This Sunday was the second most difficult day of preaching in my ministry and just as rewarding. The hardest message I ever delivered was the week after my brother was killed in an automobile accident just a couple of years ago and this week it was right after the tragedy of a school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. When I say it was rewarding, here is what I mean. I honestly believe that what I preach is the truth and if I believe it, then it has to impact and change the way I live.
I’m going to be really honest and tell you some things in this note that may make some of you wish you had a stronger pastor. Then I’m going to say some things that may make some of you not want to come back to the church I pastor again. I’m just going to be honest.
When I heard the news on Friday morning that there had been a shooting, I prayed, “God please don’t let any of the children die.” As you now know, 20 little children died. My heart is broken, my spirit is crushed and I have clung to Psalm 34:18 for my life and my sanity.
“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed.”
My weekend was one of clinging to my kids and grandkids, not in actually holding onto them but in being near them and savoring their lives and what a blessing they are in my life. They are precious. There were times, multiple times where I would pray and cry. I would be driving down the road and the tears would come. I would be talking to someone and think about it and have to walk away rather than explain. Not that anyone in this Country would need much explanation given the news coverage.
On my way to church Sunday morning I prayed as I always do but this time it was different. “God I need your strength just to be able to stand before these people without sobbing.” I really didn’t know if I could do it.
Our worship leader had shared his struggles with the news also and he was struggling as well. We both knew that we had to address the matter at hand and we were both struggling with how to best do that. As it turned out, Jay was sick with the virus so many in our community have struggled with over the past few days and we had two who led acoustically in Jays place. It was perfect.
It wasn’t a time to celebrate but a time to mourn. It wasn’t business as usual, 28 total people had died in the carnage of Fridays evil. People had asked continually how this could happen. How could a good God stand by and let this happen? Even the people who didn’t ask why wanted some answers, and we deserved some answers.
I made it through the first service but let me tell you, it was difficult. Everything in me was screaming, “I just want to sit in the congregation and let them play music and I will just cry.” But someone had to address the matter and that person is me, the pastor. By the way, your pastor needs a pastor from time to time also. I am thankful that I have several friends who are there for me in those times. God has blessed me with others in the ministry who look after me and care for me as one of their own congregation.
Something biblical happened after I started preaching and audibly saying the words I had prepared to say to you. My spirit was lifted, the hope that God promises started to return, there was strength supplied that wasn’t me, it was supernatural. It was God.
Here are the points from the message that we need to cling to.
#1. God is not the creator of evil and suffering.
Genesis 1:31a, Then God looked over all he had made, and he saw that it was very good!
#2. Though suffering isn’t good, God can use it to accomplish good.
Romans 8:28, And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.
#3. The day is coming when suffering will cease and God will judge evil.
2 Peter 3:9, The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent.
#4. Our suffering will pale in comparison to the good things God has in store for his followers.
Romans 8:18, Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later.
I Corinthians 2:9b, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him.”
#5. We decide whether to turn bitter or turn to God for peace and courage.
John 16:33, I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”
Then I shared there are 3 things we are going to have to do in order to make a difference. We simply cannot allow this to pass and not change anything. This has to be a wake up call to the Church. Men and Women of God, Christ Followers. If we let this pass by and don’t change anything in our lives and in our churches then we are sad and to be pitied.
#1. Pray – Pray for the families affected by this tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut. Pray for the teachers and all school staff affected. Pray for the community, the emergency personnel, the clergy. Everyone in this community is in need of God’s peace and comfort. Pray for the shooters family who never dreamed this would happen in their on family and could happen to any of us, because evil is no respecter of persons.
But then we have to pray, Lord Jesus Come Quickly. Jesus himself taught us to pray for his soon return in what we know as the Lord’s Prayer.
#2. We have to talk about this, the fact that we live in a BROKEN world.
Don’t be afraid to talk about it. This is an opportunity when people are looking for answers. We have the answer. Jesus is going to return and make all things right. Many people have only read half the book and they don’t understand this is not over yet but it will one day be. Don’t shy away from this opportunity.
#3. We’ve got to do something.
Hug your kids tight, learn to be patient with them, teach them, love them. Cherish your time with them.
Find a way to serve others like you’ve never done before because we shine as Christians when we help those in need.
Respond to this evil by doing good. We cannot go into hiding, we cannot respond to this tragedy by returning evil for evil, we cannot respond by living in fear. This broken world is a dangerous place and we have learned to be wise and live in spite of that fact.
Finally, I didn’t talk about this much yesterday and I don’t think it was the time or the place. This is the time and the place. If you are a part of the congregation that I serve, I am calling you to live a Holy life. I am calling you to pray and fast and seek God’s face like never before. It is time to stop playing church, it is time to get serious and seriously make a difference.
We have people who are casual attenders, you need to ask yourself some hard questions.
If your faith isn’t impacting your life enough to make you want to be with the Church in corporate worship, is it really a faith that will save you?
If you get up and go to work every day but can’t find the time to make it to worship with the family every week, is that faith really real?
If you have time for ballgames, movies, books, shopping, television, the lake, the river, the ski slopes, the country club, the “you fill in the blank” but you have no energy to come to worship, no energy to help some less fortunate than you, is your faith really real?
If you don’t come to worship and get involved in serving because you don’t like the hypocrites, find a perfect church to attend, matter of fact I will help you find a church where you will be more at home.
If you don’t come to worship because you are too tired, over worked, etc. etc, etc. Who is first in your life?
I love you and as your pastor, I love you enough to tell you the truth. I do not believe Christians are responsible for tragedies in this world, BUT, as Christians, if we will get serious with God, we can stop some of the potential tragedies in this world.
Now I know the people who really need to see this won’t be here to read it, I am counting on you as the Body Of Christ to get this into the hands of every person who attends OOTBWC, it is time to get serious. I believe God is calling us to be a change agent in our community and to the world and I can’t do it alone. It takes all of us fighting the evil. We have an opportunity before us, lets not let this opportunity pass. God has given us a wake up call, Rise Up Church.