Sunday, July 24, 2016


We have had women in our church whose husbands have passed away.  We call them widows.  When men lose their wives, we describe them as widowers.  Children whose parents die are called orphans.  When a child dies, there is no name for the parents left behind.  We have no word to describe that because it isn’t supposed to happen.  It is against the natural order of things.  What should happen is that Mya would attend my funeral in a decade or two, not that I would officiate at her funeral.  We are trapped in a nightmare from which we cannot awaken.

If you’ve come here today looking for some explanation for why a sweet little girl would suffer and die, then you will be disappointed—I’m fresh out of answers.

Perhaps you recall the movie, Rudy.  Rudy wanted nothing more in life than to play football for Notre Dame.  Being undersized, he cast himself upon divine intervention and went into the chapel to pray. When the kind priest asked Rudy how he could help, Rudy expressed his desire to play for Notre Dame.  The priest answered, “Son, in thirty-five years of religious study, I've come up with only two hard, incontrovertible facts; there is a God, and, I'm not Him.”  I want you to know I believe there is a God who has the answers, but I’m not Him.

But, even if we had answers would they be sufficient to take away our pain?  If you broke your leg—a compound fracture—for the doctor to explain the density of bones, and how they fracture, a detailed discussion of how to set one, and so forth—would that make your leg hurt any less?  So, if God explained all that He knows would our hearts ache any less?  I think not.

Instead, God directs us to Himself—to trust Him, to lean on Him and each other in love, to anchor our souls in hope in the midst of this storm.  He is with us in the eye of the storm.

When Corey was small he broke his arm.  I accompanied him to the X-Ray are. Of course, I had to wait outside while a heavy wooden door separated me from my son.  They stretched out his broken arm and I heard him scream.  He kept calling, “Daddy!  Daddy! Help me!”  I was there even though he couldn’t see me, and I knew this was necessary although you could never have convinced him.  I knew things he did not.  I knew this had to be and I wept with him.  So, when someone asks, where is God in all this—I want you to know that even though you might not have seen him and He didn’t come to the rescue as we begged, He was there and grieved with us.

So, I’m not here to defend God.  He can handle Himself.  I am here to encourage you and pray the Holy Spirit would bring comfort through this message.  As Peter said, “always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you…” (1 Pet.3:15). I am here to give a defense for hope.

Mighty Mya—they did not call her that because of her height, but because of her heart.

I want you to know where that strength came from.  First, it came from Jesus.  She loved Him—sang His praises, and called on His name—and now has seen Him face to face.  The promise of Phil.4:13 was a reality in her, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”  That power also flowed to her from her father and mother.  If you have ever been around her Dad, you have seen a man with an unfailing desire to succeed—whether it was the effort he put in on the ballfield and gym floor, or his sales efforts.  I have told people that Logan could sell ice to an Eskimo.  He took that same commitment and courage to help give his daughter every possibility of getting well.  Then, I think of my sweet Kelly.  Christians should be marked by three supreme virtues—faith, hope, and love.  I have been amazed at how these have been seen in my baby daughter.  Her faith in God has been tested in the fire but emerged as pure gold.  Her hope has been buffeted by a typhoon of trouble yet the anchor holds.  Her love for the Lord and her Mya are beyond dispute—clearly seen through it all.
God placed that little baby in your womb, Kelly—the precious product of your and Logan’s love.  Then at Mission Hospital, she entered this world to be placed in your arms on May 11, 2009.  It could have been your death—you lost so much blood.  Now, from that same hospital, on the same G Wing, just a floor below, Mya was again in your arms, when Jesus entered the room and took her into His on July 14, 2016.  And again, you felt like you would die.

Some races are a sprint while others are a marathon.  Mya was a sprinter.  Her speed was exceptional.  She was a winner.  Cancer didn’t win.  It slowed her down, it put up hurdles for her to clear—but, she did, and has crossed the finish line in heaven!

