When Foresight Fails

I just read two articles back to back.  Both dealing with information not being followed up on.  The first was a case that existed a few years ago, when the first wife of Devin Patrick Kelley (the man who killed 26 people at a Texas church), reported that she had been sexually assaulted, abused, and even water-boarded by her husband.  The case was inactivated when the victim did not return a detectives phone call.  The second article was about Nikolas Cruz (the young man who is accused of killing 17 people in Parkland, FL).  The FBI received what now seems to be crystal-clear information that Cruz was ready and willing to shoot as many students as he could at his former school.  The informant, who knew Cruz well, told the FBI that he had the guns, the anger, and even a post stating he would be a professional school shooter.  Yet the FBI did not forward the information on to their Miami branch.

There is a lot of what I call “millennial outrage” these days.  That’s outrage for outrage’s sake.  Other people are outraged, so therefore I should be outraged.  It’s perpetuated especially on social media.  Some call it, “outrage porn.”  But these two articles are enough to make anyone outraged.  It would seem that if these reportings had been followed up on, investigated, or forwarded to the proper people, 43 people may still be alive, and many, many more uninjured physically, mentally, or emotionally.  Families upon families would be together, without this emptiness in their hearts and lives.

How does one handle such outrage?  How does one handle the fact that the very ones we expect (and pay with our tax dollars) to protect us and our family and friends fail to act as they ought?  Let me give a few thoughts:

  1. Seek to understand their job.  We may not be able to walk a mile in their shoes for various reasons, but we can at minimum seek to understand what it is that they do.  How many tips, how many investigations, how many hours, how many current cases, how short-staffed, etc.
  2. Ask if those involved simply made a mistake (even though that word seems so underwhelming) or if they are incompetent.  As devastating as these events are, foresight is often not enough.  Sometimes it is.  Hindsight, as they say, is 20/20.  What do these people’s personnel records/jackets look like?  Are they consistently missing leads or ignoring cold, hard facts or information?  Is this an isolated (though major) miss?
  3. Know that these are people.  These are not machines.  Again, what seems so obvious after the fact, may in the person who had all the information, seem dubious.  Humans are human.  They don’t have algorithms like computers, and they cannot tell the future.  These are humans.  They know their mistake.  They know that their mistake led to human blood being shed.  I am sure they feel the guilt and weight of their decisions.

These shootings are tragic.  They tear at our hearts.  They cause us to get angry and look for people to blame.  That is all very natural.  People must be held accountable for their actions.  Cruz and Kelley must be held accountable.  Those who did not foresee these killings, though they had information as to the persons committing the crimes, must be held accountable.  But justice (which we all desire to see happen) cannot happen with unchecked rage.  “Anger [wrath, deep seething anger] does not produce the righteousness of God,” (James 1:20, ESV).  We must be careful that we are not as Cain, who when anger was warned that sin was crouching down waiting to devour him.  Rather than rule over his anger, he allowed his anger to rule over him.

We must be careful what we do with such anger.  It can lead us to slander (libel), hatred, distrust, and any number of other sins.  Let us pray and seek justice, but let us do so without seeking vengeance.  “For we know him who said, ‘Vengeance is mind; I will repay.’ And again, ‘The Lord will judge his people.’  It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God,” (Hebrews 10:30-31, ESV).

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From Sacred Worship to Sacrilegious Whims

Under King David the tribes of Israel were united like no other time before.  Solomon, his son, expanded the territory of Israel in ways that were once unimaginable.  Rehoboam, Solomon’s son, tore the kingdom apart in just a few days.  The people felt over-taxed and over-worked.  They asked Rehoboam for a little relief.  After speaking with both his father’s advisors and his friends, he sided with his friends, and taxed the people more and worked them harder.  Ten tribes broke away from Rehoboam and set up Jeroboam as the king of Israel, while Rehoboam ruled Judah (only the tribe of Benjamin stayed).

God had promised Jeroboam (the 10 tribes’ king) blessings if he would follow God and do as he said.  Sadly, Jeroboam did anything but follow God.  What we see in 1 Kings 12:25-33 is a shift that Jeroboam led Israel through: from sacred worship to sacrilegious whims.  What we see in 25-27 is the doubting of God’s promises.  God promised blessings, but Jeroboam couldn’t understand how those blessings could come if the people were tied to Jerusalem.  “Jeroboam said to himself, ‘The way things are going now, the kingdom might return to the house of David.  If these people go to offer sacrifices in the LORD’s temple in Jerusalem, the heart of these people will return to their lord, Rehoboam king of Judah.  They will murder me and go back to the king of Judah’,” (1 Kings 12:26-27, HCSB).  Jeroboam focused on the circumstances he was facing at one moment in time rather than the promise of God.  He was focused on his own following rather than following after God.  So often we tend to do this very same thing within church.  We focus on a following rather than following.  We focus on the immediate and urgent, rather than on God’s faithful promises.  When that happens bad choices follow.  Jeroboam’s solution was to fuse sacred worship with pagan practices.

Jeroboam, having sought counsel (though not godly counsel), had two golden calves built.  “‘Going to Jerusalem is too difficult for you.  Israel, here is your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt.’ He set one in Bethel, and put the other in Dan,” (1 Kings 2:28-29, HCSB).  This would remind any Bible student of Aaron’s great sin, as high priest leading the people to worship an idol.  Here the king does the same.  However, many believe that Jeroboam was not making a graven image, but more of a seat.  He was simply replacing the Ark of the Covenant with these pedestals.  God was invisibly seated or standing upon them.  He set one in Bethel near the border of Israel and Judah and one in Dan one of the most northern cities in the kingdom.  This made worship easy.  No one had to travel far to sacrifice, and even then they only needed to go on special occasions, seeing that Jeroboam also set up high places for regular days.  Everything seemed harmless enough, but a little leaven leavens the whole lump.

So often we tend to do this very same thing within church.  We focus on a following rather than following.  We focus on the immediate and urgent, rather than on God’s faithful promises.

God had stated exactly how He was to be worshiped.  It was to be in Jerusalem at the temple with sacrifice and incense and such.  It was not to be on high places and not to be in Bethel or Dan.  It was not to be on any pedestal but the blood was to be sprinkled on the mercy-seat of the Ark of the Covenant.  A little change here, a little change there.  Yet the change was sin because it was opposing God’s direction and law.

It was also confusing.  Baal was depicted as a bull.  The Canaanites worshiped Baal, not Israelites.  To have the bulls as pedestals (or idols if they were), would be too much for either Israelites or Canaanites.  The worship of God was looking way too secular for both peoples.  There was nothing holy–sacred or different–about the worship of God.  The sacred worship was being taken over by the sacrilegious whims of Jeroboam.  Everyone would be suffering and sinning because of it.  “This led to sin; the people walked in procession before one of the calves all the way to Dan,” (1 Kings 12:30, HCSB).

A little change here, a little change there.  Yet the change was sin because it was opposing God’s direction and law.

The syncretistic nature of Jeroboam quickly turned into false worship.

Jeroboam also built shrines on the high places and set up priests from every class of people who were not Levites.  Jeroboam made a festival in the eighth month on the fifteenth day of the month, like the festival in Judah.  He offered sacrifices on the altar; he made this offering in Bethel to sacrifice to the calves he had set up.  He also stationed priests in Bethel for the high places he had set up.  He offered sacrifices on the altar he had set up in Bethel on the fifteenth day of the eighth month.  He chose this month on his own.  He made a festival for the Israelites, offered sacrifices on the altar, and burned incense, (1 Kings 12:31-33, HCSB).

There were no true priests, no true festivals, and no true sacrifices and so there was no true worship.  It began with a doubt.  He doubted that God would do as He promised to do if Jeroboam would obey Him.  Jeroboam felt the need to make worship easier, closer to home, more interesting, more palatable.  In the end, worship wasn’t worship and the sacred became sacrilegious.

It would seem many churches are taking their lead from this king rather than God’s Word.  It is easiest to point fingers toward those churches that seem to have more of a rock concert than a worship service or those churches that forego having Communion.  But it is also in churches that are “traditional” in nature.  Many of the tradions are not biblical traditions, but secular traditions.  Their traditions may date back to the 500s, the 1500s, or to 1950s, but not to the text of Scripture.  What is often decried by “traditional” churches as the secularization of the church is true, but as the old 90s Just Say No commercial pointed out they “learned it from watching you.”  It is difficult to remember how syncretistic the churches were in the 50s and 60s because at that time, the young members and new churches were simply trying to reach the lost.  The problem for everybody–Christian and non (or churched and unchurched?)–is the confusion of what is sacred and what is not.  What belongs in worship and what does not.

Jeroboam felt the need to make worship easier, closer to home, more interesting, more palatable.  In the end, worship wasn’t worship and the sacred became sacrilegious.

For the record, I am not against “contemporary services” or “traditional services.”  I am simply saying that we use extreme caution in our pursuit to express our worship.  It is not so much about our likes as it is God’s likes.  If we were to cook a meal in honor of our spouses, we would hopefully choose foods that they enjoy eating, not what we enjoy eating.  Whether or not we like the way the meal is prepared or food that is placed in front of us, we can at least enjoy the company we have.  If we were to throw a party for one of our kids, we would not seek to decorate with our delights, but with the delights of our children.  We wouldn’t decorate with “over the hill” balloons for our 4 year old, but rather Jake and the Neverland Pirates or My Little Pony balloons.  We go to worship–not our selves, but our God.  Let us give and do what delights His heart.

The problem for everybody–Christian and non (or churched and unchurched?)–is the confusion of what is sacred and what is not.  What belongs in worship and what does not.

Children, the Church, and the Pastor

I love children. I’m just not that good with them.  I love my own children, and I seek to do my best in showing my love and support to them, as well as discipline when and if needed.  But I’m not good at getting down on their level.  I try, but I usually fail.  The other day I was reading Stone Soup to a class of first graders at our local elementary school.  I tried to teach them what it meant to “think outside the box.”  I quickly realized that I had not been called to teach first graders.  That being said, I still love children and I love to see them in big church.  I get why churches tend to go for children’s church and nursery.  Which, by the way, we offer the nursery.  Children are wiggly.  They can and usually are noisy.  They can be distracting.  But that’s children.  That has always been children.

Children can be taught to be quiet, but it is almost impossible to teach children to be completely still.  For that matter, how many adults do I see wiggling around during worship service?  Legs cross, arms go up, seats are adjusted, bathrooms get walked to, notes are written, Bibles get flipped through, and sadly some statuses are checked and updated on social media.  Children just haven’t learned to fine art of refined wigglement.  They will though.

Children are wiggly.  They can and usually are noisy.  They can be distracting.  But that’s children.  That has always been children.

Here is the thing with children though.  Children are natural explorers.  They want to learn.  The reason babies put so much in their mouths is not because they are tasty, but because the mouth is their mode of exploration.  They want to learn about an object in their hand so they explore it with their mouths.  Children are interested in just about everything, including Jesus and God.  Why do we do what we do?  Who are these people we cannot see, but give so much devotion and time to?  What are these big books in the pews?  We were all there at one point in time.  At one time it was all fresh and new and confusing and great all at the same time.  We’ve lost much of the excitement and wonder that comes with worship service.  And children get it.  They may be noisy about it, but excitement tends to be a bit loud (just watch me watch the Atlanta Falcons play).

When Jesus’ disciples wanted to push the children to the side and not bother him with such as they, “Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven’,” (Matthew 19:14, ESV).  Jesus would not allow the children to be treated as second class, but elevated their status by healing them and defending them.  I bet that these children were much like our children.  They clamored and they wiggled and they talked above a whisper.  Jesus said, “do not hinder them.”  Children need Jesus as much as adults do.  While children can be distracting and easily distracted, adults ought have the maturity to  block out distractions.  We do so in our cars (hopefully), we do so at our jobs, we do so in all areas of life, and so we should not be so shocked when we may be called upon to muster up the will to block distractions caused by the wonderment (and sometimes boredom) of children.

Personally, as a pastor, I find it hard to be distracted.  I rarely even notice noise or bathroom-goings.  I’m in a zone.  Perhaps I owe that to my mom.  When I was a kid playing recreational basketball, she would tell me to zone out the shouts from the bleachers and heckles from the opposing players, and concentrate on what I was doing.  That’s what we need to do as adults.  Zone out what is going on around us and zone in on what we are doing: worshipping and part of that being the hearing of God’s Word expounded.

While children can be distracting and easily distracted, adults ought have the maturity to  block out distractions.

I am thankful that my church gets it.  I have not heard complaints from our members on having children in the service.  They get the need for children to hear and receive God’s Word.  Praise God for the people who will not hinder the children from coming.

As always, I’d love to read your comments.  All comments will be published as long as they are respectful.  If you liked this post, by all means share it.

There’s a quaint saying in churches, especially smaller churches.  We like to say, “It’s not all about the numbers.”  It sounds spiritual doesn’t it?  Numbers are cold and dead.  We are about the souls, warm and living.  We don’t care about putting notches in our belts.  We want spiritual growth, not necessarily numerical growth.  But here’s the problem: the Bible uses numbers to tell God’s story.  It uses numbers to tell of the spiritual growth of the church.

If we go to Acts, we see first: “While He was together with them, He commanded them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for the Father’s promise,” (Acts 1:4, HCSB).  Who is the them?  Verse 2 tells us it was the apostles whom He had chosen (minus 1 of course).  That’s 11 of them.  In fact, these apostles are named in verse 13, and then more are added to the 11 when it says that the women, Mary, and Jesus’ brothers were with them.  Obviously Luke was keeping track of numbers.

The Bible uses numbers to tell God’s story.  It uses numbers to tell of the spiritual growth of the church.

Within the 10 days of Jesus’ ascending and the descending of the Holy Spirit, the apostles picked another apostle to join them.  The number who were with them at this point was 120 people (that’s a number)!  When the Spirit came and the tongues were preaching the word, we find out at the end of chapter 2: “So those who accepted his message were baptized, and that day about 3,000 people were added to them,” (Acts 2:41, HCSB). More numbers!  But it gets worse!!! At the beginning of chapter 4 we see, “But many of those who heard the message believed, and the number of the men came to about 5,000,” (v. 4, HCSB).  What’s with all the numbers?  How could Luke write something so unspiritual?

Of course, by this time, the church in Jerusalem was growing exponentially, and the numbers drop off of Luke’s radar.  But what it would seem Luke was doing was showing how the church was growing.  In fact, he even said such in chapter 2.  The new Christians were “praising God and having favor with all the people.  And every day the Lord added to them those who were being saved,” (v. 47, HCSB).  The health of the church (praising God and having favor with all the people) seems to be linked to the salvations that were happening.  In other words, spiritual growth produces numerical growth.

I know this is not a hard and fast rule.  I have heard of matured Christians going to be missionaries and seeing no success.  But that is the exception that proves the rule.  We ought to be surprised when God doesn’t bless the matured believer with fruit.  We should be scratching our heads and bowing our knees and asking God for fruit, for the salvation of souls and the growth of the mission church.

I am encouraged by our church’s numerical growth.  To go from 21 as a low in 2013 to nearly double that in 2016 is a praise!  It confirms that God is doing something within this body.  It confirms that spiritual growth is happening (we are not the gimmicky type).  What visitors often see is that Highland View is a small church.  Some don’t mind, most do.  What they do not see is that Highland View is a growing church and a growing church (that grows for the right reasons) is a church about which to be excited.

The health of the church (praising God and having favor with all the people) seems to be linked to the salvations that were happening.  In other words, spiritual growth produces numerical growth.

So while it is not all about the numbers, some of it most definitely is about the numbers.

I’d love to hear from you.  Send me your thoughts; as long as they are respectful, I will post them.  You don’t have to agree; just be kind.  If you liked the post, share it.  Thanks!