Son's death spreads the Gospel message

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (BP)--The impact of 2-year-old Bronner Burgess' death is already being felt throughout the nation as his family and friends use the opportunity to tell others about the uncertainty of life and the assurance of salvation in Jesus Christ, his father, Rick Burgess, said at a memorial service Jan. 22.

"If you sit here today, the biggest injustice you can do our family, the biggest injustice you can do our Savior, the biggest injustice you can do for our baby, is to leave here unchanged, to continue to be apathetic, weak, ineffective believers of Christ," Burgess, of the talk radio duo "Rick and Bubba," said at Shades Mountain Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala.

Bronner died Jan. 19 when he fell into a swimming pool at his family's home. Burgess was speaking at a Christian conference in Tennessee when he got "the most horrible news a father could ever receive."

"The minute this happened, I knew what God wanted me to do," Burgess recounted to about 4,000 people at the service. "I don't say that because of any pride in my flesh. I'm saying that because I walk with Him, I pray with Him, I talk to Him, and when I tell Him I would be ready and then He says, 'Are you ready?' I didn't want to say, 'Well, no. I'm caught off guard by this.' He wasn't wringing His hands about it, and I wasn't either."

Burgess is a member of Shades Mountain Baptist Church and his co-host, Bill Bussey, is a member of The Church at Brook Hills, both Southern Baptist congregations in Birmingham, where the "Rick and Bubba Show" is based at WZZK. Some of Burgess' remarks at the memorial service were broadcast Jan. 23 on the "Rick & Bubba" show, which airs on more than 40 syndicated radio stations, mostly in the South.

The conference organizers in Tennessee debated canceling the remainder of the schedule in light of Bronner's death, but Burgess refused.

"My son's eternity is not in question, but 7,200 other people who are here at this conference -- there are hundreds and thousands of them and their eternity hangs in the balance," Burgess said he told the organizers. "So suck it up, get out there and finish the fight because if we shut this conference down, Satan wins this situation, not Christ."

Burgess said he doesn't believe God took his son but allowed him to be taken for a greater purpose.

"The Bible says all of our days are numbered, every one of us," he said. "But He allowed him to be taken so that He could be glorified -- and no other reason, not to punish us, not to bring us heartache and pain. He did it so that the Kingdom would be glorified."

Burgess said Satan miscalculated and made a mistake in attacking his family through Bronner's death.

"He should have never come after us," Burgess said. "And when I say family, I speak about this family but I speak about my family of believers because all of you have gone into action in a way that is making our Savior smile. If God asked me to give up a son so that some of you will live in eternity, it is well."

The attraction of heaven is especially strong in these days, Burgess told the crowd, because he longs to escape a fallen world and find comfort with Jesus and with Bronner. But believers don't decide when they go to heaven, he said. Jesus does, and Jesus told His disciples that while He went to prepare a place for them, He needed them to be about His business, Burgess said.

Burgess didn't hesitate to explain the Gospel message multiple times during the memorial service, including answering questions people have posed such as, "Why would this happen?" and "I thought God loved us."

"Well, let me clear that up real quick for all of you," Burgess said before telling how he was a sinner "bound for the lake of fire" just like everyone else.

"And God looked at us -- and we have the gulf of sin between us -- and He said, 'They can't come to Me. I've got to go to them,'" he said, adding that Jesus took on human flesh and felt a range of emotions as He walked the earth.

"The reason why I've already had a time of weeping and there's more to come is because the human side of Him also wept when loved ones died," Burgess said. "He also wept when He saw people He loved choosing Satan over Him. And He took on that flesh and He suffered for you and He suffered for me. He suffered a gruesome, humiliating death because our sin is so nasty. And He died on that cross for you and me -- and this is the part some of you need to get -- when He didn't have to.

"... So can y'all give me a break on 'I thought God loved us'? I think He's on record for how much He loves you and how much He loves me," Burgess said. "So don't you ever take this situation and say, 'I thought God loved Rick and Sherri and this family.' He did love me. That's why He died for me. Anything else I get, I don't deserve because I didn't deserve that."

He reiterated that Jesus is the only way to heaven, based on John 14:6, and he said the song that encouraged him most as the tragedy unfolded was "Jesus Loves Me" because of the line "I am weak, but He is strong."

"A father can't get up and do this, only He can. Not an earthly father," Burgess said, referring to giving his son's eulogy.

Burgess cited a study in which 90 percent of believers said they had never shared the Gospel with anyone, and he pleaded for that to change.

"I want the death of our child to energize all believers to get about the business of preaching the Gospel," he said.

Rick and Sherri Burgess have four other children, Brandi, Blake, Brooks and Brody.

Erin Roach is a staff writer for Baptist Press.

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