Parenting in a World of Evil

I’m processing.

I woke up like many of you yesterday to the news of the horrendous attack upon vulnerable concert-goers at the Route 91 Music Festival in Las Vegas. My wife and I sat down with our coffee and listened to the reporting.

I began working on the commentary for my Weekly Message post, where I post my message from the previous Sunday. While I was preparing the commentary for the post, I found myself running off on a tangent of reflection upon the recent mass shooting.

I wrote these words:

I woke up yesterday morning to the news of the horrendous attack in Las Vegas. I felt many things as I am sure all of you did. I’m tired of waking up to the news. I am absolutely exhausted of waking up to the breaking news – whether it be a mass casualty shooting; terrorism – foreign or domestic; rallies, marches, and protests utilizing violence or aggression. I, for one, am done! I’m burned out on the hatred on display in America and throughout our world! I’m just plain tired of it all; and, you should be, too! And, if you are not tired of it, then wake upbecause you are already asleep! 

The reports of the news out of Las Vegas were disturbing, but I did not realize the extent to which I had grown tired of tragedy, hate, and blatant displays of evil in our nation and in our global community.

I may have been a little more reactionary than responsive with those words, but I do believe they articulate the depth of my frustration and my pain.

My frustration is similar to that as a child learning to tie his shoe – the child knows the shoe is capable of being tied and that she is capable of tying it, only she does not know how a shoe is tied. She works with determination, but grows frustrated as she struggle against her lack of coordination. That’s how I feel about the world right now – we are a child that lacks coordination. And, I’m growing frustrated watching us fail to meet our potential. 

There is pain within me, too. I referred to this in my post this morning. I feel we are a what’s more society. We are a what’s more people. Our searching, possessing, and consuming of more comes with a cost. And, often, the cost is imposed upon others. For one to have more, another must have less. In the most extreme cases, say the mass shooting in Las Vegas, this man’s attempt to acquire more (whatever the hell more looked like to him) required everything to be taken from those who were killed, injured, and attending the festival. We do harm to one another. We are harming one another. And, it is incredibly painful to watch.

My wife asked me, “Ross, do you think the world is coming to and end?” She asks me this question whenever something devastating is reported on the news…I’ve gotten the question a lot over the last year.

I told her, “No!”

My explanation is simple: The nature of humanity has not altered since the beginning of time. Human beings feel, think, and act just as our earliest ancestors. While humanity has become more logical, rational, and enlightened, the nature of the human is still susceptible and influenced by evil. There is an inherent flaw, but it is there by design…

The flaw is a necessary consequence of the greater ability to love.

The ability to love is quite possibly the most baffling thing. Some might object, claiming love is nothing other than an animalistic instinct towards self-preservation. Love may serve that objective, but consider what else the capacity for love offers to humanity.

I believe love enables humanity to know the existence of a supreme being, who I believe to be the One, True God. Discerning the presence of God in the life of God’s creation would rely upon the capacity for God to self-express. God can only be known by way of revelation! And, primarily, the revelation of God, which is seen and felt, is categorically expressed as love. God’s self-expression to humanity is God’s love, which enables humanity to experience the presence and activity of the Creator within the creation.

If humanity inherently possesses the ability to know love, then they by design must also be susceptible to experience the absence of love.

And, if love is an expression of the divine, then the absence of love would disrupt the one’s encounter and, therefore, their experiential knowledge of the divine.

Oppositional forces play a necessary role in this cosmic drama of ours…

Right?

If you have the ability to love; than, what is the absence of love?

Likewise, if the God can be experienced, than what is it when God is rejected?

We live in a world of possibility. It is possible to know the divine through the revelation of God’s love. Equally so, it is possible to know the absence of God, where we have chosen to reject God’s revelation of love.

I do not believe the world is ending. I do not believe I will experience an apocalyptic event in my lifetime. Nor will my sons experience an apocalyptic event in their lifetime. Rather, like our fathers before us, my sons and I will both continue to experience the world’s susceptibility for evil. Trusting the world’s susceptibility for evil is a reminder that we exist in a reality where love is felt as an expression of the presence and activity of God.

An important distinction must be made, especially if one intends to rear children within our world – The world is not evil; rather, evil is in the world.

My sons will continue to grow and live in this world. The fear I hear expressed by many people is what will this world be like for our children? or, is it fair or good to bring a child into this world? In faith, I profess it is good to bring children into our twisted and broken world. I hold this position, because I have encountered God and God’s unique love for us in this world. I have discovered the life and resurrection of God’s son, Jesus Christ, which has done more to reveal the authoritative power of God’s love for me and every other vessel blessed to receive the breath of God.

I have no way of knowing what the world will be like for my sons. I assume it will be like the world I have encountered and the world encountered by my fathers before me – a world where God is present and active; where love is real; and, therefore, a world susceptible to evil.

God has entrusted my sons to my wife and me. And, thanks be to God, my sons have also been entrusted to an incredible extended family and an amazing community of faith. My sons will inherit this world, but not before we have the opportunity to introduce them to the present and active God, who’s love can be felt and expressed.

I may not be able to change the world my sons will ultimately inherit, but I can influence the way they encounter the world. I can shape their perception. I can support them in their resistance of all things evil. I can encourage them to choose love and to live into the holy. Above all, I can show them how to see, hear, and feel the presence and activity of a loving God.

Parenting in a world of evil has its challenges, but it is none the less a privilege. We stride cautiously and with intention as we parent in a world of evil. But, it is only that – a world of evil. Ours is not an evil world; only, it is world susceptible to evil. Our world is susceptible to evil because it is a world where God is present, active, and available to us. Love is proof. But, for God to be present, active, and available, the opposite will be found, too. Where God is rejected, evil will reside.

The end of the world is not coming any time soon, but the time we have with our children is limited. The time we have is important. Our use of this time is critical. While we cannot change the world they will inherit, we can influence their perception of it. We can direct them in their approach of this world; and, we can teach them to encounter the present and active God, who is known by the power of love. Better still, we can demonstrate to our children the greater power of God’s love through our love of them and our love of others.

What’s More, Part One (and a reflection upon Las Vegas)

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I woke up yesterday morning to the news of the horrendous attack in Las Vegas. I felt many things as I am sure all of you did. I’m tired of waking up to the news. I am absolutely exhausted of waking up to the breaking news – whether it be a mass casualty shooting; terrorism – foreign or domestic; rallies, marches, and protests utilizing violence or aggression. I, for one, am done! I’m burned out on the hatred on display in America and throughout our world! I’m just plain tired of it all; and, you should be, too! And, if you are not tired of it, then wake upbecause you are already asleep! 

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On the Road to the Cross – The Centurion

9781501822643Creativity exists within chaos. Something must break down for something new to break through.

The final message in the Lenten series, On the Road to the Cross, ends with the death of Jesus and the profound proclamation of the Centurion (and the others with him).

The death of Jesus is the climatic moment of Jesus’ road to the cross (and the life and ministry of Jesus, as well). The road to the cross is full of suspense and horror. Each of the events along the road to the cross builds upon the drama of his passion.

There is a feeling I have as a watch suspenseful movies or read dramatic stories: my chests tightens and my breathing becomes compromised as I await the climax!

The road Jesus walks to the cross has this same effect on me. As I read the narrative from the anointing of Jesus in Bethany to the death of Jesus upon the cross, my chest tightens and my breathing is restricted as I progress along this dramatic road…

Matthew describes the death of Jesus in the following way: Jesus looked up to the heavens and called out to God. The bystanders awaited the coming of Elijah; perhaps, the great servant of God would come to rescue Jesus. Exhausted of life, Jesus cried out one final time before breathing his last and surrendering his spirit.

Reading these verses, which describe the great exhalation of Jesus, one would be poised to release the suspenseful tension built upon within their chest with an exhausted breath: It is finished…(exhale)!

But, the death of Jesus is not followed by a moment of peace, calmness, or tranquility. The death of Jesus does not give us the opportunity to exhale or the opportunity to reflect and digest all that we have just learned.

Rather, all Hell breaks loose!

Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last. 51 At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split. 52 The tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. 53 After his resurrection they came out of the tombs and entered the holy city and appeared to many.” – Matthew 27:50b-53

Leaving the resurrection of the saints to the side; because, what’s that all about, anyways?

Everything is far from calm and tranquil following the death of Jesus. There is no peace on earth at this moment!

The temple curtain is torn.

The earth begins to shake.

The rocks begin to split.

The tombs begin to open.

Chaos breaks loose — ripping, shaking, splitting, cracking, and crumbling.

Chaos is destructive.

There is no time to rest, no time to exhale, no time to reflect and digest. The death of Jesus is followed by a moment of chaos defined by destruction.

Undoubtedly, chaos is destructive and the chaos that follows the death of Jesus is marked by destruction, but there is more to chaos.

Chaos is creative.

If you are a creative, or if you know a creative, than you likely understand what I mean when I say there is a lot of chaos in creativity. There is even a lot of destruction within creativity.

I come from a family of artists. My grandmother and my cousin are painters. Another cousin is fashion designer. I’ve always been amazed by their work and their gift to create beautiful art.

A couple of years ago, my wife and I were visiting my cousin in New York. She invited us to her office so we could see where she worked. We arrived at the the unmarked building not too far from Bryant Park later that afternoon. My cousin met us outside the building and led us up to her workspace.

We entered into a large open room filled with several desks. The room was dedicated to the designers. I was amazed by the “busyness” of the room and the disheveled appearance. The designers’ desks were covered in drawings and fabric samples. There was a little bit of chaos going on, as these creatives were busy trying to bring their beauty into the world.

We left the designers area and moved into another room of similar size. Once more, there was nothing ornate about the room. There were a few women sitting behind large sewing machines. Some of the ladies were measuring and cutting fabric. Others were sewing and stretching material. My cousin explained we were in the room of the master seamstresses. The designs created by her co-workers and herself were sent to these individuals, who brought the sketches to life. Just like the designers area, the seamstresses area was a little chaotic, as these creatives were trying to bring their beauty into the world.

Finally, my cousin took us into a third room, which was much different. The room was decorated. There was a plush carpet on the floor. The room was well lit and the walls were painted with a rich-toned color. Everything was just so…perfectly positioned. Beautiful dresses were intentionally fitted upon mannequins equally spaced throughout the room. We were in the viewing room, where buyers view and select the dresses they wish to purchase for their stores.

Creativity is chaotic. Creativity requires a little bit of destruction. But, creativity gives way to beauty.

The moment of Jesus’ expiration is chaotic.  As the world crumbled and collapsed around the scene of Jesus’ death, God was moving, working, creating something new and beautiful…

54 Now when the centurion and those with him, who were keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were terrified and said, “Truly this man was God’s Son!” – Matthew 27:54

A great revelation would emerge out of the death of Jesus with the most unlikely pf proclaimers – the centurion.

A centurion was an officer in the Roman army, who was entrusted with the leadership of 100 (or fewer) soldiers. Among their many attributes, centurions were efficient in their work and knowingly loyal to the Republic and the emperor.

Everything in the life and ministry of Jesus led to the cross. Everything along the road to the cross led to this moment of exhalation. While the death of Jesus could be seen as revealing the weakness of Jesus, the centurion identifies the glory of God in the death of Jesus – truly, this man was God’s Son! 

Do you see the irony in this proclamation?

The Jews rejected Jesus as the Messiah, because they believed the Messiah would be a great political/warrior-king, who would rescue Israel from their oppressor (the Roman Empire), secure their national freedom, and restore Israel to a place of prosperity similar to the time of David.

As the defeated and exhausted Jesus slumped from his cross, a Roman officer (the one who oversaw his crucifixion) gives praise to Jesus as God’s true Son!

What!!!…

Here we discover the creativity within chaos.

Something new did break through, after something else broke down.

God’s revelation of love in Jesus the Christ, the only Son of God, is made known to all people, even to those who existed outside of the old covenantal relationship. 

Creativity is a little chaotic, but with destruction comes beauty.

Be encouraged by the ripping, shaking, splitting, and breaking of the death of Jesus, for it serves as a testament that God has and continues to work a new and beautiful thing for all people – God’s love revealed through God’s only Son.

But also be encouraged by the ripping, shaking, splitting, and breaking in your own lives. There are certainly times in all of our lives when we feel we are existing in pure chaos. Everything (or, maybe, something specific) is breaking down.

Forget the feeling of loosing control.

I am talking about when we know control has already been lost!!!

Be encouraged, because maybe this is the exact time in your life when you do not need to have control. Maybe this is the very moment in your life when you need someone else, someone greater, someone more powerful than you to assume control!

Ride the wave of destruction realizing God does the best work amid chaos.

Cling to the hope and the promise that something must break down for something new to break through.

Trust the process, and prepare yourself to take delight in the beauty of God’s creative chaos!

I apologize, but the original message was not recorded. We had some technical issues with our recording device. The rest of the messages in this series and other messages can be found at our site.

Note – This sermon series is influenced by Rob Burkhart’s recent publication, On the Road to the Cross: Experience Easter with Those who were There. The book is a great read during the Season of Lent. I fully recommend you add this book to your library!!