On Father’s Day, my granddaughter Josie gave me a perfect gift—a Tar Heel cup, stuffed with a big Habanero Slim Jim and a bunch of Cow Tales.  I love Cow Tales; it is my candy of choice for two reasons—they are sweet and cheap.  I quickly consumed most of them.  But, only a few days later, Mya’s condition declined and the doctors gave her minimal chance of survival.  I decided to fast and pray until she got well one way or another.  Mya was soon so sick and unable to eat.  I remember kneeling by her hospital bed and whispering in her ear, “Papa is not going to eat again until you get well and can eat.”  Returning home, I put the one remaining Cow Tale in my desk drawer—and forgot it.  Thursday morning, as I was reading, I reached in that drawer for a highlighter and saw that Cow Tale.  I always loved to buy them and share them with the grandkids at the ballfield, football stadium, or gym which we frequented a lot.  I took it out, opened the wrapper and remembered Mya—and thought, “This is for you, Mya,” and ate it in her honor.  Now all that remains is the wrapper—the sweetness inside is gone.  Bear in mind, as we do what seems the unbearable today, and take this casket to be encased in the earth, that all it contains is the wrapper, Mya used to live in.  The sweetness inside is gone—who she really is has left (Ref.2 Cor.4-5)

Let us embrace our tears, and accept permission to grieve.  This is a brutal business we are facing, and I cannot think of a worse thing than to stifle the expression of sorrow.  That is physically harmful.  It is why you hurt and feel like you are choking when you try to hold back the tears.  Tears contain toxins that need to be released.  Think of it as God’s pressure valve that He designed to vent the sorrow that rises up within us.  As we said, “Jesus wept,” and we may follow His example.  Jesus said, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”  If you want the solace of God, then you must be willing to express sorrow to God.  It is a humbling acknowledgment of our desperation, but the Bible says, “God gives grace to the humble.”  We need that!  We cannot stand if He does not hold us up!  But, “underneath are the everlasting arms.”  God takes our tears and treasures them, placing them into His bottle (Ps.56:8)

It is a known fact that in Bible lands and other middle eastern countries there was a tradition that when someone died, tears of those present were collected and placed in a bottle. This bottle was considered sacred for it represented all the sorrow of the family and was buried with the deceased. Many of these bottles have been found in ancient tombs. In ancient Rome, mourners filled small glass vials or cups with tears and placed them in burial tombs as symbols of love and respect. Sometimes people were even paid to cry into cups, as they walked along the mourning procession. Those crying the loudest and producing the most tears received the most compensation. The more anguish and tears produced, the more important and valued the deceased person was perceived to be. In some war stories, women were said to have cried into tear bottles and saved them until their husbands returned. Their collected tears would show the men how much they were loved and missed.

We prayed for a miracle—and God did perform miracles in Mya’s life.

He extended her time.
The healing we receive in this world is never “perfect healing,” as I saw some express in prayer for her across the months.  I appreciate the sentiment and know they meant restored fully to health and vitality.  But all healing is an extension of time—and at some point to face sickness and death again.  Perhaps this is one reason Jesus wept for Lazarus.  He was calling him back to a world of suffering and sorrow—having been four days in paradise and now reentering a world of woe, to have to die again.  He was healed—raised from the dead—but it was only an extension of time.

He used her to inspire and encourage.
I cannot begin to tell you the number of Facebook posts, emails, texts, cards, calls, and personal conversations where thousands have told me how Mya has inspired them.  Her smiling face was all over the internet—and it was particularly heartening to hear from those who had children who also died, or those who were currently dealing with cancer themselves to say that Mya’s story was such a blessing to them.

He refined our faith in the fire.
Peter wrote to suffering saints who were facing persecution for their faith.  He said this, “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ,” (1 Pet.1:6-7).  A faith that cannot be tested is a faith that cannot be trusted.

He strengthened our hope.
The believer’s hope is anchored in eternity.  This world is never our home.  We are reminded of that in times like this—called to look beyond this vale of tears to the place where God will wipe all tears from our eyes.

He deepened our love.
The outpouring of love has been amazing.  Total strangers have prayed for Mya to get well and wept for her passing—having never met her, they loved her.  The Enka-Candler community has been reminded of the importance of love—loving your family, loving each other, and loving God.  Have we not held our children and grandchildren just a little tighter since these events?

He renewed our commitment.
It is not an exaggeration for me to tell you of scores of people who said they had strayed from God—had gotten cold and apathetic in their relationship with Him.  Mya provided the spark that rekindled a flame in them.

