Seven Things About Sutherland Springs

More than two-dozen people died Sunday during worship at First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas. A man killed them. Hundreds weep. Millions wonder why.

As a follower of Jesus and a pastor, I am feeling a deep mix of emotions and thoughts related to this shooting. What a senseless loss of life. What a tragic theft of liberty. What a disorienting blow to the people of the church, the pastor, and everyone who has found themselves swept up in the aftermath of this horror.

Allow me to process with these seven responses to the Sutherland Springs shooting:

1. This shooting is nothing more or less than murder. Murder is wrong. It is an offense to our laws. It is an offense to laws of the Creator God who makes every human being unique and infinitely valuable.

2. My heart goes out to the grieving family, congregation, and friends of the victims in Sutherland Springs. I can’t stop seeing their pain-twisted faces illuminated by candlelight. Come quickly, Lord Jesus.

3. Don’t send thoughts or prayers to the victims. They are okay. They are in the eternal embrace of their Savior. Their deaths are tragic, but they are at rest and in peace. Pray, instead, for those left behind. Pray for the families, friends, and the community. Pray for those who live among us in such darkness and pain that their minds are susceptible to the notion that ending the lives of others can give meaning to theirs.

4. The day of the shooting was also the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church. Millions of Christians around the world suffer violence for no other reason than that they worship and serve Jesus. The kind of carnage we see on our screens, newspapers, and news feeds today happens every hour of every day but is unreported and invisible to us. Usually, persecution is distant. Today, it is all too near.

5. God allows believers to go through hardships and persecution so that others can see Christ displayed through them. Every follower of Jesus has been entrusted with the life-giving message that the only hope for our broken world is for individuals to be made new at the heart-level by the power of Jesus. We believers carry this message through life in our fragile bodies. Why? As Paul explains, “This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves.” How could this be the way to share the message? As if sensing our doubt, Paul continues: “Yes, we live under constant danger of death because we serve Jesus, so that the life of Jesus will be evident in our dying bodies. So we live in the face of death, but this has resulted in eternal life for you” (2 Corinthians 4:7,11–12 NLT). Our persistent hope in the face of hopeless situations, violence, and injustices underscores the brevity of this life, the brokenness of this world, and the beauty of the eternal life that awaits all who trust in Jesus.

6. Fear and bitterness are not a long-term option for followers of Jesus. My emotions, right now, are a churning mix of anger, worry, and confusion. It’s only human to react this way. But the work of God in my heart captures those thoughts and calms them. In the face of fear, I know that God is in control. In the face of anger, I remember that the true nature of this conflict is spiritual. We have an enemy who seeks to steal, kill, and destroy. If he can twist and torment the souls of human beings to pull the trigger, he will. However, no matter how murderous, people are not our enemy. “For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12 NLT).Our implements of war don’t fire bullets. We do battle for the sake of our families and neighbors with truth, justice, the good news of peace, faith, a mind that knows Jesus is our only rescue, and a heart saturated in the promises of God in His Word.

7. I am praying non-stop for every believer connected to this tragic event at every level of community leadership. I pray that their words and actions will represent the God the shooting victims loved and worshiped.

Written by Owen Wildman, pastor of Missional Living at Stonebriar Community Church. This post was originally published on his personal blog, Wild Thoughts

If you have questions about responding with faith in times of tragedy, or if you wish to speak to a pastor or SoulCare ministry partner, call Care Ministries at 469-252-5364 or click here to contact us online. 

Lessons on the Track

Have you ever noticed how much more enjoyable exercise is with a friend? On Sunday evening, I had a dear friend invite me to go for a walk at a local school track. As we went ‘round and ‘round the track, we laughed and shared about our week, and before we knew it, we had walked for an hour. Last night, I went to the track on my own to enjoy the beautiful spring evening, and as I was walking, three dads and their three young sons (about eight years old) showed up. It appeared the boys were preparing for some upcoming race. The dads gave the instructions of how many times to run around the track, and off the boys went while the dads chatted on the sidelines.

It wasn’t too long before one boy started cramping up and had to stop and walk, though his friends kept running. I could hear his dad telling him to run or at least walk faster and take longer strides. The boy’s face indicated defeat as he looked around the track, watching his friends run. Then the dad shouted out another set of instructions: “Run the straights and walk the curves!” The boy must have thought that sounded like a great tip, because he repeated it to his friends as they went running past him. The dads continued to stay on the sidelines, occasionally hollering instructions. I confess, I so wanted to say, Get off the sidelines and come alongside your son! He needs to see your instructions in action, and he could use the encouragement of you running beside him!

After one of the other boys completed his designated laps, I watched him get back on the track and run up to his little struggling friend, offering words of encouragement and running alongside him until he finished. Way to go, buddy, I thought as I watched the boy’s look of defeat disappear and his pace pick up a bit.

As I was on my last lap, I saw another dad with his four-year-old son. The little fella was down in a runner’s stance, counting off, “On your mark, get set, go!” Off he went running as fast as he could with his dad right there beside him. When the dad began to get a stride or two ahead of him, I watched the little runner reach out and grab the shirt tail of his dad. That’s it, I thought to myself. That’s what we want—our dad right there with us, never out of reach.

I could not stop thinking about these two scenes and how they taught me about running the race of life God has set before us. We are not meant to run it alone. We need dads and shepherds who don’t just stand on the sidelines, giving us instructions every time we come around. We need shepherds who show us how to run, how to keep pace and endure. We need to see it!

For those of us in a leadership role of any kind, we need to be shepherds who run the race with our sheep—cheering and encouraging them along the way, as well as instructing them as we run and walk together. And we all need friends to do the same thing for us. We were not meant to run this race alone. And we all (sheep and shepherds) need to keep in step with our great Shepherd, who is always with us. We can reach out our hand to grab his shirt tail, because we want and need to be right in step with Him.

I am so thankful that God would use a simple walk to teach me how to run! How about you? How is your walk (or run) going? Are you trying to do it on your own and feeling a bit defeated? Do you know of a friend or family member who needs you to come walk alongside them? Parents and leaders, are you on the track or just hanging out on the sidelines giving out instructions when your sheep pass by you? Are you staying in step with your Father? May we love well and never forget that, on God’s track, no one walks alone!

Written by Karen Hawkins, pastoral leader of Community Care

Healing from Shame

open handsSpecial thanks go to Dr. Andi Thacker, assistant professor of Biblical counseling at Dallas Theological Seminary, for contributing this article. 

As soon as the words came out of my mouth, I felt regret. Stressors piled up and got the best of me, and now I heaped those uncontrollable frustrations upon someone I love. My loved one melted under a barrage of words, and, instantly, I too felt flooded with emotion. Too often this is an experience that characterizes many of our relational interactions. We inflict damage upon those we love without even intending to do so.  Then, we too suffer under the bondage of a powerful emotive experience—the one we call shame.

Shame can characterize entire cultures. Many of you can identify with this experience, yet you have no idea how shame happens or where it comes from. As a professional counselor, I encounter shame on a daily basis. As a broken individual, living between Eden and Heaven, I experience it firsthand. I did not fully understand the concept of shame until I came across a definition by Dr. Brené Brown. Dr. Brown has stated, “Shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging—something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection.” She goes on to say that guilt is “I did something bad” whereas shame is “I am bad.”

Shame always occurs within the context of relationships. Because shame produces a sense of relational unworthiness, it causes people to hide. Hiding is the exact opposite of what produces healing. Again, we tend to act out of reactionary responses and therefore must be intentional to work in this area to create patterns of restoration.

Dr. Curt Thompson, in his books Anatomy of the Soul and The Soul of Shame, discusses how the Lord actually utilizes relationships to bring healing in the area of shame. Rather than hiding from others, engaging in relationships characterized by empathy can help heal the wounds inflicted by shame-based experiences. Thompson calls this experience in which we feel empathy from another “feeling felt.” It allows us to feel understood rather than hide behind the barrage of shame. Over time, a consistent experience of “feeling felt” can lead to substantial emotional healing. We know now while we both are wounded and wound in relationships, God also uses relationships to bring about the greatest recovery.

So how does one begin the journey of becoming shame-free? One way is to begin engaging in authentic interactions with others in which one courageously embraces vulnerability, which leads to interactions characterized by grace rather than shame. At Stonebriar, there are a variety of opportunities to engage in meaningful, authentic relationships in safe settings characterized by appropriate vulnerability and high levels of trust. Examples of these settings include Restore ministries and MarriageCore. These ministries allow us to engage fully and live authentically permeated by grace and not shame.

A unique opportunity to learn about shame and find freedom from its harmful effects is coming to Stonebriar this March. Visit our website for information about The Soul of Shame conference, led by Dr. Curt Thompson.

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Brown, B. (2013, January 14). Shame v. Guilt. [Web log comment]. Retrieved from http://brenebrown.com/2013/01/14/2013114shame-v-guilt-html/

Thompson, C. (2010). Anatomy of the Soul: Surprising connections between neuroscience and spiritual practices that transform your life and relationships. Carrollton, TX: Tyndale.

Thompson, C. (2015). The Soul of Shame: Retelling the stories we believe about ourselves. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity.