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When Tragedy Strikes

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Sooner or later, tragedy comes to us all.  The Apostle Paul instructed a young Timothy that all who desire to live godly will suffer persecution.  At the end of His Sermon on the Mount Jesus told of two groups of people (those who build their houses on solid ground and those who build on the sand) and warned that the storms of life will pound all our houses.  It is crucial in this life to build our foundation on Him.  We also face our ultimate enemy, Satan, whose desire is to kill, steal and destroy us.  He roams about like a lion seeking whom he can devour.

Christians should be aware of these dynamics.  But the mocker of God becomes embittered against Him and the child of God can become more perplexed when tragedy strikes a person or family that loves, worships and serves God with all their heart.  Is it possible for a godly person’s wealth, loved ones and even their own health to be destroyed within the will of a loving Heavenly Father?  Yes, it was exactly that scenario with Job.  He was a man of complete integrity, who feared God and turned away from evil (1:1).  His ten children were killed by wicked invaders (chpt. 1).  Then he completely lost how own personal health (chpt. 2).  To top off the devastation he was enduring, three of his closest friends and his wife mocked and questioned him.

Job was like many Christians after a great tragedy or loss.  “He fell to the ground and worshiped, saying: Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will leave this life.  The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away.  Blessed be the name of the Lord (1:20-21).”  While his friends insisted through misguided theology and arguments that all pain is the result of sin that angers God, Job defended God’s goodness and that his life had been lived to please God.  Job showed great humility, wisdom and faithfulness to God. . . but...

Over time grief, despair, anger and questions about our loss torment our souls.  Ongoing pain began to build a demanding spirit in Job.   “I am disgusted with my life.  I will give vent to my complaint and speak in the bitterness of my soul.  I will say to God, ‘Do not declare me guilty! Let me know why you prosecute me.  Is it good for you to oppress, to reject the work of your hands and favor the plans of the wicked (Job 10:1-3)?’”

Full-blown anger can lead us to both worship and test God.  Look at Job’s surrender to and his defiance toward God.  “Even if He kills me, I will hope in Him.  I will still defend my ways before Him.  Yes, this will result in my deliverance, for no godless person can appear before Him.  Pay close attention to my works: let my declaration ring in Your ears.  Now then, I have prepared my case, I know that I am right (Job 13:15-18).”

Finally, ongoing pain makes us feel as though we deserve to be heard.  It produces an arrogance in the created toward our Creator.  “If only I knew how to find Him, so that I could go to His throne.  I would plead my case before Him and fill my mouth with arguments.  I would learn how He would answer me; and understand what He would say to me.  Then an upright man could reason with Him, and I would escape from my Judge forever (Job 23:3-7).”

Wow!  Job goes from total faith and surrender to God to wanting to actually believing he can defend his ways, saying that if he could find God he would present his case, anticipate God’s response, argue with Him and be found just.  Can you hear those heated words flowing out of Job as he shook his fist while wet tears ran down his face, his whole body shaking in indignation?

Job indeed was indeed granted his demand: a hearing before the throne of God.  In fact two hearings.  God begins the first one with these words.  “Who is this who obscures My counsel with ignorant words?  Get ready to answer me like a man; when I question you, you will inform Me.  Where were you . . .?  Have you ever . . . ?  Have you traveled . . .?  Where is the . . . ?  Who put wisdom  . . .? 

After God’s series of questions from His throne Job replied, “I know that You can do anything and no plan of Yours can be thwarted.  You asked, ‘Who is this who conceals my counsel with ignorance?’  Sure I spoke about things I did not understand, things too wondrous for me to know. . . Therefore, I reject my words and am sorry for them; I am dust and ashes.’ (Job 42:2-6).”

What Job didn’t and couldn’t see was that God was using Job’s pain and sorrow to show Lucifer (one of, if not the most brilliant, most beautiful and powerful archangels God ever created) that a lowly and yet godly man often chooses to humble himself and ultimately worship God though he loses everything.  Lucifer had known the most blessed heavenly role, position and gifts God had ever given and had rebelled against God, refusing to humble himself and worship God.  In the end God used Job’s earthly loss and sorrow to teach all of heaven and earth God’s great power and glory.

As Job stated, life is short and full of troubles.  But God and His desire to offer us relationship and redemption through the Lord Jesus Christ surpasses all that we will experience in this cursed and fallen world.  Earth will eventually be consumed by fire and recreated.  Christians will one day judge angels, rule the new earth and be co-heirs with Christ.  Our pain, sorrows and losses in this life all serve a higher purpose that we will one day understand.  We are permitted by a loving Heavenly Father to ask our questions.  However, in the end, we must remember that the sufferings of this present day are not worthy to be compared to the glory that is to come in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Life is hard.  Our losses are great.  Our experiences with pain, sorrow, loss and helplessness accumulate through the years.  But our salvation in Christ Jesus has secured our future.  God’s perfect wisdom, sovereignty and mercy can and do sustain us as we walk through the valley of the shadow of death.  And one day will come the final act of salvation.  “So also Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for Him (Hebrews 9:28).”  Theologians call this the Christian’s “glorification,” an act of salvation which is in the future.  It is the ultimate salvation from sin, its effects and its curse.

So when tragedy strikes, worship God, focusing continually on thanksgiving for His perfect love that offers us salvation from sin’s ultimate penalty.  Through the process of grief with its intense regrets, hurt, denial and anger allow God to continue His work of salvation.  Great pain often nourishes sanctification and the opportunity to overcome the power of sin that embitters and believes man has the right and position to find, approach and question God about what we deserve and receive from Him.  Finally, embrace the peace of knowing His plan is to ultimately save us from the very presence and consequences of sin and its devastating blows upon our lives.

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us as we walk through the joys and pains that a perfect Father has ordained for us in this life!

Craig Lile
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How Do I Persevere Despite My Circumstances?

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I love to garden. Basically I love to see things grow, especially pretty plants. I’ve never really grown vegetables, but recently we discovered that we are expecting…wait for it…one tiny tomato! Now if we can keep the squirrels and birds away from it, we just might have one fresh tomato to enjoy this year. Ah, the simple pleasures. I began my love for gardening back in South Texas where many plants will live all year round. Through the years, I have experienced some interesting things in my world of gardening.

There is an old saying, “bloom where you are planted.” But have you ever heard the saying, “Grow, even when you are pulled up” or “Grow even if it hurts”? A few years back, Linda’s dad and mom helped us do some remodeling of a bathroom. Since we had to tap into the water line, we had to take out a flower bed that was filled with blooming Kalanchoes (I usually pronounce it “Kah-Lahn-chos”, but the real pronunciation is “Ka-lan-ko-es”. I know you are impressed!)  I planted the plants in a temporary spot just to keep them alive. To my surprise, the plants began to grow and bloom even better than before; so, naturally, I left them there.

Much later (like 2-3 months) I noticed that I had left one of the plants in a bucket in the garage. The plant was kind of dry (understatement), but it had actually sprouted a little green bud at the top.  This plant was growing in spite of a lack of water and dirt.  

Not long after that, I decided to cut back the cactus next to my kitchen window.  It is a very interesting cactus, and as you might expect, in South Texas it was becoming like a tree!  I had to keep pruning it back, so that it wouldn’t fall over in the wind.

I knew that, if I put the prickly little pieces in my compost pile, I would have a very interesting time spreading my compost…ouch!  It hurts just to think about it!  So I put my cuttings in a garbage can in the garage, thinking that when they dried up I would put them out with the trash.  After about six weeks, I went back to the trash can and looked inside.  And to my amazement each of the cuttings had sprouted and, yes, they were continuing to grow.  I knew cacti were resilient, but that is amazing.

Can you see a correlation here?  Now I don’t recommend that you try this, but I do believe that there is a lesson to be learned here.  When times get tough (and they will) if our roots are firmly planted in Jesus Christ, then we can survive and grow in Him.  As a matter of fact, many times our growth is more prolific when we have gone through trials, similar to the way the Kalanchoes thrived in their new location.

"Therefore, since we have been declared righteous by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. We have also obtained access through him by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.  And not only that, but we also rejoice in our afflictions, because we know that affliction produces endurance, endurance produces proven character, and proven character produces hope." (Romans 5:1-4 CSB)

How encouraging is that!   Our trials produce endurance or perseverance, which produces character, which produces hope. Hang in there!  Keep growing and you just might see some little sprouts of green in spite of your circumstances! 

"…so do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded.  You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised.  For in just a little while,

'He who is coming will come and will not delay.
But my righteous one will live by faith.
And if he shrinks back,
I will not be pleased with him.'

But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved.” (Hebrews 10:35-39 NIV)

So when this world throws something at you that causes you to feel cut off and discouraged, don’t shrink back (or shrivel up); keep trusting in God.  You may even find that your greatest growth took place when you were feeling “thrown away.”

To God Be the Glory!

Doug Burton
Minister of Music and Senior Adults
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