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10 Spiritual Lessons I Learned at the Gym

Growing muscle takes a great deal of hard work.
Growing muscle takes a great deal of hard work. (iStock photo )

Six months ago I started a serious fitness plan. I had gained weight, and I was watching guys my age pack on pounds. Because I have some big dreams that will take several more years to achieve, I need to stay healthy and able to travel. So I talked to some friends about their workout routines, joined a gym and changed my eating habits.

The hard work is paying off. I’ve not only lost weight and gained muscle but I’ve learned some valuable spiritual lessons in the process. God speaks to me even while I do planks, sit-ups and bench presses! Here are ten lessons I’ve learned that will help you get fit both physically and spiritually:

1. Your DIET makes all the difference. If you don’t eat right, no exercise routine will benefit you. Some people talk themselves into believing if they run on a treadmill for 30 minutes they can binge on ice cream, Big Macs or bags of Doritos. Good luck with that! If you want to lose weight and add muscle you must cut the empty carbs and eat more protein and power foods.

The apostle Paul scolded the Corinthians because they wanted spiritual “milk” instead of “solid food” (1 Cor. 3:1-2). You will not grow spiritually until you wean yourself off of spiritual fluff and start eating the meat of the Word. Bible study is hard work, but when you dig deep you will grasp revelation from the Holy Spirit.

2. Develop a PLAN for growth—and follow it. If you approach exercise haphazardly, the results will be minimal. The same is true about discipleship. Some Christians are tossed around by every wind of doctrine or every wave of trendy teaching because they have no goal. But the apostle Paul was focused. He said: “I press toward the goal to the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:14). Your goal should be to know Jesus and to make Him known to others. Don’t get distracted.

3. To grow muscle you must RESIST. When I lift a 30-pound dumbbell or do push-ups, I am using weights or my own body weight to create resistance. The tension caused by the resistance, called hypertrophy, causes muscle fibers to expand. The “burn” you feel after exercise is evidence that your muscle is growing. The same is true in the spirit. If you resist temptation, you will grow spiritually even though it may hurt. But if you give into temptation, you will stay spiritually flabby and weak.

4. CORE exercises are vital! The best fitness instructors will tell you’ll never be truly fit if you don’t pay attention to your abdominal muscles. You may hate planks or crunches, but a healthy core is the foundation of a good physique. The same is true for you spiritually. The core of a Christian is his or her prayer life. Neglect prayer and you will lose your power. The secret of the apostle Paul’s spiritual life was 1 Thessalonians 5:17: “Pray without ceasing.”

5. You will never make progress if you aren’t CONSISTENT. Because I travel a lot, I cannot always go to a gym. So I found a fitness routine that I can use no matter where I am. All I need is a floor, a chair and some rubber exercise cords and I can work out for an hour using body weight alone. But having this plan is useless if I don’t do it four times a week. The more consistent I am, the more results I will see. Don’t be a quitter. He who endures to the end will be saved!

6. VARY your exercise routine. Our body is like a computer, and it can get used to a routine if we do the same exercises week after week. Trainers recommend that you “surprise” your body by mixing up exercises. You should do the same in your spiritual training. Don’t get in a religious rut. Sing a “new song” to the Lord. Be open to the new things He wants to teach you.

7. You’ll make more progress if you have a COACH. When I decided to start my routine, I asked a friend from South Africa named Jabin to devise a plan for me. Jabin is an athlete who knows a lot more about fitness than I do. He not only made a plan but he showed me how to do each exercise.

A lot of Christians are trying to become disciples on their own, without a mentor. Jesus showed us the model of discipleship; He invested in His followers and then commissioned them to train others. You will grow spiritually if you have someone to help you.

8. TWO are better than one. I don’t always get to exercise with a gym partner, but when I do I find that I have a better workout with better results. I push harder when someone is there to encourage me. The same is true in your walk with God. So many of us try to live the Christian life alone, yet Jesus sent out His disciples two by two. Every David needs a Jonathan to reach his full potential. Having a friend to “spot” you is a sure way to grow as a disciple.

