Paddock’s possible motive: loneliness

Stephen Paddock was married previously and currently had a girlfriend. He bought 33 guns in the past year, USA Today says. He was a real estate developer, but his full-time job was gambling. He was wealthy.

Paddock had no apparent ties to any terrorist groups, no political animosity or religious zealotry that might set him off.

So, what made him kill 59 people and injure more than 500 others in the worst mass shooting in U.S. history?

Understanding why

There’s one nugget in there that many people have overlooked, but that may provide an important clue.

As a gambler, according to The Associated Press, “his game of choice was video poker, a relatively solitary pursuit with no dealer and no humans to play against. And while neighbors described Paddock as friendly, he wasn’t close to them.”

Police still have no answers to Paddock’s motive. Joseph Lombardo, the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department sheriff who has become the face of the investigation, questioned whether anyone would ever truly understand why the shooter did what he did, Yahoo reported.

Even his girlfriend apparently saw no warning signs of the mass shooting.

Perhaps that’s the way Paddock wanted it.

No clues. No warning. No history of hatred or violence.

The sheriff is likely correct. We never will fully understand why.

Loneliness

But it began in his head. His heart left him long ago.

He was a loner.

Even though he had relationships, he kept secrets.

Las Vegas Shooting

Many men keep secrets. We’re good at that. Especially those of us who struggle mightily to share our thoughts and feelings with someone else, even a spouse or close friend. Some of us never figure that out.

I understand loneliness very well.

It’s hard to describe or explain. Loners by definition do not share their deepest thoughts, desires or fears with anyone. When we feel injured or wronged, we internalize our feelings, twisting the pain over and over in our brains, most likely increasing the hurt and convincing ourselves that the person who wronged us had motives that he or she most likely didn’t.

In other words, we make the problem bigger than it really is. But that becomes our reality.

Crossing the line

What pain did Paddock suffer that affected his brain and/or damaged his heart so severely that he buried it?

It may not have been one thing. Perhaps little things just added up over the years, until he crossed a line.

Most loners don’t kill people. We react to internal pain differently than that. I’m sure we hurt the people closest to us by not opening up to them, not sharing our feelings and seeking help or at least a different perspective.

Paddock apparently had anger issues. I saw reports that he berated his girlfriend in public numerous times. Perhaps he was a control freak.

Perhaps he just didn’t know how to relate to a woman.

I wonder how prevalent that is in American society. Probably more so than any of us would care to admit.

Paddock didn’t care about people. He didn’t understand the human soul. If he did, he wouldn’t have destroyed so many.

The answer

How do we overcome loneliness? Can we discover that it’s enjoyable to be around other people?

Many of you won’t understand that question. You do enjoy the company of others. Affection and joy come naturally to you.

I envy you.

Some of us prefer to be alone. Even if we are in a long-term relationship, alone time is valuable to us. That’s not a slight against our significant others; it’s not their fault. Even though that hurts them. Deeply.

So, what’s the answer?

Communication.

Talking about our feelings, wishes and desires.

I know that.

But that doesn’t mean I do it.

It’s not natural. I daresay more men, especially, than we think understand this.

No precedent

I’m 57 years old. I’ve never in my life had an “accountability partner,” someone I can share my deepest secrets with.

Opening my deep heart with a man I trust would cross a line.

This line is worth crossing. Indeed, it’s necessary for inner peace and healing.

I should intentionally step out in faith and do it.

Trust does not come easy, however, when we’ve never done it.

So we continue to hurt ourselves, and we hurt those closest to us.

What was Paddock’s dark secret? Was it the gambling? If so, why did it turn lethal?

Or was it something else, something he never told anyone?

Did he keep a journal? I’m sure the authorities will find it if he did. That’s a place to write our deepest thoughts, yet keep them hidden.

We can’t hide our thoughts and feelings forever. I think we all know that.

Motive

manalay bay

We rent a hotel room, as Paddock did, for a myriad of reasons. Motive isn’t always as obvious as it seems.

My wife and I rented a room in Glendale, Colo., recently. The motel clerk did not know why, nor did she care – as long as we gave her our credit card to pay for it. We were there to visit our son who lives there, certainly a legitimate reason to rent a motel room.

Paddock spent thousands of dollars a day at the casino tied to the hotel where he rented a room last weekend. Over the years he gambled so much at that casino, they gave him the room for free. He was there to gamble, the hotel staff thought, I’m sure. Or, perhaps to see the country music festival, since he requested a room overlooking the venue.

We now know he had a different motive. Even his girlfriend was unaware.

Motive.

Why do we do the things we do? Why do we think the thoughts we think?

We cannot hide

Some of us prefer to keep those answers to ourselves.

But we will get found out.

Even if I hide my thoughts from you, the living God knows everything about me. I cannot hide from Him. That’s why you cannot judge me, but He can. You don’t know my motives. God does.

We may never know Paddock’s true motive. But God does.

Justice will come.

For you and me as well.

Ultimately, we cannot hide. We will get exposed.

Sooner or later.

