I’ve been processing the tragedy that occurred Sunday morning. I was about to wrap up my teaching about 300 miles north of Sutherland Springs in the same state of Texas. I remember looking at the clock in the back, hanging on the wall of our sanctuary, to make sure I was on time in my sermon and saw that it was 11:30am.
I had no idea that at that very moment a gunman was shooting up a church, killing 26 people.
It was weird to think that at the very moment of me looking at the clock, not far away, people were being killed in their own service similar to ours.
I thought of what they must have experienced and what it must have been like for them. I guess you could say it hit home for me in a way. I feel so sick for those precious people.
I thought about the pastor and his wife, and how they must have felt hearing the news as they were away. I thought about what it would be like to lose so many in our own congregation in an instant like that.
There is a special connection a congregation has with one another, like family. A congregation goes through life together, shares one another’s burdens, triumphs and griefs. The pastor lost half of his spiritual family, half of his flock, as well as his own daughter. I can’t imagine. This is not something a human can absorb I thought, but by the grace of God.
I remember thinking as I was teaching about heaven that I was glad this world is not all there is.
How sad it must be to have no hope beyond this evil world. I remember looking at the clock, and feeling pressed because the Lord was moving so heavily on my heart, I felt this heavy burden about what I was talking about and wanted to get it all in. I was way off “the script” at the time and felt the Lord was speaking through me, and I was spectating.
We were having communion that morning as well, so time was even more precious. The topic that morning was “Home,” a teaching about where the Christian’s real home is, and how a heavenly obsession has a profound effect on our earthly existence.
I challenged our congregation to take this week and think about, meditate upon, pray, read and apply the fact of our eternal home to everyday life. I challenged them to apply eternity to the present and to live their life in light of eternity.
As I looked at the clock, 11:30, and then looked at the faces in the congregation, I felt myself looking into eyes and not just faces. I’m not sure why, but it was different than normal. I felt like God wanted me to see them like He does.
I remember thinking how badly I wanted everyone of them to be right with God and to be sure that they will go to heaven. I remember thinking how much I loved and cared for each one so much, and yet that was only a drop of how much God loves them.
I remember thinking how important it was to be sure of our eternity now.
That morning it was like God wanted me to know how deeply He loves each one, emphasis on each, and He wanted them to know how deeply He loves each of them. I’m not sure what they saw or felt in me at the time, but God was moving in a certain way that morning.
The message about the Christians real “Home,” which I don’t think was by accident, was taken from Revelation chapter 21. As we looked at some of the aspects of the Christian's eternity, the Lord was speaking to us and encouraging us as to how short life is, and how this life is merely a preparation for how we will spend eternity.
Like a “mud room,” this life is not a place for comfort, rest and ease but a transition and preparation for our eternal home where there will be eternal comfort, rest and ease, not to mention love, joy and peace. The Lord showed us how death for a believer in Christ is a release into our heavenly existence, and how it is the beginning and not the end.
We looked at some of the aspects of what it will be like in eternity, and how we are to see this life now always in light of eternity; or that we are to keep eternity in view as we live this life. We talked about how, for a Christian, heaven overshadows everything we do; it is our future hope, our present motivation and our freedom from our past.
I saw some tears as I looked into the eyes of the precious people there that day, as well as smiles, nods and a few “amens." Now in hindsight I know why the Lord was burdening my heart that morning with this particular message, as it was at the same exact time some of our brothers and sisters down south were going home to be with the Lord, that the Lord wanted our congregation to be ready at anytime.
There was a feeling of urgency as I explained that it is by God’s grace that we are saved and not of ourselves.
That no amount of good works, religious activity or whatever else can save us except the precious sacrifice of Jesus Christ that we put our faith in.
I remember looking in those eyes like I was seeing their souls and urging them that one must repent and ask God to forgive them of their sins, that Jesus came into this world to pay the price for their sins on the cross, and that He rose again on the third day just as scriptures said.
Just a couple weeks before this message in Revelation 20, we learned about the Great White Throne Judgment, and how all those who aren’t written in the book of life will appear there to be judged by God and sent to the lake of fire (hell) for all eternity. That after this life there are no more chances, and now is our time to determine our eternity; that all our eternity hinges on putting our faith in Jesus Christ.
As I finished the sermon I felt this assurance in my own heart that God was ministering to me more than I was to them, that heaven is so near, and that to live is Christ and to die is gain. I remember thinking that the best gift a person can have in this world is knowing where they will spend the next.
Our brothers and sisters in Sutherland Springs are now experiencing their home, the place where their Lord and Savior is, the place where there are no more tears, no more sorrow, no more pain. They are home.
Like all of us, we don’t know when our time is up, but we can know where we will be when that time comes.
We want you to know, Sutherland Springs, we love you. We are so sorry for your loss. We are heartbroken. We are grieving with you and praying for you. May the Lord pour out His love and peace in this horrible, unimaginable time, and for those of you who went home Sunday, we can’t wait to meet you when our time comes to go home.
May God bless each and every one of you with the assurance of eternity.
Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” Then He who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” And He said to me,“Write, for these words are true and faithful.” And He said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts. He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son. But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death” (Revelation 21:1-8).