9. Fitness requires REST. One of the first things my friend Jabin taught me about weightlifting was the importance of resting in between reps. Muscles will not grow if you push them incessantly without breaks. Rest is a spiritual principle that was programmed into our world when God rested on the seventh day. Some people think they can get ahead by working 24/7, but work without rest only leads to burnout. In your spiritual life, take the needed time to relax, unwind, play and reflect on God’s goodness.

10. God can use FAILURE to help you grow. I have another fitness coach, a pastor named Mark, who encouraged me to use the principle of “failure” in my weight lifting. He taught me that on my last set of each exercise, I should keep lifting until I can’t go any more. “Lifting to failure” increases blood flow to the muscle and boosts muscle growth. It will also make you sweat!

The old gym slogan, “No pain, no gain,” is also a spiritual truth.

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How often does a doctor visit a family reunion to be accosted by relatives with erroneous self-diagnoses and misapplied remedies? This doctor then futilely attempts to correct the improper use of various medical terms. Perhaps after a while he just gives up and stops pointing out the errors?

The announcement of Trump’s new “Evangelical Executive Advisory Board” is a similar situation. ‘Evangelical’ is not the right word. And if it is, is this the end of evangelicalism?

The interest surrounding Trump’s new advisory board should not be around why Trump is making one (of course he did, he needs money, more megaphones, and every Republican has always pandered to evangelicals). And the news is not really who is on this list (televangelists, mega-church pastors, and denominational leaders, who are mostly very conservative white men). Rather our interest centers on the fact that this collection of people is thought to be advisors regarding a group known as “evangelicals”.

Outside of academic halls, where people attempt to maintain the proper usage of words like “evangelical”, the fact is that words mean what they mean because of how people use them. And Trump’s campaign is using ‘evangelical’ exactly like the mainstream media: to indicate predominately white conservative Christians.

But the easy equation of ‘evangelical’ with religiously and politically conservative Christianity (near fundamentalism) is neither true to past or present circumstances. So, while this might seem like shouting in the wind or a struggle against inevitability, with Inigo Montoya, I would like to say, “I do not think that word means what you think it means.”

With Inigo Montoya, I say, I do not think that evangelicalism means what you think it means Click To Tweet

Classical Evangelicalism

The misunderstanding comes from thinking of contemporary evangelicals as the nicer children of 20th century American fundamentalism. These evangelicals, it is thought, reacted against the abrasiveness of their parents, became more friendly and culturally aware, but essentially hold all the same values and stances. In reality, however, evangelicalism predated fundamentalism by 200 years (beginning roughly with the First Great Awakening and persisting up to the Azusa Street Revivals).

This older or “classical” evangelicalism was, according to historian Douglas Sweeney, Protestantism with a revivalist twist. This revivalist twist included social reform. It could be said the evangelical consensus within the First Great Awakening was conservative theologically in seeking revival of the soul but compassionate politically in seeking reform in the city.

This unity of personal piety and social justice were hallmarks of John Wesley in the First Great Awakening and Charles Finney of the Second (and these were the norm, not the exception). Especially during the Second Great Awakening, predominantly Wesleyan-Holiness revivalists worked toward the abolition of slavery, the equality of women, workers right and prison reform.

George Marsden, distinguished historian of evangelicalism and fundamentalism, notes that while classical evangelicals “were dedicated first to saving souls…their record of Christian social service, in an era when social reform was not popular, was as impressive as that of almost any group in the country.” A classical evangelical, then, would not be scandalized by a seamless union of prophetic social reform and spiritual revival.

But the rise of American fundamentalism spelled the ruin of the broad evangelical consensus of revival and reform. As Marsden notes, the union of revival and reform would not survive the rise of fundamentalism and the ‘Great Reversal’ which “took place from about 1900 to 1930, when all progressive social concern, whether political or private, became suspect among revivalist evangelicals and was relegated to a very minor role.”

(For more of this history, see The Scandal of the Evangelical Memory, part, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5)

Re-alignment of Theology and Politics

The loss of this evangelical consensus created an unfortunate realignment of theology and politics. After the Modernist Controversy where the fundamentalist and liberal parted ways, conservative theology was aligned with conservative politics, and liberal theology was aligned with progressive politics.

This re-alignment has been the lasting influence of fundamentalism on the broader strand of American evangelicalism. Because of it, we lost a more compassionate political orientation and the true sense of the word evangelical was exchanged for a derogatory word.

Now politicians, media outlets, and causal observers use “evangelical” to refer to those who are better understood as fundamentalists, obscuring the fact that there is no true evangelical vote.

So, is this the end of evangelicalism, brought to infamy through a 100-year detour in fundamentalism?

The End of Evangelicalism?

Perhaps we should abandon the term to history.

But we can’t make sense of the world outside of the language use. If we abandon the term then we would need to come up with another one. Otherwise we would miss the reality of a Moral Minority always attempting to counteract the Moral Majority. We would miss the re-emergence of those committed both to revival and reform (even if they do not exactly speak that way at Missio Alliance, InterVarsity, Evangelicals for Social Action, and Sojourners). We would miss those who embrace a conservative orthodoxy and compassionate politics. We would continue to see the landscape in the binary that religious conservatives are political conservatives and religious progressives are political progressive.

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Noël and I recently returned from three weeks in Poland, Switzerland, and Italy, where my task in each setting was to give expositions of Scripture. Here are seven experiences that linger in our minds, and are bearing fruit for the way we do ministry.

1. Catholicism’s Shape and Shackles

The overwhelming common denominator of these three events was the challenge of heralding the gospel of Christ to minds and hearts shaped and shackled by centuries of religious and cultural Roman Catholicism. Yes, I do mean shackled.

  • Shackled by centuries of, first, forbidding (on threat of death in the sixteenth century) and, then, diminishing the reading of Scripture as dangerous to proper faith, and as subject to papal interpretation and accretion. I was told of an 80-year-old nun recently converted, who had never read the Gospel of John.
  • Shackled by a Roman Catholic conception of Christianity that leads people away from simple communion with God, through Christ and his word, into a thoroughgoing dependence on other mediators, including, Mary, the saints, the indulgences, the priest-enacted sacraments, and the all-encompassing structure of authority outside the Bible.
  • Shackled by a system of penance structured by papal rulings that burden the conscience of the ritual-driven penitent with places and times and events and structures for the temporary relief of guilt. For example, besides the usual necessity of the physical reception of grace through transubstantiated bread at the mass, and the temporary unburdening of sin at the priestly confessional, Pope Francis has declared this year a special jubilee year in which “indulgence is granted to the faithful.”

For example, his letter reads, “To experience and obtain the Indulgence, the faithful are called to make a brief pilgrimage to the Holy Door, open in every Cathedral or in the churches designated by the Diocesan Bishop, and in the four Papal Basilicas in Rome, as a sign of the deep desire for true conversion.”

The Reformation Is Not Over

Any thought that “the Reformation is over” is, it seems to me, provincial. It never came to Italy. It was muted by the peculiarly secular revolutionary spirit in France. And it was weakened in Eastern Europe by a strong Catholic counter-reformation.

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Today, the great need is a robust, crystal clear, Spirit-anointed proclamation — in the churches, in the media, and one-to-one — of the gospel of justification by grace alone, on the basis of Christ alone, through faith alone, to the glory of God alone, as laid out with final authority in Scripture alone. Few things make the preciousness and power of these “alones” more clear than the religious situation in continental Europe today.

2. Gospel Movements Emerging

Every place I went I saw a growing, gospel-saturated movement of largely younger (but not only younger!) Europeans committed to church planting and aggressive evangelism and life-transforming Reformed theology. In France, Switzerland, Italy, and Germany, the influence of The Gospel Coalition (TGC) is discernible.

But in line with the stated intentions of TGC, there are no international “branches.” If there are to be international expressions of the theology and ministry-vison of TGC, they must be created, conceived, structured, and led indigenously. That is happening. And as far as I can see, this is owing to the Holy Spirit’s on-the-ground work, so that TGC is not the primary catalyst but rather a way of identifying one of God’s works in relation to the same divine work in other places.

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In particular, I saw some remarkable individual ministries and churches that reflect the energy and joy and seriousness of aggressive outreach. Nuova Vita is a church in Bologna, Italy, with significant outreaches to refugees and prostitutes (whom they call their “treasures”). Mark Brucato, a copastor at the church, told me one story of God’s amazing grace. One of the “treasures” came to Christ. Her most frequent “client,” instead of being alienated, also came to faith. They were both baptized and after coming out of the water, he proposed to her.

