Friday, December 14, 2012

What Will We Tell the Children?

I never met five year old, red headed Rebekah. Yet my life has been indelibly touched by her life. It was Hugo George Zobjeck, Uncle Hoag to everyone, who introduced me to Rebekah. Rebekah died a few weeks before my first Sunday as pastor of Friendship Baptist Church in western Kentucky. That Sunday during the sermon, children were moving all over the country church sanctuary, even rolling down the slope of the floor under the pews all the way to the altar. Uncle Hoag came up to me immediately after the service, apologizing for the distractions which had not bothered me. He told me how everyone in that close knit church family had performed the percussions on Rebekah’s small back, helping to loosen the mucous buildup of cystic fibrosis and give her the breath of life. His words still ring in my ears, “For us, children are a sign of life.” A few years later I held Uncle Hoag’s funeral, preaching from Joshua 4, asking “What will we tell the children?” Then and in many similar situations, I have walked through the valley of death with families, reassuring them, the children, and the child in all of us that God is faithful, just as He was to the Israelites. Placing an imaginary pile of stones in front of the gathered grief-stricken, I would build a monument in their hearts of how God frees us from the slavery of sin, just as he freed the Hebrew slaves. God saw them through the original rock and a hard place when they got caught in their exodus from Egypt between the impassable Red Sea and an approaching army of armed charioteers. The freed slaves passed safely on dry land to the other side. In 40 years of wilderness wandering God was faithful in seeing his chosen people through a dry, aimless, meaningless time in the desert. He provided guidance by day and night, food to sustain them, and leadership. Finally, at the swollen Jordan River (little more than creek in Texas terms), the children of Israel despaired at having come this far only to be prevented from entering the Promised Land. Just as before, God was faithful. Dry land guided them across the river bed. They left a pile of stones on the bank of the Jordan to remind future generations of God’s faithfulness. More recently, the Jordan River has become a metaphor for the crossing from life to death and into eternity. None of us have had full experience with that upcoming event. As I would close the service, I would remind the family that just as God had been faithful in the past, he will be faithful in death, being the first face and the hand that will reach out and welcome us and our loved ones into his everlasting arms. So, in the wake of the unspeakable horror at an elementary school in Connecticut today, what do we tell the children? What do we tell the child in each of us? Simply, God has the final word in all of our lives, not death. The ultimate power of the evil that raised it head and spewed its venom through bullets today was broken at the Cross of Jesus and the power of resurrection will vindicate the truth about evil, brokenness, sin, and the Devil himself. In the same breath, we can shout at the Gates of Hell, “You cannot, you will not have our children!” We tell our children that there is nothing that they can do or happen to them that will ever change our love for them. Just like God’s love, nothing can separate them from Him, His love, as well as our love. Now we needturn to our grieving, heartbroken nation and say in the name of freedom, liberty, and any other patriotic term we can muster, we can no longer pretend God out of our lives. We need to remind our neighbors, far and near, that the stars in the sky were not put there by some earthbound animator. Once again, we need to start living and walking by faith again--no apologies, no excuses, no fine print, no asterisks. Finally, we turn to the world community looking aghast at America and say, fatalistic belief systems will not solve the problems we face nor heal our corporate grief. Grace, love, and hope trump judgment and anonymity. Tonight, Anne and I have called our children and grandchildren, hugging them over the airwaves. We have taken this moment to remind our children what Rebekah’s short life taught me over a lifetime. What will you tell your children, the children of America and the world? What will you tell the child in you that today has been shocked, scared, outraged, numbed, searching for an almost forgotten innocence? If words fail you, remind yourself that God has cried today also. And as His tears dry, listen for Him to speak to your trembling heart. With the confidence of an eternity of faithfulness, hear Him: He WILL have the last word and IT will be a GOOD one, full of genuine hope, grace, and a lasting peace from the brokenness of our world. Blessings as we grieve together today!

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