What I Learned From the Sandy Hook Massacre

The more often these kind of tragedies happen, the more I realize just how vulnerable and exposed we all are to such atrocities. The first time something tragic happened that hit me was when a 10 or 11-year-old girl comes home from school and begins taking orders for a school fund-raiser in a town of 4-500 people; small town America. The last time she was seen was on the corner of one of the streets until about two weeks later when her body was found in a ditch a couple of miles from the town, molested, raped and murdered.

The US government is trying to determine what to do to prevent tragedies like Sandy Hook happening again. I fear there is going to be too much of a knee-jerk reaction that does not address the heart of the issue which is the heart and soul of the people who carry out these tragedies.

After some contemplation, I have learned these truths and realities.

Morality is not relative. The thinking of a lot of people is that whatever we think is right at the time is what is right and what I think is right for me is right me, but what is right for you is not necessarily right for me. Everyone is appalled by what took place at Sandy Hook Elementary and calling for justice and measures for the future prevention of such events. Therefore there must be a standard somewhere and somehow that we measure this by.

If you are reading this, you will already know what I am going write. Moral values, right and wrong come from one standard that never changes throughout time and history and the basis for the standard is in God Almighty and the standard which comes from his unchanging character is found in the Bible, God’s Word.

Sin is real and it is violent. Not all sinful acts are acts of violence but the character and nature of sin leads to it. God through the Apostle Paul related to us in the book of Romans that all people have sinned. Sin is a part of every person’s life. Some of the rest of the book of Romans especially chapters 4-10 give us information about how to overcome sin. But sinfulness will sooner or later, if given enough time lead to violence. In the Bible, the account of the flood which Noah and his family were saved from was on account of man’s violent nature (Genesis 6:11 ,13). Meaning since humans were made in God’s image, the violent acts against mankind were acts against the image of God. The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah was as a result of violence (Genesis 18:20, 21; 19:9). Violence is found throughout the history of the world. Sin is the culprit behind all of this.

Sin corrupts completely, the longer it is not dealt with. In some people corruption spreads faster than in others. It may take more than a life-time for someone to become completely corrupt, but the fact remains that people like Nero, Hitler, and others became corrupt at young enough ages to carry out crimes against humanity (as we call it). The tragedies of Columbine and Sandy Hook and others illustrate this corruption and the despair in the lives of the perpetrators.

Government, political, public & social programs are not fixing the problem (and never have). Only redemption can change the situation. Only the spiritual change of being “born again” in Christ can make the change. I am not saying that public programs might not help, but true transformation comes from a transformation of the heart and soul and that only comes from surrender to and forgiveness given by Jesus Christ (Romans 12). Programs change external conditions not internal issues.

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Questions on Tragedy

We never expect it to happen but always dread that it will. When the tragedy of Columbine happened our nation was appalled and we searched for a handle on the situation. When the tragedy of 9/11 happened, our nation was even more surprised and questions about God flooded our consciousness. Now we have another tragedy which still surprises us and resurrects the questions . . . again.

The senseless killing of people inflamess the heart of our society. The tragic murder of almost 30 people on Friday has us reeling. I feel horrible about the circumstance and as a minister I am asked the questions. Why does God allow evil to prevail? What did those little six and seven-year old children do to deserve this? How could God let this happen?

And those kind of questions lead to deeper analysis. If God is “all-powerful,” than he would do something about bad things.  So, he is either uncaring toward humanity and our troubles and unwilling to help, or he is enjoying our suffering. That seems to be where it stops. Two options only: (1) God is uncaring or, (2) God is unwilling to help. These are not the only questions about the issue.

There are several facets to answering the problem of evil. And most ministers know the “pat” answers; and they’re correct, but they don’t usually affect the heart and don’t often satisfy the mind, but unless a person has the Spirit of God, we shouldn’t expect others to necessarily get it when given an explanation. Things like: Without pain we wouldn’t know there was something wrong and God allows pain and evil for us to learn discipline and so we will have faith in God and it gives God and his people the opportunity to share his love and compassion and God did do something about evil when Jesus died on the cross and defeated sin, evil, death, and the devil, and more.

The reasons are all true, but it is still sad when the lives of children’s are taken from them at such young ages. I can’t fathom the depth of grief family and friends experience in such circumstances. I have yet to preach or officiate at a baby’s or a child’s funeral. but I have preached many for teens and young adults and the emotions are similar. It is horrible, whether it is an accident, a sickness, a murder, or something else that took the young person’s life. I hate it but am privileged that God has gifted me and I am able to serve in tragic circumstances.

