Explaining Newtown

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.

Matthew 6:14-15

“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.

Psalm 147:3

“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.


Tragedy, Tears, and Joy

It’s hard to¬†write this morning. My heart is heavy, my soul is aching. In the aftermath of the shootings in Newtown, it seems¬†ill-timed¬†to write about joy. While I do not have any children of my own, the senselessness and the pain of this tragedy rocks me to my core. I do not have the words to offer that would bring any comfort or even soothe the smallest part of our grief.

But to not write this as I had planned, to write of joy, would be to fly in the face of everything I have been teaching over the last few weeks. Because we are talking about joy, not happiness.

Happiness is influenced by the world around us, by our current situation, our wants and our needs. Happiness can be destroyed easily because it is manmade. Joy however is different. Joy springs internally, it comes from the very source of our life, our Creator. Joy comes from God. One of the cornerstones of Christian joy is that it survives tragedy, survives emotions and situations. Because God is everlasting, so is our joy. But that does not mean we will not feel grief, indeed because of our joy, grief feels so much sharper in comparison.

It is in these times, when the grief of the world lays heavy on our hearts, that we must look to our joy, must build it, strengthen it. Here are some ways that we can tend to the joy in our souls. I am not going into a full detail from Wednesday nights message, just some scriptures and a few comments about each one.

1. Recognize God as Joyful

Zephaniah 3:17

“The Lord your God is in your midst,
    a mighty one who will save;
he will rejoice over you with gladness;
    he will quiet you by his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing.”

God takes great pleasure in you, to the point that He bursts into joyous song when He thinks about you! God is not a distant judge wagging a finger at you and waiting for you to mess up. Rather He is a joyous Father, waiting to greet you and erupt with joy when you come into His presence!

2. Celebrate God’s Attributes in Worship

Psalm 66:1-4

“Shout for joy to God, all the earth;
    sing the glory of his name;
    give to him glorious praise!
Say to God, “How awesome are your deeds!
    So great is your power that your enemies come cringing to you.
All the earth worships you
    and sings praises to you;
¬†¬†¬† they sing praises to your name.‚ÄĚ

Joy is one of the many attributes of God. So why when we worship Him do we so often look like we are being asked to eat soap? Worship should be an extension and celebration of the joy of the Lord! Dance, jump, spin, shout, lift your hands!

3. Make a Commitment to Others

Romans 12:15

“Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.”

Joy is not only directed vertically (to and from God), but horizontally (person to person),¬†as well. Make¬†a committment to rejoice with each other! Joy is contagious, share in the joy of those around you! And don’t forget the second part of this verse, share in the grief of others as well. Life is not all sunshine, but by sharing both joy and grief, we build each other up.

4. Ignite a Passion for Evangelism

Philemon 6

“and I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective for the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ.”

Want to see joy? Share your faith, see the joy of someone coming from darkness into light. The burdens of life falling from their shoulders. The angels in heaven rejoice when one who is lost is found, and we should too. In fact according to Philemon by sharing our faith, we come into a fullness of understanding about Christ and all He has done.

5. Stay Close to Jesus

John 15:10-11

“If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”

John 15:4

“Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.”

In order to find joy, we don’t need to search for it, rather we need to seek and stay close to the who Himself is joy. If you want a joy that is complete, lacking nothing, stay close to Jesus.

Joy is what sets us apart from the world. We don’t have to be lost in a mad scramble for happiness in position, power or possessions.¬†Instead we are secure in the¬†everlasting joy of peace, love, and hope that comes through¬†communion with our Savior.

Having trouble with your joy?¬†Pursue Jesus, make Him first and everything else second. Your joy will be¬†brought to overflowing and¬†spread to others. Don’t have joy? Today, wherever you are, pray to God, make Jesus the Lord of your life, and get ready for a joy filled ride like no other.