The Profile of a Mass Shooter

photo credit: Furryscaly via photopin cc
photo credit: Furryscaly via photopin cc

Once again, the United States has been rocked by a mass shooting in which mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, siblings, children, and grandparents have been brutally murdered. The shooting at the Washington Naval Yard was serious enough (meaning that enough people were killed) to give our nation collective pause—to take a momentary break from our daily pursuits, to express sadness for the senseless loss of life, and to express our continued sense of bewilderment over the escalating number of mass shooting events.

Guns are a factor, for sure, but as I’ve written before, the problem runs much deeper than the availability of weapons. Indeed, we have seen enough of these events to identify common themes at play in the lives of those who commit such acts of violence.

Most mass shooters have been men with identity issues (sometimes to the point of mental instability). Their struggles with insecurity may stem from broken or dysfunctional family environments, or from the systematic mistreatment by peers. Often, detectives uncover a pain-filled combination of the two factors. Immersed in a toxic environment of violent TV shows, movies, and video games that desensitize a heart to the value of human life, their emotions are like dry tinder just waiting for a spark—any spark—to ignite a wildfire.

photo credit: Ansel Edwards Photography via photopin cc
photo credit: Ansel Edwards Photography via photopin cc

In addition, there is another theme that is all too common in our increasingly fractured society—isolation. Don’t get me wrong—there is such a thing as good isolation, such as those times when we withdraw from the daily clamor of life to seek God and to recharge. This, however, is not that. The isolated world of a shooter is full of dark, brooding, life-stealing thoughts. In such situations, the human mind left to its own musings will come to no good conclusions.

What many of us fail to realize is that a shooting rampage is merely the culmination of an ongoing process. For every mass shooter, there are thousands, perhaps even millions of people living in their own isolated worlds, brooding over mistreatment, abandonment, betrayal, and a host of other unjust acts against their persons. Each bitter thought is an act of violence in its own right, and if allowed to run its course, some form of damage will certainly result.

This form of dangerous isolation is a type of “spiritual wilderness”—desolate territory where God appears to be absent and people uncaring. Most of us have these types of experiences to one degree or another; what marks the difference between life and death is the manner in which we process the adversity we face.

God is greater than any difficulty—even injustice—that any of us will ever face. But only those who trust Him, who learn to process their circumstances through the eye of faith, will emerge as champions over darkness and hate. No matter how bleak the horizon may appear, the eye of faith will look beyond the storm clouds to see dazzling rays of hope.

photo credit: Ashley Pollak via photopin cc
photo credit: Ashley Pollak via photopin cc

Though a wilderness experience of this sort may be nothing of our own choosing, how we process such circumstances is entirely ours. May we never forget that the sovereign Creator of the Universe is able to turn even sinful human choices toward His eternal purposes. That, after all, is one of the things that makes Him God. But what about us—will we believe?

(This post is loosely based on the content of my new book, Champions in the Wilderness, which is now available for sale through Amazon and through our new SfMe Media website. This searchforme.wordpress.com site is now being phased out with this final post. All future blog entries will be posted to our new ministry website, searchforme.info. You can subscribe by entering your email in the subscribe panel on the right-hand side of the new website.)

Something Greater than 9/11

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photo credit: cliff1066™ via photopin cc

It happens every year when the anniversary of 9/11 rolls around. I find myself wishing that those violent and horrific terrorist attacks had never happened—not only for the lives lost but because of the negative changes that have come to our world as a result of that fateful day.

It’s not that the world was necessarily a nice place before September 11, 2001, but it has definitely been even less pleasant since. Overall, from my perspective, people are less friendly, more calloused, and more fearful. I know it makes me sound old, but there are definitely times when I wish that we could return to the days of yesteryear.

photo credit: diegofornero (destino2003) via photopin cc
photo credit: diegofornero (destino2003) via photopin cc

Still, I have come to the conclusion that nothing good ever comes from fretting over the negative changes in our world. Nothing. Those who fail to adapt to change will soon find themselves mired in misery. A friend recently told me about a study that found the one common theme between people who lived to a ripe old age was their ability to adapt to change. I haven’t taken the time to verify the study, but it makes sense. Trying to hold on to what once was has a tendency to sap the vitality from even the most vibrant of people.

Isn’t it ironic that the one group of people—Christians—who should be most adept at adjusting to change is usually the first to resist anything of the sort. In part, this is because we’ve seen such a moral decline in our culture over the past 50 years. Still, something deeper is at work. We often resist change due to our shortsightedness; we don’t realize that, in most cases, change equals opportunity.

Consider, for example, the sense of anxiety and security that so many people feel in our day. Can there be a better opportunity to point them toward our Rock, the One who provides peace and security in even the worst circumstances? What about the fact that so many people are unchurched? At least these folks aren’t beset by the religiosity that has plagued the church for so long.

photo credit: faungg's photo via photopin cc
photo credit: faungg’s photo via photopin cc

Greater still, overshadowing every negative change in our world is the reality that the kingdom of God is advancing on this earth, that the time of Christ is drawing near, that each passing day brings us closer to the full revelation of our eternal hope.

There’s something exciting happening that is easily missed by the casual observer. The kingdoms of man are crumbling while the kingdom of God draws near. The kingdom of God! It’s that one and only government that can produce a truly peace-filled society. This is not a time to shrink back in fear, or to fret over things that have been lost. This is a time to lift up our heads and open our eyes to the ripening harvest around us.

If I could rewind the clock and somehow stop the events of 9/11 from happening, I most certainly would. But I can’t. Thus, I am working to accepting the realities of this world while pursuing the greater reality of God’s kingdom. For the person who loves God and seeks good, change equals opportunity. Let’s not allow it to slip through our fingers!

The Art of Stereotyping

original photo credit: Symic via photopin cc
original photo credit: Symic via photopin cc

Have you ever felt overwhelmed by all of the information that you must process on a daily basis? Of course you have. The rapid rate of technological breakthrough results in the need to learn more just to stay current. And speaking of staying current, so much is taking place on the local, state, national, and international levels—keeping up with all of the happenings is a full-time job within itself!

What about dealing with money? The financial world is so complex! There’s also the question of how we involve ourselves. With every blink of the eye, our government seems to be passing a new (and unfavorable) law. Most of us would like to the poor, the down-trodden, and the powerless. But whom do we give to? And how do we give to ensure the money is being used wisely? Of course, the environment can always use our help. Do we save the whales? The bears? The trees? The air? The water? So many questions to be answered!

Almost by default, we are compelled to limit the amount of information we absorb. This is especially true in dealing with people. According to wikianswers.com, as of June 2013 there are an estimated 7,090,372,979 people alive on earth. How many do you know? Some experts expect a daily population increase of about 212,035 people—far more than the number of friends most of us have on social media!

photo credit: DonkeyHotey via photopin cc
photo credit: DonkeyHotey via photopin cc

We can’t personally know every living human, let alone everyone in our community. Thus, it becomes easier to lump people into groups with well-defined boundaries. Male, female. Young, old. Caucasian, African American, Hispanic, Asian. French, Italian, Chinese, Mexican. Conservative, liberal. I think you get the picture.

Certain personality traits are indeed common to stereotypical groups. Most of the Chinese people I have met, for example, are extremely gracious. Thus, I am tempted to assume that every Chinese person is gracious. The same is true of negative stereotypes. To a white, middle-aged conservative, a young black male wearing a hoodie has got to be trouble!

A certain amount of stereotyping is necessary for our sanity—there is simply no way that we can process it all. At the same time, we would do well to consciously recognize the limitations of our stereotypes. People are individuals. It is entirely feasible for a young black male to wear a hoodie simply to be fashionable.

All of this brings us to my primary point: I find it reprehensible that leaders from various camps would intentionally (and skillfully) paint negative stereotypes in an effort to manipulate well-intentioned people toward various actions. And, yet, this is the world in which we live. The universal prevalence of media in our culture hasn’t corrected the problem. Instead, it is now worse. Why? Media can easily be manipulated to present predetermined images. New pictures of reality are thereby created.

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photo credit: jatmoos via photopin cc

Joseph Goebbels, Adolf Hitler’s minister of propaganda, played a huge role in creating the stereotypical Jew as an enemy to be feared and, thus, destroyed. Goebbels’ well-designed techniques stirred the hearts of the German people into frenzies that fed the fuel of World War II. Goebbels once wrote, “That propaganda is good which leads to success, and that is bad which fails to achieve the desired result. It is not propaganda’s task to be intelligent, its task is to lead to success.”[1] To Goebbels, “good” and “bad” were not defined by moral guidelines but by success or failure in pursuing a particular task.

We would do well to distinguish between information and truth. Information, which abounds in our world, may or may not be beneficial. Truth, however, is more elusive –and more necessary. When truth is obscured by vague words, doctored images, and nasty stereotypes, we are ripe for manipulation by skilled propagandists who care little about morals and much about results.

There is a tendency for those on the right and the left to blame the opposing camp for irresponsibly employing the art of stereotyping to promote their causes. Personally, I think that both carry a lot of blame. In the short-term, such methods may achieve their desired definitions of success, but in the end we all lose. Real change–change that brings healthy long-term change–can be found only through the pursuit of truth. As Christians, we dare not accept anything less!


[1] Joachim Fest, The Face of the Third Reich, p 90

Are You Being Played?

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photo credit: Sarah_Ackerman via photopin cc

Once again, summer had come to an end and the next school year was upon us—as signified by our annual county fair. The array of flashing lights, the mixed aromas of the food booths, and the bold sounds of the high school band competition all contributed to the fair experience. After sampling a few items that probably shouldn’t be classified as “food” due to their lack of nutritional value, we decided to take a walk around the midway.

I’m usually very careful about the types of carnival games I play; I won’t spend the money if I don’t think I have a really good chance of winning. There was one game, however, that looked very doable so my buddy, Jerry, and I plopped down a couple of bucks for the opportunity to throw a softball into a basket. The guy manning the booth made it look easy as could be, so I figured that I too could make it happen and emerge a hero for my wife by winning a stuffed animal. Only a short time later, I was a goat with no prize and a wallet that was ten dollars lighter. I never found out exactly how the carny vendor did it, but I knew I had been played.

Several months ago, while reading through the book of Acts, I noticed a trend. When opponents of the gospel attempted to hinder its spread, they often did so by stirring up the emotions of the masses. One or two lone individuals would incite an entire crowd to drive the Apostle Paul and his ministry team out of town. A lot has changed in the 2000 years since, but the basic technique remains the same. If anything, the strategies involved with manipulating people have improved dramatically.

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photo credit: brian glanz via photopin cc

We all know that due to our modern technological capabilities, “truckloads” of data are being minded from our daily actions. Businesses, and unfortunately our government, know where we go, where we shop, what we buy, and even what we like, to a large degree. And how is all of this data used? To move us toward particular actions—usually ones that involve us buying a product or placing a vote.

The same general techniques are used with media. Each movie takes the viewer through an intended range of emotions to establish a desired sense of connection. Each political ad is a carefully scripted effort to move public opinion in one direction or another. Each news broadcast carries a similar agenda, only the messages are generally more subtle.

photo credit: Michael Fleshman via photopin cc
photo credit: bMethe via Flickr cc

I have not closely followed the trial of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. I don’t know what really happened and so I hope and pray that the jury gets it right, and that justice is truly served.However, one thing has really frustrated me about the situation: to a large degree, some media outlets are manipulating human emotions in an effort to drive public opinion.

Why do many news broadcasts continue to show photos of a younger, more innocent looking Trayvon Martin? Why incite a race war by unnecessarily inflaming emotions? This case isn’t about a Hispanic killing an African American—it’s about whether a man recklessly crossed an essential line in his efforts to protect his neighborhood.

photo credit: Michael Fleshman via photopin cc
photo by Orange County Jail, Florida–Public Domain

The George Zimmerman/Trayvon Martin case provides us with a significant example of how public opinion is manipulated, but it is only the very small tip of a very large iceberg. The questions I am compelled to ask are the following: “What moves you?” “Are your emotions the primary driving force in your decision making processes?” “To what extent are you being played?” Emotions play an important and meaningful role in our lives but they if they serve as trusted guides, our general public will continue to be easily manipulated by the agendas of a very few.

The Boston Marathon Attack: Another Wakeup Call?

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I don’t think that there is such a thing as a pleasant sounding alarm. Even elevator music has an obnoxious feel if it serves to wake me from my slumber, forcing me to face the difficulties that may lie ahead. The wear marks on any snooze button stand as evidence of this reality. How we give that snooze button a workout as we repeatedly slip in and out of slumber!

