Pastor’s Perspective – August 2019
The events that occurred in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio shook the nation. The Dayton shooting took place in what I can only refer to as my old stomping grounds. Betsy and I had our first date a block from the site of the shooting to the west, our favorite Comedy Club (where we spent many a date night) was 100 yards to the north and if you go east you will find the High School from which my son Scott graduated. We have walked these streets and enjoyed the food and wares from the merchants who work there.
My heart is broken.
It was broken again when I saw the responses to the carnage. Instead of “thoughts and prayer” we want action. This seems reasonable, but our problem is that the nation cannot agree on what actions we should take. Each party has a different boogey-man to blame and their “simple” course is to attack their enemy (and their enemy’s idol) as the sole reason for the problem. Conservatives will attack video games and violent media and Progressives will attack guns. As surely as the attacks are landed, the opposition will defend their positions without regard to seeking a reasonable solution to BOTH causes of violent crime. To be blunt, in order to commit a violent crime, you must have a hateful mind and a tool to execute your violent intention. Media creates the mindset as surely as the gun companies provide the tool to subdue your enemies. Until we are willing to address both sides of the equation we are stuck in neutral.
We live in a very self-righteous and reactionary moment; a time of rage and revenge. We believe that our rage will help us reclaim our power in the face of powerlessness. Rage helps us fix our blame and execute our righteous judgment. We want to make someone else feel what we are feeling, which leads to revenge. We want someone else to lose something that they value while remaining whole in our lives. Revenge assumes that our actions against the “enemy” will be the last word. Revenge doesn’t negotiate. Revenge has no time for thoughts and prayer because thinking and praying stop us from rushing to judgement and acting in a manner that feeds our self-interested rage.
Now is the time to focus on prayer and the needs of others. Rage fueled self-interest has brought to the brink of disaster. Only repentance and prayer will move us away from the precipice of escalating violence. It is certainly not enough to just mouth platitudes about prayer, but prayer must play a role if we are to discover God’s guidance in these dangerous times.
Since the days of the attacks, I have posted a few thoughts on social media sites. Here are edited versions of these posts.
“The anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.” James 1:20
In our angry and self-righteous age, it is all too common for us to believe that our righteous indignation and rage, when set against a true evil, will create a moment of righteousness in a darkened world. Sadly, at our best we rely on partial knowledge to make judgements about people and their motivations and at our worst expose our blind hatred toward those whom we consider the enemy. The more we seek to act in our rage the more we begin to resemble those against whom we rage.
The tragic events of this week will stir us to outrage and anger. Do not allow your anger to corrupt your heart. This is the path that violent men travel. This is the path of the assassin and the mass shooter. They believed in their rightness. They fixed their rage against those whom they believed to be evil. They acted to make a difference. And their actions (which seemed to be righteous in their own eyes) were evil, villainous and hate filled. The sad truth is that this evil is not rare but lurks in us all.
As God told Cain; “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.” (Genesis 4: 6) Cain promptly ignored the word of God and murdered his brother, but for us it is not too late. What will you do? How will you act?
Sin is at our door. It is tempting us to lash out. Call upon us to act rashly for the sake of action. To blame our brother for our circumstances. To injure as we have been injured. To hurt others so that our pain is made real.
Consider this idea. Instead of targeting your political adversary by telling them how they have it wrong, find something of which you can personally repent. Perhaps you are relying on your guns to save you from violence. Perhaps you are angrily telling others how to live their lives and blaming them for the hate. Perhaps you simply are angry at God. Don’t seek an enemy to attack, but instead find a way to change your own life and actions. Over and over we find that evil tempts us to find redemption by changing other people, while the righteous seek to change the world by changing our heart and actions. We can choose to burn in our own righteousness or we can douse the flames of anger by turning to God in repentance and a broken and contrite heart.
You can act. You have the ability to change the world, but not through power or force. Our weapons are the same things that the world demeans and attacks. We have prayer, grace, and love.
Forgive. Repent. Love. See the world through God’s eyes, mourn the tragedy of sin and death, and embrace the way of God in Jesus Christ.
Evil does not answer to a political party. Neither does God. Seek God. Find God’s Agape Love.
Our world is trapped in a sinful delusion. God wants us to open our eyes and see the truth in agape love.
A few truths. There is no supreme race or divine melanin. Humanity was created in God’s image: all of us. God sent Jesus Christ, God’s only Son to give His life for the salvation of all peoples: all of us. The Holy Spirit empowered the Church to go to every people, tribe, and nation to share the Gospel: all of us.
In Christ we see no distinction between race, language, or national origin. Christ followers reject all ideologies that demean the “other” and when we are filled by the Holy Spirit we lovingly sacrifice to defend those who are persecuted and share the transforming love of God to those who are trapped in hate filled ideologies.
We must remember that we do not contend against flesh and blood but against the hateful spirits that twist our hearts in sin. We preach freedom for those captive to sin and love for our enemies. Jesus followers do not seek to injure. Instead we carry our crosses to lift high the Cross of Christ for the broken, the damaged, and the lost.
Yet we fail. We sin. We hate. We get angry and lash out. It is not all right that we do this, but it is absolutely human. This is why we cling to Christ alone. This is why we need to be redeemed. This is why we need to personally experience God’s grace and share it with those who offend us. Join me in repenting for our failures, then forgive your adversaries, pick each other up and let’s try again.
Join me in praying for our nation.