We Chose The Clowns

A lady who worked for CBS said online that she had a hard time sympathizing with the victims of the Las Vegas shooting because most of them probably were against gun control.

Pat Robertson, a televangelist who has made a career out of saying things that are unbiblical, linked the massacre to NFL players taking a knee during the national anthem.

These statements were made by people with completely different worldviews but the root of their words are the same. Both statements are grounded in self-righteousness.

Jesus addressed this mentality during his ministry on earth. For everything that has changed in 2,000 years, not a lot has changed. We still like to think of ourselves being better than we really are.

A tyrannical government official had used his power to conduct his own massacre. While a group of people were worshiping, he had them killed. In response, people came to Jesus with the same basic mentality as the girl from CBS who had no sympathy for the victims and the televangelist who had no biblical clarity.

Self-righteousness is nothing new.

The thinking in Jesus’ day was that if anything bad happened to you it was because you had it coming and God was punishing you. So the group that was not massacred was somehow better than the group that was. That was the way that many people saw it, at least.

But it wasn’t the way that Jesus saw it.

And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.” Luke 13:2-3 (ESV)

In her own way, the media executive was putting herself above the victims because of her progressive views on gun control. And the televangelist was elevating himself because he has done such a stellar job of respecting the president.

Jesus’ words, as usual, give us cause for self-reflection. Rather than asking why a loving God would allow the massacre in Las Vegas to happen, we need to ask a different question. But it is a question that we’ll never ask in our self-righteousness. This question requires humility.

I don’t love God like I should. I certainly don’t always love my neighbor as myself. And yet, I woke up this morning and got out of bed without the assistance of anything other than my alarm clock. I had a great breakfast with my wife and sons. I arrived safely at a men’s Bible study where I taught without fear of persecution. So here’s the better question.

Why would a just God allow someone like me who routinely breaks the Great Commandment to carry on as I do?

We are no better than the Galilean victims, the victims of the tower in Siloam that fell (Luke 13:4) or the victims in Las Vegas. We deserve much worse than what they endured. The fact that we haven’t received our just rewards is a testimony, not to our complete moral purity but to the grace of God.

Grace.

That’s something that we can always count on when tragedy hits.

Whenever disaster strikes, grace strikes with it. Always. You just have to be humble enough to slow down and take a look.

In the case of the murdered Galileans, grace was seen in Jesus’ compassionate call. There is, he was saying, a way to be rescued from perishing. But it comes through repentance. It requires laying aside our self-righteousness and taking on the perfect righteousness of Christ. No amount of political progressivism or religious babble can save us from our impending doom. We aren’t righteous enough. Jesus is. That’s what Jesus was telling his misguided inquisitors. And his message is just as true for us today.

In our world where everything is offensive, being told to repent or you will perish isn’t exactly the best way to win over a crowd. People are drowning in a sea of self-righteousness and they’re too comfortable in their despair to even consider the drastic changes that are necessary and the hope that can be found in Christ.

All of my life I’ve been told that Christians are self-righteous. I can’t disagree with that. We are. But it doesn’t stop with us. There are those who seek to atone for themselves through political action, violent action, or no action. There are those who claim to be compassionate and loving and are willing to prove it to you by demonstrating how cold and hateful than can be to people on the other side.

We all need to repent.

We all need Jesus.

Otherwise, we will all perish.

Jimmy Kimmel, we are now told, is America’s conscience. That should tell you how far we’ve gone in the wrong direction. When a nation abandons God and absolute truth, it looks to a comedian for direction. TV critic Hank Stuever writes, “Lacking leaders, we look to class clowns to guide us.”

It’s like we’re living in the Upsided Down of Judges, the book that begins with people asking, “Who will lead us?” and ends tragically with, “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”

Our eyes are telling us that our righteousness is enough.

Our words and actions are proving our eyes wrong.

We don’t need more politicians, money grabbing TV preachers or calloused crusaders hiding under a thin veil of faux compassion. At some point in the future, when an honest account is given as to what went wrong with our society, two simple sentences will suffice.

We needed a Savior.

But we chose the clowns.

image credit

What We’ve Always Done, Only Louder

I don’t know if tragedy changes us as much as it reveals who we really are. Sure, the changes come over time. We miss things. We stop doing what we once thought was normal. We pick up new habits. But these things take time. They develop over weeks, months, and years.

In the hours and days following a disaster, we tend to do what we’ve always done, only louder.

