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.)

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From Spiritual Mountaintop to Spiritual Wilderness

original photo credit: Peter Rivera via photopin cc
original photo credit: Peter Rivera via photopin cc

Dramatic. Powerful. Intense. All are words that I would use to describe the weeks following my conversion to Christianity. Surrendering my life to Christ was without question a calculated decision; I was not crying out to God in a moment of crisis. Still, I was a broken person and the Holy Spirit moved dramatically to meet my need.

On one particular evening, while studying for a physics final, I saw two visions that I inherently understood to be from God. I’ll not go into detail, but one of the visions provided a future image of a successful ministry. I was at the top of the world! Not only had the Creator of the Universe lovingly plucked me from the depths of sin, He had visibly shown me a hope-filled future.

Not long after that glorious season, I found myself painfully trudging through the trenches of life; that mountaintop experience felt like nothing more than a blurred memory. My challenges were so difficult and my struggles so deep that I questioned whether any of the good experiences had ever even happened. Worse yet, my expected road to Christian ministry turned in a most unwanted direction, apparently leading away from—instead of toward—the vision God had given me.

Fast forward over thirty-three years. I’m still walking with God and am now involved with “full-time” Christian ministry. As of today, I still have not seen the complete fulfillment of the vision God gave during my college years, but at least the path of my life has turned back in what I would consider to be the “right” direction. For me, the call of God continues to be very much a faith walk, but I can now see its fulfillment through the eye of faith. That’s a lot more than I can say for the long, dark portion of wilderness territory that I once traversed.

photo credit: Zest-pk via photopin cc
photo credit: Jonathan Kos-Read via photopin cc

I wish I could say that my experience is unique—that I stand alone amongst all the men and women of God who have gone before me. I cannot say that. What happened—and continues to happen—to me is part of a pattern frequently used by God. Mountaintop vision to desolate wilderness to fulfillment of the vision—that’s the way the pattern works. Or at least the way it is supposed to work. Sadly, not everyone emerges from a wilderness season as a spiritual champion for Christ. Indeed, many go to their graves mired in the bitter-tasting muck of unbelief—as typified by an entire generation of ancient Israelites who perished in the Judean wilderness.

Often, it’s very difficult to explain why a wilderness season came to be. Sometimes God is clearly the author; other times He seems to have little to do with the situation. But regardless of how our time of spiritual dryness and isolation came to be, the manner of overcoming is always the same: we emerge as champions by responding to negative circumstances in a manner that honors God.

photo credit: Zest-pk via photopin cc
photo credit: Zest-pk via photopin cc

Our heavenly Father always has the best interests of His beloved children at heart, but there is something that He has sought after since the creation of the human race: our fruitfulness (Genesis 1:26-28; John 15:8). The Creator of the Universe passionately desires to see us bear the sweet fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) and to see that fruit multiplied in the lives of those we serve. This is really what the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) is about. A spiritual wilderness experience can reflect the glory of God as He mystically brings the fruitful out of the barren, or it can reflect the sinfulness of humankind as we spiral downward in cynicism and unbelief. The choice, my friends, is ours.

(This post is loosely based on the content of my new book, Champions in the Wilderness, which will soon be available for sale. Also, when our new SfMe Media website is complete, our blog posts will be switched our new ministry website, searchforme.info and this blog site will be phased out. You can subscribe to by entering your email in the subscribe panel on the right-hand side of the new website.)

What Is Truth?

photo credit: Joe Shlabotnik via Flickr cc
photo credit: Joe Shlabotnik via Flickr cc

The conversation saddened me. I was speaking with a middle-aged acquaintance (I’ll call him “Bill”) and the conversation momentarily drifted toward the things of God. Bill, however, quickly steered our discussion toward the topic of sports as he emotionally recounted the opportunity that he had to introduce his young son to a couple of the Pittsburgh Pirates all stars. In Bill’s world, God meant very little and the stardom of professional athletics meant everything. Like so many others who dwell on this earth, Bill’s reality is limited to what he can see, hear, and touch.

photo credit: Waiting For The Word via Flickr cc
photo credit: Waiting For The Word via Flickr cc

Truth, in a sense, amounts to an accurate description of reality. That which is deemed to be true is that which agrees with what is real. The problem is that there are many different “realities” in our world, and, thus, many different versions of “truth” that clamor for our attention. These “realities” are actually only of human perception and so we must ask ourselves if our “realities” and “truths” correspond with the ultimate reality of God.

Two thousand years ago, the Roman prefect over Judea, Pontius Pilate, nervously conversed with Jesus just prior to sentencing the Son of God to death by crucifixion. It was during that interaction that the notoriously cruel Pilate uttered the infamous words, “What is truth?” (John 18:28-40) To Pontius Pilate, objective truth was sacrificed for the “reality” that corresponded with his own personal agenda. Similar to Bill, the Roman ruler was at a total loss when it came to dealing with the reality of Christ and His Lordship.

In the pluralistic culture of our day, it sounds noble-minded to say something like, “It doesn’t really matter what you believe, as long as you are sincere in your beliefs.” Such statements always make me chuckle because they send a clear message that the unseen spiritual world is nothing more than human fabrication—something akin to the Greek mythology I enjoyed studying in my younger years.

A strong case can be made that because the spiritual world around us is eternal, it amounts to a greater reality than the temporal material world in which we live. Bill’s two baseball heroes may be able to play for another ten years or so, but their careers will end and their bodies will eventually go to the grave. In contrast, the Creator of the Universe exists eternally.

photo credit: Pierre-Olivier via Flickr cc
photo credit: Pierre-Olivier via Flickr cc

Why does any of this matter? Pontius Pilate ordered that the innocent Christ be unjustly tortured and killed.History tells us that Pilate’s life took a downward turn a few years after the crucifixion, and that he eventually committed suicide. The day will arrive when not only Pilate, but all of us will be judged by God’s eternal truth. No high political ruler or MVP from any sport from any age in history will stand guard at those pearly gates. What will matter for each of us—and it will matter a great deal—is the degree to which we discovered the reality of God’s eternal truth and aligned our lives accordingly.

People pay a lot of money to attend fundraisers with political dignitaries. They also shell out a lot of cash in an attempt to buy into the glory of collegiate and professional athletics. But in the end, only one reality will matter. When it comes to gaining access to the eternal truth of God, well, that is a “ticket” worthy of a steep price!

Hey, Good Buddy, Ya Got Your Ears On?

original photo credit: Travis Isaacs via photopin cc
photo credit: Travis Isaacs via photopin cc

There was a season during my teenage years when CB radios were all the rage. People installed them in their cars and sometimes even their houses. My buddy’s dad had his own little CB station set up in the corner of his living room to keep him entertained through the long winter evenings.

“CB Lingo”—once only the language of truckers and rednecks—became common jargon for all of American society. Whether by radio or by phone, it was common to greet a friend with, “Hey, Good Buddy, Ya Got Your Ears On?” Little did I realize then that it was Jesus who coined that phrase—only His was a slightly different version.

Talking on CB Radio
photo credit: Andrew 鐘 via photopin cc

Matthew 13:3-9 records what is often called “the parable of the sower.”

And He spoke many things to them in parables, saying, “Behold, the sower went out to sow; and as he sowed, some seeds fell beside the road, and the birds came and ate them up. Others fell on the rocky places, where they did not have much soil; and immediately they sprang up, because they had no depth of soil. But when the sun had risen, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away. Others fell among the thorns, and the thorns came up and choked them out. And others fell on the good soil and yielded a crop, some a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty. He who has ears, let him hear.” (NASB)

Did you notice how Jesus ended His little story? “He who has ears, let him hear.” It’s similar to, “Hey, Ya Got Your Ears On?” but with a slightly different twist. Jesus commonly used this phrase when in the process of making a difficult statement. In a sense, the Son of God was saying, “Listen up folks, you may not like what I’m saying, but you really need to hear this.”

photo credit: Natanis Davidsen via CreationSwap
photo credit: Natanis Davidsen via CreationSwap

After Jesus presented the parable of the sower, the crowds went on their way marveling about the eloquent stories that He told. Christ’s disciples, however, pulled Him aside and began to ask questions in an effort to get to the heart of the matter. The Messiah’s followers didn’t just hear what Jesus said; they actually listened.

You know, one thing about Jesus is that He is just so darn easy to ignore—at least in the short-term. A few people in Western culture totally reject what Jesus had to say, and I’ll say that, at the very least, I applaud them for their honesty. Most of us simply pick and choose, approaching the teachings of Christ like we would a restaurant buffet. We keep what tastes pleasant to the palate, while conveniently ignoring anything we deem to be distasteful.

Buffet
photo credit: Andrew Michaels via photopin cc

The problem with this approach is that the words of Jesus Christ can never be simply a matter of preference—they are the very words of life. Whether we choose to reject His teachings, or simply ignore them, I can guarantee that we will find ourselves paying a steep price in the end. The Creator of the Universe is not to be trifled with.

Personally, I really do prefer the pleasant parts of Christianity. I like, for instance, going on retreats—taking time to linger in the presence of God and sitting around the campfire singing Kumbaya with my brothers and sisters in Christ. But along the way, I have also learned the life-giving value of less palatable things like hard truth, correction, and discipline. The fact that I don’t like something doesn’t mean that I don’t need it!

How about you? Ya Got Your Ears On?

Is God Really In Control?

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Heartbreaking is probably the best word I can use to describe the aftermath of superstorm Sandy that ravaged the eastern coast of the U.S. this week. But the use of this word is by no means limited to recent events. We could also speak of what seems like a relentless assault of hurricanes, monsoons, tornados, droughts, earthquakes, tsunamis, etc. that continue to extract a heavy toll of human suffering.

Heartbreaking could also refer to the pain and emotional distress that humans inflict on each other. The sex-slave trade prospers, as does that of forced labor. Even in civilized countries, the word injustice can be used with increasing frequency. And then there are the wars. O the wars! How many untold millions have suffered and died over the past 100 years? The toll of war is staggering—especially when innocent children are caught in the crossfire, or displaced into refugee camps.

I understand that the phrase “God is in Control” is comforting for some, but not for me. When I think of control, I envision God pushing the buttons and pulling the strings to make all that happens, happen. I do not believe that this is an accurate (or Biblical) way to describe the source of all that is heartbreaking. Ours is not a world in which God is in control in this sense of the word. If He is, then the Creator of our Universe would be uncaring at best, and mercilessly cruel at worst.

Psalm 24 describes God as the King of glory. As the sovereign ruler of the Universe, God reigns as the highest possible authority. No one can tell Him what to do or question His actions with any authority. Every created being is ultimately accountable to the King; and the Bible makes it quite clear that all words and actions will one day be judged.

photo credit: AndyWilson via photopin cc

Sovereignty does not mean, however, that our Creator somehow incites or guides all child molesters, for example, to do their dastardly deeds. God certainly possesses the ability to influence human decisions, but He has willingly chosen to limit Himself in this area.

I am not saying that our world is completely out of control, however. Any limitations on God’s part are entirely self-imposed, and evil does have its boundaries. This is all very difficult to grasp, but our inability to thoroughly understand these things does not make them any less real. God is somehow able to take our choices and work them toward His sovereign purposes. That is what makes Him God.

God reigns as the sovereign King of glory! Every Christian can stand on the promises that He is indeed the ultimate authority, that every evil deed will be accounted for, and that God will work all that hell throws at us to our benefit. He can do that. He is God.

Others often attempt to do what God can do, but their methods are very different. There was a time long ago when Lucifer and one third of the angels staged a coup in a futile attempt to ascend to the throne of glory (Isaiah 14:12-14). Their plot was easily defeated, and having been thrown to the Earth, they then ensnared the entire human race in their quest to establish their own kingdom of supremacy. But humans and demons do not have the power and authority to reign in the same manner as God. Thus, they are compelled to resort to methods of control, manipulation, and intimidation.

This is where Christians too often fall prey to the tactics of our fallen world. In seeking what we think is right—or simply what we want—we are prone to employ the same political arm twisting tactics of the demonic kingdom. In essence, this involves a continuous quest to wrestle dominion from God, seeking to rule our world independently of our Creator. In the long run, such methods serve only to further promote the heart-wrenching suffering of the human condition.

What is the answer? The advance of the kingdom of God—that domain where the sovereign King of the Universe reigns over His willing subjects. Far from possessing the passive, apathetic mindset which embodies much of our world, those who fully participate in God’s kingdom are motivated by extreme measures of faith and love to do amazing deeds, as the advance of His kingdom always brings with it healing, wholeness, and hope.

photo credit: Mataparda via photopin cc

The line between seeking to control people (and circumstances) and facilitating the coming of God’s kingdom may at times appear to be very fine, but it is a well-defined line nonetheless, and not simply a matter of semantics.

The human condition is indeed heartbreaking, but we can take comfort in knowing that our God reigns (Revelation 19:1-6)! And if our God reigns, we can act and pray with the authority of His kingdom to make a very real difference in this broken world. Let us seek to influence the world of politics through faith and love without falling prey to its controlling methods.