tragedy

Americans started off this past week with horrific news. Dozens upon dozens of people are dead and hundreds more are injured after a gunman opened fired at a Las Vegas music festival. This is being called the deadliest shooting in modern U.S. history. It is senseless. This attack hit close to home for Carson City residents remembering our own local tragedy that hit our city on September 6, 2011 when a gunman opened fired at IHOP killing four people. This is not the first time (or last time) our community has felt the sting of death and the pain of searing loss.

Our hearts break far too often because of the senseless rage of a lone gunman or because of the seemingly endless assault of terror, death and tragedy that plays out in lives, our community and in the world. Perhaps you have thought or prayed about living in a world in which friends could go to the movie theater, where athletes could run marathons, where our kids could go to the park or school, where people could attend concerts and where one could go to places like nightclubs and or even churches without the fear of violence.

The reality is that have to deal with events like natural disasters, such as earthquakes and hurricanes, and although those are devastating in their own right, it is the unexplainable and senseless acts of evil that is poured out on others that bring about a deep level of grief and pain. And often in those experiences, we are left asking: “Why?”

How do we as Christ followers respond to the senseless tragedy within our own lives? How do we answer the “why” question, or even more difficult yet, what do we say when the world asks us, “Why did God allow this to happen…?” Perhaps, there is no single response that can adequately address the complexity or these questions. There is no one-size-fits-all solution, nor is there any election result that can fix this once and for all. But, in the midst of the pain and confusion our God is big enough, great enough, powerful enough, and merciful enough to handle every single “Why?” In His divine nature and His role as Creator and Sustainer, He can and will reveal to those searching how He was and is present with us during the most painful, tragic, and senseless seasons in our lives.

God’s Word is very clear on how His people should respond when tragedy hits. Romans 12:15 says: “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.” Jesus taught that: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be be comforted” (Matthew 5:4). Psalm 42 is a beautiful prayer that encourages us as we read it, to rest in the Lord for His hope and wisdom during the toughest experiences in life. Psalm 34:18 declares that “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” If you have ever been through a tragic event or experienced the death of a loved one, then you know that often that time of difficulty can be but a blur. Days may seem endless, sleep is fleeting, and the tears rise like flood waters. Yet, if you are blessed enough to be surrounded by a strong support system, this network is somehow getting you from place to place, it is present, and it is sustaining in the midst of the blur. The Lord is like that for us spiritually, but in a much deeper and much more profound way. In our time of need He will take care of us in ways we cannot fully explain or always comprehend. He is there and He is at work – just like the wind we may not be able to see it, but we can sure see its affects!

So how do we as Christ followers respond to the senseless tragedy? The church, our leaders and pastors, the neighbor, parent or student – we must respond, but how? We simply do. We do not stay silent and we do not stay at a distance. We go and be the church, the kind of church that Jesus had in mind all along. We should not stay silent and we should not sit back doing nothing. We pray. We stay humble. We serve. We laugh with and cry with those around us. We confess and repent of any wrong. We cling to Jesus and the Holy Word of God, and nothing else. We forgive, and love, and hope, and trust. We turn to the Lord for the strength we fear we might not have, for He has it. And, we point people back to the hope of knowing Jesus personally and the joy that is found in eternal security in Him.

We actually do have the things that can change this world: the hope of Jesus Christ and His ever present comfort to those in need. What you do in response to senseless tragedy matters more than ever. We are meant to be the conduit of God’s mercy and grace to a hurting and broken world. So, let us go and be the church, the church that boldly declares: “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, Because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives and freedom to prisoners.” (Isaiah 61:1)

Lord, as we have learned to do in all our experiences, we come to You now. We know that You love us, and that You can turn even the shadow of death into the light of morning. Help us now to wait before You for healing and hope as we grieve and mourn. Make this a time of opening our eyes and our understanding of Your comfort and of your love. I pray that you would bless those who feel this sorrow most deeply, and unify Your Bride, Your church, so that we may share with our friends and family our spiritual strength and faith in You which is ours through the love of Christ, in whose name we pray. Amen.

(Adapted: Originally written for the “Nevada Appeal” which appeared on Oct. 7, 2017)

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mercy-grace-21585658I went to the grocery store with all three of my children. The youngest is buckled in and the older two walk beside the cart, holding on. This is standard protocol for the Emery kids. We got some fresh fruit and then some milk. My youngest is learning that he can’t just have whatever he wants, whenever he wants it – he is not even two years old yet.

As we walked past the greeting card section of the store he saw an inflated ballon and really wanted it. He got loud about his want. My face turned red as heads turned and stared at me like I was a three-headed monster. What was only like 15 seconds of instruction and redirection seemed like an eternity.

With things now calm, we grabbed a few other essentials and headed to the check out stand. Hanging there at the top of the isle was another ballon and little man saw it and quickly asked for it. Now before he even got upset and loud, the person behind me sighed loudly and told me to get my child under control this time.

That loaded statement, small and maybe intended to be innocent, it was hurtful.

We think things that are judgmental, and maybe we don’t even realize it. And we say things that are judgmental too. No one, myself included, as not struggled with being judgmental. Rather than operating with an abundance of mercy and grace, we can be quick to judge others. And the scary part: we try to justify our judgmental tendencies. And yet mercy, should triumph judgement. Being judgmental is hurtful. And our judgmental ways are hurting our impact on the Kingdom of God.

God’s perfect work of mercy, can be displayed through imperfect people. James 2:12-13 says: “So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.” Whatever we say or do – we will be judged by it and often mercy lacks within us because we have a poor understanding of God’s mercy for ourselves and for others. It is easier to be judgmental, than to be conduits of mercy.

As disciples of Christ, we must talk and act like one who is centered in the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ. We must still speak boldly to the issues of our culture that are contrary to the Word of God, but we must act and speak from a place of mercy, not judgement. And if we cannot display mercy to guy in the car next to us, or to that parent in the store, then how will be able to operate from a state of mercy and grace with bigger issues – eternal issues – Biblical, Christ-centered issues – ones that we must address and speak to as disciples of Christ?

We must never compromise the standards set before us in God’s Holy Word. Nor should we compromise God’s calling on our lives to not just experience His mercy, but to be conduits of His mercy and grace. We have never been commanded to be the judge of others. Yes, we can and should assess and judge others actions by the fruit their lives produce. And yes, we can see the consequences others face because of their decisions and make an assessment, or judgment on that.

As followers of Christ, we must speak and act in such powerful ways of mercy and grace that those we encounter will see God in us, because of the extravagance of mercy and grace that we display in our lives. When you speak and act, do people see Christ in you? Regardless of the situation, big or small, do others see God at work in you and at work through you?

(Originally written for the “Faith & Insight” column of the “Nevada Appeal” – May 2015)