The thing is, when people begin to wonder where God is in tragic and troubling circumstances, they assume that this life is either all there is or this life is the best there is. If those things are true, than the senseless murder of 20 school children, a mother and a father, the other victims and the suicide of the killer are even more tragic.

This life isn’t “it.”  There is more. Jesus did come to defeat sin, evil, and Satan, and he did so by dying and paying for our sins on the cross. When we put our faith in Christ, we are putting our lives in the hands of a living and eternal God who has something incredible in store for us. There is more. Eternity with God where he is, where he dwells where there is no tragic circumstance, where Satan has no power, where all is good and safe.

Revelation 21:1-7; Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.” Then he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life. Those who conquer will inherit these things, and I will be their God and they will be my children, NRSV.

First, the heaven and earth that we know will be done away with. Why? To make way for that which is perfect and compete. Sin has been here on earth since shortly after creation (cf, Genesis 1-3), and the devil was with God in heaven when he rebelled and was cast out, so evil and impurity has been where heaven is. And when God creates the new heaven and new earth, they will always be without sin and what sin does. It brings death. Death won’t happen again. It brings crying. there won’t be any reason for tears any longer. It brings pain. Pain will not be a part of anything again. Therefore, nothing that brings hurt or difficulty or trouble will ever occur.

There is more to this life, there is the eternal life to come for those who are in Christ. Those who lose their lives, from old age, tragic circumstances, horrible situations that bring pain and death, actually have a better circumstance than we who are still living. They are safe with God.

I feel for and pray for the family and friends of the victims in the Connecticut tragedy and will for a while. I pray for their comfort and relief. And God will provide it according to each person’s willingness to receive. As bad and as sad as it is, things are not without hope, with God, in Christ.

Father above, of heaven and earth, please give the help that comforts, whatever the source, give strength as these events weaken hearts and souls, and please give the families unexpected grace this Christmas, Amen.

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Why Does God Allow Bad?

This first appeared in the August 28, 2002 LaPlata Home Press with the title “What?”

In 1977, Becky Conway of Urbana, Illinois, learned she had cancer in her knee. The cancer was bad enough that the doctors saw the need to amputate the leg. She was homecoming queen, a cheerleader, and an outstanding track athlete with a promising future and she was a PK (Preacher’s Kid). Everyone, even her parents, were down about her loss, but she never once lost her faith, never complained, and remained filled with joy because she knew God had something greater in store for her other than track. She had the opportunity to witness to schoolmates that wouldn’t have listened to her before because she was a PK and it was expected of her to be a witness. Several did come to faith in Christ because of her character and witness following the amputation (Moody Monthly article “…why is she smiling?” by Kay Oliver, Volume 79, #10, June 1979, pages 17-19).

Too many people see difficult and tragic events as unjust and unfair. Usually the question that is thrown around is “Why would a loving God allow or cause such terrible things to happen, especially to good people?” A lot of people have a pessimistic outlook and are actually looking for bad things to happen or to come out in people. They usually find it and then blame God, not knowing nor understanding all the details involved. So they ask “why” or “how?” These are the wrong questions. The proper question is what does God have in store?

Job is often called the most patient man in the Bible. To some extent this is true, but he asked the wrong questions when he lost everything and kept wondering what he had done that would cause God to allow or even bring such calamity upon him. God spoke with Job and asked, “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?” Job 38:4. God’s emphasis was that HE IS IN CONTROL. Nothing is beyond his knowledge and understanding is beyond his grasp or power. God’s plan may allow calamity simply to bring you to faith. Job, you, and I are just people. God (sic) on the other hand is Almighty God, the creator and sustainer of all life. When bad happens, God still has something outstanding in store, or as Peter wrote, “In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold-may be found to result in the praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” 1 Peter 1:6-7

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What I’ve Learned From 9/11

With the tenth anniversary of 9/11, about every blogger has written something in relationship it. Many churches had special services, or special portions of their services devoted to memorializing those who died 10 years ago. Most sporting events over the weekend had special moments to honor that horrible event in 2001. Memorial events were taking place all over the nation and especially in New York where the planes destroyed the World Trade Center. What more can I add to all that has been said?

I was horrified, angered, and frightened went our country was attacked. I felt the same things most Americans did. What in the world happened? Why did it happen? How could it happen? What are we going to do now? Are we safe here like we have always believed we were?

I have learned that we are all vulnerable. That statement may seem obvious, but I mean a lot more than the obvious. It is not just America that is vulnerable, the whole world is vulnerable. We lost our innocence and no matter where in the world you live, you are susceptible to danger. The danger may not be Al Qaeda, but it may be some other enemy. Our whole planet is in danger of attack.

But I mean even more than that.

