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.

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:

From Broken Hearts to Burning Hearts

So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He acted as if he were going farther, but they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem. And they found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together, saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread. (Luke 24:28-35 ESV)

They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” When Jesus taught them the Scriptures they had no idea it was Jesus. He preached Himself from the Scriptures–and their hearts burned within them. Preaching the Gospel of Jesus enlivens the believer’s heart. Preaching Jesus from the Old Testament turns weary forlorn travelers into winsome evangelists.

Allow me to wonder a minute. Did Jesus tell them he was the serpent of Numbers 21 lifted up on the pole? Did Jesus explain that David’s words in Psalm 22:1 were written for him: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Did he tell them Jonah’s stint in the belly of the fish was foreshadowing his own journey into the heart of the earth?”

What a sermon!

The good news of Jesus turns broken hearts into burning hearts.

Under His Wings

He said, “Who are you?” And she answered, “I am Ruth, your servant. Spread your wings over your servant, for you are a redeemer.” (Ruth 3:9 ESV)

At the very heart of God is His desire to cover you. God’s wings protect you from life-threatening enemies.

Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings, from the wicked who do me violence, my deadly enemies who surround me. (Psalm 17:8-9 ESV)

God’s wings protect you from the destructive storm.

Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me, for in you my soul takes refuge; in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge, till the storms of destruction pass by. (Psalm 57:1 ESV)

God’s wings give you rest.

Let me dwell in your tent forever! Let me take refuge under the shelter of your wings! Selah (Psalm 61:4 ESV)

God’s wings form a canopy of praise when your life is good.

for you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy. (Psalm 63:7 ESV)

God’s wings shield you from nightmarish nights and difficult days.

He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler. You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness, nor the destruction that wastes at noonday. (Psalm 91:4-6 ESV)

Jesus’s wings gather you from your wandering ways into the family of God.

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! (Luke 13:34 ESV)

Run to God. Hide under his wings.

God the City Builder

These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city. (Hebrews 11:13-16 ESV)

We measure success by accomplishments, by wins and losses, by money in the bank. God doesn’t. He measures success by faithfulness. Failing does not disqualify you from the race–quitting does. Finishing matters more than achieving. In a world dominated by World Series and Super Bowls we struggle to embrace God’s definition of success.

Hebrews 11 opens with a list of people who lived their entire lives never fully receiving what they believed. They believed promises that were never realized, preached messages that were never fulfilled, wrote prophecies that never came to fruition. They lived and died believing what many thought was a lie. How did they do it? The writer answers that question:  they acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. They never expected life on this earth to be ultimately fulfilling. They lived here with another place in mind.

Think about it. If this is the only place you will ever enjoy life, then you will be compelled to do everything you can do, go everywhere you can go, and experience everything you can experience. Make all the money you can. Capture every memory. Exploit every adventure. Win every game. Take advantage of the latest technology. Why? Because when you die, there will be no joy, no pleasant memories, no money to advance your cause, no adventures. For those who do not believe in eternity, a sure eternity awaits. It is void of the presence of God and filled with the memory of every missed opportunity to know him. When the rich man died he looked into heaven. He saw Lazarus and begged him for a drop of water. He saw his brothers headed to Hell and begged God to warn them. Imagine an eternity where you wouldn’t want your closest family to join you. Some people are experiencing the only “heaven” they will ever experience now.

Not those mentioned in Hebrews. They desired a heavenly country. In other words, they lived on earth with heaven in mind.

Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city. God, the architect of the universe, is also the architect of Heaven. For those who desire Him, he has prepared a city. He’s not ashamed of you. He’s proud to call you his, proud enough to build a city–for you.

Plant your feet on the earth. Fix your eyes on the sky.

Hope that Dispels Darkness

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone. (Isaiah 9:2 ESV)

Isaiah spoke of this before it happened as if it already had. It wasn’t wishful thinking on his part. God’s promises are as sure as the air you breathe, the ground on which you stand, the earth on which you live. Paul, addressing Titus referred to the God who “never lies.” When God speaks, it will happen. We call this hope.

Hope is not wishful thinking; it is confident expectation because God is trustworthy. Paul wrote to the Corinthians:

For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory. And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, and who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee. (2 Corinthians 1:20-22 ESV)

This Christmas as you ponder the reality of Christ’s birth remember that the God who gave His Son has given us two surefire guarantees. One is mentioned above–his Spirit. Christ, through the Spirit, lives in our hearts as a guarantee of things to come. The Spirit guarantees you will never be alone. Though you do not know the future–you are never alone as you face it.

The second guarantee is Christ Himself.

He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? (Romans 8:32 ESV)

This is a classic greater to lesser argument. If God would give his most prized possession, will he not also give us every other lesser possession? If God will meet our greatest need, will he not also meet our lesser needs?

God the Father sent His Son.

On this Christmas day stop to thank God for sending His only Son…and giving you everything else you will ever need. Deep darkness dispelled. Light dispersed!

His Way Was Right

Timing is everything. Yogi Berra, former MLB player and coach, said, “You don’t have to swing hard to hit a home run. If you got the timing, it’ll go.” According to Paul, Jesus’ birth was right on time. In Galatians he writes:

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. (Galatians 4:4-5 ESV)

Scholars have identified several factors that made the arrival of Jesus and the spread of Christianity so timely. Check these out:

  • Pax Romana–Rome was a massive empire controlling most of the known world. While Palestine squirmed under Rome’s heavy hand at times, the reality is that Rome’s dominance created peace over most of the known world. This Roman peace paved the way for Jesus’ message and the ability of the Apostles to travel unhindered and spread the Christian message.
  • Developed roads–Because of a highly developed system of roads, the Gospel message could spread quickly and efficiently.
  • Common language–Greek had become the common language of the Roman empire, and it was a variety of Greek that was easy for the common person to understand and write. Language has always been critical to the spread of the Gospel. It was no different in the 1st century.
  • Anticipation by Israel–Rome’s heavy hand made Israel long for someone to step in and release them from oppression. While their view of a Messiah was very different from Jesus’ life and ministry, they were looking for the long awaited Messiah.

God’s timing is perfect.

Years ago I discovered John Oxenham’s poem (God’s Handwriting) and have returned to it many times:

He writes in characters too grand
For our short sight to understand;
We catch but broken strokes, and try
To fathom all the mystery
Of withered hopes, of death, of life,
The endless war, the useless strife,–
But there, with larger, clearer sight,
We shall see this–



Wendy and I have had our fair share of waiting on doctors. Just this year Trent has seen five different doctors–we have waited in all kinds of doctor’s offices. Once we waited…and waited…and waited only to discover that they had forgotten we were there! They felt terrible. Sometimes despite people’s best intentions they forget you. Joseph was forgotten.

While Joseph was in prison the cupbearer and the baker showed up because they offended the Pharaoh. Joseph was appointed to take care of them. One night both of them had a dream. I love how Joseph responded to them the next day. Don’t miss this. Joseph is unfairly imprisoned. He has done nothing to deserve his sentence. Listen in on his conversation with the baker and the cupbearer:

When Joseph came to them in the morning, he saw that they were troubled. So he asked Pharaoh’s officers who were with him in custody in his master’s house, “Why are your faces downcast today?” They said to him, “We have had dreams, and there is no one to interpret them.” And Joseph said to them, “Do not interpretations belong to God? Please tell them to me.” (Genesis 40:6-8 ESV)

Joseph, who could have been wallowing in self pity, noticed the troubled faces of his fellow inmates. Their dilemma? Dreams. The last thing Joseph wants to hear about is dreams. His dreams landed him in a pit, then Potiphar’s house, and now a prison. Why would he care about two foreigner’s dreams. But he did. He cared for them.

Not only did he care for them, he kept his faith in God. Do not interpretations belong to God? Joseph’s faith in God never faltered. In the midst of his unfair treatment, he trusted in a just God.

They told him their dreams. He interpreted them and then made a simple request of the cupbearer. Listen to his passionate plea:

In three days Pharaoh will lift up your head and restore you to your office, and you shall place Pharaoh’s cup in his hand as formerly, when you were his cupbearer. Only remember me, when it is well with you, and please do me the kindness to mention me to Pharaoh, and so get me out of this house. For I was indeed stolen out of the land of the Hebrews, and here also I have done nothing that they should put me into the pit.” (Genesis 40:13-15 ESV)

Note Joseph’s words: Only remember me. Please do me the kindness. Get me out of this house. I was stolen. I have done nothing that they should put me into the pit. Don’t ever think Joseph got used to his unfair treatment. Do not allow yourself to believe that Joseph was super spiritual and never felt the sting of rejection. Don’t be fooled into thinking that Joseph never wrestled the fear of abandonment. He never got used to the prison. He never grew accustomed to incarceration. He wanted out.

The cupbearer’s life was spared and he was restored to his former position with the Pharaoh. But what about Joseph?

Yet the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph, but forgot him. (Genesis 40:23 ESV)

Forgotten? God hasn’t forgotten you. Some estimate that Joseph stayed another two years in prison after his passionate plea to the cupbearer. Tomorrow we’ll see what happened when the Pharaoh sent for him.

Bold Requests of God

Come, thou long-expected Jesus,
Born to set thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us,
Let us find our rest in thee.
Israel’s strength and consolation,
Hope of all the earth thou art;
Dear desire of every nation,
Joy of every longing heart.

Born thy people to deliver,
born a child and yet a king,
born to reign in us forever,
now thy gracious kingdom bring.
By thine own eternal Spirit,
rule in all our hearts alone;
by thine own sufficient merit,
raise us to thy glorious throne.

This favorite Advent carol has six bold requests. Charles Wesley revealed his deep longing for God when he penned the words. I challenge you to make these same requests your own:

Come thou long expected Jesus. Do you really want Jesus to invade your space? To call your heart His home? To become your boss? To be Lord of all of your life? Ask Him. I dare you.

From our fears and sins release us. What is your worst fear? Your greatest temptation? Do you believe He can set you free from it? Do you believe he can break the chains of sin that bind you?

Let us find our rest in thee. Are you weary? Tired of the rat race? Frustrated with the hectic season called Christmas? Tired of trying to keep up with your neighbors, outdo your coworker, impress you relatives? Rest in him. Jesus himself said, “Come to me all who are weary and heavy burdened and I will give you rest.”

Now thy gracious kingdom bring. Jesus taught us to pray, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done…on earth as it is in heaven.” What kingdom thwarting habit are you practicing? Who has been reached through your obedience?

Rule in all our hearts alone. This is a bold request. “Jesus, rule…alone!” No one else. Nothing else. No selfish ambition. Just Jesus.

Raise us to thy glorious throne. Jesus, change us from the inside out. Replace hopelessness with hope. Fill our emptiness with your fullness.  David talked about this in Psalm 40:

I waited patiently for the LORD; he inclined to me and heard my cry. He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure. He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the LORD. (Psalm 40:1-3 ESV)

Notice when David was raised to God’s glorious throne–after he patiently waited.  If you are in a pit, put your hand in his and let him draw you out and raise you to his glorious throne. He’ll change your tune! (my paraphrase of “he put a new song in my mouth.”) Then many will see and fear and say, “What happened to her! What’s up with him!”

Today, pray those six requests of Wesley’s old hymn. The next time you sing it, be careful what you ask for!

Suffering…Hope’s Distant Cousin

For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him. He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken. On God rests my salvation and my glory; my mighty rock, my refuge is God. (Psalm 62:5-7 ESV)

David returns to his opening thought. (see verse 1)  For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence. Why? For my hope is from him. As I am writing this the forecast is calling for snow tomorrow. I hope it snows–I really do! That idea of hope is not what David means here. Most of the time we use the word hope for “wish.” I wish it would snow tomorrow. I wish the Panthers would win. I wish…

Biblical hope is far more than a wish. Biblical hope is the sure promise of future reward. Paul talks about this kind of hope in Romans 5:

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. (Romans 5:1-5)

Paul tells the believers in Rome that they can rejoice in sufferings. Why? Paul isn’t advocating an emotionless response to the very real pain of life. No! Rejoicing in suffering is possible for the same reason a mother endures the pain of giving birth to a child: the hope of holding that child in her arms as a newborn. Our hope is fixed on the glory of God–we live to honor Him. And strangely enough it comes through waiting and suffering.

Suffering initiates a domino effect: suffering produces endurance, endurance produces character, and character produces hope. Hope grows best in the soil of suffering.  Notice the distance between suffering and hope. Suffering is followed by endurance (which takes time).  Endurance is followed by character (which is built over time). Character produces hope.

For some of you this has been the worst year of your life. Your suffering is so intense that hope seems a distant dream, a far-flung idea. Don’t despair. Hope is coming! Endure–don’t quit!

David writes: He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken. On God rests my salvation and my glory; my mighty rock, my refuge is God. Today, lean in on God. Wait on him–quieten yourself before him. He is your refuge, your safe place…your hope.