Friday, July 31, 2009

In The Shadow Of Our Steeple

On Wednesday night just after prayer meeting and Bible Study at the church, I noted two of our members lingering in conversation as others left the church. There is nothing unusual about this in itself, but the circumstances made this conversation very much out of the ordinary. Both of these faithful church members' families had been touched by a common tragedy. This brother and sister in Christ both had reason to grieve, but from very different perspectives. One as the cousin of a murder victim - the other as the great grandmother of the suspect.

A couple of days earlier there had been a terrible tragedy in the city where I minister. Reports came in on the 11:00 PM news that the police were on the scene of a crime in the west end of Huntington (just a couple of blocks from my younger brother's home). Information was sketchy at that late hour, but as the news reports came in the next morning we began to learn the names of the parties involved and the details of the sad story.

A young man had allegedly stabbed to death his girl friend and had attempted to conceal her body in the crawl space under the house. Someone had tipped off the police, who made the grizzly discovery, and subsequently the arrest of the suspect. As the names of the two were announced, I immediately guessed the victim to be related in some way to one of our church members, from the surname they shared. My fears proved to be correct. I didn't recognize the name of the young man who had been arrested. However, in talking to my brother, I learned that he was acquainted with the family of the suspected killer, and had even coached the young man years earlier in Little League baseball.

We were unaware of any connection he had to our church until prayer meeting on Wednesday evening. We requested prayer for the family of the victim, and for her two children, and for the other family as well. At that point, one of our precious elderly ladies advised us that the man in custody for the crime was her own great grandson. Understandably her heart was broken with grief as well.

Later printed news reports indicated that this had couple both experienced previous encounters with the law, and at least a two year history of domestic violence that had included previous arrests and restraining orders. The rocky relationship came to an abrupt end as the news of her fatal stabbing rocked the community and devastated their respective families.

Several thoughts raced through my mind, as I saw the two relatives - a brother and sister in Christ - sharing their grief after the church meeting on Wednesday evening.

I took comfort in the fact that these two church members - whose families had suffered terrible loss on each side of the awful event - could still love one another in Christ. There is no doubt in my mind that they were attempting to offer comfort and condolences to one another.

I thought of the children (one of which was the child of both the victim and the suspect) who had lost their mother. It is also heartbreaking to consider all of the things that they had probably endured through the previous stormy relationship between this young man and woman. What a terrible circumstance for innocent children to have to endure!

I thought of the untimely end of the young lady's earthly life, and the fact that the rest of the life of this young man had been ruined forever. Two young lives - with tremendous potential, now wasted. The grief experienced by both families surely must be almost equally devastating.

Finally, I thought of the tremendous number of hurting people there are in our community - even within the shadow of our steeple. People who are young and old, and every age in between. People who have suffered loss of some type. People who are enslaved to addictions of all type. People who struggle silently with problems that many of us cannot even imagine. People who need to know there is hope for their hopeless situations. People who need to know there is a God who loves them. A God who is willing to forgive and forget. A God who can give them a new birth, a new, abundant, and eternal life, and a personal relationship with Him.

How will they know? How can they know?

Will the sight of our beautiful church buildings project that hope to them? Will the majestic view of the steeple pointing toward Heaven get the message of hope and salvation across to those who see it towering above the roof line of the community? Will the marquee on our church lawns with the clever messages change the lives and eternal destinies of lost men and women and boys and girls?


The Bible tells us very simply how hope can be brought to the lost and hurting who walk among us. People need Jesus. They must come to Him to find peace, hope, joy, love, forgiveness, and purpose. But they need to be told! Listen to what the Bible says on this subject in Romans, chapter 10 -

"... for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call on Him; for "WHOEVER WILL CALL ON THE NAME OF THE LORD WILL BE SAVED." How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, "HOW BEAUTIFUL ARE THE FEET OF THOSE WHO BRING GOOD NEWS OF GOOD THINGS!" ... So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ." (NASB)

Lost and hurting people need to hear the Good News of Christ. That is where faith is born. Christ, alone, is where salvation may be found. He alone can break the bonds of sin and lift the weight of its accompanying guilt.

How will they believe upon Christ unless they hear the Good News?

How will they hear unless someone tells them?

How can anyone tell them unless they are sent with the message?

Intentional evangelism is the answer. Mass evangelism when possible, certainly - but more important is personal evangelism.

Relational evangelism.

Compassion is the essential element. Caring for and loving others like Jesus loved us is the primary motivation for our evangelistic activities. The most successful evangelism is one which is founded on building relationships with lost people. That requires intentional effort on our part. That will move us out of our comfort zones. That will certainly cost us something in time, resources, and effort.

Very few of the millions who need to know about Jesus will rush through the doors of our churches to hear the news. The enemy will see to that!

That is why Jesus told us to "GO". As we are going (to school, to work, to shop, to play) may God make us aware of the many hurting people who need our Savior.

Will we be able to stop every tragedy? Sadly the answer is no. But we can make a difference in the lives of those who God brings into our lives. Let us be intentional in our mission of hope. Shall we take the Gospel to the far corners of the earth? Certainly! But the mission field starts with those in the very shadow of our steeple.


Anonymous said...

It is so true that such an incident affects so many people. It is certainly a tragedy for those involved on both sides. As a former police officer I understand how fragile human life is. I have seen people die after being shot or a person killed in a wreck on their way to pick up a few things from the store. There are too many unique situations to mention in the 11 years I spent as an officer. In each of those cases, I've never forgotten those people and with each one I always wondered where they stood with God. I found out sometimes and other times I never knew. When you are a Christian and a police officer it hurts to see so many people take their life on earth for granted. I truly don't know when my time to leave this earth will come but I wouldn't fear it either as long as I knew my two sons were where they needed to be in a relationship with Christ. They are too young at this point for me to know but I feel they are headed in the right direction (partly because of the committment of your church membership) and that gives me more peace than I can really describe. I not only wonder what will become of my kids but what will become of my grandchildren and great grandchildren in the distant future. Maybe that's not normal since I'm only 36 years old but I can't help it. For the gospel message not to reach from generation to generation would mean someone would have turned away from the knowledge and personal testimony I've tried to pass down or resisted the only true calling they will ever have on their lives and that bothers me. I imagine that bothers the lady mentioned in this entry as well. I do pray she will witness a true revival in her great grandson's life and that he will seek forgiveness with a repentant heart. It can happen. Although the victim's family is dealing with a loss that seems to be more final, they too can find faith and healing in the same place.

C.J. Adkins said...

Thanks for your comment. You bring another perspective as a former police officer. I share your same concern for future generations. That is precicely why the church must BE the church. We have focused on three simple goals - Magnify God - Make Disciples - Minister to People. Our Father will not bless or approve of anything less!