It is true when a fire fighter, military, police officer, or other first responder dies in the line of duty, the whole community grieves the loss and is somewhat rattled by the reminder that death is a reality in their line of work. This is a very sobering reminder, but each man and woman who enters a career in the defense of others knows that there is a very real danger of being injured or killed in the line of duty.
But people don’t usually think of Pastors or Christians as a title that is in grave danger due to their lifestyle choice. I will pause and reiterate that Americans don’t typically see Christian Pastors as a career in danger. However, if you go to many countries around the world, anyone who professes that Jesus Christ is the son of God can be killed or ostracized from a whole community. But to bring this back to my home soil, even here Christ followers are under attack, but the attacks look different.
On Friday, August 25, 2018 Andrew Stoecklein, lead Pastor of Inland Hills Community Church in Chino, CA, attempted to take his own life right before a “team night” where he was going to be sharing the vision for the church’s future. On Saturday night, August 26, he died. He left behind him a wife and three boys 6, 4, and 2. He was 30 years old. He had been battling depression and anxiety, and it had been growing for years. He had recently come back from a sabbatical where he took time to seek counsel, rest and reflect on what was truly going on beneath the surface. From the messages he was preaching and the actions he was taking, it truly displayed that he was seeking help, seeking God, and doing what he could to get better. But he still didn’t win the fight- the thousands of prayers for healing did not work in the way that we had all hoped.
So now what?! Is God is NOT good ? Is God is NOT big enough to heal all hurts and restore all pain? The questions come pouring in: Why would a good God let this happen? Why didn’t he heal him? By no means! Satan is doing his best to break down the church worldwide. So in nations across the world he uses military force, religious wars, polarized opinions, famine, sickness, and yes, even mental illness to wage war against humanity, against believers and all whom God desires to save- everyone! But God says, “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:18-19). So now let’s practice binding those thoughts here on earth that are from Satan that “seek to steal kill and destroy” (John 10:10, ESV) and let’s support our brothers and sisters who are fighting both internal and external battles.
Here is America, we may not see many physical persecutions, but “our struggle is not against flesh and blood” (Ephesians 6:12, ESV). Mental and spiritual battles are real and they come in the form of, addiction, lust, and what the world now calls mental illness. It comes in large and small waves of doubt, fear, temptation, and depression. It is both genetic and spiritual. And being a Christ follower does not make us immune to the lies of the enemy or the disposition of nature, it just helps us become more aware. But we are NOT MEANT TO BATTLE IN ISOLATION either. Galatians 6:2 says we are meant to “bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ (ESV).
As I heard the news through my husband who had close connections to Andrew and his church, I was stunned. I was physically weakened, and I even had moments over the next few days where I just sobbed. And here is the kicker, I did not know him personally! But we are a part of the Body of Christ- when one suffers, we all suffer. You can’t cut off a body part without the rest of the body feeling it. And I felt it. It was not a break or a fracture like sexual infidelity or other downfalls of leaders in the Church- it was a severing of a limb, unable to be attached again. He was a brother in christ, a co-laborer, a leader of a local church, a father, a husband and a friend to many. I still don’t have words and many of the hope filled scriptures seem both like far off cries, and the deepest hopes of my soul.
So for now, I pray because I know Jesus is still here, he still cares, and he is with us. He already conquered hell for us, and he wants to conquer the hell on earth that we endure too. Somehow in the midst of all of this, his wife Kayla is both full of utter and unimaginable heartbreak and unflinching faith that “God’s Got this.” She has written about the importance of that statement in her own life, and I would encourage you to read her blog at godsgotthis.org
When the groanings of my own heart are so tormented, I turn to God’s words to help me pray. So please join me in praying for the family Andrew left behind, for the local church of Inland Hills, for the Church as a whole, for leaders in every church, and for anyone struggling with depression or suicidal thoughts. When the echo of darkness surrounds us, may we lean into the light, bear with one another and pray for one another so that we may be healed.
For all those suffering, may they know the comfort of Jesus:
“I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Joshua 1:5).
“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for you are with me, your rod and you staff they comfort me” (Psalm 23).
May all of this chaos be brought to God so he can make good even out of the ugliness of this broken world.
“As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today”(Genesis 50:20)
“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11).
For pastors and persecuted believers around the world
“I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:9)
And “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.” (Romans 16:20, ESV)
Written by Julie Snodgrass