The beautiful sunshine of spring was gently cascading across the landscape as our little son, Hudson, and I drove across town to worship Christ with the Evangel church family at this year’s Good Friday service. We sang cheerily as we turned northward onto Telegraph road, just a couple miles south of our church campus.
Suddenly the ominous, startling sound of an ambulance rang through our eardrums. Hudson fearfully grasped for my hand as a large EMS vehicle raced past us at breakneck speed. I wondered what we might find up ahead, but I never imagined the scene would be so shocking…
Across the horizon I could see the large intersection where our church’s building covers the northwest corner – it was plastered with flashing lights, police cars, fire trucks, and other emergency vehicles. As we drew closer to the dramatic wreckage, we saw dozens of onlookers crowded around, some of them even standing on our church’s front lawn. Three cars were smashed across the major thoroughfare. One of the vehicles had apparently flipped onto its side and exploded into flames. The blackened, charred remains lay in a heap directly in the shadow of our church’s gigantic cross.
Yet then another scene immediately grabbed my attention. Just beyond the accident was a stream of cars squeezing their way through the congested traffic and into Evangel’s parking lot for our Good Friday service. We joined the stream, rolled into the lot, and quietly walked into church – all the while our necks craned over to the accident and toward the hurting, tear-filled onlookers. Hudson quietly piped up, “Papa, we need to pray for the people…they are hurting!” “Yes, Hudson,” I said, “We need to pray…”
A hushed buzz about the accident echoed around the foyer before we entered the sanctuary – some wondering about survivors, others were inquiring about whether or not someone in our membership was part of the accident. Hudson and I held hands as we sat down in the quiet pew that afternoon. The terrible scene, located just a hundred feet from where we now sat, had marked us both. I just couldn’t seem to shake the shocking image of that blackened, charred car – on its side – right under the shadow of our building.
Here we were… all together. All the Evangel family had streamed into our safe and dramatically spacious church campus to reflect on Christ’s death at one o’clock on March 29, 2013. All of us were unharmed and certainly well-meaning in our affections for Christ, and in our desire to gather for worship. This year’s Good Friday service was particularly beautiful. Our music pastor sang a duet with his dear wife, Debbie, who has undergone the difficult travail of breast cancer and chemotherapy over the last 12-18 months. Our senior pastor preached a poignant, Christ-centered message about the meaning and purpose of the Cross.
And yet, I couldn’t shake away the image of the accident splayed out under the shadow of our cross.
Under the Shadow
People are hurting, crying, and dying a dozen deaths all around us…every single day. Each night, as you and I lay down in peaceful rest, hundreds of people filled with hopelessness choose to end their lives in utter despair. Every hour of every day, men, women, and children die from car accidents, physical injury, or a terminal disease. Men and women made in the image of God are silently heading for an eternity separated from God and all the love that He offers in His Son Jesus Christ.
And we simply and silently go about our lives; perhaps faithful in our personal worship yet incredibly apathetic in our public witness. All-too-often I find myself ignoring and forgetting about the reality of an eternity without God in Christ. Yet this is the state of the entire world apart from the Gospel message being heard and received by faith!
But so often we’d rather gather safely together rather than go out on the rescue mission of God to bring people to the message and mercy of Christ. Just like the dozens of emergency medical workers rushed to the scene of the accident, so you and I are called to run toward people headed for destruction and eternal death with the hope, mercy, and life of Christ.
Now please don’t misunderstand me here. There’s nothing wrong with gathering for corporate worship; in fact, we are called to do just that. However, Jesus never continually dwelt in a safe haven with the chosen Twelve or in the confines of a comfortable synagogue. He lived and ministered and preached among the hurting, crying, and dying. If to be a Christian is to be a Christ-follower, then we are called to follow the same path Jesus trod.
Jesus was the Light of the World who met with a Jewish ruler named Nicodemus and talked with him late into the dark of night (John 3:1-21). Jesus was the Living Water who broke huge cultural and societal barriers by speaking to a woman from Samaria by Jacob’s well (John 4:7-42). Jesus was the Bread of Life who fed thousands of hungry men, women, and children who had gathered to hear the Gospel of the kingdom and be healed (John 6:1-14). Jesus touched the diseased, injured, and broken (e.g. John 4:46-5:17), and we are called by our Messiah to follow the same path, empowered by the Spirit.
Just as the Father sent the Son into the world to make Him known – to glorify the Father – so you and I are called to the same mission. Jesus instructed His disciples this way, “Peace be with you; as the Father has sent Me, I also send you” (John 20:21b). The sending God sent the Son and now sends us on His mission to display the grace and truth of His Gospel by making Him known in the world.
I will never forget the words of one radical missionary from the late 18th and early 19th centuries, “Some wish to live within the sound of a chapel bell; I wish to run a rescue mission within a yard of hell.” – C.T. Studd
Sometimes the hurting, crying, and dying are even crowded around us or even dying right in front of us – under the shadow of our stained-glass windows. Let’s join in God’s mission in the power of the Spirit with the message of His Gospel for His awesome glory. We might just be surprised where He takes us… It might be as simple as your front yard.