My pastor recently started a new sermon series on spiritual disciplines we did not choose. Topics will include persecution and suffering, aging, God’s silence, difficult people, rejection and loneliness. Pastor Brad had planned to talk about aging on Mother’s Day but a couple of things happened during the week that caused him to change his mind. A friend of his passed away and there was yet another school shooting in our community.
At the time of the Columbine High School shooting, my pastor was serving as a chaplain for the county sheriff’s department. He got a call to go to the elementary school to be with the parents who were waiting for their kids. After the Aurora theater shooting, he spent hours in the waiting room and at the bedside of a survivor from our church. About five years ago, there was a school shooting at the high school his daughters attended so again, it hit close to home. Last week, there was a school shooting at the STEM charter school in our community.
I can understand why my pastor had too much on his mind to talk about aging. It is hard enough to deal with the grief of losing a friend. But once again, Brad had to counsel parents who feel sad and helpless about school safety and to try to find something positive and encouraging to say to mothers.
So he spoke about trouble instead.
Jesus did not tell us that life would be easy. No, he said you will have trouble. Trouble comes in many ways. The Greek word thlipsis means pressure, affliction, tribulation, anguish, persecution.
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
Timothy wrote that there would be terrible times in the last days. Every time I read this scripture, it strikes me that the last days sound a lot like now. People today are just like Timothy described – self-centered, greedy, brutal.
But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.2 Timothy 3:1-5
Pastor Brad told us that police have learned a couple of important lessons from Columbine. Too many people tried to take charge at Columbine and the response was not well directed and coordinated. In an active shooter situation, police used to set up a secure perimeter around the building and wait for SWAT to arrive. Now police officers know that there must be one and only one incident commander and it doesn’t have to be the highest ranking person. Now, instead of waiting, the first officer on the scene acts immediately to get to the shooter.
It’s easy to get discouraged when you see how messed up this world is. Jesus wanted us to be prepared for trials and tribulation. But he also wanted us to be at peace. He wanted us to take heart. He was not defeated by this world and he has equipped his followers to be overcomers.
God is the first incident commander. He is with you. Do not be discouraged. Do not be afraid. Put on his armor. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace (Ephesians 6:14-15). In good times and bad times, commit yourself to him and continue to do the right thing.
So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.1 Peter 4:19