It's been a strange 24 hours. First of all, I'm able to write this morning because I'm sitting at home due to a two-hour inclement weather delay. An arctic blast has been blustering its way through Central Texas, so, despite the fact that it was 87 degrees earlier in the week, I'm cuddled up on the sofa, waiting for the roads to clear before I can go to work this morning.
As strange as it is to even say the words "freezing rain" in Texas, the events of yesterday were even stranger. Mid-morning, I learned about the death of Ronnie Smith, a former pastor at The Austin Stone, who had moved to Libya with his family over a year ago. When I first heard about it, I barely had any reaction at all. I envy those who can cry easily- who can become appropriately upset about something as tragic and shocking as this seemingly senseless act of violence. But I had no physical reaction at all. I was completely blank-faced and apparently emotionless. But, on the inside, it was a different story.
From the moment I found out, I could not really stop thinking about Ronnie's death. I remembered watching the video that he and his wife made for the Austin Stone when they took a "vision trip" to Libya before they made a permanent move there. You can see clips of the video on the CBS news website, but I'd caution anyone who clicks on the link because there are graphic images that I find upsetting. CBS NEWS-Ronnie Smith I remembered seeing him recite The History of Redemption, a beautiful book about the Gospel that he edited, and the church promoted two Christmases ago. History of Redemption I didn't know him personally, but what I did know is that he understood the risk that he was taking by moving to Libya, and he wanted the church-regular people like me and Andy- to know that he thought it was worth it.
Throughout the day, all I could do was think, and occasionally pause to pray for Ronnie's family. The day went on. American teenagers are who they are. They demand your attention and your energy, even when you want so much to be quiet and introspective. But, even in response to my students, I thought about Ronnie. He had taken a job as a Chemistry teacher at an international school. In the afternoon hours, stories about his death began to reach major news websites. His students were quoted in the articles- comments on how Mr. Smith believed in them, how loved he was. He had stayed in Benghazi to administer their exams before returning to the States for the holidays. This shook me to the core. When you go to a giant, hip church like the Austin Stone, and you see these really quality film presentations like the one made about Ronnie and his wife, it's easy to think that your small, normal life is not really worth much. It's not the intended effect, I'm sure, and maybe I'm one of few people who responds to such dramatic beauty with intimidation instead of inspiration. Watching that video a couple of years ago, I knew that Ronnie and Anita were doing something that Andy and I probably would never do. Sometimes this can defeat me. It was defeating me as I thought about it yesterday afternoon- about the great risk, about their great faith, about the story of it all, and Who it points to and how much He is worth. And, I have to admit that my own life does not demonstrate how much Jesus it worth- does not do justice to His dramatic beauty. But, at the core of it, Ronnie was teaching. Teaching Chemistry. Which is exactly what I do. And though the risk was much greater, and the story more compelling and his reward in Heaven will be greater (as it should be), sounds like God called him to be a teacher. And to love his students as Christ loves. And to show them mercy, and justice and humility. Which is what all Christian teachers should do, at all times, no matter where they are, no matter how they feel.
It was strange to leave Hill Country and go out into the world with its Christmas lights and holiday songs, strange even to be in my own house with our tree and my "Merry Christmas Ya'll" dishes. But when I got home, I went to the tree and took a picture of one of my favorite ornaments- the lion and the lamb. There's a promise in Isaiah 65 that one day the Lord will bring peace to Jerusalem (and all the Earth) and that the "sounds of weeping and of crying will be heard in it no more." The lion and the lamb symbolize this everlasting peace- a peace that I really believe in, and one that seems a little more real and little more necessary when days like yesterday happen. Christians say, from time to time, "Amen, come Lord Jesus," which means that we want this eternal peace to come soon. I confess, my life is often so busy and happy that I don't think about this often. But yesterday I did.
While at first I thought that Ronnie's death was in stark contrast to this season of good cheer, I now don't think it is at all. Because this is the season of advent. Advent means arrival. In BSF, our lesson taught that Jesus's advents (there are two) are like two mountain ranges. When Isaiah wrote about the peace of Jerusalem so many years ago, it looked to some like there was just going to be one arrival, just as when you look at a mountain range from a far distance, it can appear that you are looking at just one mountain. But, the reality is that Jesus's first advent, which is what we're in the midst of celebrating, is only the first mountain. We live in the valley between the first advent and the second. The first advent is the one with Mary, Joseph, the wise men and the shepherds. I love it. I love the songs about it, I love celebrating it and every symbolic meaning derived from it. Usually, I dwell there completely for the month of December. But yesterday, while I looked at the lion and the lamb, I couldn't stop thinking about the second advent. The one that isn't here yet, but is coming. The one where the weeping is going to stop. The one where He is going to reign as King forever. The one that Ronnie is going to see, and so am I.
Amen, come Lord Jesus.