Making Sense of Senselessness

Words seem insufficient in response to Sunday night’s shooting in Las Vegas. Still we want to make sense of senselessness. We want to make the inhumane, humane. In the absence of explanation, I’ll speak to response. How do we think? What do we do?

How do we think?

  1. There is no excuse for senseless violence. Any kind. Anywhere. Since the shooter killed himself we will never fully know why he did what he did. Investigators will try to put the pieces of the puzzle together and find answers. Whatever they discover, we must hold fast to the reality that senseless violence of any kind is reprehensible.
  2. Words kill like weapons. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus raised slander to the level of slaying. Words don’t just hurt, they kill. When 70,000 fans boo a bad kicker in a football game, something in that kid dies. When politicians and journalists throw verbal daggers at one another, someone dies. Whoever said sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me was denying reality.
  3. Enough is enough.  We are becoming desensitized. Push notifications bombard phones. Cable news reports violence all day, every day. Video games turn killing into competition. Music celebrates murder. Even too much news of the Las Vegas tragedy can desensitize. Overexposure deadens the conscience.

What do we do?

  1. If you see something, say something. Yes, this is Homeland Security’s slogan, but it belonged to Christianity long before the government trademarked it. Don’t tolerate any form of bigotry, hatred, or violence. Jesus called us salt and light. Salt and light do the same thing: they reveal. Salt is a cook’s friend–when the right amount is put in a recipe, it reveals the flavor of the food. No one has ever said, “The salt in this casserole tastes good.” Light is a photographer’s best friend. People don’t look at a portrait and say, “I love how the light is coming in from the front.” Rather they talk about the subject of the photograph. As salt and light we flavor the world without drawing attention to ourselves–rather we reveal Christ.
  2. Choose your words carefully. James 1:19 says, “Be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.” His statement is both counterintuitive and countercultural. Our culture is quick to anger, quick to speak and slow to hear. Proverbs 18:21 adds, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.” Peter wrote, “Whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit.” (1 Peter 3:10)
  3. Filter what comes inExamine your intake of violence. How much do you see or hear in a given day? Resolve to reduce it. Proverbs 4:23 says, “Above all else guard your heart for everything you do flows from it.” What goes in will come out. Kevin DeYoung writes, “Having a conscience is one mark of being a sentient human being. Scripture sometimes speaks of people “who do not know their right hand from their left” (Jonah 4:11), or of “children, who . . . have no knowledge of good or evil” (Deut. 1:39). Knowing right from wrong is what makes us functioning adults. To have a malfunctioning conscience is to be less than human.”

Perhaps in DeYoung’s statement lies the explanation for the shooter’s capacity to cowardly and mercilessly kill 59 people: he was less than human. Something happened to his conscience. Scripture says our conscience can be seared (1 Timothy 4:2) or defiled. Titus 1:15 says, “To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled.”

Only Jesus can clean us up and clear our consciences. John said, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9) Only Jesus can turn senselessness into salvation and make the inhumane, humane.

A Keeping Sandwich

I can’t help myself. I love sandwiches. I really do. I could eat sandwiches every single day. When I walk into Holly’s Deli, I’m so predictable that they don’t even have to ask for my order: deli club on rye, potato salad, water. I love sandwiches.

My favorite sandwich is from the book of Jude. It’s a “keeping sandwich.” Let me explain.

The Amplified Bible renders Jude 1:

“Jude, a bond-servant of Jesus Christ, and brother of James, [writes this letter], To those who are the called (God’s chosen ones, the elect), dearly loved by God the Father, and kept [secure and set apart] for Jesus Christ.” 

The top side of the sandwich is that you are kept by God for Christ. You are secure and set apart by God for Jesus Christ. David, the anointed king of Israel, hiding out from Saul wrote: I cry out to God Most High, to God who fulfills his purpose for me. (Psalm 57:2, ESV) When you trust Christ with your life, you get God’s commitment. He will fulfill his purpose for you.

The inside of the “keeping sandwich” is found in Jude 21:

keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. (ESV)

God keeps you. Keep yourselves. This is plural. You cannot keep yourself alone. There are no lone rangers, no solo fliers, no “every man is an island.” God has designed you to need others and to help others. This is why we join Life Groups, why we give and receive love, give and receive correction, give and receive forgiveness. It’s how we keep ourselves.

