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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Facing a Giant? You’re Not Alone!

photo credit: Fried Dough via photopin cc
photo credit: Fried Dough via photopin cc

A very real problem for all of us is that we tend to profess a depth of faith in God that we do not actually possess. Faith is easy on the mountaintop. The battlefield trenches of life are an entirely different matter. A football team may spend a lot of time practicing in preparation for the first game of the season against their arch rivals, but it isn’t until they step onto the field of play that their true abilities become evident.

All too often, our version of the gospel speaks only of God’s forgiveness in light of our sinfulness, of the efficacy of grace as opposed to our impotent works, of the glories of heaven compared to the pain of this world. All of these things are true, but they fail to present a complete picture. We even go so far as to portray the Old Testament Promised Land as an image of heaven. Do we actually believe that we will have to drive enemies out of heaven? No, each of us has a promised land, a favorable destiny, in this world.

photo credit: Monica's Dad via photopin cc
photo credit: Monica’s Dad via photopin cc

Why is it that every promised land has its share of giants? Why, when we seek that which we believe to be good, must we face health problems, a lack of finances, and all sorts of opposition—not only from others but also from within ourselves? And why, tell me, must these issues loom so large? There are times when a few miniature giants would do me just fine!

We sometimes fail to grasp that God saves us in order to restore us to His image (Romans 8:29), and that His image is that of the ultimate overcomer. God’s goal is never to save us for a sweet eternity only, but to transform us into champions of the faith. By definition, a champion is a person who defeats all opponents; the more formidable the opposition, the greater the champion. You would be unimpressed if I told you that I once knocked out every kid in my son’s fourth-grade class in a boxing tournament. But, if you saw me wearing an Olympic gold medal (that I had actually earned), you would immediately think of greatness. Until we face and overcome genuine giants, we are not true champions in the arena of life.

Our response to our personal giants reveals the true depths of our faith. The fact that we have sufficient faith in one area of life does not necessarily mean that we trust God in all areas. When fear, anxiety, frustration, anger, and bitterness take root in our hearts, they indicate areas in which our faith is shallow. Thus, every giant is in a sense tailor-made to help us grow in these areas. Am I saying that God is responsible for raising opposition against us? Not necessarily! Our fallen world provides more than enough difficult challenges to our faith. I do know, however, that our loving Father will use even the largest obstacles for His sovereign purposes.

Like the ten doubting spies of Numbers 13, many of us tend to view our giants as signs that God has abandoned us. Very few have the heart of a Joshua or a Caleb. Later in time, only the shepherd boy David stood up against the Philistine champion Goliath, while Saul and all of his mighty men cowered in fear.

photo credit: saturn ♄ via photopin cc
photo credit: saturn ♄ via photopin cc

How we respond to our giants will impact, not only our lives, but also the generations that follow. Sadly, David had to face Goliath only because Joshua’s generation failed to completely destroy their generation of behemoths. We can only imagine how Anak’s descendants tormented the nation of Israel for 400 years until a shepherd boy with David’s faith happened along. And not only did the kid fell that monster of a man, he used Goliath’s own sword to finish the job. God loves to show off by transforming our greatest weaknesses into our greatest strengths!

(This post is based on the content of my new book, Champions in the Wilderness, which is now available for sale through Amazon. Also, when our new SfMe Media website goes live, 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.)

Are You Spiritually Parched?

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photo credit: thephotographymuse via photopin cc

The advent of global warming has resulted in some crazy weather conditions across the globe. Throughout the course of history, famines have not been uncommon, but some geographic areas are now seeing droughts of record proportions. Only a few months back, for example, shippers were fretting over the mighty Mississippi River as it slowed to a near trickle. During this current era, our natural circumstances appear to run concurrently with those that are spiritual—our world is parched!

I am not sure how we arrive at such conclusions, but it is common for Christians to believe that God leads them into spiritually dry seasons. As subtle as the difference may seem, we would do well to make a distinction between traveling through a dry environment, and being dry within our hearts.

Just as God led the nation of Israel through the desert, so He will sometimes guide His children through dry, desolate places. The Bible, however, is absolutely clear: He never wants us to be dry in our hearts! If we are spiritually parched, He is not to blame. The only wise option is to take personal ownership of the issue rather than blaming it on the mystical work of a sovereign God.

We must wonder, then, what causes our spirits to wilt with barren dryness. In most (if not all) cases, I believe that the culprit is misplaced trusta reality much more dangerous than it sounds.

Idolatry—a spiritual condition detestable to God—amounts to putting someone (or something) other than God on the throne of our hearts, either as an act of adoration, or in trust as the source of our provision. Because God is invisible, and idols physically tangible, we are tempted to look to idols to meet our physical, emotional, and spiritual needs.

photo credit: Ian Sane via photopin cc
photo credit: Ian Sane via photopin cc

What are the primary idols of our day? It’s difficult to find many that compare with materialism and entertainment. Of course, there is nothing inherently wrong with a large bank balance, or a good movie for that matter, but those who keep material goods and the need to be entertained at the core of their beings will pay the steep price of spiritual famine.

Thus says the Lord,
“Cursed is the man who trusts in mankind
And makes flesh his strength,
And whose heart turns away from the Lord.
“For he will be like a bush in the desert
And will not see when prosperity comes,
But will live in stony wastes in the wilderness,
A land of salt without inhabitant.
“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord
And whose trust is the Lord.
“For he will be like a tree planted by the water,
That extends its roots by a stream
And will not fear when the heat comes;
But its leaves will be green,
And it will not be anxious in a year of drought
Nor cease to yield fruit. Jeremiah 17:5-8 (NASB)

The contrast is all too clear. Yes, God may indeed lead us through dry environments, but if we are dry in our souls, the problem is ours and not His. Someway, somehow, we are placing the weight of our trust in someone or something humanly tangible. Our Father promises that those who cultivate faith toward Him will always be “well-watered gardens”, overflowing with abundant life (John 7:37-39).

photo credit: the_tahoe_guy via photopin cc
photo credit: the_tahoe_guy via photopin cc

We are all alike in that we each have the tendency to put our confidence in that which is visible instead of in our invisible God. Thus, in those unpleasant seasons when we find ourselves spiritually parched, the best first step toward a solution is to honestly examine the focus of our trust. This may not be the feel-good answer you are looking for, but I can assure you that it is a highly effective way to get those dry springs flowing!

(This post is 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.)

A Spiritual Wilderness through Heaven’s Eyes

original photo credit: Genista via photopin cc
original photo credit: Genista via photopin cc

Most of us have been there. We’ve had those seasons—sometimes very long seasons—when God has felt terribly distant. Seasons when life feels hollow, foggy, and often dark. They are times when doubtful questions fill our minds, while meaningful answers are slow to be found.

I’ve spent more than my share of time in desolate spiritual territory and so I know it all too well. Through the process, I’ve come to a powerful realization: the outcome of a wilderness experience—and all of life for that matter—depends upon our perspective.

Those who attempt to navigate a spiritual wilderness in the fullness of their own wisdom will emerge—if they emerge at all—hardened and cynical because of the difficulties they’ve faced. On the other hand, those who learn to see their challenges through heaven’s eyes will find themselves stronger, braver, and more compassionate. Their faith in God will not have waned, but have flourished.

When faith is absent, life feels harsh and difficulties unfair. Through the eye of faith, however, God’s glory and love abound—even in the harshest of environments. It’s all a matter of how we orient ourselves when things don’t go our way, or when life appears to make little sense.

original photo credit: USACE Europe District via photopin cc
photo credit: USACE Europe District via photopin cc

Recently, I took on a major home improvement project—replacing our driveway and the adjacent retaining walls. Due to circumstances beyond my control, I expended a lot of effort shoveling dirt, and sometimes heavy mud. Pressures of time and money made completing the project all the more difficult. I was not a happy camper!

What really helped was for me to adjust my perspective along the way. What an exercise program—shoveling and lifting block! Gone was the need to join a fitness center. And my tan?—well, it rivaled any that I ever gotten by spending gross amounts of money on a beach vacation. Finally, I found gratitude in being blessed by God with a nice home, and the strength and resources to make it a little better.

Let’s face it: life on this earth will be filled with challenges and difficulties of many sorts. Only by gaining heaven’s perspective can we keep hardships from becoming grievous. In fact, gaining heaven’s perspective in the midst of a spiritual wilderness is the only way that our spiritual lives can survive desolate territory.

cover design by Nathan Miller, Copyright 2013 Search for Me Ministries, Inc.
cover design by Nathan Miller, Copyright 2013 Search for Me Ministries, Inc.

We are now in the process of making my newly released devotional—Champions in the Wilderness—available for sale. It’s an excellent resource for those making a difficult transition, such as a student heading off to college, or someone who has just lost a close relationship(s). Champions is also a great tool for married couples or church small groups. Over the next few weeks, I’ll share a few concepts and/or excerpts from the book, along with information for ordering.

Whether you take an interest in my particular book, or not, getting heaven’s perspective will transform the very fabric of your life. It will be more than worth your effort!

