One evening recently a news program dealt with the increasing crime problem which Wal-Mart stores are facing. In one medium-sized city with six Wal-Marts, police were called to incidents at those stores 2,000 times in a one-year period. The same city has six Target stores. They called the cops 300 times over the same 12 months.
The problem, said the speaker, is Wal-Mart is cutting back on personnel and no one is policing the aisles, all of which makes shoplifting easier.
I imagine that’s right. I cannot recall seeing a security guard at a Walmart or Sams Club in ages. In a sense, they are inviting trouble.
Churches are facing this also. It’s not so much pilfering or stealing, sins that have ever been with us, as it is the more serious varieties of crime: shootings, terrorism, gang warfare, and similar type violence.
Recently, I preached in a church that is trying to anticipate trouble before it happens. The pastor showed me what they are doing.
“When the service begins,” said the pastor, “we lock all the doors with the exception of the very front. No one can get in unless they come to this one.”
“And we keep two ushers here on duty throughout the service. They welcome latecomers and are watchful for trouble-makers.”
They are wise.
I know churches that ask the deacons of the week to stay out of the worship services on their assigned days and patrol the buildings and grounds, alert to anything out of the ordinary.
“We know what to do,” someone says.
At this point, someone speaks up to inform the rest of us that in their church, people practice “open carry.” That is, some of their people have licenses to carry firearms on their person, and in some cases they openly display the weapon.
They intend this either as a deterrent or a protection. Or both.
The idea is that if bad guys knew people in a particular church were armed, they would go elsewhere to create their havoc. (And if they are so foolish as to come anyway, well, they will pay the consequences.)
No one knows if this helps or not.
Furthermore, it always raises the question: “Are we putting our trust in guns and not in the Lord when we carry firearms into His house?” (Does Psalm 20:7 apply here? “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we will make our boast in the name of the Lord our God.”)
That discussion, I expect, will still be raging when the Lord comes back.
I do not have the answer.
I have locks on my house and carry insurance. Am I not trusting the Lord? I welcome the cops patrolling my neighborhood. Is that a lack of faith?
I keep thinking of something that happened to Ezra.
The servant of the Lord was commissioned to return the Temple treasure back to Jerusalem, from Babylon where Nebuchadnezzar had taken it centuries earlier. Ezra called for Levites–keepers of the Temple–to travel to Babylon to receive the vessels. Chapter 8 of the Old Testament book of Ezra tells of this drama. After the valuables were gathered, it was time to head back to Jerusalem. And Ezra faced a problem.
There would be thieves and robbers along the route. What to do?
I was ashamed to request from the king troops and horsemen to protect us from the enemy on the way, because we had said to the king, ‘The hand of our God is favorably disposed to all those who seek Him, but His power and His anger are against all those who forsake Him.” (8:22)
His mouth had written a check he was finding difficult to cash.
Ezra had bragged to the pagan king about his God, saying how wonderful He is, and how He takes care of His own.
To ask for an armed guard, he now admits, would be a vote of no-confidence in the Lord and would give the lie to his witness.
What to do, what to do.
So we fasted and sought our God concerning this matter, and He listened to our entreaty. (8:23)
And what happened?
Then we journeyed from the river Ahava on the twelfth of the first month to go to Jerusalem; and the hand of our God was over us, and He delivered us from the hand of the enemy and the ambushes by the way. Thus, we came to Jerusalem…. (8:31-32).
Now, what are the Lord’s people to make of this in our day?
Is there a rule here for all time? Yes, the part where they fasted and prayed and sought the Lord.
That’s always in order. After all, it’s His church (Matthew 16:18) and we are His people (Psalm 100:3) and He is alive and well and fully capable of taking care of His own.
We are to fast. We are to pray. We are to seek the Lord.
So, what’s the problem?
The problem, as I see it, is that we do not fast and pray and seek the Lord, and even when we do, we don’t wait for His answer.
We take matters into our own hands, as though to say, “We’ve got this, Lord! You can go on about your other business!”
Look closely at that. The Lord’s people speaking thusly usually ends up being the first step toward disaster.
One huge reminder about seeking His will….
Asking God to show His will obligates us to
–a) want it,
–b) be willing to do His will as we know it now,
–c) wait until He shows us His will, and
–d) turn aside from all the quick fixes the flesh offers.
Bible students remember how Abraham grew tired of waiting for God to fulfill His promise and took matters into his own hands with a servant girl named Hagar. That disastrous choice ended up bearing lasting consequences of enormous proportions.
I’m not saying those who carry a gun at their hip are not trusting the Lord. I’m saying those who do not seek His will are the ones who do not trust Him.
The Lord is faithful to us. Oh, that His children were faithful to Him.
For the eyes of the Lord move to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His. (2 Chronicles 16:9)