Responding to Violence

Another shooting. More violence. More deaths. It’s getting to the place where it doesn’t surprise us anymore. We almost expect it.

As of this afternoon the death toll in the Las Vegas shooting stood at 58 with another 515 people wounded. 573 people whose lives have been forever changed – and that doesn’t take into consideration the thousands of people – wives, husbands, brothers, sisters, children, moms, dads, cousins and friends of the dead and wounded who have been dramatically impacted.

What are we to make of these life-changing events?

How should we respond?

People are going to have a variety of responses ranging from anger to sadness. And that’s understandable on a human level. However, for the Christian there are some appropriate ways to respond and they will take more than a human effort.

Those who don’t confess faith in Christ will struggle to understand this. In fact many Christians will struggle to respond in a Christ-like way. The struggle is not wrong as long as you end up in the right place.

So here are a few responses and how Christians should understand them.

Hate is Wrong

To be a little more specific – hatred of the shooter is wrong. You can hate the tragedy, or the conditions that drove him to act this way, or a society that has degenerated to this point, but to hate the individual, no matter how grievous their crime is wrong. Jesus taught us to not only love those who love us, but to love those who don’t love us (Matthew 5:43f). Hatred does not solve the problem, it exacerbates the problem (Proverbs 10:12) and leaves you filled with bitterness (Hebrews 12:15).

Sinful Anger is Not an Option

The Bible is filled with warnings about the dangers of anger (Psalm 37:8, Ecclesiastes 7:9, Ephesians 4:31, James 1:19-20), but apparently there is an anger that is not sinful (Ephesians 4:26), such as anger against evil or sin. But the overriding message of the Bible is that anger is not the solution in most situations in life, in fact in the vast majority of cases it is sinful. Jesus equated anger with murder in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:22) so when our response is to be angry with the shooter, we have put ourselves side by side with him.

Revenge is Out of the Question

In a passage of the Bible that falls into the one of the hardest to obey category, we’re told that revenge is out of the question (Romans 12:17-21). As much as we would like to set things right by doing to the shooter what he did to so many innocent people, God says that we just can’t go there. Revenge is His option, not yours. Your only option is to overcome evil with good (Romans 12:21).

Prayer is Always Good

Prayer is appropriate at a time like this. Pray for the wounded. Pray for the families and friends of those who died or were wounded. Pray for the family of the shooter. Pray for the people who have been traumatized. Pray for the responders who had to deal with the shooting and with those who had been shot. Pray for the government officials who need to wrestle with this issue. Pray for a solution to violence. Pray for peace. Prayer is always good (Luke 18:1f, Philippians 4:6, 1 Timothy 2:1-4).

Self Inspection is Appropriate

When violence happens we are quick to focus on the person responsible for the violence to the exclusion of examining our own hearts. But how many times have we acted in hatred? How many times have we caused pain to another person? How many times have we allowed violence to control us? Times like this are good times for some self inspection. Again, the Bible has something to say about our hearts and it’s not necessarily good (Jeremiah 17:9, Matthew 15:18-20). A lack of self inspection usually leads to self-deception.

Forgiveness is Always Right

Always. Forgiveness is one of the distinguishing attributes of the Christian faith. We are to forgive regardless of the severity of the crime. It’s fair to say that without forgiveness there would be no Christian faith. It’s that important. God forgives us when we repent of our sin and express faith in Christ (Psalm 32:1-2, Luke 7:47-48, Ephesians 1:7, 1 John 1:9) and He forgives us for the innumerable sins we commit as Christians. How then do we withhold forgiveness from others? We are to forgive regardless of their offense (Matthew 6:15, Ephesians 4:32, Colossians 3:13). Forgiveness is always right.

Responding to violence as terrible as this will not be easy. It will take more grace than you can muster. That’s why you need to rely on His grace. With the grace that only God can give, you can respond in a godly way.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

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The American Obsession

Americans are an obsessed nation. We are preoccupied, fixated, infatuated, and addicted.

Are you starting to see a trend here? The idea of an obsession has a negative connotation. Generally speaking, an obsession is not a good thing.

I’ll grant you that an obsession can be good – it’s good to be obsessed with Jesus, and your spouse, and doing the right things. But our national obsession doesn’t fall into those categories. Our obsession is different and it’s harmful.

The American Obsession is a very narrow thing. It’s knowing all we can about other people. We have entered an era where we as a nation are obsessed with knowing about the personal lives of someone else. We can’t get enough of the intimate details of their lives. We are living vicariously.

We’re obsessed with the President’s latest tweet; with what someone posted on Facebook; with which celebrity did what; with who did what to whom; with the tawdry gossip of Hollywood; with someone’s baby bump.

The obsession with the personal lives of other people has become an epidemic. Not only are we fixated on knowing the intimate details of other people’s lives, but we think that we have a right to know.

Why do we check our cell phones as soon as we get out of bed? Why do we want to know what the President tweeted during the night? Why do we jump on our Facebook accounts as soon as we can? It’s so we don’t miss anything.

If you don’t think that you’re obsessed I’d challenge you to think back over your social media usage from the past week. How much time did you spend on social media? What were you hoping to find?

This obsession with the lives of other people is harmful to our culture. We have destroyed privacy. We have become convinced that living vicariously is better than living personally. We have made the lives of other people far more important than they really are and in the process we’ve made our lives far less important than they really are.

This also has a harmful spiritual component. As Christians we need to be concerned with our own personal lives – not with the lives of other people. We need to make sure that we are living out the gospel (Philippians 1:27); that we represent Christ well (2 Corinthians 5:20); that we are not swallowed up by the attitudes, thought patterns, goals and desires of this world (Romans 12:2); that we don’t fall in love with what the world loves (1 John 2:15-16); that our minds are set on the things of God (Colossians 3:1-3).

Christians need to begin pushing back against The American Obsession. We need to take back our lives and in the process live them well.

We are not responsible for how someone else lives their life. We will answer for how we live our lives.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Are Christians to Blame?

Not since the 1960s have we seen chaos in our country on the level that we’re seeing it today. It seems like each morning brings more news of violence.

The burning question people are asking is: Who’s to Blame? We want to know who’s right and who’s wrong. Who’s responsible for the turmoil and chaos?

The truth is – there’s enough blame to go around.

Some have even suggested that Christians are responsible. Before you throw that one out, prayerfully and carefully read this article by Pastor Tony Evans. It should make you, if you profess to be a Christian, a little uncomfortable.

America’s current violence can be traced to Christians’ failures

The horrific shootings over the past few days, in Louisiana, Minnesota and now my hometown of Dallas, have shaken all of us. Tragically, this is even more true for the families of Philando Castile, Alton Sterling and now Dallas police officers.

The events are shocking and revolting. Our prayers go out to the families and friends affected most closely by these events, and to those fighting for their lives at this very moment in Dallas. But we must do more than pray.

In 2 Chronicles 15:3-6, it says that society was falling apart, and God troubled them with every kind of distress because they continued to reject the knowledge of God. These recent spates of violence – like all our worldly problems — have happened because Christians have failed to advance God’s kingdom, to spread the faith and to do so in a loving, unified way.

Gone must be the days of only pointing fingers at others to fix what they may never fix. Our nation’s ills are not merely the result of corruption or racism, although these are evil. Our troubles can also be traced directly to ineffective Christians.

One of the real tragedies today is that the Church as a whole has not furthered God’s light, equity, love and principles in our land in order to be a positive influence and impact for good in the midst of darkness, fear and hate.

Far too often, we have limited the definition of the Church. While not in all cases, in many cases, “Church” has become an informational, inspirational weekly gathering rather than the group of people that God has ordained from heaven to operate on his behalf on Earth in order to bring heaven’s viewpoint into history. There needs to be a recalibrating of many of our churches to the unified purpose of the Kingdom of God.

The Church and only the Church has been given the keys to the kingdom, so we have unique access to God that nobody else has. It’s about time more churches start using those keys to unlock doors, so that we get greater heavenly intervention in our earthly catastrophe. This is not to negate or downplay the great work countless churches have done throughout time in our land. I applaud and am grateful for all of it. What we have been ineffective at, though, is a unity that increases our impact on a larger collective level. When we unite as so many churches did during the civil rights movement, we can bring hope and healing where we as a nation need it most.

Thus, I believe that the call of the Church is to come together as one on three levels.
One is to pray and call what the Bible calls a “solemn assembly,” which means a sacred gathering with prayer and fasting to invite God’s manifest presence to reemerge in the culture.

Secondly, the Church must move people from membership to discipleship. Just being members of the Church is not good enough anymore. We need visible, verbal followers of Jesus Christ who are public with their witness and trained how to do that. If the Church doesn’t train people to do that, then they have failed.

And third, churches need to come together in their communities and do good works, such as adopting schools across the nation, that are visible so that people see the benefit of the Church in their community. The presence of God’s people in public is desperately needed right now for the good of the Church and the good of society, which we are called to serve.

Unless the Church steps forward collectively to fulfill its God-given role of influencing the conscience of our culture, our country will keep spiraling downward into the depths of fear and hate.

We must do better. We must unite. We must stand together and commit to one another that we will usher in a wave of change, justice, life, safety, rightness, equity and dignity for all. And above all, we must not let fear or hatred divide us. Peace, unity, love and nonviolence should be our rallying cry and the catalyst for change in our nation. Through this, we can seek to transform the remnants of tragedy into the foundation of a stronger, more equitable future.

It’s time for the Church of Jesus Christ to stand up and show our nation a better way.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

A Perspective on the Future of SCOTUS – and Our Country

Reactions to the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia have been all over the map. Those with liberal political leanings are mostly hopeful and excited about the prospect of another liberal judge on the high court while conservative reactions have varied from hand-wringing to militant.

Dr. Albert Mohler, the President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary offered his perspective in a recent article. I have always found Dr. Mohler to be serious minded and Biblical. You can find his article, which I would encourage you to read, at:

http://www.albertmohler.com/2016/02/14/a-giant-has-fallen-the-death-of-justice-antonin-scalia-and-the-future-of-constitutional-government/

Character Says it All

It has been interesting to follow the national debate regarding immigration. Prior to the recent events in Paris, France most of the debate centered on our southern border and illegal immigration from countries to our south. Now the debate has broadened to include refugees from various Middle Eastern countries. It has become another wedge issue dividing our country.

Not only has the issue of Middle Eastern immigrants divided our country, it is dividing the church. There are Christians on every side of this issue.

For Christians the looming question is not, How should I view this issue as an American?, but How should I view this issue as a follower of Christ?

If we are to follow in the footsteps of Abraham and the great pioneers of our faith, we will confess with them that we are strangers and pilgrims on the earth; that we are seeking a homeland that is not of this world. That our desire is for something greater and better than even the greatest nation that has ever existed. Our desire is for something eternal (Hebrews 11:13f).

Yes, we are Americans and we are concerned about the problems that our country faces. But we are first of all Christians. And it is that reality that shapes our character as the church of Jesus Christ and determines the positions we take on the issues. Character says it all.

For the Christian, character leads us to ask questions like:

How can we use this opportunity to show the love of Christ?

What is our responsibility to the weak and helpless?

Is there ever a time when we sacrifice our security for the sake of the gospel?

Is the protection of our way of life our ultimate priority?

What does the Bible say about our treatment of aliens and refugees?

What is the Right (IE Godly) thing to do?

If we are Christ-centered in our world view and Bible-centered in our living these questions have to be answered out of a Christian perspective, not an American perspective. Our character must be shaped by the teaching of God’s Word, not by talk radio or political movements.

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Along the Road to Sodom

Paraphrasing Franklin D. Roosevelt’s announcement of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Friday, June 26, 2015 – a date which will live in infamy – the United States Supreme Court determined that the Constitution guarantees a right to same-sex marriage. For some it was a day of celebration. For others it was another step along the road to Sodom.

Numerous articles have been written since Friday suggesting the best way for evangelical Christians to respond to this political/social/spiritual development. I would like to add a slightly different perspective from what you may have heard or read.

Few Christians will argue that as a country we are on the road to Sodom – if we haven’t already arrived. What is easy to miss, however, in all of the noise about the same-sex marriage issue are the other people on the road. The greater issue at stake is not how the United States defines marriage, but the lives, often badly broken by a culture spinning out of control that you will meet as you travel along the road.

On the road to Sodom you’ll meet the party girl who used her body for popularity but was quickly discarded by those she called her friends; the homosexual/lesbian who chose a life characterized by sexual desires eventually to realize how unfulfilling and empty it was; the drug addict who traded everything in life for moments of ecstasy, now living in an empty shell; the moral hypocrite who could tell everyone else how they should live but was blind to their own advice; the religious zealot who thought they had all the answers but forgot that godliness is in how we live not in what we say. The road to Sodom is littered with broken lives; wasted lives; empty lives. And God has put us on the road to be Christ to them.

As a nation we have traveled faster and farther down the road to Sodom in the past few years than at any time in our history because as Christians we have failed to be Jesus to our fellow travelers. We’re standing at the gates of Sodom and it’s not just their fault; it’s also ours.

It’s time that Christians stopped with the harsh, condemning rhetoric and begin to put lives back together. It won’t be easy and it certainly won’t be fun. But God put us on this road at this time in history to make a difference – not in which laws are passed but in which lives are saved.

The road to Sodom is our mission field. The broken lives are our responsibility. If we don’t reach them who will? If we don’t mend their lives by the love of Jesus, who will?

And on some have compassion, making a distinction; but others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire, hating even the garment defiled by the flesh (Jude 1:22-23).

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Have We Forgotten Who We Are?

One of the hot-button issues in our culture (the United States) is the debate on immigration. The failure of our government to tackle a comprehensive policy on immigration has only served to intensify the problem. Ignoring problems only makes them worse. Let’s be fair to our current crop of politicians: this is not a new issue – it is one that has been ignored for a very long time by people of every political persuasion.

The Immigration debate has, however, raised an interesting question: Have we forgotten who we are? We tend to divide the population between immigrants and non-immigrants. But that’s a false division. We are a nation of immigrants. Even those we call Native Americans were from someplace else. The only difference is one of time – when did your ancestors arrive on these shores? Being a fifth generation American does not make you any different from a first generation American.

From early in our history the world recognized our unique status as a nation of immigrants. Imprinted on the pedestal of Lady Liberty is the famous poem by Emma Lazarus:

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
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