The bottom side of the sandwich is Jude 24:

Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy (ESV)

God keeps us. We keep each other. God keeps us. That’s how the Christian life works. God is able to keep you from stumbling. God’s intent is to present you before his unnaproachable presence with great joy!

We keep because God keeps, not so that God will keep.

Who are you keeping? Who’s keeping you? Are you in a Life Group? Are you accountable to anyone? Anyone accountable to you?

God’s Powerful Voice

I have met people with powerful voices. When they speak, people listen. They walk into a room and the entire dynamic changes. Maybe you recall the calming voice of your mother, or perhaps it’s her commanding voice you remember most. Maybe the assuring voice of your father comforts you, or his correcting voice still confronts you.

God’s voice exceeds them all. Consider the psalmist:

The voice of the LORD is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the LORD, over many waters. The voice of the LORD is powerful; the voice of the LORD is full of majesty. The voice of the LORD breaks the cedars; the LORD breaks the cedars of Lebanon. He makes Lebanon to skip like a calf, and Sirion like a young wild ox. The voice of the LORD flashes forth flames of fire. The voice of the LORD shakes the wilderness; the LORD shakes the wilderness of Kadesh. The voice of the LORD makes the deer give birth and strips the forests bare, and in his temple all cry, “Glory!” (Psalm 29:3-9, ESV)

In the beginning God created…with his words, his voice. He started with nothing and said, “Let there be,” and there was. Here in Psalms we discover that his voice is not diminished at all. The God who created with words, shakes his very creation with the same voice with which he created it.

Jesus did too. Asleep in the boat, tired from the demands of his day, he was suddenly awakened by his disciples. The boat was rocking, waves crashing, fear mounting. They thought they were dying!

And they went and woke him, saying, “Master, Master, we are perishing!” And he awoke and rebuked the wind and the raging waves, and they ceased, and there was a calm. He said to them, “Where is your faith?” And they were afraid, and they marveled, saying to one another, “Who then is this, that he commands even winds and water, and they obey him?” (Luke 8:24-25, ESV)

You may be in a situation right now that only God’s voice can handle. Unless He steps in, there is no hope. A broken marriage, incurable cancer, unbelievable debt. You need God’s voice. David ends his Psalm with this affirmation: “May the Lord give strength to his people, may the Lord bless his people with peace.” (Psalm 29:11, ESV).

Ask for his powerful voice.

And ask again…and again…and again.

God Makes No Junk

The events of the past week cannot go unnoticed. Demonstrations. Protests. Hatred. Bigotry. Confusion. Murder. Statues toppled.

Beneath the fallen statues, the bantering of the media, and the seemingly endless analysis of political pundits lies an unalterable truth: life matters. The framers of the Declaration of Independence thought so:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

So does God:

For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. (Psalm 139:13-14, ESV)

One only has to travel back a few decades in world history to discover a regime that idolized blonde hair and blue eyes and killed six million Jews. Jews weren’t the only ones who lost their lives:

  • 7 million Soviets died.
  • 3 million Soviet prisoners of war died.
  • 1.8 million Polish Civilians died.
  • 220,000 Gypsies, 1900 Jehovah’s Witnesses, and 70,000 asocials died
  • 250,000 disabled people were killed…for being disabled

Black people matter. White people matter. All people matter. I’m afraid we’ve lost sight of this. This week CBS ran the story about Iceland’s eradication of babies with Down Syndrome.

Since prenatal screening tests were introduced in Iceland in the early 2000s, the vast majority of women — close to 100 percent — who received a positive test for Down syndrome terminated their pregnancy.

Other countries aren’t lagging too far behind in Down syndrome termination rates. According to the most recent data available, the United States has an estimated termination rate for Down syndrome of 67 percent (1995-2011); in France it’s 77 percent (2015); and Denmark, 98 percent (2015). The law in Iceland permits abortion after 16 weeks if the fetus has a deformity — and Down syndrome is included in this category.

The common ground between white supremacists and Iceland’s law is eery–life only matters if “I” think it matters.

In 2015, 908,000 babies were aborted.

Abortion advocates, white supremacists and Iceland’s “deformity” law advocates find themselves on the same shaky ground: “we” should determine when life matters.

Yet Scripture is clear: life matters for blacks, whites, latinos, unborn babies, down syndrome babies, people with Alzheimer’s and dementia, because God created them, and therefore loves them.

Though marred by sin, we are all created in his image.

