By Gino Geraci
The year was 1999. The place, Columbine High School. We secured the southern perimeter of the school where most of the shooting was coming from. The Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Department and the Jefferson County and Denver SWAT had surrounded the school.
Emergency service workers loaded wounded children into ambulances. One of those shot in the Columbine library was Val Schnurr. At first, the emergency service worker didn’t recognize the severity of her wound because it was covered by the jacket she had put on. Another child lay dying. The female officer could not stifle her sobs. The emergency worker wondered out loud if he could help her. I prayed.
Late that evening a school official came to the campus while we continued to process the crime scene. He asked the question everyone asked: “Why?”
In a moment of clarity I simply said, “We have taught our children that they come from nowhere and that’s where they are going and life is a point of pain in a meaningless existence—and they believed us.
On a Tuesday
The year was 2001. The day, Tuesday, September 11. Skip Heitzig and I smuggled Max Lucado into our vehicle and made our way to Ground Zero, where we received our credentials to serve the emergency workers. The smell of smoke, jet fuel, garbage and death filled the air. For what seemed like miles, people held up signs, posters and pictures of missing loved ones. “Missing” is often the term people use when they can’t bring themselves to believe someone they love is dead.
In times of turmoil, it is natural to focus on people, problems and circumstances rather than God. Although we seldom realize it, worship is even more necessary in times of trial, crises and disaster than anything else. Worship removes our focus from self, others and calamity and redirects it to God. Isaiah demonstrated such a shift in focus when he mourned the death of King Uzziah (Isaiah 6:1-8).
Uzziah, whose story is told in 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles, was considered to be one of the good kings of Judah. The Bible says, “As long as he sought the Lord, God made him to prosper” (2 Chron. 26:5). However, it was in the year that King Uzziah died that Isaiah saw the Lord (Isaiah 6:1). The implication is that prior to Uzziah’s death, Isaiah’s focus was on the king instead of the Lord. But in the year that the king died, the prophet Isaiah, who had looked at King Uzziah as a hero, had a vision that transformed his life and ministry. Isaiah had a vision to worship the Lord.
In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple. Above it stood seraphim; each one had six wings: with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one cried to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; The whole earth is full of His glory!” And the posts of the door were shaken by the voice of him who cried out, and the house was filled with smoke. So I said: “Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, The Lord of hosts.” Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a live coal which he had taken with the tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth with it, and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; Your iniquity is taken away, And your sin purged.” Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying: “Whom shall I send, And who will go for Us?” Then I said, “Here am I! Send me.” (Isaiah 6:1-8, NKJV)
The Vision to Worship is Personal
Many of the Church’s forefathers had specific visions and goals. Moses’ vision was to deliver the children of Israel from the oppressive bondage of slavery. Josiah’s vision was to restore the Lord God of Israel to the throne of people’s hearts as he destroyed all vestiges of idolatry. Nehemiah’s vision was to rally the people of Israel to rebuild the walls and gates of Jerusalem. Isaiah’s vision, which resulted from seeing the Lord in his own time of crisis, was no less significant; he had a personal vision to worship.
The key to understanding Isaiah 6:1-8 is to recognize the awesome beauty, glory and perfection of the Lord Jesus Christ, an awesome and holy God. But you can only see the Lord “high and lifted up” if you are low and kneeling down. Worship requires the recognition of Christ’s perfection and our imperfection. Humility is the proper posture in worship.
As far as I can tell in the Bible, God never gave a vision of worship to a group or committee, but rather to individuals. Although you can lead people who are in turmoil into worship, you cannot worship for them; real worship requires a personal commitment on the part of the worshiper. The vision for worship begins when you worship. So, at all times, but especially in times of crisis, we must each have a personal vision for worship.
Peace in the Midst of Turmoil
The events of Columbine and 9-11 shattered our illusion of safety and reminded us that crisis can come uninvited, unwanted, and change our lives forever. The carnage of Columbine and the wreckage of 9-11 had at least one thing in common: people in pain go back to basics, trying to find a touchstone of security, something solid in a sea of confusion.
Crisis calls us back to the basics: prayer, worship, fellowship and mutual comfort.
People tend to want an explanation for suffering rather than a way to cope with the suffering. People in pain sometimes mistakenly feel that if the persons who made them suffer are made to suffer, that will alleviate the deep and terrible wounds. People in pain need hope. Paul writing to the Romans wrote, “For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we, through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures, might have hope” (Rom.15:4).
The Word of God becomes the source of hope. Again Paul writes, “Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Rom.15:13). People in pain often experience a lack of joy and peace. God is the source of hope, His Word, the vehicle of hope.
The Opportunity of Crisis
People in crisis, people in pain, will always ask questions and seek answers. For God’s people tragedy should be first and foremost an opportunity for self-examination, for confession and repentance—for looking up and seeing God high and lifted up. Worship can purify both our motives and vision in the current crises.
Expect suffering (John 15:19-20). The Bible gives us permission to commit ourselves to Christ in the midst of suffering (Heb.6:17-20). We are also to understand that an explanation is not always easy or forthcoming (Rom.8:28). The Bible encourages us to patiently endure our suffering in a steadfast way (2 Tim.2:3).
Peace comes when we remember that God is on the throne, high and lifted up. At the end of suffering’s journey there is comfort.
“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” (Romans 8:18, NKJV)
(This article was originally published in The Worshiper, a subsidiary to Worship Leader, in the fall of 2006.)
Gino Geraci is Senior Pastor at Calvary South Denver in Littleton, Colorado. While his diverse background includes seven years with the Department of Social Services in San Bernadino County, Gino spent seven years as assistant pastor at Calvary Chapel of Albuquerque with Skip Heitzig and in 1987 he founded Calvary Chapel De Santa Fe in New Mexico. He has hosted several national radio programs and is a well-known conference speaker. He has also been one of the Chaplains for the Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Department, which provides crisis intervention counseling to the public. This placed Gino in a unique position to minister during the Columbine tragedy.