Wednesday, March 11, 2009


Bob Priest, a professor at the Seminary from which I graduated, served as a missionary in an extremely remote part of the Peruvian Jungle among a tribal people group known as the Aguarunas. As Bob spent time learning the ways of the Aguarunas and built a foundation of friendship and understanding upon which he hoped to share the Good News about Jesus Christ, he would often find himself immersed in deep philosophical and theological conversations that would keep pace with any university setting on the planet. When he asked for the ultimate question the Aguarunas had about the nature of life, truth and beauty, the response he received struck him in its universality among all people. Those with whom he was speaking answered his philosophical probe with this question:
"Why do the wicked flourish as the Green Bay Tree and the good die young?"

It was a question for which there is no quick answer and one that led to hours and hours of discussion and that eventually opened the door for Bob to share the Message of hope about Jesus.

I heard this account almost 20 years ago, yet this week, after the sudden and incomprehensible deaths of two friends and the nationally reported murder of someone who shares my profession during a Sunday morning worship service, I find myself asking a similar question, "why do the wicked seem to flourish unscathed, while the good suffer and die?"

About 2 weeks ago LTC Jeff White, a West Point classmate of mine and about as robust, fit and energetic specimen of a man as one could ever find, had been stateside for about a month just having returned from an 18 month tour of duty in Iraq. While singing in the choir during a Sunday service at his home church, Jeff collapsed and died of a massive heart attack. A good man, dedicated to his God, family and country and dedicated to selfless service that consistently put him in harm's way, died in the prime of life of a cause one generally attributes to someone much less fit and much much older. He was only 46.

Just this week, Paul Sorce, a very dear friend since my arrival in Detroit, and a top-notch Special Agent serving with the Federal Bureau of Investigation was on duty and traveling on a local road about half a mile from where we live, when he was struck by another vehicle and inflicted with injuries that led to his death a few hours later. Paul was an extraordinarily devoted family man, a tireless community volunteer, and a dedicated brother in the Lord. Yet, with all of the attributes we would like to think guarantee a long life and personal prosperity, Paul was cut down at the height of his powers all too soon at the age of 44.

And then there's the murder of Pastor Fred Winters, who in the middle of his sermon, was interrupted by a man who stood up during the message and for what by all accounts appears to be no particular reason, shot Pastor Winters on the spot, killing him. After 20 years of faithful service to the Lord, his family, his church and his community, Fred Winters was silenced abruptly at the age of 45.

Practically everyone knows of tragedies like these, severe in their degree and shocking in their impact that cause us to ask much like the Aguaruna of Peru, "Why indeed do the wicked flourish and the good die young?" The answer I have is not profound, but it is simple: "I don't know." Yet, there are some things I do know and about which I am very certain. While I cannot tell you why these wonderful men died "before their time" or why it seems bad things happen to very good people, I address a much more important issue for you, which is why these men lived.

Two passages of Scripture come to my mind at times like these. The first passage is from the Apostle Paul's letter to the Philippians and says this:
"For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain" (Philippians 1:21).

These Brothers all lived for Christ and lived for others by putting themselves at risk time and time again and by throwing themselves vigorously into opportunities to serve others whether in a neighborhood sporting ministry, in ministries that strengthened of families or in being available to answer a cry for help in the wee hours of the morning. These men all realized that their lives were not truly their own, and that they were stewards of gifts, talents, abilities and moments that were God-given and for which they felt duty-bound to direct toward the benefit of others. These wonderful people never lived life as if it was all about them. They lived in the full knowledge that they had been given so much because their gifts desperately needed to be shared with others. Their lives were lived for Jesus Christ in obedience to Him, for His glory, and for the benefit and blessing of others.

Yet they died. It is in their deaths, however, though painful, devastating and untimely for those who love them and are left behind, that they have gained an amazing reward. It is this reward that reminds me of the strains of a glorious hymn of old based on more words from the Apostle Paul. The verse of that hymn that comes to mind and the refrain which comes from the Scriptures are as follows:
I know not what of good or ill
May be reserved for me,
Of weary ways or golden days,
Before His face I see.

But I know Whom I have believ├Ęd,
And am persuaded that He is able
To keep that which I’ve committed
Unto Him against that day.

None of us knows what tomorrow may bring, whether good or bad, triumph or tragedy. The particulars of the future are simply unknowable. It is unknowable for us the living and it was unknowable for the loved ones who have passed into eternity ahead of us. Nevertheless, the three men whose memories we honor after their passing, provide strong and straightforward examples of what we can know and what we all must do in light of the unclear veil that obstructs our view of tomorrow.

We must make sure that our lives count by serving others with all of our gifts and talents. We don't all have the same gifts, passions or calling, but we each have something that is useful to contribute to society. Don't waste your time or your gifts, saving them for a tomorrow that may not be your to use. While it is today, do good to those around you and do good for those who will carry on after you. Tomorrow or even this afternoon may by a mystery, but we each have a "right now" that is within our grasp and with which we can do tremendous good.

In addition, for those of us who know Christ and believe in the salvation He has made available through His death for our sins - not just ours but for the sins of the world - and the victory and hope that are ours to share through the power of His Resurrection , we can be confident in uncertain days that God will keep His Word and that there is a reward for those who hope and trust in Him. Jeff, Paul and Fred believed this and their lives produced an abundant crop of fruit even in their brevity. They are now experiencing the reality of their reward as humble servants who responded to God's wonderful grace with thanksgiving made manifest in a life of selfless service. I want to leave the last verse of the aforementioned hymn with you as we contemplate the unknown future and seek to diligently follow the clearly revealed call of God for all believers to all the good we can, as often as we can for as long as we can:

I know not when my Lord may come,
At night or noonday fair,
Nor if I walk the vale with Him,
Or meet Him in the air.

But I know Whom I have believ├Ęd,
And am persuaded that He is able
To keep that which I’ve committed
Unto Him against that day.

Until next time,