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

It’s Time to Take a Hard Look at Ourselves

There is something taking place in our country and it’s terribly wrong.

I’m not talking about the acceptance of same-sex marriage nor the push to allow anyone to use the public bathroom or shower facility they happen to choose.

I’m talking about how Christians are responding to these cultural issues.

You don’t have to read too many Christian blogs, Facebook posts or Tweets before you get the impression that we are M. A. D. We’ve had enough and we are not going to stand for any more!!!

I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know.

But I believe it’s time for Evangelical Christians to reexamine how we react to our culture.

I’m not advocating for a change in our core beliefs – I’m suggesting a change in our core behavior. Because most of what I see on the internet from people who profess Christ is not Christ-like. Our behavior is toxic.

We justify our behavior in so many flimsy ways:

 They don’t respect our beliefs!

So what, the world has never respected the Christian faith. They threw the first Christians in jail for their beliefs (Acts 4). Later they fed them to the lions, cut them in pieces, burned them at the stake, drowned them, beat them, stoned them and basically abused them in the most grotesque ways they could think of (Hebrews 11). You shouldn’t expect the world to respect your beliefs.

 They’re taking over/changing our country.

This isn’t your country – you have a greater one. Abraham on this earth as in a foreign country (Hebrews 11:9) Why? Because he knew he was a citizen of something better – a city built by God. Keep your eyes on the prize (Hebrews 12:1-2).

 But it’s IMMORAL!

Of course it is – what did you expect?! Sinners act like sinners – you shouldn’t. To expect a moral culture run by people who have no moral compass is absurd. It will never happen.

It’s time to ask ourselves some serious questions:

 Since when is it godly for Christians to tell jokes that demean another person, even if they are gay or transgender?

 Since when is it godly to speak disparagingly of other people including, and perhaps especially those of the LGBT community?

 Since when is it godly to discriminate against another person based on their sexual preference or gender confusion?

 Since when is it godly to NOT love someone – even if they are confused about their gender or practice a brand of sexuality that is contrary to the Word of God?

But too often these are the ways we react.

I’m not asking you to agree with the LGBT lifestyle – it’s wrong. I’m not asking you to never speak up – you need to, but in love. I’m not asking you to change your beliefs. I’m asking Christians to get their beliefs in line with Jesus. To stop talking the talk until we can walk the walk.

Our primary purpose in this life isn’t to make sure every law conforms to the Bible, nor to make sure that every person lives like Jesus (WE can’t even do that!). Our purpose is to share the love of God with sinners – the exact people that we are often guilty of attacking.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

A Godly Response to an Evil Act

Periodically something happens in our world that is so evil, so egregious that it is almost impossible to comprehend. It happened again last week when Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 was shot out of the sky and all 298 people on board perished – innocent people who had nothing to do with the conflict raging on the ground. Since that terrible moment when the plane exploded in midair the world has been engaged in finger-pointing and blame.

But let the world go – there’s a much bigger issue here for followers of Jesus. A much more personal issue. The question for Christians is how should we respond to such a tragedy? Do we simply ignore it because it did not affect us? Do we acknowledge it with a quick prayer and then file it in the back of our memories? What should our response be?

I want to share some thoughts with you that I originally shared over three years ago on the occasion of another unfathomable tragedy.

The response of Christians – followers of Jesus – to any tragedy should involve several things. First we need to recognize the grief of those who have lost family members and pray for God’s grace and strength for them in their time of need. Psalm 9:9 says The LORD is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. In John 14:27 Christ said, Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. Pray that those who were impacted by this tragedy will look to Christ for strength and for peace that only He can give them.

Secondly, we should ask God to bring good out of what appears to be an extremely evil situation. While we can’t begin to understand how God can do that, we know that He can. The Bible teaches that while God is not responsible for evil (James 1:13), He can use it for good (Genesis 50:20). Let’s ask God to do exactly that.

Thirdly, we need to affirm that this tragedy is the result of sin. The debate in the days and weeks ahead will no doubt include arguments on both sides related to who should take the responsibility for this heinous act. No matter who is to blame when you get to the bottom you will find sin. Sin is the reason people lie, cheat, steal, and kill. Some will try to blame God by using the old argument, if God is all powerful He could have prevented this tragedy. In one sense that is true – God is all powerful and He could have prevented it. However God has also granted us personal responsibility and we will all answer to God for our actions. We have the choice to either act in righteous ways or in sinful ways. When we choose sin over righteousness the natural and logical outcome is something terrible. We should not be surprised. Let’s put the blame where the blame belongs – on the sinfulness of man.

Fourthly we ought to pray for those who perpetrated this terrible crime. They too need God’s forgiveness. I know that is a difficult concept for many, even for Christians to accept. But this gets right to the heart of the gospel and that is that God’s grace is sufficient for all sin – no matter what the sin. It’s not the degree of sin that is the issue in the gospel, it is the degree of grace and God’s grace is greater than any sin you can commit (Romans 5:20).

Finally this tragedy should make us even more committed to sharing God’s love. We have no way of knowing the spiritual condition of those who were involved in this disaster, but there is a good chance that they have never heard the gospel. This will not be the last tragic event to impact our country and the next may be closer to home. But even apart from tragedies, people die all around us every day – people who need to hear about Christ. We need to recommit ourselves to the task of the gospel.

