EDITORS’ NOTE: The following sermon was preached Sunday, Aug. 22, by Sam Boyd, pastor of the Atlanta-area Mount Vernon Baptist Church, Sandy Springs. In the earthquake that struck Turkey on Aug. 17, church member Jan Kilic and her husband, Babur, or Bobby, lost four of their five children, along with Bobby’s father. Jan Kilic has been flown back to the Atlanta area, along with Bobby’s mother, and they remain hospitalized.
SANDY SPRINGS, Ga. (BP)–This has been a very difficult week for a lot of people around the world, but especially in the life of our own church family.
Most of you are aware that Jan Kilic and her children have been a part of our church family. Jan, her five children, and her husband Bobby’s parents were involved in the earthquake in Turkey. Four of the five children of Jan and Bobby were killed in the earthquake, as well as Bobby’s father. Jeffrey, 6, Jennifer, 5, David, 2, and Katie, 9 months old, were among 12,000 thus far who have been listed among the earthquake fatalities.
Jan and one daughter, Natalie, who is 3 years old, and her mother-in-law survived the earthquake. I can remember a couple of weeks ago when Jan was sitting down here on the second pew with her children. I can just imagine her here this morning with her eyes closed singing that last song that we sang together. Jan is a serious, committed Christian. Many will look at this situation and be confused. Some will even give God a hard time over this. There are a lot of questions that are asked at times such as this.
You may not have been involved in a situation of losing four children like Jan and Bobby and their family, though some of you have faced some pretty tragic situations. You may have lost family members to death, some of them very young. I would mention the 12-day-old baby, a part of our church family, who died last year. Some of you who sit here today know that unless the Lord intervenes in your situation, you are going to die within the year because you have cancer or some other illness. Some related to our church family are not able to be here today and are lying or sitting in their homes and other places. They know that their time is limited. Some of you sit here today, and you are struggling with the aging process or you are struggling with some other disease or serious problem that you have. I don’t know how tragedy has occurred or will occur in your life. There are greater and lesser sorts of tragedies. There are reversible and irreversible tragedies. When you lose four children, that is irreversible. Though we have a hope beyond this life, the Kilic family will never hold those four children again in this lifetime. Some tragedies are reversible. Things just go wrong, but either God moves in a miraculous way or situations change and the tragedy somehow dissipates.
Tragedy is a part of this life. I want to answer just three of the questions that may be raised during a time like this, having already read Psalm 46 this morning where the writer reminds us that “God is our refuge and strength and a very present help in trouble. Though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea, though its waters roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with its swelling, the Lord of Hosts is with us.” The writer reminds us to be still and know that God is God.
In addition to these familiar verses from Psalms, I want to read one verse from the Gospel of John, chapter 16, verse 33: “These things I have spoken to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer. I have overcome the world.”
The first question that some would ask during a time like this is: Why do tragedies occur?
Jesus said: “In this world you will have tribulation.” What are the causes? Where do these tragedies come from? Why do they happen?
The first cause is the sin of man. You don’t have to look too far around this world to find the results, the tragedies that occur as a result of the sin of man. You can look at the war in Kosovo, the shootings in Columbine, the shootings in Atlanta, the bombing in Oklahoma City.
The Bible tells us there is this thing about man that rebels against doing the right and the moral law of God. There is greed, there is hatred and there is pride. These and many more are the symptoms of man’s sickness. A lot of the evil in this world, a lot of the tragedies that occur in this world, are a result of that evil and that sin that lives in every human being who has ever lived and will ever live.
It is only by God’s strength and the wisdom he gives to each of us that we are able to overcome that force in our lives that keeps us from becoming very, very evil people. You know the story of the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve chose evil. God gave them a choice. He said, “You can choose me and my way of life or you can choose your way of life.” We do not blame Adam and Eve because we know that if any of us had been in that garden, we too would have made the same decision. We choose to do wrong. That is why there is so much pain and tragedy in this world.
The second reason that tragedies occur is the sin of the world or the curse of sin in this world that came as a result of man’s evil choice in the garden.
Wars and shootings and killings — these tragedies occur as a result of the sin of man. When you consider things like earthquakes and hurricanes and tornadoes and cancer and other physical illnesses and deformities — these are the result of the sin of the world or this curse of sin. As a result of man’s evil choice in the garden, God said there would be pain in childbirth and difficulty in work. The process of decay and death was put in motion. These are all parts of the curse.
The Bible tells us that as we approach the second coming of Jesus, these tragedies related to natural catastrophes will be on the increase. The Bible says there will be more famine and pestilence and destruction in this world. These tragedies that come as a result of the curse give us opportunity to share with others the soon coming of the Lord Jesus. God is trying to get our attention through these natural catastrophes and tragedies.
