The Newtown Massacre:It’s Not Guns,It’s Hearts

             This is one of those moments in which all of us need to be mindful of our words. Our first priority must be to pray for God’s peace and comfort for the families who suffered unimaginable loss last week in Newtown, Connecticut as 26 people, including 20 children were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School. But in the right tone and with the right heart, I believe there are a few things that deserve comment. First is the reality of evil. We saw it on December 14th and unfortunately we have been witnessing it with increasing frequency for some time. Every time a tragedy like this occurs the question arises, “How can we stop it?” The truth is that we can’t. Evil exists and people determined to commit it will find a way to carry it out. Second is the question of how God could allow this to happen? It is a completely reasonable question given the circumstance, but thankfully Scripture answers it. Evil breaks the heart of God and though He is sovereign over it, He is never its cause. Although we will never fully understand why things like what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary School happened, we can trust that God is good and we can look to Him for comfort in these times. I believe that deep down people have this sense. Consider where many have run in the days following. If only we wouldn’t wait until after tragedy strikes to look to God in the first place, and if only our looking to Him would last? But God is always there, always faithful and ready to heal the brokenhearted. It is often in these darkest moments in which He saves and deepens our trust in Him.  

            As our leaders consider the way forward after this tragedy, it’s only arrogance that will continue to seek human answers to spiritual problems. But so far, it appears that human answers are all we seek, beginning with President Obama alluding to the need for stricter gun control laws in his initial statement on the shooting and the White House’ statements since, to other politicians’ calls for a “national conversation” on how tragedies such as this might be avoided to the media’s intense coverage of it all. It’s fine to have a “conversation” around anything that would help avoid what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary School, but the question is where does it all end; stricter gun laws only? It seems that way thus far. We need and in fact have responsible gun laws, but guns themselves aren’t the problem. People are the problem. When’s the last time you saw a gun pull its own trigger? I say this as someone who doesn’t even own a gun. Whatever happened to personal responsibility and accountability? No gun law will ever solve the evil intentions of people. Evil has always existed and until the Lord vanquishes it, it always will. The reality is that our biggest issues are heart issues. It’s Jesus Christ that our nation needs. The battles we face are spiritual ones and unfortunately, having removed God from the public discourse; it appears our nation has already laid down its arms.

            Can we continue to believe consequences won’t follow our removing God from every aspect of society, including our schools? Should we really expect blessing when we continue to forgo His will in public policy? I don’t think so. I’m glad that our President and other state and local politicians have participated in memorial services following the shooting. We should always seek God first in these moments. But with all due respect, I’m tired of seeing politicians pay lip service to matters of faith after tragedy, yet spend the rest of their time advocating policies that stand contrary to the Word of God. Instead of using this tragedy to move forward a political agenda, what if they got on their knees and asked God’s forgiveness for ignoring His will in the first place. What if in this “national conversation” God was allowed to speak? Can you even imagine what He might say? In his comments at the memorial service in Newtown, President Obama said we were failing our children. I agree with him; we are failing them, but our greatest failure is not the lack of stricter gun laws, better screening for mental health or anything else. Our greatest failure is that more and more we’ve given our children a nation that denies its Creator and devalues the impact of faith on our society. How long and how many times will we live the consequences of our increasing alienation from God before we realize where we’ve gone wrong? How long until we will see Him as the only answer to our problems? Might this be the event that brings not only our nation, but each of us individually to the end of ourselves, creating in us the desire to restore a right relationship with our Lord? We can only pray that it is.

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The Fiscal Cliff: Where True Treasure Lies

            It’s hard to turn on the news without hearing about the looming debt crisis in the United States. Currently, our national debt stands at over 16 trillion dollars, and growing rapidly. The irresponsibility of our political leaders is obvious. I find it ironic that the one’s left to solve the problem are largely responsible for it. Currently, high stakes negotiations are underway to avoid what is referred to as the “fiscal cliff”, a combination of automatic tax increases and spending cuts for certain government agencies. If a plan to keep us from going “over the cliff” is not agreed to and tax increases ensue it will have a rippling effect on many Americans, impacting retirement savings, disposable income, employment and much more. A recession would become almost a certainty. These are all extremely important issues. Personally, I think raising taxes is the last thing we need to do in an already weak economy and I believe our President and Congress to spend our money like it was their own. But this financial uncertainty is also an opportunity to remind ourselves that as Christians, it shouldn’t be the earthly treasures we live for, but instead, heavenly ones.

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven…”

             Jesus taught that the reality of living in the power and presence of God should work out practically in our lives. Our Christian lives are to be counter to what our cultural considers normal. Specifically, Matthew 6:19-20 would have us consider where we should focus both our activities and our assets. It is about which master we serve because we certainly can’t serve two. This passage shouldn’t be taken to mean that financial prudence is wrong, it’s not, nor should it be used to support the redistribution of wealth or the idea that the rich “pay their fair share”. The Bible supports none of these. In fact, being rich or poor proves no advantage at all in the eyes of God. Both circumstances present their own challenges to one’s faith (James 1:9-11). It’s not money, but the “love of money” that is the root of evil (1 Timothy 6:10). But the Bible is clear about priorities in that we are not to put anything before our relationship with God, our service to Him, and our reliance on His grace and provision for today without worrying about tomorrow (Matthew 6:34). That’s the point to be made. Not that these problems don’t need to be solved. They do. Not that our leaders shouldn’t be more fiscally responsible, they should, and not that we shouldn’t desire a decent return on financial investments. That’s alright as well. But the Lord’s greatest concern isn’t any of these things. His greatest concern is our heart and it’s our hearts that will determine what we invest in. Jesus said, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21). Who knows if your 401K will give you the return you desire and if our country will ever get our debt in order? But you can know that if you’ve put your trust in Jesus Christ alone, not only do you have a guaranteed return, but your debt has also been paid in full. So where are your treasures laid up? Are they laid up for this life or the next? Life is made up of a series of choices; choices that have consequences. Why make the choice that puts everything at risk when you can make an investment that guarantees a return, and where there’s no debt left to pay? Search your heart as to where your treasure lies. Is it in Christ? If not, you may need to rethink your investment strategy.

Cast Your Anxieties On Him

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:6-7) 

                I’ve been in the pharmaceutical industry for 21 years. I remember early in my career, one of the things people touted about the industry was that it was recession proof, that these jobs would be around forever. I found out firsthand in 2006, that was not the case. After almost 16 years with the same company, I lost my job due to downsizing. Thankfully, God provided another job for me. Since that time, in reaction to the evolution of healthcare, the pharmaceutical industry has continued to change, creating even greater uncertainty. Job security, no matter the industry, is an elusive thing right now in our economy. As I write this, I write thinking about many of those I know and worked with for 16 years with my previous employer. In just a few weeks they will once again face another downsizing that will inevitably put some of them in the same position in which I found myself in 2006. So, how is it we handle these times of uncertainty? How do we process all that is going on around us? Most importantly, where do we look for clarity and comfort?

             “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you” The purpose of Peter’s letter was to encourage Christians throughout Asia Minor to stand firm in their faith despite increasing persecution. The increased persecution caused many to waver in their trust in God’s provision. Peter’s letter was meant to encourage them to look past their current circumstances and to renew their trust in what God purposed for their futures. 

            Do you believe the words that Peter wrote as the Holy Spirit guided his hand? Do believe that God cares for you? Well, He does, and whatever the outcome of your particular circumstance will not change that fact. It may just be He’s opening a new door for you to walk through. This passage calls for us to respond in two ways. First, we are to humble ourselves. The Greek word “humble” means “to lower oneself”. In this passage, it means to humble ourselves before a sovereign and unchangeable God who knows our circumstance better than we do. Second, we are to “cast” our anxieties on God. Our worry is a sin because it is a manifestation of pride that says, “God can’t handle this”. He can. Our anxiety may have many causes, but God is the one answer to them all. Peter also tells us that the outcome of our humbling is that in God’s own and perfect timing, He will lift us up. Believe that God loves you because He does. He displayed that love most fully in the person of Jesus Christ, and though our circumstances may change, His love never will. So the purpose in which God spoke to those before us is the same purpose for which He speaks to us now. Look beyond the current circumstance and be amazed at who God is and what He can do. Is it easy? No! Do we struggle giving it over to Him? Yes! Is giving it over to Him what He wants from us, and can He handle it? Yes and yes! What a great God! 

 Prayer

Father, thank you for being a sovereign God that is completely in control of everything. We admit our sin of worry and doubt. If you’ve taken care of our greatest need, why should we not think you will take care of them all? Father, help us to walk by faith. By the power of the Holy Spirit, free us from the anxieties of our circumstances knowing that you are in control. Amen!