God is at work saving what we often look at as simply unsavable.

Not Every Challenge Ends with Transformation

One missionary pastor, who had been in France for thirty years, told me about a new challenge in his small church. A member of his church was studying sexuality in school, and came to the view that the Greek word porneia always means “prostitution,” rather than its usual meaning of “fornication.” This influential member was teaching, therefore, that the New Testament has nothing to say about whether an engaged couple can sleep together. Very practically he was opposing any attempt to do church discipline in such cases.

Such are the challenges in the ordinary life of a church planter in France.

3. Hope for Hopeless Collegiates

Bologna, Italy, has the oldest university in Europe, and evangelicals are reaching out to students.

The unemployment rate in Italy, I was told, of young people ages 18–38 is about 45%. This has produced a depressed and hopeless atmosphere among many students who see little future for all their university efforts. Some even deceive their parents, pretending to be in school, but actually using the money to pursue a life of fun until the time of expected graduation, and then, just when their parents would find out, they commit suicide.

Christ has hope for these students, because what he offers is so eternally valuable that neither poverty nor affliction can stop a new believer from overflowing with joy and generosity (2 Corinthians 8:1–2).

4. Two Surpises in Rome

We spent a whole day walking around the Colosseum and Roman Forum in the heart of Rome. Two things were new and surprising to me. One was the sheer size of the Colosseum. It simply was overwhelming for its greatness — especially its height — knowing that it was built in the first century without any modern machinery. These massive stones were set in perfect place — so that they are still holding 2,000 years later — without any cranes. It is the largest amphitheater ever built. Construction began under the emperor Vespasian in AD 72. It was completed in AD 80 under his successor and Titus.

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The other striking thing was realizing that the Colosseum was built with the spoils taken by Titus from the Jewish Wars in which the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed. In AD 82, the Arch of Titus was built by Domitian to commemorate Titus’s victory in those wars. It is still standing. And as I stood there, I saw inside the arch the sculptures of the victory procession where the Jewish Menorah is clearly visible. “Along with the spoils, an estimated 100,000 Jewish prisoners were brought back to Rome after the war, and many contributed to the massive workforce needed for construction” of the Colosseum (Wikipedia).

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5. Nudity in the Vatican

We visited the Sistine Chapel which, of course, has the hugely famous scenes of God’s creation and the history of redemption memorialized in Michelangelo’s paintings. My admiration for Michelangelo’s artistry is huge. I am less sure of what he was trying to communicate.

The sheer quantity of nudity in the Vatican is astonishing to anyone who has not already decided that comments like this are a sign of artistic oafishness.

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I come away with the serious question whether all these ubiquitous private parts are a devout message, or a subtle disdain for the church. Is the in-your-face exposure of God’s buttocks really a faithful exposition of Exodus 33:23? Or is the pope being mooned?

My own take is that if this is an attempt at exposition, it does not succeed.

6. Joyful, Humble, Missionary Calvinists

Predestination was a hot topic surrounding the conference in Italy. I was interviewed for a television program by an Assembly of God host and one of his questions was, “What does predestination mean for you?” Then there was an on-stage interview in front of 1,500 folks where one of the questions was again, “Why is predestination important?” I did my best to be pastorally sensitive and faithful to the Scriptures, like Acts 13:48, “The Gentiles . . . began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.”

My sense is that the divisions in the church over this issue are, in part, generationally defined. The older stereotypes of those who hold to Reformed doctrines do not apply the way they once did. Increasingly, those who love these doctrines are joyful, humble, evangelistic, mission-minded, and in love with the church. When the stereotypical objections don’t work anymore, we are left with the Bible. For example, the prayer of Jesus to the Father: “I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me” (John 17:6).

7. All Cultures Need Transformation

I was asked about the effects of culture on evangelism. What seemed crucial to me to say was that all cultures are man-centered, self-exalting, and essentially insubordinate toward God. All of them — American, Italian, German, Polish, Nigerian, Brazilian, Chinese — all of them.

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The Media Hits Rock Bottom

Eric Metaxas

Two Sundays ago, an ISIS-inspired terrorist killed forty-nine people at a gay night club in Orlando. Yet just three days after the attack, the New York Times editorial board laid the blame for Omar Mateen’s self-professed act of Islamic terrorism squarely at the feet of…believers in traditional marriage. I’m not kidding.

