When I arrived at GRC in 2004, everything was simpler. No church office, only a few part-time staff doing their thing from home, one service on Sundays, a skinny ministry calendar that majored on Growth Groups. And with fewer opportunities to see our 50 members, I decided to share a weekly blog-like email, “From the Pastor’s Desk.” Since then, we’ve renamed it the “Voice of Grace”, because it’s written by many others who sit in a lot of different places than my desk when they’re writing!
Way back in 2004, 9/11 had obviously already happened. And yes, evil occasionally shocked our consciences. And natural disasters struck randomly. But it seems to me that something has changed. Now, I’ll admit that I’ve figuratively rolled my eyes at statements like “We’ve never seen such a godless culture in the history of mankind.” Or, “The abandonment of Christian morality – really the abandonment of biblical truth – is at an all-time high.” That’s typical thinking because we tend not to pay enough attention to [church and world] history, and we overemphasize the here-and-now reality of our own experiences. But…something still feels different to me.
Whether that’s naïve or on the right track, how do we respond to and process what’s going on in our world today? Sometimes, one of you will say, “Peter, can you share something on…gun violence, the latest natural disaster, this horrific evil?” Part of me wants to say, “I have…on Katrina, the Haiti earthquake, Newtown, Ferguson… and what else is there to say, except ‘ditto’?” As a preacher, I also know the importance of repetition, so occasional commentary on the latest event is a necessary aspect of spiritual leadership.
But I truly and earnestly would also offer this answer: one of the ways that GRC and my preaching prepares you to process these horrific events, is through the consistent, faithful, and repetitive/emphatic preaching of God’s Word, which reveals our ultimate hope, our reason for existence, our True North in the face of being of lost. Although we should work towards and pray for peace on earth, it will never come through legislation or diplomacy, let alone through armed conflict. The only realistic solutions to gun violence, to crazy tyrants, to society-wide cancers are Holy Spirit-driven revival and ultimately, through the return of Jesus to complete His perfect plan of renewing all things.
That promised reality is closer than ever! Not because of these events, but because Jesus said so, and 2000 years later, obviously we’re closer. It’s not our role to figure out how close; it’s our responsibility to be ready. How? That’s directly connected to how we should respond to all of this chaos:
- We should constantly evaluate our values and priorities: For what are we living? If economic prosperity, comfort, and physical security, then of course, any disruption to our lives is scary and sometimes, even gets us mad at God: “Hey, pay attention! My way of life, my security, and my prosperity are at risk – don’t just sit there, do something to guard my plan for my life!”
- We need to worship more, and worship more deeply! If we’re not captured by the glory of the King, by the compassionate heart of the Father, by the utterly inexplicable sacrifice of the Son, then we will be whiny children who are upset that the world isn’t revolving around us, upset that someone’s telling us we can’t do what we want. But in worship, which requires our individual time in the Bible and to be on our knees in prayer (which is then reinforced in our gathering on Sundays), we will increasingly realize “God is in heaven, and you are on earth, so let your words be few.” (Ecclesiastes 5:2). He is sovereign! He is Lord! And in the sacrifice of His Son, his mercy and compassion for humanity cannot be ignored or belittled.
- We need to constantly preach the Gospel to ourselves. That includes seeking out our own sin, confessing it, repenting of it, and growing in Christ-likeness. The more we see ourselves accurately in the spiritual mirror, the less we are prone to self-righteously look down on others’ brokenness, and the more we are driven to pray even for our enemies with godly compassion.
There are no easy answers. The risk of sounding trite is what guards me from shooting out my thoughts every time the newswire flashes red. But Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever. That is our hope, our foundation, our comfort.
Grace to you,