That Sunday morning I’ll admit that I had entertained the lull of laziness and was considering staying home from church. I had woken up in a haze of tiredness and apathy, and had let life run me down without renewing my mind as I ought. As I listened to the lies lulling me with rationalizations, I slunk into the office and plopped down at my computer for some mindless e-mail sorting. I sifted through a couple of messages and then drowsily opened a bulk e-mail from Pastor George expecting to read of a new program or a new sermon series.
Instantly I was wide awake. His message said that there had been shootings at YWAM (Youth With A Mission, Arvada, CO located on the campus of Faith Bible Chapel) and young missionaries had been killed. This was my church. These were my brothers, sisters, daughters and sons. This was my neighborhood – just blocks away. My spirit leapt into prayer. After a few moments of kicking myself squarely in the conscience for my complacency, my husband and I threw on some clothes and departed for church. (I now know that despite what my flesh tells me, I can get ready in 10 minutes and completely forego the vanities of hair and makeup!)
At church the congregation was somber but peaceful. There was no fear, just a quietness and earnest respect for what God desired to reveal to his people -- his church on this painful morning. Our pastor was gentle and real as he described to us what he knew and had observed during the tragedy of the last night. I was thankful for his wisdom as we collectively cast all our unanswerable questions to the Lord and worshiped through the shock. Our combined knowledge of the shootings was miniscule, but we all wanted and needed to be together. Despite the bad report and dismal news, there was a common understanding that I AM was still on the throne and we dug in our heels of faith with new resolve.
The rest of the morning was spent stiffly going about daily life with a new level of raw awareness. At one point fear tried to knock on our door, as the alarm was sounded through police reports to neighbors about the shooter that remained at large. We were even asked to check our back yards for tracks in the snow. I lifted my heart toward the Lord and said every scripture I could recall that would refute this attempt to paralyze the community with fear. (“Perfect Love drives out fear” 1 John 4:18).
Just as peace started its return to our home, news of the New Life Shootings was released. A surreal stupor sort of sat on us for a few moments followed by an urge to pray fervently for this church of believers who had faced so many recent trials. As I reached out to God with my questions and petitions, I sensed multitudes of other believers also stretching toward their heavenly father. All of us were unified in our desperate need of God’s reassurance.
Great swells of sorrow, compassion, wondering and mercy rose and fell inside my heart all that day and into the next. Then a rumbling started as small as a mustard seed and built to a roaring blazing furnace. The blaze was the internal combustion of my anger toward the “prince of this world” (John 12:31). The inferno, I hoped, was a universal rage prompted by the Holy Spirit and aimed directly at the deceiver who had twisted the mind of this young man into such hatred and violence.
I fervently searched my bible, journaling wildly and talking non-stop to God about the whirlwind of emotions and reactions. I didn’t know how but I was firmly resolved to do whatever it took to defeat that disgusting enemy! This was the season to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ and I would not be disheartened or distracted by the devil’s filth.
Monday night was to be the final dress rehearsal of the church outreach “Walk Through Bethlehem” – a sort of evangelistic living history museum. We were all focused and more committed than ever to continuing this work despite the tragedy. Before setting off to rehearsal, I casually checked the news page on the internet to see if there was any update on the YWAM and New Life attacks. I was convinced the two were at the very least spiritually linked. I started to read that they had indeed identified the young man responsible who had also died on the scene.
The reading of this cold and factual article would forever change me. As I read the first paragraph and the name Matthew Murray nothing clicked. As I read on, the name of his uncle seemed strangely familiar, but I shrugged it off as coincidence. Then I read the name of the father: Ron Murray, a physician who lived in Englewood --- and my world stopped. This couldn’t be right. There had to be a mistake. I went back and read it again… then again. Then I sort of ran about the kitchen in circles as my mind spiraled and tried to contradict this horrific reality. I prayed aloud “Please God let me be wrong! Please God let the article be wrong! It can’t be Loretta’s son … It CAN’T BE MATTHEW!!! THAT MAKES NO SENSE GOD !!! He could never do something like that... IT CAN’T BE!!!! This could not have happened to them – not my dear sweet Godly friend Loretta! It can not have happened to such great parents. . . to such a great mother….oh God no…”
The panic stopped and the truth sunk in. I let the sorrow overtake me like flood waters. I stopped fighting it. All my rage, all my emotions, all my being – welled up with despair. I was broken for my friend. I picked up the phone and dialed her number knowing I would not reach her but desperately needing her to know that I loved her – the depth of my profound love for her as friend, mother and sister in Christ. I started to get in my car to go drive to her – but realized she was not at home. I pictured the grotesque scene: the yellow caution tape flapping in the wind, the red glare of police lights bouncing off the neighbors’ garage doors, the barricades blocking the street. No my friend was not at home today. Not this day.
In this state of profound helplessness there seemed nothing I could do. Even though it felt empty and trivial, I clicked on the automatic pilot and drove to the tent and Bethlehem. My heart was not present but I forced myself to take my position and to trust God. I prayed constantly under my breath. I had no rational words really … just utterings. Somehow I had tucked my cell phone into the folds of my ratty tunic costume and when it rang it jolted me back to my senses. It was her.
Mostly we wept together – violent weeping from me and soft gentle weeping from her. I, standing behind the façade of the "Inn" and she, tucked away at a relatives home – both hidden from the world and the judgment that was sure to come. The world would not be kind to my friend, I feared. Then I prayed for her, fiercely, loudly, intensely. I forcefully proclaimed that which God had been stirring in my heart “Well done thou good and faithful servant!!”(Matthew 25:21) I felt that God wanted her to know this truth from the book of her son’s namesake and that she was a mother after His own heart, faithful in honoring God.
At the end of the call, as we snuffed, sniffled and made plans to be together the next morning, she said “Somehow …I just want God to be glorified through all this. I just don’t want people to turn away from God.” Even in the midst of her crippling pain, her loss of her first born, she seemed more concerned about others. That is my friend in a nut shell: selfless. She is like Abraham in her faith and faithfulness.
What do we do with ourselves when faced with such pain, such hurting and need? Well most of us make something – usually food. So I tried my best to cook up a good meal and write a card with heartfelt words and scriptures, but I knew all this was temporary and pitifully insignificant. So I prayed to the great physician who is our only hope in times of devastation: “God is close to the broken hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” (Psalm 34:18).
Suddenly as I struggled to package up the excessive amounts of food I’d attempted to prepare, it dawned on me that God wasn’t asking me to instantly develop a bunch of new skills to serve my friend. No, God was asking me to take the gifts he had entrusted to me and to “scatter them abroad to the poor.” So I dashed down to the studio and compiled a CD of worship songs in various stages of development that I’d written over the past year. All of the sudden my little private worship songs that had been tucked away safely gathering dust, now plunged to a deeper place of meaning and application... and my tears continued to drain.
Driving to their home with meals, flowers, and music in tow I again felt foolishly inadequate. I had nothing to offer them except sentiment. Their agony was so huge and I was nothing. I wept and prayed that God would bathe Loretta and Ron in his presence and heal their pain, layer upon layer.
When she opened the door we simply stood in the entryway holding each other for a long time as silent tears slid down our cheeks. I can’t explain it, and it wasn’t anything said or done, it was just Jesus. Christ reached through the darkness and ministered great comfort. Somehow in that long, still and quiet moment the Lord by his Holy Spirit ministered hope. As our embrace ended Loretta’s eyes smiled as she said softly “I was just reminded that Jesus is so much bigger than any of this pain.” In those moments without words or even prayers, God started to work his ministry of reconciliation – reconciling the unfathomable to the cross.
The next day Ron and Loretta met with the families of the departed young adults from YWAM. To avoid media intrusion, the meeting was arranged at our house and I witnessed a miracle I will never forget as my family room became holy ground. The instant these faithful families embraced each other, God’s presence and resurrection power filled the air. I will testify until the day I die to God’s ability to restore and turn ashes into beauty through the power of forgiveness.
From that moment forward I began to tangibly see God’s renewal touch all the people directly involved or impacted by this tragedy. It was as if God’s grace was spread across the families, the community and the nation like peanut butter on a jelly sandwich. We even heard from Christians living halfway across the globe that the message of forgiveness and grace was received loud and clear.
Slowly at first, and then with ever increasing velocity, the body of Christ took their positions to bless to uphold this family and the other families impacted by the shootings. From volunteer public relations experts, to domestic helpers, to international missionaries and intercessors, the church awoke from it’s complacency with vigorous resolve to serve, surround and love this family (and families of the other young souls who had been taken before their time).
Though attacks and blame came from many directions, the elation of God’s goodness and the reality of God’s grace eclipsed the darkness of Matthew’s death. Matthew's funeral was worship in spirit and truth and I sang the words “It is well with my Soul” amazingly …it was!! It was more than well … it was on fire to spread the word of God’s amazing saving grace! I learned that when Ron and Loretta finally returned to their home, they placed that pathetic little worship CD I'd thrown together in Matthew's room and played it continuously for many days. Even now an atmosphere of praise rings out in that home and I am humbled and undone by a great God.
This is just my little slice of the experience that has been so hard yet so encouraging. But I know “deep in my knower” (as Pastor George would say) that the entire body of Christ has been changed. There seems to have been a wake-up call to the lukewarm church across the country, an awakening that the skeptics can not wave off as short lived revival due to catastrophic loss. “Because of the increase in wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved”. (Matthew 24:12-13).
The Greek word for church (ekklesia) directly translates to “a group of people gathered together”. When I read that definition two words stand out: gathered and people. I believe The church is indeed people from every walk of life gathered together by the Good Shepard -- our Christ. The church is not a location or building, a denomination or even an organization; it is people -- body, soul and spirit. These are people who are called together to love and serve in unity and to follow in the image of Christ. The church is wonderful people, sinful people, flawed people, and eternally hope-filled people whom God has chosen to advance His kingdom. Christ loves his church, His chosen people, and the “gates of Hell will not overcome it.” (Matthew 16:18).
I am proud to be a part of the Church of Jesus Christ that when afflicted grew stronger and prospered just like the enslaved Children of Israel (“But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread. Exodus 1:12). I am faith filled to stand with my brothers and sisters and when the enemy attempts to hack away at the branches of the true vine, we plunge our mighty roots deeper into the rock of our salvation.
Personally I feel that this is a year of new beginnings for the church and also a year of endings – the end of excuses!! No more will I argue with God about his plans or purposes for my little life. No more will I test God or grieve him with my half hearted obedience and nauseatingly predictable insecurities. No more will I settle for complacency, mediocrity or procrastination.
The bible teaches us that there are gates in life. There are gates called beautiful beckoning to be entered. There are narrow gates that lead to life. And there are the gates of hell which have already been defeated. God gives us freedom to choose. The church is all those beloved followers of Christ who choose to walk through the narrow gate, hand in hand into beautiful.
I heard an old folk song the other day that reminded me of just how much we are the hands and feet of Christ. The lyric went something like this:
We are each others angels and we meet when it is time.
We keep each other going and we show each other signs.
So go answer your calling – go fill each others cup.
When you see somebody falling won’t you stop and help them up.
The thing I marvel at most is that God’s design for the redemption of all mankind intricately involves His church. “You are my witnesses, declares the Lord, and my servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he.” (Isaiah 43:10). God so loved the world that he sent his son AND chose to partner with us. He chose to empower us, lead us, guide us and strengthen us to do his will – so that the whole world would come to know Him as we do and so that we would see His glory. Oh what a wonderful thing it is indeed when all the members of the Body of Christ are aligned with a single focus: the glory of God.
So although these are times of never before seen darkness and injustice, I can’t help but be almost giddy with anticipation at the goodness of God’s plan. Through the power of God this unspeakable occurrence has been redeemed. Hearts have been transformed, passions ignited, purposes made clear and all the fodder and chaff that clogs up our spirits burned away in a fire of pure forgiveness. (“Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done.” 2 Corinthians 7:10-11) I am filled with courage to advance in my own realm as God leads and join Loretta in her simple, selfless prayer “May God be glorified”.