On a final note, we almost ready to complete the switch to our new website which will continue to feature my blog. We will soon phase out the use of this site, so if you would like to remain subscribed to my “blogotional”, you can do so by entering your email in the subscribe panel on the right-hand side of the new website.

We Have It Backwards!

original photo credit: RBerteig via photopin cc
original photo credit: RBerteig via photopin cc

I am in the process of writing and publishing a book, Champions in the Wilderness, which is an adventure in and of itself. Communicating through the written word can be challenging–especially when attempting to convey a particular emphasis. If I write, for example, “Bill had a wallet full of cash,” the reader might be left wondering what point I was trying to get across. Would I be referring to Bill sitting on the curb sulking because of money he no longer has, or to a huge smile on Bill’s face because his wallet is bulging to the seams with an overabundance of greenbacks? Or perhaps, Bill is full of anxiety as he walks through an unsafe part of the city with a wallet full of money.

photo credit: David Salafia via photopin cc
photo credit: David Salafia via photopin cc

In such a case, one lone sentence can never suffice to provide a proper understanding of the circumstances. A writer’s intent must be established through the surrounding context. Taking this approach to understanding the Bible is all the more important—life and death issues are involved! Gross misunderstandings of the Christian faith abound in our world because of a failure to properly deal with issues of emphasis and context.

In visiting the topic of God’s grace over the past few blogs, I have come to the conclusion that the Western church has a reversed understanding of grace.

Read through the New Testament and you will find more than one application of grace. Grace as God’s unmerited favor is certainly emphasized by the Apostle Paul, but not nearly to the same extent as by the Western church. It’s not that this dimension of grace is unimportant to Paul, but through the entire context of his writings we find much more emphasis on the transformational nature of grace—something that I have highlighted through my recent posts.

photo credit: JessicaPreskitt via CreationSwap
photo credit: JessicaPreskitt via CreationSwap

For decades, if not centuries, the transformational aspect of grace has been virtually ignored. We have it backwards and the cumulative result of this reversal in emphasis is a current generation of passive, rather than active, people who profess a deep devotion to God. This error has been painfully destructive to individual lives, to the nuclear family, to the church as a whole, and even to the world in which we dwell.

I’ll close this blog series by highlighting an important reminder from Paul’s letter to the Colossians:

Just as in the entire world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing, so it has also been bearing fruit and growing among you from the first day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth. Colossians 1:6 (NET)

If our understanding of the Christian gospel does not produce favorable changes in the lives of professing Christians, then something is grossly out of whack. God’s grace, when appropriately applied, will transform even the vilest of human hearts.  Let’s not deceive ourselves into thinking otherwise!

What Does Obedience Have to Do with Faith?

I think I did a decent job of blasting theological liberals with my last post regarding the integrity of the Scriptures. There are times, however, when I find it necessary to be an equal opportunity offender; this week I will take a loving shot at some of those in the evangelical camp.

Eternal Fire insurance
Created by Sam Hakes

“What” I might ask, “was the apostle Paul’s primary mission in life?” The expected evangelical answer would be, “to help populate heaven by seeing lost souls saved.” It all sounds very noble—and very spiritual—but that isn’t quite what the Bible teaches. By no means am I saying that saving souls is unimportant. The Bible itself tells us that all of heaven rejoices when a person’s name is added to the Book of Life. But notice what Paul wrote in the introduction of his letter to the Roman believers:

. . . Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for His name’s sake. . . .  Romans 1:4b-5 (NASB)

Paul was stating that the primary purpose of both grace and apostolic ministry is to “bring about the obedience of faith.” This is no fluke as Paul uses the same terminology at the end of his letter (verse 26):

Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery which has been kept secret for long ages past, but now is manifested, and by the Scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the eternal God, has been made known to all the nations, leading to obedience of faith; to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, be the glory forever. Amen. Romans 16:25-27 (NASB)

Paul's Letter to the RomansDo you see it? Paul’s letter to the Romans—the premiere book of the Bible that illuminates our understanding of the gospel—begins and ends with an emphasis on the “obedience of faith.” Salvation isn’t just about accepting Jesus so that we can join a heavenly chorus of believers. Genuine faith is revealed by very practical obedience to God’s commands.

Once again, we find ourselves exploring a deeper understanding of grace. If the grace of God is unmerited favor and nothing more, then we are excused to live as we please as long as we have made some type of decision for Christ. But if grace is something more–if grace enables as well as favors–then it makes perfect sense that a growing faith would lead to increasingly favorable life changes. It’s not about measuring up to some type of religious standard, but rather living by a new and different paradigm.

The Great Commission, in many evangelical circles, has been minimized to mean something very different than what Christ commanded His disciples.

And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20 (NASB)

Our call, as recorded by Matthew, is to “make disciples” of Jesus. This means that our salvation message must go beyond God’s willingness to forgive our sins. We speak not merely of a salvation prayer, or of a decision for Christ, but of a changed lifestyle which faith and grace will bring about. Any gospel that fails to call for a total surrender of one’s life to Christ is, at best, only an incomplete version of the genuine article.

I believe we do a tremendous disservice to people when we undermine the credibility of the Scriptures with liberal thinking, but I am also convinced that evangelicals make a huge mistake when they simply regurgitate concepts that they’ve been taught by their religious leaders. It doesn’t take a PhD to understand the Bible but it does take effort to seek God’s wisdom for a clearer comprehension of Biblical truth.

Return of Christ
photo credit: Lord Jim via photopin cc

I know that most evangelicals are well-intentioned but so are most liberals. In light of Galatians 1:6-10, if there is one thing that requires extraordinary attention on our part, it is the gospel of Jesus Christ!

The Church of Whatever We Want Jesus to Be

Paul's Letter
Valentin de Boulogne – Public Domain

If ever there was a person who was an authority of the Christian gospel, it was the Apostle Paul. Author of one-third of our New Testament, Paul penned letters to the churches in Rome and Galatia, both of which have become premiere sources for our understanding of the gospel.

Notice how Paul begins his letter to the Romans:

Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God…. Romans 1:1 (NASB)

This verse provides a point of convergence for all Christians. Would any of us dispute Paul’s calling—or his authority for that matter? We all might also agree that the gospel (good news) is integral to the Christian faith. Even those who do not consider themselves to be evangelicals still revere the centrality of the gospel.

Christ's Resurrection
Noel Coypel – Public Domain

Professing Christians begin to diverge when it comes to the heart and purpose of the gospel. Jesus came to earth as God incarnate—that is God in the flesh, in human form. The Son of God walked amongst us as the Son of Man. After fulfilling a supernatural ministry on earth, Jesus suffered a torturous death on a wooden cross as a substitutionary sacrifice for the sins of all men and women. But death could not hold the Son of God! On the third day following, Jesus rose in power from the grave, never to die again.

Sadly, there are some professing Christians who would disagree with this Biblically-based representation of the good news of Jesus Christ. They might say, “Humans aren’t all that bad and are able to please God by being good people and doing nice things—like helping little old ladies across the street.” They might say, “Sure, Jesus was a great moral teacher, but he never believed himself to be God. A few misguided souls simply misunderstood his teachings.” Further still, they might say, “Jesus never performed any actual miracles and we all know the resurrection to be scientifically impossible.” “Of course, these things are recorded in the Bible, but the book is more of a teaching tool intended to help modify human behavior than it is the inspired word of God,” they might say.

It is not my goal to be rude, but I can’t, for the life of me, understand how such a perspective can be called “Christian” when it attempts to strike a dagger in the heart of the Christian faith. If we remove the reality of Christ’s miracles and His subsequent resurrection, we lose the power to transform human lives. Christianity, then, becomes more of a humanistic self-improvement project than the radical, life-changing movement it was intended to be.

I understand that some people find certain tenets of the Christian faith to be repulsive. Seriously, how many of us relish the thought of needing a Savior to remind us that we are thoroughly inadequate in heaven’s eyes? The picture of a bloody sacrifice does little to make me feel warm and fuzzy. And, of course, dying to my own selfish desires has never been at the top of my bucket list!

I disagree with the theology of Unitarian Universalists but I do respect them for their honesty; they don’t claim to be Christian. On the other hand, I really struggle with those who profess Christianity but deny the substance thereof. It is one thing to disagree about the meaning of Scripture. It’s a totally different issue to deny its authority.

Church of WhateverWe live in a world in which the title “Christian” means just about everything; therefore, it means nothing. What makes this state especially sad are the precious human lives adversely affected by such confusion. Would we, perhaps, be better to make a distinction between those who embrace the supremacy and authority of Christ, and those who would like to reinterpret the Bible according to their own desires? We could call one group the church of Jesus Christ and the other the church of whatever we want Jesus to be.

I realize that the abrasive tone of this post breaks from my usual pattern but I believe there are times when we sacrifice honesty for the sake of nicety. If you would like to make your own religion, have at it! Enjoy yourself! Do it up right! Create whatever makes you feel good. But let’s not forget that Jesus Christ is the head of His church and that He will form and shape her according to His desires—not ours.