The news from New Life Church and the Youth With A Mission center in Colorado is stunning. Four innocent people shot to death. It elicits the response: what in the world is going on? At this point in the stream of news, it appears they were linked: the shooter was a 24-year old psychopath who “hated Christians” and had allegedly been asked to leave YWAM five years earlier.
Google “church shootings” and you’ll find numbers of incidents; schools and malls are not the only public spaces where anyone can enter and create havoc. Churches provide an open venue with lots of people, creating opportunities for deranged people to get their “fifteen minutes”. And if you’re a believer, the evil factor feels all the more obvious. It’s morbidly curious how many of the shooters had an anti-Christian bent.
Though I’ve never really spoken much about it, we’ve had a few run-ins with disturbed people. The Vineyard has certainly been the target of vitriolic hate mail in the past. Some of it we have passed on to the authorities because of the violent and/or aggressive sexual nature of it. Frankly, my wife and I have had anonymous angry letters show up in our mailbox at home.
Some years ago a guy came up on the stage while I was talking with people between celebrations. He was pacing behind me then suddenly pulled a fire extinguisher off the wall, started swinging it and hit me with it. I wrapped my arms around him to hold him steady until a couple of guys from the prayer team came up and we pulled him to a back room, while praying for him and calling the police.
One Saturday night in the atrium a woman climbed up on a table and started preaching at people. When I asked her to step down, she hit me and said it was because she was a woman. After asking her several times to get down, we had to call the police to avoid any accusation of what we did or didn’t do. The police took her out while she screamed threats.
We’ve had a couple of people stand up during the celebration and rudely challenge us on something inconsequential in the message. We’ve had emails and letters that said unspeakable things. We’ve had people who were mad for one reason or another sit and glare during the message. I would be lying if I didn’t admit that there have been some celebrations where I’ve wondered if someone might show up and do something irrational. I’ve met with angry people in public places simply because if anything happened I wanted to be in a place where it could be witnessed. We’ve had to ban some people from coming because of things that were threatened. And let’s not mention lawsuits. There are behind-the-scenes reasons we hire security police to roam the building on weekends. Any public place has a responsibility to do what’s necessary to provide a safe environment. And we do.
But it’s just a different world today. None of us can afford to get paranoid; it takes too much energy.
The early disciples had some terrifically harsh things happen to them. Paul had to escape a city over a wall in a basket by a rope. There was the time the leadership told him not to go to a particular meeting because of its riotous, dangerous potential. He still ended up getting beaten, stoned, arrested and imprisoned at different times. Paul said he was often in danger not only from the Gentiles, but people from his own religious heritage. Religious people.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not comparing the experiences of the early disciples with our minimal travails in megachurches with padded seats and air conditioning. But the point is: angry, emotionally disturbed and, dare I say it, demonized individuals exist. And they’re sometimes hyper-religious. I think we have a hard time admitting there are people with evil intent. Jesus didn’t seem to have a hard time with it: he plainly called some people evil and at one point told one of His closest friends: “Get behind me, Satan…your agenda is your own, not God’s.” That’s pretty strong.
We have to have God’s agenda at the top of our to-do list. And that’s simply to bring the Kingdom with words and actions...and to pray for the will of God to come to this crazed place the way it always is in His dimension. Apparently that’s not always the case here on the Blue Planet. We must be willing to be the carrier and messenger of His power and grace.
Is there a cost? Is there resistance?
You’ve got to be kidding. Jesus said plainly, “I’m sending you out like sheep among wolves.”
There’s a reason why Hollywood movies, books and fireside stories from the dawn of humanity have villains and classic clashes between good and evil: it’s because it’s an intuitive reflection of the real universe.
Welcome to the world of spiritual warfare.