Worse than a pleasant sounding wake up call, is one that may seem to be disturbing in its own right. For example, a loud funeral dirge in the morning will not contribute to anybody’s happiness. A rude awakening can be considered the worst kind.

I am of the opinion that the church in the U.S. has been asleep for many years now. Collectively speaking, our primary concern has been more about our own comfort and happiness than about the necessary advance of God’s kingdom. Horrendous events such as happened at the Boston Marathon seem to provide rude, but only temporary, awakenings from our slumber. After an onslaught of social media calls for prayer, we will seek a return to the status quo as quickly as we can.

Looking back on the tragedy of  9/11, many Christian leaders felt that it would be a defining moment for the U.S. church as people flocked to houses of worship. Less than a year later, however, life was pretty much back to normal, albeit a little less comfortable. The overall levels of anxiety and depression have probably increased since that time, but not enough to compel us to any type of meaningful action.

photo credit: gnuckx via photopin cc
photo credit: gnuckx via photopin cc

What we fail to accept is the fact that bombings such as the one at the Boston Marathon take place on a regular basis across the globe. And in many cases, medical care for the victims is grossly inadequate. Are the lives of these people any less valuable in the eyes of God simply because they are somewhere over there?  Yet, for reasons both just and self-centered, we mostly choose to turn a blind eye to what happens outside of our sphere.

The problem with our isolationist mindset is that evil is never content to stay in its home territory. Evil is active and alive; it will never rest until it achieves total domination. The church’s slumber will give evil free permission to advance, and when she finally awakens, the threat will be upon her very doorstep.

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If I see this correctly, terrorist attacks on U.S. soil will only increase in number in the coming years. Already, we are becoming fearful and hardened—far from the qualities of a free society or a vibrant church. Our answers, however, lie not in fear, mistrust, or bitterness, but in faith and love. This isn’t rocket science. Momentary changes mean nothing. By necessity, active faith and passionate love must become a way of life for those who profess the name of Christ. May we pray with all of our broken hearts for those affected by the Boston marathon–and may we continue to pray (and labor) for the kingdom of God to be realized all over the world.

The Greatest Holiday Ever!

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photo credit: |vvaldzen| via photopin cc

There is something about Easter that sets it apart as one of the most significant holidays to celebrate. Thanksgiving and Christmas rank right up there, of course, but aside from peanut butter eggs and sugary peeps, Resurrection Sunday continues to be one of the most meaningful days on the calendar.

One thing that I especially appreciate about this three-day holiday experience is that it conveys a profound message of hope while still maintaining a firm grasp on reality. In a natural sense, there is very little good about Good Friday, and yet, its continued remembrance provides an ongoing reminder of humanity’s desperate need. Sin is dark and violent—a reality that we dare not ignore. Yet through the cross, not only is sin addressed but it is dealt a fatal blow with Christ’s resurrection from the grave.

The timing of Easter is also quite meaningful as it signals the arrival of new life bursting forth after the long, cold months of winter. The lengthening days and increased warmth of the sun provide a powerful sense of hope and anticipation. What an awesome time of year!

If there is one word that I could use to describe Easter, it would be new. That we speak of new life is evident, but a greater dimension remains that often receives only lip service. The resurrection of Jesus Christ marks the initiation of the New Covenant. The original meaning of new in a Biblical Greek context doesn’t simply mean a more contemporary version of something one already owns. Rather, it speaks of something entirely new and different compared to what has previously existed.

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photo credit: mbtrama via photopin cc

If I decide, for example, to purchase a new car to replace the one that I already own, I am simply buying another vehicle of a similar type. But if I chose to purchase a car that also serves as a boat, a submarine, and an airplane, I would obtain a vehicle that is unlike anything known to all of my neighbors, friends, and relatives.

The New Covenant, while yet another in a series of sacred and binding relationships between man and God, is totally different from any type of relationship previously known to humanity. Through the New Covenant of grace, we are offered the extreme privilege of being able to relate to God on His terms—not through the law-based existence of our ancestors.

People who are repulsed by the all of the judgment seen in the Old Testament often focus on only a small piece of the puzzle. One of our most deadly errors is to miss the fact that the Apostle Paul compares the Mosiac Law to a harsh school-master who points the way toward the New Covenant of grace.

