On January 16th we were able to gather with students from two other local churches for a combined youth service at our local after school center. I was very pleased to see our students mixing so well with others from different churches and backgrounds, most who they had never met. It was a great night and will definitely be something we do again in the future.
We had a team teaching from myself and a youth leader from one of the other groups. The topic had been put on my heart in November when we began planning and it was simple. To share how the Word of God was a gift to each of us, and to share personally a scripture that we felt God had given us as a gift in our lives and walk with Christ. I chose a scripture that God dropped in my heart while I was going through a very tough and challenging time in my journey.
One of the biggest obstacles in our walk with God is that we often try to earn favor or to work for our salvation. When in reality there is nothing we can do to earn our place in the Kingdom or to gain redemption. This often leads us to places where we struggle mightily with sin and shame, because we start to compare ourselves with other Christians or try to hold ourselves to an impossible standard of perfection. This was the moment I was living through at the time God gave me this jewel to meditate on and to bring me hope.
Isaiah 61:10 (NLT)
I am overwhelmed with joy in the Lord my God!
For he has dressed me with the clothing of salvation
and draped me in a robe of righteousness.
I am like a bridegroom in his wedding suit
or a bride with her jewels.
What God showed me that day was something that I had always known, but never truly understood. My salvation was a gift! It was never something I could never purchase or earn or secure myself. My position in God’s grace and mercy was given to me by Him!
Isaiah said it “He has dressed me with the clothing of salvation”, I never did anything myself except to ask for forgiveness and to confess my faith in Jesus. And BAM! God gave me new clothes.
I love the way The Message says it “explode in praise”. Having so much joy it cannot be contained. I still struggle with this, I am only human, but I can always open this gift when I need to. And so can you.
Today in our Junior High class we had an open discussion about the Newtown tragedy. I wanted to give these kids, not so far removed from the age and environment of the children who we lost a chance to ask questions, and express their initial reactions and emotions. We watched a CNN summary of the events, it felt numbing watching and listening to the witnesses and about what happened. This immediately followed by the video of President Obama’s reaction to the shootings, I can honestly say it was difficult for me not to let my emotions run the show and shed the tears that have come so easily the past few days. I than started with a simple question… What was your first response when you heard about the shootings?
We got a response from every student. Almost all of them have a younger brother or sister in an elementary school, their first thoughts were of them. About their safety. One student said she just wanted her sister to come home so she could hug her. I heard the raw emotion in their voices, these were honest, heartfelt, and in most cases brokenhearted answers. These kids felt the pain, they knew what it was to feel this loss, even though it was a thousand miles away, and families they didn’t know. It brought about my second question to them.
How do you feel now. Answers came quickly. Sad. Scared.
They told me of how they were sad because of the losses of these families, sad for these lives cut short, sad for those who remained and had to pick-up their pieces. Hearing them talk, my heart broke for them, that they had to know such loss, such pain, and such tragedy at such an early age. Than they told me that they were afraid. Afraid that this could happen where they go to school, that such a horrible thing could happen in their world, where they live everyday. I told them not to be afraid, I told them of God’s love, I read this to them;
1 John 4:18
“ There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.”
I told them that tragedy happens, even when we are faithful to God, bad things happen. But I also told them of heaven, and of paradise with their Lord and Savior. How that when their life is over, now, or in eighty years, that they had a home to go to. Our lives go on, not here on earth, but in the presence of the Creator of the Universe. I told them that God’s love quiets our fears.
Bad things happen everyday, not on this kind of scale or of this nature, but bad things nonetheless. When he see them on the news, hear about them through the internet or a teacher tells us at school, we must filter what we hear through the Bible. The Word of God brings comfort and peace, and the more time we spend immersed in it, the more prepared we are when tragedy strikes. We become saturated with God’s love and truth. We begin to have an understanding, an understanding of loss and grief, but viewed through the lens of eternity.
The other thing we heard from them was anger. These kids were angry that someone could do something like this. To gun down innocent children and to murder their protectors in cold blood, the very fact that this happened, it made them angry. I told them they had a right to be angry. Anger is a natural response to such a horrific event. And many people would have anger, even hatred, toward Adam Lanza, the shooter.
But I went on. The shooter did something terrible, something incomprehensible, and that was the simple truth. He murdered twenty children, six adults, and then took his own life. But what if he had lived? And than what if he had asked God’s forgiveness, made Jesus the Lord and Savior of his life? He would be saved just like the rest of us who have called on the merciful name of Jesus and received the gift of grace. One day we would all be in heaven, praising God together.
We can be angry, but it is a righteous anger, not a cold hatred. Our students related this type of anger to when their parents would be angry with them and had to discipline them, but in love, not in hatred. It’s ok to be angry for what he did, but to not forgive goes against God’s Word.
“For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”
Righteous anger is only in balance when it is paired with God’s mercy and love.
The final thing we talked about was reasoning, blame. Whenever tragedy strikes, we naturally want to blame someone or something for its occurrence. We talked about how even after just a few days, the media, and a few other organizations have been circling and hovering over gun control and mental health. I agree that clearly Adam Lanza needed some help, whatever his problems were, they were rooted in mental illness. As my Pastor put it his heart was beyond calloused, it was seared. But that’s not the answer.
And its natural for gun control to be a firestorm of an issue after an incident like this happens it always is. But calling this a gun control issues is like sticking your finger in bursting dam, it won’t even slow the tide. This act was committed by a 20-year old man, raised in a nation and society that does not value God or standards of absolute morality and has removed Him from our everyday lives, schools, and government. We asked God to butt out, and now we are reaping a harvest of a generation that is lost on a path with no hope, and no compass to find their way. The issue is a lack of God, not an abundance of guns.
I truly believe that. It is not a political issue, or a gun issue, or a mental health issue. It’s a sin and godlessness issue.
I told our students that because it is not an issue man can address or fix, does not mean that there is no hope. There is amazing hope, because God specializes in impossibilities, healing our brokenness is the core of His heart.
“He heals the brokenhearted
and binds up their wounds.”
If you’re a parent and your reading this, please, have open discussion with your child about this if they are aware of the Newtown shootings. This is a highly sensitive and traumatic subject, the worst thing you could do is ignore it. If they know, they are hurt. And if they are hurt, they need healing. May God Bless you and keep you.