The Best of 2012

The results are in.  The counts have been finalized.  The numbers are clear.  Here is a list of the most popular posts made to this blog in 2012.  Drum roll please!

Number 5

Beginning the list at number five is “Lessons From Job, Part 6,” published on January 10.  This was the last installment of a six-part series on truths that had impacted me greatly from the book of Job.

Number 4

Number four on the list is “Living (and Dying) in Hope,” posted September 8.  I wrote these words after receiving the news that a dear high school music teacher of mine, Gary Fiscus, had succumbed to his long battle with cancer.

Number 3

The third most popular post of 2012 is “Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting,” published December 15, written in the wake of the terror in a school in Connecticut.

Number 2

Coming in at number two is “Time for a (Real) Change,” posted on April 10.  This post delves into a realization I came to shortly after my wife and I moved to a new house.  While all my surroundings were new, it turned out I was the same ol’ guy.

Number 1

And the most popular post made to this blog in 2012 is “Shots Fired,” written and published on November 23.  This post recounts the events that took place while my wife, mom, and mother-in-law were at a mall in Omaha, NE, early in the morning on Black Friday.

There you have it, folks.  The top five posts of 2012.  May they be a blessing.  Grace and peace to you as you begin 2013.

A Rock in a Hurricane

There is incomprehensible suffering in this world.  It shouldn’t be! our hearts cry out.  And our hearts are right.  A gunman shouldn’t shoot 26 people in cold blood, 20 of them defenseless children, in an elementary school. A group of men shouldn’t gang rape a woman on a public bus and then throw her off it for dead. Terrorists shouldn’t run airplanes into buildings. A country’s entire economic system shouldn’t be dependent upon labor inhumanely exacted from black slaves. A husband shouldn’t be so arrogant and self-centered when his wife is tired and needs encouragement.

And yet these things happen. They happen every day. We hear about some in the news. Most don’t draw much media coverage at all. And in light of such horrors, people begin to look for relief from the horrors that surround them—and from the horrors that torment them.

Christianity has the answer, but it might not be exactly what you think it is. To be very clear, Jesus is the answer. What you need in the middle of terror—any terror or calamity or sorrow or hardship that you’ve ever faced, are facing right now, or ever will face—is Jesus right there, right beside you, with his strong, sovereign arms around you ensuring you that this pain won’t consume you.

I would gently and lovingly caution you, however, from misunderstanding what I mean when I say that Jesus is the answer. What I don’t mean is that you need Jesus so that big, strong Jesus can remove you from your terror or calamity or sorrow or hardship. In fact, Jesus and the inspired biblical writers make it very clear that following him would increase the tribulations you face in this world (John 16:33; Romans 8:17; Philippians 1:29; 2 Thessalonians 3:2-4; 1 Peter 2:20). What I mean when I say that Jesus is the answer to your deepest longings and most pointed pains is that you need Jesus to be the rock under your feet so that when the winds blow and when the storm comes, while you may be struck hard by the merciless waves, you won’t be utterly shaken and washed away.

Jesus doesn’t promise to remove all your heartache. He promises to walk beside you through it and ensure it doesn’t consume you. That is the hope we have in him. This rock-solid truth is what the world longs for and can’t find. As we enter 2013, I pray that you wouldn’t be one of those left wanting.

Accepting the Unexplained: Hope After Sandy Hook

“Yet Listen Now”
by Amy Wilson Carmichael

Yet listen now,
Oh, listen with the wondering olive trees,
And the white moon that looked between the leaves,
And gentle earth that shuddered as she felt
Great drops of blood. All torturing questions find
Answer beneath those old grey olive trees.
There, only there, we can take heart to hope
For all lost lambs—Aye, even for ravening wolves.
Oh, there are things done in the world today
Would root up faith, but for Gethsemane.
For Calvary interprets human life;
No path of pain but there we meet our Lord;
And all the strain, the terror and the strife
Die down like waves before His peaceful word,
And nowhere but beside the awful Cross,
And where the olives grow along the hill,
Can we accept the unexplained, the loss,
The crushing agony,—and hold us still.

There are things done in the world today, like the cold-blooded murder of 20 elementary children, that “would root up faith, but for Gethsemane.” That is, I would lose all hope and faith in God in light of such events were it not for the fact that Jesus walked the road of suffering first. There is “no path of pain” that anyone will ever walk that is unfamiliar territory for Jesus. There are no painful trails that any man will ever navigate on which Jesus is not already standing, waiting to embrace those who call on his name.

The reality of Jesus’ horrific death does not lessen our experience of pain. However, the cross does make it clear that pain and suffering do not get the final word. For though Jesus endured the worse death ever crafted by the wicked hearts of man—Roman crucifixion—he also rose again and in so doing offered that very same hope to all those who would believe on his name. The greatest hope any citizen of Newtown could have tonight is that of a crucified and risen savior who offers to them the same hope and joy that allowed him to endure the cross: the hope and joy of an assured resurrection.

May you know this hope, and may it help you “accept the unexplained, the loss.”

Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting

Sandy Hook Elementary

This story feels extremely close and personal to me for two reasons.  For starters, just over three weeks ago I was involved in an incident that, at the time, was believed to be a shooting in a mall in Omaha, Nebraska.  (Read my account of that night here.)  The terror of those dream-like moments remains all too fresh and gut-wrenching.

Secondly, I work as an English as second language teacher in a K-8 school in inner-city Minneapolis.  The majority of my students are between eight and nine years old.  The thought of encountering a crazed gunman intent on killing innocent children in my classroom is absolutely sickening.  From time to time I’ve thought about what my reaction would be.  I pray to God it would be a brave, self-sacrificial reaction rather than a cowardly, selfish one.

Watching the news, the question posed over and over again is “Why?”  Why did this happen?  How is it possible that someone could do something like this?  Connecticut Governor Dan Malloy said it this way: “Evil visited this community.”  And in the end, that is exactly why something like this happened.  Evil is at the root of this tragedy.  Evil is real, and it manifested itself in a terrifying way in an elementary school in Sandy Hook, Connecticut.

We human beings are a broken race.  God created us for glory.  God created us for joy at heights we are currently unable to fathom.  But as the story in Genesis goes, Adam and Eve chose to rebel against God’s good and righteous rule.  They cast God off the throne of their lives and set themselves up in his place.  And in this way evil entered the world.  And it has plagued us ever since.  The singular cause of school shootings and broken families and fights with one’s spouse is found in the rupture that exists in mankind’s relationship with the God that created and loves them.  It is no small wonder that when we turn our backs on the Light we find ourselves in darkness.

So evil is not isolated to the hearts of psychotic gunmen in elementary schools.  It’s a universal reality that exists in the hearts of each and everyone of us.  Evil visited Sandy Hook on Friday to be sure.  But it also visited 10th Avenue South (my street) just this morning.  In fact, it lives there.  It lives in me.  The evil that drove a man to kill children in an elementary school in Connecticut is the same evil that lurks in the depths of my selfish, arrogant, rebellious heart.  And it’s the same evil that resides in yours.

As a result I need a Savior.  You need a savior.  And that may be the most incredible news of all.  There is one.  His name is Jesus.  The God-man Jesus Christ left his home in heaven and entered a cruel and violent world to be treated cruelly and violently and in so doing to make a way for sinful mankind like you and me and gunmen from Connecticut to be reconciled to their good and holy God.

Such evil will be repaid in full in one of two ways.  Jesus taught that either the perpetrator will pay for his own evil deeds in a literal, eternal hell, or Jesus himself would take the punishment on himself and pay it for all those who see him and believe in him.  Embrace Jesus today.  Come to him and submit to him.  Cling to what he did for you as your only hope for reconciliation with your all-satisfying Creator.

May God be pleased to shine the Light of the world, Jesus, into the darkness that looms over Sandy Hook Connecticut–the very same darkness that hangs over the heads of us all.

Peace to you.

Related Links:
“Shots Fired”
Huffington Post’s account of events
CNN’s account of events
The Good News of the Gospel