Posts tagged ‘Las Vegas’

The Mandalay Bay Moves to Protect Itself

This past week, MGM Resorts International filed a lawsuit against the victims of last October’s Las Vegas shooting, when a gunman opened fire from his suite in the Mandalay Bay, an MGM property, into a group of concert goers below.  The lawsuit does not seek any money from the victims, but argues that MGM cannot be held responsible for any deaths, injuries, or damages that occurred during the shooting.  Legal experts believe that MGM is attempting to shield itself against protracted battles in state courts, which could be sympathetic to the victims, and instead push any cases up to the federal court system, which MGM believes to be more attuned to their interests.

This is the kind of story that invokes a reflexive revulsion in many.  There is a hotel that is suing shooting victims?

The Psalmist writes:

No one can redeem the life of another or give to God a ransom for them – the ransom for a life is costly, no payment is ever enough – so that they should live on forever and not see decay. (Psalm 49:7-9)

In a culture where lawsuits are plentiful, the Psalmist reminds us that, in a tragedy like the Las Vegas shooting, even the most lavish remuneration of cash does not lead to a restoration of life. This is not to say that negligent parties should not be held accountable and that monetary penalties should not be imposed; it is only to say that any action we take after death will always be incomplete.  This is because, ultimately, life is not a commodity, but a gift, and the only way to truly address the loss of one gift is with another, even greater, gift.  But what gift can be greater than that of a life?

Jesus offers a greater gift.  For He takes a life that is lost and replaces with a new life that is eternal.  He takes death itself – even when death rears its head in the most tragic ways imaginable, as in the case of the Mandalay Bay shooting – and turns it into an opportunity for an upgrade to a resurrected life with Christ for all who trust in Christ.  Christ does more than just pay for death.  He conquers it.  And Christ offers what no payment can – a promise that we can “live on forever and not see decay.”

I pray that MGM does the right thing and treats the victims of this terrible shooting, along with their families, with the respect and support they need and deserve, even if doing so costs the hotel chain some money.  I am thankful, however, that while MGM may rightly honor the lives lost, Jesus can actually restore them.

July 23, 2018 at 5:15 am Leave a 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

Praying for Las Vegas

Waking up this morning to news of the worst mass shooting in modern American history was jarring.  What was supposed to be an evening of fun at an outdoor country music festival at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas melted down into a scene of death and a time of terror when a lone gunman opened fire into the crowd from the 32nd floor of the hotel above.  More than 50 were killed.  Hundreds are injured.

This morning, stories of heroism are already emerging.  On NBC’s Today, an eyewitness described police officers and military trained personnel standing up during the shooting while everyone else was crouching down, looking for the injured so that they could render immediate aid.  These brave souls put their own lives at risk for the sake of those who were in danger of losing theirs.

Certainly, this will be a story that dominates our headlines and, in one way or another, messes with our heads and hearts.  It is difficult to fathom how evil could move someone to commit an indiscriminate act of mass murder like this.  It is chilling to imagine what it must have been like to be there.

Right now, on this dark morning, there are two things for us, as a people, to do together.  First, we should pray.  We should pray for the families of loved ones who have lost their lives.  We should pray for the medical professionals who, right now, are tending to many who are critically injured in level one trauma centers.  We should pray for law enforcement as they seek to unravel what has happened.  And we should pray for Las Vegas.  Here is yet another community that has been marred and scarred by tragedy.

Second, as a part of our prayers, we should not forget to give thanks.  We should not forget to give thanks for the heroes proven in a terrible time of deadly strife.  We should not forget to give thanks for those who risked their own lives to place their fingers in the bullet holes of the wounded.  We should not forget to give thanks for those who were willing to sacrifice their own lives to save the lives of others.

As a Christian, I know that salvation never comes without sacrifice.  This is what makes the message of the cross both awful and wonderful all at the same time.  The cross is the place where the Son of God was unjustly murdered.  That is awful.  But the cross is also the place where I was graciously given life.  And that is wonderful – and the reason I have hope.

At the Mandalay Bay, the unthinkably awful happened.  But even the unthinkably awful cannot undo, or even outdo, the bravery of the heroes who were willing to sacrifice themselves for the sake of others.  So, for the wounded and grieving I pray.  And, for the heroes of this morning I give thanks.

I hope you will join me in doing the same.

October 2, 2017 at 7:05 am Leave a comment

Saving Marriage from the Heartbreak Hotel

Wedding Chapel

Credit: Viator.com

It seems as though declining marriage rates are not just changing our society sociologically, but are stressing the wedding capital of the world, Las Vegas, economically.  In an article for Bloomberg, Jeanna Smialek explains how:

Roland August has officiated at thousands of weddings in Las Vegas, the self-proclaimed capital of “I do.”

But these days August – who often presides dressed as Elvis Presley – has a rare vantage point from which to observe the nation’s long shift toward “I don’t.” …

The wedding chapels where August works have seen business dwindle, he said, and Vegas is pushing to reverse the decline in an industry that generates as much as $3 billion in economic activity annually. In 2015 the surrounding county introduced a $14 surcharge on marriage licenses to pay for marketing, and local business leaders helped start a Wedding Chamber of Commerce last year.

A drop in weddings, it seems, amounts to a drop in revenue for a city that is known as being flush with cash.  Of course, this is all part of a broader nationwide trend.  The Pew Research Center reports that, whereas 72% of adults 18 years of age or older were married in 1960, now, only 50% are.  But, if the graph published by Bloomberg is any indication, the nationwide decline in marriage has hit Nevada especially hard.

Marriage Decline

In one way, none of this is particularly surprising.  For all the fun and levity, which are not bad things in and of themselves, that I’m sure Mr. August brings to the weddings he performs, vows taken without things like spiritual guidance from a pastor or other religious mentor, serious prior consideration of all the things marriage entails, a commitment to make marriage alone the sacred space for sex, and, often, even a baseline of sobriety do little more than to cheapen and make a mockery out of the whole institution.  And when something becomes cheap, it inevitably becomes expendable.  After all, if Britney Spears can drunkenly marry her childhood friend in Las Vegas and then have their marriage annulled 55 hours later, one has to wonder:  why bother with marriage in the first place?

They key to reversing the decline in marriage and the denigration of marriage is not to try to repristinate the marriage-saturated days of 1960, hoping that, somehow, marriage rates will soar again if we just yell enough at the cultural forces that have damaged the institution.  No, the key to a deeper appreciation of and desire for marriage is to consider what marriage is really meant to reflect.  So here are three things that we can say, as Christians, marriage reflects.

Marriage reflects community in Christ.

One of the great mysteries of Christian teaching is that of the Trinity – that God is one, yet, at the same time, He is also three persons:  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Thus, God is in community, in some sense, with Himself.  For centuries, professional theologians and Sunday School teachers alike have tried to explain this mystery in a way that is comprehensible.  My Sunday School teacher, for instance, mused that the Trinity is like an apple.  There is the peel, the flesh, and the core.  These are three parts, and yet they are all part of one apple.  The problem with this illustration, however, is that God is indivisible.  He cannot be divided like an apple.  He is not made up of three parts, but actually is three persons.

Thankfully, the Bible presents us with its own object lesson to help us understand the Trinity.  What is this object lesson?  Marriage.  When marriage is given by God, He explains that it is meant to be when “a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24).  In marriage, there are two persons, and yet they are one flesh, even as in God, there are three persons, yet He is one God.  Moreover, throughout this life, a husband and wife ought to be indivisible, as is God.  This is why Jesus says divorce is so damaging – not only because it hurts the people involved, but because it tarnishes the very reflection of God!  Thus, community in marriage, even if it is broken by sin, is meant to reflect the perfect community of the Trinity.

Marriage reflects the sacrifice of Christ.

As anyone who has been married for any amount of time will tell you, marriage requires sacrifice.  It requires laying down your own wants, needs, and desires for the sake of another.  The apostle Paul eloquently explains the sacrificial nature of marriage when he writes:

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to Himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. (Ephesians 5:25-27)

Paul notes that the sacrifice a husband makes for his wife ought to reflect the sacrifice that Christ made for His church, even if that sacrifice includes laying down his very life, as it did for Christ.  Thus, at the same time marriage gives a community that reflects the Trinity, it also eats away at our proclivity toward selfishness.  Marriage is fundamentally centered not on yourself, but on your spouse, even as God is fundamentally centered on us and on our salvation.

Marriage reflects eternity with Christ.

The best marriage is not the one you celebrate once a year on your anniversary.  The best marriage is the one that is still to come:

I heard what sounded like the roar of a great multitude in heaven shouting: “Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and be glad and give Him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and His bride has made herself ready.” (Revelation 19:1, 6-7)

When the apostle John gets a window into eternity, he sees that every wedding on earth between a husband and wife is ultimately meant to reflect a perfect wedding in heaven between Christ and His people.  Marriage in this age, then, however wonderful it can be, is not an end in and of itself.  It is a sign pointing to something even greater.  This is why Jesus, when He is questioned by the religious leaders about marriage in eternity, says, “At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage” (Matthew 22:30).  Marriage between people till death do them part is meant to point to perfect communion with God where death no longer reigns.  Marriage, then, at the same time it fills a longing, should also create a longing.  It should create a longing for a deeper community that not even your spouse can meet.  It should create a longing for a deeper community that only Christ can fill in His wedding feast.

This is what marriage is meant to reflect.  It cannot be reduced, then, to a Vegas jag, or, for that matter, a well-planned out and exorbitantly expensive ceremony and reception.  These things are not necessarily bad on their own terms, but if they become the things of marriage, they reduce marriage to something that is entertaining, cheap, and contrived.  But marriage cannot stand if it is this.  Marriage must stand as a gift from God that gives you community, costs you your very self, and points you to the One who gave Himself for you so that, on the Last Day, He can walk you down His eternal aisle.

No neon or Elvis costumes needed.

July 17, 2017 at 5:15 am Leave a comment


Follow Zach

Enter your email address to subscribe to Pastor Zach's blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 2,079 other followers


%d bloggers like this: