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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Is This the Beginning of the End?

You will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not troubled; for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nations, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of sorrows (Matthew 24:6-8).

CNN headline of September 9, 2017: Mexico’s strongest earthquake in a century leaves dozens dead. Read article here.

Washington Post article of April 11, 2017 reporting that 20 million people are living in famines: Starving to Death. Read article here.

New York Times headline of September 9, 2017: Hurricane Irma Is One of the Strongest Storms In History. Read article here.

By now you are familiar with the headlines and the disasters. Not only are they affecting us but disasters are taking place around the world.

The question that people are asking is: Are Natural Disasters Increasing? According to an article of the same name published by the Borgen Project the answer is Yes. You can read it here. The evidence seems to point in both directions depending on who you listen to.

The question on the increase of natural disasters is especially important to Christians, many of whom believe that there will be a dramatic increase just before the return of Christ. Two well-known evangelicals, Anne Graham Lotz and her brother Franklin Graham have both released statements recently pointing to the end times. Her statement is here.

Franklin Graham wrote on his Facebook page:

Wildfires raging on the West Coast. Violent hurricanes, one after the other, ravaging everything in their paths, with one of the worst—Irma—bearing down on Florida. A magnitude 8.1 earthquake shook the southern parts of Mexico this week, and we even recently experienced a rare solar eclipse. The Bible says in Luke 21:25, “…there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves.” In Matthew 24:7 it says, “For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places.” These are some of the Biblical signs before Christ’s return. Nobody knows the day or hour, not even the Son of God, but it is a reminder to all of us to be ready—to repent and confess our sins, and ask for God’s forgiveness. In the meantime, we can find comfort, peace, and hope in Him. As we pray for all those affected by the current disasters, we should also remember God’s promise to us in John 16:33, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

Whether the things we are seeing today are the beginning of the end or not is a question that can be debated. As Graham points out, no one knows the exact time of Christ’s return. Christians have expected His return in every generation since the beginning of the church.

What so many Christians miss in their discussion of end times events, natural disasters and the return of Christ is how all of this relates to our lives. The Apostle Peter addressed this in his second epistle in the context of the Second Coming.

Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness (2 Peter 3:11)?

Great question!

Peter was not concerned that we are able to explain all of the events of prophecy; his concern was how we live.

Anne Graham Lotz may be right that we are seeing God’s judgment on America, but maybe we’ve missed another message that God is sending His people. If Irma and other natural disasters do anything for us they should move us to live holy and godly lives. Maybe that’s what this is all about.

Let’s not waste a great opportunity to be lights and salt in the world (Matthew 5:13-16).

God is more interested in how you live not in how much you know.

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

Responding to the Face of Evil

Blacksburg, Virginia (2007) – 32 & 17
Fort Hood, Texas (2009) – 13 & 32
Aurora, Colorado – (2012) – 12 & 58
New Town, Connecticut (2012) – 27 & 1
San Bernardino, California (2015) – 14 & 21

These are not all of the mass killings in the past ten years but they are enough.

And now we can add Orlando, Florida to the list – 50 & 53. Fifty killed, 53 injured.

There are so many unanswered questions. Why? Why now? Why here? How do we move on? How can we stop the killings?

One question that we need to ask from a Christian perspective is How should we respond to the face of evil?

Is it enough to build a higher fence? To limit immigration? To pass stricter laws?

Probably not.

But those questions miss the most essential point. God has already told us how we are to respond.

Before I get to that, there is another important thing that God has told us that plays into all of this.

He told us to expect it. Perhaps not mass shootings exactly, but evil. We should expect evil to happen in all of its ugliness and in many twisted forms.

But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come (2 Timothy 3:1). The Apostle describes the perilous times as men without self-control, those who are brutal and despise the good and those who have a form of religion but don’t know Christ.

So how should we respond to this kind of evil? Again the Apostle Paul tells us in Romans 12.

Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. . . do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, Vengeance is Mine, I will repay, says the Lord. Therefore “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink . . . do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (Romans 12:17-21).

I bet you didn’t see that coming! You may not even like it. But it’s there, right in the Bible.

Some take-a-ways from this passage:

1) We are to do everything we can to live in peace with all men. Even those who attack us.

2) Responses to evil are to be left up to God. Any attempt on our part to get even comes out of a place of wrath and anger – which comes from the pit of hell.

3) We are to treat the enemy in ways that are counterintuitive and run totally against our natural inclinations.

4) The winning formula is to overcome evil with good.

Don’t get me wrong here. I’m not saying that we should stop making good laws. Or that we don’t need police security. Or that we should never protect ourselves and our families.

But what God wants is for us to 1) Do all of this in the right way, 2) Not be motivated by revenge, 3) Strive to live in peace even with the peace-breakers, 4) Treat those who attack you with love, and 5) Leave the rest up to Him.

There is a way for Christians to respond to evil – and most of us have missed it.

Maybe that’s part of the reason that people of other faiths have such misconstrued and misinformed ideas about Christians.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Keeping Perspective

It’s important to keep life in perspective. In fact, perspective is everything.

