I hope Sunday’s news astounds you.
No, I don’t mean last Sunday’s news, set to this all-too-familiar cadence by the New York Times: “A gunman clad in all black, with a ballistic vest strapped to his chest and a military-style rifle in his hands, opened fire on parishioners at a Sunday service at a small Baptist church in rural Texas, killing at least 26 people and turning this tiny town east of San Antonio into the scene of the country’s newest mass horror.”
Not that news.
I mean this Sunday’s glad news of Christians from that same Texas town – and at thousands of churches across America – turning in quiet confidence toward God, steeled against the evil around us.
I use that word – evil – deliberately.
How else do we describe a crazed gunman who slaughters men, women and children while they sing hymns and pray? How else do we describe jihadists in Syria, or military police in North Korea, or extremists in Sudan?
Last weekend’s “newest mass horror” took place on a Sunday designated as a day of prayer for the persecuted church across the world.
Persecution is not so easily categorized, and often is undeclared by perpetrators. This much is clear: worldwide, Christians face an evil that consistently sheds blood, and just as consistently overestimates the effectiveness of fear to silence faith.
Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, explains it this way: “Killers assume… that gunfire or poison gas or mass beheadings will show Christians how powerless we are. That is true. They assume that this sense of powerlessness will rob the community of its will to be the church. That is false.”
Christianity’s strength is not bravado. It doesn’t even come from human resolve. It comes from the faithfulness of God, who is conquering evil through the work of Jesus Christ.
Jesus promised his disciples this before his crucifixion: “I will build My church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it.”
God wins victory over evil not by political movement, or legislation, or social reform, but through the voluntary surrender of hearts – one at a time – to his loving offer of forgiveness of sin.
“Evil” intended the bloody cross of Jesus to instill paralyzing fear among Jesus’ followers. Instead, it instilled confidence to those who saw Christ raised from the dead, never to die again. The cross today instills enduring confidence to those once dead in trespasses and sin, but made alive in Christ.
And it is the cross of Jesus that calls Christians to stand fast in the face of evil, knowing that through faith in Christ we are rescued from its grasp personally, and one day will be rescued from its very presence eternally.
Until then, as Moore suggests, we can trust in God to impart the strength and confidence we need to “be the church,” no matter what our scenery.
It is the power of God, alive in those trusting in Jesus, that enables us to walk by faith and not fear. It is the power of God that enables us to forgo cursing this world’s darkness, and instead shine the light of God’s truth and grace.
It is the power of God that enlivens us to function as Christ’s ambassadors in a world whose evil, however diverse and ambiguous, is singularly anti-Christ.
This will happen Sunday, as it always does, in churches across America.
I hope this Sunday’s news astounds you.
Better yet, I hope you’re a part of it.