Our hearts continue to grieve over the horrific evil that was unleashed against precious, helpless children last week at an elementary school in Connecticut. In the midst of the pain we also remember that hope rises and prevails over darkness through the Advent of God’s eternal Son.
There are many questions. Answers are complex and elusive. As we try to process such unspeakable atrocities, trying to make sense of the senseless, trying to reason out the irrational, let’s walk through this against the backdrop of what we do know. Here is what we know with certainty.
Sin always brings tragic consequences. The Bible is clear that all rebellion against God will exact payments. “The wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). No matter how troubled the shooter was, there is no way to begin to understand such events without an acknowledgement of sin, evil, and the activity of the devil and his minions. Jesus called the devil “the thief” and said his intent against humanity is to “steal, kill, and destroy” (John 10:10).
One of the most difficult things a pastor has to do when a tragedy occurs is to try to find the words to comfort a grieving family and explain how God can allow such a horrible thing to take place. While I do not purport to have all the answers for such situations—sometimes it's best just to be there for grieving families and offer prayer for them rather then give explanations—these instances do highlight the existence of evil in the world.
On the day of the shooting in Newtown, Conn., I was shocked to hear both a prominent television news anchor and the governor of Connecticut use the word evil several times when referring to the heinous act of the shooter. Where doe evil comes from?
Jesus said that the thief (Satan) comes only to steal, kill and destroy (John 10:10). He also called him a murderer from the beginning (John 8:44). Rather than cause me to doubt the existence or goodness of God (like Satan wants), heinous acts like this should remind us that there is a real devil in the world who revels in destroying human life while seeking whom he may devour (1 Peter 5:8).
Amid the "most wonderful season of all" comes the tragic news of a deranged young man entering an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., killing 27, including 20 children. Tragically, Christmas for these families will likely be the darkest of many dark hours to come. The days when parents could send their children off to school with confidence that they would be cared for and protected seem long gone.
Just this summer we watched a senseless shooting spree in a Colorado movie theatre take the lives of 12 people and injure another 59. The national premiere of The Dark Knight Rises had Americans clamoring for tickets to be entertained by violent behavior. When tragedies like these occur, why do we respond with such shock and awe? Psychiatrist Keith Ablow said, "This kind of shock registers with people—because it seems like the unthinkable keeps moving into the sphere of our reality."
The "unthinkable" first surfaced in mankind thousands of years ago when Cain killed his brother Abel out of mere jealousy and rivalry. God had warned Cain, "Sin is crouching at your door," but Cain ignored God's word and committed murder. God punished Cain for taking innocent life but the violent shedding of blood has continued for centuries. Why?
In an age where the government—both national and local—has seemingly neglected God’s Word, Apostle Joshua Fowler believes Dec. 12, 2012, will be recorded with historical significance.
Wednesday, Fowler and other leaders of God’s army joined local government leaders at Lake Eola in downtown Orlando to proclaim 12-12-12 to be “God Day: Awakening a City to Awaken Nations.” A representative of Mayor Buddy Dyer’s office, city commissioners and a representative of United State Congressman Daniel Webster’s office were on hand for the proclamation.
“When that proclamation—signed by the mayor and city commissioners—was read, the prayer was powerful. God just came in and arrested the place,” said Fowler, senior minister of Life Legacy Church in Orlando. “When the city commissioners left, their words were that they were rocked by this. God just touched them.
Chance. Coincidence. Happenstance. Those words don’t exist in the vocabulary of Billy Graham Rapid Response Team chaplains.
“Because our chaplains pray each morning for God's direction, we don't believe that we ever accidentally stumble into a meeting with somebody as we’re ministering in the aftermath of a disaster,” said Jack Munday, international director of the ministry. “Those encounters were put in place by God. We call them ‘divine appointments.’”
And those divine appointments have been happening for more than a month now in New York and New Jersey following the impact of Superstorm Sandy in late October.
Take, for instance, the recent experience of chaplains in Nassau County, N.Y., where the chaplains have been reaching out to hurting survivors since Oct. 29.
Lower East Side churches and volunteers distributed 5,000 coats, scarves, boots and other winter supplies at the schoolyard at PS 34 in New York Saturday, in the shadow of the power plant that darkened lower Manhattan during Superstorm Sandy.
