Public Works, J David, and the thread I can’t see…

I have taken on a part time, temporary job with a local municipality’s Public Works department.  I am learning a lot about the inner workings of water pretreatment, park and field maintenance, and other things I never thought about before.
How much do you know about the process of taking waste water from your home to the treatment plant? Not much I’ll bet.
How much do you know about the number of man hours it takes to maintain the fields where your children play baseball/football/soccer/lacrosse? Or the disproportionate numbers of hours necessary to open and maintain a swimming pool that operates for 90 days of the year?  Not much I’ll bet.
And, if you are like me, you don’t really care. Not in a rude way…just a take-it-for-granted way.
Except when the water won’t go away or fields are muddy or the pool isn’t perfect. THEN we know all about exactly what can and should be done, don’t we??
Yeah…no. We still have no idea. Our anger simply fools us.
All of life is like this. We really know so very little, and mostly we are too self-absorbed to care. Until something bad happens.
Beginning in Sept 2010, my friend David – The Rev Dr. J. David Panther – led our church on a nine month journey through the Bible. With an assist from Max Lucado’s The Story,  David showed us the wonderful thread that weaves itself from Genesis to Revelation…a thread that consistently shows us the love and care God has for us…a thread that is the Upper Story, God’s Story, and His purpose.
We live in the Lower Story.  Lower as in right here on Earth, not Heaven’s Story. Lower as in, we often have no idea how things work, nor do we care – as long as we like them.
Then darkness falls. And we demand answers.
Unemployment, addiction, car accident, illness…what is yours? What has happened to you to make you say, “WHY, GOD?”
David is firm and consistent in this message: God never causes a bad thing, and He doesn’t like it – but it is the reality of life in this fallen world. And no matter what happens, how much it hurts, how devastated we are, God can lift us out of the mire, clean us from head to toe, and use the negative to make us better.
If we let Him.
David often uses stories to make a point. One sticks in my mind today.  It is the story of a farmer who has a series of events happen. The farmer ‘s horse runs away. A few days later, the horse returns, bringing a group of young studs with him. The farmer’s son breaks a leg training one of the new horses.  The son was unable to go off to war because of the broken leg.
The neighbors are quick to rejoice or mourn, based on their judgment of each event. But to each expression of joy or sorrow, the farmer’s response is , “We’ll see.”
The old farmer understood that we know so little. Our vision is extremely limited. We live in the Lower Story, often not even considering the Upper Story.
One of my favorite David-isms is “This is no surprise to God!”  A master at explaining difficult concepts to stubborn human minds, David has taught me that God has a plan, He knows the end from the beginning, and He will use ALL things to His glory and for my good.
If I let Him.
David  battled lymphoma for over a year.  A determined warrior, he continued to teach about grace and faith.  He was in his office and in services every single time his body would allow it. He smiled through the fight, ministered to others, continued his mission. Jana, his beautiful wife, has been a wonderful example of the healing power of love.
On May 26, my friend David met Jesus.  
We are heart-broken over this loss…for ourselves, for our church, mostly for his beloved family.
It is likely that everyone who knows and has been touched by David has had at least a moment of “WHY?”
He is a man of God who has an amazing gift for preaching and teaching. He can touch everyone – no demographic  is beyond his reach.  He has a heart for the have-nots in our community, and continually challenges us to reach out with God’s love. His goal is not adding members, but sharing the Good News. His sermons are lessons in how to apply Biblical wisdom to everyday life.
He is a loving husband, father, son, grandfather, friend, mentor.     
Really God? This man? Right now?
Did You not see all the good he is doing? The changed hearts – some in folks who had never visited a church, some in folks who have sat in the same pew for decades but never had their souls moved? Do You not see how much more he has to do, how many plans he has, how many more people he could reach?
Really God?
There is so much we don’t know or understand, isn’t there? We want to identify “good” and “bad” – nothing in between, no “we’ll see” responses. It makes us feel better, doesn’t it?
Yet, even as I type these words I hear David saying , “Hey, kiddo, this is no surprise to God.”  I am reminded by David’s voice in my head that  in the midst of our grief we must rest in the assurance that God is omnipotent, faithful,  always loving…reminded that while this is not good, God can use it for good…reminded that God knows the plan, and it is a GOOD plan, not for harm.
I hear David reminding me that I don’t question the good things, the comfortable ones, the ones I like.  I just accept,  even though I don’t understand. I flush water, and drive on roads, and play in the park, never questioning how any of that comes about. But, oh, when something bad happens, I beseech God for an answer I couldn’t possibly begin to understand even if He told me.
I hear you, my dear friend. I do. You taught me well. I trust the Upper Story. I trust God’s grace and give Him all the Glory.
I know you are restored to perfect health. I know the crown you received is spectacular. I know you have been waiting your whole life to hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant!”
I do know…And I praise God for that.
But I miss you…we all miss you. The little smile, the way your voice squeaked sometimes when you were telling a funny story then boomed when you wanted to make a point, your explanation of what the Hebrew text really means in a given passage, your perpetual motion – coffee in hand. I won’t ever hear someone say, “This isn’t rocket science!” without thinking of you.
We will carry on your work. We will smile. We will love on your family…and always miss you.
Rest well, dear friend. Can’t wait to see you again – you can tell me more about the thread I can’t see right now and I will finally understand.


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