Encouragement From The Word

Want a solution to gun violence? Choose life.

If you live in the Greater Toronto Area, or get news from southern Ontario, it’s been hard to miss that there has been a tremendous amount of gun violence lately.  In a city the size of Toronto, it is hard not to have some, and there always is some – but this summer, it seems to have become nearly virulent.  From the tragedy in the Eaton Centre food court to the street party gone amok on Danzig Street, we have been eyewitnesses, through the news, to a growing loss in our society:  the loss of the value of human life itself.

We are used to hearing about gun violence in the United States, even though it saddens us greatly; the most recent occurred last evening at a movie theatre in the Denver, Colorado area.  But in Toronto the Good?  No, thanks.

Of course, the politicians all weigh in with their assessments, right and left:  Mayor Ford says, ‘Catch the thugs and put them in jail, and don’t let them back in the city when they get out’; Councillor Vaughan says, ‘Ban the sale of guns and/or ammunition.’  But the root of the problem is deeper than that; it’s deeper than any politician alone can solve.

The problem with gun violence, I think, has much more to do with how we view human life, and how we are parented – and these are related.

One of the things that is common among many of the violent criminals in Toronto (and perhaps anywhere) is that they often have not had their fathers active in their lives.  (This leads to a long tangent on which I could ride with respect to an aberrant view of sexual activity from which I will refrain for now.)  As politically incorrect as it is to say, kids need both an active mom and an active dad in their lives to grow up well; or, at least, they need both an active female and male figure in their lives to be well-rounded.  Many of these young people with guns in hand have never been taught to respect the weapon for what it is and what it can do.

When I was a child, there were two guns hanging on a gun rack in our spare room.  A .22 and a .303 were just hanging there – long before there was any registry or any lock-up rules – and I knew where the bullets were kept.  Those guns were hardly ever used.  I remember Dad taking me out to an old sand dune to teach me how to use the .22.  I don’t ever remember being especially a good shot, but one thing Dad did in taking me out to learn how to use the gun, and that is that he taught me to respect the weapon.  I’m not sure a lot of people who get guns in their hands and are charged with crimes have ever been taught respect for the weapon.

However, even those who respect the weapon can still willfully misuse it if they have not been taught respect for life.  It seems we have some in our society today who would rather just kill someone with whom they disagree than have an adult conversation that might lead either to mutual disagreement or (gasp) reconciliation.  Why?  Because life doesn’t matter to them.

This is where parents play key roles.  There are some of you, I know, who are pulling your hair out trying to be the best mom or dad that you can be for your children, to help them follow God’s way and live as disciples of Jesus.  It’s the hardest job with which you could ever be charged.  God is for you, and God is with you, as you seek to raise your children not to be criminals, or victims, like we hear about in the news.   Your church community will support you as you do all you can in God’s grace to raise godly children.

Others of you, I know, wrestle with the fact that you did your best with your kids, and they have not turned out as you had hoped.  Outside influences ended up having more of an influence than you did.  Maybe they’re not in prison, but they’re not following Jesus, either.  God hears your heart’s cry for your kids, and maybe your grandkids.  He knows your pain.  He longs to comfort you.

Pray for families.  They are the nucleus of God’s plan for creation and society, and the Enemy will use the dissolution of families to try to break down the church.  Pray that families will engender a respect for life, and a love for Jesus.

Pray for those who take out their pain and frustration on others violently.  Pray that the Lord will grab hold of their hearts and replace their anger with love.

Pray for churches to reach out to parents who struggle to raise their kids, under varieties of sometimes unimaginable circumstances.  Pray that congregations will let God’s love spill over into those who need it most.

This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses.  Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life” (Deuteronomy 30.19-20a, NIV).

Encouragement From The Word

Lining up to see Oprah?

In case you missed it, Toronto was met with its own ‘mania’ on Monday:  Oprah-mania!  People were lined up outside the Metro Convention Centre, winding around several corners in the core of downtown Toronto, for many hours before the popular talk show host came out on the stage.

Now, I and many other Christ-followers have profound issues with the syncretistic nature of a lot of what Oprah supports.  (Two of her gurus, Deepak Chopra and Eckhart Tolle, teach things directly in opposition to the Christian faith.)  Much of what she purports looks very much like a spiritual buffet table.  You line up, get a plate, take a little bit of this and a little bit of that – all stuff that we enjoy and makes us comfortable, of course – and create your spiritual meal of niceties (no indigestion allowed).

All of this got me thinking, though:  we don’t see that kind of lineup outside churches, with people waiting for the doors to open to worship God and hear his Word expounded.  (To be fair, if there were only one church in the world, the lineup would be much longer than Oprah’s.)  If Jesus were to show up in town, what would the lineup be?  Would the crowd be enthusiastic?

There’s also a word of instruction for the church here.  What most struck me about that group of people lined up to see Oprah was their abject excitement at being in the same room with their hero.  How many of us, followers of Jesus, are excited when we gather together to worship the King of Kings?

Now, there are some of us who don’t get “excited” about much, just because that’s our personality.  But too many of us don’t show by our demeanour just how much our Saviour means to us.  Friedrich Nietzsche once said to Christians, “I will believe in your redeemer when your people look more redeemed.”

Can people tell that we are followers of Jesus?  Do followers of Oprah look more redeemed than we do?  Don’t feign your enthusiasm, but consider what the Lord has done for you, and respond as God has blessed you.  It can make a difference.

For you make me glad by your deeds, O Lord; I sing for joy at the works of your hands” (Psalm 92.4, NIV).