Seemingly before all of the bullets hit the ground and the casualties were recorded, political pundits were doing what they always do, namely blaming the folks on the other side. That should tell you how far we’ve fallen as a culture. We can’t even come to an agreement to grieve together after nearly 60 people are killed in a matter of minutes. So the folks on the right ramble on about Chicago crime statistics, as if what happened in Las Vegas wasn’t all that bad and the folks on the left preach about what the government needs to take away, as if a bigger government will somehow choke out evil.

Politicians are always campaigning. They certainly won’t stop after this week’s massacre. Have you watched any of the press conferences from Nevada? Each one is ten percent information and 90 percent elected officials basking in the glow of the media’s spotlight. Politicians are among the many false gods that we worship in our society. We run to them when things go wrong and condemn them when salvation doesn’t come fast enough. And yet, when the next disaster strikes, we do it all over again.

And then there’s the folks on the Internet. Within minutes of news of the Las Vegas massacre breaking, there were those on the Internet passing around fake reports. Some were trying to convince their followers that the whole thing was staged. And there were those who allegedly had the whole thing figured out because, after all, they did consume an entire season of NCIS over the weekend.

Pundits share their opinions, no matter how off base or untimely they may be.

Politicians never miss an opportunity to get a few extra votes.

Conspiracy theorists are always trying to convince us that things are never as they seem.

This is nothing new. It’s always been that way. It’s just that it all gets a little more bombastic in the wake of a tragedy.

The Christian faith comes under attack after horrific events like the one we saw in Las Vegas. And I don’t mean that in the sense of, “Where was your all-loving and all-powerful God on Sunday night?” Sure that happens but a new cynicism has developed over the years. We see it in Internet memes, commentary from pundits and even stump speeches from politicians. It goes something like this. “Thoughts and prayers aren’t helping us. We need action.”

The implication is clear. Prayer doesn’t work. Government and low grade political activism do.

In spite of the cynical attacks, Christians must resist the temptation to join in on the noise. Rather, we must do what we’ve always done.

If we wait until the unthinkable to do what is commanded of us, we’re missing the point. We shouldn’t just pray for the victims and their families and those who lead us. We should already be praying for our neighbors and their families and those who lead us. We shouldn’t go find our loved ones and give them a hug and tell them we love them. We should be demonstrating love to them already. It shouldn’t take a tragedy for Christians to start acting like Christians.

If we are to be salt and light, we must be salt and light on a regular Tuesday afternoon, not just after a tragedy. If we are to be peacemakers in an increasingly noisy and violent age, we must be pursing peace in our little worlds during those mundane days when the pundits, politicians and Internet prognosticators forget that regular people exist and have nothing better to talk about than what one of the Kardashians tweeted the other day.

Pundits will always talk.

Politicians will always campaign.

It’s who they are and what they do. But may the same be said of the body of Christ. May it be said that we always love, not in the ethereal way that our culture prefers but in the way that we see demonstrated on the cross where Christ laid down his life for his people. May we always love God with our total being. May we continually love others as we love ourselves.

Disaster has a unique way of revealing what’s in our hearts.

Christian, the next time trouble comes, may the first and most noticeable thing that the world around you sees not be your punditry, politicizing or theorizing.

May they instead see that you love God and you love them like you’ve always been doing.

Only maybe a little louder.

image credit

Church, Stop Saying All Lives Matter

statue of Themis outside the law courts

There are several words and phrases in our language that need to be retired. Some are overused. Some are misleading. Some are ignorant. And a few are all of those things wrapped up in one.

Take for example the phrase All Lives Matter.

All lives really do matter. From the womb to the deathbed, every life matters because every life carries the image of God. But when we splash the All Lives Matter phrase all over the Internet, we do more harm than good. It’s best to deal in specifics.

Here’s a good example.

Philando Castile’s life matters. Well, it mattered that is, until he was gunned down by police Wednesday during a traffic stop in St. Paul, Minnesota. According to Castile’s girlfriend, who live streamed the moments immediately following the shooting, Castile informed officers that he was carrying a licensed, concealed weapon. He was shot for obeying an officer’s command to produce his license.

The response of social media users has and will be predictable as this case plays out. Some news organization or website will produce a picture of Castile from a few years back where he’s wearing a hoodie or a bandana or something else not deemed socially acceptable in order to prove that he was a thug who had it coming. Others, under the banner of All Lives Matter, will pledge their undying support for all law enforcement, Philando Castile be damned.