Thirdly, these tragedies occur as a result of the sin and the evil of Satan in this world. Satan, the power of the air, and other angelic beings rebelled against God in the angelic world just as we have rebelled against God in our individual sin. These beings are working contrary to the will and the purpose of God. These evil demonic beings work in conjunction with man’s individual sin and the sin that results from the curse in this world to bring about devastation and death.
God has given us the Book of Job to help us understand this conflict between God and Satan, good and evil, in this world. Many of you are aware of this account about a good and righteous man, Job.
I couldn’t help but think of Jan this week as I reread the story of Job. Job was the best man of his day, and he loved God and was devoted to God. Satan comes to God and says, “You know, the only reason Job loves you is because you protected him and blessed him. Let me do some things in Job’s life so you’ll see that he’s really not devoted to you.” God, in his wisdom and in teaching us who are living in these latter days, says, “All right. But you must work within the limits that I set.” Satan afflicted Job in a severe way. You know the conclusion of the story. Job goes through real questioning, agonizing times. He gets counsel from his friends. They don’t have sufficient answers and solutions. Ultimately, Job comes to understand that God is sovereign and that he allows certain afflictions into his people’s lives. God’s not going to remove evil and the tragedies from the world, but what Satan means for evil and destruction, God is going to use to bring about good and maturity. That’s what we have to understand, that Satan and God are at war. There’s a spiritual war going on. Satan does have control over some of these natural circumstances, and he’s trying to undercut, and he’s trying to kill. That’s all Satan desires to do — steal, kill, destroy and ruin life. But God can turn these acts of Satan and cause them to work for his kingdom’s good.
There is a second question that people ask when these tragedies occur: Where is God in the process?
Let me remind you that God works greater works in our lives through suffering than he does through good times. Jesus said, “In this world you will have tribulation. But be of good cheer. I have overcome the world.” I would remind you that God is involved in the process of these tragedies.
Where is God? First, God is on his throne. We worship a sovereign, personal God who created the heavens and the earth. He has a perfect plan for this world. He’s been working it through the millenniums. He will bring it about in the second coming of the Lord Jesus and ultimately in the new heavens and the new earth. He has a plan for my life and your life, for my family and your family. At times, that plan involves pain and suffering and even tragedy. That’s all a part of what he’s trying to do in his sovereign plan in this world and in our lives.
We know from history that people who submit their lives to God and serve him will suffer. We see that in the life of Job. We see that in the life of Peter when Jesus says, “Peter, Satan desires to sift you,” and we know that Peter died a martyr’s death. We see it in the life of Paul, where Paul was buffeted by Satan and asked God to remove that difficult situation. Paul says, “In my weakness I am made strong by the grace, by the strength, of God working in me.” Don’t lose sight of the fact that God is involved in the process of tragedy. He sits on his throne.
Secondly, God is on the cross. That’s why we have crosses in our churches — to remind us. When you look at the cross, you see the face of God. As he hangs on that cross, he’s dying a death that he didn’t deserve. He’s dying your death, dying for your sin, for my sin. He’s making atonement for our badness. He’s saying from the cross, “I love you.” The same God who’s on the throne, the creator and sustainer of this world, is on the cross pouring out his life’s blood for you and for me. He loves you that much. Don’t forget that. No matter what you’re called upon to go through, he loves you more than you can ever imagine.
And he’s got more going on in your life than you’ll probably ever understand this side of heaven. Remember Isaiah, the great prophet, who said, “God’s thoughts are higher than our thoughts. His ways are very different from our ways.” So God’s not only in heaven supervising and coordinating this great sovereign plan, but he’s also on the cross looking us in the face and saying, “Listen, I love you. And if I’ve given my life for you, how would I ever withhold anything from your life that would make you totally useful and satisfied in the living out of your life?”
Also, as we look at the face of Jesus on that cross, we remember the principle of life; that is, Jesus was not only atoning for our sin on the cross (and each of us must receive that atonement), but he was also saying that in order to live, you must learn to die. The only place of abiding peace is learning how to die daily to ourselves and allowing Christ to live in us. Part of God’s plan in our life and the lives of those around us is to allow tragedy into our lives to teach us to learn to live through dying.
Thirdly, God is on the job. He’s on the job in your life. Here’s what God is trying to do in your life. We sang a song a while ago about how God is trying to draw each of us closer to himself. The problem God has is that when he blesses us, we get very proud and we get self-sufficient. Sometimes God allows tragedy into our lives to draw us back to him or to use our lives in order to help draw others to himself.
I think this is part of what God is doing through the lives of Jan and her family. God is using this precious family to turn our attention to him to remind us of things that we need to be reminded of, to remind us of the temporariness of this life, to remind us of the sufferings of many people around this world. He wants us to hurt for other people. He wants us to forget our selfishness. He wants us to get the attitude of giving and loving and living for him and for his purposes, not living for ourselves.
When you see four little innocent children die, it wakes you up to the fact that this life is very fragile and temporary. But for the grace of God, those could be my children. It begins to jolt us into this drawing and conforming relationship where God is trying to make us, to conform us, to be like himself. God gets your attention, and you say to yourself, “Am I ready to die? Am I living my life according to the purpose for which I’ve been created?” So God uses those breaking, tragic experiences in life and the experiences of other people’s lives to wake us up, to bring us more into his image. You see, he’s on the job in our lives, and to be angry or to complain or to reject or to run away would be to say, “God, you don’t know what you’re doing.” He always knows what he’s doing.
Let’s move to the third question: How do we get through these things?
Jesus said, “Be of good cheer. I came to give you peace.” How can we possibly have good cheer and peace in times of tragedy?
First, we must look to heaven. After the earthquake tragedy, when the Kilic family was having problems trying to decide where they were going to bury the children and whether they were going to be able to get them out of Turkey, Jan said to her mom, “You know, those bodies are not my children. They’re not my babies, because my children are in the arms of Jesus.”
How do you get through tragic situations? You look to heaven. You realize part of the conforming work that Jesus does in us is reminding us that this life is temporary. He says, “Focus on eternity.” Understand that when your loved ones die, it’s only for a brief time. Years are brief compared to millenniums eternal. There’s going to be a day when pain, suffering, agony and death — all these things — will be removed, and we’re going to be able to enjoy relationships with our loved ones in a way that we’ve never enjoyed them here on earth. There’s not going to be any more anger, depression, alcoholism and shootings and all those kinds of things. That’s going to be gone.
But in the meantime, God wants us to use those adversities to point people to him so that they can come to the realization that there’s more to life than the here and now. He wants them to understand that they can have a destiny in heaven. You see, I’m confident that God has more planned for Jan through the lives of these children than we could ever conceive. And that takes me to the second part of that third question.
Not only are we to look to heaven, but also we are to look for the plan and the hand of God in what’s happening.
There are times that you just say, “Heaven’s so far away that I can’t think about it. I want to hold those precious children.” But then God will stop you and say, “Now, listen. There are some things that you’ve been praying and hoping for that would never come about except through this tragic situation.” I’m confident that as a pebble drops into a pond and there are ripples as a result, God, in his gentle and kind, loving, fatherly way, knows exactly how to drop those pebbles in each of our lives so that the ripples will be used not only in our lives but also in the lives of others to draw them to himself and to conform them to his image.
I remember a comment that Jan made to one of the members of her family. She said, “My children will not die in vain.” You know what that says to me? Jan is a person who has a great faith in a great God who hasn’t lost focus on her or her family. God is going to use this for a great work in some way, in many ways. And when it’s all said and done, really, it’s the great works of God that we want to be involved in, isn’t it?
The third part of coping and moving through these tragic situations is letting and looking for God to fill you with the supernatural power of his Spirit.
You see, you have probably learned that you can know what’s in the Bible, you can have all these things lined up in your mind, and you can say, “God, I know where all this truth comes from, and I know you say you’re there. But God, I’ve just got to feel you.” That’s why in the Bible there are so many passages written by the great people of God’s story that say, “Wait upon the Lord, and He will renew you. Cry out to the God of your faith, and He will hear you and He will heal you.”
You see, there are times in your life that nobody, that nothing, can touch that inner man as only God’s Holy Spirit can. When Jesus was teaching his disciples to pray, he said, “Just pray, and the Father will give you His Spirit.” When you have the filling of the Holy Spirit in your life, you have everything that you need for peace, no matter what the situation, because the Spirit of God enables you to realize and to focus on the things you need to focus on. Everything else will just fade away.
Now, many of you know what that experience is like when God’s Spirit overwhelms you or fills you, giving you a boldness, a spirit of weeping, a spirit of peace. God comes to us in a special way when we are broken, fearful, in pain. These are the hardest times in life. These are the times when we weep and we agonize. These are the times when God takes us to the wall.
But I want to say to you that the worst times in your life can be the best times in your life. There is a fellowship in our relationship with God that only comes in these times of tragedy and suffering. God says, “We will sow in tears, but we will reap with joy.” We become better people, and his work gets done through these kinds of tragic situations.
I want you to bow your heads, and I want us to spend some time this morning before we leave calling upon the Spirit of God. I’ve been giving you words today, and I think that the Spirit of God can work in words. I also know that in these difficult times, words may be of little effect. We need to come into the presence of the Lord Jesus and release control of our lives, release our confusion and our frustration, release our anger. We need to release our expectations and just say, “Lord Jesus, not my will, but your will. Just help me to move through and give me peace.” That’s what we need to be praying for Jan and for Bobby and their family. That’s what we need to be praying for one another. That’s what we need to be praying for those beyond this room who are going to experience tragedy and hurt. It is the presence of the living God who comes and gives that peace. Jesus said in that verse, “I come to give peace. I want to tell you in this world you are going to have tribulation. But be of good cheer. I have overcome the world.”