Posts tagged ‘Texas’

Sutherland Springs, Texas

I am growing weary of the phrase “active shooter situation.”  Whenever I hear the phrase, I know what it means.  It means more bodies counted.  It means more families shattered.  It means more communities terrified.  It means more tranquility robbed.  It means more tears shed.  It means more loss endured.

This time, an active shooter situation came for Sutherland Springs, Texas – a town that, admittedly, although I’ve heard of it and live right up the road from it in San Antonio, I had to look up on Google Maps to jog my memory as to its precise location.

The numbers out of Sutherland Springs are awful.  26 people have been killed, including several children, the youngest of which was only 18 months old, and nearly two dozen more have been injured after a gunman opened fire at the First Baptist Church there during its morning worship service.  It is the deadliest mass shooting at a house of worship in American history and the deadliest mass shooting period in Texas’ history.

So, once again, we pray.  And, once again, we grieve.  And, once again, we hope this will be the last mass shooting.  And, once again, we know that, in spite of our hopes, it probably will not be.  Though law enforcement officials have not yet discerned a definite motive, we know that the prospect of fame, even if it comes in the form of infamy, the chance at revenge, or the allure of making one’s voice heard through bullets seems to be so enticing that it overwhelms even the most basic of moral instincts – the moral instinct to celebrate and protect life.

As with other tragedies, people want to know why and how this could have happened.  Why would a man who lived in New Braunfels drive 45 minutes south to open fire on a country Baptist congregation?  How did no one see this coming?  How do we protect ourselves when so many places in our communities and neighborhoods, simply by virtue of the fact that we live in a free society, are soft targets for people with evil intent?

One of the blessings of being a part of a church family is that, if the church family is healthy, it tends to feel safe.  It is a safe place for people to worship with their families.  It is a safe place to make friends and grow in relationships.  It is a safe place to turn when a sickness strikes or a loved one is lost in order to receive prayers and support.  It is a safe place to process struggles and ask questions about faith and God.  But this feeling of safety has been severely tested by this tragedy.

It is important to remember that this feeling of safety that can sometimes seem so indigenous to some churches was not – and still is not – a normal feature of families of faith.  Churches all across the world are being bombed, shot up, and terrorized because of their confession of Christ.  The apostle Paul, in Romans 8:36, writes about what it was like to be a member of a church in the first century when he quotes Psalm 44:22: “For Your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”  This does certainly not sound safe.  Yet, what makes Paul’s words especially poignant at a time like this are their context.  Paul begins by asking:

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?  Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?  As it is written: “For Your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.  (Romans 8:35-37)

Even the sword of a Roman soldier – and, yes, even the bullet from an assailant’s rifle – cannot separate us from the love of Christ.  We are, Paul says, more than conquerors of those things because Christ loves us through those things.

Jesus once said, “My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more” (Luke 12:4).  A shooter at a church in Sutherland Springs killed some bodies – but he can do no more.  So, we should not be afraid.  Why?  Because there was a moment in history when instead of a mass murderer mowing down dozens of people with an assault rifle, a mass of murderers brutally executed one man on a cross.  But their murder didn’t take.  Because three days later, He came back.  The murders of the congregants at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs won’t take either.  Because one day – on the Last Day – these worshipers will come back when the One who once rose Himself will return to raise them – and us.

The worship service that those congregants were participating in yesterday morning at 11:30 – singing God’s praises and hearing God’s Word – didn’t end when a gunman opened fire and the victims drew their final breaths.  It just moved.  It just moved to a place around a throne where there sits a Lamb of God who takes away every sin by His death and grants eternal life by His life.  And one day, we’ll join them around that same throne.  May that day come quickly.

Maranatha.

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November 6, 2017 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Hurricane Harvey and Human Selflessness

The news in the wake of Hurricane Harvey just seems to get worse.  18 counties in Texas have been declared federal disaster areas.  Meteorologists are calling the flooding in Houston a 500-year event, though they admit that, by the time all is said and done, the effects of this storm may be closer to a 1,000-year event, or perhaps even bigger. In Beaumont, a toddler was found was shivering in the water, clinging to her drowned mother.  Scenes and stories like this are simply heartbreaking.

Of course, for every heartbreaking story, there are hundreds of heartwarming stories.  The picture below shows Cathy Pham, holding her sleeping baby, being carried to safety by a member of the Houston SWAT Team.

Then there was Spiderman who took some time to visit some of the children who were sheltering at the George R. Brown Convention Center.

Images like these have made many people wonder out loud: Why can’t we always act this compassionately toward each other?  Why can’t we put the differences that normally divide us aside and come together like the Coastal Bend, Houston, and the Golden Triangle have?

On the one hand, it’s important to remember that the selflessness we see demonstrated in tragedies like these is not quite as universal as it can first appear.  Disasters bring out the best in many.  But they also bring out the worst in some.  From looters looking to pillage the possessions of displaced homeowners and damaged businesses to storm chasers who run from disaster zone to disaster zone trying to turn a quick profit off of beleaguered survivors by overcharging for a service and performing it poorly, or, sometimes, even not at all, there are still plenty of slick characters who will gladly trade the virtue of altruism for a windfall from opportunism.

In an article for Slate that has been widely criticized, Katy Waldman offers a somewhat cynical take on the staying power of human goodness, writing:

Humans may possess inherent goodness, but that goodness needs to be activated. Some signal has to disperse the cloud of moral Novocain around us. Some person, or fire, or flood, has got to say: now.

