Like all of you, I’ve been reeling from the recent tragedy at Sutherland Springs Baptist Church. I’ve watched reports, and I’ve read the perspective of commentators from all walks of our society. It is hard to believe that as we were singing, praying, and listening to the sermon last Sunday, a gunman was attacking another Baptist church just 2 hours and 40 minutes away. To bring the situation even closer to us, one of our staff members in our church school grew up and was married at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs. In fact, her family are all members of that wonderful church, but were not in attendance last week. We are touched by what has happened to this church as fellow Baptists, fellow Christians, and fellow humans. It is the worst shooting in church history per capita. Our heart is broken in a thousand pieces for this community, and we will continue to lift them up on the wings of prayer that God may bring a supernatural comfort to their soul and indeed the soul of the whole nation. Over and over, we’ve felt the painful punch of these tragedies, and the deep emptiness that follows. In this confusing darkness may I humbly submit one of the ways forward for us? Perhaps surprisingly, it has a lot to do with “Be the Church.”
When Christians believe and act in accordance with the mission mandate of God, it can (and often does) produce peace. I’ve sometimes wondered how many lives were saved when Saul gave his life to God and was transformed into Paul. Acts 8:3 declares that after Saul murdered Stephen he began ravaging the church, going house to house looking for more Christians. In Acts 9:1 it says that Saul continually talked about murdering Christians. It appears that the rate he was going he surely would have killed many, but then God changed his life and he repented. James 5:20 reminds us that, “he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.” And 1 Peter 4:8 says that love covers a multitude of sins. This means that if the love of Christ becomes implanted in a person’s heart, the anger gives way to love, the bitterness gives way to forgiveness, selfishness gives way to thoughtfulness, and the anxiety gives way to calm patience. The sins that might have happened never come to fruition. Do you know of anyone like this in history who was living a life of violence until he or she met Christ?
A few years ago, our family was supporting a missionary family to Sierra Leone. The missionary shared an amazing story of how a man came to a church service intending to kill him and the local pastor; however, during the service the man gave his life to Christ. How many murders, even wars, addictions, divorces, job loss, have been prevented when someone was transformed by the love of Christ?
When Christians believe and act in accordance with the mission mandate of God, it can produce peace.
It stands to reason that the more people who live for Christ, the less people there will be who will do things like the man who shot people in the black church in South Carolina, the man who shot concert goers from a casino window in Las Vegas, or the man who opened fire on the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs last Sunday. When we engage our community with the gospel, it could indeed bring us persecution, but it may also transform people from being hateful to being loving and generous. God’s grace changes people and we believe that that message is the great hope of the world, and as Christians are trying to stand against sin and the myriad of ways it painfully manifests itself in our world. This hope in the life of Christ keeps churches meeting and worshiping and doing missions, even in the face of hate and terror. The church of Jesus Christ is grounded in a life that no death can take away. That’s why “Be the Church” and other outreaches and mission activity just like it is what we must continue to do with all the strength we can muster. What we are doing makes a huge difference!
What can we do to help prevent tragedies? Well, you may have expected here some strategies about adding more security like contracting with a policeman. While I do know we need to increase security in wise ways, and we are doing this, could it be that the greatest defense for the church is actually a strong evangelistic and missional offense? The cards we gave out yesterday said, “This could change your life forever.” The people who received these cards may have no idea how true this statement is. The primary way to change society is through loving sacrificial missions and evangelism.
When you gave your life to Christ, He gave you a mission. You are not only saved so that when you die you go to heaven, that’s not the full message of the gospel. We are also gifted to join God’s redemptive life giving work. People’s lives on this earth matter to God. This is significant, and it gives purpose and meaning to our lives. Our days are given real value in a way that can transform a mundane job into an exciting adventure.
During our November month of missions we are considering many forms of missions, but our primary focus is our own land, our Highland Lakes and her people. This is our place, so let’s shine God’s gospel light into every corner.
Together, let’s continue to pray for First Baptist Church and the community of Sutherland Springs.