Discovering Spiritual Truths & Celebrating God's Grace in the Every Day Happenings of Life.
Even God Mourns...
Heartbroken. Disgusted. Angry.
My heart hurts. My mind is heavy. My thoughts are strewn.
I don’t know what to say.
We all feel the same emotions in the wake of another horrific tragedy.
There are more layers to this than a large onion...
This is a gun issue. But it is not solely a gun issue.
This is a hate and bullying issue. But it is not solely about those things.
This is a mental health issue. But it is not solely a mental health issue.
This is a family systems issue. But it is not solely a matter of fatherless homes or the collapse of the traditional, Biblical family structure.
This may even be a legislation problem. It may be a control issue.
But it is not exclusively that; and spare me the argument that only one side is to blame.
So let's consider more deeply the 'why' that leads to such horrific acts. We cannot band aid the disease; we need to treat it head-on. Thus we need to call it what it is. At its core, this is a spiritual issue. A morality problem. It is a condition of the human heart—this is a sin issue. Sadly, evil will not go away until Jesus returns. Take away the guns and the evil will persist. It will just find different means to enact it. It is not enough to simply limit or remove items that provide this nature of destruction with ways to destroy. This could only have surface results, a mere managing of sinful outbursts. Rather, the root of the problem is much, much deeper, and it needs to be dug out. It is only through the perpetual death of the sinful nature – returning to Baptism in repentance and faith, that there is any hope for reasonable peace, love, and service amongst mankind. And so, as the debate over guns and regulations continues in our society, steadfast churches armed with God’s Word will continue to point out the problem of the sinful heart – the root of all sin. And the Church will continue to call all people to repentance and faith in Christ Jesus, our Lord. "Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God, for you have stumbled because of your iniquity." (Hosea 14:1)
How can we reunite people with the Lord? A friend of mine put it this way, this is a love your neighbor problem. Hurting people are hurting people. Right now, there are families hurting in ways we cannot comprehend. But truth be told, I am as guilty as anyone of not reaching out with care to my neighbor. I want to blame someone, but first I need to look in the mirror and admit that I have not loved others as I could. Instead of presuming myself to be the one with all the answers who has it all figured out, I will make a change. Look out for those that are alienated. Find the people on the fringes. Reach out to those that seem to be quietly hurting. I will show respect and dignity to everyone, whether I agree with them or not. Love without exceptions. If enough of us do the same, we will see real change. People like you and me, by the Holy Spirit’s strength to show Jesus’ love and forgiveness, can solve problems like this. In this aftermath, there is certainly nothing wrong with “thoughts and prayers” for these families. But it must not end there. Let God empower you to be the change!
I know that in this church we have people, passionately and outspokenly, on both sides of the political spectrum. This why we avoid politics in the church. “Stick to the scriptures pastor!” After all, no matter the issue, no matter what is said, you are bound to piss someone off. But the most powerful weapon we have against hatred is not more hatred. It is not blame, bitterness, and further division. Dr. Martin Luther King once said: "Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that." Our most faithful response is love—a love that reaches across aisles, backyards, and cubicles. A Jesus-type love that knows no boundaries. A love that joins hands with the broken hearted at their most vulnerable. Love that joins hands without fear, with people who we seemingly have nothing in common with… other than the fact that we share this world, this life, this brokenness together in our own unique ways.
We will disagree on all kinds of topics; but I hope we can all come together in acknowledging the brokenness of the world, the problem of sin. This world needs hope; it needs love. God’s Word speaks to our society, but not about legislation. It goes much further by showing that the human condition is so lost, so evil that only a radical confrontation of the sinful heart is sufficient. Unless we let our divine physician take a scalpel to the sin-scarred nature of our lives, nothing will ever change. The symptoms will continue to rear their ugly heads. So, we return to the heart of the Gospel, and let God’s grace carve the sinful nature out of us. We bow before Christ-crucified. In other words, healing is always and only found in Jesus.
I hope that nothing in this post was hurtful or offensive. Hopefully, it was coherent enough to give some insight as to where I’m at personally and pastorally in the aftermath of another avoidable tragedy. Like yours, my heart is a mess and my mind is scrambled with talking points. I invite genuine, concerned conversations and reflections, though not a combative debate. I can't make sense out of this, and neither can you. I can't offer words that will heal the heartbroken or sustain the suffering, and neither can you. I can't promise that anything we do will guarantee this doesn't happen again, and neither can you. But I can hug my children tighter, sleep a little closer to my wife, and intentionally refuse to overlook each of those ordinary, taken-for-granted moments that all feel different and more special this morning. All those little things that you just appreciate a little more on a day like this. And so can you.
Please take time to hug your kids, your nieces and nephews, your grandkids. Ask them how they are doing. Listen to them. Take time to talk to your neighbors, coworkers. Sit down with your employees, your classmates, your students. Let those you love, know you love them!
“The Lord heals the brokenhearted and bandages their wounds.” (Psalm 147:3)
“The last enemy that will be abolished is death.” (1 Cor. 15:6)
So we pray… come quickly, Lord Jesus!
(My thoughts are infused by many reflections and inspirations that I read over the past 24 hours. In many cases, I've directly quoted from many online articles and authors, far more articulate and well-spoken than me. Truth be told, I simply did not recall where different thoughts came from as I compiled. My apologies. I'll do better next time.)
You are NOT an All-Star!
As part of my Little League coaching responsibilities, I have to select All-Stars from each opposing team. Over the past two days I have gotten several emails with team rosters and instructions on how to rate and rank each player. Soon we will have a coach’s meeting where we will officially vote on this summer’s All-Star team. The goal is to pick the cream of the crop—the most skilled and most committed players so that we can field a competitive team that will travel around and play the all-star teams of neighboring townships. Some rankings will be simple; other decisions will be more difficult. But even at the young ages of 9 and 10, these kids will be put under the microscope by a handful of coaches as we search for the best.
Put Me in Coach!
My daughter’s softball team is a unique bunch this year. The age range of girls are barely 8 all the way up to 11½. That’s a big gap in size and maturity. The gap in terms of their interest in the game is even more expansive. On a team of 14 girls, less than half of them actually want to play the game. Midway through their last game, the girls were asked who wanted to go back into the field to play. About three of them volunteered, several of them said ‘no.’ They were completely content to sit in the dugout. They had no interest in softball. Granted many of them are still young, but for now, they view softball games and practices as nothing more than a chance to socialize. They were signed up by their parents. They just want to draw silly pictures on the dry-erase lineup board and do cartwheels in the grass behind the dugout. Who needs to play defense when they can chase their younger siblings around? The only perk of playing in the field is being able to dig a hole in the infield dirt. And I haven’t even mentioned the distracted chaos that ensued when one of the mother’s brought their puppy near the team dugout. Nevertheless, they’re still on the team. They still wear the jersey. Their names are still on the roster.
I think we can make a connection with the life of a Christian. It is probably an easier connection to make in conversation than in written form, but let’s give it a try. In our baptism, we put on the uniform. By His grace, we are part of God’s team. Our names are written on the lineup card (the book of life). We are part of His church. But truth be told, many of us would rather not play. Many people would rather just stay in the dugout and off the proverbial field. Socialize. Act silly. Goof around. Not show up. Do whatever else they want. Many people are on the team, nominally, but have little to no interest of practicing for the sake of the team. God expects more from us than this. Check it out here. “Take up your cross and follow me,” Jesus says on multiple occasions. He calls us to prioritize being a part of His team over anything, and anyone, else. He wants us to be on the field and in ready position. Ready to play, ready for action. Just as no ball gets passed an engaged shortstop, no witness opportunity gets past a participating disciple. We are on our toes and ready for any chance we have to speak of the hope and strength we have in Jesus.
Here is another way to look at it. Now is a good time to be a fan of baseball in the area. Both of the two New York teams are playing lights-out baseball (#LGM!). They’ve been winning a ton of games and it is easy to get excited about it. It’s even more fun to talk about it with fellow fans. Sports talk radio is flooded with people who want to talk about their favorite local team right now. We are all like that. When we are really excited about something, we like to talk about it. When we find a new show we love, we urge others to binge it. If we have discovered a new favorite place to eat, we tell others to check it out. If we find a good deal on something, we share it with others. Then why is it, that when it comes to something as exciting as Jesus, do we shut up? Shouldn’t something that has changed our lives, something that affects how we live our lives everyday, be something we share with others? It is a sad reality when we talk about our favorite baseball team winning with everyone we know, but when it comes to sharing our faith, we tell no one. After all, we have something way more exciting than a winning team, we have a winning God. We have a God who loves us, and gave everything so that we could experience life eternal with Him.
What do you say church? Are you ready to get in the game? As His church, He wants us to be on the go—teaching, baptizing, discipling. To be sure, God is the coach. He is always the One in charge. And we know that ultimately, in Jesus, we will win the game. We will be victorious. But in the meantime, He expects the members of His team to be doing whatever we can for the sake of saving others. So—swipe on some eye black and put on your glove, it’s time to get out there. It is time to take the field, to be winsome for the sake of the church and growth of His Kingdom!
“I am able to keep everything in perspective, because I know that following Christ is the most important thing in life.” (Mariano Rivera, Yankee HOF pitcher)
Pastor Steve Vera
King of Kings Lutheran Church
145 Route 46
Mountain Lakes, NJ 07046
In-person, 9:00 a.m.
Sunday Worship Service
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