The only Manhattan location is one of 11 regional hubs created by a unique partnership between American Red Cross, Somebody Cares America, New York Christian Resource Center and local faith-based groups that collectively distributed 50,000 coats and more last weekend to communities most directly impacted by the storm.
“We are delighted to see the Red Cross partner with us in this way,” one of the organizers, Pastor Rick Del Rio from Abounding Grace Ministries, said. “Though power has returned to Lower Manhattan, the lingering effects of the storm are still being felt. What better way to warm the hearts of children and families during the holidays, then by warming their physical bodies first.”
GOD TV is to air an extraordinary live broadcast this weekend featuring Steve Hill of the Brownsville Revival of the 1990s and Nathan Morris of the current Bay Revival, together with pastor John Kilpatrick, the host of both spiritual outpourings.
Revival Reunion, happening at the Mobile Convention Center in Alabama, will be broadcast exclusively on GOD TV at 9 p.m. (EST) Friday and will also feature worship led by Lindell Cooley and Lydia Stanley Marrow.
The Brownsville Revival ran from 1995 to 2000, attracting more than 4 million people to Pensacola, Fla. Often televised on GOD TV, it was characterized by passionate salvation messages from evangelist Steve Hill, a call to holiness from Kilpatrick and worship led by Cooley.
A divided church lost the most important election concerning the fate of biblical marriage in our nation’s history. This election revealed a deep division between minority Christian’s sense of moral priorities and the ethical codes of the white church community. When I say “minorities,” I mean blacks, Hispanics, Asians, and others consisting of 28 percent of the electorate; this group voted for a different moral code than their white Christian brothers.
Could it be that the Lord is challenging the Church to deal with her deep racial divisions before He sends the rains of economic blessings back to the nation? In 2 Samuel 21:1-14, this was the very problem that David had. As he sought the Lord’s blessings upon the land, David found he had to deal with an ancient racial wound inflicted on the Gibeonites by King Saul. Even though David did not commit the offense, he had to make amends for Saul’s sin in his generation.
For nearly eight years, I have been talking to Christians about the need for us to embrace a call to champion a balanced societal agenda of righteousness and justice. I have used Psalm 89:14 as a guideline for spiritual engagement with the culture. It reads: “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; love and faithfulness go before you (NIV).”
The expression of God’s heart will connect you with your community.
A destitute woman. A sick, desperate mother. A prodigal son. These were the kinds of people on whose behalf Jesus exercised continual compassion in every synagogue and village of Israel. Jesus is calling His followers to live this same compassion, bringing wholeness to every community in the world.
The biblical word compassion encompasses more than emotion. The meaning conveys motivation that cannot rest until the pain is relieved. This is undoubtedly what drove Jesus to restore the Samaritan woman when His body was crying out for rest. This is what motivated Him to fight a treacherous storm to deliver a severely demon-oppressed man.
A leading rabbi reflects on the growing friendship between Jewish and Christian communities
As a rabbi, I share with many others in the Jewish community a deep sense of gratitude, allied to some perplexity, at the phenomenon of evangelical support for Israel. I welcome this chance to share my views as a Jewish leader, on our shared perspectives and goals.
A great Hasidic teacher, the Kotzker Rebbe, once said the only whole heart is a broken one.
In an unredeemed world, there is so much pain and loss, any healthy heart must break. What people of God share is that our hearts must hope as well.
We must be carriers of Jesus’ presence to a dark, broken world
Recently, we partnered with local leaders and organizations by opening the first Dream Center in Colorado Springs, Colo.,a free medical clinic for women who are underinsured or uninsured.
The small clinic space was given to us and sits right across from the WIC (Women, Infants and Children) office, where the poorest families in our city go to apply for food stamps. This is the first of many ministries we plan to open. Soon, we want to have a home for single parents who are afraid to come out of the shadows of homelessness for fear of losing their children to the foster system. We also plan to open homes for kids who are too old for the foster system and have no families.
We are not doing this out of guilt or to be trendy or popular. We are certainly not out to prove to the world that we really are nice people despite the caricatures of Christians.
Could you be pursuing the right ministry for the wrong reasons?
I have come to love the people of the Hawaiian islands in the 27 years since we planted New Hope Christian Fellowship in Honolulu. The warmth of the Aloha spirit in the islanders wonderfully complements the islands’ perfect temperatures. A unique blend of nationalities and languages here creates some of the most beautiful people on the globe.