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” (Genesis 1:26, ESV)

God makes no junk.

And after he created them, when they had blown it, he sent his Son Jesus to die for them.

And Jesus didn’t die for junk.

Preparing Yourself for Communion

Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world. (1 Corinthians 11:27-32, ESV)

Paul issues a serious warning in these verses. Unfortunately, this has caused some people to dread communion. It shouldn’t.  Rather than dread, these verses ought to provide an ample warning–much like a professor gives you before you take your final exam. So here is how you can prepare:

  • Pray Psalm 139:23-24 Search me O God and know my heart. Try me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any wicked way in me and lead me in the way that is everlasting.
  • Practice Matthew 5:23-24 So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. (ESV)
  • Ponder the Passion of Christ. Mark 15:33-39 And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And some of the bystanders hearing it said, “Behold, he is calling Elijah.” And someone ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink, saying, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.” And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last. [38] And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” (ESV)
  • Praise the risen Christ. This song will help.

How to Pray When You’ve Blown It

Avid notetakers told me Sunday was a note-taking frenzy. I hear you. Here are highlights from Sunday’s sermon. Take whatever you want, cut and paste it, and hopefully God will imprint it on your hearts. I love seeing pens and journals in hand–love it! You guys preach me to death!

  • Has it ever occurred to you that, when we sin, we hurt the people we love the most.
  • Sin will take you farther than you intended to go, keep you longer than you intended to stay, and cost you more than you intended to pay.
  1. Own your sin
    • Transgression—going beyond a limit that has been set
    • Sin—missing the mark because you deliberately aim at a wrong one
    • Iniquity—lack of integrity; failure to fulfill the standard of righteousness
    • God will not forgive what you will not forsake.
    • Have you ever owned the fact that you are a sinner by nature?
    • Are you intentionally aiming at the wrong mark—living in rebellion?
    • Are you right now going beyond a limit that has been set?
  2. Be real about your temptations.
    • Godly sinners pray.
    • No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. (1 Corinthians 10:13, ESV)
    • And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. (Matthew 6:13, ESV)
    • Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The Spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak. (Matthew 26:41, ESV)
    • And he said to his disciples, “Temptations to sin are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come! (Luke 17:1, ESV)
    • God will not redeem what you will not renounce.
    • Be real with God and others.
  3. Follow God’s counsel.
    • Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. (Galatians 6:7-8, ESV)
    • 3 principles of sowing and reaping: You reap what you sow.  You reap after you sow.  You reap more than you sow.

Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit. Many are the sorrows of the wicked, but steadfast love surrounds the one who trusts in the Lord. Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart!  (Psalm 32:1-2; 10-11)

How can David call himself righteous after everything he had done? Was it his righteous deeds? Not all all! He is only righteous, because God, through his forgiveness, has made him righteous. So it is with you. If you have trusted Jesus, if you’ve ever owned your sin, you must take it to the cross. There you will see Jesus hanging, bleeding, dying for you.  If you will renounce your sin, receive Jesus as your Savior, he will come immediately into your life. He will be your Savior and your Lord. He will declare you righteous. Only then will be you extremely happy (blessed).

Will It Last?

Last week God rocked our students’ lives. If you were here Sunday, you saw the impact. Engaged students, hands lifted, hearts open, minds changed. As one man said to me, “If you can’t worship God seeing 100 students praising our Lord and Savior, you don’t have a heartbeat! I loved every second.”

So the nagging question is, “Will it last?” It’s a legitimate question. Five weeks from now will these students still be “fired up?” I have a few thoughts.

What do we want to last? If we are looking for emotion to last, the obvious answer is “no.” Emotions come and go, they rise and fall. If we are looking for activity to last, the obvious answer is no. Involvement is an up and down venture–for all of us. So maybe we can’t answer the first question without defining what we want to last.

This morning in my quiet time I read about King Hezekiah’s reforms. I thought about what God did and wondered (and prayed) if this is what began last week at Caswell. Today I discovered that J.D. Greear, Pastor of Summit Church in Durham, blogged about the same Scripture. He talked about 5 marks of an awakening. (jdgreear.com)

  1. Awakening happens when God’s people clean out the junk from their lives (2 Chr 29:3-5).
  2. Awakening happens when God’s people re-center themselves on Scripture (2 Chr 29:25-30).
  3. Awakening happens when God’s people re-center themselves on the gospel (2 Chr 30).
  4. Awakening happens when God’s people devote themselves to intercessory prayer (2 Chr 30:18-27).
  5. Awakening happens when God’s people give extravagantly (2 Chr 31:5-10).

