Here's what I actually talked about:
Today was planned as an opportunity for us to renew our commitment to Jesus Christ in an act of covenant promise making. It seems to me that more than anything today we need to remind ourselves that our God is a covenant keeping God. In the midst of all the questions we may have, all the doubts we may feel, all the pain we’re experiencing, the one thing to which we can always return, the one person to whom we can always turn is our God.
Turning to him doesn’t mean that we will get an answer to the questions, it doesn’t mean that the pain will be any less or the doubts any easier to deal with, it just means we find a safe place for all those things.
Because our God is a covenant keeping God, he never changes. He is the same God who raised Jesus from the dead and he’s the same God who rescued Daniel from the lion’s den. He’s the same God who worked out his purposes in the life of Joseph through the prison years, and he’s the same God who has rescued you from an eternity without him.
He never changes.
Trouble is part of life
Because we’re invited to enter into a relationship with him through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, he makes his promise to be with us through all circumstances of life. He doesn’t promise immunity from pain and suffering, in fact quite the opposite, for Jesus said: "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." John 16:33
The challenge is not how to avoid trouble as much as how to live through it in a way that honours God. To live differently, to respond graciously, to walk humbly with the Lord our God.
Ours is a covenant of hope and grace, so we ought to respond to whatever life puts before us with both hope and grace and a good measure of faith and love thrown in.
Responding to evil
Martin Luther King said: “When evil men plot, good men must plan. When evil men burn and bomb, good men must build and bind. When evil men shout ugly words of hatred, good men must commit themselves to the glories of love.”
How do we respond then to the events of this past week? Here are one authors responses:
• Lend a heartfelt word of encouragement, even though you may be a total stranger. With a few minutes of research, you can find out where to send a card, flowers or a special note to someone whose life has been touched by senseless tragedy.
• If something in the headlines moves your sense of compassion, act on it. Don’t let the moment become lost to your daily routine. Step out and find a way to help. God uses passionate people to do extraordinary things.
• Use the headline news to order a special time of prayer or fasting on a daily or weekly basis, dedicated to those left in the wake of the frightening stories you have encountered.
• Seize every opportunity to magnify God and the Gospel to others. You never know who is crossing your path. For all of the tragedy that makes the headline news, how much more has been averted by a simple encounter with someone who inspired a different pattern of thinking by introducing a stranger to the truth of God’s infinite love in action?
When a lone gunman entered an Amish school, killed a number of children and them himself, the Amish community, in the midst of their grief, urged the public to contribute to a fund for the widow and children of the gunman. In the grips of their own personal tragedy, they took the time to embrace another set of victims—the gunman’s family. God’s love is at work, even in a twisted and dark situation that defies logic. His light is still shining in Georgetown, Pennsylvania and the statement of evil worked through a deranged gunman falls silent in the shadow of God’s saints in action.
We can learn from this remarkable portrait, arising from the aftermath of loss and sorrow. When faced with the unthinkable, God’s love can render evil powerless when we step out and let it shine through each one of us. Each day we have the opportunity to redefine the events that take place around us. Our individual efforts will ease the pain, heal, restore, and bring about good as we reflect Him in the wake of the unthinkable.
And personally, as you face the questions without apparent answers, perhaps you should take Philip Yancey’s advice and question your doubts at least as much as you question your faith.
It’s sad but true that most of us get derailed more easily that we get filled with faith. Maybe it’s our nature, maybe it’s the pernicious work of the evil one undermining our faith, but we question our faith in the light of our doubts rather than the other way around. But does the truth change? Does God change? If the answer to those questions is a resounding no, then our doubts should be questioned not our faith.
Second, do not journey alone. As you seek to walk by faith, do so in the company of others. The one who doubts usually does so whilst walking alone. The path of faith is one that is meant to be taken in the company of others.
Thirdly, let the good penetrate as deeply as the bad. As Philip Yancey says: If I awoke every morning, and fell asleep each night, bathed in a sense of gratitude and not self-doubt, the in-between hours would doubtless take on a different cast.
We grieve with hope, we say goodbye with hope because death is not the end. It does not set the agenda for life, the gospel does that. The love, mercy and grace of God set the agenda for life.
And we will praise our never changing, covenant keeping, comfort giving God.