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Texas shooting: The Aftermath

On Sunday, while I was worshipping at my church, a shooting happened just a few miles away at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. It turned out to be the deadliest church shooting in US history. At least 26 died (almost half of them children) and others were injured.

As a fellow Texan, I can say that the whole community is still in the early stages of the grief process. If the five stages are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance, we’re somewhere in between denial and anger.

Anger is obvious, because we’re mad something like this could happen.

The denial part is equally strong. To be honest, Texans have a certain pride that things like this can’t happen here. In such a small town, this seems like the most improbable thing. It’s hard for us Texans to wrap our minds around it.

That said, I feel that it’s important and necessary that we work our way through the grieving process, no matter how tough it is. And the first thing to bear in mind is this: We can grieve.

In 1 Thessalonians 4:13, Paul talked to the church about grief. “And now, dear brothers and sisters, we want you to know what will happen to the believers who have died so you will not grieve like people who have no hope.” Paul never told the Thessalonian believers not to grieve; he told them to grieve from a place of hope.

This hope, I believe, can propel us to go beyond the “acceptance” stage of the grieving process to a sixth stage that is available to believers. That stage is “worship”.

As believers, we can land somewhere greater than just accepting the negative circumstances. With faith and hope available to us, we can go beyond mere acceptance and turn it into worship towards God. We can turn it into giving to others. We can turn it into doing the hard thing out of love. We can turn it into gratitude for what God has given us.

While this tragic turn of events might seem extra heart-breaking in light of the upcoming Christmas season, I’d like to suggest that we change our perspective and see the opposite instead. Not only should the approaching Christmas season give us hope and comfort, it can teach us how to process this sixth stage of grief. And Mary’s a great example of how to do it.

When she found out she was pregnant, Scripture tells us that she accepted her fate. But she was human, just like you and me. This young girl’s expectations for her life were shattered by something God did. Surely she felt these emotions too:

  • Denial that God would do such a thing to her. How could that even happen? How could a virgin become pregnant—much less with the Son of God?
  • Anger that her expectations for her life wouldn’t be met. Why did she have to be given an abnormal pregnancy?
  • Bargaining with God to find someone else to do this. After all, she was already engaged and about to be married to Joseph. Surely God could find someone else who didn’t have so much at stake to do this.
  • Depression over the loss of a scandal-less marriage and nice, quiet honeymoon season.

Mary probably experienced a lot more mental turmoil. But Scripture focuses on what she did after the fifth stage of acceptance. Mary’s faith not only led her to acceptance, but ultimately, also to worship.

One of the most beautiful songs from Scripture was birthed out of this grief-turned-to-worship moment.

For the Mighty One is holy,
and he has done great things for me.
He shows mercy from generation to generation
to all who fear him.

—Luke 1:49-50 (NLT)

That’s what happens when we let God speak into the areas of our heart that disappointment or tragedy exposes. We have the opportunity to respond with worship. By giving to others. Praising God. Loving the unlovable. By focusing on God instead of ourselves. Appreciation pours from our hearts and turns into worship.

I’m working on letting my grief turn into worship through these circumstances. I’m trying to help my friends walk through this process too. Let’s add faith to our acceptance and see worship result from this tragedy. God can get glory through this.

Lessons From A Shooting Tragedy

August 19, 2013, began like any other Monday at Uptown Baptist Church in Chicago, USA. As usual, I handled routine administrative tasks and worked on my sermon for the evening service at our soup kitchen ministry. The church employees were in the office working and chatting.

No one knew it would become a day marked by tragedy.

At 5:00 p.m., we welcomed 150 people from the streets for our first service. For our second service at 5:45 p.m., we had approximately 100 people in the pews waiting for the sermon. I got into the pulpit and began preaching.

At 6:00 p.m. we heard, “Bang! Bang! Bang!” The twenty-odd bangs sounded like firecrackers. I turned around and said, “It’s just fireworks folks. Don’t worry. Have a seat.”

One of our deacons corrected me, saying, “No, I know that was not fireworks. It was too loud for fireworks and it was real close.”

I could almost feel the tension in the air, and the noise shook me to the very core. Adrenaline rushed through my veins and my heart was pounding. I rushed to the church steps and burst through the doors.

Chaos. It looked like a battlefield. People running in every direction. Children screaming and howling. Shattered glass. Bullet shells on the ground. People fighting and yelling. It was a drive-by shooting.

I immediately saw that there were two young men on the ground at the steps of our church. One was lying face down on the ground in a pool of blood. The other had multiple bullet holes in him.

A man who had been in our first service rushed up to me and said, “Pastor, I just got shot in the legs.” Another man from our first service had a gunshot in his thigh and one other had been shot in the wrist.

I dialed 911, the emergency number. “My name is Jonathan Hayashi. We had a shooting at 1011 West Wilson Ave . . . No security officer present. One man down on the ground. Description of the man . . . ” As I explained, two police vehicles came from the south and an ambulance came from west of Wilson. Police officers were running across the streets, and yellow tape was put around the cross walk to secure the area. I stood there in silence, not knowing what to do in the midst of the tragedy that took place at our church steps.

A 21-year-old boy was dead with a baseball-sized bullet hole in his head. I saw his brain burst out like Jell-o.

Why, God?

As I contemplated the incident, I realize I could easily have been one of them. I still vividly recall my days in the gang and that fateful day I found out my friend Asagiri had died at the age of 18 because of gang activity. If I had stayed in the gang instead of meeting Christ, that could very well have been me.

Amid the ongoing physical threats and challenges my family and I face, these are two key reflections I’ve had since that shooting tragedy which spur me on to keep sharing Christ:

 

1. God Loves All of Us

God created us in His image and loved us even before the foundation of the earth (Genesis 1, Psalm 139, Ephesians 1). He loved us so much that He sent His Son to die the death you and I deserve—shedding His blood for us and taking on His father’s wrath on that cross in our place. His death conquered the enemy—sin and death itself—so whoever believes in Him shall never perish, but have everlasting life.

That is the gospel. The gospel begins with God’s love, is demonstrated through the cross and the empty tomb, and results in eternal life for those who believe.

Unfortunately, we sometimes unconsciously—or not—decide in our minds who “deserves” to be saved, and like Jonah, run from those who make us feel uncomfortable.

But God doesn’t just love people like us; He loves the entire world (John 3:16). Are we aware of the many people who do not know how much God loves them? A lot of people living right beside us?

 

2. God calls us to Love Others

The message of biblical Christianity is not “God loves me, period,” as if we were the object of our own faith. The message of biblical Christianity is “God loves me so that I might make Him—His way, His salvation, His glory, and His greatness—known among all nations.” God is the object of our faith, and Christianity centers around Him. “We are not the end of the gospel; God is,” says David Platt, President of the International Mission Board and the author of Radical.

God’s love should compel us to act. The scripture says, “Therefore go make disciples of all nations . . . ” (Matt. 28:19-20)

We don’t have to start a huge ministry, new organization, new initiative, incredible book, or new strategy. It starts with remembering what is at stake for those around us, and using whatever skills God has given us to show Him to the world.

We are called to be the hands and feet of Jesus. Let’s take a leaf out of Evangelist Dwight L. Moody’s book. It’s been written that he was one of the few that went into the worst district of Chicago, the Sands, also known as “Little Hell” to save souls.

In fact, it is precisely because of my experience with gang life and seeing young boys and girls running around killing each other, that my wife and I are convicted to serve where we’re at. We’ve since moved to Greater St. Louis where the crime rate is worse than Chicago. But I firmly believe that urban cities such as Chicago and St. Louis are excellent places for gospel outreach to the broken, needy, and perishing sinners.

My mission is to love these people who desperately need Jesus and be prepared to lay down my life just as Jesus did for me on the cross.

So, don’t waste this life. We don’t know how long we’ve got. Let’s spend our lives making His love known among the people. We’re not learning this for ourselves, but the people around us.