The Bible warns that in the days before the return of Christ our world will grow increasingly violent (2 Timothy 3:1ff). We need to respond in ways that are increasingly godly.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

In the Name of God

Have you ever noticed how many things – often terrible things – are done in the name of god? I’m using the term god in a generic sense. Perhaps the phrase in the name of religion would be a more appropriate way of stating it. However, behind every religion is a god and those who act in the name of their religion are ultimately acting in the name of their god.

God gets blamed for a lot of stupid and horrible things that we do. Wars have been fought in the name of god. Massacres have been carried out in the name of god. Now we learn that 276 girls were kidnapped in Nigeria by Boko Haram, an Islamic terrorist group, and will be sold as sex-slaves – in the name of Allah, their god. The leader of the group has admitted to the kidnapping which was allegedly done because Allah told him to. And they will be sold to the highest bidder because Allah told him to. You can read more here.

Before we get too indignant with events on the other side of the world (and I think we should be indignant), remember that kidnapping and slavery was practiced for hundreds of years in the United States (and in other places) in the name of the Christian God. And discrimination and racism was practiced in our churches long after slavery was abolished, again in the name of our God.

It won’t do for us to protest that it wasn’t us. It was our fathers and our grandfathers and our great-grandfathers. And as much as we would like to distance ourselves from their actions we are forever tied to them biologically, societally, historically and in every other way you can imagine. It was us as a people who ripped the dignity from another human being who was made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). And it was justified it in the name of our God.

Don’t get me wrong – we should act in the name of our God. Colossians 3:17 says, whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus. It’s just that we don’t get to decide which actions are in the name of our God and which aren’t. God is very specific when it comes to putting His name on something. The broader context illustrates the kind of things God is willing to stamp with His name.

God loves you and has chosen you as his own special people. So be gentle, kind, humble, meek, and patient (Colossians 3:12).

The passage goes on to talk about forgiveness, love, and thankfulness. Whenever our actions exhibit these characteristics we can claim to act in the name of God. However, when our actions are devoid of these characteristics we dare not claim that we are acting in the name of God.

Another defining passage can be found in the book of Philippians where the Apostle Paul writes, finally, my friends, keep your minds on whatever is true, pure, right, holy, friendly, and proper. Don’t ever stop thinking about what is truly worthwhile and worthy of praise (Philippians 4:8).

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

The Future for Christians

The landscape for Christians in our culture is changing rapidly. Things that were unimaginable just a few short years ago are now commonplace. Things that were celebrated just a few short years ago are now considered contemptible. Two recent events illustrate what I’m talking about.

On April 29 NBA player, Jason Collins, announced that he was gay. He is the first NBA player to openly come out and one of the first, if not the first, active professional in the four major sports to do so. It wasn’t the announcement that caught my attention, after all coming out is a rather regular occurrence in our society. The fact that it was an athlete in a major sport was going to happen sooner or later. What caught me by surprise was the reaction of the sports community and especially the media sportscasters. Traditionally professional athletes have represented the rugged, he-man element of our culture, associate with sexual exploits as it relates to women – sadly so (I.E. Wilt Chamberlain, Kobe Bryant). Now there is a new hero in sports – celebrated for his bravery and fearlessness in coming out. The view of one writer is representative: The overwhelming support that Collins has received in the NBA and elsewhere reveals that homophobia is on the wane in the United States. In this age of less-overt prejudice, anti-gay bias has taken a peculiar new form. Those who don’t like the celebrations of Collins’ bravery have countered with aggressive, prideful lack of interest. In fact the subtitle of the article was Jason Collins’ coming out reveals a new, peculiar form of homophobia. Now anyone who supports traditional marriage and doesn’t consider this as particularly newsworthy is guilty of prejudice, anti-gay bias and homophobia for their silence! Some days you can’t win. This would never have happened thirty years ago in our country. Some people call this progress.

The second example happened at a high school track meet in Texas. As the final runner on the Columbus High (Texas) 4X100 team crossed the finish line in first place he raised his hand and pointed to the sky. You’ve seen it down a hundred times by athletes at all levels. This simple gesture, however, was deemed a violation of the “excessive celebration rules” and the team was disqualified from running in the state track meet. Apparently honoring God is no longer deemed good in our culture. It’s excessive.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not weeping over the passing of the “good ‘ol days”. The days of Ward, June, Wally and Beaver are not coming back. In fact I’m not surprised that our country is headed in this direction. I fully expected it. So what’s my point?

My point is simply this – How will we as Christians who hold to Biblical morality respond? How will we respond when we are seen as the problem and not the solution? How will we respond when we are viewed as dragging society down instead of lifting it up? How will we respond when our views are in the minority instead of the majority?

We can become angry. We can march with our placards held high. We can write letters to the editors in protest. We can bring lawsuits. And we can hate what’s happening from here to eternity – but none of that is going to change the inevitable. You don’t have to agree with me, you are entitled to your opinion, but short of divine intervention I don’t see anything that is going to stem the tide of wickedness and immorality in our culture. Unless I miss my guess it is going to get worse.

That’s not to say that we should sit back and do nothing. What we need to do – and what we have ignored for too long – is the Biblical approach. In our desire to rescue our society we have substituted many things for the right things, relying on the good instead of the best (in all fairness some Christians have practiced both the good and the best – but far too few see the best as the ultimate answer). Living in a culture that was at least as ungodly as our own, the Apostle Paul told us exactly how to live counter-culturally. Romans 12:9-21 is worth reading again. Here’s the best response:

Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good. Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another; not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer; distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another. Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own opinion.

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. Beloved, 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; for in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.”

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Admittedly the future for Christians in our country does not look rosy. The issue, however, is not how bad it will get but how well we will respond.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve