Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Hope in The Face of Tragedy

       When I was in high school two of my friends passed away within 3 months of each other. To us here on earth it was a tough situation to handle. Why would God take away two of our churches budding college students? Not only were they young but there were two of the most solid guys that I can remember that passed through our youth group. They were both on fire for God, and as far as I can remember, not an unkind words was ever heard from their mouths. That was about 3 years ago. Fast forward to yesterday. A good friend of mine, Adam Berganza passed away from cancer at the age of 23. We all started to realize his death could be coming, but we hoped and prayed that the Lord would take away his cancer anyway. God chose, instead to bring his child home to heaven. For any of you who knew him that are reading this, know that I am writing with the same heavy heart that you have. So I say with you I have to wonder why God would take someone so young, and so loved. Why would God allow someone so young to die? I don't really know the specific answer to each young death we face, and particularly this one, but I know some principles from the Bible we should look for as we each individually mourn the death of our friend, brother, son, or whatever he may be to you. If you are reading this because you are facing a different tragedy in your life, know this, these principles apply to your situation too. 
     1. Everything God does is for our good. Romans 8:28 - "And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose." We have all been called out of a world of sin to love and to serve God and everything that happens, even what we would consider to be something bad, such as the death of a loved one, is bringing about for us eternal glory. The good news for my friend is that he is now in heaven eternally living with Jesus. The good news for those of us here on earth is that we don't have to watch him suffer any more. The last time I saw my friend he did not even look like himself anymore. The cancer had taken a fierce hold of his body. While I am saddened at his passing, I am glad he no longer has to suffer at the hands of a disease that can no longer effect his heavenly body.

       2. Trials are meant to strengthen our faith and we are to even take joy in them. James 1:2-3 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing." Nothing, no trial or pain can reach us without first being authored by our heavenly father who according to I John 4:8 is love.  So we know that all trials that we face are put in place by a God of love. But if he is love then why would he allow trials, especially young deaths? According to the Bible it is to strengthen our faith so we are complete, lacking in nothing. It is meant for us to say "I don't know what you are doing God, but I trust you." Then, since we know that God allowed the trial to happen, and we know our faith is being tested, we should take joy in it. Joy in death? That doesn't make sense. From human perspective no, but we know something. Adam is in heaven at this very moment, praising Jesus. That in itself should give us Joy. Given the choice, would you bring him back to a world full of physical and emotional turmoil, or would you rather he be in heaven with his Heavenly Father who loves him more than we could ever imagine?

       3. Trials are meant to  make us more like Jesus. Hebrews 4:15 - "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin." What is the best way to become more like somebody else, to become more intimately intertwined in you're relationship with them? Its to go through the same experiences as they did. Jesus experienced suffering and pain beyond what we could imagine. When Jesus came to earth he experienced human emotions and characteristics - fatigue, stress, hunger, and sorrow. His own friend Lazarus died, and felt sorrow. He grieved a long with Mary and Martha and those that were with him. He knew what it was like to mourn someone's death. He knew what it was like to morn alongside with his friends (those who didn't realize that Jesus was about to raise Lazarus from the dead). He knew what it was like to have his father turn his back on him. He knew what it was like to experience physical pain. So what does this have to do with the verse? We are tempted when things like this happen to lose faith in Christ, to turn our back on him. And yet he knows how we feel. When Jesus was facing death on the cross do you think it was a temptation for him to abandon ship? Do you think he was tempted to wonder if his Father loved him? I would say that for someone who was sweating drops of blood while he was passionately praying for his Father to take the cup of death away from him, he probably would have rather his Father provide another way for our sin to be pardoned. Yet whatever he was thinking as the mob stole him away to be tortured and crucified, he was resigned to follow his Father's will. So must we realize that as tempting as it is to question God and lose our trust in him, we must be resigned to realizing Adam's death and every trial we face is God's will and it brings us intimately closer with Jesus Christ, the lover of our souls.

       4. Your tears are seen by Jesus and you will be comforted. Matthew 5:4 -"Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted." Sometimes we feel like maybe crying is a weakness or that God expects us to "be strong" and to just trust him. Don't get me wrong, we should trust him. But also, we should understand that God expects us to mourn and he promises us that we will experience his comfort. If you have embraced someone and cried on their shoulder, you know what its like to have those arms around  you. You know the comfort that a hug brings. God embraces us. He embraces you now. Run to him accept that embrace. He desires us to be so intimate with him, that we can run to and cry on his shoulder. And consider this; God works through human hands. If your brother or sister in Christ offers to pray with you, cry with you or embrace you, that's God providing comfort to you. We are all ambassadors for Christ. It is proper that we cry with and comfort one another.

       5. Our response to death and trial should be one of worship. Probably the hardest aspect of our response to God in times of tragedy and death is worship. Yet this is exactly the example he gives us in David,  a man he called "after his own heart.  In 2 Samuel 12 David's child becomes sick because God was punishing him for his sin. Don't get me wrong here. I'm not insinuating that Adam's death had to do with God punishing him or any of us because of our sin. My point for bringing up this passage is simply this: David knew his child's death was coming yet he fervently prayed that God would in his mercy spare his son. The comparison here is that our situation is much the same. Adam was nearing death, and we all fervently prayed that God would spare him. That God would heal him of his cancer. God felt it better to relieve Adam of his suffering and pain. When David's son died, his response is somewhat surprising.

2 Samuel 12:20-23. Then David arose from the earth and washed and anointed himself and changed his clothes. And he went into the house of the Lord and worshiped. He then went to his own house. And when he asked, they set food before him, and he ate. 21 Then his servants said to him, “What is this thing that you have done? You fasted and wept for the child while he was alive; but when the child died, you arose and ate food.” 22 He said, “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept, for I said, ‘Who knows whether the Lord will be gracious to me, that the child may live?’ 23 But now he is dead. Why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me.

 I underlined the key aspects of this verse. First of all David worshiped God. David worshiped God for allowing his son to die. In his case it because David had been told his son would die as punishment for David's sin and he knew God was being just. In our case we worship God because we know that Adam knows joy unspeakable in heaven now. That last phrase though is the most important thing we need to remember.

        6. "I shall go to him but he will not return to me." This phrase  holds a promise. We cannot return Adam to us. We can't bring him back from the dead like Jesus did with Lazarus. But we shall go to him. We will see Adam again. But this time Adam will look amazing. This time he will have a restored, strong, fully healthy heavenly body. And so will we. This time none of us will be suffering, none of us will be crying. We will all be rejoicing on streets of gold with God and the heavenly hosts of Angels. Wow. What a promise. Such hope we have! God taking Adam from us was ultimately an act of Love. God chose to relieve him of his suffering and take him to a place where he has joy and peace unspeakable. So take this comfort brothers and sisters. Take this promise and let it fill you with peace, comfort and Joy. "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Phil 4:6-7)."

  I would like to say one final thing. Assuredly not every one who knew Adam is a born again believer in Christ. If you are reading this and you have this hope, please share it with those who don't. Take an opportunity to be a shining testimony for Christ by showing them that while you mourn now, you have an amazing and glorious hope and because of Christ, even in the midst of tragedy, you can have joy, drawing close to your loving heavenly Father. May all who read this have peace and comfort in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Friday, May 23, 2014

We Are Not Alone: Loved and Protected

       So recently I have felt somewhat distant from God. My personal devos were not deep, and I felt like I was only going through the motions. As David experiences in Psalm 63:1, I was in a dry land with no water. This morning I went to breakfast with a good friend, and we talked about God's goodness in our lives, the summer ministries God has called us too (Christian Youth Camps) and personal lessons God was showing us. I felt much encouraged after that; as Proverbs 27:17 says, I had been sharpened. Rejuvenated spiritually, I went home and spent an hour in prayer and Bible reading. It's interesting that God always shows me in his Word exactly what I need to hear. I opened to II Samuel 17-18. Now If I were to name a book of the Bible I would go to for encouragement, I would have turned to Philippians, Galatians or Romans not II Samuel. The truth is though, the entire Bible is meant to teach, rebuke, comfort and encourage us.In this Old Testament passage I find not only what my current problem is but also the solution.
        In this passage Absalom, David's son, is bent on destroying his father. In this case David is a righteous man being persecuted by an evil person, his own son. The first verse to catch my eye is 17:2, where Absalom is given counsel to "come upon (David) when he is weary and discouraged." This is exactly what Satan does. According to I Peter 5:8, "Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour." It doesn't take an expert in Zoology to know that the weaker prey is, the easier the prey is to overcome. I am the devil's "prey" and he seeks for weak moments to attack - he's been doing exactly that in recent days. I am weary and tired, and I try to defend myself. A slow moving person being stalked by a lion - on my own I haven't got a chance. So I read further on in the passage.

       Fast forward to chapter 18. David has been warned by a friend that he has that has been working as somewhat of a spy - befriending Absalom so that he could tell David exactly what his son was up too. He's been warned that his son is coming after David to destroy him so that he will have no competition for the throne of Israel. David musters himself and his army for battle. David has been on the run, he is tired, weary and should not be going out to battle. Fortunately, his military leaders know this. This is the counsel his men give:  “You shall not go out. For if we flee, they will not care about us. If half of us die, they will not care about us. But you are worth ten thousand of us. Therefore it is better that you send us help from the city. (II Samuel 18:3).” So David has someone coming after him, but fortunately he doesn't have to fight this battle. His army will do it for him. I take encouragement in this. When I'm down and weary I don't have to fight my own battles. How do I know this? For He will give His angels charge concerning you, To guard you in all your ways. (Psalm 91:11). I have an army of angels protecting me. The best illustration is Daniel 6:21-22. Daniel is facing the hungry faces of ravenous lions and what happens? "My God sent His angel and shut the lion' mouths and they have not harmed me." Yea the angels shut the mouth of the lions. Lions < angels. Angels > Devil. Christ has power over the Devil. I am not alone. Four words that are extremely comforting. But there was a second lesson in this passage God wanted me to know.

       Absalom is eventually killed. God defeated David's enemy. Now you would think David would be overjoyed at his enemies death, but no matter what Absalom had done, he was still David's son and David still loved and cherished him. David's response to his son's death is found in II Samuel 18:33 - “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!” David said that he would have rather have died in his son's place - That's how deeply he loved his son. God is the same way; no matter what we have done to offend him, no matter how bad we sin, no matter how disobedient we are and how far we stray he still loves us deeply. He actually did die for us. Jesus died so that I could live. My heavenly Father has an immeasurable love for his precious children.

      It's quite an amazing thought really. That we have an army that fights our battles, a God that loves us so much that he sent his son to die for us. A God that sends angels to shut the mouths of lions, and a God who protects us from the devil when we are weary and discouraged. My friends, we must remember that while life may get hard, we may fall into the valley and experience desert - like droughts, and we may feel like we are too tired to go on but we are not alone and we never will be. We are loved and protected by an Almighty Father.