a life worth living

During my sophomore year at UT, a couple friends and I joined a community group at the church we went to. Unsure of what to expect and without a car, we accepted a ride from the leader of the group and met Ronnie Smith who would love us, challenge us, and help us grow in our love for Jesus. 

We bonded because we had both been raised in very similar church backgrounds, and over the course of the next few years, he would consistently meet with me and push me to love God with my head, heart, and hands. He influenced the Bible I bought, the books I read in my spare time and the preachers I listened to. Years before I ever heard the names of Matt Chandler or Mark Driscoll, Ronnie pointed me to Jonathan Edwards and John Piper to discover the beauty of the glory of God and the overwhelming joy and satisfaction that is found when God is glorified in us. When I fought against notion of God’s complete sovereignty, Ronnie would patiently show me passage after passage in the Bible that proved otherwise, and the word “predestined” went from being an uncomfortably ugly word to one of the most beautiful indicators of the grace of God. He encouraged my teaching gifts and when I wasn’t faithful in the little things, he lovingly rebuked me. In typical sarcastic wit, humor, and passionate zeal, he would remind me that Jesus was the center of God’s story, not me. He was a good friend and mentor.

He moved to Libya to teach Chemistry with his wife, Anita, and young son, Hosea. On Thursday, December 5, 2013 while taking an early morning jog, Ronnie was shot and killed in the city of Benghazi.

To read more about Anita’s story, and her response to the shooting, including her response to Ronnie’s death, you can watch here and here, and read her open letter here

Amid the sorrow and grief, a friend called me that afternoon and asked the following question: “Brice, what are we going to do? How are we going to respond to Ronnie pouring out his life in love of God and people?” It’s an excellent question for all of us.

Ronnie left behind a legacy, but it was born out of his recognition that God loves the whole world and uses us to make it better. It was born out of his recognition that his life was not his own. A life changed by the gospel compels you to live for Someone greater than yourself, and that Someone is the blazing center of everything: Jesus. That is a life worth living. Whether we eat or drink or study or work, we do it all for the glory of God. For Ronnie, this meant moving with his family to teach chemistry to the Libyan students at the International School Benghazi, risking safety and abandoning certain comforts. We follow the example of Jesus who left the comfort of heaven and poured out His life for us, even to the point of death. We do not back away from the prospect of death, but press forward with the promise of life eternal. As John Piper said, “Let the replacements flood the world.”

I’d like to leave you with one of the most powerful sermons I’ve ever heard, and it was one given by Ronnie at the Austin Stone Community Church. He compiled a list of Bible verses and passages, and organized them in such a way as to tell the story of the Bible. The entire sermon is composed strictly of Bible verses and is all preached from memory, sharing the story of creation, fall, salvation and restoration that is recorded within the pages of Scripture. This is the true story of Love that captivated Ronnie, and I pray that through it, we see that God has been working all things for His glory and our ultimate good.  This is the history of redemption.

Ronnie did not waste his life. I pray that we do not either.

If you would like to purchase a copy of  The History of Redemption as a beautifully illustrated hardback book, you can purchase it here. Proceeds from the sales will go to the Smith family.

If you would like to support Anita and Hosea with a gift, please click here.

suffering in the hands of a sovereign God

Pain and suffering are not things that are foreign to Christians. Indeed, sometimes it seems as if we have more of it.

Following Christ doesn’t mean life gets easier. Loved ones will still die. Disease will steal health. Life will not be kind. People will talk negatively about you. Sticks and stones may break your bones, but words may break your spirit.

Following Jesus isn’t a ticket to health and wealth, but a surrendering of your life and taking up your cross, because that’s what Jesus did. We follow the leader who fell to the ground while carrying His instrument of torture. He was bruised and crushed and spit upon and reviled; the King of kings suffered to the very point of death on a cross. He, who could call angels to strike down His persecutors, who did not deserve to hang like a criminal, submitted Himself to suffering because He knew that the Father was still in charge. God still sat on His throne.

Following Jesus means that sometimes, we don’t get to come down from our cross.

This song reminds us that whether it be cancer or criticism, death or disability, our suffering is not just random bad luck or the universe out to get us. It does something in us. Our suffering has purpose in the hands of a sovereign God.

I come, God, I come
I return to the Lord
The one who’s broken
The one who’s torn me apart
You struck down to bind me up
You say You do it all in love
That I might know You in Your suffering

Though You slay me
Yet I will praise You
Though You take from me
I will bless Your name
Though You ruin me
Still I will worship
Sing a song to the one who’s all I need

For the stories behind the song, click here and here.

“The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” – Job 1:21