which he will come to judge the living and the dead. We’ll unpack some of that here this week.

Peace,

Allan

Every Single Drop

Christ & Culture, Death, Faith, Promise, Salvation, Sin No Comments »

DallasPray

 

Someday every single tear drop that’s shed and every single drop of blood that’s spilled will be answered for. Either by the mercy and grace of our Lord Jesus Christ or by the fires of hell, someday every single drop will be accounted for. And made right. None of this goes unnoticed by our Father — none of the madness, none of the sadness. Every single drop will, in the end, serve his loving purposes and result in his eternal praise.

In the meantime, his children pray. Disciples of the Lord Jesus pray for peace. We behave like our Messiah. We wait and we obey. We shed tears of grief and we join in mourning the brokenness of our God’s world and the sinfulness that afflicts his people.

In this day when we Americans seem to be the most dangerous people in the world, in this season when we in the United States seem to be losing our collective minds, the only real comfort comes in knowing that someday every single tear drop and every single drop of blood will be counted.

Peace,

Allan

Rest and Obey

1 Corinthians, 2 Timothy, Death, Psalms 1 Comment »

DeadTrees

We’ve been discussing this week that day in between, the Saturday between the crucifixion of Jesus and his resurrection; the long, silent, absent Saturday our Lord spent in the grave. We’ve all experienced those Saturdays. You might be in the middle of a Saturday right now. So, what’s the point of the Saturday? Why is there that awful day in between? And how are we supposed to respond?

Well, you could choose despair. Some people do that. Paul writes about this to the church in Corinth:

“How can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?” ~1 Corinthians 15:12

Some people will tell you there’s never going to be a Sunday. It’s Saturday. Get used to it. This is just the way things are. Nothing’s going to change. Take some disappointment management classes because this is as good as it gets. Some people live in that. Maybe that’s where you are. If so, I’m sorry. That’s not a good place to be.

You could choose denial. Some people will tell you Friday and Saturday never happened. They just excuse everything away with easy clichés and bumper sticker explanations. Whatever happens, it must be God’s will. I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength. Some people just bulldoze right through everything it means to be a real human being and almost deny that there’s a problem. Maybe that’s where you are. If so, I’m sorry. That’s not going to work.

You could pray harder or live better or increase your faith. Paul wrote to Timothy about people like this:

“They say that the resurrection has already taken place, and they destroy the faith of some.” ~2 Timothy 2:18

They say it’s already Sunday. The resurrection’s already happened for all Christians. We’re already living the abundant life, eternal life, in Jesus. If you’re having problems, if you’re still sick, if you’re prayers aren’t being answered, then you clearly don’t have enough faith. If you had a stronger faith, if you prayed harder, God would heal you. If anybody ever says anything like that to you, you have my permission to hang up on them. Or unfriend them.

We all have Saturday experiences in our lives. Sometimes they last for a few weeks, sometimes it lasts for decades. Sometimes we feel very, very, very far away from God. I think it means something that our Lord endured a Saturday in the grave. There’s a reason for that day in between the calamity and the rescue.

You might not like this. But I’m convinced this is the lesson. I truly believe the proper response to the Saturday is to wait on God. Wait on him. Work with God even when he feels far away. Talk to God even when it feels like he’s not listening. Rest in God.

I’ve written this week that the only information we have in the Bible about that Saturday is that a guard was posted at the tomb. That’s not true. We have one very short sentence at the end of Luke 23 that tells us exactly what the disciples did on that Saturday:

“They rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment.” ~Luke 23:56

They rested. And they obeyed. That’s a good place to be. When all is lost, we rest in God and we continue to obey. We pray. We ask. We whine. We complain. And we trust. We trust even on the darkest Saturday that God is right there beside you. Loving and working and saving.

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me? O my God, I cry out but you do not answer. Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help. My heart has turned to wax; it has melted away within me. My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death.

You who fear the Lord, praise him! All you descendants of Jacob, honor him! Revere him, all you descendants of Israel! For he has not despised or disdained the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help.” ~Psalm 22

God never turned his back on Jesus. He didn’t. Not while Jesus was dying on the cross. Not when he lay dead and still in the grave. God never turned his face away from his Son. It felt like it to our Lord. Jesus felt like the Father had abandoned him. But the words of Jesus’ prayer from Psalm 22 are clear. Even when it feels like you’ve been forsaken by God, he’s right there. Right there! Loving and working and saving.

“Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there. If I make my bed in the place of the dead, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. If I say, ‘Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,’ even the darkness will not be dark to you.” ~Psalm 139

If Jesus went to the tomb, if he went to the place of the dead, if maybe he even went to hell, the good news is that this means there’s no place Jesus won’t go in order to save you. There’s nothing you can suffer that our Lord hasn’t already endured himself. There’s no dark corner of despair or suffering or evil or sin where he won’t go to get you. Wherever you are, Christ Jesus has already been there, and is there still. With you. Right beside you. Loving. Working. Saving.

Rest and obey.

Peace,

Allan