If you are a Christian who cares about loving God and your neighbor, it is very important that you do not fall into these traps. We would do well to take a deep breath and evaluate ourselves for our hypocrisy.

Christian churches, at least the ones that have not yet sold themselves out in order to fit in with the culture, do a lot of work to stop abortion in this country. And that’s a good thing. But if we do not care just as much for the 30-year-old black man as we do for the black baby in the first trimester, we’re only kidding ourselves. Sure, all lives matter but I’m afraid that some of us like to use the word all just to keep us from dealing with the individual. Philando Castile’s life mattered. We can get away with simply talking about the baby but we have to figure out a way to actually live with and love the adult.

There is a big debate going on in our country right now over gun rights. Some want every gun confiscated. Others, like myself, strongly support the second amendment. But unless we come to grips with he fact that the second amendment applies just as much to my right to target practice with an AR-15 as it does to Philando Castile’s right to carry while in his car without the threat of losing his life at the hands of law enforcement, again, we kid ourselves. Philando Castile’s second amendment right mattered because Philando Castile’s life mattered.

I’m blessed to live where I do. The law enforcement in my community is very good. I do not know every officer but every officer I know in my community sincerely cares about life and justice. Sadly, that’s not the case in every community. So when we speak as though no police officer could ever be in the wrong, we spit in the faces of those who suffer under corrupt leaders.

Earlier this week, when the FBI announced that it would not be going after Hillary Clinton, even after announcing all of the things that she did wrong, many of us were outraged. We cried for justice. But if we cry for justice in D.C. and ignore injustice in St. Paul, yet again, we kid ourselves. In order for justice to be legitimate, it must be total.

I am a pastor but you’ll never hear me say that we need to support all pastors because, after all, “they have a tough job.” No. Some pastors need to be loved and appreciated and listened to and others need to be in jail. Police officers are no different. Blind support and all out rage are never the answers. If we really are a people of love and justice, we will be a people who care to look at issues on an individual basis.

But we must remember that two people can look at the same thing and reach a different conclusion. Like it or not, there are two Americas. There is the black America and the white America. When I was a kid, running around town doing pranks, I got pulled over by the police. I knew I was caught. I could already picture me and all my friends calling our parents from jail. But the officer let us off. “Y’all get on home and drive safe. We’re looking for a bunch of black kids.” White privilege is another phrase that gets overused and misused but it was alive and kicking that night in my friend’s Honda.

Meanwhile there are black fathers who have to have conversations with their kids that I likely never will. “Son, keep your concealed carry license and ID wrapped around your neck. Don’t ever put them in your console. Don’t ever go reaching for something when you get pulled over.”

There are two Americas and I don’t have all of the answers for how that can be fixed. But I do know that there are not two gospels. There are not two bodies of Christ. That means that those of us who feel a million miles away from the pain that Philando Castile’s girlfriend experienced on Wednesday need to do better than Facebook rants and tired, worn out phrases.

If all lives really do matter, then Philando Castile’s life mattered.

And the fact that Philando Castile’s life didn’t mater enough during a traffic stop in St. Paul, Minnesota on Wednesday should really bother us.

If all lives really do matter, then the burden of Philando Castile’s family and friends must be our burden too.

image credit

 

There Is Something Evil In Our Society

Well, that didn’t take long. Roughly 90 seconds after news broke of Monday’s mass shooting in Washington D.C., the usual suspects fell in line and went to the Internet, radio and television to do what they do.

The conspiracy theorists told us that this was obviously a false flag operation designed by three men in the basement of a Norwegian castle. Don’t get me wrong. History is filled with conspiracies. But history is also filled with evil. And sometimes evil people do evil things without conspiring with anyone. Well, anyone but the devil.

The progressive politicians were at it too. They used the opportunity, and I use that word intentionally, to promote gun control. The president used guarded words to say that he and his administration would do, “everything that we can to prevent” tragedies like this one.

Senator Dianne Feinstein was more direct. “Congress must stop shirking its responsibility and resume a thoughtful debate on gun violence in this country.”

Of course, not too many politicians are asking how a man in a city with some of the strictest gun laws in the nation managed to walk into, get this, a highly secure military facility carrying a shotgun. Perhaps the federal government should spend more time investigating how to keep its own bases and employees safe instead of worrying about making it harder for average citizens to buy guns. But that would require politicians to stop finger-pointing and begin a bit of self-examination. Go ahead and carry on with your plans and I’ll let you know when something like that happens.

Maybe the best response to all of this came from a doctor. Janis Orlowski is the chief medical officer at MedStar Washington Hospital Center. She was the doctor overseeing the treatment of Monday’s victims and she has become an expert in tragedies like these.

“There’s something evil in our society that we as Americans have to work to try and eradicate.”

Tragedies like the one in D.C. on Monday tend to make us think that evil just kind of shows up every other month or so. But it’s with us everyday. It’s with us as our government funds the killing of babies and plans unprovoked attacks on other countries. It’s with us as we allow hate to fester and injustice to go unchecked.

But the real source of evil in our society isn’t a power-hungry politician with bad ideas. It’s an blood-thirsty adversary, bent on death and destruction.

Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. 1 Peter 5:8 (ESV)

No amount of gun control laws or libertarian principles can eradicate this evil. The answer isn’t found in wrapping ourselves in the American flag. We have to look deeper. Looking deeper takes work. It involves painful self-examination. It takes us to dark places and reminds us that we are in a daily battle where hanging in the balance are life and death, Heaven and Hell.

Wayne McDill once said, “the fundamental reality of every need is to trust God.” That’s a good word for us today. But it’s a hard one to apply. We want to feel like we’re doing something. We need more laws. Give us another speech. Show me something I can sign or like on Facebook. Something! Anything!

While there certainly is a time for action, that action tends to be counterproductive if it is not first rooted in trusting God (James 4:7; 1 Peter 5:9-10). That’s because we are not primarily working against bad laws or security flaws. We are fighting against an evil that is not new to our society. It has been attacking us and killing us since the Garden of Eden.

Sometimes it shows up in horrific ways like we saw on Monday.

Sometimes it’s federally funded.

Whatever You Do, Don’t Think About The Victims

Thirteen people are dead as a result of the latest American tragedy. Now, hundreds of loved ones are grieving. And an entire nation is grieving too.

You can tell a lot about people by how they grieve.

Take, for example, Monday night’s game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Cincinnati Bengals.

Before the game started, even before the national anthem was sung, a solemn voice came over the stadium’s intercom. Those in attendance were asked to stand. Stand and reflect. Stand and think about the victims of the mass shooting that had taken place earlier that day.

Reflect.

Think.

Maybe I’m just missing something. But what exactly is the point of reflecting? And how are families of victims benefited by our thoughts?

I get it. We’re not a Christian nation. Maybe we never were. That’s a debate for another time. But it’s not like I expected the public address announcer to begin a church service.

“And now, please rise as A.J. Green reads a selection from C.S. Lewis’ A Grief Observed while your Bengal cheerleaders do a creative movement routine to It Is Well with My Soul.”

But some cliches, no matter how ingrained they are in our vernacular, still make no sense. At best, they serve as ugly reminders of the void left when a culture has tried its best to do away with anything having to do with God.

I always have people telling me that they are praying for me. Before I preached last Sunday, I’m guessing that ten or fifteen people told me that they were praying for me. It did me a lot of good to know that a fellow Christian was going before the Creator of the universe on my behalf. And it encourages me to know that prayer is an action that involves each member of the Trinity, working for my ultimate good.

The Father hears me and knows what I need before I even approach him.

“And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” Matthew 6:7-8 (ESV)

Jesus, the Son, actually prays on my behalf. As nice as it is to know that friends are praying for me, I am overwhelmed that God’s Son takes my name and needs to the Father as he sees fit.

“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” Luke 22:31-32 (ESV)

Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Romans 8:34 (ESV)

And when we pray, the Holy Spirit takes our weak efforts to the Father, laying them before him with love and passion that words cannot describe.

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. Romans 8:26 (ESV)

With all that in mind, it seems a little silly to “send out my thoughts to the families.” It’s sort of like giving someone last week’s losing lottery ticket. Thanks for nothing.

So the next time something bad happens, whatever you do, don’t think about the victims. Pray for them. It really does work (Matthew 7:7-11).

And if something bad happens to you, don’t go nuts when someone says that they are, “thinking about you” or “sending positive energy your way.” I’m sure that the people mean well.

But just remember that the God who created you is doing more than thinking about you.

He is listening to you.

He is working on your behalf.

He is praying for you.