He brought souls to salvation.
One mother told me about her young son hearing of Mya’s death and realizing that it could be him—and that he was not ready to meet Jesus.  With weeping he bowed his head and received Christ.  There may be others today that will make the same commitment—whether young or old.  I’m so thankful at last year’s VBS, Mya prayed to receive Christ and that this spring I could baptize her.

He summoned forth goodness in others.
There is so much evil in our world.  You can’t turn on the TV without seeing the hate and the badness.  We forget that there is also a lot of goodness—and Mya brought that out.  People took time to pray, to make a blanket, to buy a stuffed animal, to fix a casserole, to send a card, to raise thousands of dollars—and on and on I could go.

He reminded us of the value of time and the significance of living for eternity.
“Only one life; ‘Twill soon be past; Only what’s done for Christ will last.”  This sifted our priorities.  Mya’s story is a reminder of the brevity of life and gravity of eternity—and that much of what we think is important is actual trivial, and the spiritual and relational—family and church—are vital.

He prepared for her an eternal weight of glory.
Paul tells us that the sufferings of this time serve a purpose—that they are preparing for us an eternal weight of glory—that heaven will be more enjoyable for the heartache we have endured here.  Why would God have given Mya such gifts—so athletically inclined—if she would not be able to use them?  She will!  The Word of God declares, “For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.”  (Rom.11:29)

I was reading a post from Derrick McCarson the other day, quoting from Randy Alcorn’s book entitled, “Heaven.”

Are you living with the disappointment of unfulfilled dreams? In heaven you’ll find their fulfillment. Did poverty, poor health, war or lack of time prevent you from pursuing an adventure or dream? Did you never get to finish building that boat or painting that picture or writing that book—or reading that pile of books? Good news. On the New Earth you will have a second chance to do what you dreamed of doing—and far more besides . . . The smartest person God ever created in this world may have never learned to read because he or she had no opportunity. The most musically gifted person may never have touched an instrument. The greatest athlete may never have competed in a game. The sport your best at may be a sport you’ve never tried, because your favorite hobby is one that you’ve thought of. The reversing of the Curse, and the resurrection of our bodies and our Earth, mean we’ll regain lost opportunities and inherit many more.  (Alcorn, Heaven, pp.433-434)

As much as we will miss Mya, we would not call her back from that incredible place.  We cannot, but we can go to her.  I’m planning on seeing her again soon.

If life is really about giving God glory, then in seven years Mya has glorified her God.  We may ask, “Would God not have been glorified more if she had risen and walked—giving her a long life?  Not necessarily.

I have a number of Bible commentaries by the late James Montgomery Boice, who pastored Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia for 32 years.  He was diagnosed with liver cancer in May 2000.  Here is what he said to his congregation:

Should you pray for a miracle?  Well, you’re free to do that, of course.  My general impression is that the God who is able to do miracles—and He certainly can—is also able to keep you from getting the problem in the first place. So although miracles do happen, they’re rare by definition….  Above all, I would say pray for the glory of God.  If you think of God glorifying Himself in history and you say, where in all of history has God most glorified Himself?  He did it at the cross of Jesus Christ, and it wasn’t by delivering Jesus from the cross, though He could have….
God is in charge.  When things like this come into our lives, they are not accidental.  It’s not as if God somehow forgot what was going on, and something bad slipped by….  God is not only the one who is in charge; God is also good.  Everything He does is good….  If God does something in your life, would you change it?  If you’d change it, you’d make it worse.  It wouldn’t be as good.”  (Boice quote, “If God is Good” Alcorn, pp.14-15)

“God permits what He hates to accomplish that which He loves.” (Joni Earkeson Tada)

The devil whispers in our ear the words of Job’s wife, “Why don’t you curse God and die?”  Let us answer with Job, “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; Blessed be the name of the Lord.”  (Job 1:21)  Scripture tells us that Job lost almost everything—his wealth, his health, and his children.  At the end of the book God restored double everything Job lost.  You can read and calculate it—except in one case: Job had 7 sons and 3 daughters who all died in a violent storm, so we would expect to read that in the end he had 14 sons and 6 daughters.  Yet, it says God gave him 7 sons and 3 daughters!  What? I thought God doubled all he lost; He did—something isn’t lost if you know where it is!  Job knew his first set of children were in heaven!  I still have 12 grandchildren!

If you died today, would you go to heaven?

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