Sometimes things happen in life and there’s simply not a human explanation as to why.
What good could possibly come from this? Why would God allow something like this to happen? Why do bad things happen to people have faithfully served the Lord?
These can be very difficult questions to answer. Many times, we don’t really have an answer. At least not an answer that makes anyone feel much better.
Those questions started circling through my mind again over this past week during a very challenging week for our church family at Long Hollow in Hendersonville, TN.
Chris Swain, who was the Disciple-Making pastor at Long Hollow and dedicated his life’s work to serving Christ in whatever capacity was needed. Swain and Robby Gallaty, the pastor at Long Hollow, were practically inseparable and were best friends. They were planning on going to a baseball game together on the night of Friday, July 9 and Swain was taking his dog, Emmitt, to the mailbox around 5:30 p.m.
The neighbors later found Swain by the mailbox and he was unresponsive. They immediately began to perform CPR and called for paramedics. After nearly a week in the hospital, Swain passed away at the age of 47 on Thursday, July 15. He is survived by his wife, Melissa, and their two children.
How do you even begin to process something like that? Chris was a healthy guy who was in the prime of his life. He had a wonderful family and was experiencing revival in his ministry and at our church at Long Hollow. Why would God allow something like this to happen to someone like Chris?
It was the revival that we had all experienced together that I thought was going to make this story have a happier ending. When we came together as a church family on Sunday, July 11, we knew that Chris’ prognosis wasn’t good. Robby, our pastor, had asked all of us to pray for Chris and was going to the hospital to pray over him and anoint him with oil at 2 p.m.
I’ve always known and believed that it’s possible for God to heal. Intellectually, that has always been something that I’ve been able to process. But man, I really believed we were going to see it happen with Chris. I mean truly believed it. With every fiber of my being. And in a way that I’ve never experienced before. And I wasn’t alone. We had thousands of people praying across the world for Chris Swain to be healed.
In order to understand that, you’ve got to understand what God has been doing at our church this year. We’ve seen more than 1,000 people get baptized since the end of December in 2020, including my wife. We’ve seen people who were addicted to drugs be set free. We’ve seen people who used to worship Satan be radically transformed by Jesus. We’ve seen wayward sons and daughters come home. We’ve seen a passion for Jesus sweep through our church in a way unlike I’ve ever experienced before. It’s been like something out of the book of Acts.
I just truly believed that God was going to heal Chris Swain. And then He didn’t. And then all of those questions start to creep back into your mind.
But God is the same God today as He was when our revival began. And He never promises that the road is going to be easy.
Hebrews 11:32-40 lays it out perfectly.
“And what more can I say? Time is too short for me to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and the prophets, who by faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched the raging of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, gained strength in weakness, became mighty in battle, and put foreign armies to flight. Women received their dead, raised to life again. Other people were tortured, not accepting release, so that they might gain a better resurrection. Others experiences mockings and scourgings, as well as bonds and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawed in two, they died by the sword, they wandered about in sheepskins, in goatskins, destitute, afflicted and mistreated. The world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and on mountains, hiding in caves and holes in the ground. All these were approved though their faith, but they did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, so that they would not be made perfect without us.”
The first part of this group of verses talks about champions of the faith who were rescued and experienced miraculous events that only God could provide. The second part shows that some were not rescued. Some struggled. Some were not released. Some died. And ALL were approved through their faith.
I had several conversations with Chris over the course of the past couple of years even though we only met together in person just a few times. The first time that I ever met him I felt like I had already known him for years. He and Robby did a weekly podcast that had become my favorite thing to listen to.
In my first meeting with Chris, he and I sat down for about 30 minutes and recorded an interview for my podcast on discipleship and why that was so important in today’s church. During that interview, I asked Chris how he would explain the impact that his relationship has had on his life. Here was his response:
“I would say that it’s radically changed by life,” Swain said. “I would say that the life that I had prior to Christ, where it was headed, is nothing like the life that I have now. I’ve been a believer for 27, 28 years now so it’s been a long time. In the midst of that, I looked at who I was before Christ and what God has done in my life after I began to follow Jesus and be a disciple of Christ, I’ve seen many of the same mistakes of people who don’t follow Jesus make. But at the same time, always present with me, is knowing that Christ is working in my life to do something that is going to bring him glory. It’s constantly been one of those things that even in the midst of tough times or struggles, I’ve had all of the same issues and problems and struggles that everybody else has had, but in the midst of all those it’s knowing that as a believer there’s something more and there’s something different beyond just what we are experiencing and what we have. I would say it’s been a radical shift and change in my life in pursuing and following Christ, but just experiencing life differently.
“It’s looking at things knowing that there’s a much bigger picture and knowing what God is doing and what he’s bringing about is so much more critical and important than the small and……I don’t want to say insignificant because I think that can belittle some people……but compared to what God is doing, insignificant things in essence. But He loves us and wants the best for us. The challenge for us is we want what we think is the best for us when in fact God knows what’s best. And it may not be something that’s awesome. It may be a tough and difficult and challenging life. But ultimately in His plan, it brings glory. It’s knowing and finding hope in that I think that has been the biggest difference.”
The final part of that quote hit me right in the face today as I was writing this. “And it may not be something that’s awesome. It may be a tough and difficult and challenging life. But ultimately in His plan, it brings glory.”
As I sat today at Chris’ funeral service, it was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. Sure, there were tears. And sure, there was sadness. But man, was there so much joy and hope in knowing exactly where Chris is right now.
We laughed. We sang together. We prayed together. And we worshipped the Lord. Just like Chris would’ve wanted us to do. There is so much freedom and joy that comes with being able to rest in the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Chris Swain knew that well.
Acts 13:36 reads:
“For David, after serving God’s purpose in his own generation, fell asleep, was buried with his fathers and decayed….”
That’s not typically a verse that comes to mind when you think of somebody’s “life verse.” But that was Chris Swain’s life verse. He was all about serving Christ and His purpose. And one day we’ll get to see him again in the presence of the Lord.
We may never know exactly why Chris was taken from this earth at the age of 47. But after a week of wondering why, today I came to the realization that, you know what……I don’t need to know why. “But ultimately in His plan, it brings glory.”
That was good enough for Chris Swain. And that’s good enough for me. I will trust in the Lord, who is the same yesterday, today and forevermore.
See you soon, Chris.