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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

A God Who "Tortures" part 2

I don't usually blog twice in one day but it would appear that my friend and I have stirred up a little controversy with the blog from earlier today. Since I'm going to be out of pocket for an event for a couple of days and usually don't take the time to blog over the weekend, I thought I'd take a second to respond.

I'm not sure about the statement that I "skirted the issue" with my earlier blog. I certainly didn't intend to with my comments. So I thought I'd come back and try to make myself a little more clear in my answer.

First of all, I want to affirm the comments of one of my readers regarding the Bible. I love hearing the thoughts and opinions of others. The Internet has opened us to a world of possibilities in this area. Sometimes, though, I worry that the abundance of books and resources make us too "smart for our own good." When it comes to these difficult subjects I feel like its essential that we go back to the Bible itself--and only the Bible--as the source for truth. Like many of you, I love C. S. Lewis. He is not God. Neither is the opinion of some best-selling author. To go one step further, my feelings are not what's important here. Not to offend my readers but neither are yours

The only thing that truly matters here is God's plan and how it is revealed to us in the Bible. I will not allow myself to be trapped into saying anything I'm not sure about. Yes, I can offer my opinions. But the only thing I will offer as fact is what the Bible says is truth.

With that, I will tell you the facts. There is no other name under heaven by which men will be saved (Acts 4:12). None. God's plan would not be very fair if He came up with one plan for the Middle East (aka Jesus dying for our sins) and another for the Far East (the Seven-fold path to enlightenment) and another for North America (Native American mysticism). He, Himself, would be the author of confusion. God is NOT the author of confusion (1 Corinthians 14:33).

Next fact, there is a real hell that the "lost" will face. Once again, if everyone will eventually be saved, then why send Jesus in the first place? Why force your Son to die? Why not just give everyone a pass?

Finally, whether I think it's fair or not, those who do not have Jesus are still lost. This is why Jesus came..."to seek and save that which is lost" (Luke 19:10). If those who have never heard the name of Jesus get some kind of free "pass" for not being exposed to the Gospel, then we are endangering the whole world by sharing Jesus with them. We are creating greater responsibility for them when their ignorance would be a greater blessing.

The part I don't know--the part I only have opinions about--is what a just God will do about such situations. I will not call Him unfair. In my mind, I don't have a right to call God unfair when He didn't have to give me life in the first place. If creation had been my idea--if I had asked God to create me--then maybe I could write the rules. I didn't so I can't. What God chooses to do and what wisdom He uses to do it with is what separates a Creator from His creation.

This I do know. When it is all said and done, the question of His "fairness" and "justice" will not be a question any longer. I don't know answers beyond what the Bible gives me. I am not God (everyone can say "amen" on that one). I don't want to be. He is doing just fine without me. And I will not offer apologies for a plan that He has put in place, revealed in His word, taught while here in the flesh and made clear through His Holy Spirit.

A God who "tortures"

I received a new question in response to one of my recent blogs. I want to thank my "anonymous" friend for sending it in. This is exactly what I was talking about when I said any and all questions--even the tough ones. Let me share their comments (not sure if it's a he or she). Then I'll make an attempt to explain my thoughts.

The population of the world is nearing seven (7) billion. Of that, approximately two (2) billion are Christian. For the sake of argument, let's assume they have a "saving" relationship with Jesus. That means nearly 5 billion people will suffer the torments of hell according to your interpretation of scripture. And, that's not to mention the billions who have died previously. So, we have a God that tortures - isn't that the correct term for hell? - the majority of humankind. I'm not trying to be confrontational, but doesn't that seem hard to square with a loving and merciful God? C. S. Lewis said, "We do know that no man can be saved except through Christ; we do not know that only those who know Him can be saved through Him." Isn't that a possibility? Thanks in advance for your thoughts.

I love the compassion behind this question. What I hear is someone who sincerely desires to know that all of us will someday be saved from the punishment that our sin requires. I think the difference between the way the question is posed and what I believe Scripture teaches is our understanding of God's character.

