Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News
April 28, 2019
When trouble comes
Life is like a roller coaster. I learned that lesson again this week. Sunday was a day of pure joy. I got to preach in my son’s church in Wetumpka. The church was packed. When the children sang a special, the congregation responded with a standing ovation. With great joy and enthusiasm, we celebrated the resurrection of Jesus.
Two days later, before my second cup of coffee, my dear friend Joe called. His wife had just died. Sorrow rudely jostled the joy of my morning. Joe and his beautiful wife have been precious friends for many years. Within a few hours I was meeting with Joe’s family to plan the funeral. It would be a celebration of her life, but much different than the celebration of Easter.
Despite the pain of death, there would be much to celebrate. Darlene Pearce had, for most of her 77 years, been full of joy, fully alive. She was passionate about life. Her smile and her laugh were contagious. She made you feel glad you were alive. She was not the center of her world; she cared about the people around her. She found joy in doing kind things for her family and friends and even for the people who picked up their garbage. Her kindness could only be described as remarkable.
My friend’s death reminded me once again that life is not all joy. There is sadness as well. As we live out our days we must learn to cope with both sadness and joy. Actually we can give thanks for both for were it not for sadness, we could not fully appreciate the joy of life. But to live well, we must find a way to handle trouble when it comes. That is where grace comes in. God has provided the grace we need for the heartaches of life but we must look for it, find it and embrace it. And that saving grace is not always easy to see and recognize.
Consider, for example, the accidental death of Maria Sue, the five-year-old daughter of Steven Curtis and Mary Beth Chapman. Reading about that tragedy reminded me of a marvelous idea I had gleaned from an earlier story about this popular Christian singer.
Chapman wrote about what he called “The fragrance of the broken.” Those words came to Chapman during a walk in the woods where he had gone to pray. He was desperate for release from a drought in his soul. Pleading with God for a breakthrough, he gathered some rocks, stacked them into a makeshift altar and began to pray.
As he prayed, he began to smell cedar, so strongly that it distracted him from praying. Opening his eyes, he soon spotted a little cedar tree that he had snapped in half by stepping on it. The broken tree was the source of the smell. Chapman felt it was a sign from God. Quickly he wrote down the words, "The fragrance of the broken."
God does provide a "fragrance" that we may learn to cherish as we wrestle with our heartaches. Like the little cedar tree, it may not be easily recognizable. We have to look for it as Chapman did. Finding it, we begin to enjoy what may be called the "aroma of grace." Remember what Jesus said: “Seek and you will find.”
Because we live in a broken world, where bad things happen, each of us must learn to handle the troubles that comes our way. How we deal with trouble determines whether we live well or merely endure life until it ends. Misfortune can make us better or bitter. The good thing is we have a choice.
I had the good fortune to be Miss Jimmy’s pastor. She was legally blind when I met her. But like my friend Darlene, she was full of life and joy and she cared about others. She refused to complain about her loss of vision. Instead she thought of her blindness as a blessing. “There is so much I would have missed had my sight not failed,” she said.
“I had not bothered to read the Bible very much," she told me, "but when I became blind, I began to listen to the Bible on cassette tapes. Only then did I understand why it really is the greatest book ever written." Miss Jimmy taught me a valuable lesson: when trouble comes, keep your chin up and refuse to whine. If you work at it, you can find something for which to be thankful.
Fanny Crosby and George Matheson were blind hymn writers. They too refused to complain about their blindness. Both composed beautiful songs which millions still enjoy singing. They refused to let their brokenness "blind" them to the opportunity to live useful lives.
A good friend and his wife made a trip out west in their motor home. He explained why: "I had been diagnosed with an eye disease which could result in blindness. I wanted to see all that I could see while my vision was still good." He could have stayed home fretting about his problem. But, without complaining, he began to adjust to the possibility of blindness. He too refused to whine.
Troubles come to us all. Sadness will jolt our joy. But whining about it or asking "Why me?" gets us nowhere. Pain is inevitable but misery is a choice. Face sorrow with faith and hope and something wonderful can occur. Character can happen. We become finer people when we face our troubles with courage. Courage is contagious. Deal with your troubles bravely, with a positive spirit, and your example will encourage someone else.
Thankfully, in the end, trouble does not win. This is God’s world and in his world, love wins. Joy is stronger than trouble. Hope is stronger than trouble. Love is stronger than trouble. This is the great lesson of the resurrection of Jesus. The trouble of Friday was overcome by the victory of Sunday. And the grace needed to overcome the troubles of our lives is abundantly available to all who seek it.
Yes, trouble comes. It always has. It always will. But, because God loves us, we can find enough grace and gumption to stay on the roller coaster until that sweet chariot swings low to take us home. ++ +