As I searched to find the right words, two big sets of brown eyes just stared back at mine waiting for an answer. It is difficult to imagine a more sobering and gut-wrenching conversation to have with two young boys than trying to explain to them the reality of death. My family had just endured the loss of two close relatives who both died at early ages within a short span of time. And my sons had a lot of questions. They were sad, and they were scared.
We decided early on that, unlike some other parents we knew, we were not going to try and shield our children indefinitely from the reality of death. Of course we would take age appropriateness into consideration, but as soon as our kids were able to comprehend a loved one’s consistent presence, we could not justify deceiving them regarding the cause of that loved one’s sudden absence.
After all, the Bible we teach them to read doesn’t sugarcoat such realities. In the storyline of Scripture, we make it no more than four chapters in before being confronted with the “wages of sin” in the shedding of righteous Abel’s blood (Gen 4:1-8; cf. Matt 23:35). And in the very next chapter, there begins an ominous refrain that echoes throughout the Scriptures and throughout the halls of history bearing testimony to the universal fate of our forefathers and mothers, “and he died…and he died…and he died…” (Gen 5:5-31).
The Apostle Paul tells us, “sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned” (Rom 5:12). As a result, every society of men has been faced with this same problem and has had its own questions to answer. And from Egyptian mummies and pyramids to Greek pantheons and underworlds, each has sought to answer these questions in ways that seemed right, but were ultimately, hopeless. My two boys were not facing a new problem. Their sadness and fear were not new, and they weren’t asking new questions.
While many in our day might seek to dodge such questions or to vaguely explain how so-and-so has “gone away to a better place”, my sons knew better. They had seen the caskets. They had seen the now-lifeless faces. They had watched the holes being filled up with dirt. And somehow they knew that all of this just wasn’t right- an enemy has done this. “Dad, are you going to die one day?” I could see tears instantly welling up in little eyes as I replied, “Yes, unless Jesus comes back, we all will.” “But I don’t want you to die.”
Instantly, I began doubting myself. Maybe it was too soon for this discussion after all. Maybe I should have just dodged the question or given some vague answer. Maybe I should have come up with some contemporary mythology to try and soften their little consciences to the sting of death. But then I thought, “Wait a second. I’m a Christian!” We are the people of the cross and the empty tomb. We are the people who understand that, in the end, death has no sting and the grave has no victory because Jesus crushed death to death through his death on the cross.
The Bible tells us that the “wages of sin is death” (Rom 6:23), but that Jesus “bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness” (1 Pet 2:24). Jesus took on himself our curse and bore our penalty, but three days later was “declared to be the Son of God in power…by his resurrection from the dead” (Rom 1:4). For just as death came by one man named Adam, so by another man named Jesus comes resurrection from the dead. “For as in Adam, all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Cor 15:20-21). In light of this truth, Christians don’t grieve as those who have no hope (1 Thess 4:13). Because we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even though we may die, we will live again (John 11:25; 1 Thess 4:15-16).
So I stuttered, stammered, and searched for an answer. But I’m grateful I didn’t need to hesitate for long. Because I know the Truth. I told them about the first Adam and how “he died.” But then I told them about the Last Adam and how “he died” and “was buried,” but how “he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Cor 15:3-4). I told them about the hope that they can have in Christ and how the day is coming in which there shall be no “mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore” and “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes” because “death shall be no more” (Rev 21:4). I told them that this day is promised to all who believe and then I prayed for them that they would. And somehow, this answered their questions and calmed their fears in a way that no cleverly devised myth ever could, because it was honest and because it was true. It was the story of Easter
So while I hope this year’s Easter for you is not one that brings reason to be sad or scared. I also hope that at some point in the flurry of chocolate bunnies, marshmallow eggs, clip-on ties, and frilly pastel dresses, you have the opportunity to in some sense make it that way. Because I pray that you get the opportunity to tell the true story of Easter. The story that has everything to do with being scared to death…and back again.
Over the past couple of years, the Lord has been gracious in opening up doors for B21 to expand our events calendar from just hosting events at the SBC annual meetings to also being able to host a number of events throughout the year around the country. We’d like to make you aware of a couple such events that we have coming up soon…
1. Pastor’s Conference at the Indiana Baptist Convention
- When: October 6, 2011 at 9:15pm
- Where: Twin Lakes Southern Baptist Church, Monticello, IN
- What: Panel discussion- “Can We Program Cooperation? Toward a Great Commission Vision of Partnership”
* Danny Akin- President of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary
* Kevin Smith- Pastor, Watson Memorial Baptist Church, Louisville, KY. Associate Professor of Church History at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
* Micah Fries- Pastor, Frederick Boulevard Baptist Church, St. Joseph, MO.
* Cecil Seagle- Interim Executive Director, the State Convention of Baptists in Indiana
* Bobby Pell- Pastor, Northwoods Church, Newburgh, IN.
This event is free…
2. Indiana Shepherd’s Conference:
- When: October 21, 2011 at 8:30pm
- Where: Highland Lakes Baptist Camp, Martinsville, IN
- What: Panel discussion- “Right Gospel, Wrong Text? Preaching Christ From All Of Scripture”
* Tony Merida- Pastor, Imago Dei Church, Raleigh, NC
* Greg Gilbert- Pastor, Third Avenue Baptist Church, Louisville, KY
* Jim Hamilton- Pastor, Kenwood Baptist Church, Louisville, KY. Associate Professor of Biblical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
* David Prince- Pastor, Ashland Avenue Baptist Church, Lexington, KY. Adjunct Professor of Preaching at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
If you live in or near Indiana, you definitely don’t want to miss the opportunity to hear these seasoned leaders address these important issues. If you are still on the fence about whether or not to attend these conferences, hopefully the lineup on these B21 panels will give you one more reason to be encouraged to attend.
Also, keep in mind that this is just a couple of the events we have scheduled between now and SBC 2012 in New Orleans (for which we are planning two possible B21 events). One such event will be a panel discussion at this year’s Tennessee Baptist Convention. Until then, stay tuned for more announcements about B21 events coming soon.
Kevin Ezell currently serves as the newly appointed President of the North American Mission Board. Born in Germany (where his father served in the Air Force), Kevin was raised in Paducah, KY, where he graduated from Lone Oak High School. From there, he went on to obtain a bachelor of science degree from Union University in Jackson, TN, an M.Div from the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and a D.min from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Kevin’s call to ministry began with an opportunity to use his talent on the tennis court as an opportunity to attend Union University on scholarship. During this time, he was always known as a “cut-up” and a people person, but even more as a young man who really loved people and who was serious about doing ministry. Since that time, Ezell’s reputation as a “cut-up” hasn’t subsided, but has actually served greatly to his advantage in numerous ministry and leadership venues. Prior to his nomination at NAMB, Ezell served faithfully as a Southern Baptist pastor. His first pastorate was at Hilltop Baptist Church in Fort Worth, TX where, he will tell you, he received his “first and only unanimous vote…seven to nothing.” After that, he went on to serve as pastor of First Baptist Church of Hartsville, TN from 1989-1991, of First Baptist Church of Marion, IL from 1991-96, and then of Highview Baptist Church in Louisville, KY from 1996 to September 2010 during which time Highview grew to seven campuses, in two states, in different counties. In addition to serving as a pastor, Dr. Ezell has also been highly engaged in denominational life serving as Chairman of the Nominating Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention, as Chairman of the Board of Trustees at Midwestern Seminary in Kansas City, on the Board of Reference at Union University (his alma mater), on the Advisory Council at Boyce College (a school of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary), and as President of the 2010 SBC Pastor’s Conference.
Kevin is a pastor’s pastor. During his time as a pastor, he has devoted a significant amount of time and energy to investing in the lives of pastors of all ages. He has always exhibited a burning heart for seeing young men called, trained, and launched into full-time ministry. As a result, dozens of young men (including more than a couple B21 contributors) have been sent out to preach the Gospel all over the world. While Kevin is widely regarded as one of the most effective leaders in the SBC, his most important leadership venue is his home. He and his wife Lynette have six children: Anna (21), Shelly (19), Taylor (15), John Michael (13), Libby (9), and Micah Lyn (6), We are thrilled to have Dr. Ezell joining us on the panel for the B21@SBC event. His is both a voice you need to hear and an example you need to see.
