I Can Imagine…

Holy hell!

Twenty-seven people were killed today during a Sunday morning worship service inside a Baptist church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. About half of their congregation’s average attendance is dead, among them a two-year-old; four children are among those hospitalized. The shooter is one of the dead.

I can’t even imagine…we say. Yet that’s not true.

By power of imagination and regular practice, I can mentally seat myself in a church, with my loved ones and friends, my church family. We are singing, or praying, or jotting down salient points from the sermon. Though we each bring our assorted baggage, in this time and place we are unified in spirit. All is calm.

I can hear the Sanctuary door jarred open, the bang and squeak disrupting the quiet moment. I can see heads turning in confusion, wondering at the interruption. I can hear the pop pop pop shattering the worshipful hush, the fearful screams, the shouts to “Get down!” I can see those who would sacrifice themselves leaping from the pews, rushing the gunman, the thud of bullet meeting muscle, the shudder, and the gunman stepping over fallen bodies to continue his bloody rampage.

How long does it last–minutes feel like years–and how would it end? At what point does the gunman decide to turn his weapon on himself? Because that’s how it happens, usually (what hell do we live in that I can write, “usually”?), unless police arrive to stop him with their own bullets.

I can see the aftermath: the scared and crying congregation, some shirking from the bloodied bodies, retreating into themselves; some wailing; some jumping into immediate action, whether from well-worn servanthood or numbness; many running from the Sanctuary-scene to the courtyard, falling into hugs and prayer, clinging to one another in desperation. I can see (I pray I never see) fellow worshipers—children, teens, adults—those with whom I have prayed and served for years, gone in a gun’s flash.

Carrie Matula embraces a woman after a fatal shooting at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, on Sunday, Nov. 5, 2017. Matula said she heard the shooting from the gas station where she works a block away. (Nick Wagner/Austin American-Statesman via AP)

How will we recover? Through faith, with prayer (and a healthy dose of talk therapy), with the strange togetherness that results from shared experience no matter how awful. Some will fall away, unable to fathom a God who would allow this to happen in His house. Some will take their fear and anger to God, and some will take it out on Him.

I can imagine the horror. I wish I couldn’t. Mass shootings in the U.S. have become such a terribly regular occurrence that even as we are horrified we also aren’t surprised.

Can we please, please, pretty please (because the reality is the antithesis to pretty) end the madness?

Advent 2 – Finding Peace

Ironically, during a week in which I’ve intentionally focused on expecting peace, I’ve found distress more often.

The same hour I learned about the mass shooting in San Bernardino, I also heard that a neighbor, husband of an acquaintance, was in a suicidal stand-off with police. He alternately pointed a pistol at his temple and his mouth and, after hours of negotiation during which a nearby elementary school – his son’s school – was on lock-down, he pulled the trigger. He leaves behind his beautiful wife and four kids, his youngest only six and four years old.

Heart breaks. Lord, have mercy. Send your peace!

Far less dramatic: Traffic. Rushing. Deadlines. Botched plans. Carpools, worse, no carpool. Kid stress (aka, school stress!). Appetizers for two different functions. Overly full calendar. On and on.

Thank God for His Word! A few of our church staff did a Bible study on Philippians 4:4-9:

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding,will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

Interestingly, I’d most often read those few verses as three different points: 1- Rejoice. 2- Worry less, pray more. 3- Think about good things.

This week I realized they are One Point (as Peterson translates in The Message): “It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.”

When we rejoice, we put Christ at the center of our hearts and minds. When we present our requests to God, we put Christ at the center. When we think about good things, true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy things, we put Christ – the author and perfecter of all things – at the center. When we fix our eyes on Christ, Christ displaces the worry that has us spinning like hamsters on a wheel and in turn gives us peace.

Phew! Hopping off the hamster wheel as my head spins…

This hasn’t been an easy week. Looking back, however, I felt most at peace when I intentionally focused on Christ. Engaged in friendship, worship, Bible reading, serving loved ones, diving deep in fulfilling work, walking our dog, I can pray and allow Christ to displace worry. Sometimes peace “just happened” as I had already scheduled life-giving activities; other times Grumpy Me made a decision to pray and pursue peace (the dog got a few more walks this week).

Bottom line: The Lord is near. So much better than tossing sleeplessly or numbing the anxiety, we can rejoice, pray, let our loving God care for our needs, and think on God’s good things. As the angel declared to shepherds watching their flocks by night, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11).

Peace be with you!advent wreath

Week 2 – Finding Peace

Read and light two candles (purple)The first candle represents the expectation of the One who will bring Peace. The second candle represents God’s peace in us.

Say aloud together: Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Read Scripture: Isaiah 26:3 and Philippians 4:4-9

Read: How many times today did you think about yourself: your fears or worries, your wants and needs? How many times today did you offer to God your fears or worries, your wants or needs? We get so easily distracted, so quick to neglect the peace God offers us in His Son. God invites us to cast all our cares on Him because He cares for us. Set your heart and mind on Jesus and live in peace.

Pray: Dear God, help us to trust you and to let go of everything that keeps us from you. In the name of Jesus we pray for peace, Amen.

Monday Isaiah 26:3 Where do you need peace in your life?
Tuesday Matthew 6:31-34 What worries distract you from seeking God, and what will you do about it?
Wednesday Luke 12:25-26 How does worry sap your time and energy?
Thursday Philippians 4:6-7 When have you experienced peace in response to prayer?Friday Philippians 4:8-9 What are some of your favorite “whatevers” to think about?
Saturday Colossians 3:1-2 How do you actively set your heart and mind on God’s priorities?

 

Another blog I’m enjoying this Advent: lessnerismore. Grab a mug/cup of something warm and tasty and set aside a few minutes to check out her daily Advent blog.