Before the coming of faith we were all imprisoned under the power of the Law, with our only hope of deliverance the faith that was to be shown to us. Or, to change the metaphor, the Law was like a strict governess in charge of us until we went to the school of Christ and learned to be justified by faith in him. Once we had that faith we were completely free from the governess’s authority. Galatians 3:23-25 (Phillips)

photo credit: Michael 1952 via photopin cc
photo credit: Michael 1952 via photopin cc

This passage calls to mind the image of a strict Catholic school nun of an earlier era. (I know that they weren’t all hard-nosed, but there were enough mean ones to make the stereotype somewhat viable; each of my Catholic childhood friends had his own traumatic story to tell.) Step out of line in any way and you could be sure that Sister Mary Meanheart would immediately smack your fingers with her wooden ruler—her continued harshness awakening within each heart an intense desire for salvation, or, at the very least, a nicer nun.

God never intended the Mosaic Law and its judgments to be a permanent way of life. His goal was to show the futility of a legalistic worldview and leave us longing for a new type of existence. This realization makes it especially unfortunate that we so often define Christian maturity in light of how well people obey certain rules. At its very core, the Gospel is a message of freedom, not one of requirements and obligations.

Not only does Easter mark the arrival of spring, it indicates the initiation of a truly new way of life—one filled with hope and peace and everything good. For those who grasp the true meaning of the season, this is a holiday worth celebrating!

Repulsed by Old Testament Judgment? Good!

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photo credit: stevendepolo via photopin cc

Have you ever taken the time to think about God’s character? John 3:16 is a popular passage that speaks of how much God loves us.

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. John 3:16 (NKJV)

On the other hand, those who read through certain sections of the Old Testament will envision a wrathful God pouring out harsh judgment for seemingly obscure reasons. These conflicting perspectives make it very difficult for some people to put any type of real confidence in our Creator. But it doesn’t need to be that way! The contrast makes perfect sense if we understand the nature of God’s relationship with the human race.

There were times of judgment before Moses arrived on the scene, but they were few and far between. I already highlighted the flood of Noah, which probably affected a relatively small number of people. (The Earth wasn’t nearly as populated in those days.) God also poured out judgments against Sodom and Gomorrah for their wickedness, against Egypt for their cruel treatment of ancient Israel, and against the Amalekites for attacking His favored people. However, one particular event during the lifetime of Moses drastically changed the picture. What was it? The arrival of the Mosaic Law, including the Ten Commandments.

photo credit: functoruser via photopin cc
photo credit: functoruser via photopin cc

Before the the Law, it seemed to take a long time for God’s anger to build before He would render judgment. But after the Law, judgment was both frequent and furious. However, it wasn’t God’s character that changed over the course of time but rather the manner in which He related to humanity. Law breeds judgment.

What we fail to understand is that living by law was man’s choice, not God’s. There was only one rule in the garden of Eden, meaning almost unlimited freedom. But in choosing to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, Adam and Eve chose to live by standards of right and wrong rather than by a love-motivated relationship with their Creator. Laws of various sorts now govern the motivation and behavior of the human heart.

The Mosaic Law was not the first of its kind. In fact, there are three or four other legal codes on record that predate Moses. Again, living by law-based standards is innate to the human heart. Thus, in giving the Mosaic Law, God was giving the opportunity for humans to relate to Him on our terms. This point should not be taken lightly! When we find ourselves repulsed reading about the judgmental acts of the Old Testament, we should realize that God was also repulsed. He judged, not because He enjoyed wreaking death and destruction, but to allow us to taste the full fruit of a law-based existence.

photo credit: Lawrence OP via photopin cc
photo credit: Lawrence OP via photopin cc

It is interesting to note that in speaking of the Old Covenant Law, Jesus never called it, “My Law” or “My Father’s Law”. Instead, He called it, “the Law”, “the Law of Moses”, or “your Law”. In the end, the purpose of the Mosaic Law was to point us to Jesus Christ who came to us full of grace and truth.

For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ. John 1:17 (NASB)

Christ related to us on His terms; in Jesus we find an accurate representation of the Father’s heart. While this may seem to be just another point of doctrine, grasping the full ramifications of its reality is nothing short of transformational. Are you repulsed by all of the judgment found in the Old Testament? Good. Your heart may be ready for some much-needed grace!