Terrible as Death, Beautiful as Life
This last weekend we took 17 of our small group leaders down to Galveston, Texas, for a retreat. The weekend was called “RE-CRE8 RE-TREAT” which was meant to play on two ideas: The idea of experiencing re-creation (or rebirth) that the Bible talks about. The other plan I had in mind was the idea of enjoying some time of recreation and hanging out on the beach. It was a weekend that God had His hands all over, but it was also one that we saw theology played out right in front of our eyes.
The theme verse for the weekend was from John 12 when Jesus says, “I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” (John 12:24 NIV) It was setting us up to discuss the idea that is being played out in California right now with the wildfires. We have a biologist in our own Life Group at Harris Creek and she was telling us that the plants in that area of California actually produce oil that is flammable because fire is the only way their seeds can be spread and the plant can reproduce. And this is the image that Jesus gives us in John 12.
What sounds good in theory is almost always more difficult in real life. Just like many lives have been lost in the wildfires in California, there is a steep cost to something dying so something new can be born. And we saw this happen in the life of one of our close friends this weekend as well when she received the news that her friend had been killed in a car accident on Saturday night. The entire group shared the heartache and pain that she was feeling even though most of us had never met her friend. But on Sunday morning as we sang lyrics such as “He gives and takes away” and “God break me and melt me,” I was taken back to 8 months ago when I coming up with the idea for this retreat.
I remembered specifically wanting to go to Galveston because of the image of destruction and rebirth that was right in front of us due to Hurricane Rita hitting the area. I remember my mother-in-law telling me that she could not guarantee that everything would be cleaned up by then, even though it was well over a year after the hurricane had hit. I also remember wanting to go there because the Student Ministries at Harris Creek seemed to need the image of rebirth to be placed right in front of our eyes. When I arrived at Harris Creek, the youth ministry was in disarray and the college ministry needed serious structure and leadership. We are still a long way from being where we need to be, but the important thing is that the rebuilding process is well under way and new life is budding all around us.
This brings me back to our friend that experienced one of life’s storms this last weekend and the verse in John 12. I asked her how we could pray for her, and she said, “That my friend’s story would cause others to come to Christ and that the family that is receiving his organs would come to know Christ as well.” It turns out that her friend was an organ donor and someone was going to get a new lease on life because of the tragedy that occurred. And I can help but get emotional when I think of Jesus’ words in John 12:24 and this experience that was lived out in front of our group this weekend. The pain of death is always terrible and almost more than we can bear. This is the part of Jesus’ words I don’t particularly like. But when this death happens, the resurrected Christ can come in and make something new grow out of this terrible pain and heartache.
The city of Galveston still has many scars on the landscape that point to the terrible destruction that occurred in Hurricane Rita. For all I know, some of these scars may always be present as long as we are alive. But amongst these scars can be seen signs of new life growing all around. Buildings are being repaired, people have returned to the beaches, plus plant and marine life are returning to the area. I do not know why God chooses to operate in this manner, but I do get an overwhelming sense of hope that wells up inside of me when I think that God can take something as terrible as death and turn it into something as beautiful as life.