Helping Someone Process Tragedy

This morning, we heard the tragic news that a McKinney North High School student died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound at the school. As a pastor in our city, I wanted to help. I drove to the neighboring high school, McKinney Boyd, where they were taking the students to reunite with their parents.

There, I had the chance to watch the response of the outstanding counselors from our school district. I asked them to help me to understand how I can help people respond to tragedy. I want to take some of what they shared and add to it some of what I have learned through the years as a camp director, church staffer and pastor.

Initiate

No one knows all the answers in a tragic situation so many will not start the conversation. Don’t be afraid to start. Be direct about your intentions: “I want to help you process what happened today.” As Jay Adams points out in Competent to Counsel, If you are a Christian, you are empowered to counsel by the Holy Spirit, The Counselor.

Ask

A basic question is all it takes. Something like “Where were you when you heard the news?” Then be ready to follow the direction that they take the conversation. If they are not conversive, you don’t need to be forceful. Just be present.

Listen

If they are able to talk, continue to encourage them to process their emotions. “How did it make you feel?” “What makes you angry?” “What makes you sad?” The more they can verbalize, the more healing they will experience.

Offer

You don’t know all the answers. Your goal is not to give them all the answers. That said, if you are a believer, the Bible gives us hope in tragedy. One of my favorite passages for a tough time is Romans 8:18-39. Here, Paul talks about the brokenness of our world… and the hope we have in JESUS.

Pray

At one point, my mom was in the hospital for over a month. A man visited her room and said the words: “I can’t help you personally, but I know someone who can. Can I take you to Him in prayer?” She has never forgotten those words. Be like the four friends that took the lame man to Jesus in Luke 12. Bring the person and the names of those involved in the tragedy to Jesus. 

Give it Time

We do not give space in our culture for grief. This Sunday, I will be preaching through the Beatitudes in which Jesus says the radical words: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” This makes no sense in our world. It could loosely be translated as: “Happy are the unhappy.” We need to give time for grief. When Nehemiah heard the tragic news that Jerusalem had been destroyed, he wrote: “As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days…” (emphasis mine).

If you are reading this article, Please stop right now and pray for the family and friends of the one who took his life today and for all those who are processing this tragedy. PRAY!

 

 

 

 

 

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Responding to Sutherland Springs

To those who haven’t experienced what happens in a Christian church.

From a follower of Jesus.

Yesterday, a man walked into a church in Sutherland Springs and opened fire. At least twenty-six people were killed and twenty more were injured. The New York Times describes the horrific scene: “Families gathered in pews, clutching Bibles and praying to the Lord, were murdered in cold blood on the spot.”

With you, I have been reading and watching the news and my heart breaks for the victims and their families. My heart also breaks for the shooter and his family. With many of you, I have been praying for God to “make His presence felt in their lives.”

As I’ve thought about how to honor the lives of the victims, I’ve considered what they would say to the world if they could. I’m a Christian. I was in a First Baptist Church yesterday. If I had lost my life in church yesterday, this is what I would want someone to write to the world…

As my heart grieves for those affected by the shooting, my heart also hurts for the many in the world who have their eyes focused on a Christian church and do not understand why Christians gather. Many who have reported on the story have implied that they don’t know what happens when Christians gather. I’ve been gathering with Christians all of my life. Here is a window in…

What is a Christian church?

Christian churches are gatherings of people around a Person. Christians (the church) gather, not to focus on working harder or getting better, but to be reminded of the selfless love of Jesus. Jesus is the one who demonstrated sacrificial love for all people (everyone) by laying down his own life and rising again so that others may live… eternally. His death and resurrection are historic events that happened 2000 years ago in Jerusalem. Those events changed history and the faith of billions of people. Christian churches are gatherings of people that focus on the person and work of Jesus.

Because of Jesus, Christian churches are gatherings of refuge. Christian churches are gatherings where people find help in times of trouble.

Why do Christians go to church?

Christians are a mess just like everyone else. All of us have hurt others in some way at some point in our lives. All of us have tendencies to be self-centered. But what makes the church different is Jesus. We go to church because we need to be reminded of what Jesus has done for us. Jesus showed us selfless and sacrificial love. Jesus’ love changes people. Christians love because Jesus first loved us.

And that leads me to the other reason that Christians go to church. Christians go to church to gather with other Christians. Christians give one way love to others because Jesus first gave one way love to us. The real ones do. There is nothing like being in a gathering with people who are really for you. There is nothing like authentic friendships that go deep with people who are open about their imperfections (we don’t have to hide them because we believe Jesus came to forgive them) and love other people selflessly.

In a relationship with Jesus, we find refuge and strength in times of trouble. In a relationship with those who follow Jesus, we tangibly see this refuge and strength play out.

Experience “church” for yourself.

 If you haven’t experienced what happens in a Christian church, you might think that gatherings of Christians will be skeptical of you coming to check it out… especially this week. It’s actually the opposite. Jesus’ selfless love for us is overwhelming for those who really get it. We long for you to experience that love for yourself… I’m emotional as I type.

So, as someone who believes what the victims believe, don’t just look in from the outside and wonder what goes on when Christians gather. Check it out. I hope you will be welcomed warmly. I pray you will hear about and experience the most incredible, selfless, and sacrificial love the world has ever known. It’s the only place in the world where you will find supernatural refuge and strength in times of trouble.

You might think that this is an insensitive statement after yesterday’s shootings. I know this is what would most honor of those who lost their lives. I honestly believe that this is what they would want you to hear. As a Christian, if I had been shot in a church yesterday, this is what I would want someone to write to the world. Because I believe what they believe, I know their greatest desire right now is for you to experience on earth what they are experiencing in heaven. The gathering of people around a person – Jesus.

Did not our hearts burn?

Luke 24:32 They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while He talked to us on the road, while He opened to us the Scriptures?”

What is God saying to me? Two disciples spend the afternoon on the road to Emmaus with the unrecognized Jesus. At dinner Jesus reveals himself to them by blessing and breaking the bread and then vanishes. As they reflect on their lesson from Scripture with Jesus, they share how their hearts were kindled. Literally, their emotions were on fire.

How will I obey? I am wary of emotionalism. However, like the 80’s worship song “Light the Fire” expresses, there is nothing that compares to the passion that God can give (specifically here through seeing Jesus in Scripture). I often go to my marriage, my job, my hobbies, my kids, sports, exercise, etc. to excite and satisfy my heart. Today, I am going to pray “Lord, light the fire in my heart again” and then go to Scripture for the kindling.

Who will I tell? Clint

Finding Freedom Through Forgiveness.

Psalms 32:1–2 “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.”

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What is God saying to me? I have two people in my life who have recently shared the burden of guilt they are shouldering. I am reminded of the many times I have sinned and battled shame. Psalms 32:3-4 describes that feeling: “For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.”

How will I obey? Confession… Psalms 32:5 David tells us how he found freedom: “I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,’ and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.”

Who will I tell? The two people in my life who have recently shared with me the guilt they are shouldering.

Why A Bible Reading Plan Will Change Your Year.

I had been a Christian for 18 years. I had grown up in a home that showed me how to have a personal Bible study, attended Bible teaching churches, gone to a Christian university and was most of my way through my Masters in Divinity… and I had never read the Bible cover to cover. Yep, I had tried many times and gotten bogged down in Leviticus or in better years in the 2 Chronicles range. I loved Jesus and loved the Bible, but could not figure out how to get through it.

Bible Reading Plan

In 2005, I was engaged to Rebecca and had been watching as she used The One Year Bible as her devotional book. I liked that her devotional was not someone’s interpretation of scripture but was scripture itself. She shared with me how it divided the Bible into 15 minute a day sections of OT, NT, Psalms and Proverbs. In a year you would read through the entire bible once and Psalms and Proverbs twice.

I decided to try it. I loved it. I read through the Bible in a year… and have done it every year since.

My second year through it, I had a mentor, Jim Leggett, encourage me to take a nugget each day and journal on it using the SOAP format. S – Scripture (one verse) O – Observation (what does it say) A – Application (how can I live it out) and P – Prayer. This was HUGE. I was now seeing the Word of God direct my life.

A few years ago, I tweaked the above journaling format to my church‘s three questions. Each day I still watch for a verse that jumps out to me. I write the verse down and then I ask: What is God saying to me? How will I obey? Who will I tell?

I cannot overstate the impact it has had on my life. I can now say that I have read through the Bible, cover to cover, ten times. But just saying I have done it is not the benefit. It is watching God direct my life through His Word. It is incredible to look back at my journals and see how my Bible Reading has guided me. Daily, God is speaking into my life and showing me how I can follow Jesus.

Several years ago a friend of mine was touring Israel. He asked his Jewish tour guide if he believed in a historical Jesus. The man answered: “Yes.” He then asked if he believed if Jesus was the Messiah. The man answered: “No.” My friend then followed by asking how he could believe in Jesus but not that Jesus was the Messiah. The tour guide answered with words that I have never forgotten. He said: “If Jesus was a true Rabbi, his followers would live like him. I have never seen a Christian that is living like Jesus.”

We are called to follow Jesus everyday. That is what it means to be disciples. How do you know the way Jesus wants you to live? You know because He tells you through His Word. I want to invite you to follow Jesus everyday by starting a Bible Reading plan.

Last year I tried a new plan, the Chronological Bible. It was good, but the first nine months were more difficult because they were all Old Testament. Don’t get me wrong, I love the Old Testament, but holding all New Testament reading until the end was hard at times.

I invited many yesterday at our church to join us in reading through The One Year Bible in 2017. I’ve been encouraged to see so many jump in already. Some are reading with me on You Version – The Bible App. The One Year Bible is one of You Version’s free reading plans. You can highlight verses and make notes that friends can see. You can pick it up at any time during the day. You can even have the app read you your plan as you drive to work or workout.

Are you trying to live like Jesus? Have you struggled to read through the Bible. I want to challenge you to start a Bible reading plan and begin to ask yourself these three questions everyday: What is God saying to you? How will you obey? Who will you tell?

If you do, it will change your year… your life… and your eternity.

How Jesus Prioritized Time

Matthew 11:1 “When Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and preach in their cities.”

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What is God saying to me? Even with a busy ministry schedule, Jesus prioritized discipleship. Before He physically ascended, Jesus commanded that His followers do the same: “Go and make disciples of all nations…” Cultural Christianity has changed Jesus’ command to “make disciples” into “make converts.” Mathematicians will tell you that Jesus’ strategy is better. If you convert 1,000 people to Christ a day, it will take you 16,000 years to reach the world’s 6 billion people. If you disciple 1 person a year who will in turn disciple one person a year, it will take you 32 years to reach the world for Christ.

How will I obey? Small group and one-on-one discipleship has proven to be the most fruitful and most fulfilling part of my ministry. In my church we refer to it as Multiplying: http://www.pcbc.org/multiply/. Today, I am going to invite someone I know into a discipleship relationship.

Who will I tell? Pat

What step can you make to pursue a discipleship relationship today?

I am reading the Blue Letter Chronological Bible in 2016 and asking each day what God is saying to me, how should I obey, and who should I tell. Occasionally I will blog my journal. You can find the plan in print and on You Version. Join me.

Where A Nation’s Pain Begins

Ezekiel 22:4 “You have become guilty by the blood that you have shed, and defiled by the idols that you have made, and you have brought your days near, the appointed time of your years has come. Therefore I have made you a reproach to the nations, and a mockery to all the countries.”

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What is God saying? With the pain that is evident in the USA, Ezekiel has been especially challenging for me to read this year. God is clear with Israel that He is going to discipline His children. “As one gathers silver and bronze and iron and lead and tin into a furnace, to blow the fire on it in order to melt it, so I will gather you in my anger and in my wrath, and I will put you in and melt you” (Ezekiel 22:20) What stood out to me this morning in 22:4 was the word “therefore.” The pain that Israel will experience is “there for” a reason. They are being disciplined because of their sin (violence and idolatry in 22:4 and promiscuity other places).

*It is important to note that the NT makes it clear that the church is the new Israel. We cannot say that God deals with all nations like He dealt with Israel. It would be more accurate to say that God deals with His people like he has always dealt with his people.

*It is also important to note that the wrath of God was fully laid on Jesus.

How will I obey? Praise God for Jesus and the unconditional forgiveness we have by grace through faith in Jesus. “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:17). Spend time as I drive this morning, asking God where I personally need to repent and also asking God how I can engage my community to bring about corporate repentance.

Who will I tell? Justin

How can you engage your community to bring repentance today?

I am reading the Blue Letter Chronological Bible in 2016 and asking each day what God is saying to me, how should I obey, and who should I tell. You can find the plan in print and on You Version. Join me.