Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Unfortunately, I have been where the residents of Aurora, CO are, as the eyes of the nation are upon them in the wake of the horrific massacre at a movie theater last week that left 12 people dead and another 58 wounded. I live in Tucson, AZ where in January of 2011 a crazed gunman attempted to assassinate Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, and the violent rampage left 6 people dead, and 12 others injured. Like Colorado, it sent waves of anger, shock, grief and commentary through the city and across the land. This brings to the forefront my premise: that it seems that violence is escalating all around us, on so many different levels. You cannot help but think, what’s going on? what’s at the root of all this violence? why the increase? how will it ever end? As Christians, it should provoke us to think clearly and Biblically about what is happening in our land, all around us.

THE VIRUS OF VIOLENCE

I’m not sure if most grasp the magnitude of the problem. Like a virus, it borders on the epidemic, as well as containing a very virulent strain. I could easily overwhelm you with statistics, but for the basis of discussion I will limit myself. We have the Washington, D.C. sniper, John Mohammed, who during a three week rampage, along with a teenage accomplice paralyzed cities in fear and left 10 people dead. In April of 2007, the awful massacre at VA Tech University that killed 33 people. In March of 2009, in Jonesboro, AR, there was the schoolyard shooting deaths of 4 girls, and a teacher, with 11 others injured. The culprits were two boys, ages 11 and 13. Then, there was the Fort Hood massacre carried out by Col. Nidal Hasan, who was carrying out his own personal jihad (this was not just workplace violence like some would have you believe) in the name of Allah, killing 13 people and wounding 29 others. I don’t have to get any more detailed or graphic for you to get my point: that we are witnessing an unprecedented increase of violence. No matter how many times you read or witness these events, it never prepares you for such senseless acts of brutality. Not far away from where I live is El Paso, TX, one of the safest cities in the U.S. Across the border is Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, where anarchy rules. In the last two years there have been more than 5,800 murders. All that separates the two cities is a river, which tells us this is more than geographic, it is spiritual.

SOCIETAL “TIPPING POINT”

According to Jesus this represents a prophetic “tipping point.” He said, "But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. As were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.” (Matt.24:36-39) Jesus tells us if we are to fully understand the last days, we’re going to have to examine another age, and that was Noah’s days. There was a lot going on but one feature that stands out is “THE EARTH WAS FILLED WITH VIOLENCE.” (Gen.6:11-13) reveals, “Now the earth was corrupt in God's sight, and the earth was filled with violence. And God saw the earth, and behold, it was corrupt, for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth. And God said to Noah, "I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence through them. Behold, I will destroy them with the earth.” There was a multiplying population coupled with multiplying moral and social corruption. The “tipping point” that led to judgment was the feature of unrestrained violence that violated God’s order. “The earth was corrupt, for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth...I have determined to make an end of all flesh, FOR the earth is filled with violence through them.” We cannot miss the progression that stands out here: Genesis 3/Adam & Eve sinned – Genesis 4/Cain kills Abel (1st case of fratricide) – Genesis 5/Lamech kills 2 men in a revenge killing and boasts about it. Then, we come to Genesis chapter 6 which relates “the earth was filled with violence.” Like a virus, it spread and multiplied, affecting more and more people.

The comparisons with our age are irrefutable. It reflects the proliferation that defined Noah’s day. We have the constant threat of terrorism; then there is media violence; domestic violence; workplace violence (which actually coined the phrase “going Postal”); school violence (79% of students, between the age of 12-18, admit to bullying); tribal violence throughout the world; gang violence and more. Two other interesting features of our age should be noted. The first is the increase of violence among girls. From police chiefs, to school teachers, to social workers, they are all testifying to an alarming new trend in the U.S. – which is girls becoming more violent, and more often. One commented, “It’s a nationwide phenomenon, and it’s catching us all off guard.” The other feature is the popularity of extremely violent video games, which is $$ billion dollar a year industry. People, mostly young men, will line up for hours, all night if necessary, for the release of such games as Halo, Medal of Honor, Metal Gear Solid, Diablo, Black Ops. Studies have shown that exposure to these games activates the aggression center in the human brain while de-activating the emotional center. The earth was filled with violence. I’m not trafficking in hyperbole.

There are two things that stand out and should be a major concern about this “virus of violence.” The first is VIOLENCE AS ENTERTAINMENT. Graphic violence is promoted and glorified by Hollywood on a regular basis. There is such a duplicity at work: they claim to be shocked and horrified by events in Aurora, CO yet they continue to produce films filled with gratuitous violence on a regular basis. The second concern is the DE-SENSITIZING that is at work. The truly frightening thing today is the obliteration or crippling of the human conscience. This is the reason for the title of this blog posting. (Proverbs 4:17) says, “For they eat the bread of wickedness and drink the wine of violence.” I like how The Message paraphrase puts things, “Perversity is their food and drink, violence their drug of choice.” The choice of words is right on target: it acts like a drug!

THE ANATOMY OF VIOLENCE

It is very common for people to completely miss the point in the wake of random, senseless violence. The first is the gun control advocates who will always politicize tragic events like this. The false logic is that if guns were not available, there would be no violence, at least not to the degree that we witness today. The other response that comes almost like clockwork, is where was God in all this, or how could God allow this? When we hear about violence, it is usually the sensational aspects that grab our attention. How is it that we overlook things like the unspeakable tragedy of 52 million abortions performed in our country in the last forty years. The biggest thing we get wrong is what Jesus made very clear, “For from within, out of a person’s heart, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, lustful desires, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness. All these vile things come from within; they are what defile you." (Mark 7:21-23) This is the accurate diagnosis that people want to avoid: that the source of evil lies much closer to home!

The Bible always takes us deeper, behind-the-scenes, to the true source of things. When describing what put things over the top, in God’s mind, about Noah’s generation, it says “The Lord observed the extent of human wickedness on the earth, and he saw that everything they thought or imagined was consistently and totally evil.” What caused God to say “Enough!” (I can’t take it anymore) was the mental saturation of wickedness that gave birth to a world filled with violence. Similar to the Psalms that says, “No, in your heart you plan evil; you think up violent crimes in the land.” (Ps.58:2) The increased violence reminds us not only of our “times” but it should also tell us something about the nature of man! While evolution argues that mankind is getting better, I think the facts and reality are telling us that we are getting worse! Clay Sterret spoke truly,
“Our American society is extremely violent: we love violent movies and video games. We love violence in sports. We legally allow 4000 brutal murders of (unborn) children every day in our hospitals and clinics, and then we get shocked when a child (that we can physically see) gets brutally murdered.” 
 I think we could easily edit that to say, “then we get shocked when someone goes on a killing spree.”

I wonder if there’s any connection between increased violence and increased rejection of God’s laws and restraints? The Ten Commandments were given to restrain lawless and rebellious men. Hmmm, public schools and buildings are now being told that any public display of the “10” is “unconstitutional” and we act surprised when people act the way they do?! (Proverbs 29:18) gives us a true autopsy when it says, “Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint, but blessed is he who keeps the law.” Look at the connection between not giving God his rightful place and people casting off restraints?! Various translations say, “they run wild...people are uncontrolled...crime runs wild.” You see, there is a “spirit of violence” that goes beyond guns and knives and fists. Scripture talks about the “violence” of bearing a grudge, the violence of enticing others to evil, the violence of divorce (TM, “I hate the violent dismembering of the ‘one flesh’ of marriage”).

VICTORY OVER VIOLENCE

Whether you know it or not, you are either part of the solution or you are part of the problem. This victory starts in every human heart. Ultimately, we need to look to the victory that is found in a miracle of God’s grace! (Gen.6:8) gives us a “ray of light and hope” in a culture inundated with darkness and corruption. It says “but Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord.” The only reason you or I or anyone for that matter is different is because of the grace of God! The Apostle Paul was no stranger to violence in his own life and person. His was perhaps the worst kind because it carried a self-righteous, sanctimonious sanction to it. This is why his testimony resonates so powerfully (1Cor.15:10) “But by the grace of God I am what I am....” Increased violence today should remind us all of where we might be apart from the grace of God! Charles Spurgeon was right on target when he said, “There is nothing that the worst of men have done, which the best of men could not do if they were left by the grace of God.” How true, how true!

Our police, emergency personnel, and first responders to a great job. The answer, though, has to be greater than more policemen, or better enforcement. The answer is a miracle within. One of my life verses is (2Cor.5:17)NLT which says, “This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” We need new lives and a new kind of “violence” to characterize us: the violence of our age must be met with a “holy violence” from within us. Jesus said, “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force.” (Matt.11:12) He’s describing a kind of “holy fight” within you to do what is right. The fact is that the wrong, the evil, the unrighteousness comes natural to most of us, but we’re going to have to “fight” for what is right. The Amplified translation of that verse says, “And from the days of John the Baptist until the present time, the kingdom of heaven has endured violent assault, and violent men seize it by force [as a precious prize — a share in the heavenly kingdom is sought with most ardent zeal and intense exertion].” The grace of God will put that kind of “holy fight” within the hearts of Christ followers in these last days!

Let me close by reminding you that this involves EVERYONE of us. This is not just a bit of religious moralizing for a few, this is a truth that applies to all of humankind. The headline would have grabbed everyone’s attention. It would’ve said something like “Pilate Orders The Murder of Innocent Worshipers.” Everyone in Jerusalem and the surrounding region would’ve been talking about this. They would’ve been discussing the especially heinous aspects to this murder and act of cruel violence. I’m sure they would’ve emphasized how innocent the victims were; after all, they had simply come to Jerusalem and the Temple to worship, and perhaps take part in one of the feast days. Little did they know that Pilate would use this to send another brutal message about the might of Rome and how futile it would be for anyone to try to resist it. The people informed Jesus about what had taken place and I’m sure were eager to hear his thoughts on the matter. However, I don’t think they were prepared for what he had to say. “About this time Jesus was informed that Pilate had murdered some people from Galilee as they were offering sacrifices at the Temple. "Do you think those Galileans were worse sinners than all the other people from Galilee?" Jesus asked. "Is that why they suffered? Not at all! And you will perish, too, unless you repent of your sins and turn to God.” (Luke 13:1-3) He wasn’t advocating the violence that occurred, but he did use this to remind them (and you and I) of our own individual need to repent and get right with God. You see, the proper response to the senseless violence in Aurora, CO, should move us to pray for the families and friends of the victims. Most of all, it should serve as a reminder to every one of us of our greatest need. In the end, that grace alone, is sufficient to answer to the plague afflicting our nation. Great or small, rich or poor, no matter what your race, ethnic background or education might be: REPENT, TURN TO GOD, AND BELIEVE THE GOSPEL!

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