On Saturday evening June 11th, a gunman entered a nightclub in Orlando, Florida and unleashed a torrent of violence on the crowd. 49 people were killed, 50 were wounded, and many more traumatized by the irrational shooting spree. What’s more, witnesses recount that the perpetrator simply laughed as he continued his attack.
Gruesome. Evil. Incomprehensible.
Sadly I didn’t know about the attack until after church on Sunday. As a pastor of a local church plant, much of my Sunday mornings are spent in prayer and preparation for the service. So, it wasn’t until the drive home that my wife read aloud the account from her phone, and my heart wept.
I thought about the victims, how some may not have known the goodness of our gentle Redeemer. I thought about the parents of the victims—how their lives were changed after hearing their children are now gone. I thought about the shooter and his obviously calloused heart bent towards terror.
So much pain and hurt all at once flooding over so many people. For quite some time on Sunday I couldn’t think on much else. I wished I knew of the shooting prior to service that morning so that our faith family could have interceded in prayer on behalf of everyone involved.
And then… Monday came.
And I began to see Christians using the tragedy as an opportunity to advance their political and personal agendas on social media: gun rights; constitutional rights; gay rights (the venue was a “gay nightclub”); national security; border control; federal accountability; political motive; and so on. In the wake of the shooting, public disagreements escalated into a what could be likened to a digital food fight… but only much more harmful.
This entire week I sought the Lord about how we should respond. In prayer, a few thoughts kept coming to my mind. Obviously they are oversimplified, and most Jesus followers already know these; but, I was continually reminded of them this past week:
God is our Master
We do not ultimately serve a political pundit, presidential nominee, world leader, musician nor celebrity. Jesus—and Jesus alone—reigns as our Lord and Savior. It is only through Christ that hearts can be regenerated and saved, so it is only in Christ that we trust. Not a “right” or “amendment,” but Christ alone.
That means instead of blasting our personal opinions over every outlet of social media we can find, we as followers of Christ are called to respond the way Christ demonstrated and commanded.
Grief is our Response
Paul’s description in Romans Chapter 12 of righteous living implores us to abhor evil and to cling to that which is good—to honor one another, and to “rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, and constant in prayer.” (v12)
Paul then writes something reminiscent of Christ at the Sermon on the Mount: “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.” (vv14-17)
It is an honorable thing to grieve with those around us. Our flesh cries for justice, and demands immediate action and accountability, even if there is no clear path ahead; but, the Spirit of God urges us to grieve with those around us, whether we agree with them or not.
I pray as a church of Jesus followers, people see us on our knees grieving over Orlando as a tragic and terrifying loss of life. Those who were attacked so viciously were divinely made in the image of God! He created them with love, desiring that none of them should perish. I pray that God gives us, as a church, His eyes to see people from His perspective, causing us to hurt when they hurt and mourn when they mourn.
It’s not human to love the killer, the killed, and the one leveraging the killing to advance an agenda—it’s awe-inspired! if we are ever going to react righteously in times like these—where our convictions, and our commandment to love, seem in conflict—we must stand in awe of the unconditional, all-consuming love the Father has for all His children, not just a select few.
Grace is our Motivation
Acts 4:12 tells us Salvation is in no one and nothing but Jesus Christ. The crown of the gospel is the gracious sacrifice of Christ on the cross. God’s grace flowed down and redirected the torrent of wrath (penalty for sin), and poured it on His beloved Son so that in Him we might have life eternal. This grace has broken my chains to sin and death, and set me free! It is a grace undeserved… an amazing grace.
Because of this gracious gift, we are motivated to grieve with those who grieve so that they too might see the goodness of Him who redeems. 1 Peter 2:12 implores us to keep our conduct honorable, so that “when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.”
Simply put, we grieve so that they might see in our conduct the light of Christ and the grace that God offers. And we pray that as we pattern our lives after Christ’s humility (Philippians 2), that salvation invades the hearts of those impacted by the Orlando shooting.
The Gospel is our Message
There are so many things we could rattle off about online: gun control, border control, homosexuality, etc. But frankly, I pray our congregation at Redeemer 30A is known for nothing but the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
This doesn’t mean we don’t have opinions, or convictions, but it does mean we fly the banner of the Gospel first and highest! Let us not grow weary in preaching the Gospel. While the second amendment, freedom of speech, and the sanctity of marriage are all valid and important topics of conversation, the Gospel is of the utmost importance because only through it can one’s soul be redeemed.
My heart hurts for those involved in the Orlando shooting, and I know many other hearts in our congregation break alongside mine; but, while we seek to demonstrate Christ-likeness to the world around us, we must remember that prayer is eternal. You, dear Christian, are called to weep, to hurt, and—most importantly—to pray.
God will accomplish His mission on earth to bring glory to His name, yet no movement of God has ever increased without a praying people first seeking the face of Yahweh.
Our prayers to the God of the Universe go out on behalf of the people in Orlando.
Pastor/Elder, Redeemer 30A