The rainbow flag that flew outside the church door said it all. And in case that wasn’t enough, their website was even more explicit. I admit I felt anger every time I passed by the old, brick church on the corner of 31st Street and 16th Avenue.
I love God. I love his word. I rejoice in the righteous rules that he has established for his creation. They are good. They are for his creation’s benefit. They are loving laws. Stepping beyond them is to our own destruction. It’s suicide to rebel against our good King.
A few days ago Walker Community Church, which is located a mere five blocks from my house, was struck by lightning and burned to the ground (click here to read a local newspaper report). Any remaining structures of the church that still stood after the flames had been extinguished had to be demolished, I’m assuming for safety concerns of their imminent collapse.
And here’s the million dollar question: How am I supposed to feel about that? It’s a question that has been very heavy on my heart for days.
Jesus had something to say about disasters: “[T]hose eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:4-5). The fact that 18 people died underneath tower rubble didn’t mean that they were somehow more deserving of God’s wrath and that for that reason they died. In fact, their death is a warning to the rest of us. There’s something much worse in store for anyone who doesn’t repent and turn to Jesus.
No one died in the Walker Community Church fire (praise the Lord for that!), although five firefighters had to be treated in nearby hospital. God was very merciful. But let’s not miss the point. One thing that God is doing in every disaster—be they tsunamis or church fires—is calling people to repentance. He’s calling the sinful members of Walker Community Church to repentance. He’s calling the greater Powderhorn neighborhood to repentance. He’s calling me to repentance. And if you’d hear him, he’s calling you. Something much hotter than lightning awaits those who refuse to heed his call.
How should I feel that Walker Community Church burned to the ground five blocks from my house? On the one hand, fear and trembling. The one true living God of the universe is a holy and righteous God. He is just in leveling churches and in leveling cities. He would be just in leveling me and my red brick house just five blocks west. The fact that he hasn’t is absolute mercy. On the other hand, in light of that mercy, I should feel hope. I have been granted one more day. One more day in which to know and accept and cling to and rejoice in God’s free, undeserved grace to me, a sinner the likes of which even Walker Community Church couldn’t imagine.
Want to hear the real tragedy of it all? It’s not the fact that a beautiful, 100-plus-year-old church burned down. No, the real tragedy is that most people won’t hear Jesus’ voice amid the rubble of Walker Community Church: “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” And if we all did perish that way, we’d be deserving, and God would be just. The fact that this entire world doesn’t go up in flames is jaw-dropping.
His arms are wide open, Powderhorn neighborhood (including 10th Avenue South, my street). His arms are open, Minneapolis. Greater Twin Cities metro. Minnesota. United States. Planet earth. Draw near to him, and he will draw near to you (James 4:8).