Pure Evil…

Is there any way to describe the tragedy that took place in Connecticut yesterday morning? 28 dead, 20 of them children between 5-10 years old. You can call it senseless if you want, you could call it a massacre… I’ll call it pure evil.

I’m not interested in getting into the details of it, and I’m writing this post as much for myself to process what happened as I’m writing it for you who are reading. A lot of people are saying this isn’t the time to discuss the peripheral issues, it’s a time to mourn and grieve and pray. I agree, it’s time to do those things first, but it’s also time to do some serious soul-searching: individually, and as a nation.

I’m reminded of GK Chesterton’s response to the journalist who asked him and other philosophers to write their explanation for evil in the world: Chesterton’s response… “I am.” If this sounds irrelevant or insensitive to the victims then here’s my point: Don’t talk about evil as if it only resides in others. Those who carry out these acts of pure evil are relatively few, but we all are guilty of evil and sinful acts on a far more frequent basis than we care to admit. It may not be murder, but it may be destroying a child’s heart by filling it with hurt or abuse or bitterness or abandonment.

I have two young children whom I love and would go to nearly any length to protect. I want them to be safe. But I need to ask myself what “safety” really means and how safe I really am able to keep them. There’s stupidity which leads to harm, and there’s mere ignorance that leads to harm. But I can do everything in my ability to keep my kids safe and they could still fall in harm’s way because of other people’s stupid, foolish, or evil actions. Keep your kids safe, be wise, but recognize that true security and safety are ultimately and only found from God.

This is why Jesus came… to give hope to the desperate, love to the unloved and the unlovable, joy to the sorrowful, and peace to those who have no rest. Christmas is coming. Let us not forget, in the midst of our many tears and deep grief, that this is exactly why God became a baby boy. To save us from ourselves…

Father in Heaven,
I pray for the families who have been directly affected by this act of pure evil. Be their Comforter, be their strength, be their hope. In the midst of everything they are still only beginning to feel, make your presence very much known to them, so that they would look to you as their strength in this time of weakness. Surround these families with loved ones and others who can lend shoulders to cry on and warm meals to eat.

Our hearts are completely broken over the lives lost, the Christmas presents that are wrapped and will stay unopened. Father, you know what it is like to watch your Son die. Sympathize with these parents. I can’t even imagine… words fail.

I pray that you would turn our hearts to hate sin and evil, not to hate you. Somehow, someway, make beauty come out of this. Make life to spring forth from death, light from the darkness.

Our nation, our families, our schools are broken – purify our hearts by the work of Christ Jesus.

AMEN

What is your only comfort in life and in death?

That I am not my own,
but belong–
body and soul,
in life and in death–
to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ.

He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood,
and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil.
He also watches over me in such a way
that not a hair can fall from my head
without the will of my Father in heaven:
in fact, all things must work together for my salvation.

Because I belong to him,
Christ, by his Holy Spirit,
assures me of eternal life
and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready
from now on to live for him.

(The Heidelberg Catechism, Question and Answer 1)

Finding Your ID in Christ

How do you describe yourself to others when you first meet them? “Hi, I’m Mike, I’m __________.”

I’m a husband, father, son, brother, pastor, coach, friend, counselor, student… and Christian. Even within those “hats” I wear, there are different groups of friends and different ways that I relate to people as a pastor. There are church-friends, neighbor-friends, friends-from-childhood, friends-from-college, etc. The tough question is this: Am I the same “Mike” wherever I am, whoever I’m with, whatever I’m doing?

Obviously, I relate differently to different people. That’s ok. If I got up at a family gathering and started preaching to them like I would in church or at youth group… well, that wouldn’t be very well received. What I do and how I relate to people changes, but does my IDENTITY and “who I am” change depending on who I’m around?

There should be some consistency that makes me uniquely “ME,” regardless of who I’m around.

This is a struggle for everyone, but especially for teenagers. Most adolescent counselors agree that the main pursuit of adolescence is Identity-Formation… answering the “Who am I?” question.

