How You Can Help to Prevent Mass Shootings

Sandy Hook Shooting
photo credit: Daniel M. Reck via photopin cc

It has been several days since the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School and I am still struggling to process the reality of such a horrible event. Other mass shootings in recent years have scarred communities, but this one has left deep and lasting scars for our entire nation. The terrorist attacks of 9/11 had a similar effect, but there is something different this time around. Those killings were the work of religious extremists operating from halfway across the globe. What happened in Newtown, Connecticut on Friday, December 14, 2012 was the product of our own societal dysfunction. That a young man would maliciously murder twenty first-grade students, jolts suburban and rural America with the realization of what inner-city dwellers have known for quite some time:  something is terribly wrong in our beloved nation.

Of course, an intense battle will be fought over gun control. Some will contend that guns should be banned. Those in opposition will argue that law abiding citizens who carry weapons will actually help to make our streets safer. Both sides will support their arguments with various statistics and anecdotal stories. The battle over gun control, however, provides a convenient diversion from deeper, more difficult issues that must be addressed. To say that guns are at the core of the problem is to grossly over-simplify the issue, while avoiding any sense of personal responsibility for the collective citizenry of our nation.

Greed
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The bottom line is that we have become a nation of self-centered consumers. And while I would never say that such a description applies to every person in the U.S., I do believe that it is quite accurate in a general sense. Even issues such as the misappropriation of pharmaceutical drugs or the prevalence of violent movies and video games are closely tied to greed.

Our freedom that was purchased in blood has now become our demise, for freedom only works when the people of a nation collectively seek the greater good. The Apostle Paul’s letter to the Galatians was both true and prophetic:

For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another. Galatians 5:13-15 (NASB)

Today, even the Church is driven by a consumer mentality. Unfortunately, many Christian leaders cater to this destructive mindset because they believe it is the only way to get people into their churches and to fund their ministries. Our American gospel is all about what God can do for us, while the true nature of the Christian faith remains relatively untouched.

Money App
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God, it appears, has become an app that we can access in time of need. We have a salvation app, a provision app, a comfort app, and, at this time of the year, a Baby Jesus app. The sovereign King of the Universe, however, will not cater to our self-centered terms. If we want to relate to God, we must fully subscribe to His entire operating system—one that calls us to seek Him with all of our hearts as a way of life. If we would flock to our churches to seek His presence and drop to our knees in prayer with the same intensity of emotion before a national tragedy, there probably would not be the need to do so afterward.

Violence in America began to seriously escalate in the 1960’s. What brought it on? I am convinced that the roots can be found to have materialized just after World War II with our collective pursuit of the American Dream. While our nation held to a form of religion, at that point money became our national god. We honored Jesus with our lips, but the real god of our hearts was materialism. Psalm 16:4 tells us that, “The sorrows of those who run after another god shall multiply” (ESV). Is this not an accurate representation of our grief over the Sandy Hook shootings? The violence of our day is, at least in part, the fruit of over half a century of materialistic idolatry on the part of an entire nation.

Shooter
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On a practical level, our incessant quest for more stuff, combined with the rise of secularism and the gradual rejection of the Christian faith, has precipitated the horrible decay of the nuclear family—the building block upon which a healthy society functions. More specifically still, the growing absence of loving, faithful fathers has led to an identity vacuum in the hearts of our nation’s children. Show me a culture lacking in a healthy sense of identity and I will show you a nation of young men immersed in a climate of violence.

As I consider these things, I can’t help but think of the ancient nation of Israel as they found themselves exiled in Babylon—an exile brought upon by their own idolatry. But the God who they had rejected and ignored spoke to them through the prophet Jeremiah with a message of kindness and hope.

“For I know the plans that I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.” Jeremiah 29:11-13 (NASB)

No matter how far we have fallen, no matter how things may appear, and no matter how dark and foreboding the future may look, we can all help to turn the tide of violence in our culture by seeking God with all of our hearts, by putting material possessions in their proper place, and by genuinely loving those around us. Can there be a better season of the year to get our priorities right than at Christmas?

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Smear Campaign

How times have changed! In the days of Abraham Lincoln debates between political candidates would last several hours, involving the opportunity to present well-developed lines of thought. Much of the U.S. public, being well read and accustomed to researching the issues, afforded the luxury of forming candidacies based more upon the needs and answers of the day than upon the negative swipes taken by the respective candidates and their supporters.

You may have noticed that today’s campaign world is somewhat different. Mere thirty-second sound bites carry huge weight. Public persona and the ability to skillfully craft one-liners seem to exert more influence on voters’ decision making than actual campaign platforms. And those attack ads! How we detest the mud slinging by candidates and political action committees to shroud the opposition in a murky fog of negativity!

Photo by Lars Ploughman - CC BY-SA 2.0

In the short term these ads are very effective (and so they continue to be utilized), but in the long run they create a sense of political malaise that alienates the average voter from what he or she comes to regard as the repulsive world of negative politics.

But this post isn’t about political campaigns. What I’m trying to address is the reality that a massive smear campaign has been launched against God, and that many of us have fallen prey to its lies and negativity. The resulting price is steep!

Photo by Rebecca Kennison - CC BY-SA 3.0

It all began thousands of years ago in the Garden of Eden. In Genesis 3 we read that the serpent  filled the minds of Adam and Eve with doubts about the loving intentions and all around goodness of their benevolent Creator. Beguiled by the serpent’s hiss, our ancient parents opened the door to an evil fury that continues to wreak havoc across the broad spectrum of our human existence.

Our loving God has gone to extreme lengths to reverse the curse and provide redemption for humanity, but the ongoing Smear Campaign continues to undermine His redemptive efforts. In other words, we continue to be had.

Why do so many of us have so much difficultly living by faith? Part of the problem is due to our natural tendency to walk by sight rather than by faith, but our issues with unbelief go much further. In the recesses of our hearts we find doubts; doubts about the credibility of the Bible, doubts about God’s willingness to meet our needs, doubts about whether the benefits of a life of faith are worth the price paid.

For years Christians in the Western church were at war without even realizing the battle pressing upon them. Today’s landscape is quite different. Emboldened and energized by key victories in the secularization of our culture, militant atheists are launching a plethora of attacks against Christianity—much of it against the character of God.

Photo by Richard001 - CC BY 2.0

As it is with navigating the political landscape, so it is with the religious. If we don’t identify and study the issues, we fall prey to misinformation and underhanded smear tactics.

The answer? Ignoring the issues won’t help. Neither will attempts to suppress our doubts. It falls upon us to be honest with our faith struggles, to confess our unbelief to God, to painstakingly search out answers to our nagging questions. Only then will our gaze pierce the negative haze of misinformation to see our faithful and loving God as He truly is.

Does this mean effort on our part? For sure. But the price paid pales in comparison to the benefits gained. Search for Him with all of your heart! No amount of mud slinging can mar His image, nor can any question ever intimidate Truth!

“‘For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope. 12 ‘Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. 13 ‘You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.'” Jeremiah 29:11-13 (NASB)

The Fool’s Run

Excited! That’s how I felt about finishing the Hoodlebug 5K (and getting a shirt) a couple of weeks ago. I asked myself why I hadn’t run a race in over 25 years. And then I remembered! My last 10K (appropriately named The Fool’s Run) was a most miserable experience!

Some coworkers from my first job out of college prodded me to do The Fool’s Run with them and reluctantly I agreed. I hadn’t been training much but felt the pressure to connect with those guys.

We gathered the morning of the race and they introduced me to a few of their friends who were also running. I must admit it was kind of cool to connect with a new circle of people.

When the starting gun fired we all took off as a group. I quickly realized they were in much better shape than me, but did my best to stay with them nonetheless. And I did! At least for the first mile or so. But reality soon took over and I began to seriously flounder, quickly dropping off of their pace and struggling just to keep running.

I suppose I could have walked for a while, but I was just too prideful for that. My ego was further bruised as old gray haired guys and fashionable young women breezed past me on a hill. Still I kept on, wallowing in my misery all the while.

Photo by Chip's Not Dead Yet - CC BY 2.0

At about the fourth or fifth mile the course leveled out and I was able to relax a little—until I heard the sound of pitter patter, pitter patter. Glancing over my shoulder I was mortified to see a little kid making a bid to pass me. There was absolutely no way I would allow that to happen! Mustering every ounce of prideful energy within me, I pushed forward until the sound of his footsteps gradually faded into the distance.

In the end I finished the race and my time wasn’t all that bad, but the experience was so unpleasant that I made a personal vow never to run in a 10K again. For me it truly was a fool’s run! I hadn’t trained properly, pride was a core motivation for running, and to top it all off, I tried to run someone else’s race.

The temptation to do this is incredibly strong. We all want to fit in and to be seen as successful. Winners are always admired and envied. But it’s a fool’s errand to attempt what another person is trained/equipped/designed to do.

Photo by Chip's Not Dead Yet - CC BY 2.0

Whose race are you running in life? Have you failed to accept that you are a unique individual? Your physical makeup, your particular mix of gifts and talents (and lack of them), your family background and personal experiences—are all unique to you and your calling in life.

Many of us like to quote the passage from Jeremiah (29:11-13) about God having good plans for us, but I’m not sure that we actually believe it. We look at our personal shortcomings and our negative circumstances, and something deep inside of us mutters, “God can’t possibly have good plans for me.”

So what do we do? Most of us try to live up to somebody else’s standards, to run their race in life. But it’s a fool’s run! We can’t do what they do, and nobody else can effectively do what we are uniquely crafted by God to accomplish in this life. All too often we end up miserable, sometimes quitting the race completely.

It seems to me that our selfish and prideful desires to meet this world’s standards blind us to God’s goodness. At the very core of His being, God does have good plans and purposes for each and every one of our lives. Don’t run The Fool’s Run the way that I did for so many years! Discover the amazing treasure of life hidden in the midst of even your negative circumstances!

To Know Him

From NASA

I remember once encouraging a friend to read the Bible. Her response?  “I read that already and didn’t get much out of it.” Been there. Done that. It’s not worth my time. Life has more important things to offer.

How foolish we can be! In thinking we see, we actually become blind.

It’s one thing to know about God. It’s another thing to actually know Him. All too often our knowledge of God comes from unreliable sources.

We rely on what religious leaders tell us, because after all, they should know—they’ve given their lives to His service. (You might want to mention that to the Pharisees of Paul’s day). Or maybe we don’t trust religious leaders so we hang on the words of academic experts who, having all of the knowledge of the universe, have studied God and found Him to be no different than the many mythical creations of primitive mankind. Stephen Hawking now tells us that because gravity exists as a law, the spontaneous creation of the universe out of nothing is entirely possible. Praise be to human intelligence!

But it doesn’t just have to be religious or academic leaders. Perhaps you were once in close association with professing Christians (or even attended church for a season), but what you saw seemed to be anything but Christian. A very sad scenario indeed! But while professing Christians are certainly to be a visible expression of Christ, it’s naïve to think that they always provide an accurate representation of who God really is.

Perhaps you interpret God through your life experiences. The math equation could look like this: crappy childhood + crappy self-image + crappy neighborhood = crappy god. After all, if He was truly good and truly powerful and truly loved me, the circumstances of my life would be so much better.

And then, of course, like my old high school friend, some of us draw our picture of God based on our natural interpretations of the supernatural Scriptures. More often than not the end product is a cruel, vindictive god, who if he does exist, we really don’t want to know—at least not very closely.

So then, how do we come to know God?

It really isn’t that complicated.

The Apostle Paul wanted to know God—to really know God. He realized that the priests and other religious leaders weren’t the answer. Paul sought to know God through the Scriptures. He sought to know God through fasting. He sought to know God through prayer. He sought to know God experientially. The cry of his heart was to know God and to make Him known.

Paul tasted something that others missed; therefore he paid a price that others refused to pay.

We seek Him. We search the Scriptures. We fast. We pray. In other words, we confess our blindness, cry out for answers, and seek to overcome the gazillion desires and distractions of life; taking the time to search out the One who loves us and who loves to reveal Himself to us. We do all of these things with humble hearts, knowing that we can’t know if He doesn’t reveal Himself. And if we do these things with a willingness to align our lives with whatever He shows us, I am convinced that we will begin to know Him for who He actually is.

In making such efforts, another familiar wilderness passage then begins to apply to our lives:

“‘For I know what I have planned for you,’ says the Lord. ‘I have plans to prosper you, not to harm you. I have plans to give you a future filled with hope. When you call out to me and come to me in prayer, I will hear your prayers. When you seek me in prayer and worship, you will find me available to you. If you seek me with all your heart and soul, I will make myself available to you,’ says the Lord.” Jeremiah 29:11-14a (NET)