Ms. Waldman has serious doubts whether the goodness we see now in Texas can last beyond the storm.  The selflessness we’ve seen, she says, has only been activated by the terrible trials people have had to endure.  Once the trials pass, selflessness will ebb.  Sadly, she might be right.  But she doesn’t have to be.

One of the most compelling stories in the Bible is that of Job.  Job was a man who had it all, and then lost it all – his house, his cattle, his children, and even his health.  Job’s story recounts his struggle to come to terms with God’s faithfulness and providence in the midst of his suffering.  Throughout his terrible ordeal, Job maintains that he has done nothing to deserve the calamities that have befallen him, even boldly demanding to speak with God to protest his circumstances: “I desire to speak to the Almighty and to argue my case with God” (Job 13:3). Throughout Jobs’ protestations, however, God remains silent – until He doesn’t.

At the end of the book, God speaks:

Then the LORD spoke to Job out of the storm. He said: “Who is this that obscures My plans with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer Me. Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell Me, if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it? On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone – while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?” (Job 38:1-7)

God’s basic point to Job is that even when life feels unfair and God seems either absent or incompetent, He is neither.  God really does know what He’s doing.  He really does have a plan.  And He really is quite competent at running the universe, for He put the universe together in the first place.

What is especially important for our purposes, however, is not only what God says to Job, but where God says it: “Then the LORD spoke to Job out of the storm” (Job 38:1).  Job’s stringent sufferings have constituted a personal storm of epic proportions.  But God has been there with him in the storm the whole time.  Out of the storm, God speaks.

What was true of Job’s storm is true of Hurricane Harvey.  With so much human suffering on display in the headlines and on our television screens, it can be tempting to think God is either absent or incompetent.  But He is neither.  God is in the storm.  This is why, for all the suffering we see, we see even more selflessness.  God is in the storm, leading people to help each other through the storm.

This is also why Ms. Waldman’s contention that when a storm subsides, selflessness wanes doesn’t have to ring true.  Human selflessness in the midst of extraordinary suffering is not a result of suffering, but a gift from God.  Suffering may be a vehicle through which God reveals human selflessness, but suffering itself is not the source of human selflessness.  God in the storm – and not the storm itself – is the true source of our selflessness.  And though God is in the storm, He is also beyond the storm.  He will be there when the floods of Harvey have dried and the recovery and reconstruction projects have reached completion.  Which means that the kind of selflessness that has been so beautifully on display in this storm can last long beyond this storm.

Hurricane Harvey has put on display the divine gift of human selflessness.  And we have liked what we’ve seen.  So let’s make sure this precious gift doesn’t go back into hiding once Harvey fades from our headlines.  After all, if places like Houston can be wonderful because of people even when things are terrible because of weather, imagine what things could look like on a sunny day.

I’d love to see.

September 4, 2017 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

A Week of Tragedies

Boston West TexasWhat a week it’s been.  Monday the headline was carnage at the Boston Marathon as a pair of terrorists planted and detonated two bombs, though they planted more, at the race’s finish line.  Three lost their lives.  More than 170 were injured.  I awoke Wednesday morning to the news that the tiny town of West, Texas, north of Waco, erupted in a fireball in an explosion in a fertilizer plant.  Dozens lost their lives because of this tragic accident.

On the heels of so much tragedy and loss of life, two questions inevitably arise, both consisting of just one word:  “How?” and “Why?”

“How did these two terrorists manage to plant numerous bombs at the finish line of a major race in seemingly plain sight with so many law enforcement officials standing by for any sign of trouble?”  “How did a small blaze at a fertilizer plant get so out of control in a literal split second?”  Investigators specialize in answering these “How?” questions.  Already, expansive and detailed investigations have been launched to try to figure out how these tragedies happened.

The “Why?” questions are a little tougher to answer.  “Why would someone premeditatedly work to cause so much pain and anguish in the bodies, hearts, and lives of so many?”  “Why would God allow any of this to happen?”

Though we have partial answers to our perennial “Why?” questions, our answers are inevitably incomplete because of our finite perspective.  But there are some things we can know and say in tragic times like these nonetheless.

First, we must say that tragedies like these are spawned because of sin.  The attacks in Boston are an example of the darkest corners of human depravity on display.  Two individuals took it upon themselves to actively break God’s law and our nation’s laws in order to coldly calculate a catastrophe.  The fertilizer plant explosion in West is an example of creation’s sinful brokenness.  Because we live in a world that has gone wrong (cf. Genesis 3:17-19, Luke 13:1-5), wrong things happen.

Second, we can also say that tragedies like these testify to God’s patience, albeit in a strange and backwards way.  After all, God is under no particular compulsion to allow this sinful world to continue on.  But He does.  Why?  Because He loves the people He has made and wants to give them as much time as possible to repent of their sinful state and turn toward Him.  As the apostle Peter reminds us, “Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation” (2 Peter 3:15).

In the days ahead, steps will no doubt be taken to try to assure that the tragedies of this week will not be repeated.  This is good!  We ought to learn from tragedies like these for the sake of everyone’s safety and wellbeing.  But no matter how many steps we might take to try to guard against similar situations in the future, no human being can root out the underlying cause of all such situations:  sin.  Though we might be able to prevent a particular tragedy from happening again, we cannot take out tragedy’s foundation of sin. Only Jesus can do this.  Only Jesus can conquer the wickedness of this world and restore His creation and His people back to the way He originally dreamed and designed them:  perfect.

April 22, 2013 at 5:15 am Leave a comment


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