Over the course of the “ID in Christ” series at Youth Group, here are a few of the Scripture passages and key themes we addressed.

  1. Genesis 1:26-27. You are created in God’s image. You reflect God’s nature and glory. You’re not Him, but He made you and you have a God-made nature to reflect his authority, kingship, holiness, justice, and love. There’s too much here to elaborate on, but it’s important to remember that God made you… and God doesn’t make junk.
  2. 2 Corinthians 5:17. If you are a Christian, then you are “in Christ” and you’re a “new creation.” The old is gone, the new has come. That doesn’t mean that you’re totally new and there’s no continuity with your “old life.” What’s new is your heart, your desire to please God, to worship and honor Him through your everyday life. If you were good at soccer before becoming a Christian, then you’re going to still be good at soccer as a Christian… But now you desire to play in a way that honors God rather than playing to honor yourself and to show off your skills.
  3. 1 Peter 2:9. It’s important to know who you are as an individual, but it’s also necessary to know who we are as Christians, as a members of the Church. In this passage Peter says we, together as God’s chosen and adopted people, are a royal priesthood, a holy nation who belongs to God. He’s made us his people in order to reflect His light into the darkness, so that others might also be adopted into the family and “transferred” from darkness into light. We don’t need to find a priest or temple anymore to pray for us or to make atonement for our sins, we have been given the Holy Spirit and made royal priests who each have an important ministry in the Church and in the world. We need each each other, because together we make up God’s holy people who shine His light into darkness.

Ultimately, we want to find our ID in Christ and through Christ so others see him shining through us when they see us. We want to be like the moon, who shines at night but doesn’t give off any light of its own. As the moon gives light in the darkness by reflecting the sun, we want to reflect Christ and not ourselves.

Learning About God From Santa?

Santa and I have an on-again, off-again relationship.  It’s not that I dislike him or what he stands for, it’s just that I find myself so easily loving him while giving lip-service to Jesus around Christmas-time.  Because really… who doesn’t love getting stuff?  I do, and you probably do too.

But for the last week or so I’ve really been thinking about Santa.  Not in a typical “Santa vs. Jesus” type of way, but in a totally new way for me – I’ve been thinking about how Santa can actually teach me something about God.

Santa teaches me that God is just.  Santa has a “nice” list and a “naughty” list (presumedly, not just so parents can bribe their kids into obedience).  Nice and Naughty really do exist.  Some thoughts and behaviors really are good, and some really are bad.  God has instructed us how to live, and he’s made that known through the Bible and through nature in a general way.  Really, if we’re honest with yourself, which list do you truly belong on? If I’m on the “nice list,” it’s only because my righteousness comes from Christ, not from my own nice-ness.

Santa teaches me that God knows me intimately.  He knows when you’ve been sleeping, he knows when you’re awake, he knows if you’ve been bad or good… it sounds a bit creepy, doesn’t it?  BUT, it means that he’s watching me and he knows me.  Even when I think I’m doing something in secret, I’m not.  Even when I think I’ve gotten away with something, I haven’t.  I don’t like that.  Isn’t this why we have “privacy settings” and control what we make public knowledge and what we keep to ourselves?  God knows me completely, even the rapidly decreasing number of hairs on my head… and he still chose to love me and adopt me as his child.  I am fully known, and fully accepted.

Santa teaches me that God is generous.  Santa is a giver.  But no one outgives God.  As Jesus said in Matthew 7:11, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!”

In the midst of all the talk and chatter about Santa vs. Jesus, I’m trying to train myself to see Santa as a shadow and a longing for Jesus.  Santa can serve as a shadow, pointing us to the fullness of God in Jesus Christ.  Of course, Santa can also overshadow Jesus when we make him an idol and love “stuff” more than the Maker.

What do you think?  Am I off my rocker?  Am I just thinking too hard?  Or, am I on to something here?  And if I’m on to something… what are some other ways that Santa can serve as a shadow pointing us to God?