Sunday, July 08, 2007

All Things

Robert Lyons, Pastor July 8, 2007
It was April 19, 1995 and a normal workday for me. I lived in Oklahoma City and was an account executive for FedEx. At that time there was no office in the station for me and I worked out of my home. This was a telephone day for me and I sat down to make phone calls from 8:00 A.M. until 9:00 A.M... I then went in and started the shower to let the hot water warm up. I disrobed and stepped into the shower at exactly 9:02 A.M. The house shook violently and rattled the windows so hard that I thought the water heater must have blown up.

Hastily, I ran down the hall, threw open the door to the garage, turned on the lights, raised the garage door and opened the water heater door. There was nothing there but a normal water heater. There was no smoke and no fire. Puzzled, I shut the door and turned to discover all the stay-at-home moms of the neighborhood were gathered in the street in front of the house. You see, in my haste, I hadn’t taken the time to grab a robe.
Soon, thereafter, the world knew what shook my house. A deranged war veteran, Timothy McVeigh, had blown up the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building located in downtown Oklahoma City. It was the offices of many of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms agents who stormed the Waco compound two years before. It was intended as a retaliatory strike against those agents.
The devastation was horrible. Over one thousand people were wounded. One hundred and sixty eight people were killed and many of those were in the daycare that was in front of the truck that contained the bomb. Still more sustained injuries that would have sent them to emergency rooms in normal times.
There was a man in our church who did not show up for work that morning. After twenty four hours he went on the missing persons list. It was only after this that his wife found his datebook in the study. He had an appointment to sign up for Social Security benefits at 9:00 A.M. at the Murrah building.

I could tell you dozens of stories about that day. When all is said and done one simply has to admit, sadly, that this was a terrible tragedy. Most of us in Oklahoma City were affected either directly or indirectly. All knew someone that did not come home that day.

I can still remember a trip to the site the following Sunday night. It was dark, except for the work lights from the rescue crews at the sight. Crowds stood outside the fence that was erected around the block. They stared in numbness and in awe. A choir, holding candles, walked down the street singing “Amazing Grace”. You could definitely feel a spiritual presence at this place.

READ TEXT. Many pastors, well intentioned, quoted this passage from the pulpit on the following Sunday. Most of them made a careful delineation. Not everything that happens in this world is good. There is evil. There is an enemy. He wants us dead and in this case, he won. This was a tragedy pure and simple. I can honestly say that in the coming days we found more blessings than we did bodies.

You see, many were spared that should have been dead. The other FedEx Account Executive in Oklahoma City had a 9:00 A.M. sales call at the building across the street. She was late because the pricing department in Memphis held her proposal too long. The conference room she was scheduled to be was thus empty and no one was injured by the glass shards which destroyed the table, chairs and wall.

Another friend of mine lived in the apartment building that was in the direct path of the blast. At 9:00 A.M. he got out of bed to take a shower. He ran back into the bedroom after the explosion to look out the window only to discover that the window had ripped the mattress to shreds he had been laying on. You see, my friends were not Christians at the time. Had they died that morning they would have spent an eternity without God in a place of unimaginable agony.

Our text does not say that everything that happens in God’s world is good. It does not say that everything that happens to us is good. The entire Book of Job is wisdom literature from the Old Testament of the Bible. Its purpose is to determine why bad things happen to good people. The entire forty two chapters deal with the topic. You see, Job was a good man. According to God’s words he was, “blameless and upright”. God says of Job, “there is no one else like him.” Job feared God and shunned evil.

Job lost it all. First it was his stock. Then it was his precious sons and daughters. His body was then wracked by painful sores. His wife and best friends admonished him to “curse God and die!” In chapter fourteen and verse one he replies that a man who is born of woman has a life that is short and full of trouble. Job never cursed God, but he did question him.

Finally in chapter thirty eight, God deigns to speak. He tells Job that he really does not have a clue how things are run. His words from the next four chapters are best summed up from the book of Isaiah 55:8 where God says that you don’t think like I do and you don’t act like I act. You see we do not have a clue when it comes to the ways of God. They are so far above us that we cannot hope to know more than a small portion of them.

Back in my seminary days I had the privilege of working as a chaplain in an alcohol treatment center. There is a particular passage from the “Big Book” that still sticks with me today. It is simply called “Page 442” and it says:
“And acceptance is the answer to all my problems today. When I am disturbed, it is because I find some person, place, thing, or situation—some fact of my life—unacceptable to me, and I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place, thing, or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment. Nothing, absolutely nothing, happens in God’s world by mistake.”

This passage means a lot to me because it is a pattern by which I live my life. A lot of bad things have happened to me in fifty-one trips around the sun. Most of them were due to bad choices I made. I became a lot less mad and a lot more glad when I incorporated these words into my personal philosophy.

What happened to our beloved friend Jack Wengert was a terrible and unnecessary tragedy. I do not know why bad things happen to good people. I do not believe it was caused by my God any more than I believe he will run over a child to get his drunken father’s attention. This much I do know, “and we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him…”

I long ago gave up on the asking of “why?” That is a luxury I can no longer afford because I find that using it leads only to misery. Now I have learned to accept that bad things happen. Things happen regularly that I cannot control. Until I accept the situations, such as this one with Jack, as being exactly the way they are supposed to be at this point in time, I am usually angry and upset. When I get like that I just want to punch someone in the mouth. That doesn’t really relieve the frustration and it doesn’t help the hand.

As I close this morning I want to share a little ditty that I learned while working with alcoholics:
The past is history.
The future is a mystery.
All we have is today, it’s a gift.
That’s why it’s called the present.

When we live in the past and want to change it we hang on to a lot of questions we have no business asking. It’s the past and you cannot change it. When we worry about tomorrow we simply are giving in to fear and worry. If you are giving in to either of these two temptations, you are not at home in today. Today is all we are really guaranteed.


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