This past Sunday marked the 9th anniversary of my pastor Brian Croft at Auburndale Baptist Church. During last Wednesday night's business meeting, he shared a couple of simple reflections that he had learned during his time as pastor. He recently posted them on his blog.
Both points he noted are good and very emotional subjects for folks like me who have known Brian over the years, but his second point resonated deeply with me: "The Way God's Blessing Often Flows Out of Sorrow." In every church, there will be painful losses. Whenever members leave a church, there ought to be sadness to see them go, even when it is for good reasons like job or ministry opportunities. Some losses come about through controversy as members either leave the church in bitterness or receive the stern hand of church discipline. Many of these losses, however, will come through the death of members... and some of them tragically so.
In all my years at Auburndale Baptist Church, I never knew such sadness as the stretch of days between November 30 and December 2 of 2011. Our church lost three people dear to us in two unrelated automobile accidents hundreds of miles away. In both instances, a vehicle from the opposite lane lost control and made a head-on collision with the specific vehicle containing the people precious to us. After the first crash, I tried to rationalize it as a simple, occasional tragedy. But after the second crash, the one which killed my dear friend, I could not accept the fact that it was a simple coincidence. I felt as if I and my brothers and sisters and Auburndale had suffered a cruel blow ordained by God himself. As I have confessed in a previous post, I had to deal with a little bit of my own anger toward God for not only allowing such tragedies to happen, but for seemingly being the direct cause of them. I am thankful, however, that the grace of God in Christ proved sufficient for me and brought my heart to dependence upon him rather than resentment.
But I couldn't shake the feeling that God must have a great purpose in order to ordain such a terrible sequence of events. The first thing I did after hearing of the loss of my friend was to take the time to call up various people throughout my life who have made a great impact on me (and who continue to be important to me) and simply let them know that I appreciate and care for them.
I have seen the seeds of long-term transformation in my own life since the events of last December. I try not to ever take the important people in my life for granted or assume that they'll always be around for me. When people I care about get sick or go through hard times, I do what I can to lift them up and encourage them in the Gospel. Life is way too short as it is, and it can change from routine to tragedy in an instant. I do not know what God specifically has in mind for my life, but I hope that I am able to honor the friendship I had with Stacy Ellison by working harder to strengthen the existing and future relationships in my own life. And I hope God, in his kind and wise providence, will put the people in my life that I'll need to be more effective for Him and appreciate His goodness even more.
Therefore, in light of all losses that have occurred in my life since last December, I'm encouraged rather than discouraged. I'm expecting God to do some great things. And I hope I'll get to see them.