I have been a minister of the Good News of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ for almost thirty years now. In that time I have come to understand that some people look to ministers to supply answers to unanswerable questions, to bring comfort when pain’s sting is excruciatingly agonizing, and to have faith when uncertainty seems our only option. I wish that I could stand before you as such a man. A man with all of the answers. A man who possesses comforting solace that soothes pain’s sting. A man of such faith that he never has any uncertainty. I am not that man.
The older I get and the longer I am in ministry there are more and more situations that come my way that I simply do not understand. There are fewer and fewer answers that I have to offer. There are more and more times that I cry out to the Father, “I believe, Lord help my unbelief.”
I have a friend who attends a Tuesday morning Bible study that I lead. Just a couple of months ago his wife took her own life. She had everything to live for and yet she couldn’t see it. I know all of the clichéd Christian responses, but I just don’t understand. I have a friend who was sexually abused as a child by her own dad. That, I will never understand. You can offer me every explanation under the sun and I still will not understand. I’ve known more than one family who has lost a child at an early age. I don’t understand. I could go on and on with the list of things that puzzle me, but suffice it to say that I just don’t have answers as to why these things happen.
I have to be honest with you and tell you that my questions started long before I came to Britton Christian Church. When I was in Seminary, the man who led me to the Lord, a healthy and strong college athlete married a fit college athlete. Both of them were, and still are, incredibly strong followers of Jesus. After they were married they had a beautiful little boy named Matthew who was born with Down’s Syndrome. Mom and dad were shocked, but they adjusted and that little boy changed their life and blessed them immensely. Then one night I received a phone call from my friend John who told me that Matthew had passed away. I will never understand.
While I was in Plano there was a man who was so loved by the kids. Because there were so many kids in Plano who were taking their own lives at the time, he spoke to the kids one Sunday during morning worship. He told them that there is nothing life that is so bad that it can ever justify taking your own life…then he took his. My first responsibility as the Youth Minister at First Christian Church in Plano was to meet with those broken-hearted and confused high school kids who had believed every word he had said.
There is so much that I do not understand. I have tried to figure things out, but I’ve come up empty. I’ve tried to reason it all away, but I can’t find a reason. I’ve tried to dismiss it all as not really real, but the reality of it all continues to slap me in the face. I do not understand.
I have come to this conclusion: If I must understand all of the unexplainable tragedies that take place around me in order that I might continue on as a minister of the Good News of Jesus Christ then I need to stop what I am doing because I simply do not understand. I will not stop! I will not waver from the privilege God has given me to proclaim His faithfulness, His lovingkindness, and His matchless grace! I do not understand much, but this one thing I do know…Jesus loves me and you and every person in this place more than we will ever be able to comprehend or fathom. That one simple statement gives me confidence to continue on.
I do not understand why things take place, but I know that our Savior’s love for us will always bring about expressions of His love. Being so assured of His deep love for me and for you leads to my having trust that what I can’t understand I can trust because of His love for us.
My trust in Almighty God is much like the trust my children had in me while they were growing up. I can still remember, like it was yesterday, when Annie was small and not feeling good. I took her to see the doctor. After examining her he felt that he needed to do a blood test. I took Annie in my arms and we headed to the lab for the nurse to take some blood.
My precious little girl sat in my lap, resting, feeling safe in her daddy’s arms. All of a sudden the nurse pricked her finger and began to squeeze. The blood started to flow and the screams could be heard for miles. Annie looked up at me with horror written all over her face. She didn’t say a word, she only screamed, but I could read her mind. As she looked at me she was wondering, “Daddy, what are they doing? What are you doing letting them hurt me so badly? Daddy, do something.” I held her tight. I told her things would be all right. I kissed her forehead, but I didn’t stop the nurse from taking the blood. I didn’t stop the pain because I knew that it was only through Annie’s pain that we would be able to find out what was wrong with her.
