A couple of weeks ago I was preparing a post that dealt with prayer in light of news that a friend and former classmate at Beeson Divinity School recently discovered he has cancer. I wept for him. His name is Matt Paetz, and he has a wife and two young daughters. My heart breaks for him and his family as they embark on a new journey that they did not expect nor want. I had a writing project that got in the way of updating the blog. The deadline was this past week. Then I went to Arkansas for the weekend to visit college friends and got back to my alma mater for Homecoming festivities. One of these college friends is Julee Turner. I was honored to be part of her wedding. I lived two doors down from her for two years in college. We were in the same sorority and same pledge class. She married the love of her life, Matt, after college and moved to Fayetteville, AR. After several years of struggling with infertility, she became pregnant with their daughter Preslee. Julee is an avid blogger and you can read all about their sweet family on her blog: mattandjuleeturner.blogspot.com.
While I was having dinner with Julee and four other college friends this past Saturday night, Julee’s husband was killed in a car accident. Matt leaves behind his wife Julee and their 10-month-old daughter Preslee. Once again, my heart breaks for a friend.
I am heartbroken that my friend was stripped of her beloved. I am heartbroken that Preslee won’t remember her daddy. I am sad that Julee had to experience such loss at this point in her young life. I wept. I still weep.
But my weeping is only temporary. Not because I won’t have times of sadness for Julee’s loss. Not because I no longer care for Matt Paetz and his family. But because of my faith that God is good and He is still on His throne.
My preaching professor at Beeson Divinity School was Dr. Robert Smith, Jr. He still teaches and preaches there. Last year, one month shy of a year ago, Smith preached in Beeson’s chapel a sermon titled, “Have you been to Bethany?” based on John 11:1-12:1. In this sermon, he quoted and paraphrased from the book, “When Faith and Beliefs Collide.” Smith said, “When faith is stripped to the bone – no marrow, no tendons, no muscles, no fat, no gristle – and all our props and crutches are gone, our faith in God that He is good and is still on the throne is the only thing that will keep you going.”
While praying and reflecting on Matt Turner’s death and Matt Paetz’s sickness, I thought of John 11 – Jesus weeping over the loss of a friend and the great words about resurrection. Then I remembered this sermon that Smith preached one year ago.
After Lazarus died, Jesus tells Martha in John 11:25-26, “The one who believes in me though that one dies shall live again, and the one who lives and believes in me shall never die.” As Smith said, “Persons who are born twice, born of the flesh and born of the spirit, only have to die once. The person who is only born once of the flesh will have to die twice.”
What awesome hope for those who believe in and only through Jesus Christ, the first fruits of the resurrection of the dead! When I called my husband Ozzie to tell him about Matt’s passing, he asked, “Was he a believer in Christ?” I said, “Yes.” He said, “Then we know that he is alive and with the Lord; that is our only hope.” So as I shed tears for Julee, I know that because Matt was born twice, he won’t die again. He is alive because Jesus is alive. And for my friend Matt Paetz, cancer is no longer a death sentence. But as he walks “through the valley of the shadow of death,” he “will fear no evil,” knowing that Christ is with him and that death is not the end.
The proposition of Smith’s sermon was: The road to Bethany exists in order to engender belief, which will be transformed into redemptive activity. What I think he meant was that the purpose of Lazarus’ death and the events that happened were so that people would believe. Why do these things happen in our lives? I don’t know, but I do know that often times it is to increase belief in some and create belief in others. When I watched my apartment building burn, when I had two heart ablations, when I moved to a new place by myself, though these were difficult times in my life, they brought me closer to God and increased my faith that God is good and He is still on the throne.
Though I am confident I will still shed tears for these mentioned and others in the future, I find peace knowing that the One who wept when His friend died will be the One to wipe away all our tears. Revelation 21:4, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
Pray for my friend Matt. Ask God to heal his body and to be glorified through this experience. Pray that this cancer would not lead to his death. Pray for strength, peace, healing and increased faith for Matt and his family.
Pray also for my friend Julee, Preslee and the rest of Matt’s family. Pray for healing hearts, increased faith, sustaining power, peace, comfort, financial provision, and strength to face tomorrow.
I should mention that Dr. Smith knows what it is to lose someone you love. He lost his first wife many years ago, then shortly before this sermon he lost a son. He knows what it is to grieve, to weep and to hope in a living God that is still on His throne.
To listen to Dr. Smith’s sermon, go here: http://www.beesondivinity.com/media#!/swx/pp/media_archives/116700/episode/27214
A song that comes to mind that fits with this post is “Give me Jesus” by Fernando Ortega: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-N3KPA9ltQE