I’ve got something to say to Orlando (but it’s not my words)

Tragedy. Terrorist Act. Murder. Psychopath. Hater.

Call it what you want, but the Orlando night club shooting is a devastating loss of life on many levels. With more than 100 dead or wounded we know that thousands of family members have been effected with loss and grief. We know that a community has been shaken and stirred with fear, anger, heart ache, etc… We know that all Americans – all people everywhere – are witnesses to violence, hate, and death in the most horrific of ways. We know that with each similar tragedy we grow more numb to the reality of evil in our midst.

This event was breaking into the news yesterday as I was preaching on Psalm 24 and the sovereignty of God. It is inconvenient that the two would collide, but it is also helpful to contrast what it means for God to be sovereign and to witness tragedy and turmoil in this way. We preach and pray that God can do all things and also admit that evil is free to bring terror into our world. How can the two coexist? Wouldn’t God want to protect the many lives taken or damaged yesterday? Can’t God prevent such moments from happening? Does a shooting in Orlando tell us that perhaps God’s sovereignty isn’t as secure as we may like to think it is?

This is where I have to warn me and you to not let fear replace faith in our hearts. We can not move so quickly to explaining things before we explore them in light of who God has revealed Himself to be – sovereign, holy, loving, faithful, etc… All creation cries out to the power of God which crescendos at the cross, the empty tomb, and the ascension of our Lord. Death did not have victory over Him then and will not be victorious over Him now. Our response is not to explain why or how this occurred, but to rest and revel in the who that is working in the midst of a tragic world. God is not far off, but is nearby. To say that God is sovereign is not to say that God CAN, but is a proclamation that God IS. He is at work in this situation – through you and through me – to bring healing and a songs of hope. We respond with hearts that are full of faith in Him and a vision/hope to see the kingdom of God spread in such a way that no one would pick up a gun towards another (or any other violent act.) We carefully choose words that bear witness to the love of God for all rather than words of contempt that will divide and devastate relationships/communities/churches.

In our tears let us praise God for drawing near to us. In our hurt let us praise God for placing graceful ointment onto our souls when we feel like we have been wounded. In our heartache for brothers and sisters we did not know, let us pray that the Holy Spirit would bring good out of bad and replace their anger/hate with love. In our doubts let us ask God to renew our faith and dig deeper into every area of our life to trust in Him in all things. In our desire to seek revenge, blame an ideology, assign guilt to political platforms, let us find the courage to let God be the judge of the all while we are friends and family to all of creation. In our temptation to give up on God and His kingdom because of great loss, let us turn towards the beautiful truth that “all of the earth is the Lords” so that we may actively participate in the renewal of a lost creation that is killing itself. In our dismay let us not focus on our loss or anguish without admitting the hurt that violence and death causes to the heart of our creating God.

May we today choose to turn towards God rather than away from Him. Violence, death, destruction, sin is all around. The only promising path is into the arms of a gracious God who generously reaches out to help and heal us. Let us be a generation seeking God and not seeking revenge, hate, division, destruction, or faithlessness. Selah.

Those are a few reflective thoughts from today, but what I really want to say to Orlando is…

The earth is the Lord’s, and all it contains,
The world, and those who dwell in it. For He has founded it upon the seas
And established it upon the rivers.
Who may ascend into the hill of the Lord?
And who may stand in His holy place?
He who has clean hands and a pure heart,
Who has not lifted up his soul to falsehood
And has not sworn deceitfully.
He shall receive a blessing from the Lord
And righteousness from the God of his salvation.
This is the generation of those who seek Him,
Who seek Your face—even Jacob. Selah.
Lift up your heads, O gates,
And be lifted up, O ancient doors,
That the King of glory may come in!
Who is the King of glory?
The Lord strong and mighty,
The Lord mighty in battle.
Lift up your heads, O gates,
And lift them up, O ancient doors,
That the King of glory may come in!
Who is this King of glory?
The Lord of hosts,
He is the King of glory. (Psalm 24)

Withdrawing

The world doesn’t understand me and I don’t understand the world. That is why I have withdrawn. – Paul Cezzane

We probably practice withdrawing every day in some form or fashion.  As I write this I have withdrawn to my bedroom to jot down a few sentences bouncing around my head. I needed the silence and privacy of being “with me.” Of all the things I do well in life the one thing I can do better and easier than anything else is withdraw. But this at least is a good kind of withdrawing because it has purpose, has a limit, and will actually offer a benefit to my overall well being.

But all withdrawing is not the same.

People withdraw from society when we feel it is dangerous or discouraging. People will withdraw from friends and from church when they do not feel connected or supported. Withdrawing is the most basic of human instincts and we do need to read a primer on how to do it. It comes naturally to us when we don’t know what else to do. Withdrawing is a discipline that may preserve our life and/or resources, but will usually cost us a friendship or great experience because we chose to not be present or to be present and not be engaged.

I am in daily conversations with those who are withdrawing from being a part of the organized church. They don’t like it and they don’t trust it (the church). So they withdraw. Others willingly are withdrawing from politics, from community participation/leadership, or from long term friendships that have changed with time and the evolution of life. A few are even cutting ties with siblings, cousins, and life long friends who no longer fit in their comfortable life. They are withdrawing from those networks of support and meaning that make life livable and laughable.

When someone withdraws from something or from someone it usually is a survival act. It is the thing that feels most right. Our bones tell us to get away or we might get hurt. So we listen to ourselves and sever precious memories and words to and from our treasured friendships and connections. We feel like this is the thing to do, but 999 times out of a 1,000 we are wrong. Our feelings lie to us and we believe it.

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Withdrawing is the easy way out. It does not require courage or conviction. Withdrawing doesn’t make us better or better off. It makes us alone and without companions. Withdrawing feeds our paranoid and  selfish temperaments. Withdrawing with others in life will tempt us – perhaps lead us – to withdrawing from God and going fully alone in withdrawal from crucial life lines. Choosing to withdraw instead of connect and creatively journey with others  will make our life short and without sweetness. Withdrawing from God will lead us on the loneliest, darkest, dangerous paths possible.

When God created man and woman He did so for the purpose of connection rather than competition or coersion with each other. Connection is the opposite of withdrawing. We connect with God and He with us. Man connects with men for brotherhood/friendship and with a woman for intimacy/companionship/nurturing. Woman connects with women for sisterhood/friendship/empathy and with a man for intimacy/companionship/protection. (These are just a few of the reasons for connection.) Perhaps the most primal detail about any of us is our need and ability to connect to others in life. Without connection our relationships in life are incomplete and unable to sustain us through trials and turmoil. We need to not only know people, but we need to really KNOW them in intimate, trusting, dependable, transparent ways. Withdrawing makes that impossible.

So stop withdrawing. Don’t go dark or hide who you really are. Be you and let others be them so that together great and collaborative partnerships may bear fruit and bring joy to our hearts. Reject the idea of going it alone in faith. Pull up to the table that God has put our for you  – the church – and eat plenty, laugh deeply, and tell stories of a God who connects to His creation in the most meaningful and saving ways.

Don’t wait until you have understood God or understood those in the world before you decide to connect with them. You won’t ever fully understand God and you won’t likely understand your spouse, your best friend, your pastor, or your pet. But you can accept them all and share a few decades together choosing to not withdraw, retreat or give up.