Annie didn’t like the fact that I allowed her to hurt. She couldn’t understand why I would do such a thing, but after we left the doctor’s office Annie continued to trust me. She knew that I loved her and so she continued to smile and run to me whenever I would come home from work. She continued to climb up in my lap and rest in her daddy’s arms. Annie hasn’t run to welcome me home in a few years, but to this day she knows that her daddy loves her, even though I allow her to go through painful experiences in life…and I know that my “Daddy” loves me. Even though the pain is sometimes unbearable I know that my “Daddy” loves me.
I know that God loves you and me and there is absolutely nothing that could ever change His unparalleled, unbounded love for us. Paul stated it this way,
35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:35-39 NIV)
Nothing, absolutely nothing can ever separate us from the love God has for us, love that has been demonstrated through the life, death, and glorious resurrection of His Son Jesus. It is imperative for you and me that we know, intimately know, of God’s deep, unchanging love for us. Without that love you and I will misinterpret the events that take place in our lives and we will end up shipwrecked, being tossed about on the high seas of our painful experiences.
My friends, I have come today to tell you that we have a choice to make. The options are clear, the paths lie before us, and the voices are calling. I know all too well how the fork in the road forces us to make a choice because I have been at that crossroads many times. The choice that we must make is not a one-time, cut-and-dried decision. No, it is a daily choice that presents itself to us every morning when we get out of bed. The choice is this: Will I choose to believe God, to be persuaded by His infinite love that leads to my absolute trust in Him? Or, will I listen to Satan and conclude that I have been dealt a bad hand, given a raw deal, and become angry with God as I walk away from Him?
Just this past week I went to visit Jeff Sullins before the doctors operated on his brain aneurysm. Before Jeff and I prayed together I told him that we have two choices. “Choice A” is that we can believe that God is Sovereign, that He knew about the aneurysm before any doctor ever discovered it, that God loves Jeff, has been faithful throughout his life, and we can trust Him in this situation. “Choice B” is that we can refuse to believe “Choice A” and just drown in fear and despair because of this random bad luck. The choice is clear for those who will choose to cling to Jesus.
I can vividly remember a young family in our church many years ago who had a baby Annie’s age. Their baby, James, died when he was just 18 months old. I was with Mary and Phil at Children’s Hospital just a few hours after James died. Mary told me that she had gone through a battle the previous night. She said, “Satan was telling me that I had every right to turn my back on God because He took my baby. Satan was trying to convince me that I was justified in being mad at God and that I should walk away from Him.” Mary said, “But God was telling me that James was alright, that He was still in control, and everything was alright.” Mary said, “Mike, I chose to believe God.”
I want to encourage you this morning to make the same choice. God’s people have been confronted with this choice in every generation. Job was confronted with the same choice all of us are faced with when unexplainable tragedy strikes its blows against the fortress of our lives. When the voices came to Job to try and convince him that he should “curse God,” it wasn’t the voice of a demon, a little man in a red suit with a pitchfork, or a monstrous evil form. The voice that sought to sway Job was a much more powerful voice, a more convincing voice…the voice of his wife. Listen in on the conversation found in Job 2.
7 So Satan went out from the presence of the LORD and afflicted Jobwith painful sores from the soles of his feet to the crown of his head. 8 Then Job took a piece of broken pottery and scraped himself with it as he sat among the ashes. 9 His wife said to him, “Are you still maintaining your integrity? Curse God and die!” 10 He replied, “You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” In all this, Job did not sin in what he said. (Job 2:7-10 NIV)
So few are like Job, Phil and Mary, and many of you who have chosen to believe God rather than the voice of doubt, anger, and contempt. I knew a man several years ago, while I was still in college, who chose another path. It was a Friday night when I first met him. I was with a young guy named Paul McGrady who is now my brother-in-law. We were down on “The Strip” in Lawton, Oklahoma where there are many bars and strip joints. Paul and I were outside of one of the bars when a car pulled up and suddenly began to rev its engine. We thought we were getting ready to be run-over, but the man had put his car in park before he revved the engine. When he got out of the car he was laughing with a friend who was with him. He said, “Boy, I scared you guys didn’t I!” He sure did! I thought I had wet my pants.