Who doesn't enjoy talking about God's love? He is, after all, the very essence of love. Without Him, I don't believe we even know what love is. But to stop at God's love is to make Him one-dimensional. Scripture gives us many examples of the whole character of God. He is not only loving but pure, holy, just, and righteous. He displays qualities such as anger, sorrow, gladness and jealousy. So, while God is very much a God of love, that's not all He is.

With that understanding, let's start at the beginning. God, out of love, created the universe so that He may live in love with His creation, shower it with the deepest of His affections. Because He wanted that love returned willingly, He created us with a will and a choice. Unfortunately, one of His first creations was Lucifer, who used that free will to disobey and rebel. To keep this short, let's just summarize by saying that Adam and Eve continued that trend (thanks to Satan's influence) and mankind has been rebelling ever since. The evidence of that is all over the evening news. God's righteous and just nature required a penalty to be paid for these poor choices (call it the "Divine Courtroom"--Romans 6:23). But because of His deep love for us, He offered Jesus to pay the price for our sin.

Hang in there with me, I'm to the point of where I think the major difference of interpretation is. You see, the way my friend asked the question was this, "We have a God who tortures (the other 5 billion by sending them to Hell)." My answer is no. God doesn't send people to Hell. Their poor choices do. Rather than seeing a God who tortures by condemning people, I see a God who loves so deeply He died to keep them from the tortures of hell. The questioner sees God as sending 5 billion + people to Hell. I see it as God dying to save 2 billion + people from it (and anyone else who will trust Jesus for salvation).

The difference is in how you look at it.

I like the view of C.S. Lewis who in Mere Christianity wrote, "Here is another thing that used to puzzle me. Is it not frightfully unfair that this new life should be confined to people who have heard of Christ and been able to believe in Him? But the truth is God has not told us what His arrangements about the other people are. We do know that no man can be saved except through Christ; we do not know that only those who know Him can be saved through Him."

What I hear Lewis saying though, is that all I can speak to is what I know from Scripture--there is a hell and those who do not choose Jesus are choosing to spend eternity there. If there is no hell then Jesus should apologize for talking about it so much and scaring us for no reason. What I do not know--how God judges the hearts of one man over another--is best left for God to decide...not me. I will tell you one thing. On this Rob Bell and I agree: love does win. It won on a cross 2000 years ago when a perfect Savior died a painful death for anyone who would accept His offer of forgiveness. For the rest...it's a choice they have to take responsibility for. Not God.

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. 2 Peter 3:9 NIV

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8 NIV

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Losing the "Lost"

One of the hardest things to do as a pastor is to offer "hope" to families when a loved one has apparently died without having a relationship with Jesus. I say apparently because I try to be very careful about trying to make such a determination. I am one of those who believes that the Bible urges us to judge one another's fruit (our behaviors as they compare to what Scripture teaches) but also warns us heavily about trying to determine the reality of someone's relationship with Christ.

But when a family readily admits that their loved one had nothing to do with faith or Christ, it's hard to offer them much hope. No, it's not hard...it's impossible. I believe with all my heart that every bit of hope we have beyond the grave rests in the final and complete work that Jesus did on the Cross and by coming out of the tomb. Those two events combined are what all our hopes rest on...all of them.

Last night I was asked a question that relates to this subject. The question went something like this:
What would your advice be to someone who has lost one of the most important people in their life when that person didn’t believe in God and no one in your family knows Christ?

See what I mean about tough? Can I be honest and tell you this is one of those areas where I'm really at a loss for answers? I've said before that, based on my own experience, I don't know how anyone can go through a difficult trial without some kind of faith. I'm also aware that, for some people, trials are the very thing that causes someone to lose their faith. (Remember my blog a few days ago about bad things happening to good people?)

This answer may seem harsh (if someone has a nicer suggestion, I'm open) but I would submit that there is nothing you can offer to families regarding the person who has died...but there is everything you can offer the living. If nothing else, the loss of a loved one should put a greater sense of urgency in our hearts for those who remain. It should stoke our fires. It should give greater passion to our prayers and greater insistence to our pleas. Watching someone (anyone) die without Jesus should energize us for the task of sharing with others this message of grace and mercy and hope.

It should also force us to live our lives with a little bit more purity. At the risk of sounding trite, your life may be the only Jesus that your friends and family ever see. For many people that means the greatest stumbling block to their faith is not their lack of confidence in Christ but the lack of consistency in your imitation of Him.

Losing someone is never easy. An understatement. Losing someone who is--as church people like to say--"lost" without Jesus is infinitely harder. Rather than getting down about what we cannot change, however, I think it should inspire us to love more deeply a world that waits to hear about the hope we have.

But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 1 Peter 3:15 NIV

Monday, April 25, 2011

Whining and complaining

Yeah, you're at the right place. The blog has a whole new look. I think Lisa got tired of looking at the same old page so she asked me last week, "Can we do something to change your page a little bit?" The only good answer to that question is "yes." Hope you like it.

I was reading a little bit in Habakkuk this morning, eavesdropping just a bit as the prophet whines and complains a little bit to God. It was interesting to me because I've never done that before and I really couldn't relate at all to how Habakkuk felt before God....

...okay, I'm laughing at that last statement even if you aren't. I whine and complain to God with the best of them. I can get so caught up in my world that I forget what God's plan is and forget to think about how He wants me to react to my world. I'm good at it too. I don't just throw pity parties. I'm the stinking DJ at all my events.

Habakkuk is a lot like me in these matters. He's watching a world spinning out of control . God seems to be indifferent. The wicked are prospering while the innocent seem to get run over at every turn. It's enough to make a grown man...well, complain. So that's what Habakkuk does.

I needed to hear God's answer to Habakkuk for myself. I needed that reminder of His authority and His power. While God addresses Habakkuk's specific questions for his day, I think He's teaching me a lot. He says that only one time frame matters...it's His. He says only one plan will succeed...it's His. He says that there is only one true power controlling the universe...it's His. And, finally, there is only One whose presence can bring calm to the chaos and peace to the turmoil...it's His.

Rather than whining about my day, there are specific prayers I can pray and specific actions I can take to make my Monday (or any other day) better. Part of the challenge is lining my thoughts up with a God who is pure and holy and mighty. I guess what I'm trying to say is that I can't "comprehend" God by trying to bring Him down to my level and put Him on my playing field. He will do what brings Him glory. In the short-term it may not look pretty. In the long term, I am blessed when I surrender my desires to His power and His plan and His presence.

Pity party over. Now it's time to watch and see what He is up to.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Making future plans

Got a new question last evening. Honestly, its the first time I have ever been asked this question by someone outside of my family. It's from another friend of mine here in Franklin who has been through a similar situation as mine. She, like me, lost a spouse. God has blessed her with a wonderful new husband to share the remainder of her life with. She feels doubly blessed to have found this new love but also carries with her the love she had for her first husband. Her question is a great one.

When you think ahead to when your own life is over, what are your wishes regarding who you will be buried beside? Have you talked about that with Lisa? Should we even be worried about this?

Another wonderful question. You know, the truth is that most people don't like to think about death and dying. It's not the most comfortable of subjects. I thank God that Sarah and I talked about it before she was killed in the accident. Because I have been through this before, I am more open to these discussions with Lisa. So, yes, we have talked about this to some degree. (It's obviously not Lisa's favorite subject).

I guess ideally you'd never have to deal with questions like this in life. Every marriage would end on time and work out so that no spouse ever had to worry about such questions. But we do so we deal with them. I have told Lisa that I really don't care. Sorry to take the easy way out on this one but I really don't. My personal belief is that it won't make any difference any way. I'll be so far gone from this place that what plot of turf contains my remains just isn't a real high priority for me. I do personally have a plot next to Sarah and Josh that was purchased at the time of the accident before I met Lisa. (I only bought three on the belief that Harrison and Abby would grow, get married and be buried with their families later on).

There is a side of me that would love to be buried in a big old field with all of the rest of my family around me. There is also a realistic side of me that says by the time this happens (I plan on living another 40 years at least), I could be living in Key Largo, Florida and obviously won't care to be moved all the way back to Middle Tennessee to be buried.

I've jokingly told Lisa that the ideal solution for me is this: cremate me. Take one third of my ashes and sprinkle them on her grave, one third to be sprinkled on Sarah's grave and one third to be sprinkled at the 50 yard line of Sanford Stadium in Athens. I simply don't have this concern at the top of my list--as you can probably tell.

Now, for those of you who may be giving this a lot more (serious) thought, I don't know that there is a proper answer, one that is generally considered to be acceptable. I think it's a personal question where the answer depends on things like history, relationships, locales, etc.

No, I haven't given it much consideration. My primary concern has been less about where my remains...er, remain than it is about where the souls of the people I know go to spend eternity. For that question, there's only two choices...and the second one is not a destination that any of us want to face.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Why?

When you listen to the questions people have regarding God and life, there is one overarching question that seems to plague everyone to some degree. It came up again with my invitation for your specific questions recently.

Why do bad things happen to good people?

The answer is not nearly as difficult as it may seem. We live in a culture where every single night some person with a big smile starts the evening news by saying "Good day" and then spends the next hour telling us why it wasn't.

Suffering is everywhere and, no matter where you look, bad things touch people's lives. Everyone. Not just the "good people" but the "bad" as well. The first thing to keep in mind is that we are all "bad" to some degree, even the best of us (Romans 6:23). The root cause of our suffering is that we have freedom. The freedom to choose was a gift that God gave His creation from the very beginning. In order for there to be a real choice there has to be more than one option (otherwise, there is no choice).

Satan was the first to choose. He chose to rebel against God. Immediately after him came the choice of Adam and Eve to disobey and act on their own desires (freedom). Ever since that day, our choices have led us to victories, successes and accomplishments. It's caused people to choose love, education, peace and friendship. But it has also led to hardship, poverty, bigotry, hatred and suffering. The consequences of our freedom.

As we watch tragedy touch the lives of those around us, what we are really asking is, "Why doesn't God do something about all of this?" There are two levels to answer that question. Specifically, God's infinite wisdom determines whether He needs to intervene in each instant with a miracle or allow the suffering to happen. To do a miracle brings Him glory. To allow suffering can bring correction, discipline or even more glory through the circumstances that follow. In my case, God could have absolutely stopped the accident before it happened. But His wisdom allowed Him to see how Sarah and Josh's death could spin off into greater good for a whole lot of people...and bring Him tremendous glory.

Speaking on much broader terms, God did do something. He sent His Son to die to rescue us from the suffering. You can't do much more than that!

Here's a simplified illustration to answer your question. If you chose to build your house on the interstate, you would expect that you would eventually get hit by a car. As long as you and I live on this planet--with real people who have real freedom and real choices--there is a great potential that you will be touched by something bad. The choice that follows is our reaction to the tragedy. The potential outcome sends ripples across generations.

Thanks for the questions. This is the last one I had received to this point. If you have more, please send them. Nothing is out of bounds.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Measuring the loss

An old friend of mine from college contacted me the other day with her question. She started by admitting she wasn't really sure she had a question. She just enjoyed reading the blog. Later, after more thought, she discovered she related well to some of the things revealed in Lisa's blogs. This question came to mind for her...

...is losing a wife harder to heal from than losing a child? Great question.

I'll start my answer with the always popular..."it depends."

Let me explain my reasoning. Sarah Ellen was one of the most amazing gifts I had ever been given. She was my best friend, ministry partner and "girlfriend" in the truest sense of the word. That doesn't mean we didn't have our share of difficulties, arguments and problems. But, at the end of the day, I knew what I had with Sarah and I loved it. Losing her was gut-wrenching and it literally and figuratively took my breath away. There were days where I felt like I was going to have to re-learn everything without her around. I would wake up in the middle of the night and reach out to find her...only to be reminded that she was gone. I would come in from work at times and catch myself thinking, "I don't see her. She must be in the bedroom." Then reality would set in. Losing her was hard.

Losing Josh was, in some regards, harder for me. Maybe it was the circumstances. Reeling from Sarah's death, I was very unsteady emotionally and mentally. Then Josh was overdosed and it drove the knife even deeper into my heart. Maybe it was his age. Although Sarah was a very young woman when she died (33), there is a sense that the loss of a 17 month old is a huge travesty because he never got to experience much of life. I never got to see what he would become. The world never got to know how special he was. I was cheated out of memories we never made and moments we never shared.

Now, here is where the "it depends" part comes in. There are seasons. Watching my kids grow and pass milestones without Sarah there to see them is hard. Then, knowing that milestones come and go that Josh never had a chance to reach is hard as well.

Let me just say that you never "get over" losing someone--child, parent, sibling or spouse--you learn to adapt, to handle the emotions that come, and to rebuild. Having Lisa, Morgan and Landon in my life has been a tremendous blessing and a wonderful part of the rebuilding. Heck, some guys go there whole life without finding someone to love them. I've been blessed to have two very amazing (and quite beautiful) women love me. So I've learned to adapt to what life has brought me....I am continuing to learn. But I don't think there is any way you can prepare yourself for the loss of someone you love. Nor can you measure the size of the loss.

Thanks for the great question, Debra.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Forgiving those who wrong us

Thanks again for the questions you are sending in. Please feel free to continue to send new ones, even questions that are stimulated by the answers I'm giving. My next question comes from my friend, Adam. Adam and I have never actually met. Adam read Josh's story in a magazine back a few years ago in a doctor's office. After reading the story, he had some questions that he has held onto until I gave him permission to ask them.

His question is this: how hard was it to forgive the driver and the hospital and how long did it take me to do that?

Honestly, it wasn't as hard as you might suspect. There are two reasons why. My parents, my teachers, the mentors in my life--they had taught me about what bitterness and unforgiveness can do to a person. In fact, the very afternoon that we drove home from the hospital after Josh died, I had family in the car with me who were "coaching" me through this. They encouraged me to pray immediately, to begin to forgive. It was only a beginning but it got my heart and mind moving in the right direction. Mostly, it just got me moving.

The second reason? I had seen what bitterness had done to others. I knew I couldn't allow that to happen to me. Some people very close to me after the accident were ravaged by their inability to forgive. It paralyzed them spiritually and served as a warning to me as I watched them deal with the deaths in their own way. I could not be the dad or pastor I needed to be if I could not find it in my heart to forgive.

As far as the question about how long it took, you will note that in question one I didn't say it was easy or that it was over. The truth is that it's an every day process. I believe that forgiveness, just like love, is not a feeling you have. It's a decision you make. The choice is mine. If I had gone with what I felt in those first few hours after the wreck, there would have been a totally different outcome. I had to choose to do something different. Some days are much harder than others. Some days I don't even think about it. Other days, I struggle with it throughout the day. This past week, I thought about it a little more than at other times because it was the anniversary of Sarah and Josh's deaths.

The bottom line (and keep in mind, this is wisdom from someone I love and respect. It's not from my brain)...bitterness is a poison that kills no one but me. To attempt to move on with anger in my life is really not an attempt to move on at all. It's a choice to die in my own hatred and bitterness.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Healing

Thank you to those who have sent in questions. I'm very excited to have the opportunity to deal with these together and see what God has to teach us as we handle each one. Please feel free to keep sending them. Also, please know that I don't have all the answers. I'll gladly share my thoughts with you, but you are welcome to disagree. I simply speak from the wisdom of my own personal experience. More important, I try to speak from the best source of wisdom I know. (no, it's not Lisa, though she's a pretty smart cookie). It's the Bible.

The first question comes from one of my newer friends. This is a woman who has experienced a great deal of pain and loss of her own variety (haven't we all at some point?). Her question for me was simply this: how did you know when the healing process began considering there were several tragedies in such a short amount of time?

Let me start by filling in some blanks for those less familiar. Most of you know that my wife died in the car accident on April 9, 2004 and my son died on April 14, five days later. What many aren't aware of is that Sarah Ellen and I lost a niece to a perforated appendix in November of the year before and my dad passed away in early February--just two months before the accident. In less than six months I lost four people who I loved deeply. Now, to the question.

I honestly am not sure that there was one point where I realized the healing began. But I woke up one day, just a few months after the accident and said to myself, "I'm going to make it. I'm not there yet...but I will."

I have a theory as I look back over those days (keep in mind that its just a theory based on my experience. Your theories may be different). Healing, just like with our physical bodies, begins naturally as we seek to put life back together after a tragedy. When I cut my hand or scrape a knee, my physical body starts right away to attempt to heal itself. I think the spirit and mind seek to do the same thing. The problem is not in making the healing begin, it is in allowing it to continue and run it's course.

Let's take my example of the scraped knee. You fall and scrape it badly. Instantly, the human body reacts and begins to heal. But the healing must be helped along and not hindered. You can't pick at the scabs all of the time or continue to scrape the injury on the carpet of your house if you expect it to heal. In fact, the best healing is done when we don't focus on the wound but what the rest of the body is up to.

Tragedy tore at my heart that April. I could have sat and focused on the "wound" for the rest of my life. In fact, I did for several days. But experience, the demands of life and friends would not allow me to continue to focus on the injury. Instead, they turned my heart back to the rest of my life that was still yet to be lived. There were kids to raise, a church to lead, family who needed my attention and the promise I had made to bring good from the loss. All of those things kept me from "picking at the scab" and allowing my heart to heal. That doesn't mean that I never paid attention to it. There were days that I had to. The pain was too great to ignore. But I didn't linger over the pain nor let my focus dwell there. I got back to what God had next for me.

Now, whether you believe what I just wrote or not, this much I know is true. Grief is unique to every person. Healing is as well. And whether or not healing happens for you after your time of trial depends largely on you. Don't believe for a second that God is not capable of healing you nor that He doesn't have a desire to. The Bible mentions frequently this passion He has to do that very thing for you. You have to desire it for yourself.

Allow yourself to heal. Surround yourself with those who seek it for you. Don't let the past keep you from the present and, just as important, the amazing future that God has for you. Focus on what He is up to and, before long, you will find the wound is healed. You will not be without scars--after all, every skinned knee bears its reminders--but you will be able to embrace God's plan without fear of what might happen next.

He heals the heartbroken
and bandages their wounds.

He counts the stars
and assigns each a name.
Our Lord is great, with limitless strength;
we'll never comprehend what he knows and does.
God puts the fallen on their feet again
and pushes the wicked into the ditch. Psalm 147:3-6 The Message

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

She's Got Me Thinking

Like so many of you, I have enjoyed reading Lisa's blogs the last few weeks as she has interviewed different members of my family. Most of the interviews dealt specifically with the swirling of our family and what that has looked like for each of us. Different people have shared their challenges through this process and what those have meant to them. It's garnered lots of responses as well. She's gotten many comments, questions, emails and even some phone calls. I have as well. Especially as we are in the season where we are remembering the anniversaries of Josh and Sarah Ellen's deaths.

Two e-mails in particular got me thinking this morning. Both were from old friends who had been reading Lisa's emails and remembering that the anniversary of the accident had just passed. They shared with me that the blog had brought up and even answered many questions that they had about this whole tragedy.

Over the last seven years, I've tried to share and talk and be very open. I knew it was good for my healing but, just as important to me, it was helpful for others who were going through this with me, as well as complete strangers who had their own personal tragedies. Then it struck me. I want to do more. I want to help anyone I can--friend, family member or acquaintance--with whatever it is they are going through.

So, I'm asking you for your questions. There may be none. And if that is the case, I'll go on with my blog and continue to share as God leads me. However, if there is one or a dozen or a hundred questions about the event or my feelings or what God is teaching I would love the privilege of dealing with them here. It may not only help with your healing and mine but also with someone else who is reading. I'll take ALL questions. I haven't been asked anything in seven years that I couldn't deal with. If that happens, I'll just reserve the right to put the question aside. I don't expect that to happen. I'll just pray that God gives me the wisdom and the understanding to deal with whatever you may ask. I will welcome questions from anyone and, if you prefer to remain anonymous, I will do that for you if it is appropriate.

Here's the best way to reach me: ridley@ridleybarron.com

Thanks for giving me a chance to do this for us...let the questions begin.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Looking back

It's been seven years. Hard to believe. I was sitting in my office this morning trying to remember where I was and what I was doing seven years ago today. It was Easter Sunday morning. I preached our services that morning and went home and crashed, exhausted from conversations and well-wishers and...well, everything.

Just two days before, my life had been literally smashed by the fall out from a major car accident. My best friend was gone. My youngest child lay in a hospital three hours away, just a few days away from his own death. My other two children were wrecked by the events of the weekend. And there I was, sitting in my recliner/bed, asking questions of God that I never dreamed I would have to ask. Honestly, I was too wrapped up to even know what was going on around me. I wasn't the only one hurting. There were church members, friends and, of course, the family--both mine and Sarah's--that were destroyed by these events.

I guess that's one of the reasons I have enjoyed so much reading Lisa's blog (read it here. It's worth the read) over recent weeks. It's been such a blessing, such an eye-opening thing to read what other's thoughts and feelings have been these last 7 years.

I will tell you this. I've learned more about myself than I care to know and more about God--who I desire to know deeper than I ever have. Sarah and Josh's death put a hunger in me to know God more than before. I had to know this God who saw more in me than I saw in myself. This God who loves me and my kids deeply enough to leave nothing to chance. I'm only a few steps further in this journey than I was seven years ago. In fact, I'm disappointed that I'm not further. I'm evaluating who I am, where I am and where God desires me to be. I'm hoping that 7 years from now I'll find that I've moved a lot closer to him and a lot further from myself.

Monday, April 04, 2011

North Platte

I may not get to blog much the rest of the week. I'm in Nebraska for a speaking engagement today and then, Tuesday, will be joining the rest of my staff for a conference down in Louisiana. But I wanted to take a chance to share a cool story with you.

North Platte is not a really large airport. So, to get here, I had to fly into Denver and catch one of the smaller regional carriers into Nebraska. As they called for us to board our plane, it required us walking out onto the strip and climbing into the old Beechcraft 1900. I followed a young service man, in full camo, as he led us out towards our plane. We both shivered as we stepped into the early evening Colorado air. It was in the low 30s with heavy wind and some ice and snow.

There were only 6 of us on the plane and we all boarded and sat in silence. Honestly, I think all of us were just trying to stay warm. The heat on the plane really doesn't kick in until the plane is cranked and we sit through the 20 minute de-icing process. By the time we actually took off, it was mostly dark and very quiet on our plane.

It wasn't until we started our very bumpy descent into North Platte an hour later that the service man (he was seated right behind me) leaned up and yelled above the engines, "Doesn't look real comforting when the plane is swaying like this, huh?" (He kind of startled me because I thought he had been asleep).

"No," I said as I glanced out the window and watched the plane's wing sway in the wind. "Especially when you're watching the wings dance like that." I took advantage of this opening to talk a little with my new friend.

"You from North Platte."
"Yep. Born and raised."
"Where you been?"
"Afghanistan mostly. I'm coming home. Haven't seen my family in nine months."
"I bet you're excited," I said...stating the obvious.
"Yeah," he said. Then he added something that kind of surprised me. "I'm really nervous and a little afraid. I don't know what I'll say or how I'll act. I've got a wife and a 3 year old...she was two when I left. I don't know what I'll say to them...or how they'll receive me..." He trailed off.
"I'm sure you'll be fine and so will they. It will be more natural than you realize. By the way, let me be one of the first to welcome you home...and to say thanks for all you have done."

I thought of going home...our real home. I thought of how many of us live in "fear" of heaven because it's an unknown. How will we act? What will we say? Most important, how will He receive me?

Let me be the first to welcome you home. If you are a follower of Christ, you have nothing to fear. Those who "serve" Christ are recognized by the One they serve. You will be received warmly. Make no mistake about. Just like my friend from the plane.

The young private walked off the plane just behind me. He was a good 10-15 feet behind so I hurried in out of the Nebraska wind and positioned myself for the homecoming. The doors had hardly split open wide enough for him to enter when the three year old girl raced from her mothers arms, jumped into her father's and screamed with delight, "Daddy! You're home."

I thought of the day I'll get to do the same....