Those who know my family know who difficult April 30 is – especially when it happens to fall on a Sunday like this year. This is the date in 1995 that we lost my sister in a car accident on her way to church.
It is still painful all these years later, but to those of you struggling with recent loss I will say that it gets better. We had a good day today. The family was together at my house celebrating the birthday of my oldest daughter, Adeline, whose middle name Taryn is an homage to her aunt whom she never met, but will meet someday.
One of the most important lessons that the loss of my sister has taught me is the indispensable nature of hope. I was in a conversation today with an atheist friend of mine (I hope he would consider me a friend). He’s had a lot of pain in his life, and one of his principle reasons for rejecting God is because of all of the pain and evil that persists in the world. His complaint at one point was “Why doesn’t God DO something?” My response back to him was simply, “What if I told you he has?” Sadly and predictably my friend wasn’t interested in anything that I believed had happened in the distant past. I understand frustration like this, but it also seems so terribly sad to me. Was I angry at times over losing my sister? Of course. Was I confused? Definitely. But the one thing I could never fathom is abandoning hope in the midst of despair. Without hope, what do we have?
Praise God that He has given us a living hope anchored in the resurrection of Jesus! Praise God that though we grieve, we are not overcome!
Last year at about this time of the year I was asked to preach at Ozark’s chapel service. This was a particularly painful day for me personally and for the Ozark family in general. We had just lost an amazing young man named Jensen Smith in a car accident. It rocked our campus. I met Jensen when he was in high school when he went with our youth group to a CIY Move event. It was immediately evident that he was special – good tempered, respectful, responsible, and most importantly sold-out to serve God in whatever capacity that might look like. I couldn’t have been happier when he decided to attend Ozark and pursue ministry. Students like Jensen, frankly, make me want to be better as a teacher. The kingdom needs thousands of Jensens. And so when I was told he had died, I instantly relived those feelings of confusion, despair, and anger that I had felt so many years before. But I also, through gritted teeth, held on to hope. What else can we do in such times? What follows is the sermon that I preached in chapel just a couple of days later.