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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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 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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I’m at a Loss at What to Do

A few years ago, I read about a family that suffered a loss. The mother’s father had died and they were rushing around packing and getting the family ready to travel several hundred miles for the funeral.  In the middle of their preparations, an old guy from their church that they didn’t know very well showed up at their door.

Not only didn’t they know him, they thought he was a bit odd and weren’t sure about him.  When he arrived on their doorstep, the mom answer and wondered what in the world he was doing there.

She asked him what she could do for him.  He told her that he was there to shine their shoes.  He had his shoe-shine kit and wanted to make their shoes look the best they can for such an important and solemn occasion.

He saw a need to help and share compassion and he offered to do the only thing that he could and so while they rushed to get ready to do, he polished the shoes they would wear at the funeral and made an impact on this family.  They were grateful and this simple act of kindness eased their grief and suffering.  He didn’t say a thing, he just served a need.

It is interesting, God seems to have gifted me with the ability to show his compassion to people who are hurting.  I spend a lot of time in hospitals, nursing homes, with grieving families, and other similar situations.  I have been there when people have breathed their last, when the family learns of their death, through surgeries, when they learned they had a debilitating illness.  I have preached a lot of funerals.  A good part of them were the result of tragic events.  Automobile accidents, murder victims, and I can’t remember all the types of tragic events I have done funerals for.

And in every case, I feel totally inadequate.  I never know what to say.  And I have another one of those situations.  this time is different from before too.

Last week, our oldest member died of cancer.  She was 90 years old.  The last few weeks were difficult on her and her family.  But difficulty has been multiplied.  Her 32-year-old grandson was killed in an auto accident this morning.

I know that the most important thing is to be there and be with them.  Let them vent, let them cry, and pray with them.  But like every other time, what in the world am I supposed to say?  It’s hard to accept that God is loving and caring at moments like these.  It’s difficult to express in words anyway, that there is comfort available to them.

I know of only one thing that I can do that is true, effective, and correct.  Point them to Jesus.  God cares for them.  God has help and hope for them.  But grief can blind hearts and minds to God’s care and compassion.  I guess that’s why he sends people like me to share his love and mercy.

I get to serve an incredible God.  He will get them through, regardless of my inadequacy.

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I Just Don’t Know

I don’t get art. I mean, I am not an art appreciationado by any means. If someone paints an apple and it looks like an apple. I go, “Wow, that looks like an apple.” If someone paints a portrait than I admire the resemblance to the subject of the painting. But most art to me, is about as understandable as abstract art. There is no rhyme or reason behind it. The piece on the left here seems like light to me. But makes no sense otherwise. There seems to me to be nothing normal about it. Just colors. Just paint strokes. Whatever. I may like it, but it means nothing to me. It’s not an apple or a painting of a president or something that makes sense to my mind.

Today has been a difficult day. I guess it is the culmination of the past few days. Now there is tomorrow and I don’t know what that will bring. Life to me has always been, that’s an apple or that’s a president, not what is that?

Let me explain.

For me, life has been cut and dried. It is what it is and it made sense. I’m a guy, a product of a Christian home, 70’s music, a conservative understanding of life and politics and the Bible. I have been influenced by family, and church, and school, and friends (both Christian and not). I believe in marriage, that it is between a man and a woman, in parents raising their children, and punishment for wrong-doing. I can go on.

Life has always been pretty cut and dried. And I know a lot of the answers for why bad things happen to good people and why good things happen to bad people. You know, the problem of evil. I’ve even led people to a belief and understanding about God while discussing the problem.

But today has been, well, abstract. All I know just doesn’t make sense at the moment. Why does a 90-year-old woman die of cancer and not old age. That’s what happens to younger folk, people  my age. Why am I working the grave-yard shift when it so unnatural to stay awake all night long every day of the week. Night is for sleeping, not for working. And so sleep doesn’t come in ways that gives rest and clear-headedness. Why is a work week not Monday through Saturday, but Wednesday through Sunday. Who thought of that?

What I consider normal, working during the day and not on weekends, and sleeping at night and eating 3 times a day at pretty much set times, and people living to be old but dying from being aged, is well, only normal to me I guess.

The questions of life come down to this. In everything, in every aspect of life, every moment whether “normal” or not, do I love God with all of my heart and mind and soul and strength, and do I trust him with all my heart.

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PS: Besides, I may be catching a cold. Now that sucks!