Tuesday, March 29, 2011

tragedy in aruba

We just spent seven wonderful days in Aruba with good friends enjoying white sandy beaches and snorkeling in crystal blue water. When we weren't exploring the beauty of the island, we enjoyed moonlit dinners on the beach and sleeping in the next morning (for us that would be 8 a.m...a true luxury!) All in all, it was a week to remember.

But not only for the fun and relaxation...but for the tragedy of a life ended suddenly and, from our limited point of view, prematurely.

My I-Phone carried the cryptic message on its face, ""Jeanette's dad died today..." Jeanette is my son Jeff's wonderful wife, and her dad, was Bob. Bob was fifty-eight years old and got sick one evening and fifteen hours later was gone. That quickly, without warning, the victim of a virulent infection that cut short his life. We loved Bob and Patty, Jeanette's parents, and almost always saw them on our visits to Dallas. We had something in common--Bob and Patty had pastored churches for many years, though Bob was now doing secular work--as well as our grandson, JJ, who Bob and Patty adored (he was their only grandchild).

"Trapped" in Aruba we could not get home to be with my son and his family and to share in Bob's funeral. It was a difficult time.

So how do we cope with such tragedies? How do we make sense of such a loss?

I am convinced after forty-five years as a pastor and also several years as a Hospice chaplain, there are no simple answers. Here are some things I do know.

1. God is sovereign and He knows the beginning from the end.

2. We are not insulated from traqedy in this world; Bob's death was a tragedy, but he had trusted in Christ for salvation so we are comforted to know that he is with the Lord.

3. God promises to give us grace and strength to walk through the "valley of the shadow of death"; He promises to not give us more than we can bear with his strength.

4. We may never know "why?" something happens, which presupposes a cause and effect relationship between who we are and what happens to us. We are told in the Bible that the "rain falls on the just and the unjust", so that our character does not determine whether or not we escape tragedy.

5. We are promised that God always has our ultimate good in mind, whatever the circumstances in life we experience, and, ultimately, God's purpose is to prepare us for eternity with Him.

Bob's death was a tragedy. Our being in Aruba unable to get to the States to be with our family seemed to us tragic as well. Patty, left without a husband; Jeanette without a father; JJ withour a grandpa--tragic losses, to be sure.

But I am comforted again--in the midst of tragedy--by the certainty of the promises of God's Word in Psalm 103:15-17,to which I have often turned and directed others for comfort.
"As for man, his days are like grass,
he flourishes like a flower of the field;
The wind blows over it, and it is gone,
and its place remembers it no more.
But from everlasting to everlastingf
the Lord's love is with those who fear Him..."

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

"A Steadfast Heart"

I have been reading Psalm 108 the last few weeks and have been drawn to the words in verse 1 where David testifies, “My heart is steadfast…” The Hebrew derivation of the word “kun” for “steadfast” has the meaning of being established, firm, set in place and secure—and prepared.

In the context of this Psalm David looks at the potential confrontation with his enemy and makes several observations. (1) Have you rejected us, God? (2) Will you go with us to battle? His conclusion in verse 12 is this, “Give us aid against the enemy for the help of man is worthless. With God we will gain the victory and He will trample down our enemies…” (see verses 10,11)

Working backwards, David begins this Psalm by purposing to “sing and make music with all my (his) soul” because of God’s great love and faithfulness to him (see verses 1-4). He proceeds to recount God’s record of having declared His sovereign control over all in verses 6-9.

The other thing I have observed up close this week that has equally impacted me is the commitment of Luke and Becca Voight who are preparing to leave for Malawi in a few months. We recently invited them to our care group—Beverly and I had already enjoyed a lunch presentation with them—so we were hearing their heart for ministry a second time. I was impressed with the fact that they are leaving family behind (including two sets of grandparents to Lizee), choosing native village housing (without all of the amenities to which we are accustomed), going to learn a new language, and literally divesting themselves of all of their earthly goods via a garage sale before their departure—and all of this, as a matter if excited obedience to the call of God to serve Him in spreading the gospel.

How does that relate to David’s testimony “My heart is steadfast…”? What’s ion focus is my own occasional descent into worry and complaining. David is facing a huge challenge but he keeps a “steadfast heart” in the midst of anticipating what lays ahead. Luke and Becca, facing an uncertain future with less than ideal circumstances demonstrate a “steadfast heart”, fully confident of God’s call and His promised provision.

In the end David proclaims, “With God we will gain the victory…”, and contextually, we can assume, he means that in spite of the size of the enemy’s challenge. For Luke and Becca there is a fearlessness that is steeped in the knowledge of God’s promises and God’s provision, and nothing the enemy may set before them will deter them from their ministry.
My prayer is that God will give me a “steadfast heart”. These are troubling days—the trauma of the Middle East that already touches us, the terror of our country’s economic mess and the related social unrest. Here and abroad there is reason for concern…even fear.

Except for God—the God who led David to victory over the enemies, the God who goes before Luke and Becca in Malawi—and the God who we can trust to see us through the challenge of what is before us today. Lord, give us “steadfast hearts”.