Sooner is better. Let’s talk.

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Positive v. negative: Which prevails?

When they had come to the land of Canaan … the LORD appeared to Abram, and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.”

Genesis 12:5, 7

 

“We are not able to go up against this people, for they are stronger than we.” So they brought to the Israelites an unfavorable report of the land that they had spied out …

Numbers 13:31-32

 

How easy we forget a promise. Or, perhaps because we know all about broken promises, we just won’t take God at His word.

In the first book of the Bible, God promised Abram (later renamed Abraham) a land flowing with milk and honey for his descendants. A few books later, God is ready to fulfill His promise by leading Israel into the Promised Land.

Before entering the land, Moses wanted to see what (and who) was there, so he sent 12 leaders, one from each of Israel’s tribes, to spy out the land. They reported that the land indeed was flowing with milk and honey.

They also noted that the inhabitants of Canaan were strong with large fortified cities – which they didn’t think they could conquer.

Two of the 12 spies, Caleb and Joshua, remembered God’s promise to Abram, saying, “If the LORD is pleased with us, he will bring us into this land and give it to us …” (Numbers 14:8)

The nation’s response? “The whole congregation threatened to stone them.” (v. 10)

The majority opinion

You know the story. God forced Israel to wander in the desert for 40 years until that entire generation (except for Caleb and Joshua) died, and their descendants entered the Promised Land.

As I studied this familiar story recently, one I’ve read many times, a new thought came to me. (God does this all the time, as regular Bible readers know.)

The nation in the wilderness supported the majority opinion. Ten v. two. Ten spies said the inhabitants were too strong to overcome. Two said God was able to keep His promise, and that somehow God would lead Israel into the Promised Land.

It’s easy to judge the 10 in hindsight, because of course God eventually did help Israel conquer Canaan.

At the moment, however, I’m sure the 10 were very persuasive.

The big picture

It’s so easy to focus on our circumstances and lose sight of the big picture, as those 10 spies did. Who cares that God made a promise many generations earlier? These enemies are too strong for us. We can’t do it.

Caleb and Joshua saw the same situation that the other spies did. All of them saw the fruit of the land, how good it was, and the inhabitants, how big and strong they were.

The difference? Their attitudes.

Caleb and Joshua had seen God’s power as Israel escaped Egypt: the plagues, the Passover, the parting of the Red Sea, the giving of the 10 Commandments, manna in the wilderness that just appeared every day – all of it. They saw and experienced God’s power.

When they spied the Promised Land, they did not forget.

The other 10 did.

How easy it is to leave God in the wilderness, to focus on the challenges facing us and not on the God who promises to overcome the challenges.

Perspective

The majority saw the negative. Caleb and Joshua saw the positive.

As a (retired) journalist, I am by nature cynical. It’s so easy for me to see the negative side. I have trouble finding joy in life, even though I know it’s there, because I see all the strife and turmoil around me.

I experience it every day. Road rage. Companies downsizing, including the one I worked for a few years ago. The opioid epidemic, which makes the news nearly every day around here. People on their phones instead of interacting face-to-face. And I haven’t even mentioned politics, which is its own special case.

How do I experience such things? With pessimism or optimism?

It’s the popular thing to complain and criticize. Even, perhaps especially, if we’re the majority.

But does that make it right?

What if the majority is off-track? What if most of us are missing the big picture?

Attitude

I get upset when someone cuts me off at 65 mph because he or she is in a hurry to get somewhere. If I turn that into road rage, a fleeting incident would have lasting consequences, perhaps life-taking consequences.

Let it go and move on. Pick your battles. I’m on the highway because I’m going somewhere, and I want to get there. That’s the big picture. Suck it up and swallow my pride. I just hope that speeder doesn’t cause a crash down the road that takes or ruins an innocent life.

Do I see life in a positive or negative fashion?

Can I find the good in you? It’s there, of course.

Or, do I focus on the bad in you? That’s there too.

As it is in me.

If you want to find fault with me, you certainly can. If you focus on that, you might draw that out of me.

If you focus on the good in me, you might draw that out instead.

Attitude. That’s the difference.

Caleb and Joshua did not see an insurmountable obstacle. They saw a way to conquer the land. They didn’t know the details of how it would happen, but they trusted their God and His promise.

Even when the other 10 leaders and the entire nation of Israel didn’t see it.

Human nature is selfish. It’s so easy to get caught up in our own world and miss what’s really going on around us.

If we seek a positive outcome, we just might find it. This is one reason I believe in God, and try to see life through His lens. I don’t know what tomorrow brings, what Promised Land I will enter.

I need to remind myself of this all the time.

My cynical, self-centered, critical attitude is only part of the picture. When God offers a positive outlook, I need to pursue it.

I saw a John Eldredge movie last night with some friends. The author and adventurer says each of us has a story, and we need to discover it. That story involves not only adventure, but beauty.

If the world is such a bad place, Eldredge, says, where does beauty come from?

Perspective. Attitude. What we’re looking for.

Beauty or evil?

Which do you see?

Don’t trust the majority on this one.

 

God’s benediction prepares us for each moment

The LORD bless you and keep you;

The LORD make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you;

The LORD lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.

Numbers 6:24-26

 

I heard this benediction many times in church as a child. It’s a warm, positive, uplifting way to send a congregation out of the sanctuary and into our big, bad world.

This blessing rests in the middle of a lecture from God to Moses for the people of Israel camped at Mount Sinai, as they were beginning their wanderings in the desert before reaching the Promised Land. This part of the lecture included rules for the Levites, whom God designated as the priests for the entire nation.

Numbers is a book about holiness. Israel is set apart from all other nations. The Levites are set apart from all other Israelites. Break the rules, and you die. Literally.

Not every rule was punishable by death, of course – at least for the perpetrator. God instituted plenty of sacrifices for the people, including the Levites, to regain their holiness when they become “unclean” or when they sinned.

Those sacrifices meant that an animal had to die for a human’s errant ways.

Serious stuff. And bloody.

Most of Numbers 6 talks about the meaning of a nazirite vow, “to separate themselves to the LORD” (v. 2). We’re familiar with this vow because Samson broke all of it, reaping a heavy price while still receiving many blessings from God (his story is told in Judges 13-16).

So, while this blessing asks God for favor, we have a role to play as well. If we turn our backs on God and reject His laws, we can’t expect many blessings from Him, can we?

I frequently test God this way. I want to do things my way, then ask God to bless it and make it good. Most of the time, my way is a cheap imitation of what my Lord and Savior really wants to give me, and wants me to do.

I know that God wants the best for me. If I only understood what that really means …

The LORD bless you …

Dictionary.com offers six definitions of “blessing:”

  1. the act or words of a person who blesses.
  2. a special favor, mercy, or benefit:

the blessings of liberty.

  1. a favor or gift bestowed by God, thereby bringing happiness.
  2. the invoking of God’s favor upon a person:

The son was denied his father’s blessing.

  1. praise; devotion; worship, especially grace said before a meal:

The children took turns reciting the blessing.

  1. approval or good wishes:

The proposed law had the blessing of the governor.

God wanted to give the Israelites favor, mercy and good wishes. He wants the same for us today.

… and keep you

This blessing also asks God to “keep you.” This means that God will protect Israel and keep them from harm. http://www.gospel.com/bookmarks/Lord-bless-keep-Christian-perspective/12210/

God protects us today as well.

The LORD make his face to shine upon you …

This implies that God does not shine on everyone. He causes His face to shine on those who seek His face and want to be a blessing to Him. Several times in the Bible, people asked that God not hide His face from them (Job 13:24, Psalm 27:9, 44:24, 69:17, 88:14, 102:2, 143:7).

http://storage.cloversites.com/makinglifecountministriesinc/documents/What%20does%20His%20face%20shine%20on%20us%20mean.pdf

… and be gracious to you

Dictionary.com offers these definitions of “gracious:”

  1. pleasantly kind, benevolent, and courteous.
  2. characterized by good taste, comfort, ease, or luxury:

gracious suburban living; a gracious home.

  1. indulgent or beneficent in a pleasantly condescending way, especiallyto inferiors.
  2. merciful or compassionate:

our gracious king.

  1. Obsolete. fortunate or happy.

I like the “merciful or compassionate” definition for Numbers 6, although “kind, benevolent, and courteous” certainly could apply as well.

We’re asking God to be on our side, not because we deserve it or we even know what “merciful” or “compassionate” mean, but because we know God has the best plan, the right plan, for each of us. By giving us mercy and compassion, God wants us to give those away – ie, share mercy and compassion with literally everyone we meet.

The LORD lift up his countenance upon you …

What is countenance? Dictionary.com explains it this way:

  1. appearance, especially the look or expression of the face:

a sad countenance.

  1. the face; visage.
  2. calm facial expression; composure.
  3. approval or favor; encouragement; moral support.
  4. Obsolete. bearing; behavior.

Countenance is a person’s face or facial expression. It doesn’t have to be positive, but it often is. Moses is asking God to smile for us, because of us. What a thought that is.

… and give you peace

Peace is a tough concept to understand. Dictionary.com lists many possibilities:

  1. the normal, nonwarring condition of a nation, group of nations, or the world.
  2. (often initial capital letter) an agreement or treaty between warring or antagonistic nations, groups, etc., to end hostilities and abstain from further fighting or antagonism:

the Peace of Ryswick.

  1. a state of mutual harmony between people or groups, especially in personal relations:

Try to live in peace with your neighbors.

  1. the normal freedom from civil commotion and violence of a community; public order and security:

He was arrested for being drunk and disturbing the peace.

  1. cessation of or freedom from any strife or dissension.
  2. freedom of the mind from annoyance, distraction, anxiety, an obsession, etc.; tranquility; serenity.
  3. a state of tranquility or serenity:

May he rest in peace.

These definitions say “peace” is the absence of war, but it’s much more than that. Absence leaves a vacuum. If not war, what replaces it? Mutual harmony? Tranquility or serenity?

I think peace is more than those things.

Here’s a few Bible verses on peace:

 

Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.

Hebrews 12:14

 

And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:7

 

The LORD gives strength to his people; the LORD blesses his people with peace.

Psalm 29:11

 

Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.

Psalm 34:14

 

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Isaiah 9:6

 

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

John 16:33

 

We are to pursue peace; it’s not in our human nature to do this. We prefer to defend ourselves, even if that means we antagonize others. Jesus “gives strength to his people” to pursue peace.

Jesus is called the Prince of Peace 700 years before He is born. Jesus claims this by saying peace is one of His objectives for us. The world doesn’t understand peace; only Jesus offers peace that “transcends all understanding,” that “overcomes the world.”

Benediction

There’s a lot in this Old Testament benediction. If we do our part, God will surely do His.

Blessings will follow. That’s a promise.

Hamilton on religion: Belief in God as moral authority

One in a series on Alexander Hamilton, by Ron Chernow. On July 18, we discussed his views on central government vs. states’ rights:

https://billcornishwordpresscom.wordpress.com/2017/07/18/hamilton-early-lessons-still-apply/

Today, we see his views on religion.

 

At the end of his life, Hamilton sought out a religious experience more deeply than he did earlier on. As he lay dying after Aaron Burr shot him in a duel, “he made it a matter of urgent concern to receive last rites from the Episcopal Church.” (p. 706)

Hamilton asked for the Rev. Benjamin Moore, rector of Trinity Church in New York City and the Episcopal bishop of New York. Moore balked at giving Hamilton holy communion for two reasons: “He thought dueling an impious practice and did not wish to sanction the confrontation with Burr. He also knew that Hamilton had not been a regular churchgoer.” (p. 707)

hamilton mug

Hamilton then turned to a close friend, the Rev. John M. Mason, pastor of Scotch Presbyterian Church, near Hamilton’s home in New York City. Mason said he could not administer communion to Hamilton because “it is a principle in our churches never to administer the Lord’s Supper privately to any person under any circumstances.” (p. 707)

Hamilton then returned to Moore. Hamilton’s friends pressured the bishop to grant the dying man’s last wish. Moore eventually agreed, and gave holy communion to Hamilton. (p. 708)

 

Hamilton repeated to Bishop Moore that he bore no malice toward Burr, that he was dying in a peaceful state, and that he was reconciled to his God and his fate. (p. 708)

 

While he professed faith throughout his life, it wasn’t a deep-seated tenet of everything he said and did.

 

Like Adams, Franklin and Jefferson, Hamilton had probably fallen under the sway of deism, which sought to substitute reason for revelation and dropped the notion of an active God who intervened in human affairs. At the same time, he never doubted God’s existence, embracing Christianity as a system of morality and cosmic justice. (p. 205)

 

Deism, according to an online dictionary, is “belief in the existence of a supreme being, specifically of a creator who does not intervene in the universe. The term is used chiefly of an intellectual movement of the 17th and 18th centuries that accepted the existence of a creator on the basis of reason but rejected belief in a supernatural deity who interacts with humankind.”

https://www.google.com/search?q=deism&oq=deism&aqs=chrome..69i57j0l5.1471j0j4&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8

I see a similar thread across the United States today. According to Gallup, 89 percent of Americans say they believe in God, although that number is declining. http://www.gallup.com/poll/193271/americans-believe-god.aspx At the same time, also according to Gallup, 75 percent of Americans identify as Christian, a number that also is declining. http://www.gallup.com/poll/187955/percentage-christians-drifting-down-high.aspx

A vast majority of us today believe in God’s existence, as Hamilton did. Do we believe He intervenes in human affairs? Many say yes but wish He wouldn’t, saying things, for example, like: Why do bad things happen to good people?

Hamilton, however, believed in an impersonal God who just lets life happen. He saw the Bible “as a system of morality and cosmic justice” that transcends humankind.

 

For Hamilton, the French Revolution had become a compendium of heretical doctrines, including the notion that morality could exist without religion … (p. 463)

 

Yet for most of his life, religion could go only so far, in his view.

 

Like other founders and thinkers of the Enlightenment, (Hamilton) was disturbed by religious fanaticism and tended to associate organized religion with superstition. … Like Washington, he never talked about Christ and took refuge in vague references to “providence” or “heaven.” (p. 659)

 

His wife, Eliza, on the other hand, had a very strong Christian faith throughout her life. She rented a pew at Trinity Church, “increasingly spoke the language of evangelical Christianity,” (p. 659) and likely would not have married a man who did not share her faith to some degree (p. 660).

 

(Eliza) was a woman of towering strength and integrity who consecrated much of her extended widowhood to serving widows, orphans and poor children. (p. 728)

 

Alexander Hamilton also doted on his children – he and Eliza had eight – when he had the time, which wasn’t often because of his extremely busy public life. And he and Eliza off and on also hosted orphans and other non-family members in their home, a sensitivity that Alexander had because he was an orphan while growing up in the West Indies.

 

But Alexander Hamilton “lived in a world of moral absolutes and was not especially prone to compromise or consensus building.” (p. 509)

 

This hurt him politically many times throughout his life. As we mentioned last week, he did not value the opinions of common people, but felt the federal government should dictate right and wrong to them. “This may have been why (James) Madison was so adamant that ‘Hamilton never could have got in’ as president.” (p. 509)

Hamilton wore his emotions on his sleeve. Often without decorum, he shared his opinions – in private letters or public pamphlets – that garnered plenty of attention. He had many detractors because of this.

 

“Hamilton was incapable of a wise silence.” (p. 534)

 

He frequently felt the need to defend his honor, even when his closest friends told him he didn’t need to do that. He wrote two pamphlets that severely damaged his reputation while he lived, one defending himself over a one-year affair he had with a married woman who was blackmailing him while he was treasury secretary, and the other criticizing then-president John Adams over their political differences (even though they were both members of the Federalist party).

 

“Rather than make peace with John Adams, he was ready, if necessary, to blow up the Federalist party and let Jefferson become president.” (p. 615)

 

While Hamilton held strong opinions on many subjects, including moral judgments, often to his own detriment, his views on religion softened in his later years, as evidenced by his deathbed pleas for holy communion.

Saturday

O Lord, how long shall I cry for help,

and you will not listen?

Or cry to you “Violence!”

and you will not save?

Why do you make me see wrongdoing

and look at trouble?

Destruction and violence are before me;

strife and contention arise.

So the law becomes slack,

and justice never prevails.

The wicked surround the righteous –

therefore judgment comes forth perverted.

  • Habakkuk 1:2-4

 

I ask this question of God all the time. Maybe not in those exact words, but the question remains.

When will good prevail?

I know it will eventually, but what about today?

We just celebrated the holiest week on the Christian calendar. Such wide-ranging events, such wild swings of emotion:

  • Jesus washing his disciples’ feet in a surprising act of servanthood. (Have you ever washed someone’s feet, or let someone wash your feet? It’s humbling, almost degrading.)
  • Jesus crying out in anguish to his father, asking for the unfolding scenario not to happen. “… yet not what I want but what you want.” (Matthew 26:39)
  • An unfair – and illegal – trial in the middle of the night. Jesus remained silent through most of it.
  • The horrible crucifixion on Friday.
  • Jesus’ life-altering resurrection on Sunday.

Wait a minute. There’s one day in that week where nothing seemingly happens. Only silence.

Saturday.

The day between the crucifixion and the resurrection.

Habakkuk wrote his essay about 600 years before Jesus lived, but he easily could have written it on that Saturday. Jesus promised that he would rise on the third day, but it hadn’t happened yet. There’s only the sorrow of death. Tomorrow hasn’t come yet. What about today? What do we do now?

In a very real sense, the year 2017 is taking place on Saturday. Yes, the resurrection has occurred, but the final victory hasn’t come yet. The Bible promises that it will. Eventually.

What do we do in the meantime?

In my personal journal, I concluded a Good Friday entry with this paragraph:

 

“It’s a nice day today, Father. I don’t feel it. Birds singing, flowers growing, window open, sun shining. A beautiful spring day. Where You die, and I sin. Sunday is coming. Eventually.”

 

When will good prevail? It already has, and still is. I often have a hard time seeing it, though.

It’s easy to focus on the negative, personally and globally, and live my life there. Sad. Frustrated. Disappointed. Angry, perhaps. Knowing that Sunday is coming, but not seeing it.

Our church gave us a Holy Week devotional that I found helpful. The Saturday entry includes this thought:

 

“The promise is clear: Jesus will rise. But the grief and pain are so overwhelming, nobody can hear the promise now. Nobody can remember the promise. Saturday is the day of such emotional pain, that it seems impossible to remember the promises of God. Isn’t it true that much of life is lived on “Saturday?” We’re so beleaguered by our circumstances that we forget what God has said … We doubt in the dark what God has said in the light … We cry out for help, but God does not listen.”

 

I get that. I put my head down when I’m jogging to watch for potholes and dog poop on the path, but I don’t see what’s ahead of me: a curve in the trail, deer in the woods, other walkers or joggers coming towards me. How far to the bridge over the river or to the overpass I’ll cross under? Am I paying attention?

My life expectancy and health give me another 30 or 40 years here on Earth. That’s a lot of Saturdays. Can I wait that long for Sunday?

The devotional continues this way:

 

Learning to live on Saturday is learning to exercise faith despite the pain, and clinging with all we’ve got to God and the promises he’s made. God will make good out of evil. God will bring joy out of mourning. God will bring light out of darkness. There will be a Sunday. Lord, I believe.

 

Habakkuk gets an answer from God to his plea:

 

“Look at the nations, and see!

Be astonished! Be astounded!

For a work is being done in your days

that you would not believe if you were told.”

  • Habakkuk 1:5

 

Wow. Is that message relevant in 2017? Why not?

Sunday is coming. Sooner or later.

That gives me hope. I don’t have to live with Saturday’s pain.

None of us do. Sunday is promised. The resurrection is proof, and Jesus’ second coming is undeniable. No one knows when that will happen.

Until then, it’s Saturday.

Good and evil co-exist. We need discernment to discover which is which. Sometimes it’s obvious, sometimes it isn’t. Searching for good when evil often reigns is the definition of Saturday.

It can be done, but it’s hard.

I’m ready for Sunday.

I’ll conclude this essay with the final thought of the Bible:

 

“The one who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely I am coming soon.’

Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!”

  • Revelation 22:20

Taking time for the little things in life

I sat in silence in my living room, a cup of coffee in my hand and a cat on my lap, a typical morning. Pitch black outside; no lights on from the apartments across the street. I’m up early. No cars passing by yet. It’s Sunday.

A little movement. A tiny spider crawling on the window.

Should I smush it?

Not yet, no. How often do we impulsively ruin a moment? Silence. No Internet, no television, no music. Just the humming of the refrigerator. Remember that sound?

If I jumped up to kill the spider, the cat would leave and not come back. She’s warm on my lap, dozing. She doesn’t see the spider.

It crawls off the window, over the frame, onto the wall. Its shadow from the table lamp exaggerates its size. I lose the spider behind a chair near the wall. A minute later, it turns around and crawls on the wall under the window.

Just a little spider. It’s not hurting anything.

Eventually, it returns to the window. Does it want to get outside? It’s cold out there. It snowed a couple of days ago. The snow has since melted, but it’s still chilly. Too cold for a spider, I imagine.

What does the spider see in the blackness outside? Or is it focused only in the here and now, only on the window and the warmth inside where it crawls?

I nurse the cup of coffee and watch the spider for close to half an hour, the cat cozy on my bathrobe. The spider doesn’t go far. Just around the window.

Eventually, the cat leaves my lap. I find a tissue and smush the spider. I knew from the outset that the spider would not face a happy ending.

Why rush the scene, though?

Silence.

I start every morning this way, seven days a week. A cat in my lap, a cup of coffee in one hand, a Bible in the other.

I see stories every so often that say the busier we are, the more quiet time we need to get through it. Many of us live at a breakneck pace, and feel like we are wasting our time if every moment is not planned out, if we aren’t doing something every minute.

A long-ago illness has proved a lifelong blessing for me in this regard. When I was 20, I got pneumonia. I lost 15 pounds in 10 days because even the sight of food made me nauseous. (I don’t recommend that as a diet plan, by the way.)

As a result, I get tired easily. Still do. I cannot work 12-hour days, go out in the evening, get four hours of sleep and repeat. Just can’t do that. I’ll get sick. Don’t have that stamina.

When God ordered us to take a Sabbath, He wasn’t kidding. A day of rest recharges us. All of us need down time, whether we’re susceptible to pneumonia or not.

Perhaps I need more down time than you do, but I’ll bet you’d benefit from a little chill time as well.

Spend some time with God. He likes that. You will too.

If more of us did that, I’ll bet fewer of us would run red lights and cut others off in traffic in a big hurry to get who knows where. Perhaps we’d actually show up to church on time. Perhaps we’d be friendlier to everyone – everyone – at work. Even that one person who’s hard to get along with.

We might smile more. We might not need so much coffee (or something stronger) to get us through the day.

Sunrises are beautiful. So are sunsets. When’s the last time you saw one or the other, and stopped to admire it – without taking a picture to post on Facebook? Can you admire beauty just for what it is?

Spiders are good to have around. They capture insects in their webs, often flies and other creatures we’d rather not have in or around our house. Why are we so quick to kill them?

I looked up “spiders” on Wikipedia, which I almost never quote in this blog. The very first line is this: Spiders (order Araneae) are air-breathing arthropods that have eight legs and chelicerae with fangs that inject venom.

Even Wikipedia hates spiders. Fangs and venom? When you see an eensy weensy spider crawling across your living room window, do you see fangs and venom? Do spiders attack you? Kill you? Make you sick, even?

We do so much more damage to them than they do to us.

Spiders don’t make a sound. If you don’t see it, you won’t know it’s there, unless it has spun a web to catch those annoying buzzing insects flying around your house. What has a spider ever done to you?

Silence.

I shared a few moments this morning with a spider, in addition to my cat. Two living things.

I did kill the spider, because that’s what humans do. We don’t like creepy crawly things taking over our abodes. But for a few minutes, we shared space.

And it was good.

Overcoming the Great Sadness

I think deeply, but I do not feel. I buried my feelings deep inside my heart a long time ago.

This is my escape, my way to conceal pain. I can’t remember the last time I cried. Seriously. I rarely laugh. I’ll share my thoughts, but rarely my longings and deep desires. It’s too much to expect that my deep desires might ever come true.

This is my Great Sadness.

And this is why I was moved by The Shack, showing in theaters now, based on the book by the same name (which I own).

Some Christians are bothered by the theology presented in the film. I think that misses the point. The main character in the movie suffers a horrible tragedy not of his doing. There’s a bad guy to blame. It’s totally unfair. The main character, Mack, has a right to be angry. Doesn’t he? Let the bad guy burn in hell!

The author calls the tragedy a Great Sadness.

Do you have a Great Sadness? The Shack is for you.

Returning to the scene of the crime

Mack’s Great Sadness is a dramatic event that most of us cannot relate to personally. But I’m sure each of us can point to “unfair” events in our lives.

Mack is drawn back to the shack, where the horrible crime was committed. He had to face his anger and bitterness head-on, in the very place where the anger began. Author John Eldredge, who wrote “Wild At Heart,” calls this re-entering your wound. Every man (and woman) has a deep wound in his life. To overcome that wound, we must re-enter it and let God heal it, Eldredge writes.

This is difficult. I haven’t figured out how to do that yet in my own life.

God as a woman?

While at the shack, Mack meets God. This is where the theology gets interesting. God is portrayed as a black woman. Jesus is a Middle Eastern-looking guy, an accurate representation, actually. The Holy Spirit is a tall, thin Asian woman.

Is representing God as a woman sacrilegious? I don’t think so. The Bible says “God created humankind in his image … male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:27, emphasis added)

God has femaleness in Him. Otherwise, He could not have created women. We rarely acknowledge that.

For most of the movie, Mack needed a mother’s touch to face his deep wound. This is why God appeared to him as a woman. There’s one scene where God appears as a white man, because the lesson Mack needed to learn at that point required a man’s point of view. In the movie, then, God appears as a woman and a man, depending on the circumstances and the lesson Mack was being taught.

Can God not do this for us as well? The Bible calls God Father many times, but never specifically calls God “mother.” Does God have maternal qualities? Certainly. There’s no doubt.

As a man, it’s easy for me to bury my feelings deep in my heart. I’d rather do something than speak it. It’s the way I’m wired. Do I need maternal leadership to help me discover my feelings and share them? I’m sure I do.

Jesus did things in the movie that He would have done in real life as well. In the movie as in the Bible, He was a carpenter. He had a shed and built something (you’ll have to see the movie to find out what it was). He walked on water – there’s a pond behind the shack. Mack walked on water, too. Except when he tried to do it on his own; then he sank. “It works better if we do it together,” Jesus told him. Um, yes. The real Jesus would say something like that, too.

Finding justice

Jesus led Mack across the pond to meet another person, called Wisdom. This is a powerful scene that describes justice – real justice – better than I’ve seen or heard it described anywhere else. Life is not fair. How do we deal with the Great Sadness in our lives when it shows up unexpectedly? Where is God in the midst of pain and suffering? Why does God allow awful things to happen to us?

God hears us when we ask these deep questions, even if we ask in anger, sorrow and/or frustration. And we must re-enter the wound at its source to get the full answer.

The Holy Spirit tended a garden, which was a beautiful mess. Mack agreed with that assessment as he walked through it. The Spirit told Mack the garden represented his heart. You’ll have to watch the movie to see what the Holy Spirit does with that garden.

Finding forgiveness

When God appears to Mack as a man, He helps Mack forgive the evil man who caused the Great Sadness in his life. Whether the evil man deserves forgiveness or not is irrelevant. Whether the evil man accepts Mack’s forgiveness also is irrelevant.

Forgiveness is a decision Mack must make on his own.

Which he can’t, of course. That’s why God had to meet him at the shack and show him how to forgive.

Forgiveness does not reverse tragedy. It acknowledges that the Great Sadness is very real, but that the Great Sadness does not have to define who we are. By the hand of God, we can overcome it.

This takes time. It’s not a one-time deal, and the movie makes this clear. God gets it. He is patient, and helps us along this journey.

This message is so timely today. I see so much anger around me. I daresay many of us have a Great Sadness in our hearts, something unfair that happened that angers us and that it’s easy to blame God for. Even if He didn’t cause it, He allowed it, right?

See the movie. Take that question directly to God.

The God of the Bible will answer it. You and I both will find healing as we talk honestly with God, and follow His lead.

I haven’t figured it all out yet. I’m still a work in progress.

Finding healing

There’s hope. There is healing. It happens all the time. But our hearts have to be ready for it. God will not force His hand. He gave us free will; we can push Him away if we want to.

There are consequences for that, one of which is that we will miss out on so many blessings that God wants to give us.

One of His biggest blessings is joy, which comes when the Great Sadness is defeated in our hearts.

This is what I saw in The Shack. If you are analyzing the movie with your head only and not your heart, you’ll miss the big picture. Just as you’ll miss the big picture of life itself.

It’s not about judgment. It’s about forgiveness.

That’s the only way the Great Sadness disappears.

The most controversial man who ever lived

jesusthe-passion-of-the-christ

Who is Jesus Christ, really?

Everyone has an opinion about him. He lived, he didn’t live, he died, he was resurrected, he did not get resurrected. He was a good guy. He was a liar. He was the promised Messiah.

