The Scandals Keep Coming

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It’s far better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust any human. It’s far better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust any human leader. (Psalm 118:8-9)

If there were ever words we needed to read, re-read, and take to heart in the chaos of our heady political milieu, it would be these.  Our human leaders fail us again and again – time after time, leader after leader, politician after politician.

The latest political failures come conveniently in both a left and a right form – a liberal scandal and a conservative one.  On the liberal side, there is U.S. Senator Al Franken from Minnesota, who was revealed to have groped a radio newscaster during a 2006 U.S.O. tour.  The senator has issued an apology, but there are already questions boiling under the surface as to whether or not this kind of behavior was common for him.

On the conservative side, there is the candidate for the U.S. Senate, Judge Roy Moore from Alabama, who stands accused making unwanted advances at female teenagers in the early 80s and, according to the two most serious allegations, sexually assaulting one girl who, at the time, was 14 and attacking another girl who, at the time, was 16, by squeezing her neck and attempting to force her head into his groin.  Judge Moore was in his 30s when the alleged assaults took place and he has denied the allegations.

Senators Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer have called for an investigation of Senator Franken by the Senate Ethics Committee, a move which Senator Franken himself supports.  Politicians on both sides of the aisle have called on Judge Moore to drop out of the Alabama Senate race, with some interesting exceptions.  Alabama State Auditor Jim Zeigler defended the judge’s alleged actions using what can only be described as a tortured – and, it must be added, an incorrect and incoherent –theological logic, saying:

Take the Bible – Zechariah and Elizabeth, for instance.  Zechariah was extremely old to marry Elizabeth and they became the parents of John the Baptist.  Also, take Joseph and Mary.  Mary was a teenager and Joseph was an adult carpenter.  They became parents of Jesus.  There’s just nothing immoral or illegal here.  Maybe just a little bit unusual.

Alabama Representative Mo Brooks defended Judge Moore more straightforwardly by calculating the political cost of electing a Democrat to the Senate instead of a firebrand conservative like the judge.  He said:

America faces huge challenges that are vastly more important than contested sexual allegations from four decades ago … Who will vote in America’s best interests on Supreme Court justices, deficit and debt, economic growth, border security, national defense, and the like?  Socialist Democrat Doug Jones will vote wrong.  Roy Moore will vote right.  Hence, I will vote for Roy Moore.

Whether among Democrats or Republicans, it seems as though the stakes on every election, every seat, every position, and every appointment – yea, every scrap of political power – have become sky high.  A national apocalypse, it can feel like, is only one political loss away.

New York Times columnist David Brooks recently bemoaned how our perceived astronomical political stakes have turned politics itself into an idol for many in our society.  He wrote:

People on the left and on the right who try to use politics to find their moral meaning are turning politics into an idol.  Idolatry is what happens when people give ultimate allegiance to something that should be serving only an intermediate purpose, whether it is money, technology, alcohol, success or politics.

In his column, Mr. Brooks quotes Andy Crouch, who is the executive editor at Christianity Today, and his excellent description of what idols do in his book Playing God:

All idols begin by offering great things for a very small price.  All idols then fail, more and more consistently, to deliver on their original promises, while ratcheting up their demands, which initially seemed so reasonable, for worship and sacrifice.  In the end they fail completely, even as they make categorical demands.  In the memorable phrase of the psychiatrist Jeffrey Satinover, idols ask for more and more, while giving less and less, until eventually they demand everything and give nothing.[1]

This is most certainly true.  All idols fail.  This means that if we fancy our politicians to be saviors who can rescue us from the wiles of our political opponents and some looming national apocalypse, those for whom we vote will inevitably fail – sometimes modestly by an inability to pass key legislation, and other times spectacularly in some grave moral collapse.  Senator Franken and Judge Moore are just the latest examples of this.

David French, in a recent article for National Review concerning the Judge Moore scandal, wrote simply, “There is no way around dependence on God.”  These scandals serve to remind us of this profound truth.  The fact that our politicians fail should grieve us, as sin always should, but it should not scare us.  After all, even if a national apocalypse should come, it is still no match for the Apocalypse, when, instead of a politician, a perfect Potentate will appear to set the world right.  That’s not an apocalypse of which to be scared; that’s an apocalypse by which to be comforted. I hope you are.

_____________________________

[1] Andy Crouch, Playing God:  Redeeming the Gift of Power (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press), 56

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November 20, 2017 at 5:15 am 2 comments

Stopping Sexual Assault

Kevin Spacey

Credit: Netflix

Roger Ailes.  Harvey Weinstein.  Kevin Spacey.

These are just a few of the more recent names that have turned right-side-up the seamy underbelly of sickening sexual power-plays for the world to see.  Charges that these men sexually assaulted people with whom they worked have sparked a social media movement among countless victims of sexual assault, who are now declaring, #MeToo.  These men’s alleged sexual crimes have been roundly condemned, both in word and deed.  Roger Ailes, who has now passed, was ousted from the powerful cable news network he founded.  Harvey Weinstein was likewise booted from his own company.  Production on Kevin Spacey’s hit show “House of Cards” has been suspended.

Sexual assault is one of those issues on which all people with any moral center can agree: it should never happen.  So, why does it?  From a theological perspective, sexual assault can be said to be a result of humanity’s fall into sin, a fact to which the many gruesome stories in the Bible of sexual assault attest.  And no inexorable march of human history toward increasing moral enlightenment seems to be able to arrest the problem.

So, what can make a change, or even a dent, in the tragedy of sexual assault?

Our modern sexual ethics have, in many ways, been reduced to the word “consent.”  As long as people consent to any kind of sexual activity, any kind of sexual activity is permissible and, yes, even moral.  Indeed, in our sexually indulgent culture, it is considered immoral to restrain and contain one’s sexual desires, for sexual desire is considered to be at least a window, if not the window, into a person’s core identity.  But, as David French points out in an article for National Review:

The practical result of consent-focused morality is the sexualization of everything.  With the line drawn at desire alone, there is no longer any space that’s sex-free.  Work meetings or restaurants can be creative locations for steamy liaisons.  Not even marriage or existing relationships stand as a firewall against potential hookups …

 When everything is sexualized and virtually every woman is subject to the potential “ask,” scandals like those that rocked Hollywood, Fox News, and – yes – the Trump campaign become inevitable. And they’re replicated countless times on a smaller scale in schools and workplaces across the land. Desire is elevated over fidelity and certainly over propriety, so bosses bully, spouses stray, hearts break, and families fracture.

Mr. French is precisely right.  Sexual assault is a huge problem.  It is a huge problem in and of itself, which is why we must stand with the women – and the men – who are victimized by it and declare, “No more!”  But it is also symptomatic of another huge problem – a sexual ethic that has become so attenuated that it amounts to little more than a “yes” or “no” answer to an ask.

Andrew T. Walker, the Director of Policy Studies for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, tweeted last month:

So much cultural & personal hurt due to sexual sin.  Maybe the church should see its sexual ethics as a gift of common grace to the world.

 – Andrew T. Walker (@andrewtwalk) October 10, 2017

Mr. Walker packs a lot of profundity into 138 characters as he invites us to entertain a wholly different, and certainly a more robust, sexual ethic than that of our culture’s as the remedy to our sexual assault problem – a uniquely Christian sexual ethic.

The Christian sexual ethic is wholly different from our culture’s not only because its content is sweeping, as any glance through Leviticus 18 will quickly reveal, but because its very trajectory is countercultural.  In a culture that approvingly trends toward the permissive, Christianity vigilantly trends toward the restrictive.  This is why Jesus says things like: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:27-28).  In sexual ethics, Jesus goes far beyond consent.  He cuts straight to the heart.  Even what happens in one’s interior life can be an opportunity for sexual immorality.

Why would Jesus trend toward the restrictive with regard to sexuality?  Is He a prude?  Or a prig?  Or a Puritan?  Hardly.  He simply knows that with great power comes great responsibility.  And sex does, in fact, carry with it great power.  So, Jesus is inviting us to handle with care.  To quote David French again:

It virtually goes without saying that the sex drive is incredibly powerful.  Sex is also a remarkably intimate act that often has a profound emotional impact.  An ethic that indulges that drive while also denying the emotional significance of sex will inevitably wreck lives. The wise person understands that desire – even mutual desire – can be dangerous. 

It is time for us to take a step back and recognize this reality.  In a culture that lionizes consent when it comes to sexuality, Christians have something much more profound to protect and prosper sexuality – a conviction that sex is best when sex is contained, not so that joy in sex may be decreased, but so that joy in sex may be released.

November 13, 2017 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Sutherland Springs, Texas

I am growing weary of the phrase “active shooter situation.”  Whenever I hear the phrase, I know what it means.  It means more bodies counted.  It means more families shattered.  It means more communities terrified.  It means more tranquility robbed.  It means more tears shed.  It means more loss endured.

This time, an active shooter situation came for Sutherland Springs, Texas – a town that, admittedly, although I’ve heard of it and live right up the road from it in San Antonio, I had to look up on Google Maps to jog my memory as to its precise location.

The numbers out of Sutherland Springs are awful.  26 people have been killed, including several children, the youngest of which was only 18 months old, and nearly two dozen more have been injured after a gunman opened fire at the First Baptist Church there during its morning worship service.  It is the deadliest mass shooting at a house of worship in American history and the deadliest mass shooting period in Texas’ history.

So, once again, we pray.  And, once again, we grieve.  And, once again, we hope this will be the last mass shooting.  And, once again, we know that, in spite of our hopes, it probably will not be.  Though law enforcement officials have not yet discerned a definite motive, we know that the prospect of fame, even if it comes in the form of infamy, the chance at revenge, or the allure of making one’s voice heard through bullets seems to be so enticing that it overwhelms even the most basic of moral instincts – the moral instinct to celebrate and protect life.

As with other tragedies, people want to know why and how this could have happened.  Why would a man who lived in New Braunfels drive 45 minutes south to open fire on a country Baptist congregation?  How did no one see this coming?  How do we protect ourselves when so many places in our communities and neighborhoods, simply by virtue of the fact that we live in a free society, are soft targets for people with evil intent?

One of the blessings of being a part of a church family is that, if the church family is healthy, it tends to feel safe.  It is a safe place for people to worship with their families.  It is a safe place to make friends and grow in relationships.  It is a safe place to turn when a sickness strikes or a loved one is lost in order to receive prayers and support.  It is a safe place to process struggles and ask questions about faith and God.  But this feeling of safety has been severely tested by this tragedy.

It is important to remember that this feeling of safety that can sometimes seem so indigenous to some churches was not – and still is not – a normal feature of families of faith.  Churches all across the world are being bombed, shot up, and terrorized because of their confession of Christ.  The apostle Paul, in Romans 8:36, writes about what it was like to be a member of a church in the first century when he quotes Psalm 44:22: “For Your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”  This does certainly not sound safe.  Yet, what makes Paul’s words especially poignant at a time like this are their context.  Paul begins by asking:

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?  Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?  As it is written: “For Your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.  (Romans 8:35-37)

Even the sword of a Roman soldier – and, yes, even the bullet from an assailant’s rifle – cannot separate us from the love of Christ.  We are, Paul says, more than conquerors of those things because Christ loves us through those things.

Jesus once said, “My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more” (Luke 12:4).  A shooter at a church in Sutherland Springs killed some bodies – but he can do no more.  So, we should not be afraid.  Why?  Because there was a moment in history when instead of a mass murderer mowing down dozens of people with an assault rifle, a mass of murderers brutally executed one man on a cross.  But their murder didn’t take.  Because three days later, He came back.  The murders of the congregants at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs won’t take either.  Because one day – on the Last Day – these worshipers will come back when the One who once rose Himself will return to raise them – and us.

The worship service that those congregants were participating in yesterday morning at 11:30 – singing God’s praises and hearing God’s Word – didn’t end when a gunman opened fire and the victims drew their final breaths.  It just moved.  It just moved to a place around a throne where there sits a Lamb of God who takes away every sin by His death and grants eternal life by His life.  And one day, we’ll join them around that same throne.  May that day come quickly.

Maranatha.

November 6, 2017 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

The Reformation of the Church

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Credit: Ferdinand Pauwels, 1872

Tomorrow, many corners of the Christian Church will mark the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.  And though the Reformation of the Church was larger than any one event and any one man, the beginning of this grand theological and historical watershed is traditionally traced to October 31, 1517, when an Augustinian monk named Martin Luther posted 95 theses to the door of the castle church in Wittenberg, Germany, outlining his grievances against some of the abuses that were rampant in the Roman Catholic Church of his day.

At the heart of Luther’s protest was the Church’s sale of indulgences.  Indeed, in his 95 theses, Luther uses the word “indulgence” some 45 times!  An indulgence was a partial remission of punishment for sin, issued by the Church, and could be used either to lessen a person’s future penalties in purgatory, or to shorten a deceased loved one’s current intermediate period in purgatory.   Indulgences took both the form of personal good works, such as pilgrimages and acts of devotion, as well as the form of a payment to the Church by which, it was said, one could have some of the good works of one of the Church’s canonized saints imputed to him to counterbalance his sin.

In Luther’s day, a preacher named Johann Tetzel shamelessly peddled the second type of indulgence, claiming that paying for an indulgence could breezily and easily excuse a sin for which one would otherwise have to suffer terribly in purgatory.  With clownish flamboyance, he declared:

Consider, that for each and every mortal sin it is necessary to undergo seven years of penitence after confession and contrition, either in this life or in purgatory.

How many mortal sins are committed in a day, how many in a week, how many in a month, how many in a year, how many in the whole extent of life! They are well-nigh numberless, and those that commit them must needs suffer endless punishment in the burning pains of purgatory.

But with these confessional letters you will be able at any time in life to obtain full indulgence for all penalties imposed upon you …

Are you not willing, then, for the fourth part of a florin, to obtain these letters, by virtue of which you may bring, not your money, but your divine and immortal soul, safe and sound into the land of paradise?

According to Tetzel, one sin buys a person seven years of suffering in purgatory.  If a person commits only one sin a day, which, according to Tetzel himself, who invites his hearers to ponder “how many mortal sins are committed in a day,” is an unrealistic underestimation, this would mean that, for one year’s worth of sins, a person would spend 2,555 years in purgatory.  If a person lived to be 75, they would have to endure 191,625 years of suffering in purgatory.  But, Tetzel continues, “for the fourth part of a florin,” one can purchase an indulgence letter, which allows the bearer to “obtain full indulgence for all penalties imposed on you.”  A florin was an Italian gold coin worth around $144 in today’s currency.  A fourth of a florin, then, would be worth around $36.  Thus, Tetzel’s message was this:  for $36, your sins can be taken care of, and you can enter effortlessly into paradise.  What a deal!

The problem with Tetzel’s deal, of course, is that, ultimately, he cheapened both the penalty and the payment for sin.  As harrowing as 191,625 years in purgatory may sound, the true penalty for sin is even more terrifying, for it is not a finite time in purgatory, but an infinite eternity in hell.  And the true payment for sin that rescues us from this eternity in hell is certainly more than a measly $36.  The true payment for sin is nothing short of priceless.  As God says through the prophet Isaiah, “Without money you will be redeemed” (Isaiah 52:3).  The true payment for sin is nothing less than the priceless blood of Christ.

The truth Luther rediscovered is that the penalty for sin is much steeper and the payment for sin is much deeper than an indulgence preacher like Johann Tetzel ever let on.  And this is the truth that launched a reformation of the Church.

Tetzel passed away in 1519, only two short years after the Reformation began.  By this time his ministry had been discredited, and he had been accused of fathering an illegitimate child.  When Luther heard that Tetzel was near death, he wrote his old theological sparring partner a kind note, begging him “not to be troubled, for the matter did not begin on his account, but the child had quite a different father.”

Luther was known for preaching grace as a theologian.  It turns out that, for all his protestations against and sometimes harsh critiques of the Catholic Church of his day, at times, he was also gracious as a person.  And grace is better than any indulgence.  This was Luther’s message – and, most importantly, this is the gospel message.  And that’s a message worth celebrating, which is why the Reformation is worth celebrating, even 500 years later.

“Indulgences are in truth the most insignificant graces when compared with the grace of God and the piety of the cross.” (Martin Luther)

October 30, 2017 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

ISIS Takes a Tumble

ISIS’s caliphate has fallen.

This is the news that broke last week when the Syrian Democratic Forces, who are backed by the U.S., finally broke the terrorist group’s last metropolitan stronghold in Raqqa.  The New York Times reports that:

Celebrations erupted in Raqqa, where residents had lived under the repressive rule of militants who beheaded people for offenses as minor as smoking. Fighters could be seen cheering and firing celebratory gunfire in the streets, according to residents reached by phone and text message.

One video shows a woman ripping off her burqa and chanting joyfully, overcome with emotion that her city has been liberated.

Even with this victory, Raqqa is still a plenty dangerous place.  ISIS still probably has suicide bombers in hiding waiting to launch attacks.  The terrorist group has also booby-trapped many areas with improvised explosive devices.  Moreover, the city of Raqqa itself has been devastated.  The New York Times published another article featuring images from cities across Iraq, including Raqqa.  All of them lie in ruins.

Still, this is an important milestone victory against a terrorist group whose territory, at its height in 2014, covered 34,000 square miles in Syria and Iraq and whose tactics against defectors and dissidents were nothing short of gruesomely brutal.  In Paradise Square in the center of Raqqa, later fittingly renamed Hell Square:

Prisoners were tossed from tall buildings, beheaded, lashed or shot while the crowds gathered … Hands and feet were chopped off. Others were stoned to death … Bodies and severed heads were carefully placed around the square by Islamic State militants and would remain there for days. Those who lived and escaped to tell the tale would describe how the bodies were labeled, identifying the victim’s crime in a deliberate warning to others.

Sadly, as chilling as these macabre parades were, we know that, even if scenes like these are in the past for now, they may not be in the past forever.  Wickedness is horrifyingly resilient.  But even if the war against the wickedness of ISIS has not yet been fully won, we can be thankful that a major battle has been.  We can also be thankful that, no matter how brutal a regime may be, we have a perfect Sovereign who, in the words of the prophet Daniel, graciously and often necessarily, “deposes kings and raises up others” (Daniel 2:21).

Daniel’s words about God’s power over world affairs come as he is interpreting a dream for Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon.  The king has a dream where he sees his kingdom, the kingdom of Babylon, along with four future kingdoms:  the kingdom of the Medes and the Persians, the kingdom of the Greeks, the kingdom of the Romans, and the kingdom of God.  In his vision, only one kingdom lasts.  Daniel, in his interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s vision, reveals to the king which kingdom will endure:

The God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever. (Daniel 2:44)

Only the kingdom of God, Daniel says, will endure.  Every other kingdom, including Nebuchadnezzar’s, will fall.

In a world where a kingdom like ISIS’s can have its say, we can be thankful that the kingdom of God will eventually carry the day.  So, as grateful as I am that ISIS’s caliphate is waning, I’m ultimately hopeful for a perfect kingdom that is coming.  For when that kingdom comes on the Last Day, ISIS will not only lose the prospect of further victories like they have now thanks to the brave work of the Syrian Democratic Forces, they’ll lose even their past victories, as the death they have wrought will be swallowed up by the eternal life that Christ, by the cross, has bought.

ISIS has an even bigger loss to come.

October 23, 2017 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Against Our Better Judgment

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Credit: Dan Mason

Yesterday, in the Bible class I teach at the church where I serve, I made the point that we can be very bad at making appropriate judgments.  We can, at times, judge incorrectly, inconsistently, or even incoherently.  This is why Jesus warns us, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged” (Matthew 7:1), and the apostle Paul echoes, “Judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes” (1 Corinthians 4:5).

I also mentioned in my Bible class that hardly better examples of our struggle with making appropriate judgments can be found than in the realm of politics.  When an elected official is not a member of whatever party we prefer, we can sometimes treat them as if they can do no right, even if they have some noble achievements or proposals.  But if a person is a member of our preferred party, we can sometimes treat them as if they can do no wrong, even if they have acted wickedly and inexcusably.  We minimize what they have done simply by pointing to an opposing political ideology that, in our minds, is “even worse.”

In his daily news briefing, the president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Albert Mohler, brought to my attention two op-ed pieces, both published a week ago Sunday across from each other in the opinion pages of The New York Times.  One was by the left-leaning Jennifer Weiner and titled “The Flagrant Sexual Hypocrisy of Conservative Men.”  The other was by the right-leaning Ross Douthat and titled “The Pigs of Liberalism.”  Here, conveniently divided by the fold in the newspaper, is our political divide laid bare, nestled neatly in newsprint.  Ms. Weiner decried the breathtaking schizophrenia of Representative Tim Murphy, a Republican from Pennsylvania, who, while taking a consistently pro-life stance as a politician and voting for pro-life legislation, quietly encouraged his mistress to get an abortion when she found out she was pregnant.  Mr. Douthat’s piece chronicled the all-around sliminess of Hollywood mogul and liberal icon Harvey Weinstein, who, in a bombshell piece of investigative reporting in The New York Times, was revealed to have harassed and, perhaps, even sexually assaulted dozens of women over the course of decades.

Though both Mr. Murphy and Mr. Weinstein’s actions, because of the egregiousness of their offenses, have been, thankfully, broadly and forcefully denounced regardless of their political commitments, oftentimes, excusing the inexcusable has become par for the course in many of our political debates, particularly, interestingly enough, when it comes to sexual misdeeds.  A desire to see a political ideology defeated can often eclipse a commitment to get some basic ethical principles right.

In one way, this is not surprising.  The Pew Research Center published a report earlier this month on the widening political divides in American life.  Most striking is this chart, which shows just how far apart Republicans and Democrats have drifted – or, as the case may be, run – away from each other ideologically since 1994.

Screen Shot 2017-10-10 at 5.34.29 PMWhen political ideologies become this disparate, it is not surprising that a desire to promote your preferred ideology generally can trump and excuse the public proponents of your ideological stripe when they do not practice your ideological commitments specifically.

So, what is the way through all of our excuses, minimizations, and rationalizations of people who tout a particular political ideology publicly while, at the same time, shirking it personally?  First, we must understand that such instances of hypocrisy are not, at their root, political.  They are spiritual.  A particular political ideology that we don’t like is not our ultimate problem.  Sin is our ultimate problem.  This is why both conservatives and liberals can fall prey to vile sinfulness, as the cases of Mr. Murphy and Mr. Weinstein illustrate.  The titles of the recent op-ed pieces in The New York Times could have just as easily, and perhaps more accurately, been titled “The Flagrant Sexual Hypocrisy of Sinful Men” and “The Pigs of Depravity.”  As long as we pretend that a particular political ideology is a categorical evil to be defeated, we will only fall prey to more evil.  Political ideologies certainly have problems, but they are not, in and of themselves, the ultimate problem.  We are.

Second, we must also be careful not to conclude that because someone espouses a certain ideology while not living up to it, their ideology is ipso facto wrong.  There are many factors that can make an ideology – or an aspect of an ideology – wrong, but a failure to live up to the ideology in question is not necessarily one of them.  A pro-life ideology is still morally right in principle even if Mr. Murphy was wrong in is his actions.  A strong ideology against sexual assault and harassment is still morally right in principle even if Mr. Weinstein was wrong in his failure to live up to this strong ideology.

Third, in a culture that regularly falls short of its values, we must not fall prey to the temptation to indiscriminately shift values to excuse behavior.  Instead, we must call those who espouse certain ideological values to actually live according to them.  In other words, we need to learn how to lovingly judge people’s actions according to rigorous ethical commitments and call people to repentance instead of downplaying and downgrading ethical commitments because we’re desperate to gain or to retain some kind of power.  After all, power without ethical commitments can never be exercised well, no matter which side of the political divide exercises it, because power that is not subject to a higher moral power can, if not held accountable, quickly degenerate into tyranny.

Jesus famously said, “Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly” (John 7:24).  It is time for us to look beyond the surface of our political divides and peer into the character of our culture.  What we find there will probably unsettle us, but it will also call us to some sober reflection and compel us to want something better for ourselves and for our society.  I pray we have the wherewithal for such reflection.

October 16, 2017 at 5:15 am 1 comment

The Faces of Las Vegas

Mandalay Bay Victims

These are the faces of lives lost.  These are some of the people who went to a country music festival in Las Vegas for a fun night out only to find themselves on the deadly end of a mass murderer’s bullet.  These are mothers and fathers, husbands and wives, sisters and brothers, coworkers and friends – human beings made in God’s image.

From the moment SWAT officers burst into Stephen Paddock’s hotel room on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay, investigators began to ask the question, “Why?”  Why would a man with no ostensible axe to grind or radical ideology to vindicate carry out the largest mass murder in modern American history?  Why would he pick this venue?  Why would he do so without leaving any apparent clues as to his motivation like a manifesto of his grievances or a record for his place in history?  Why?

These are the types of questions that have been the primary drivers of countless news stories over this past week.  And “why” questions are indeed very important, for their answers have the potential of helping prevent another attack like this one.  But they may also be unanswerable.  Indeed, one of the strangest features of this tragedy is that a week has passed and, still, the motive of this man has remained elusive.  So, rather than asking “why?” I want to take a moment to focus on “who.”  Who was it that lost their life a week ago Sunday?

Bill Wolfe Jr. coached youth wrestling and Little League in Shippensburg, Pennsylvania.  He had worked for an engineering firm and was well-known as being fun-loving and “a devoted Christian.”

Candice Bowers was described as a woman who “was so busy taking care of everyone else…that she rarely took time for herself.”  She lived in Garden Grove, California and had recently adopted her two-year-old niece, Ariel.  She also had two older children, ages 20 and 16, and worked as a waitress.

Christopher Roybal was a 28-year-old Navy veteran whose mom was supposed to join him at the concert that night, but before she could meet up with him, shots rang out.  He was medically discharged from the Navy in 2012 after going mostly deaf in his left ear.  He was a man who would graciously watch chick flicks with and for his mom and had the Lord’s Prayer tattooed on his side.  He worked as a fitness trainer in North Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Sandy Casey was a special education teacher in Manhattan Beach, California.  She was engaged and was attending the concert with her fiancé.  The Superintendent of the Manhattan Beach Unified School District described Sandra as “a spectacular teacher who devoted her life to helping some of our most needy students.”

Charleston Hartfield was a Las Vegas police officer and was off-duty when attending the concert.  He was a 34-year-old military veteran who coached youth football.  He published a book titled Memoirs of a Public Servant, detailing his time on the Las Vegas Police Force.  He leaves behind a wife, a son, and a daughter.

These are the names of only five of the victims who lost their lives a week ago Sunday.  58 were murdered in all.  That leaves 53 other names.  53 other faces.  53 other stories.  53 other people.  I would encourage you to take some time to learn more about them.

The questions of “why” will always be, in some sense, unanswerable – even if a motive is discovered and a record of the assailant’s thinking is uncovered.  Shooting up a concert full of innocent people can never be made to make actual sense, even if investigators uncover what made it make sense to the perpetrator.  Sin never leads people to act sanely.  Before sin ever affects our actions, it infiltrates and corrupts our minds.  This is why the questions of “why,” though they may be important to investigators, cannot eclipse the stories of the people who lost their lives.  They matter most.  For they are the reason families are grieving and a nation is reflecting.  May we never become so obsessed with the motive for a crime that we forget about the people hurt – and, sadly, taken – by this crime.

October 9, 2017 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

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