by Bram Floria, President, Compassion Radio
Today, I rode a highway of sorrows and flew over a sea of grief…
Last night, our Church, the Fellowship at Plum Creek in Kyle, TX sat together and mourned the loss of our brothers and sisters just down the road in Sutherland Springs, TX. It was not our plan – we had gathered together for our annual Church Vision Banquet, and we all looked forward with great anticipation to the reports of how God had worked through this fast-growing Body of Believers. The excitement was palpable – we all knew the basics:
– Dozens and dozens of baptisms
– Overflow services 4 times a weekend
– A solid and thriving Spanish-speaking church as part of the mix
– A booming missions effort in Honduras and Romania
– Deep and abiding mentorships of struggling Churches in a number of places and countries
– Growing Staff; Growing Membership; Growing Community
There is so, so much to celebrate. And yet we started our time together praying and weeping as the reports rolled in. Twenty, no, TWENTY SIX dead, including young children. Dead. Half a small congregation, in a small town, wiped out. In a matter of moments.
The anger rose within me. Something probably more like vengeance. Then we hear that the shooter was dead from a gunshot – probably from the barrel of a gun wielded by a neighbor to the Church.
Good. And GOOD RIDDANCE…
The rest of the evening was spent in deep gratitude for all God had done, was doing, and will do through our Congregation. At the end, my Pastor, Jonathan Leftwich, spilled a depth of emotion for all the lost ‘just over the horizon.’ The honor and pressures of managing a successful church hadn’t inflated his ego, it has driven him to his knees. No solution for ‘managing’ the growth would satisfy his anxiety. He confessed to fasting with such focus that he didn’t know if it would kill him, but he wasn’t about to relent until God spoke to him. When the answers finally came, the consequences would be difficult, risky, costly and seem foolish. God was asking our Pastor to give it ALL back to Him, and let it go. Literally. “Send out your best, Jonathan, and let Me start something new.” What was a great relief to my Pastor’s soul was now a great Commission for US – “Are YOU willing to let God have EVERYthing and follow Him into something new, to reach new people?”
It was a stirring call to Action and Practical Faith. I let it all go – God could have us – our family – and do whatever He wanted with us.
I left the Church last night with only my Vengeance and anger over First Baptist Church, Sutherland Springs, TX.
This morning I left on a journey to meet with my Board of Directors for the Ministry I lead, a Communications Ministry called Compassion Radio. As I traveled down I-35 to the airport, I learned that the mass-murderer from the previous day lived in New Braunfels, the town I was passing through. I was driving the same road he had traveled 24 hours before. My plane climbed out of San Antonio and I had a clear view to the small towns southeast of the metroplex. I caught sight of La Vernia, TX. And beyond it? Sutherland Springs. I prayed for everyone who had died there. Well, not everyone. The plane banked left over New Braunfels.
I continued on my way to California loaded down with my Vengeance. I busied myself with paperwork for the coming Board Meeting. Two hours later I was startled with a thought: “What did you leave with Me last night?”
Cautiously, I answered, “Everything?”
“There’s a reason I put Deuteronomy 32 and Romans 12 in the Book.”
And I knew in a flash which scriptures had been nagging me all morning. Without God’s possessiveness of Vengeance, what do we get in this World? Exactly what we got yesterday. More of the story spilled out from the radio when I hit the ground in California – the worst mass shooting in Texas history was now classified as a ‘Domestic Violence Issue.’ A vengeful, hateful, godless young man with a huge grudge against his ex-wife and mother-in-law decided to hurt them. Badly. And oh, how he did. And like other recent mass murders, the ripples of injury spread across the universe like gravity waves. I felt sick thinking about all of it.
I understood why God demands Vengeance for Himself. It’s NOT because He glees in it. He understands what it does to our souls. To your soul. To mine.
And then I began to pray for another family in New Braunfels that is surely mourning. And mourning deeply.
The more we turn over our Vengeances to God, the fewer of them will be meted out on our human family. Of that I am sure.
Romans [12:17]-19 – Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord.