The 1 October Shooting; One Year Later

people-run-from-the-route-91-harvest-country-music-festival-on-october-1-2017-in-las-vegas-nevada

The human mind has the uncanny, and truth be told, sometimes unwanted ability to recall the dates of tragic moments like permanent tattoos that can never be washed off.  Ask any American and depending on their age, they can tell you where they were or what they were doing when they first heard of the assassinations of JFK or MLK, or the untimely deaths of Elvis, Michael, Whitney or Lady Diana, or that day in September, 9/11. Today marks the one-year anniversary of what we refer to as 1 October here in Las Vegas,  a day in which evil was unleashed on our city resulting in fifty-eight deaths, over five hundred injuries and scores of people permanently disfigured or paralyzed. It is a day when all of us can tell you where we were when we saw the first Breaking News reports.

A sea of thousands had descended on Las Vegas for the Route 91 Music Festival.  Jason Aldeen was performing on stage when the first series of “pops” were heard.  Many at first believed them to be firecrackers set off by rowdy concert-goers.  But when some noticed that their friends who were standing next to them just a second before were now laying at their feet in a pool of blood, the reality of the situation became evident as panic set in.  A sniper was unleashing a hail of bullets from a semi-automatic weapon with a bump stock on them from some unknown position, and the throngs of fans had nowhere to take cover.  Ordinary people became unsuspecting heroes, giving their lives that day to protect others from the gunfire.  Some were wounded because they simply chose to stay by the sides of people they didn’t know so they wouldn’t die alone.  As a parent my first thought was dear God, where are my kids?  My youngest son was employed at the time at the same hotel property where the sniper was perched.  I could not rest easy until I had made contact with all my boys and was assured they were not in harm’s way.  Many parents could not and would not be able to make such confirmation.  Our city was forever changed on 1 October.

As the popular song lyrics remind us, what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger!  This tragedy affected everyone here.  It seems we all had some connection to people who were in attendance.  And those who didn’t still grieved deeply and sympathized with those who had suffered such tremendous loss.  Those who died that evening were young, in their prime, full of hopes and dreams never to be realized.  The outpouring of support, of aid, of “what can I do” attitudes was infectious and on display for the world to witness.  Local blood banks had to eventually turn people away as lines formed blocks long to donate blood for the victims.  Those not donating took time off to provide food and water for those in line as many would spend 8-10 hours to donate their blood.  Las Vegas became #vegasstrong when tragedy came calling.  For us, 1 October will be forever etched in our memories.

All of us, if we have lived at all, will have dates from our past that we pause and commemorate, the birth of a child or grandchild, the day we married our forever life partner, the year we received our diplomas or degrees-dates we celebrate fondly and with festivity.  However, we will also have those more solemn infamous dates that we may try to forget to no avail. The pain we manage to keep controlled 364 days of thee year becomes fresh wounds on that one day we can’t escape.  It might be the day when you had to say goodbye to your parent as they were laid to rest or a spouse who died before their time.  It might be the day your family became torn apart when the parents decided to go their separate ways.  It might be a day when you were a victim of some horrible crime against you or your family.  For many, it could be the day when you lost your best friend and companion through divorce.  What was once celebrated birthdays and anniversaries  are now reminders of an empty chair at the dining room table; a day filled with joy as two people come together in marriage is now a day when you hide after the relationship is over.  We all have similar stories, dates we wish would never be brought to memory that instead hunt us down like movie haunts, constantly tormenting us with no mercy. We may rid ourselves of videos, photos-anything that brings to memory events that we no longer celebrate, in some vain attempt for a sense of peace over tragedies for which there is never any real closure.

How do we cope with such tragic events as survivors of events we never wanted or saw coming? Where do we find hope to continue on a journey when every fiber of our being finds it easier to just give up and give in?  A Prophet in the Old Testament, Jeremiah, was in anguish as he witnessed the destruction of his beloved city.  His sentiments are recorded for us in the seldom read-from book of Lamentations.  He inquired of God many of the same questions we ask in the midst of trials and suffering.  And yet, his knowledge of God’s character would override his fear of his circumstances.  Listen to his words in Lamentations 3 from the Message Translation:

“I’ll never forget the trouble, the utter lostness, the taste of ashes, the poison I’ve swallowed. I remember it all-oh how well I remember-the feeling of hitting bottom.  But there’s one thing I remember, and remembering, I keep grip on hope: God’s loyal love couldn’t have dried up. They’re created new every morning.  How great is your faithfulness! I’m sticking with God (I say it over and over). He’s all I’ve got left.  – I called out your name, O God, from the bottom of the pit.  You listened when I called out “don’t shut your ears, get me out of here-save me”. You came close when I called out.  You said, “Its going to be alright!”

I am no stranger to unsolicited tragedy.  I am perhaps overly transparent in my anguish over events in my personal life over the past few years.  Some have advised that I be less open and more discreet in my writings or my social media posts.  Some of my closer friends and even family have disconnected from me over my overt disclosures as I wrestle with change.  But these types of writings are not employed as sympathy-seeking compositions, but rather glimpses into struggles endured through hope like that of Jeremiah.  I write so that others may know that they are not alone in their tears and that there is light and recovery attainable through a supernatural peace given to us by God even when we can’t sense his presence or determine his twisted ways of teaching.  I’ve said many times before that I would never in a million years volunteer to be God’s toy of illustration-I’d rather have been overlooked-I would have been perfectly okay entering my reward with no more than a kindergarten education in spiritual maturity.  But that wasn’t the plan.  I am instead chosen to be a virtual learning device for others and an encouragement to anyone watching.  The lesson being taught on this 1 October anniversary is that there is hope after loss, there is life after all but physical death, there is restoration after mass destruction, and there is beauty to be formed in the ashes.

Today, how I wish I could personally hug every person who suffered such tragic losses one year ago, but it’s logistically impossible.  I would want them to know they are not alone, their losses are a part of our forever history, and our love for them and that of our heavenly Father knows no bounds.  We will all remember and cope with today in our own way, through memorial services, through watching recaps of that tragic night, through prayer for healing and comfort for all involved.  My personal prayer for my family, my kids, and all who have been touched by days they wish were not a part of their history, is that the God who preserves would keep their hearts and minds in perfect peace, a peace that can only come from a relationship with Him, and a peace that surpasses all our understanding.  I pray that the lingering fear resulting from tragic events that seek to paralyze us and hold us hostage would be overcome with love, as God’s perfect love casts down all fear.  I pray that hearts destroyed and void of hope will find a renewed sense of courage and purpose in moving forward so that all may see that there is life abundantly after passing through the valley of shadows and death.  And I pray that as I write in detail about my personal struggles with doubt, with faith, with hopelessness and hurt, that others will be encouraged to fight, to endure, to press on through the pain knowing that the story never ends as long as we have breath, and that we have the ability to dictate the words that form the chapters of our biographies.  Today we remember, and we move forward.  #vegasstrong, #vegasstronger.  God bless each of you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Job’s Story: Restored But Scarred

dsc09879

I am convinced that the unknown author of the Biblical book of Job simply got the name wrong; surely it’s the Book of Joe. The similarities are to striking to be coincidental, the lessons taught touching nerves that cause us to wince.  Perhaps you can relate. Maybe you believe it should be the Book of Steve or the Book of Cathy because you know too well the pain of living from one calamity to another, waiting on answers that never come, believing for miracles that never come to fruition.

The recording of Job is one of the great mysteries of the faith and one that most of us if honest really struggle with.  It’s tantamount to asking your dad “why” only to hear him respond, “because I said so”.  We in our selfish nature want to attach to this story our understanding of justice and fairness.  Our finite comprehension of God wants to ask the same questions Job’s friends did.  We who read carefully want to inquire of God why it is the He pointed out Job to satan and why He removed His hand of protection from a man that the Bible describes as the most righteous man in all the earth at the time. Surely if Job was not spared what chance do we stand who would hardly be labeled as righteous?  Why must rain fall on both the just and the unjust? Aren’t we supposed to be blessed as believers-to be highly favored and to prosper in all we do?  Isn’t the Word of God unchanging and His promises unbreakable? Or is the hedge of protection around us only so high?  Why must believers suffer great losses here on earth if we are attempting to walk upright before God?  Age-old and still unanswered questions that have always been and will always be.

The story of Job is one that most of us have heard or read so many times that we feel we could tell it ourselves.  It is always preached the same as if the sermon is simply a boilerplate template from Sermons Du Jour that any seminary grad student has access to. But there are aspects to this story when digging deeper that you never hear taught from the pulpit.  One is simply an oversight, that of Job’s wife.  Those who mention her do so with contempt as the devil’s advocate without considering her plight.  For instance, the ten children Job lost, she bore, and a mother’s grief is unbearable. She shared in Job’s wealth so she too suffered in his losses. And when she had lost all her children and her financial stability she alone was left to take care of a husband who was sick and helpless.  Yes she spoke out in anger at a low point in her life, and so have I-many times.  But she remained and endured and is seldom credited for her faithfulness to her husband “in sickness and health, good times and bad”. Much more could be written in her defense.

But while reading the story again, as I often find myself doing during those times when I can relate, I saw something I missed the first hundred times I read the story, something obvious but not noticed before. When Job’s life is preached we usually hear the same outline, Job good, satan bad, Job loses everything, Job repents, God restores Job double for his losses.  The implication is that faithfulness in God always pays off in the end and that everything lost will be restored many times over.  It makes for a feel good Osteen-esque sermon, even though we still can’t get past the human response to question God’s purpose in picking on such a godly man. But this is what I missed and what I want to share in case you missed it as well. Job did not emerge from this fierce Heavenly tug of war without serious permanent scars and painful reminders of his season of loss and torment. First there is the consideration of his physical affliction.  Scripture says that upon satan’s appeal God allowed him to attack Job’s body.  It is recorded that Job was suffering from painful boils from the soles of his feet to the crown of his head.  It also says that Job tried to escape the agony by scraping these boils.  I would never interject what the Bible leaves out, but we do have knowledge of boils through modern medicine and from this we can deduce that these boils, just as they do now, left permanent scars, especially given the fact that Job scraped these, a definite no-no in any modern medical journal because doing so increases scarring. In reading of God’s restoration of Job in chapter 42, no mention is made of Job’s physical healing.  We can assume in time his health was restored but the Bible is silent so we can only apply what we know of these boils now-painful with permanent scarring.  If so, every time Job looked in a mirror he would have been reminded of his epic battle with satan. And if like me many of the same feelings and questions would have surfaced and Job would have to remind himself each and every time of God’s faithfulness.

While Job’s physical state is left somewhat to speculation, there is something else I noticed that is right there as plain as day-something else that would have served as a painful memorial to Job’s battle.  Scripture records that everything Job lost was restored two fold, and that he was even blessed with ten more children, the daughters being described as beautiful beyond belief. But Job is recorded as living another one hundred and forty years after his season of testing.  Here is what I missed.

Everyday for one hundred and forty years Job had to walk past the graves of his first ten children.

We are given a glimpse as to how dearly Job loved his kids.  We know they were adults so Job was a part of their lives for many years and they were a big part of his. We know Job considered their welfare so much that he offered up sacrifices for their sins so God would have mercy upon them in case they stepped out of line with Him. As we read how the story unfolds each messenger comes and relays to Job how his oxen and donkeys were stolen and his servants killed, how his sheep were wiped out by a fire from heaven, how his camels were stolen and those servants also killed, all with  no response from Job. It is only after the last messenger tells Job that his children all perished when their house caved in on them that we read Job became distraught, tore his robe, shaved his head and fell to the ground in grief. It is apparent that Job’s greatest and most unbearable loss was the death of his sons and daughters.

Decorating the graves of our loved ones is a tradition.  Even knowing our loved one is with the Lord we are compelled to visit the place where we laid the shell to rest and to remember the life and reflect on the earthly absence in somber remembrance. Most likely Job’s children were all buried on his property with stone markers that would be evident from a long distance and I would imagine Job would have been compelled to visit, decorate and remember, just as we do today.  Yes Job was restored and his faithful wife was blessed to give birth to ten more children (blessed? that would make 20 natural births). But those who have lost children or spouses are painfully aware that no number of children or any blessing of a new mate will ever erase the memory of those you loved and lost. Through photos, memories and grave stones they exist forever.

Job’s earthly restoration was miraculous and generous, but not complete. He was left with scars, battle wounds and constant reminders of his testing and lived with them for another one hundred and forty years. To be honest I have never liked the story of Job, primarily because I have a hard time getting past my selfish arrogance in questioning God’s fairness and purpose with my finite comprehension. I don’t like or relish the thought of being the battleground God uses to prove a point to satan.  I want to grow in the knowledge of Christ but without the pain that accompanies the testing and refining process. I don’t want my friends looking upon me with pity.  I want to be the one who raises other’s spirits, the life of the party, the happy-go-lucky person with the Teflon persona that nothing sticks to. My desire is to be that person who is blessed on earth by a wealthy God who spoils me with goodness that the preacher describes in his false teaching of prosperity by works. But that is not my life and it’s probably not yours either.

Scripture is clear that we will each be rewarded in a heavenly kingdom.  We are told to lay up for ourselves treasure in Heaven.  We are told that our good deeds are credited to a heavenly account. All indications are that we must live life and endure trials, hardships and losses here on earth without any guarantee of a Job like restoration. We will go through periods, seasons and for some lifetimes of silence from a God we have to trust in the darkest of times and the fiercest of storms. We sometimes have to navigate life when we can’t see our hand in front of our face and can only take one step forward at a time when the winds are blowing directly against us. We have to pray when there are no words, study when there is little desire and believe when all indicators suggest not to. If there was a magic potion or spell to make this process we all face easier, I’d own the world. God knows our doubts, sees our struggles with faith, hears our non-verbal prayers and feels our distress. I wish I couldn’t write these words from personal trials and seasons of my own doubt, but I can and I do. When tears no longer come, when the pain is so intense it causes numbness, when all hope and light seems to have vanquished from your world, God remains.

Just one more observation from this story, one which supports the notion of a heavenly reward and eternal afterlife. Job received back double for all his losses, except his children.  He lost ten but was only blessed with ten, not twenty.  Did God oops?  No. Job realized that portion of his restoration when he was reunited with them in paradise.  God didn’t forget or short change Job, and He won’t forget us even when we are tempted to give in to our own disbelief. We have no other recourse. It has to be so.

 

 

 

 

My Safe Place

img_20160926_184345361_hdr

Most of us tend to have that certain special place we can run to where we can escape or just decompress.  For some it may be a cabin deep in the woods surrounded by nature.  For others it might be a hike up to Emerald Lake in CO. For me, it’s easy and has always been the same since I was just a young boy. I Love the Beach! I go every year to my favorite beach on the Pacific Coast and in fact was there just last week.  For me there is nothing more relaxing than playing in the waves during the day or more breath taking as the sunset at night, as I attempted to capture in the image attached to this post. It is my safe place.

While I enjoy corporate worship and my private alone time, I am never more close to God than when I am on the beach.  I am in awe of the power of His creation.  When I try to comprehend how the powerful surge of the ocean waves become humbled and silenced by the tiny grains of sand that make up the beach, I short circuit. I am reminded of God’s response to Job in the same book when He asks “…who commands the waves you can come this far and no further…”. When I sit and witness that natural phenomenon I am left speechless. I feel very tiny and insignificant in comparison, but here, it’s ok. This is my place and I don’t have be concerned with my worth or my worthiness.  Here I am not this party or that party, red or blue, upper, lower or middle. Here there are no labels, no hatred or biases, no trending social issues or systematic barriers.  Here there is a sense of a much higher power who values us even more than the creation that we marvel at.  My safe place.

But when I’m on the beach there is more going on than simply the awesome display of a creative God. I can find a sense of restoration or readjustment here. I am a man of many mistakes, many failures, many bad decisions. I am imperfect by definition and in daily need of reconciliation. Truth be known I should be on the beach every week and not just once annually, just for this reason alone. For me the waves and the ocean have a very significant and symbolic effect on my imperfections.  There is a peaceful calm that occurs with watching the tides.  It’s almost as if each wave that comes to shore removes a bit of my imperfection and takes it back out to sea, far away from me.  Indiscretions, out to sea; bad choices, out to sea; feelings of failure, out to sea. The healing can’t be described or fully understood. Yet again, however, I am reminded of scripture that deals with this very notion of sin and sea.  In Micah 7:19, the Prophet says “He will turn again and have compassion on us; He will subdue our iniquities and will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea”.

As I usually do I waded in the shallow water looking for any cool sea shells I could retrieve for my grandkids.  The water would only be clear for a few seconds to reveal what was lying on the sandy bottom.  And then a wave would come to shore and wash everything back out to sea-where there were many shells just a few seconds ago was now a cleared sandy floor.  I get it. Just like that everything was washed out to sea.  To think that our sins are likewise cast into the deepest parts of the sea where man can’t even reach is comforting and healing.  But to actually see it displayed like shells that were so plentiful just a few seconds ago and are now completely removed really drives home with power and magnitude the incredible lesson of forgiveness and redemption. What a refreshing contrast in reading about the sea’s role in the removal and disappearance of our imperfections and in seeing played out in nature.  If only all Biblical lessons were as easily revealed.

My safe place doesn’t magically make everything and every issue go away.  I still have to deal with me when I leave, and I am my biggest challenge. But just the few days alone in my place does more good than the best counselor or psychiatrist money could buy. I wasn’t born on the beach but I’m convinced I was born to spend time there. It is the only place where I feel somewhat whole and at peace.  My Heaven, the Throne of Grace, surrounded by the soft whispers of worship of calm waves washing up on the sandy beach, set against an eternal California sunset. My never ending safe place.

 

 

“JUDGE NOT”-the New Age Anthem

judge-not

Some of my posts tend to get me in hot water-other times I just find the hot water and jump right in. One of the most used, most abused, most misunderstood and misquoted scriptures in all of the Bible are the words of Christ recorded in Matthew 7, “Judge not that ye be not judged”.  This verse has been used to justify every lifestyle, every bad choice, every rebellious act and every moral stance, scriptural or not. That said it is often used selectively as most of us judge all the time without realizing it.  How?  Let me count the ways:

I judge thee by where ye live.

I judge thee by the brand of shoes ye wear or whether ye prefer Nike or Adidas.

I judge thee by the length of ye hair (or so I’m told).

I judge ye by how ye votest and who ye support.

I judge ye by where ye worship or which denomination ye claim or the volume and style of ye worship music.

I judge thee because ye judge others.

I judge ye by the color of ye chariot, the color of ye suit, the color of ye spouse and sadly, the color of ye skin.

We are and always have been a very judgmental people. Right or wrong, justified or not, we all do it.  But when we are the recipients of what we deem to be critical judgment, we become Bible scholars and quote Matthew 7 in our defense.  How silly we are (oh, that was judgmental).

Whenever I want more clarity on a passage for better understanding I refer to the Masters, one being Matthew Henry.  He adds this important caveat to this misused verse: “Some cautions about reproving. Because we must not judge others, which is a great sin, it does not therefore follow that we must NOT reprove others, which is a great duty, and may be a means of ‘saving a soul from death’; however, it will be a means of saving OUR souls from sharing in their guilt”.  WOW, what an implication!  He is saying here that if we are in a position in our own lives to offer reproof but fail to do so, we may share in the guilt of the person whose ways are in error!  If you don’t agree, blame the old guy.

Later on in this same passage Jesus goes on to say why point out the splinter in someone else’s eye when you have a log lodged in your own.  Of course He is correct in saying that we must be sure to have our own house clean.  But contrary to scriptural surgeons who cut and paste, this is not where Jesus left it.  CONTEXT IS EVERYTHING! He went on to say that we should first remove the log from our own eye so that we can see better when, and here it is-we remove the splinter from someone else’s eye!  And that is where most people fall asleep during the sermon.  Jesus didn’t say for us not to reprove, He said be sure we have no skeletons in our closet first, then we can approve. What a difference than the message being posted on social media.

John 7:24 tells us to “judge with a righteous judgment”.  Some judge from a self-righteous holier-than-thou approach.  In Jesus day these would have been the Scribes and Pharisees. Their motive is condemnation, not restoration. In Galatians 6 we are told that if we see one of our siblings in sin, we (who have clean houses and clear eyes) are to approach and restore them in a spirit of love and mercy with gentleness, understanding that tomorrow it may be our turn to be restored.  Again, these passages do not condemn judging or reproof, they simply lay out the conditions by which we are worthy to offer such reproof.  No where in scripture will you find the notion that we are not to reprove those who are in error of Holy scripture. We are instead to offer such judgment recalling all that we ourselves have and will continue to be forgiven of in our own lives.

Personally, I feel unfit most days to offer anyone any sort of reproof unsolicited.  There are those much more worthy of this responsibility than I. I have forests of my own in my eyes to deal with and more than a few petrified trees.  That said, the concept of the Bible advocating a universal Judge-me-not message is just plain, well, unbiblical.  I don’t want to share in the guilt of another or be held partly accountable for their spiritual demise. Jesus, the very one whose words are so misconstrued, gave us the perfect example of judging, reproof and restoration in yet another story that is often misrepresented.  The woman brought before him accused of adultery was spared her life when Jesus said that those without sin could throw the first stone.  They all left to have personal timber-ectomies.  BUT, Jesus did not give the woman a free pass, but rather He told her “I don’t condemn you. Now this life you are living, STOP IT-go and stop sinning”, another part that people miss during their Sunday nap.

I’m grateful that I’m not the judge and jury.  I don’t want to be.  But, as I have briefly laid out according to contextual scripture, we not only can judge, we are compelled in love and gentleness to do just that.