There has been another church shooting, this time in the Birmingham, Alabama, area. Two people were killed and another person was injured yesterday evening in an attack at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Vestavia Hills. The suspect, who has not yet been identified publicly, is in custody.
When I saw the news, I had to decide whether or not to report it. If it seems mass shootings are daily occurrences, that’s because it’s true. The Gun Violence Archive has counted at least 246 mass shootings through early June. Since this is the 168th day of the year, we are averaging 1.5 such tragedies every day.
In a culture as broken as ours, compassion fatigue is real. How many of the signs are you experiencing?
- Feeling exhausted physically and psychologically
- Feeling helpless, hopeless, or powerless
- Feeling irritable, angry, sad, or numb
- A sense of being detached or having decreased pleasure in activities
- Ruminating about the suffering of others and feeling anger towards the events or people causing the suffering
- Blaming yourself and having thoughts of not having done enough to help the people who are suffering
- A decreased sense of personal and professional accomplishment
- A change in your worldview or spirituality
- Physical symptoms, including sleep and appetite disturbances, nausea, and dizziness.
It can feel especially overwhelming to be a parent in these days. Unsurprisingly in these crisis-filled times, 44 percent of non-parents ages eighteen to forty-nine say they are not likely to have children. This is an increase of 7 percentage points in four years. According to Pew Research Center, the reasons range from just not wanting kids to concerns about finances, climate change, and “the state of the world.”
With Father’s Day coming on Sunday, I’d like to reframe such discouragement as a spiritual opportunity: what fathers need most cannot be found in our fallen world, but our Father can give us what no one else can.
We must love God most to love others best
My greatest desire as a father is to love my wife, our sons and their wives, and our grandchildren well. However, as author Jon Bloom notes, “The most loving thing we can do for others is love God more than we love them. For if we love God most, we will love others best.”
He explains: “Those who have encountered the living Christ understand what I mean. They know the depth of love and breadth of grace that flows out from them toward others when they themselves are filled with love for God and all he is for them and means to them in Jesus. And they know the comparatively shallow and narrow love they feel toward others when their affection for God is ebbing.”
So, to love my family well, I must love God well. But that’s a problem.
Charles Spurgeon wrote: “There is no light in the planet but that which proceedeth from the sun; and there is no true love to Jesus in the heart but that which cometh from the Lord Jesus Himself. From this overflowing fountain of the infinite love of God, all our love to God must spring. This must ever be a great and certain truth, that we love him for no other reason than because he first loved us.”
The great English pastor was quoting the Apostle John: “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). Our love for God comes from the God who “is love” (v. 8).
Asking for a gift to give a gift
In Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis described this transaction well: “When we talk of a man doing anything for God or giving anything to God, I will tell you what that is really like. It is like a small child going to its father and saying, ‘Daddy, give me sixpence to buy you a birthday present.’ Of course, the father does, and he is pleased with the child’s present. It is all very nice and proper, but only an idiot would think that the father is sixpence to the good on the transaction.”
So, to love my family well, I must love my Lord well. But to love my Lord well, I need the gift of love which only he can give. How can I receive from him this gift that I can then give to him and others?
When I am “filled” and controlled by the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18), I experience the “fruit of the Spirit,” the first of which is “love” (Galatians 5:22). Here is what happens in our lives when we experience this “fruit”: “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends” (1 Corinthians 13:4–8).
Would my family say these statements describe my relationships with them? If not, why not?
When the devil fears us
St. Antony of Padua (1195–1231) was a personal friend of St. Francis of Assisi and one of the most profound thinkers of his day. In one of his sermons, he noted: “The man who is filled with the Holy Spirit speaks in different languages. These different languages are different ways of witnessing to Christ, such as humility, poverty, patience, and obedience; we speak in those languages when we reveal in ourselves these virtues to others. Actions speak louder than words; let your words teach and your actions speak.”
St. Antony also observed, “The devil is afraid of us when we pray and make sacrifices. He is also afraid when we are humble and good. He is especially afraid when we love Jesus very much.”
Will the devil fear you today?
NOTE: For more on our theme, please see my latest blog, “What I don’t want for Father’s Day,” and my sermon for this Sunday, “My favorite Father’s Day story.”