The Texas Mass Shooting and the Longing for Eternity

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.

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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.

26 dead.

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.
The cow will feed with the bear,
    their young will lie down together,
    and the lion will eat straw like the ox.
The infant will play near the cobra’s den,
    and the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest.
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.”

(Isaiah 11:6-9)          

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.

A Tribute to Grace Fellowship Ministries

By eighth grade, I had already planned my religious escape…and then Grace Fellowship happened.

GraceFor those who don’t know, my dad is the senior pastor at Grace Fellowship Ministries in Winnsboro, Texas. This is the text I just received from him:

“22 years ago today Grace began Sunday morning service!! Been a journey!!! Aug 14, 1994. STILL BELIEVING!!!”

Oh my, congratulations dad. Congratulations mom. Very few could have made it. Very few would have pressed through. People stabbed you in the back. Friends betrayed you. People around town would not talk with you. The church even hurt our family. A lot. But you persevered. We all did. I am so glad. I would not be where I am at today spiritually if you hadn’t.

The church began my freshman year in high school. It is amazing to think that this church began in God’s heart, traveled to my mom and dad’s heart, then to our living room, then to a downtown storefront, and now to a 25-acre property with a beautiful building surrounded by a forest. If you are struggling to hold on to something God has put in your heart, my dad’s church ought to be a fresh reminder of the following: “Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin…” (Zechariah 4:10 NLT).

Keep going.

Daddy God always starts with little bitty seeds and a pile of dirt.We are the dirt (Genesis 2:7; Psalms 103:14). He plants the seeds.

By eighth grade, I had already planned my religious escape. I loved my parents so much and I loved God. However, I was so, so, so bored in church. There seemed to be so little life and power. I decided that in order to honor my mom and dad, I would stay in the church until I graduated from high school (four years away). Then, I would walk away from the church for good. What was extremely difficult for me was that I, in my eighth grade mind, could not reconcile how I was going to be able to love God (because I did) yet forsake the church (you know, what so many Millennials have regrettably mastered). But I knew that there was no way I could sit around and be a part of something so dead and boring for the next 60 years of my life.

And then Grace Fellowship happened.

Through a series of unfortunate events and quite frankly, suffering and disappointment in the life of my parents, new desires were birthed.

Suffering truly is a womb of sorts. A matrix. A greenhouse. A launching pad.

For the first time in my life, we began traveling to Dallas, Texas every weekend to visit churches that were more “open” to the Holy Spirit, the spiritual gifts, healing, and God’s power.

And not long into this movement, we were meeting in a home one night and God demonstrated his power. My brother had a milk allergy so severe that a few sour-cream-and-onion chips could send him to the hospital. You can only imagine what milk or ice cream would have done.

While I played in an adjoining room, a group of people gathered around my brother Clay, laid hands on him in Biblical fashion, and prayed for him. They really prayed. The next day we were scheduled to leave for vacation and before we went, Clay wanted a glass of milk (or ice cream, I can’t remember). But dad and mom told him that we were going to wait until we returned from vacation to “test” things out. Clay insisted. The rest is history. Rather than go to the hospital, we left for vacation. Nothing happened. Clay was healed! HEALED! Physically healed. He never looked back. He has enjoyed dairy products since that day.

Since that time, God has fulfilled the vision that he gave dad at an old run-down car wash full of broken appliances. God would bring people to Grace, heal them, and send them back out. I am one of those. I was going to walk away from the church after high school. But God used this local church to show me that there is life and power both in Christ and his community.

Thank you Lord for my dad, my mom, the suffering you used, and the beauty of Grace Fellowship Ministries. I am one of those changed.

Congratulations dad, mom, and the people of Grace.

*** You can check out Grace Fellowship Ministries’ website at http://www.gracefm.org/.