About the B21 Panel SBC2011:
When: June 14th, during the SBC lunch break (roughly 12pm-1pm)
Where: Phoenix Convention Center (PCC), West Building in Room 301A
What: A lunch panel discussion on Mission, the SBC, and more…
Who: Danny Akin, Kevin Ezell, Albert Mohler, John Piper, and David Platt
- General Registration (April 26th – June 10th) – $15
Note: This $15 will include a lunch. We understand that $15 may seem high, but it is an average price at convention centers. We are not doing this to make money. In fact, we are attempting to raise money with sponsors to keep the cost at $15. Lunch in Phoenix downtown area will be costly, why not spend the time at a lunch listening to men like John Piper and David Platt talk about critical issues for the church. Thanks for considering this and we hope to see you there!!
At the risk of sounding like I am talking out of both sides of my mouth [Check Previous Blog: When You Say Nothing At All], I want to be clear that there is nothing at all wrong with pre-packaged systems for personal evangelism per se. In fact, there is often much right. Any tool to help believers develop a succinct way of sharing the Gospel as well as the confidence to do so is certainly a win for the Kingdom. My concern historically about such systems, though is that many of them have tended to truncate the Gospel into merely one or two facets of Christ’s atoning work without providing a broader picture of the redemptive-historical context behind it. The result is that, in increasingly post-Christian and biblically illiterate contexts (not to mention the unreached third-world), most pre-packaged metaphors and acronyms just don’t communicate the way they once might have.
This concern was recently quelled, however, when I was exposed to Spread Truth ministries’ new material entitled View The Story. This material first caught my attention with its striking visuals. The artwork, photography, and a graphic design on these resources is second to none. But the beauty is not only skin deep, for once I was drawn in by the aesthetics I found myself even more impressed by the content. Not only does View The Story clearly present the message of Christ’s atoning work through the cross and empty tomb, but it sets this work firmly within the broader metanarrative of Scripture. Using the framework: Creation, Fall, Rescue, and Restoration, View The Story provides a biblically faithful and missiologically relevant resource for personal evangelism.
In addition to fantastic content, the folks at Spread Truth have also done an incredible job of mobilizing this program for local church and individual implementation. For the church, there is an entire line of study booklets, graphic presentations, and leader guides which makes this material ideal for small group training. For individuals, Spread Truth has taken yet another step in the right direction with its recent release of an iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch ® application. I first became aware of View The Story through The Story booklets and website. But, in my opinion, the crowning achievement of this project so far is the release of this app.
With the same stunning visuals and well-crafted prose as the booklets, the app (available at iTunes app store) puts this Gospel-rich resource right at your fingertips. With brief, readable slides, The Story app’s “conversation tool” is an ideal way to incorporate the Gospel into real life conversations. One need not stuff his pockets full of booklets “just in case” such a conversation arises. Now, The Story is always as available as your nearest portable electronic device. This FREE app can also be shared (electronically) so that friends can access a “read the story” feature and learn about the entire story for themselves. The app boasts numerous other features such as pop-up Scripture references, on board video testimonies, social networking capabilities, and even an online The Story user database to help you stay up-to-date on new releases and developments as well as maintain a network of fellow The Story users.
Let’s be honest, there is no silver bullet that makes personal evangelism a breeze. Jesus did not ordain a publishing corporation to accomplish the Great Commission. This is the work of the church- individual people of God, filled with the Spirit of God, armed with the Word of God, preaching the Good News about reconciliation with God. But while evangelism is most certainly the mandate of individual believers, that doesn’t mean tools and resources cannot aid us in this endeavor. To that end I, on behalf of all the contributors at B21 heartily commend to you this excellent new resource that Spread Truth has provided for the churches in their View The Story resources
B21 Contributors Jon Akin and Nick Moore recently taught through this curriculum with their local congregations. Check out their sermons below:
The Spencer County Magnet will post an article by B21′s Nick Moore on Easter, B21 reproduces it in full here:
I’m not sure why, but the older I get, I start looking forward to each new season with more and more expectancy. When I was a kid, Summer always came and went so fast that there was never enough time for the desired amount of baseball. Then before you could turn around, it seemed like Fall and Winter had flown by leaving us yearning for more sleigh riding weather. But things are different now. The seasons don’t fly by like they used to. In fact, in some ways, they seem to drag on longer each year. You can blame it on “El Nino” or “global warming” if you want, but whatever the cause, the fact is that winters just seem colder, summers just seem hotter, and the time spent waiting for one to become the next just seems longer.