Yet, at the start, much of my love was a choice. I didn’t always live here. I received my education and early experience in ministry in the Pacific Northwest. But it was a love for the island people that compelled us to come here and stay here. And no matter where I travel, that love has never left.
Love for people, even love for an area of the country, is mandatory for a church to succeed. A church God loves to bless is one that loves the people in its community as well as its call to reach them.
Ted Haggard used the mainstream media (and an HBO documentary) to chastise the church for how it handled his sex-and-drugs scandal in 2006. Read one pastor's take on why he may have a point.
Ted Haggard is at it again. The former pastor of a Colorado mega church who admitted to a sexual relationship with a male escort in 2006, is now sharing his story in a documentary called The Trials of Ted Haggard. On January 29, the film premieres on HBO and will re-examine the scandal that rocked the evangelical world. For many, this film will reopen old wounds and stir up feelings thought to be dead and buried.
I question why Haggard chose this particular outlet to voice the pain and frustration of his private journey. While I can only imagine the suffering Haggard has endured over the past two years, I cannot excuse some of his choices. And now, once again, it seems the church will have to deal with another reminder of those choices. But maybe there are some things worth being reminded of.
In recent news reports, Ted Haggard chastised church leaders for missing an opportunity to use his scandal to "communicate the gospel worldwide." Despite how we may feel about the circumstances surrounding Haggard, I believe we have the responsibility to ask: Is he right? Did we, the global Christian church, somehow miss an opportunity to respond to those who struggle with unwanted same-sex attraction with the gospel of truth? While these are valid questions that demand our attention, I believe there is another question that addresses an issue just as important, if not far greater:
What if Ted had told the truth?
What if he had been honest from the very beginning? I'm not talking about the beginning of the scandal, I mean from the very beginning of his ministry. What if he had disclosed his struggle with same-sex attractions to his church and to the National Association of Evangelicals at the very start? Would he still have become president of one of the world's largest evangelical organizations? Would he still have become one of America's most respected spiritual leaders? I would like to believe so. However, I am not naïve to the fact that there are, unfortunately, many other organizations that desire leaders who are "spiritual lions" but upon the admission of any significant weakness, they are sacrificed liked lambs. Was this what Ted was afraid of and if so, was it justified? Do we have a culture in the church today where vulnerability in leadership is considered a disqualifying weakness? If so, what are we going to do about it?
Like Ted Haggard, I have also been involved in the church, to various degrees, most of my life. And like Ted Haggard, I have dealt with same-sex attractions for most of my life as well. I did experience a church culture where it was unsafe to tell anyone about such struggles, and I know the pain and loneliness that comes with it. But I also know what it is like to be in a church where I can talk about my struggle with no fear of rejection or oppression. At one time, I never thought it would be possible for me to be a pastor and a leader because of my struggle. To discover people that believe in who I am and are committed to see me reach my full potential in Christ is an answer to a lifelong question: Where do I belong?
I see young men and women every day who are full of promise and potential and yet also struggle with homosexuality. Could we possibly believe that one of these men or women could rise up to be the next J.I. Packer, R.C. Sproul or Billy Graham? If some of you doubt this possibility, consider Henri Nouwen. Nouwen authored 40 books on the spiritual life, was a renowned teacher for over 20 years, selflessly served the mentally handicapped and struggled with homosexuality. I ask you, does this disqualify his contributions to the faith and the church? My only wish is that Nouwen could have felt the freedom to disclose his struggle and use his gifts to bring hope to others who were hopeless.
We, the church, must contend for congregations and organizations that are safe places for vulnerability, transparency and accountability. We must never sacrifice biblical truth, but we must be committed to ministering the truth of the gospel to those who are in our midst struggling with unwanted same-sex attractions. No man or woman should be made to suffer in silence within the Body of Christ, and every man and woman should be able to discover their full potential in Christ. Let's seize this opportunity and commit to becoming a church where people can be vulnerable without fear. We must repent for times where we have intentionally or unintentionally demonstrated anything other than the loving grace of Jesus Christ. There is a world that is desperate to hear the truth that there is another way other than homosexuality. If Ted is right, and we missed an opportunity, let's make sure we don't miss it the second time around.
Jeff Buchanan is the director of the Exodus Church Network, an interdenominational network of churches assisting those who struggle with same-sex attraction to live a life congruent with the Christian faith. For more information, visit www.exodus.to.