By: Doug Beacham
Life is beautiful, loving, hopeful, caring, affirming, meaningful. Life is chaos, tragic, confusing, meaningless, destructive. Both sentences are true.
God is love, holy, light, merciful, compassionate, caring, faithful. Sometimes my questions, confusion, hurt, grief, and even anger, make it difficult to believe what the Bible tells us of God. Both sentences are true.
The Twelve Days of Christmas, which began December 25, 2017, ended with Epiphany on January 6, 2018. The first date is the joyful celebration of the birth of Israel’s Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth. The second date is the traditional date of the visit of the Magi to Bethlehem, seeing Jesus not as an infant but as a growing toddler.
Epiphany is biblically expressed in Titus 2:11-13, “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (NKJV).
It is also stated in Titus 3:4-7, “But when the kindness and love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (NKJV).
Like spoiled meat, sandwiched between Christmas and Epiphany are two important reminders of the sinful brokenness of humanity. First, December 26th is the remembrance of the death of St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr (Acts 6:8 through 8:1). Second, December 28th is when the church remembers the deaths of the “Holy Innocents” following the visit of the Magi (Matthew 2:1-18).
I mention all of this because this past week has been a week of deaths in the IPHC family. A movement with 1,800,000 members world-wide has hundreds of deaths across the globe. Most of these who die in the Lord are remembered by local communities and congregations; others are remembered by nations or continents; some are remembered through social media friendships and connections; still others are remembered because they are known more personally to leaders. But all are remembered in Christ.
This past week there were three deaths which caused Susan and me, as well as many of you, to pause, pray, grieve, and reflect. I start with the oldest of the three. The death of Dr. Kundael Mrema in Tanzania shocked many of us. A dedicated African who had studied in the USA and was befriended by many, including Rev. and Mrs. Rabon Stewart, Dr. Mrema became an IPHC missionary and returned to Central Africa to lead that region for the IPHC. Battling health problems, he passed away while traveling for medical treatment.
In her early thirties, Amy Lambert died after taking time to pray for street people. It was characteristic of her life to reach into the lives of people who struggled with drug addictions. Their stories were her story before her “Epiphany” with Christ. God opened doors of ministry in Africa for Amy with Reinhard Bonnke and Joyce Meyer. She spoke at the 2013 IPHC General Conference and stirred our hearts with her evangelistic passion. Her journey had its challenges and setbacks, but it also had hope in healing and restoration. We will miss the courage and spark of her young life.
The third deaths raise so many questions of “why?” Many of you know Allen Raugh, who has faithfully served with Royal Rangers and other discipleship ministries, as well as with Gary Burd and Mission: M25. We learned earlier this week that Allen’s grandson, Nate, aged 25, and Nate’s three children, James, Missy, and Jordan, all four years of age and younger, died in a house fire in South Carolina. We cannot fathom the depth of grief for this family. The other night I called Allen. Tears and sobs were the only expressions which seem to matter.
This weekend I still have a lot of questions. I understand the theological issues; I just find it hard to wrap my brain and spirit around the mystery of life.
In writing this, I find why we continue to pray for these grieving families and friends. I find comfort in knowing that the Gospel witness of Christmas and Epiphany surrounds the soiled meat of tragedy, heartbreak, and disillusionment. It is a witness to the One who stood at the grave of His friend Lazarus, and wept.