For those confused about how Christians and social conservatives are responsible for a radical jihadist’s actions, the Times helpfully explains: Our “corrosive politics,” they write, paved the way for this monstrosity. And by “corrosive politics,” they make it clear they mean defense of the natural family and created differences between the sexes. The Daily Beast followed up, accusing conservatives who are mourning the tragedy of “exploiting the LGBT community.” Evidently if your politics don’t line up with the goals of the sexual left, you’re not allowed to shed tears for the victims of terrorism.

But by far the most disturbing response, at least to me, came from CNN’s Anderson Cooper, who decided to publicly shame Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi during a live interview. While Bondi tried to explain what Florida is doing to help the victims and their families, Cooper raked her over the coals about her opposition to same-sex “marriage.”

In fact, he all but called her a hypocrite for defending the Florida constitution which—at the time—defined marriage as the union of man and woman. An attorney general’s job, of course, is to uphold and defend her state’s constitution. But Anderson Cooper did not seem to care.

As Mollie Hemingway remarked at The Federalist, apparently Cooper and CNN cannot fathom how anyone could oppose gay “marriage” and also grieve the murder of fifty fellow human beings. The implication by the media is clear: If you haven’t been on board with the LGBT political program, you’re partially responsible for what happened in Orlando.

daily_commentary_06_23_16Let me just tell you my first reaction to this: I was angry—very angry. I wanted to get on the air and scream from the rooftops how absurd, immoral, and unfair this kind of equivalence is. A self-proclaimed ISIS devotee committed the worst mass murder in this country since 9/11, and the media can think of no one to blame but conservatives and Christians!

Now that I’ve had some time to compose myself, I think it’s important we don’t respond with anger. In fact, my BreakPoint colleagues and I debated whether we even should dignify this foolishness with a response. And we decided to do so for a couple of reasons.

First, although we can expect to see more abuse of Christians in the news, we cannot let this become the new normal. Not in America. And we should respond by defying the caricatures—just like the Orlando Chick-fil-A managers did when they opened their stores on a Sunday to feed blood donors. And then there’s Lutheran Church Charities, which sent comfort dogs to help mourners in Orlando.

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He inherited the sensitive mouth and full, sharply curved lips of his father. Dietrich’s smile was friendly and warm, but it was obvious at times that he enjoyed poking fun. He spoke remarkably quickly and without any dialect. When he preached, however, his speech became heavy, almost hesitant. Although his seemed delicately shape, they were very strong. mother. In conversation he often played with the signet ring bearing the Bonhoeffer crest on his left hand. When he sat down to play the piano he took the ring off and placed it on the left hand corner of the keyboard.

~ Eberhard Bethge, Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography (Revised Edition); Portrait (1970), xvii.

Some Lessons for Today From the Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Let me premise this by saying I am not a scholar or expert on Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Nor do I know precisely how he would analyze our current state of affairs. But I have always admired his principled courage. I am in the process of reading the wonderful “Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy” by Eric Metaxas, and I cannot help but find important lessons from this remarkable man for our world today.

As many of you certainly know, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was one of the brave few to stand up to the Nazi movement from within Germany, and did so early before its evils and horrors were so obvious. Many of the arguments from secular and religious leaders not initially aligned with the Nazis, but who to one degree or another tolerated or endorsed nazism, sound eerily familiar today

Bonhoeffer is rightly known for his key role in identifying and opposing the nazi reign of terror against the Jews and others. But before this, he recognized the dangerous characteristics in culture and politics that would eventually lead to Auschwitz. He recognized the danger of the “fuhrer principle,” that idea prevalent in Germany that a leader would arise who was so strong and effective, with a central idea being that his word was above written law, and all policies and strategies of party and country should serve him. In fact, Bonhoeffer famously gave a radio address days after the election of Hitler (not as a reaction, it had been scheduled in advance) where he described the history of the fuhrer principle, its place in German culture, and its serious danger to society.

The essential characteristic of the fuhrer as a leader is that he is independent, divorced from any external authority, be it a political, legal, or the ultimate authority of God. From his lecture:

“Only when a man sees that office is a penultimate authority in the face of an ultimate, indescribable authority, in the face of the authority of God, has the real situation been reached. And before this Authority the individual knows himself to be completely alone. The individual is responsible before God. And this solitude of man’s position before God, this subjection to ultimate authority, is destroyed when the authority of the Leader or of the office is seen as ultimate authority…. Alone and before God, man becomes what he is, free and committed in responsibility at the same time.”

The fearful danger of the present time is that above the cry for authority, be it of a Leader or of an office, we forge that man stands alone before the ultimate authority…  The eternal law that the individual stands alone before God takes fearful vengeance where it is attacked and distorted.”

This brings us to the first timely lesson gleaned from my reading so far – Leaders must live and govern in recognition of a higher authority. Now our founding fathers structured our republic as under authority. They also structured each coequal branch of government to be subject to or at least dependent on each other in specified ways, as well as to the states and to the people. Without recognition of the authority inherent in our constitution the Leader attempts to be independent in the manner of a dictator or Fuhrer. This can be framed as a necessary or benevolent action, as Hitler himself did after the Reichstag fire. The same tendency is seen in so-called leaders today, circumventing the constitution and curtailing basic rights in the name of public safety or public opinion. Any leader, whether Obama or Trump, who proposes suspending portions of the Bill of Rights (as they both are proposing) for the sake of public safety is operating independently and not as one under authority. Beware any potential leader who does not recognize the authority of God, the authority of the constitution, or the authority of the rule of law. Any society that chooses such a leader are opening themselves to the destruction of each, save God who will not be overthrown.

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His (Dietrich Bonhoeffer) head was round rather than long, but it did not look out of proportion on his broad shoulders. His short nose emphasized his prominent forehead and mouth. Bonhoeffer’s twin sister inherited his father’s dark hair and large brown eyes, and Dietrich the blond hair and blue eyes of his mother. His hair became thin early in life, and he wore rimless glasses because of his nearsightedness.

~ Eberhard Bethge, Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography (Revised Edition); Portrait (1970), xvii.

 

 

“Do not worry! Earthly goods deceive the human heart into believing that they give it security and freedom from worry. But in truth, they are what cause anxiety. The heart which clings to goods receives with them the choking burden of worry. Worry collects treasures, and treasures produce more worries. We desire to secure our lives with earthly goods; we want our worrying to make us worry-free, but the truth is the opposite. The chains which bind us to earthly goods, the clutches which hold the goods tight, are themselves worries.”

June 12, 2016

It happened again.

In the dark hours of this Sunday morning some 50 people were killed and another 53 were injured in a terror attack in gay nightclub in Orlando. President Obama has called it an “act of terror and an act of hate,” and it’s being described as the most deadly shooting in American history.

The news of such violent atrocities comes to us so regularly nowadays that we may feel numb, helpless to know what to do or say after such events. But as followers of Christ we can’t simply shut out the pain and despair. We must bring light and healing.

These horrible events of recent years have targeted a wide variety of people: military personnel, movie-goers, elementary school children, and now patrons of a gay nightclub. All have dignity as made in the image of God. The death of any leads to mourning, whether they were targeted at random or not.

Over the years several writers for TGC have provided wise guidance on how to respond. These five calls to action apply to the most recent in a strring of tragedies.

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Pray

No matter how frequently such tragedies occur, our first response should always be the same: turning to God in prayer. After the Newtown, Connecticut, shooting in 2012, Scotty Smith provided a model for how to pray in the midst of pain:

Dear Lord Jesus, we abandon ourselves to you tonight—we come running with our tears and our fears, our anger and our anguish, our lament and our longings. We collapse in your presence, with the assurance of your welcome, needing the mercies of your heart.

Some stories are just too much for us to absorb; some evil just too great to conceive; some losses beyond all measurability. We need your tears and your strength tonight. That you wept outside the tomb of a beloved friend frees us to groan and mourn; that you conquered his death with yours, frees us to hope and wait.

But we turn our thoughts from ourselves to the families who have suffered an unconscionable violation of heart and all sensibilities. Bring your presence to bear, Lord Jesus, by your Spirit and through your people. May your servants weep with those who weep and wail with those who wail. Extend your tear wiping hand—reach into this great tragedy with an even greater grace.

Pause

In the wake of mass violence, a common pattern is emerging among tech-literate, socially connected Christians. Rather than hearing the news and turning to God, we turn first to social media.

If we wanted to learn the facts about the incident we would look to news agencies. Too often, though, we’re actually looking to revel in the partisan divide. Even without looking we know the various angles that will be played out (e.g., gun control, the violence of Islam) and want to jump into the fray to join our “team.”

“Perhaps due to the callousness of our hearts or the fact that mass shootings have become common,” Trevin Wax wrote after the Umpqua Community College shooting last October, “we now rush to the computer to vent our frustrations rather than turn to God and to each other to express our grief.”

I understand how the feeling of helplessness intensifies the desire to just do something—to promote some person or push some policy. Make a statement. Pass a bill. Do whatever it takes to help us at least feel like we’re making progress in preventing these senseless horrors.

What troubles me is not that these tragedies lead to advocacy for policy change, but that our country’s imagination is held captive to the idea that the only place where such change can take place is in the legislature or courthouse.

On days like this we may need to guard our heart (Prov. 4:23) by avoiding social media altogether. Out of consideration for those who are suffering and in pain we can refrain from engaging in the polemics and adding to the din of divisiveness. Instead of tweeting and posting, we should seek to take practical actions, such as donating blood. (Even if we don’t live in the Orlando area, this event can remind us that daily tragedies occur and blood donations are always needed in your community.)

Grieve

As Christians we are called to weep with those who weep (Rom. 12:15). Yet in times of tragedy we may be tempted instead to try to explain and justify rather than to simply be silent and grieve with those who are grieving. As Trillia Newbell has written,

When your friend is weeping it’s hard to say, “I don’t know, I don’t understand.” We want to know. We want to bring comfort, but in our attempt to “fix it” we can forget that there’s a real person in deep sorrow. Your friend, coworker, or relative is not a faucet to be fixed—they are flesh and blood to be loved. Those moments when you’re anxiously trying to find the perfect words are often the best moments to humbly embrace your weakness and lack of knowledge.

To be clear, waiting doesn’t mean never sharing perceived wisdom. Waiting might actually involve acknowledging you do understand. You understand your friend’s sorrow enough to be willing to bridle your tongue, to speak carefully and thoughtfully, to pray and wait.

Love

The death of any humans should lead to mourning, whether they were the victims or the perpetrators. As Angela Price wrote after the domestic terror attack last July,

Loving those who are different is not easy. It’s a sacrifice, but Jesus did it for us. When he came to rescue us, we were all lost in sin. We were “risky” for him, even to the point of crucifixion. Yet he entered into a world filled with filth, and willingly laid down his life in love. This is how we share Christ with those desperate for saving grace.

Hope

Christians should be the most realistic people on Earth. While we may support certain policies and solutions that we believe can foster peace, we must always be quick to admit that the root cause of violence and hate is sin.

As Erik Raymond wrote after the mall shooting in Omaha in 2007,

First and foremost an event like this is a heart-wrenching reminder of the devastatingly painful and absolutely brutal result of sin. The basic answer to the question as to why the trigger was pulled once, never mind 40 to 50 times, is a rebellion from and a hatred of God. At its must fundamental sense this tragedy is rooted in a rebellion from God. The fact that people had to die today in this mall is a testimony to the vicious recourse of sin. The Scripture is clear that the wages of sin is death (Rom. 6.23). Death is the sword of sin, it cuts deep and far, and spares none.

Such tragedies, Raymond adds, should cause us to look away from superficial hope.

For the rest of the post…

“A Christian community either lives by the intercessory prayers of its members for one another, or the community will be destroyed. I can no longer condemn or hate other Christians for whom I pray, no matter how much trouble they cause me. In intercessory prayer the face that may have been strange and intolerable to me is transformed into the face of one for whom Christ died, the face of a pardoned sinner. That is a blessed discovery for the Christian who is beginning to offer intercessory prayer for others. As far as we are concerned, there is no dislike, no personal tension, no disunity or strife that cannot be overcome by intercessory prayer. Intercessory prayer is the purifying bath into which the individual and the community must enter every day.”

June 2016
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