During the afternoon of this past Sunday, June 2, there was a shooting at the Midland Olive Garden. According to the Midland Police Department, around 4pm a domestic dispute between two 41-year-old people escalated into gun violence, with the victim being shot in the neck area. She was transported to the Midland hospital for treatment. The suspect was quickly apprehended by the police and taken to the county jail where he awaits arraignment.

This event is obviously tragic and shocking, because shootings in public areas don’t happen very often, especially in Midland. Clearly, this will be traumatic for the victim who was shot, but it will also have a lasting impact on the other customers and staff members who were present at the time.

An act of public violence like this might also raise questions about our general safety as we go about our daily lives. Our congregation has a few members who work in the food service industry not far from the Midland Olive Garden, so those kinds of questions might be particularly important to them.

Also on Sunday, after morning worship, several of us were engaged in a conversation about a potential ministry opportunity. During that conversation, one person commented that “we are not so isolated” out here in Mt. Haley Township – meaning that acts of violence can occur anywhere, even in a relatively remote location like our church building.

Is nowhere safe? Are we constantly in danger? How should we respond to acts of violence and threats of violence?

These are age-old questions, and, frankly, it’s a sign of peaceful privilege that we don’t have to think about violence on a daily basis. There are millions of people in various parts of the world (Gaza, Sudan, Ukraine, Yemen, and Haiti, among others) who are constantly enduring horrific tragedies much worse than a domestic violence shooting in a local restaurant. There are parts of our own nation in which public acts of violence are an everyday occurrence, not a front-page news item.

What is a faithful response to the violence of this world?

Let me point to two passages of scripture. First, Psalm 20, which will be our responsive reading during worship on June 16. The psalm begins with the words, “May the Lord answer you when you are in distress; may the name of the God of Jacob protect you.” Toward the end of the psalm, we read, “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.”

It’s a psalm asking God to protect the King of Israel, but its principles can transfer to regular people like us, too. When danger threatens us, do we trust in chariots and horses? Do we trust in our military strength? Do we trust in armed guards and metal detectors? Do we trust in our own weapons and our right to defend ourselves?

“Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.” Now, certainly, that didn’t mean that the ancient nation of Israel got rid of its chariots and horses. But the starting point for ancient Israel’s self-understanding was its trust in God, not its own ability to wield weapons of war.

The other passage of scripture that comes to mind is the Great Commandment, found in Matthew 22:34-40, Mark 12:28-34, and Luke 10:25-28. Jesus summarizes the entire law of God with two simple (yet difficult!) commands: love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind; and love your neighbor as yourself. The teaching in Luke 10 leads right into the Parable of the Good Samaritan, in which Jesus tells a story about what it looks like to love your neighbor as yourself.

In a world filled with violence and chaos at every turn, we are called to love our neighbors as ourselves. We love our neighbors because we are connected to our neighbors; we are fellow human beings on this giant and amazing planet. We are each created in the image of God who created us all. Our responses to threats and acts of violence – both to its victims and to its perpetrators – should be guided by our love for our neighbors.

Trust in God and love for our neighbors: these are two faithful responses to the violence of the world.

My suggestion for you: the next time you go to a restaurant in Midland – perhaps even the Olive Garden – take note of the other customers and staff members in the room. You might even strike up a conversation with your server and ask them, respectfully, how they are doing in the aftermath of Sunday’s shooting. Show honest concern for your neighbor – and leave them a good-sized tip, while you’re at it.

What is the “rapture”? What does scripture actually say about the return of Jesus? Listen to Pastor David’s sermon on 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18.

Also included at the beginning of this message are a few thoughts from Pastor David about last week’s mass shooting at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, as well as some reflections from this weekend’s General Assembly of the Church of God in Michigan.

When Jesus Returns

Homosexual. Transgender. LGBTQ. Human sexuality is a religious question that is tearing church groups apart. I believe it is such a divisive question today because most Christian adults have made up their minds whether or not their understanding of Christianity allows for homosexual (or other nontraditional) relationships and practices. We have no room for discussion, no room for truly hearing the perspectives or stories of those with whom we disagree. If others disagree with us, we assume they are speaking out of hatred. Everybody believes they are standing for the truth. No one is willing to change their minds.

This week, the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW) released a document called the “Nashville Statement,” named after the city where they were meeting when they wrote it. This statement was signed by many famous Christian leaders and distributed all over social media. It immediately produced negative feedback among other Christian groups, some of which responded with statements of their own (see the “Denver Statement” for an example). I encourage you to take a few minutes to read both of the statements I’ve linked here. Continue reading

Charlotte. Tulsa. New York. Ferguson. Cleveland. Baltimore. North Charleston.

What these cities mean to you depends on a lot of factors. What they all have in common is a similar headline: “[Insert Name] Killed By [Insert Name].” If you’re like me, you live a very safe distance away from all these places which have experienced turmoil in recent days. Midland County, Michigan, has been far removed from scenes of police shootings and race-related protests. So it’s easy for people like me to form our own opinions without having to engage with actual people, on all sides of these issues, who are suffering. Continue reading