Wednesday, June 15, 2011

God's ways, His Good and Gracious Ways

Our church building in the evening. The pastor's house though not visible is on the right. (Rev. H. Versteeg and our old deacon, 'haphap', chatting on left).
His name was Malcolm and at the age of 21 he died from blood loss after being hit by the car he was trying to hold up. He was big and handsome and a fearless leader. He didn't look like a raskol (a criminal), either.

We knew Malcolm, at least we knew of him. We knew him as the guy who led a gang to our church property one night in mid-2008. He along with 15 other youths beat down the iron door of the pastor's house that separated them from a number of household items and a fear stricken family. Inside, a young husband and wife, child, and three younger sisters waited, terrified and paralyzed in a corner. Our aged and frail deacon, "bubu" or 'haphap,' (above in picture) as he's affectionately called was also there. But he waited behind the door; like a lone, fearless warrior when his compatriots have all but retreated, he was ready to meet his attackers. And he did. The criminals finally entered and made quick work of 'haphap.' They gave him a surface cut to the top of his head with a long knife and told him to just " shut up and stand on the porch. " After that they pillaged the house and slipped away into the night. Thankfully, none of the young women were touched, though they shared that they relived the horrible event for months afterwards in their dreams.

Early the next morning we showed up. We brought 'haphap' to the hospital and after a few stitches he was fine. Then we filed a report with the police. But as they were of no help during the break in--they don't answer their phones at night--they were of no help afterwards, either. Subsequently, Malcolm and his boys were never found even as we pleaded with the community to not harbour these criminals. But the story of Malcolm continues and a year later he died. He died at work--the work of holding up cars.

His parents mourned his loss deeply, but his dad began to reflect on his own culpability. In his heart, he knew he had taught his son these furtive, criminal ways. Not that he gave his son minute to minute instructions on car holdups and armed robbery. No, in this culture you watch and learn. And his dad will readily admit that Malcolm would have seen or heard about many of his exploits. Malcolm's dad was a seasoned criminal and his name is still whispered in Lae as the infamous 'raskol' who brought Lae to a halt for a day or two some 15-20 years ago. His crimes preceded him and now his criminal record trails him.

But God is good and His ways are gracious. It was His inscrutable will that saw Malcolm meet an early death. Not that God is the cause of Malcolm's sin, Malcolm is, but neither were the days of Malcolm not marked out from the beginning of time. His death was inside His plan, His sovereign, gracious plan. And a part of that plan, to speak so boldly, was to bring Malcolm's dad and mom, sisters and brother to Himself in repentance and faith. He was to show them abundant grace!

So the story continues. Humbled and full of remorse, shame and guilt, Malcolm's parents sought help. And in the economy of God's ways, they sought help at the very place where their son had caused so much pain--the pastor's house at our church! By this time the old tenants had moved out and new tenants had moved in (we are renting the home until we have our own national pastor). The current renters are an elder and his wife with their 6 children. But little did we know that the elder, Andrew, knew Malcolm's dad. They grew up together; and in their teens they were partners in crime. However, after Andrew married he left that life of crime; and then in early 2007 after leaving the Catholic church in town, him and his wife joined ours. So when Malcolm's parents came knocking, seeking help and support, Andrew and his wife, Agnus, were quick to open their hearts and their home to them. And in this home where there was once much pain and terror, grace was at work. Some two years after the crime, the Lord melted their hearts and brought them to their knees in repentance. He then led them to our church to hear the Word preached, witness the sacraments and, in due time and as His grace prevails, become confessing members of it.

And yet the pain lingers. Pain often lingers. Recently I preached on hell, actually it was on Good Friday. After this sermon him and his wife went home and could not speak to each other, they told me later. Words failed them. There is so much pain in the questions of their son's standing before God. Where is he, now? Then on Easter Sunday I preached on Heaven and the all-sufficient grace of God in Christ Jesus to make us heirs, co-heirs with Christ of His eternal home. After the service Malcolm's dad had the courage to share some words with me.

He came to me--he was broken. He asked: "can God really forgive me? What about the horrible sins I've
committed? What about the way I led my son down the road to an early death?" Yes, it is true that Malcolm was an adult, he will be held to account for his own sin, but his dad struggles with the pain of being implicated in his sin. "Can God really forgive such terrible sins?" he asked again. Oh, the burden of sin and of shame and guilt--it is immeasurable, really. So I did what every pastor would--share the Gospel again. He needed to know that grace is extremely costly, but it is also unquestionably free. It cost the Father His one and only Son on the cross. And at that place of death and judgment Christ bore the full, unmitigated burden of God's wrath against sin, our sin, every-one of our sins! That's the cost. But it is also free! And as deep and hideous as our sins are, God's grace-received by faith-reaches down and purges! I shared with him a number of texts that he should meditate upon, beginning with Isaiah 53 and Psalm 103 and then we prayed together.

Words so quickly break down when dealing with life and death. And yet in God's inscrutable and gracious ways we can find peace! For it was through Malcolm's death that his dad and mom's eyes were forced opened to see their need for a Saviour. And now they, with their three daughters and son and maybe generations to come, have found the way. The way of truth and grace in Jesus Christ! Praise God with us, and hold them in prayer as you do....


Elissa W said...

Wow, Ian & Nadia, what a testament of God's work and faithfulness - we will pray for this family, that they will find peace & forgiveness in the blood of Christ!
Tim, Elissa & family

T.B.H. said...

How amazing that through Malcolm's death his parents were led to the gospel, and through another Man's death we are all accepted before the throne of God as if none of us had ever sinned. Would that we all felt the guilt as deeply as Malcolm's father, and as a result the wondrous joy of being forgiven! Thank you for sharing that, Ian.

Will and Marcia said...

An amazing testament of God's grace and faithfulness.