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Beloved Unbeliever - Part 2

Guest: Jo Berry

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July 28, 2017

God's Presence in the Midst of Chaos

I may lack the words to describe what occurs to the faithful in times ofpersonal crisis. It is virtually inexpressible. Let it be said, simply,that there is often a quiet awareness in the midst of the chaos that theLord is there and He is still in control. Millions of people have reportedthis persistent presence when life was systematically unraveling. On otheroccasions, He permits us to see evidence of His love at the critical momentof need.

I recall today that tragic time in 1987 when my four friends were killed ina private plane crash. We had been together the night before, and I hadprayed for their safety on the journey home.They took off early the next morning on their way to Dallas, but never madeit. I can never forget that telephone call indicating the wreckage had beenfound in a remote canyon—but there were no survivors. I loved those menlike brothers, and I was staggered by the loss.

I was asked by the four families to speak briefly at their funeral. Theuntimely deaths of such vibrant and deeply loved men seemed to scream foran explanation. Where was God in their passing? Why did He let this happen?Why would He take such godly men from their families and leave them reelingin grief and pain? There were no answers to these agonizing questions, andI did not try to produce them. But I did say that God had not lost controlof their lives, and that He wanted us to trust Him when nothing made sense.His presence was very near.

As we exited the sanctuary that day, I stood talking with loved ones andfriends who had gathered to say goodbye. Suddenly, someone pointed to thesky and exclaimed, "Look at that!" Suspended directly above the steeple wasa small rainbow in the shape of a smile. There had been no precipitationthat day and no more than a few fleecy clouds. Yet this beautiful littlerainbow appeared only above the church. We learned later that it had beenhovering there through most of the funeral service. It was as though theLord was saying to the grieving wives and children, "Be at peace. Your menare with Me, and all is well. I know you don't understand, but I want youto trust Me. I'm going to take care of you, and this rainbow is a sign toremember."

One of the people standing there had the presence of mind to take aphotograph at that moment. When it was developed, we saw what no onerecognized at the time. There was a small private plane cradled near the center of the rainbow.

Cynics and non-believers will say the rainbow and the plane arecoincidences that have no spiritual significance. They are entitled totheir opinion. But for every member of four wounded families, and certainlyfor me, the Lord used that phenomenon to convey His peace to us all. He hasfulfilled His promise to take care of those four courageous widows andtheir children.

There are other examples which beg to be shared. Sandra Lund and her familysurvived Hurricane Andrew in south Florida by spending the night in ashelter. Then they returned to their home the next morning to findeverything destroyed except some of the interior walls. As a bewilderedSandra strolled through the rubble, she found a note she had taped in whathad been the kitchen. It was still in place, and read, "For I have learnedin whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content." On the remainingbathroom wall was another verse she had penned, "O give thanks to the Lordfor He is good." Sandra got the message.

Finally, I experienced that same presence in the midst of another kind ofstorm. On August 15, 1990, I was playing an early morning round ofbasketball, as was my custom. At 54 years of age, I thought I was in greatphysical condition. I had recently undergone a medical examination and waspronounced to be in excellent health. I could play basketball all day withmen 25 years my junior. But there were unpleasant surprises in store for meon that particular morning. I was just a few feet from where NBA legendPete Maravich had died in my arms two years earlier. (That gym floor ishallowed for me now, as you can understand.)

Suddenly, I was stricken by a moderate pain in the center of my chest. Iexcused myself, telling my friends I didn't feel well. Then I foolishlydrove alone to a nearby emergency clinic and booked a room. This was thesame hospital, by the way, where my father was taken after his heart attack21 years earlier. So began 10 days that would change my life.

It is a great shock for a man who still thinks of himself as "Joe College"to acknowledge that he is looking death in the face. It took a while forthat thought to sink in. My first afternoon in the cardiac care unit wasspent working on a new book I was writing with Gary Bauer entitled Children at Risk. I had the nurses tape five possible cover designs on the wall andvotes were taken as hospital staff came through. I wrote throughout theafternoon. But when the enzyme report came back about midnight andconfirmed that I had suffered some damage to the heart muscle, I knew I wasin serious trouble. It was later confirmed that my left anterior descendingartery, the one cardiologists call the "widow maker," was entirely blocked.

