Six Pastoral Reflections on the California Synagogue Shooting

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This past Saturday, a 19-year-old man opened fire in a synagogue near San Diego, Chabad of Poway, killing one and injuring several others. This past fall, a similar shooting occurred at Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, taking even more lives.  Since Saturday’s events, I have been reflecting on how we should think about and respond to this situation as followers of Jesus. Let me offer six basic responses here.

1. Lament – Paul the Apostle encouraged the early Christians to “mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15). One of the greatest gifts we can offer to another person in grief is to sit with them in mourning. This was, in fact, the best gift that Job’s friends offered him in his distress. Let us, too, mourn with those in mourning and, as opportunity arises, share comfort with those in mourning from the overflow of comfort we have received in our own lives (2 Corinthians 1:4).

2. Rebuke hate – As Christians we follow a Savior who brought God’s grace and truth and embodied God’s love to the world (John 1:14; 1 John 3:16). Because of this, we cannot countenance hatred, whether within us or others, whether toward other Christians or those who do not share our beliefs. Anti-semitism, Islamophobia, white supremacy, and even more mild forms of prejudice have no place within those who name Christ as Lord. Valid disagreement about beliefs do not give us permission to hate, whether passively or actively, those with whom we disagree.

3. Be a peacemaker – In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9). We can be peacemakers because, as the Apostle Paul wrote of Jesus, “he himself is our peace” (Ephesians 2:14). James, that advocate for faith manifesting in good works, exhorted early Christians, “Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness” (James 3:18). We have an amazing opportunity in the midst of strife and danger to actively move forward as people marked by Jesus’ peace.

4. Advocate for change – Gun deaths in the United States surpass that of other nations, not just in numbers, but in percentage of our population. While I have many friends who are strong gun-rights activists, I have also talked with others, from gun shop owners to those who have lost loved ones to gun-related deaths, who agree that something needs to change in the legal processes by which guns are purchased and regulated. As Christians, who value the dignity of each human life made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27) and seek to be peacemakers (James 3:18), we must advocate for better gun legislation.

5. Look to ourselves – Early reports indicate that the young man accused of this shooting was a church attendee at an Orthodox Presbyterian Church just twelve miles away from the synagogue he terrorized. While the pastor of that church has appropriately distanced the congregation from this egregious event, all of us who follow Jesus must enter into a time of self-reflection about ways in which our own faith or congregational life might, even inadvertently, give rise to such hatred. God’s grace is sufficient for us to face into hard truths about ourselves. Peter tells us that judgment begins in God’s household (1 Peter 4:17), so we should humbly pray, “Search me, God, and…see if there is any offensive way in me” (Psalm 139:23-24).

6. Pray – There is always power in prayer. God has given us the gift of prayer that we might reach out relationally to Him but also so that we might reach out to the world through Him. Every action listed above requires great wisdom, compassion, perseverance, and strength. The best way to move forward with all of these actions is from the foundation of prayer and trusting God with the results. There is not an either/or that must exist between prayer and action. Ideally, prayer and action fit together as two parts of the Christian response to any calamity. Certainly we can agree with the Apostle Paul: “in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Philippians 4:6).

The Good News of Jesus

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This weekend, as we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus at Eastbrook Church, we will begin a two-week message series exploring “The Good News of Jesus.” Drawing upon the post-resurrection accounts within the Gospel of John, we want to bring into sharper focus the ways in which Jesus brings good news to the world.

April 20/21 [Easter]: “The Good News of the Resurrected One” – John 20:1-10, 30-31
The resurrection of Jesus from death brings good news into our lives. As we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection, we will also explore three themes of how this is good news: light overwhelming darkness, freedom overcoming prisons, and life overpowering death.

April 27/28: “The Good News of New Beginnings” – John 20:11-21:25
After Jesus’ resurrection, John offer a series of encounters that Jesus has with real people. Each of these encounters sheds light on the way in which Jesus’ resurrection is good news: God’s presence in loss (Mary), God’s peace in fear (disciples in the upper room), God’s guidance in doubt (Thomas), and God’s restoration in failure (Peter).

Live in Peace

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Have you ever felt worried, distressed, or anxious?

Yes, I know that might seem like a ridiculous question. In one way or another, we have all experienced worry, distress, or anxiety. These real experiences of our lives are the sort of things we encounter throughout the Scripture. In fact, the writer of Psalm 4 expresses thoughts we all likely relate to:

Answer me when I call to You, my righteous God. Give me relief from my distress; have mercy on me and hear my prayer. (Psalm 4:1)

Where do you turn to find peace in these times? Often, we turn to friends or family for support, or look to distractions like television or reading a book. In themselves, none of these things are bad. However, within Psalm 4, we are directed in another way. The psalmist instructs us in the way we should turn in our distress.

God’s Strong Presence
First of all, the psalmist shows us to whom we should turn. “Of course,” you might say, “you are going to say that I should turn to God.” Yes, that is true, but it is not enough of the truth in this case. The psalmist says Read More »

“Peace”: two poems by Herbert and Hopkins

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This past weekend, my message at Eastbrook Church was entitled “The Hunger for Peace.” It was the latest installment of our “Hungry for God” series during Lent. As with many sermons, there are aspects of study and illustrations that never make it into the actual delivered message. As a lover of poetry, I couldn’t help but want to share these two poems on peace, one by 17th century poet and priest, George Herbert, and another by 19th century poet and priest, Gerard Manley Hopkins.

“Peace” by George Herbert

Sweet Peace, where dost thou dwell ?  I humbly crave,
        Let me once know.
    I sought thee in a secret cave,
      And ask’d, if Peace were there.
A hollow winde did seem to answer, No :
        Go seek elsewhere.

I did ;  and going did a rainbow note :
        Surely, thought I,
    This is the lace of Peaces coat :
      I will search out the matter.
But while I lookt, the clouds immediately
        Did break and scatter.

Then went I to a garden, and did spy
        A gallant flower,
    The crown Imperiall :  Sure, said I,
      Peace at the root must dwell.
But when I digg’d, I saw a worm devoure
        What show’d so well.

At length I met a rev’rend good old man :
        Whom when of Peace
    I did demand, he thus began ;
      There was a Prince of old
At Salem dwelt, who liv’d with good increase
        Of flock and fold.

He sweetly liv’d ;  yet sweetnesse did not save
        His life from foes.
    But after death out of his grave
      There sprang twelve stalks of wheat :
Which many wondring at, got some of those
        To plant and set.

It prosper’d strangely, and did soon disperse
        Through all the earth :
    For they that taste it do rehearse,
      That vertue lies therein ;
A secret vertue bringing peace and mirth
        By flight of sinne.

Take of this grain, which in my garden grows,
        And grows for you ;
    Make bread of it :  and that repose
      And peace, which ev’ry where
With so much earnestnesse you do pursue
        Is onely there.

   *   *   *

“Peace” by Gerard Manley Hopkins

When will you ever, Peace, wild wooddove, shy wings shut,
Your round me roaming end, and under be my boughs?
When, when, Peace, will you, Peace? I’ll not play hypocrite
To own my heart: I yield you do come sometimes; but
That piecemeal peace is poor peace. What pure peace allows
Alarms of wars, the daunting wars, the death of it?

O surely, reaving Peace, my Lord should leave in lieu
Some good! And so he does leave Patience exquisite,
That plumes to Peace thereafter. And when Peace here does house
He comes with work to do, he does not come to coo,
      He comes to brood and sit.

The Hunger for Peace [Hungry for God]

During Lent at Eastbrook Church, we continue to explore the soul-deep hungers in our lives planted there by God in order to lead us to Himself. The series, “Hungry for God,” parallels the season of Lent, and has a companion daily devotional that you can access here.

This weekend I explored the hunger for peace. There were so many ways we could approach this topic. In fact just a short while ago, I preached on Jesus as the Prince of Peace. However, this weekend, I decided to focus in on Jesus’ Passion and the journey from the triumphal entry to the cross and beyond to the resurrection. I asked: how does Jesus’ Passion related to the peace He promised to bring?

You can view the message video and sermon outline below. You can follow the entire series at our web-site, through the Eastbrook app, or through our audio podcast.

Read More »

Hungry for Peace

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No one wants to live feeling depleted and empty. We all want to live out of a place of abundance, satisfaction, and peace. We hunger to feel like our lives are on the right track and that everything is ‘right,’ in the best sense of the word. The biblical word for this is peace or, in Hebrew, shalom. Shalom means more than simply lack of conflict. Instead, it conveys a sense of completeness, success, welfare, and peace. A short definition for shalom is that all things are right in God’s world as they are supposed to be.

When Jesus begins His public ministry, he enters into an episode that would not be described as peaceful. Shortly after His baptism by John, “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry” (Luke 4:1-2). This temptation is a power encounter between the prince of this world, the devil, and the Prince of Peace, Jesus the Messiah. From start to finish, the three temptations of the devil are classic temptations of humanity, described by Henri Nouwen as the temptation to be relevant, popular, or powerful. Hungry and tired, Jesus experiences all the raging temptations of a peace-less world thrown at Him.

Jesus overcomes the temptations of the devil, however, and we realize that He is a new sort of king with a new sort of kingdom that will move in ways different from the ways of this world. When Isaiah the prophet describes the Messiah as “the Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6), we know this is exactly what we need. We need true shalom in the midst of our hunger for peace because we cannot ultimately satisfy it ourselves. This realization does not come quickly. Sometimes we must intentionally step back from some things, even normal things like the eating of food, to realize exactly what is going on in our lives.

It is no wonder that immediately before ascending to the Father, some of Jesus’ final words to His disciples are: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27). The Prince of Peace has come to bring us peace, and that is very good news for us.

RESPOND THIS WEEK:
Each week’s practice will feature some aspect of the process Paul describes for us in Ephesians 4:22-24, where we are to TAKE OFF something from our lives that has become corrupted or distracting and PUT ON in its place something God wants us to do.

Take Off: Fast from food (in some form), perhaps for one meal a day or for an entire day. If you are physically prevented from completely fasting due to some health concerns, consider if there is a particular food, drink or “treat” you can deny yourself this week. Use the space below to take note of your experience this week.

Put On:In the place of eating the food you are fasting from, take time with God in solitude and silence to experience the peace that God brings. Consider how He provides for you all you need. Use the space below to take note of your experience this week.

[This a devotional I wrote with Jim Caler as part of the Eastbrook Church Lenten devotional, “Hungry for God.”]

Andrew Brunson on the presence and absence of God in suffering

If you have not yet listened to this message from Andrew Brunson reflecting on the presence and absence of God, you should listen to it soon. Brunson talks about his experience of God’s absence through a good deal of his imprisonment in Turkey, of how his reading of prison biographies did not prepare him for the difficulties he experienced, and how God stripped him down to the most basic level of devotion. “The most important thing I learned was not presence. The most necessary thing I learned was a simple devotion, a simple faithfulness, a simple love on my part.”