In these moments of eager anticipation, though, I have to stop and remind myself that this whole process does not happen by accident, nor does it happen purely on the basis of scientific realities. Instead, the Bible tells us that the Lord “changes times and seasons,” (Dan 2:21). The seasons do not change merely because of a tilt in the earth’s axis or it’s position relative to the sun. These may be the means by which the elements change, but they are not the ultimate cause. God is. And if God is the author of the seasons, he surely must have a purpose behind their ebb and flow. But what?
Several years ago, a number of “modernist” critics observed the way that, throughout history, every pagan culture has come up with some sort of story, myth, or legend to explain the changing seasons. For millennia, men have watched how vegetation goes into the ground during seed-time and rises to new life during harvest as well as how this process is mirrored by a climate that transitions from warm, vibrant, and lively to a cold, death-like slumber, only to experience “new birth” with the arrival of Spring. Observation of these things, the critics noted, always seems to result in the forming of “myths about dying and rising gods.” Christianity, then, is nothing unique. In fact, in their estimation, Christianity is little more than a pagan fertility myth accommodated to a first-century context with a Jewish man as its hero.
This time of year, there will inevitably be a spate of magazine covers, newspaper articles, and History channel documentaries leveling these same kinds of accusations against the Christ story. But behind all of these questions is really the same question: “What makes Christianity different? How is it unique?” The great Christian author C.S. Lewis, addressing the accusations that these “modernists” had leveled, provides a somewhat surprising answer. He suggests that, in some sense, Christianity is not unique at all. It should not surprise us, he says, to “find in the imagination of the great Pagan teachers and myth makers some glimpse of that theme which we believe to be the very plot of the whole cosmic story—the theme of incarnation, death, and rebirth,” (Lewis, “Is Theology Poetry” in The Weight Of Glory, 128). These pagan myths are simply picking up on what the Apostle Paul calls God’s “purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth,” (Eph 1:9-10). So, in one sense, the Christ story is not unique. All of these stories are based on God’s larger story, which finds its ultimate fulfillment in Christ.
In another sense, however, Lewis points out that the Christ story is altogether unique. Not in the sense that it is based on different themes, but in that it is utterly and completely true. The pagans pick up on God’s larger story, but in their version they choose to exchange “the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things,” (Rom 1:23). The Christ story, however, shows us how in the fullness of time “the old myth of the Dying God, without ceasing to be myth, comes down from the heaven of legend and imagination to the earth of history. It happens– at a particular date, in a particular place,” (Lewis, God In The Dock, 343). The myth “about the dying and rising god” meet the original pattern after which it was copied when it became fact in Jesus Christ.
This Easter, I hope you will stay focused first and foremost on the true “reason for the season.” But that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy other festive activities as well…as long as you recognize the story behind the stories. There is a reason fertility symbols like eggs and bunnies have endured with this holiday for generations, that the name “Easter” (based on the name of an ancient fertility goddess “Ishtar”) has never been revised even in ardent Christian circles, or that bright pastel colors, new outfits, and fresh floral arrangements resonate with our celebrations of the resurrection, even if we can’t put our finger on exactly why. It is because these symbols of new birth and new life point us beyond pagan mythology to the myth that became fact, to Jesus Christ: the true firstborn, the true resurrection and the life, the true New Creation, and the true first-fruits from the dead. This Easter, let’s see Jesus in every competing story, and use these stories to point others to him, who is “the way, the truth, and the life,” (John 14:6).
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