This week my Facebook page is filled with the colors of the French flag as people identify with the French people in their hour of suffering. Blue, white, and red are evident in abundance. And that’s as it should be.

However we cannot allow the evil that resulted in such tragedy to dominate our hearts and minds. It’s too easy to throw up our hands in despair or – on the other side, to let anger and even hatred fill our hearts. It’s a matter of perspective.

What should our perspective be in the face of such evil and suffering? Here are a few things that should dominate our thinking.

>We have a God of grace and mercy

Our focus is not to be on evil but on good, and as Jesus reminded us only God is good (Matthew 19:17). That means that He is to be our focus. He is to be the One who dominates our hearts and minds. In a time of suffering, confusion and turmoil we are to see His Grace and His Mercy. He is the One who puts it all into perspective.

>Light dispels darkness

It’s a universal truth. Light will always dispel the darkness. Darkness cannot overcome light – light always overcomes darkness. That’s true in the physical realm and it’s even truer in the spiritual. Whenever a great tragedy happens it seems like we are being engulfed by the darkness. But as long as we carry the light (Matthew 5:14-16) there is hope for those in darkness. Light puts the darkness into perspective.

>Love conquers hate

Someone posted on Facebook this quote by Martin Luther King, Jr: Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. As counterintuitive as it seems we are called to love the hater who took so many innocent lives because only love can drive out hatred. We’re not only commanded to love our neighbors (Matthew 22:39) we’re commanded to love those who bomb us and take the lives of our sons and daughters (Matthew 5:43-48). As hard as that is – it’s how Jesus loved us (Romans 5:8). Love puts hatred into perspective.

>Jesus is the answer

It’s tempting to think that bombs and killing are the answer. But they’re not. Humanity has been bombing evil (often a matter of perspective) since anyone can remember. And it’s still here. It just changes form – and names. I’m not suggesting that we should ignore the evil or concede defeat. I’m just saying that force is not the ultimate answer to evil. It will always come back. The ultimate answer is Jesus Christ and that’s where Christians need to focus their time, energy, and resources. Jesus puts the entire world into perspective.

Empathize with the French people. Pray for them. Show your support for them. Mourn those who were lost. But keep it all in perspective.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Some Spiritual Lessons from Halloween

I know there is a debate raging among Christians about Halloween – it’s been going on for years and it’s not likely to end soon. How Christians respond to Halloween run from unrestricted participation to nonparticipation. Here’s a good article by John MacArthur’s Grace to You on the subject with some good suggestions.

The debate has even spilled over into Facebook with comments revealing which side of the spectrum people fall on. Without taking sides in the debate I was intrigued by one Facebook posts by a man named John Moore.

I don’t know anything about John Moore except what he posted on his Facebook site so this is not an endorsement of any kind. According to his Facebook site he is the CEO of John Moore Ministries & Leadership Consulting in San Antonio, Texas – and that’s the extent of what I know about him.

However, I found his post about his participation in Halloween both interesting and challenging. Here it is:

I opened the door to give out candy tonight in my preaching robe (see previous post). The kids asked me what was I? I said, I’m a preacher. A 9 year old girl asked me could I pray for her? While I was shocked, I said sure. After I prayed for her, the girl parents starting telling me how they left Christ and that they have been going thru tons lately and they wanted prayer as well. I prayed for them and they rededicated their life to Christ right on my front porch. They are going to church tomorrow for the first time in 6 YEARS! Get this, that was the first of 3 families who asked for prayer tonight because I was dressed as a preacher in a robe. My point? How many times have we as Christians missed an opportunity to win souls because we weren’t in a church, on program, or in the spotlight? I know most church people don’t celebrate Halloween, and that’s totally fine. However, I’m glad I didn’t take Halloween off as a Christian. Many Christians protest it and tell others how wrong they are and that they are “going to hell” when really all we should be doing is working to win souls! They came to my door looking for candy, but I gave them COMPASSION AND CHRIST!

Of course he received praise for his actions and condemnation for participating in what some see as a pagan holiday.

My purpose is not to argue for or against Halloween. That’s another discussion. I shared his post because it challenged me in the area of sharing Christ. Whether you think he did the right thing or not you can’t deny that there are some lessons here for all of us. Five that come to my mind are:

-Take advantage of the opportunities around us. We all have opportunities to share Christ. You don’t have to manufacture them, just use the opportunities that God brings into your life.

-Be creative in your approach to sharing your faith. I have to confess I would never have thought to do what he did – and I AM a pastor. I think with a little creativity we might see more results.

-Don’t be intimidated. It would have been easy to be intimidated in this situation. Intimidated by the occasion. Intimidated by strangers. Intimidated by what other Christians may have thought or said. We don’t need to be intimidated into silence when it comes to the gospel.

-Expect the unexpected. It was interesting that God used a 9 year old girl to change the whole dynamic. I’m not sure his plan was to pray with people when he started out the night, but that was God’s plan. God often brings about the unexpected when we’re faithful.

-Trust God with the results. If we are faithful God will do what only He can do. Let’s trust him.

Who would have thought that we could learn some spiritual lessons from Halloween?

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