navy yard shootingIt happened again. Someone with a deranged way of looking at the world has killed more innocent people – this time at the Navy Yard in Washington, D.C. A dozen people didn’t come home yesterday. Many others will have a traumatic memory they didn’t want or ask for. But it happened again.

What is sad is that it will happen again. And again. If we see the world as it really is, we know evil exists and people suffer. How do we as believers face this kind of challenge? How can we send our kids out the door every day, knowing that our communities are not completely safe?

The title for this entry might be impossible. Evil like this is illogical and doesn’t make sense. But we need to acknowledge some things from God’s Word, our unchanging source of answers, even in the most confusing times.

First, whether we can see it or not, God is in control of everything. Can he stop evil things from happening? Yes. For his purposes, he does it all the time. We might be shocked how often he restrains evil around us. But sometimes he doesn’t and when that happens, he still has his reasons.

Think about it. What was the greatest crime of all time? What was the most unfair miscarriage of justice and cruel treatment of an innocent man? The crucifixion of Jesus. And here’s what the Bible tells us about that evil act – “for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel,  to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.” Acts 4:27, 28

God has his reasons for allowing evil to get the upper hand sometimes, but he is still in control. Second, because of this, we can trust him. Paul dealt with all kinds of evil every day, sometimes to the point of death, and how did he look at it? “For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God…” 2 Corinthians 1:8, 9

Third, we know this world is temporary. We shake our heads often and wonder how people could be so heartless and violent. I saw a Facebook comment today about the shooting that just said, ”When will this stop?” According to Scripture, not until Jesus comes to be the final Judge and make everything right. In the meantime, here’s a great attitude to adopt: “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion (or possession, inheritance) forever.Psalm 73:25, 26

So, on days such as these, we grieve. Our hearts break because of the effects of sin on our society. We brace ourselves for what will be on the news tomorrow that we can’t know now. But God is already there, controlling it within his plan and timing. With faith in that, I’m fine to send my daughter to school tomorrow.

praying soldierThe past three days have been good for the Aldermans.  Tracy, Megan and I spent the weekend in the hills of southcentral Pennsylvania in fellowship, worship and fun with some new friends and that’s always good.  Mark Benz, with the Officers’ Christian Fellowship, called recently to ask if I would lead the worship at this weekend retreat for some military chaplains and their families.  Mark, a retired army chaplain, is a dear brother who has a true servants’ heart and understands what these folks deal with.  It was eye-opening to get to know these remarkable people and Memorial Day is more meaningful with this experience so fresh in my memory.

I can’t completely identify with their work, even though I’m also a minister.  The physical suffering of those in their charge is sometimes the result of war.  The unseen, but very real, emotional and psychological trauma they help to ease is constantly present.  Some are facing moves to new assignments, some just got back from deployment, all are faithfully following a special, sacrificial call.  Whether at the War College, Walter Reed or on a base these caring ministers seek to bring healing and truth to needy, hurting families.

Their stories are compelling.  At meal times, I just kept asking questions about their work and ministry.  The dedication and sacrifice of their wives also amazed me – they understand their call and what it means for their families.  Frequent moves, prolonged periods apart from each other, pressures of ministry to others even during war time: these are not people whose daily lives are like mine.  It was fascinating and humbling at the same time.

It was also a reminder that, spiritually, my life should be like theirs.  Paul used military imagery to describe our life in Christ.  He called fellow Christians “soldiers” (e.g., Epaphroditus in Philippians 2:25 and Archippus in Philemon 1:2) and he mentored Timothy with the same image: 

Suffer hardship with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier in active service entangles himself in the affairs of everyday life, so that he may please the one who enlisted him as a soldier. (2 Timothy 2:3, 4)

If you were in the infantry in Iraq or Afghanistan right now, what would your “war awareness” be?  Every second of the day would have to bow to the truth that “I’m fighting a war”.  Can you imagine being a soldier with hostile enemies all around, but not carrying your weapon or reviewing your training much?  That would be a pretty worthless soldier, putting himself, his buddies and the mission in jeopardy.  The reality of the spiritual warfare Christians face mandates that we commit ourselves to the cause, acknowlege and accept the hardship with the goal of pleasing the Commander.  I need to think more that way.  Anybody else?

Driving home, I also was struck that these military leaders should be included in our 1 Timothy 2 prayers for “kings and all those in authority”.  Pray for their safety, wisdom and families, but don’t forget their spiritual life as many walk the line between life and death every day.

On this Memorial Day, let’s take a moment to realize that we followers of Jesus are also enlisted and are in a very real battle every day in this world.  And God bless our military and the great example they display.