It is curious to me that my sermon yesterday, planned for months without realizing it would fall on the tenth anniversary of 9/11, was about how sin took over the world on three different occasions. The title of the message was, “Sin: Taking Over the World” from Genesis 3-10.

After Adam and Eve sinned by disobeying God and eating the fruit from the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil,” sin spread quickly. Cain murdered his brother Abel, as Hebrews 11:4 tells us, it was because he was evil. It wasn’t long until we learn in Genesis 6 that the whole world had become corrupt. Violence had completely taken over the earth and God regretted creating humans. Humanity had completely ignored God and whatever other evils they were committing, they had become overtly violent. Hating, harming, injuring, murdering one another. That’s when he flooded the earth, in order to restart and restore without evil ruling the earth.

But it didn’t take long for evil to raise up and spread as if there was no restraint. Noah’s son, Ham, saw his father asleep and naked in his tent and he brought disrespect to his father when belittled Noah to his brothers, Shem and Japheth. But it wasn’t long until pretty much the whole world resisted God’s command to spread out and occupy the world. Humanism became the rule and they decided to build a tower to human ingenuity, ability, and strength, called the Tower of Babel.

It was then that God mixed up their languages. The world spoke one language in that day, but now there were many and it created confusion and stopped their evil.

That third time that the Bible tells about sin and evil taking over the world is in the last days. Of course the New Testament teaching about the last days is that since Jesus Christ died and raised, we are in the last days. The last days will continue from Jesus’ death and resurrection until his return.

2 Timothy 3:1-5: 1But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. 2For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, 4treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. (English Standard Version)

Sin is permeating our world at a level we haven’t seen since the events in the first 10 chapters of Genesis. The Barna research group just recently published its state of the church, examining the religious and spiritual trends of the past 20 years (1991-2011). The report is eye-opening. It is apparent from the report that sin is taking over America, we are becoming more and more worldly; http://www.barna.org/faith-spirituality/504-barna-examines-trends-in-14-religious-factors-over-20-years-1991-to-2011.

We are vulnerable to sin and evil. The world is full of it. Satan is attacking us. He intends not to just injure us but to destroy us. The attack by Al Qaeda 10 years ago is a physical and tragic symbol of how unsafe and susceptible we are to Satan’s attack and that attack was one of the tools of Satan.

Yet . . . we can be protected. There is hope. First it is in Christ. If you are born again into Jesus Christ (read John 3), you have salvation, but you better be aware and active in your faith. Paul writes these words to us about our spiritual Al Qaeda; 10Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 12For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. 14Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. 16In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one;17and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God,18praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints. Ephesians 6:10-18 (ESV)

May you be blessed by God and be safe within his love and hope and eternity.

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What is it All About?

9/11! Just saying that is like saying Bono. Everyone knows who Bono and what he is about even if we don’t know his real name. He is the lead singer of the biggest band in the world U2. He is a political activist that world leaders listen too.

9/11 a date that lives in infamy like the day Pearl Harbor was bombed and the day President Kennedy was killed. Everyone knows what that number means. It recognizes the day in 2001 when terrorists attacked America on its own soil. A horrible day, a day of terror.

What it is about is an attack on the beliefs of America. That we hold strong ties to freedom and free enterprise and religious diversity and free thinking and hope. Attacks on the very values that we hold, even though some of them are in decline.

It’s about one group’s hatred of what is different than their way of thinking, their values.

It’s about my values. over two thousand people died that day, but it was an attack on me because I believe in the things that they were trying to obliterate.

I thank God for my freedom. Freedom to choose and to live in the way that seems best to me and our country, America has been the greatest entity of that cause.

I fear that those behind the 9/11 attacks are not the only ones trying to destroy who we are. 9/11 was a signal that our values are under attack.

That’s what 9/11 is all about.

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What Do You Say?

What do you say to young man who learned some disturbing truths about his father whose been dead for over a year?

What do you say to the young lady who is an orphan, whose foster parent was abusive, and being almost 18, nobody wants to take her into their home?

What do you say to the 41-year-old woman with a husband and 3 children who just learned that she has stage 4 cancer?

What do you tell the family whose 90-year-old matriarch dies of cancer and two days later, her grandson is killed in a tragic auto accident?

What do you tell them?

You tell them that someone very close to God died and it was because of sin too?  God knows and understands each predicament because he went through it too.

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Where Was God in the Earthquake?

The Haiti tragedy has us all reeling.  The US has been accused of raising and sending too much money and by Americans no less.  People have been sending aid, helping and asking questions.  One of those questions has been, where is God in all of this?

I have written a little about this.  Others have written a lot.  Here is another article to make us think.

http://blog.christianitytoday.com/women/2010/01/where_was_god_in_the_earthquak.html

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