responding to tragedy in El Paso and Dayton

Like most of you, I went to bed on Saturday night knowing of and grieving over that day’s tragic events in El Paso. Like most of you, I woke up on Sunday morning to learn of the previous night’s tragic events in Dayton. Like most of you, I’ve spent the last few days trying to discern how I should think, pray, and feel about this…I’ve been trying to discern what I should do.

The issues before us are not simple, nor will their solutions be. The debate over gun control in our country illustrates a deeper conflict between competing worldviews that now defines life in our public square. The prevalence of hatred in our rhetoric, and the real problem of hate-inspired violence, leaves observers feeling more hopeless than hopeful. Finally, the politicization of everything means that these issues are debated in a place and with a posture that seems more focused on scoring political points than actually solving anything.

We need real wisdom from God to know how best to pray and respond to events like these, and to the broader cultural moment we find ourselves in. Yet there are key truths, revealed in Scripture, that we can and should come back to on weeks like this one. These truths, apart from the actions they can inspire and fuel, don’t change everything. But if we are to change anything, we must remember them and live in light of them:

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the truthfulness of God’s Word

On Sunday at Capitol City, we unpacked the narrative of 1 Samuel 22:6-23. For the sake of time, I didn’t make these comments – though they are pertinent to the text and, in the end, precious to the Christian faith.


In 1 Samuel 22, King Saul – clearly descending into a narcissistic madness that will soon end his life – takes a giant leap down his path of self-destruction. Enraged at the fact that Ahimelech, a priest, offered David aid in a moment of need (see 1 Sam 21:1-9), he orders the brutal murder of Ahimelech, Ahimelech’s entire family, and every resident of Ahimelech’s city. It’s an unholy war, pitting God’s rejected king against God’s holy priests. Every priest in Israel, save one – Abiathar, Ahimelech’s son (see 1 Sam 22:20-23) – perishes as a result.

Saul’s evil attack against these helpless and innocent priests is just that – evil. But it reveals something profoundly encouraging and hopeful for Christians today: even God’s enemies prove the truthfulness of God’s Word.

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God’s purpose in our pain

The presence of pain and trial in our lives is a matter of when not if. James tells us: Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds (James 1:2). Pain and trial are not mere possibilities on the landscape of the Christian life. They are certainties.

Given the certainty with which we should expect pain in our lives, what truths should we set our minds and hearts upon before and as we endure trial? I can think of at least five things we should remember as we consider how the Lord uses pain in our lives.

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union with Christ: past, present, & future

In a mysterious and beautiful way, if you are a Christian, you and Christ are one as a result of God’s saving work in your life. You are spiritually identified with him, and he with you. Of all the blessings that Christ brings into the lives of his people, this is surely the greatest. For it means that what is true for Christ is true for you, as well.

I think it is helpful to consider the past, present, and future implications of this.

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evil things come from within

The teaching of Jesus in Mark 7 is simple, though challenging: What makes one unclean or corrupt is the uncleanness and corruption that is natural to the human heart because of sin. Putting “unclean” things into your body won’t make your heart more unclean than it naturally is. Furthermore, washing the outside of your body (ceremonially) won’t make your heart more clean than it naturally is. The locus of our corruption is on the inside, not the outside. Sin doesn’t come from what we consume, or what we fail to consume, but from our hearts.

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yet not I, but through Christ in me

In Colossians 1, Paul tells the church in Colossae that his aim in ministry is to present them mature and complete in Christ. He punctuates that statement with one of the great mysteries of the Christian faith, claiming that he toils and labors to that end in his strength and through Christ’s strength in him: “For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me” (Col 1:29).

I toil, with all his energy, Paul says.

One of the beautiful realities of the Christian life is that we are never alone. Though we are called to strive and contend for faithfulness and endurance, we never do so apart from Christ’s power working in us. Ephesians 1 reminds us that Christ’s power working in us is the same power by which he was raised from the dead! If you are in Christ, his resurrection power is then in you, working as you endure in the faith.

Recently a friend introduced me to City Alight, and their modern hymn Yet Not I, but Through Christ in Me. I think it beautifully and simply captures these ideas so well.

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