We began to strike up a conversation: “What are you guys doing tonight? Where are you from?” Just small talk. Then one of us asked the men, “Do you guys know the Lord?” A pretty innocuous question we thought. One of the men was visibly shaken. The venom began to flow and every vile word the man could muster was uttered at the two of us. He said, “Don’t talk to me about God! I don’t want to hear that @(%$@#$!!! Don’t tell me about God’s love! You want to know about God’s love? I’ll tell you about God’s love! Three years ago at Christmas my wife and I went to my mother’s house to celebrate Christmas with my family. After we opened presents my little boy went outside to play in the yard. It was cold so we put a coat on him and he ran out the door. The yard was fenced so we didn’t worry about him being outside. After a while we didn’t hear him playing outside so we went to check on him. When I got outside I saw that he had tried to climb over my mother’s picket fence and the hood on his jacket had gotten caught on one of the pickets. My little boy was dead. I tried to bring him back to life, but he was dead. I’ll never see my little boy again. Now, don’t you tell me about how much God loves me!”
The man was so angry that he was shaking as he continued to scream at us. Three years earlier that man and his wife had been confronted with a choice. In the face of excruciating pain and the greatest loss of their lives what would they do? Would they believe God? Would they know in their minds and hearts that God’s love would carry them through such unimaginable pain and suffering? Or, would the Enemy convince them that God is unjust, unfair, and unloving? Unworthy of our loyalty and affection? Please hear me in this my brothers and sisters, the man and his wife faced a situation that I hope I will never have to face. Their hearts were torn into pieces. Their lives were shattered. In the midst of their tragedy they made a choice to listen to the Enemy. I know they did not consciously make that choice. I’m certain they did not say, “I’m going to believe Satan rather than God,” but their circumstances, their sorrow and heartache clouded their eyes and nudged them down the road of doubt and disbelief.
I want to urge you, plead with you — Don’t walk that road. That is not the way. The pain is great, but His love is greater still. The grief is almost impossible to bear, but His love is greater still. The sorrow is deeper than any of us can imagine, but His love is greater still. The tears seem like they will never stop flowing, but His love is greater still. His love is greater still.
I learned a lesson from being around people facing insurmountable sorrow that I want to pass along to you. I’ve seen folks suffer and I’ve seen the different reactions to suffering that people express. Oftentimes those who chose to refuse to turn away from God in their suffering are those who are surrounded by strong, loving, compassionate men and women of God. Those who suffer alone and have nobody to wrap their arms around them and remind them of God’s love are those who often become callused towards God and cynical concerning God’s power to defeat doubt and despair.
It is so important for you and me to have solid brothers and sisters in Christ who will walk with us, sit with us, and stay with us as a reminder of God’s love while we are hurting so. If we will allow God’s people to surround us during those times of deep sorrow then He will work through them to help lead us to choose faith in Almighty God.
This is not a new idea, it is as old as the people of God. In Acts 9, Luke tells us a story about a follower of Jesus who became ill and died. Notice what took place while she was so ill.
36 In Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha (in Greek her name is Dorcas); she was always doing good and helping the poor. 37 About that time she became sick and died, and her body was washed and placed in an upstairs room. 38 Lydda was near Joppa; so when the disciples heard that Peter was in Lydda, they sent two men to him and urged him, “Please come at once!” 39 Peter went with them, and when he arrived he was taken upstairs to the room. All the widows stood around him, crying and showing him the robes and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was still with them. (Act 9:36-39 NIV)
I have been so blessed to see this picture time after time as I have been in hospitals, nursing homes, and the homes of those who were facing hardships. In all of the hospitals, homes, and funeral parlors that I have ever visited, the same people are always present. Oh, they have been so many different people, but they all shared one thing in common. They have been the men, women, boys, and girls who have also hurt, in different ways yes, but they have experienced their own pain and they know the importance of sharing in the pain of others and pointing them to God’s deep love.
My friend, we can choose to believe God. We can choose to know that there is nothing in all creation that can ever separate us from the love of God that has been revealed in His Son, our Savior and Comforter, Jesus Christ. We can say with the Psalmist, “Be at rest once more, O my soul, for the Lord has been good to you.” (Psalm 116:7 NIV)
I love Psalm 71 because of its deep sorrow and trouble mixed with unbounded hope in the Lord. The Psalmist knows trouble, he knows heartache, but he refuses to choose to turn his back on Almighty God. Listen to these passionate words from his heart.
19 Your righteousness, God, reaches to the heavens, you who have done great things. Who is like you, God? 20 Though you have made me see troubles, many and bitter, you will restore my life again; from the depths of the earth you will again bring me up. 21 You will increase my honor and comfort me once more. 22 I will praise you with the harp for your faithfulness, my God; I will sing praise to you with the lyre, Holy One of Israel. 23 My lips will shout for joy when I sing praise to you– I whom you have delivered. (Psalm 71:19-23 NIV)
The Psalmist said, “Though you have made me see troubles, many and bitter, you will restore my life again; from the depths of the earth you will again bring me up.” We can choose to know that because of God’s untainted love for us He will restore our lives back to us again no matter what may come about. We are His people and He will never forsake us. We can choose, like so many other men and women of faith who have gone before us, to believe God and sing, “It is well with my soul.”
Connie and I got to know a husband and wife who are missionaries in Thailand while we were in Plano. Many years ago, Allen and Joan Eubanks came here to minister. I will never forget Allen giving his testimony of how the Lord was working to use the death of their young grandson. Allen said, “We have to choose to trust God.” Right after Allen’s testimony, his wife, Joan, got up and sang, “It Is Well With My Soul.” What is true for Allen and Joan, and all of us, was also true for the man who wrote the words to the powerful song, “It Is Well With My Soul.”
Many people have sung that familiar song, but few realize the depths of grief and the tears of sorrow that blotted the page it was written on. The man who penned those famous words was Horatio Spafford. Horatio G. Spafford knew the meaning of good times and bad. He had a very successful law practice in Chicago, and numerous real estate holdings. After suffering the loss of his son, the Chicago fire of 1871 took his land holdings. Mr. Spafford, a man who loved God with all of his heart, had planned a trip to Great Britain to join his friends, the evangelist D.L. Moody and an outstanding singer, Ira Sankey, in one of their revival meetings, in 1873.
As he and his family prepared for the trip, he had to remain behind for some last minute business arrangements. Mr. Spafford sent his wife and four children ahead on the ship, planning to join them later in Europe. While Mr. Spafford’s wife and four daughters were aboard the S.S. Ville du Havre a terrible accident occurred as it was struck by the Loch Earn on November 22nd and sank in twelve minutes. Mrs. Spafford, survived the accident, but their four children drowned. When she reached the European mainland, she cabled her husband with the sad message, “Saved alone.”
Mr. Spafford soon boarded a ship to go meet his wife. While crossing the sea, near the place where the tragedy occurred and his four daughters drowned, Spafford penned the words to the well-known hymn — “It Is Well With My Soul.”
The beginning phrase of the great hymn echos the pain and suffering that the Spafford’s felt from their loss…. “When peace like a river attendeth my way…when sorrows like sea billows roll…” In spite of their horrible tragedy they chose to be comforted by the knowledge that God’s deep love for His children shines bright over the deepest tragedy. Mr. Spafford continued to write… “Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say, It is well, it is well with my soul.”
Can you who have gone through such horrible tragedies lift your voices to Almighty God and sing, “It is well with my soul” or is your heartache leading you away from the Father’s heart that yearns to comfort you in your pain? I want to invite you this morning to pour your heart out to Almighty God. Climb up in the Father’s arms and share your sorrow, your anger, your uncertainty, your desire to be healed and whole. The Father is waiting and wanting to comfort you in all of your sorrow.
There maybe somebody who has refused to accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior because of the devastating difficulties you have faced in life. Oh, my friend won’t you find solace for your troubled heart? Won’t you allow the Father to apply His healing love and open your eyes to the glory of Heaven, the place where there is no heartache, sorrow, or pain? Won’t you allow the Father to show you that one day there will be a glorious reunion where all of God’s sorrowful people will find their sorrow replaced with joy? Won’t you invite Him in?
Britton Christian Church