Everyone is asking, and rightly so . . .
Is it the guns?
Is it lack of funding for mental illness?
Is it the parenting or lack of parents?
Is it the fact that they took prayer out of schools?
Is it the republican president?
Essentially, the question we all want answered is this:
WHO CAN WE BLAME?
Because when seventeen living, breathing, precious human beings have the breath of life taken from them in a barrage of bullets fueled by a haze of hurt and hate, we want answers.
If I could hold the hands of the mothers and the fathers, if I could sit with them and just weep beside them, I would. And so would you. We can’t wipe these kinds of tears away. We can’t sooth this pain with words. Our nation and most importantly, these families will carry the scars.
We gathered around a flagpole last night, a group of people from our community, and we held hands, lit candles, and prayed for the families, prayed for our country, prayed for our schools. But I know those prayers won’t bring 17 lives back. I know desks will be empty, and teams will be missing players and coaches, and parents will mark birthdays and holidays without their child. So we as individuals, as families, as communities, and as a nation spiral into a frenzy of frantic questions and internet searches trying to assimilate order from this chaos, trying to make sense of a painful insanity.
Dear God in heaven, help us.
Help us to ask the right questions.
What if we have been asking the wrong questions? What if the right questions are too uncomfortable and convicting to ask, so we join the rhetoric and blaming? And while people continue to die we keep asking the wrong ones? What if they won’t bring us to the answer? Because haven’t we been asking these questions? Haven’t we been fighting these battles in congress, at school boards, in forums, in churches, and when we vote, aren’t we voting with what we believe to be the answers?
And don’t misunderstand. I’m all for the asking, for the voting, for the petitions.
BUT . . .
So, I have a different list of questions to ask.
I’ve been praying, studying, reading, and trying to learn all sides of this issue. These questions are the result of a lot of contemplating and soul searching.
I’m asking them first of myself, and I’m holding myself to answering them honestly.
I am a Christian, so I’m going to ask that my fellow Christians consider asking these same questions of themselves. If your beliefs aren’t the same as mine, perhaps you will still relate to these questions, but know that ultimately, I’m addressing myself and fellow followers of Christ whom I believe have a great deal of responsibility in this. I operate off a belief system that insists I align myself with the heart of God and teachings of Christ. So, scripture is my standard for these questions. They do not come from a heart of condemnation of which there is none in Christ, but a heart of repentance, knowing that if I hunger for change, I must be willing to be the change first.
- If I believe people are a new creation in Christ, when was the last time I shared the gospel with someone I’ve taken the time to truly know?
I’m not talking about leaving a gospel booklet with a lousy 10% tip, something that truly gives Jesus a bad name (note to all believers, in this day and age, if you aren’t leaving a 20% tip, please don’t mention that you are a Christian. It will hurt the cause of Christ. I have a son who is a waiter, so trust me on this. Give generously or eat at home.) What I’m talking about here is the biblical response to Matthew 28:18-20 that instructs us as we are going along to make disciples and teach them everything Christ taught His disciples. This will take time. This will take sacrifice. This will take study. This will take knowing the person and sharing with them. Jesus spent 3 years with his disciples. Am I committed to sharing the life-giving, freeing truth of the gospel with people so that they may be made new and indwelt by the powerful, life-transforming Holy Spirit? Because why would I ask Congress to change mankind’s behavior when I believe that the Holy Spirit transforms behavior one heart at a time?
Above all else, guard the heart, for out of it flow the issues of life. Pr. 4:23
Heart problems are fixed right where they are . . . in the heart.
See, we want answers, and I get that. But what if I’m so busy pointing fingers, I’ve missed it.
What if I am seeking the very answer I carry around in my heart—Christ–and instead of offering that very real hope, I offer thoughts and prayers?
Prayers are good.
Prayers coupled with obedience to the Great Commission of Jesus Christ are transformative.
And isn’t that what we are hungry for as a nation? Transformation?
Because if that’s truly what we long for, then we seek something Jesus Christ said only He can give.
And we . . . are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. 2 Cor. 3:18
Is it possible we are asking the wrong source for transformation of our country? If we truly believe scripture, then we will have to accept that transformation into the image of God comes from the Lord.
And His image, the one believers are being transformed into?
IT IS LOVE.
Whoever does not love does not know God because God is love. I John 4:8
And isn’t that—God who is Love–ultimately the solution? Loved people who allow LOVE into their hearts will LOVE others. WE CARRY LOVE, and we must give it . . . not talk about it . . . GIVE IT.
So, am I doing that? Giving Jesus one relationship at a time?
- Instead of asking the government to spend more on mental illness, have I considered spending $2 a week on it myself by taking a heroic friend who clings to life amidst the strain of mental illness to coffee?
Mental illness fights against humanity one mind at a time. We can fight back by loving those with mental illness one heart at a time. Intentionally. On purpose. Getting to know them. An Australian survey reported that two-thirds of people affected by a mental illness feel lonely “often” or “all of the time.” (1) “Left untended, loneliness can have serious consequences for mental and physical health of people. Therefore it is important to intervene at the right time to prevent loneliness, so that physical and mental health of patients is maintained.” (2) Just being a present encouragement in the life of another human being could be the difference-maker.
I have learned that while non-profit, faith-based programs for people who need in-patient care are among the most successful, they are almost always financially out of reach for those who endure mental illness. Before insisting the government dispense tax dollars through a system sticky with red tape, why not consider making donations to these often forgotten organizations that stand in the gap for those with mental illnessourselves? Should government fund these programs? Of course. But Jesus told US to care for people as well, didn’t he?
So, am I loving those who struggle with mental illness in my life?
- What friends do I have that are considered marginalized?
In other words, how diverse is my friend group? How much effort am I actually putting into knowing people with different perspectives, experiences, beliefs, and world-views? How can I truly understand what a refugee is experiencing if I’ve never even spoken to one? How can I truly understand what it is like for a black man living the United States if I’ve never interacted with him? How can a black man genuinely understand what it is like to be a white police officer unless he’s taken the time to know him? Why have we become a society that insists on sameness at the cost of unity? Why are we a nation that banned segregation and yet we remain individuals who segregate based on the brand of jeans we wear, the types of cars we drive, the colors of our skin, the neighborhoods we live in, our ages, our food preferences, and more? Why do we choose to separate ourselves categorically when in reality we are fundamentally joined based on the reality that we are all humans? The message? We must follow Christ’s example. He was a male Jew who spoke to female Samaritans. We must step out of our categories and into someone else’s until we cease to see people based on their career or skin pigment and instead see one category: mankind.
Am I regularly making a practice of stepping into new categories?
- Who is the individual in my office, church, community, school, or neighborhood that is isolated, and have I purposefully loved and befriended them?
If I side with the masses and steer clear of supposed social lepers, I must know this one thing: I am making an unbiblical determination that those individuals are unlovable.
WRONG. For God so loved THE WORLD . . . John 3:16
In Boca Raton, Florida, a young Haitian immigrant named Denis Estimon knew personally what it meant to be alone, and he did something about it. He began the “We Dine Together” club in his school where a group people committed that they would end marginalization in their school one student at a time. They went to the lonely and entered into their category, entered into their world. What can I learn from this young man?
Am I willing to leave my comfortable group and love the lonely?
- What money or physical help have I personally given to the poor, the marginalized, the unwed pregnant teen, the foster child, the orphan, the drug addict that I know?
In other words, how am I being a part of changing one person’s life? How am I helping physically? Do I have anything I can physically give to assist these people? And if I do, then why am I withholding it?
For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was ill and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”
‘Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison and go to visit you?”
‘The King will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:35-40)
As a follower of Christ, beyond my giving to my local church, if I am not personally giving to the myriad of needs on this planet, how can I expect government to fix these vast problems? Should I expect them to use tax dollars and influence to assist and affect change? Absolutely, but may I never be found assigning my personal responsibility to meet needs to the government. Because there are programs does not make me exempt. Scripture remains very clear.
So, am I a part of the solution by giving?
- What child am I personally involved with in an intentional, purposeful way with the goal of reflecting the light, love, and hope of Christ into their life physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually through mentoring?
A recent study conducted on the effects of mentoring showed that mentoring was linked to improved academic, social and economic prospects, and to strengthening communities and the nation as a whole. “The nationally representative survey found that compared to at-risk young adults without a mentor, those with a mentor were:
- 81 percent more likely to report participating regularly in sports or extracurricular activities.
- 78 percent more likely to volunteer regularly in their communities.
- More than twice as likely to say they held a leadership position in a club or
sports team.” (3)
“Mentoring has been cited as one of the core components in youth violence prevention, especially for black males who are struggling to remain connected to educational and career opportunities. Mentors can provide guidance to make better choices, set goals that lead away from violent paths, and develop conflict resolution skills.”(4) I don’t have to be perfect to be a mentor; I have to be available. While the government can fund programs like these, I can be a part of staffing them.
So, am I making myself available for mentoring relationships?
- Can I help with a summer youth program or commit to helping in a local church youth group or children’s ministry?
“Researchers have identified at least two onset trajectories for youth violence: a childhood trajectory that begins before puberty and an adolescent one that begins after puberty. Violence peaks during the second decade of life. The small group of offenders who began their violent behavior in childhood commits more violent offenses, and the larger group of adolescent offenders begins to become involved in violence.” (5) If this is the case, becoming involved with a youth group where you can speak directly into the lives of children and teens may be one of the most impactful ways of circumventing violent behavior.
And what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. I Tim.2:2
If it was good enough for Paul to instruct Timothy, then surely it’s good enough for us to follow? What if my presence in a child’s life is the difference maker? Not that I said anything amazing, but just that I was there?
Am I willing to be present in a child’s life?
- Have I stopped by my local DFCS office and asked how I can help children in my community?
Recently, I talked with a friend whose nest is becoming empty. Her children are growing up, starting careers of their own, attending college, and moving out. So, when she and her husband were perfectly situated to sail into golden years, they quietly took fostering classes and opened their home to hurting, frightened, children. She raised her hand and said, “I’ll stand in the gap. I’ll deliver the heart of God to these precious children, one heart at a time.”
There are 428,000 children in the United States in Foster Care. (6)
There are 3.9 million protestant evangelicals in the state of Georgia alone. If 1 out of every 9 Georgia evangelicals adopted a foster child, there would be no more need for the foster system.
(7) And I understand not everyone is in a position to open their home, but what of non-profit group homes like Open Arms in Blue Ridge, Georgia? They are a group home for children in the system “dedicated to helping children who have been abused and neglected by recognizing their emotional, behavioral and familial problems and providing quality short-term residential care that includes access to life enrichment and character building programs.”(8) Have I checked in with organizations like this to see how my biological and church family can assist them in this critical mission?
Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. James 1:27
- Have I considered not just volunteering at my local food bank during the holidays, but actually adopting a family year-round?
How crazy would it be if I committed to helping a family all year? When they need help finding housing, I raise my hand to help. When they need help finding jobs, I raise my hand. When they need help making the rent or buying birthday presents, or finding a tutor, I raise my hand, and stand in the gap until they are truly on their feet. What would our world look like if all evangelicals do that with just one family in crisis that they know personally?
Is there a struggling family I can champion?
- Have I taught my own children the heartbeat of God and the teachings of Jesus when it comes to assessing the needs of all mankind?
You shall therefore impress these words of mine on your heart and on your soul; and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. “You shall teach them to your sons, talking of them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road and when you lie down and when you rise up. “You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates, so that your days and the days of your sons may be multiplied on the land which the LORD swore to your fathers to give them, as long as the heavens remain above the earth . . . Deuteronomy 11:18-21
For those of us who are raising children, isn’t this the real crux? We want all the blessings of healthcare, education, safety, and opportunities for our children, but so often we neglect the true source. We must begin at home. We must.
We, you and I, mothers and fathers, must teach our children the truths of God’s Word. How many of us have abdicated that privilege and responsibility to youth pastors, Sunday School teachers, and private Christian schools? How many of us have decided it is their responsibility to teach our children all the while, we go about scrolling through facebook wondering why the world is spiraling out of control?
Could it be us?
Could it be up to us to pick up the mantel, and petition the hearts of our children before we petition anyone else?
We must tell our children God loves mankind, and then we must SHOW them God loves mankind by living it.
So this is my list of questions.
I have some areas I’m committing to work on, some areas where I need to allow the heart of Jesus to redirect my actions. So, I’m going to work in those areas, and my hope is that we as evangelicals will take a minute to assess the plank in our eyes before we start pointing at sawdust around us.
Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? Matthew 7:3
Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord. Acts 3:19
The very refreshing we seek cannot be found in Washington, DC. It cannot be found in new legislation. It cannot be found in metal detectors. It cannot be found in more funding. Those things are not wrong. They’re needed. But I am asking Christians to see them for what they are: band-aids, not cures. And while I believe in their value and necessity, I am convinced that as followers of Christ, we have the cure. The cure is Christ, and we carry Him around in our souls all the while we cry out to the government to solve problems Jesus intended to solve through us.
The government isn’t unnecessary, but it is humanity’s Plan B because we reject Christ’s Plan A.
Nearly 75% of the United States population claims Christianity, (9) but of those 75%, only 20% of Americans who profess Christianity volunteer at a non-profit and 18% volunteer in church ministry. Where are we? We are a nation claiming to come under God when in reality, we have bought into the lie that it is the government’s responsibility to care for the poor, to solve the issue of homelessness, to end horrific massacres. The responsibility is ours, and blood is on our hands.
It’s true we can no longer sit silent, but we can also no longer sit idle. Lobby, we must. But let us first lobby our hearts and souls; let us first be the difference makers. Not only is it our destiny, personal initiative is also the very thing that will give us credibility again with a skeptical world.
“In response to an open-ended question – meaning that survey respondents were not prompted with a list of possibilities but were asked to provide answers off the top of their head – one out of every five adults (19%) mentioned how Christians in the United States have helped poor or underprivileged people to have a better life.” (10) That means only 20% of survey respondents consider Christians to have an impact on the poor. Yet Jesus Himself saw to the hunger of multitudes. The survey continued to say, “When asked to identify what they thought were the negative contributions of Christians to American society in recent years, the most frequent response was violence or hatred incited in the name of Jesus Christ. One out of five Americans mentioned such vitriolic attitudes.”
So, while 1 in 5 Americans acknowledge that Christians have helped the poor, 1 in 5 Americans also state that Christians are responsible for the violence or hatred incited at the name of Christ.
Additionally, the survey revealed, “The third most common (positive) contribution listed was shaping or protecting the values and morals of the nation. This perspective was given by one out of every seven adults (14%).” This is what Christians want, right? We hear this language frequently: We need to get God back into America. We need to bring back morality into this seemingly pagan nation. Here’s the rub, most Americans, a whopping 86%, do not credit Christians with protecting or shaping the values or morals of our country. In short, we have a bad rap, and the louder we shout and more we post about government failures, the worse we look. Why? Because it does not appear we are willing to do anything about it, and that makes us look like hypocrites because even unbelieving atheists know that the God we profess to follow DID SOMETHING.
It may be time we hear this: Christians, the rhetoric is not working.
There’s no need to be offended. These are just statistics giving us a clear picture of what people understand. We need to be motivated. We need to be propelled. We need to be reminded. Jesus walked among the people. Jesus made some bold statements, but he backed them up with action. His credibility came from the evidence provided by His actions. If only 20% of Americans see our greatest contribution as helping the poor, what have the other 80% experienced? Where are we?
Adding to this is the reality that “Slightly more than one out of every ten adults (11%) said Christianity had not made any positive contributions to the United States.” 10% of Americans actually think Christians have not contributed positively overall to the United States and additionally, “The most frequent response, however, was the inability to think of a single positive contribution made by Christians in recent years. One out of every four respondents (25%) said they could not recall anything of this nature.” So, 1 in every 4 surveyed would plainly state that in their lifetime, they could not recall a single positive contribution to American society by evangelicals.
Is it possible we mean well but may be missing the mark?
Is it possible that what is needed is not for God to return to America–as if an omnipresent God ever left–but for Christians to return to God? What if we got crazy radical and actually truly, literally obeyed the instruction of God’s Word?
This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth. I John 3:16-18
We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 2 Cor. 5:20
If we are the ones through whom God is making His appeal to humanity, then what are people hearing? What are they seeing?
Fellow followers, let us quit TELLING and SHOW a hurting world Jesus.
He is the answer to the question, and He is making His appeal through us.
So, my final question is this:
Am I allowing Jesus to make His appeal through me? Really, am I?
Because it’s going to have to be first things first. Change will take place one heart at a time, and my heart has to be first.
- Mentally Ill ‘neglected by communities’. (05/08/2002). Yahoo. AU.
- Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research, Relationship Between Loneliness, Psychiatric Disorders and Physical Health ? A Review on the Psychological Aspects of Loneliness
- Bruce, M., & Bridgeland, J. (2014). The mentoring effect: Young people’s perspectives on the outcomes and availability of mentoring.
Boston, MA: MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership.
- 9 David-Ferdon, C., & Simon, T.R. (2014). Taking action to prevent youth violence: A companion guide to preventing youth violence:Opportunities for action. Atlanta, GA: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control.
- Youth Violence: A Report from the Surgeon General