Hospital staff came at me from every direction. Tubes and IVs were strungall over me. An automatic blood pressure machine pumped frantically on myarm every five minutes throughout the night, and a nurse delicatelysuggested that I not move unless absolutely necessary. That does tend toget your attention. As I lay there in the darkness listening to thebeep-beep-beep of the oscilloscope, I began to think very clearly about thepeople I loved and what things did and did not really matter.

Fortunately, the damage sustained to my heart proved to be minor, and Ihave fully recovered. I exercise an hour each morning, seven days a week,and I'm eating some of the finest birdseed money can buy. I used to be ajunk food junky, and I'm still not thrilled about cauliflower, alfalfa,squash and other things that would have made me gag a few years ago. Nor amI yet convinced that God intended for full-grown men to eat like rabbitsand gophers. Surely there is a place in his scheme of things forenchiladas, pizza, donuts, ice cream, and cherry pie. Nevertheless, I'mplaying by the rules these days. My diet is designed by some very petitenutritionists who look like they've never eaten a real meal in their lives.It's a sad story, I tell you, but I sure feel wonderful. Pass the yogurt,please.

During those last nine days in the cardiac care unit, I was keenly aware ofthe implications of my illness. I had watched my father and four of hisbrothers die of the same disease. I understood full well that my time onthis earth could be drawing to an end. Still, I felt the kind ofinexplicable peace I described earlier. There were thousands of peoplepraying for me around the country, and I seemed to be cradled in thepresence of the Lord. I had lived my life in such a way as to be ready forthat moment, and I knew that my sins had been forgiven. That is a pricelessawareness when everything is on the line.

There was one brief period, however, when my confidence began to crumble.The day before I was discharged, I underwent an angiogram to determine thenature of my arterial network and the extent of my heart damage. Theinitial report from that procedure was much more threatening than wouldlater be confirmed, and those ominous findings did not escape my notice. Isaw the concern on the faces of technicians. I heard a young Japanesemedical resident read the report and mutter in broken English, "Oh, dat notgood." She might as well have said, "Dis is gonna kill you."

I was taken back to my room and left to ponder what was going on. For thefirst time in the long ordeal, anxiety swept over me. Modern medicine canterrorize those it seeks to serve, as laboratory reports and tentativediagnoses trickle in. You can adjust to anything if given time. It's theuncertainty that rattles the nerves. I was going through that drill whilewaiting for my cardiologist to come by. That's when I uttered a brief andineloquent prayer from the depths of my soul. I said, "Lord, you know whereI am right now. And you know that I am upset and very lonely. Would yousend someone who can help me?"

A short time later, my good friend Dr. Jack Hayford, pastor of The Churchon the Way in Los Angeles, unexpectedly walked through the door. Many ofyou know him from his writings and television ministry. We greeted eachother warmly, and then I said, "Jack, your church is on the other side oftown. Why did you take the time to come see me today?" I didn't tell himabout my prayer.

I'll never forget his reply. He said, "Because the Lord told me you werelonely."

That's the kind of God we serve. He lovingly sent that good man to see meeven before I had asked for help. Now admittedly, the Lord doesn't alwayssolve our problems instantaneously, and He sometimes permits us to walkthrough the valley of the shadow of death. Eventually, we'll all take thatjourney. But He is there with us even in the darkest hours, and we cannever escape His encompassing love. I was warmly embraced by it throughoutmy hospitalization, even in the darkest hour.

Psalm 73:23-26 meant so much to me during my convalescence. I think youwill understand why. It reads:

Yet I am always with you; You hold me by my right hand. You guide me with Your counsel, and afterward You will take me into glory. Whom have I inheaven but You? And earth has nothing I desire besides You. My flesh and myheart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

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