Good Christian people, 26 in all, who were in church together, died yesterday when a young gunman appeared among them with rifle blazing. That news literally left me trembling with sorrow. How do we make any sense of the senseless? Few details are available except that the man who did the shooting had a past history of violence and had been dishonorably discharged from the military.
The finger pointing will begin today. Who failed to notice the killer’s mental health problems? How did he get a gun? And almost nobody will have serious discussion about the spiritual issues that have torn apart our nation.
We tend to see this incidents, and there are more of them all the time, in isolation, one person’s actions. And they are but they are not, too! The Vegas shooter, the Charleston church killer, this man – they acted alone making terrible and evil choices. How long before we begin to connect the dots and start to see the bigger picture, of a nation, a culture, that is very, very sick?
We have pushed the idea of life having meaning in the will and purpose of a transcendent God out of the picture, replacing it with a radical individualism that indoctrinates us that our best life is one in which we pursue our personal happiness.
“Do your own thing,” is a kind of mantra. “Don’t let anyone steal your bliss.” Even the Gospel of Christ has been recast as a means of finding one’s highest individual potential. Calls to discipleship, to self-denial, to sacrifice of self interest for family, church, and country are increasingly incomprehensible to minds trained to think of Self as a god worthy of fervent devotion.
Yes, of course, we know that Jesus said that He came to give us an abundant life. He says, “I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” (John 10:9-11, NIV)
But, what is the ‘life to the full’ of which He spoke? We have come to read that as a promise of happiness from cradle to grave – all the money we need, a family life that is untroubled, and personal fulfillment. But, did Jesus really come to make the American dream possible? Did He die on the Cross so we could have all the things we want and live superficially?
The ‘abundant life’ is about following Him, about giving the Spirit the reins of our lives, about seeking His will above our own – and in that – finding a whole and satisfying life in the Kingdom of God, now and when we step from this world into eternity. Do I, do you, really engage our best effort to understand His definition of the core understanding of what it means to be His disciple?
He stated it in these simple and stark terms. “Jesus said to his disciples, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it. And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul?” (Matthew 16:24-26, NLT) Returning the Lord to the center of our lives is not a calling for the faint of heart. The call is to a ’narrow way.’
We romanticize Jesus’ words but they are really a challenge that is impossible apart from a rebirth of the Spirit. When asked how a person could live to please God, Jesus said this – “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:29-31, NIV)
On this Monday morning I am mediating on these ancient words spoken to the people of Judah who were finding life empty and meaningless. They had neglected to put God first. The expression in our time is different but the principle is timeless!
“Now this is what the Lord Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways. You have planted much, but have harvested little. You eat, but never have enough. You drink, but never have your fill. You put on clothes, but are not warm. You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it.”
This is what the Lord Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways. Go up into the mountains and bring down timber and build the house, so that I may take pleasure in it and be honored,” says the Lord. “You expected much, but see, it turned out to be little. What you brought home, I blew away. Why?” declares the Lord Almighty. “Because of my house, which remains a ruin, while each of you is busy with his own house. Therefore, because of you the heavens have withheld their dew and the earth its crops. I called for a drought on the fields and the mountains, on the grain, the new wine, the oil and whatever the ground produces, on men and cattle, and on the labor of your hands.” (Haggai 1:5-11, NIV) Pray, and then re-read those words. They ring so true for me.
Our word from the Word comforts me today as I pray for grieving families in Texas. I do not intend to minimize their loss. May the grace of Jesus, the comfort of the Spirit, be theirs today. “Good people pass away; the godly often die before their time. But no one seems to care or wonder why. No one seems to understand that God is protecting them from the evil to come. For those who follow godly paths will rest in peace when they die.” (Isaiah 57:1-2, NLT)
When all around my soul gives way,
He, then, is all my hope and stay.
On Christ, the Solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand.