While Christian radio personality Rick Burgess was speaking at a Christian conference on January 19, he received "the most horrible news a father could ever receive."
Burgess' two-year-old son, Bronner, drowned in the family's swimming pool.
But to the surprise of many, the conference didn't come to an abrupt end. It was given new life.
Hope through Despair
Upon hearing the news, the faithful co-host of WZZK's "Rick and Bubba Show" would not give in to the despair the enemy wanted him to embrace; he let God work through the tragedy.
Watch Burgess' testimony by clicking on "A Father's Heart" Part 1 below.
Video is courtesy of The Rick and Bubba Show.
Click on Part 2, and Part 3 for the rest of his testimony.
"The minute this happened, I knew what God wanted me to do," Burgess told the 4,000 people attending his son's service on January 22 in Birmingham, Alabama, just three days after his death. "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.'"
Burgess said he clung to the passage in John 16:33 when he got the news, "In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." He said he drew comfort from this because he knew his Savior was right there with him, and that He was more powerful when he was weak.
Even though the organizers were ready to cancel the rest of the Tennessee conference because of Bronner's death, Burgess would not allow it.
"My son's eternity is not in question, but 7,200 other people who are here at this conference - there are hundreds of thousands of them - and their eternity hangs in the balance," said Burgess to 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 does not believe that God took his son, who he lovingly referred to as "Cornbread" on his radio show. Instead, he says that God allowed Bronner to be taken for a higher purpose.
"The Bible says all of our days are numbered, every one of us," Burgess 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."
How to Cope?
Burgess shared how he is handling the loss of Bronner.
He said that Bronner is "in the care of the only Father who loves him more than me."
"If you were to leave your children in someone's hands and they said, 'You're going, who would you like to take care of your child until you get back?' wouldn't you love it if they said, 'I'll tell you what, I'll find somebody who loves your child more than you do,'" Burgess explained.
"You see, that's our situation. Though we miss him and we'll miss him for years and years to come, according to how long God keeps us here - we know He is in the care of a Father who loves him more than I do - to the Father that he really belongs to," he said.
Burgess also recounted the intimate talk he had with God as he made the long flight back from Tennessee to his home in Alabama.
"What are you trying to teach me?" he asked. "This is a hard lesson."
Burgess says that this was God's response:
"What I want from you is for you to go to the next level in spreading the Gospel of the Good News. Hundreds and thousands of people around the world are going to listen to you because you've lost a little son, and that breaks everybody's heart. And they're going to be watching you. They're going to be watching you and your circle of fellow believers. The world will be looking and saying 'How about your God now?' I want them to be perplexed. I want them to look at you and your friends and go 'How?' So we can say, 'We can't - but Christ can.'"
Then Burgess addressed the crowd, "And if you don't know Him, this world will devour you. And if you do know Him, be about His business in the meantime until He returns."
Then he gave a candid portrayal of what he felt at the time.
"I want so much to go home to my baby and take my family with me. And we will. We'll get there," Burgess shared. "But if I left now... what God told me on that plane (if I come back now), 'If I bring you here to where your baby is now, people will perish. People you know will perish. So don't be so selfish that you want to come now and leave them to go to hell.'"
The Enemy Defeated
Burgess acknowledges that the enemy tries to deal many blows to Christians, but he asserts that Satan miscalculated and made a mistake by attacking his family through Bronner's sudden tragic death.
"He should have never come after us," Burgess said. "And when I say family, I speak about this family, but I also 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."
Shining the Light through the Darkness
Burgess addressed the doubts expressed to him after his son's death, "Why would this happen?" and "I thought God loved us."
"Well, let me clear that up real quick for all of you," explained Burgess. "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.' 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."
Burgess then moved to wipe away any lingering doubt listeners might have had about God's love in the midst of trials.
"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."
Encouraging the Flock
Using the opportunity to remind those attending the memorial service that Jesus is the only way to heaven, as outlined in John 14:6, Burgess shared the song that helped him get through his son's death. He told listeners about the encouragement he found in the lyrics "I am weak, but He is strong," from the song "Jesus Loves Me."
Burgess then challenged the believers in attendance and cited a study revealing that 90 percent of Christians profess to have never shared the Gospel with anyone.
"I want the death of our child to energize all believers to get about the business of preaching the Gospel," he urged.
On the Rick and Bubba Web site, the following statement can be read:
"The Burgess family wants to give all honor and glory to God for the many blessings He has given us, especially the life of Bronner Burgess," it states. "And while we do not understand, we know who is in charge and His will be done in life and in death."
The beloved Bronner is survived by his parents, Rick and Sherri Burgess, and his four siblings, Blake, Brandi, Brooks and Brody.
If you would like to send your condolences and prayers to the Burgess family please click here. Those wishing to make a contribution to a memorial fund that will give back to ministries in honor of Bronner can learn more by clicking on Scott Dawson Evangelistic Association.
Sources: Baptist Press, rickandbubba.com, CBN News