All week I have heard stories about students coming clean, getting up early to get into God’s Word, being gripped by God’s grace in the face of their sin, praying for one another and, in the second service Sunday a student leaned over to me and said, “Can you help me figure out how much my tithe is?”

I honestly don’t know how long this will last, but I absolutely love what God started.

One Great Video on One Great Book

I won’t bother you with words. Check out this video. It takes about 8 minutes, so watch it when you have the time to take it in. And then file it away for future reference. It gives a much needed overview of the the Psalms! (You can find more videos like this at https://www.bible.com/videos/3048-psalms-the-bible-project).

 

God’s Voice is Greater than Your Fear

Take a few moments and read this. Take it in. Don’t read it too quickly.

Ascribe to the LORD, O heavenly beings, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength. Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness. The voice of the LORD is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the LORD, over many waters. The voice of the LORD is powerful; the voice of the LORD is full of majesty. The voice of the LORD breaks the cedars; the LORD breaks the cedars of Lebanon. He makes Lebanon to skip like a calf, and Sirion like a young wild ox. The voice of the LORD flashes forth flames of fire. The voice of the LORD shakes the wilderness; the LORD shakes the wilderness of Kadesh. The voice of the LORD makes the deer give birth and strips the forests bare, and in his temple all cry, “Glory!” The LORD sits enthroned over the flood; the LORD sits enthroned as king forever. May the LORD give strength to his people! May the LORD bless his people with peace! (Psalm 29, ESV)

God’s voice is loud enough to be heard over the roar of the waters. Water was the primary source of fear for Israel. Remember that, in order to leave Egypt, they had to cross the Red Sea. In order to enter the Promised Land, they had to cross the Jordan River. And the Philistines, Israel’s bitter enemy, came to Israel across the Mediterranean Sea. This is why Revelation 21:1 says that, in the new heaven and new earth, there will be no more sea.

So what does this mean for you and me? God’s majestic voice is more powerful than your greatest fear, your darkest nightmare, your most feared diagnosis, your unexpected setback. God’s voice breaks cedars, spews fire, makes the deer give birth and strips the forest bare.

No wonder the Psalmist erupts in a prayer combined with a praise at the end: May the Lord give strength to his people! May the Lord bless his people with peace!

And that is my prayer for you today. The Lord, whose very voice is more powerful than anything we can do, is able to give you strength and speak peace into your fear. Now take a few minutes and listen to this powerful song, sung by a local church choir from Arkansas:

Living on Empty

I enjoy sushi. Recently a friend called asking where to eat the best sushi. Without hesitation I described the Godzilla roll at Sake in Black Mountain and the seaweed salad at the sushi and atmosphere at Wasabi in Asheville. Why? IT’S GOOD! We are all, by nature, glory declarers. We declare the glory of great ball players, great musicians, great restaurants and great experiences. We can’t help ourselves.

Again and again Scripture instructs us to declare the glory of God. Why? If we are not declaring God’s glory we are declaring the glory of our functional saviors. Jerry Bridges defines these as “any object of dependence we embrace that isn’t God. They become the sources of our identity, security, and significance because we hold an idolatrous affection for them in our hearts.”

So how can we know if we’re bowing at the altar of our functional saviors? He suggests honestly filling in these blanks:

  • I am preoccupied with ___________________.
  • If only _________________, then I would be happy.
  • I get my sense of significance from _____________.
  • I would protect and preserve ____________________ at any cost.
  • I fear losing ____________________.
  • The thing that gives me the greatest pleasure is _________________.
  • When I lose _________________ I get angry, resentful, frustrated, anxious, or depressed.
  • For me, life depends on ________________.
  • The thing I value more than anything in the world is _____________________.
  • When I daydream, my mind goes to __________________.
  • The best thing I can think of is _________________.
  • That thing that makes me want to get out of the bed in the morning is ____________________.

Evaluate yourself. Ask an important person in your life for their opinion. (Don’t get mad when they’re real with you!) According to Jeremiah the stakes are high!

“My people have changed their glory for that which does not profit. Be appalled, O heavens, at this; be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares the Lord, for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.” (Jeremiah 2:11-13)

Functional saviors won’t hold water. Quit living on empty!