Our pastor just preached an excellent (although long) sermon on this topic.

https://www.opendoor.tv/sermons/misunderstood/

It matters what we think on this issue. As our pastor said, Jesus is the most polarizing figure who ever lived. And our answer is literally a decision of life and death.

Jesus’ message was (and still is) love. He wants the best for us. He wants us to care for each other.

What’s so controversial about that?

Love has limitations. We can do whatever we want, but that doesn’t mean everything is good for us.

That’s where we often disagree with Jesus. Who does Jesus think he is that he can tell us what to do, or not to do?

                                                                         

Two sides of Jesus

Let me explain the two photos I chose to illustrate this blog. The one on the left is typical of Jesus photos you’ll see. He is calm, compassionate, loving, gentle, beautiful, patient, kind … yes, Jesus was all those things.

But that Jesus wasn’t crucified.

The other photo, from the 2004 movie The Passion of the Christ, shows Jesus being crucified. We don’t like this Jesus because it represents confrontation, loss, torture, suffering and death.

Both of these photos represent the real Jesus. To grasp who he really was (and is), we need to understand both photos.

                                                                       

The Ten Commandments are written as a list of “don’t do this” – don’t put other gods before the one true God, don’t commit murder, don’t commit adultery, don’t covet, etc. Why the limitations? Because God knows these things will hurt us.

Our experiences prove this correct. When we commit adultery, relationships die. When we covet what someone else has, people get hurt. Sometimes literally. Where’s the good in that?

When talking about murder, look at Chicago. Yet, why can’t we stop doing it?

http://www.cnn.com/2016/09/06/us/chicago-homicides-visual-guide/

My life revolves around me. No one else. That’s the way each of us is wired.

Love is a choice. It’s not automatic.

Good vs. evil

There’s a huge battle going on inside each of us. Good vs. evil. Love vs. hate. Me vs. you. God vs. Satan, if you will.

If my way clashes with your way, my way is right.

Right?

We may not say that in so many words, but we live that way.

Which side do I choose?

Tomorrow, I will have to make the same choice again. It’s a never-ending battle.

Looking at the struggle this way, how can we ever get it right? How can we ever choose love, and choose it – with its freeing limitations – over and over?

Who is Jesus?

That’s where Jesus Christ comes in.

People who say he’s a good guy, a prophet perhaps, miss the point. They believe that’s all he is. Just a man who healed people and did a lot of good deeds.

He did do those things. But he did more than that.

Jesus said things like, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)

He healed people because he truly cares about our needs. Why? Because his Father does, and Jesus was introducing us to a personal God who loves us. Who wants the best for us.

Become like children

As parents, we have to put limits on our children sometimes. Don’t cross the busy street. Share your toys. Listen to your teacher. Eat your veggies.

But we get upset when God tries to put limitations on us, such as the Ten Commandments. We’re adults, after all. We can make our own decisions.

Right?

Jesus also said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them. For the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” (Mat. 19:14)

Jesus was not saying that only children can become Christians. He was implying that, like children, our hearts need to be willing to learn new things, try new ideas, to realize that other people might have a better idea, that God might actually be right.

We focus on politics. Taxes. Road construction. Vacations. Cute family photos. Whether it will rain this weekend. Global warming (ie, how hot it’s been this summer).

To what end?

Is there an end?

Of course there is. All of us will die one day. That’s a guarantee. We don’t prepare for it very well. It hurts deeply when a loved one dies. Perhaps that’s why we avoid the subject until we are forced to face it.

But why wait until death, or near death, to discover what life is really all about?

Limitations

It’s because of those limitations, isn’t it? We don’t like being told what to do.

We won’t admit that right and wrong even exist, because that means we might be wrong sometimes.

Right?

Jesus is very clear that right and wrong do exist. For our own benefit.

But Jesus picks far fewer battles than we think he does. Jesus honestly does not care who becomes our next president, for example.

In Biblical times, Rome ruled Israel with an iron fist. The Jews were oppressed. They weren’t looking for a spiritual Messiah to get them to heaven; they were looking for a political Messiah to rescue them from Rome.

Jesus refused to play that game. He talked a lot about the kingdom of God, and very little about the Roman empire.

The spiritual battle

Jesus saw a bigger picture.

The United States is one of hundreds of countries in the world. Our next president will lead for only four years, maybe eight. He or she will make decisions that last longer than that, certainly, but there are checks and balances in our system of government.

There’s a spiritual battle going on here. We can’t physically see it, so many of us pretend it doesn’t matter, or doesn’t exist.

Even demons know who Jesus is (James 2:19).

Most of us believe in angels. We love the idea of a heavenly being looking out for us. Why, then, are demons so hard to accept? Demons are nothing more than angels who have rejected God’s authority.

The war between angels and demons takes place in the hearts of men and women, boys and girls. Every single one of us. Across the world. Across time – past, present and future.

Whose side are you on?

That’s not a political question. It’s a spiritual one.

Your answer will affect how you live today. In eternity forever, yes, but also today. Here on Earth.

No one else can answer this question for you. Or me. Others can give you advice, but the choice is yours.

Choose wisely.