MARCH 29, 2023

Dear Friends,

I’m sure you, like me, have been saddened and sobered by the news from Nashville this week. My heart sank on Monday morning when I got in my car and heard the somber voices of news reporters confirming the shooting deaths of three young children, and later, the deaths of three adults at a Christian school. Later, as I saw the picture of one of the victims, Hallie Scruggs and her family, the grief deepened.

All of us ache with this news. And we think to ourselves “this can’t keep happening.” But it does.

And so we begin another news cycle were the same analysis we’ve heard for years now is repeated. Less than a year ago, after the shooting in Uvalde, Texas (yes, that was less than a year ago) and the shooting at a supermarket in Buffalo New York, congress passed and the President signed bipartisan gun control legislation that provides incentives for states to pass so called “red flag” laws. It expanded existing laws preventing people convicted of domestic violence from owning a gun. It expanded background checks on people seeking to buy a gun. When he signed the bill, the President said “we are doing something consequential.”

I try to listen carefully to the arguments on both sides of the gun control debate. I avoid the bursts of simplified, soundbite rhetoric on social media and turn instead to those who acknowledge there are no easy answers to this problem. I share the frustrations of those who insist that something has to be done. At the same time, I’m aware that most of the gun control legislation that has been passed in this country is not being enforced or adjudicated.

If someone can tell me a way for responsible gun owners to be able to continue to own firearms while at the same time, we protect the lives of children like Hallie Scruggs, I’m all ears.

In the meantime, here’s what I know. Jesus told us that an epidemic of murder has its roots in an epidemic of hate and anger. The seeds of murder are latent in your heart and mine. Don’t think they’re not. They are.

Over the past 20 years, the arrival of social media has brought with it a new, lucrative industry. People have learned that there is good money to be made in stirring up anger and fear. You don’t get clicks by sounding reasonable. You don’t get votes by acknowledging that your political opponent makes some good points, or that the two of you simply disagree on a matter. The more outrageous and outlandish your oratory, the more the mob will rally around you.

Nobody really believes anymore what Jesus said about anger and hate. Do you? The idea that getting angry with another person is on par with murder – do you buy that? or that insulting another person makes you guilty before God – do you believe that? Or that calling someone “you fool” is a damnable offense – do you think that’s really true?

The connection between anger and murder is clear. Yes, there is righteous anger. It is right to be angry with those, like the Nashville shooter or any of the shooters who have senselessly taken the lives of innocent men, women and children. They are guilty of a horrible evil that dishonors God.

But most of our anger is not righteous anger. Most of our anger is not about God being dishonored. It’s about people not acting the way we think they should. It’s about life not going our way. It’s anger that springs from a root of self-interest, self-righteousness and self-importance.

Anger is not the only emotion being weaponized and monetized. Online clickbait is filled with headlines designed to tap into your anxieties and doubts. The recent CNN headline that read “NASA tracks a newly discovered asteroid that has a ‘small chance’ of hitting Earth in 2046” is just one example (I thought about adding a hyperlink so you could check out the article, but that only reinforces my point). If you’re not worried about an asteroid coming our way in the next 23 years, maybe you’ll get sucked in by the headline that reads “Signs that your water heater is going to explode in your home.”

There is a big difference between exercising reasonable caution and having a spirit of fear. God, the Bible tells us, has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and love and a sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7). God commands us as he commanded Joshua to be strong and courageous (Joshua 1:9). But strong and courageous people are not easily manipulated. Fearful people are. So the culture keeps fomenting fear.

Concurrent with the rise of anger and fear, and perhaps helping to accelerate both, is the decline of faith in God and strong family bonds in our day. Both serve as antibodies to fear and anger. A recent Wall Street Journal/NBC poll showed that the majority of Americans no longer attend religious services (32%) or attend less than once a year (19%). That, coupled with the decline of the nuclear family in America leave people more emotionally vulnerable, anxious and depressed.

All of this brings us back to this week’s headline involving gun violence. Whatever conclusion you may draw about appropriate government regulation of firearms, at the end of the day, the soul sickness in our nation is the leading cause of the murder epidemic. It is axiomatic that those who carry out a mass shooting are emotionally or mentally disturbed. It’s also axiomatic that they are spiritually dead. So as spiritual deadness continues to grow in our culture, the number of men and women prone to carry out gun violence will grow as well.

There may be public policy band aids that can help save the lives of little girls like Hallie Scruggs. We can and should do what we can to protect and save our children and all our neighbors. But more than anything in our world, we need perfect love to cast out fear. We need peace, mercy and patience to overcome anger.

We need Jesus to do what only He can do in all of our lives and hearts.

There are a handful of articles I’ve read online recently that I’ve found interesting and provocative. Here are those links if you’d like to check any of them out (not intended to be clickbait!).

My Best Friend Died From Loneliness (language alert). This made me wonder who in our church may be feeling cut off or alone.

Hollywood’s Great Awakening. This explores the movie Jesus Revolution and the increasing appetite for well crafted, spiritually engaging movies and TV shows.

Why the Mental Health of Liberal Girls Sank First and Fastest. A secular psychologist points to social media as the leading cause of mental health decline, particularly among adolescent girls.

A Guide To Guns. Since most people who are talking about gun policies don’t have any idea what they’re really talking about (me included), Kevin D. Williamson provides a helpful primer on the subject that comes from, in his words “a conservative point of view but without (I hope) ideological blinders.” I found it helpful.

Next week is our week to focus on the death and resurrection of Jesus.
This Sunday morning our elementary aged kids will start our worship service with a special song. Plan to arrive early so you don’t miss the kids!

Have you invited any neighborhood kids or friends to join your kids at our Resurrection Rally?

For that matter, have you invited any friends or co-workers you to join you for our Good Friday or Easter Sunday services?

Men – after a great time this past weekend at our retreat…

… I want to encourage you to join us next Tuesday for our First Tuesday men’s get together. Danny Hinton from Downline will be with us to talk about how we can equip young men and young women to be disciple makers.
Dinner at 6:15. The session starts at 7:00. Hope to see you there.

Ladies, Saturday morning, April 22 is our Spring Women’s Gathering from 10:00 am – 11:30 am. Food, fellowship and fun. The event is free, but we need to know you’re coming. Click here to sign up.

Parents – click here for more information about the upcoming summer Street Reach trip to Memphis for our students! Or see Pastor Cole with any questions you have.

The last hours of Jesus’ life are recounted for us by the Apostle John. We’ll look at the significance of His final minutes on the cross as we continue our study in John 19 this Sunday.

See you for Date Night on Friday and then in church on Palm Sunday.

Soli Deo Gloria!
Pastor Bob

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