My heart was grieved when I read the news. A young man with a gun opened fire from outside a small, local church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. According to some reports, he then walked inside the church and kept shooting. Afterwards, he fled the scene and died in a car crash.
Among them, the pastor’s daughter. What also hurt my heart was that the pastor wasn’t there. That may seem like an odd thing to say, but any pastor worth his weight would probably have wanted to be there. Experiencing this moment with his people would somehow position him, at least in his own mind, to be more qualified to help his people in the weeks and months to come. Assuming that he is a good and caring pastor, he is probably dealing with an odd amalgam of emotions for not being present at the time of the tragedy in addition to the unimaginable personal grief. After being a pastor for over a decade (though not a senior/lead pastor), I know that he probably wishes he was there so that he could better relate to the fear and horror that his people must have felt in that moment. This might seem like an odd reflection, but I could not help but think about the pastor. May the Lord give him the assurance that he is more than qualified to minister because these are, at the end of the day, his people. And, even as I write this paragraph, I remember that he lost his daughter. Of course he can identify. I can’t imagine.
How could this happen again? Another man with another insanely powerful gun. More lives.
When will this stop? I don’t think it is going to.
Let’s be honest. Whatever side of the gun debate you stand, people are going to kill other people. Senseless crimes are going to occur. Whether or not legislation can curb the tide is another issue. But salvation will not come through systems of morality, the right politician, a certain political party, or a new piece of legislation. I am not at all arguing that Christians should not be concerned with such matters. Rather, I am simply making the point that apart from the redemptive work of Christ in the human heart, we are capable of anything. The Hebrew prophet Jeremiah wrote,
“The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9)
In the past, I have told my wife, “I bet the reason that some elderly people do not fear death and talk freely about heaven is that they have seen and experienced enough. They have buried loved ones. They have suffered tragedy.”
I think the reason many Christians don’t long for heaven is either they are too young or haven’t suffered. There must come a point that though you enjoy life and cherish all that God has bestowed, you begin to long for an existence that is characterized by the following:
“He [Christ] will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Revelation 21:4)
As I scrolled through Facebook today, my friend Brandon Smith commented, “How long?” Though I am not sure exactly what he meant, this resonated with me. Lord, how long until you come? How long until this madness stops? How long until…
“The wolf will live with the lamb,
the leopard will lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearling[a] together;
and a little child will lead them.
7 The cow will feed with the bear,
their young will lie down together,
and the lion will eat straw like the ox.
8 The infant will play near the cobra’s den,
and the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest.
9 They will neither harm nor destroy
on all my holy mountain,
for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea.”
May we long for eternity. May we not lose sight that time really is passing, that life on this earth will end, and that in the end, all that will matter is whether we loved Jesus Christ and other people with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength.
So don’t fall into the trap of thinking that this is all there is. Read a good dose of Ecclesiastes. Talk with an elderly Christian. Look for ways to remind yourself that the some of major obstacles to faithfulness to God on this side of the grave are “the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things” (Mark 4:18-19). Get rid of your idols. One thing matters.
When we read God’s Word, interact with Christians, read horrible headlines, pray, serve, listen to someone who is hurting, share your money and/or goods, or whatever else, may our longing for eternity grow.
In the meantime, may the God of all comfort help our brothers and sisters in Sutherland Springs, Texas.