From Eden to Mandalay: Reflections on the Las Vegas Massacre

Early this morning while most of us were falling into a deep sleep, sheer panic and absolute terror was occurring in Las Vegas, Nevada.  The count now numbers 59 dead and over 500 injured in what is being called the deadliest mass shooting in US history.  While the debates about gun violence and gun rights will undoubtedly gain steam in the coming days (and this article is not about gun rights or political opinion), this tragedy actually points to something beyond the barrel of the high powered guns.  It more points to the heart of the man who pulled the trigger.  Stephen Paddock was by most reports, not a threat to the American public.  A retired accountant living in a retirement community in Arizona with no connections to any terror organization and only a minor citation on his record. He certainly didn’t fit the profile of one that would murder in cold blood 58 innocent people.  Four days before he checked in to two rooms at the Mandalay Casino and Resort and smuggled as many as 10 guns.  He even made gun stands of which he could fire his altered automatic weapon into a crowd of 22,000 people. All of this took careful, methodical and strategic planning. He knew of the concert, he knew of the best angle of which to inflict the most damage and he had for weeks schemed and organized. We can only surmise how long Paddock had been thinking of this scheme, but one thing is for sure, its foundations began long before Stephen Paddock was born.

Without a doubt this is evil at its worst.  It plunges deep into the deplorable and could only be carried out by a sick and twisted mind.  What goes through a man’s heart and mind as he is preparing to set up a killing field?  How can this even be possible?  Actually, it points to a deep theological and anthropological truth.

 The heart of man is capable of the worst of atrocities and often without a single hint of remorse.

The reality of this truth didn’t begin in Stephen Paddock’s mind, it began by one cataclysmic event thousands of years ago in a place called Eden.  Some are tempted to ask, “How could God have allowed this to happen?” I want to be clear, this was not God’s plan for his creation.  He created man in his own image (Genesis 1:26) and even breathed His Spirit into Adam’s nostrils (Genesis 2:7).  The mark of God was forever implanted within humankind at creation. The image of God (Imago Dei) was so prevalent in human kind that God said of it, “It is very good.” (Genesis 1:31).  Yet something very tragic happened shortly afterwards as the Imago Dei was marred through the sinful and willful choice of mankind. (Genesis 3:1-7). A heart that was created to worship became fallible to the point of total corruption. In Genesis 4, we find the first murder and by Genesis 6 God was “grieved in His heart” over the absolute deplorability of creation.

The events in Eden are directly connected to the room on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Casino and Resort.  The potential of evil in the heart of an unredeemed man is unthinkable. Jesus said, “From within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and make a man unclean.” Mark 7:21-23.  In Jeremiah 17:9 the Lord spoke of the potential of Man’s heart, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?”  A redeemed man must guard his heart from such natural inclinations, but an unredeemed man without the conviction of the Holy Spirit is susceptible to anything.  Columbine, Sandy Hook, San Bernardino and now Las Vegas are all dark events in our nation’s history each pointing to a deep seeded reality.  Adam and Eve’s fateful decision is still having a deadly and grievous impact on our world. Satan is the prince of this world and his aim has not changed.  He still exist to “steal, kill and destroy.” (John 10:10).  The same serpent that slithered into the garden was, no doubt at work on the 32nd floor of the resort. We can only guess all that the devil whispered to the heart of Stephen Paddock in the last few weeks. There is no doubt that his presence filled that hotel room.

Events like this remind us that we live in a dangerous place.  This world is not our home and these events point to the reality of this truth.

My heart is grieving today. I am heartbroken for those many families who will have an empty chair for the holidays this year.  My heart breaks even more that a very bad choice thousands of years ago has led us to this point. Adam is no father of mine and he is no friend to the world’s morality. I have been adopted by a Heavenly Father who has placed eternity in my heart. We are never fully protected from the evil of this world, but for those who are saved we have an eternal hope that this sin sick world will soon pass away.

We should fervently pray for the church to be at its best in the days ahead so that we can minister to the hurting, weep with the broken hearted and tell of the love of Christ.

Lord, this event reveals to us the potential of evil in the heart of every man and it points to a greater reality. You told us that “in this world we will have tribulations” but we rest in the promise that you have overcome the world. Be with those who are grieving today and bring healing to our nation as we find our hope in you.

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What Cancer CANNOT Do!

Over the past 3 weeks I have performed two funerals both involving people who received cancer diagnosis in the prime of their life.  I have personally seen the devastating effects that this disease has on people and their families.  I have been inspired by the determination of many who have faced treatments, surgeries, MRI’s and uncertain days due to a cancer diagnosis.  I have bought my share of t-shirts, armbands, ribbons and hats to support someone’s cancer fight.  I have prayed for many, sat beside hospital beds, given family counseling and offered spiritual support to likely hundreds of cancer patients in my years of ministry. I have seen what cancer can do, but lately I have given time to study what cancer cannot do.

Cancer is so personal to us because either we have received a diagnosis or know of someone who has.  Most of you reading this article have seen family members or close friends go through the difficulties of chemo and radiation.  The statistics reveal the prevalence of this disease:

  • In 2016, an estimated 1,685,210 new cases of cancer will be diagnosed in the United States and 595,690 people will die from the disease.
  • The number of new cases of cancer (cancer incidence) is 454.8 per 100,000 men and women per year (based on 2008-2012 cases).
  • Approximately 39.6% of men and women will be diagnosed with cancer at some point during their lifetimes (based on 2010-2012 data).

Much time has been given to the affects cancer can have on a person’s body. Few people have written any information regarding what cancer CANNOT do to a person.  I pray that this will be of great encouragement to you and those you love.

Cancer cannot extinguish the Glory of God. Romans 8:18-19, “Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the GLORY he will give us later. For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are.” 

The glory of God speaks of his manifold presence, his radiance, his magnificent beauty.  Paul speaks in these verses of both a present and future glory.  The incredible reality of God’s presence here now and in heaven.  For us who live in the “now” we are susceptible to suffering and also in danger of losing a sense of this incredible glory. The scriptures consistently point to the reality of suffering and sickness while we are here on temporary assignment, and our lives are simply a temporary assignment.  The suffering that we face now has purpose, we may not see that now but one day we will understand.  Our limitations now point toward the unlimited grace and glory of God.  Only in our sufferings, discouragement and difficulties can we truly know the depth of the eternal longings planted deep within our souls.  For those whose bodies are fighting cancer, rest assured that it cannot diminish the manifold glory of God’s presence.  John saw the glory of God in Revelation 4 and described it this way: “I saw a throne is heaven and someone sitting on the throne. The one sitting on the throne was brilliant gemstones, jasper and carnelian.  And the glow of an emerald circled his throne like a rainbow.  Around the throne day and night they sing, “You are worthy, O God our God, to receive glory and honor and power.  For you created everything, and it is for your pleasure that they exist and were created.” Our sufferings point us to a Savior and the incredible reality that this home is not our REAL home.  God reveals his glory to us in our sufferings and reminds us that though the days are tough and the pain is real, it will not and cannot diminish or extinguish his splendor and glory.  It is available for us in the temporary and it will one day be in full display for eternity.

Cancer cannot take away our freedom in Christ. Romans 8: 23-25. “And we believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering. We, too, wait with eager hope for the day when God will give us our full rights as his adopted children, including the new bodies he has promised us. We were given this hope when we were saved. If we already have something, we don’t need to hope for it. But if we look forward to something we don’t yet have, we must wait patiently and confidently.”   We wait anxiously for that day when God will give us our full rights as his children…we eagerly look forward to this freedom!   Though cancer can impact the body, it cannot impact the freedom Christ gives to us. That freedom is best understood not by looking at our aging and declining bodies, but by remembering that the work of God is best experienced in the soul and spirit.  Even in the midst of pain the Holy Spirit’s work of sanctification is readying us for the day when His future glory will become ours. Cancer causes the flesh to fail, yet the soul will shine like the stars in the night sky as Christs’ redemptive work is taking its full affect.   Cancer can wreck the body, but it cannot touch your redeemed soul and it cannot impact your spirit. Paul says in verse 25, “we wait patiently and confidently.”  Yes, confidence even through the uncertainty of cancer, there can be contentment and confidence as we rest in the freedom which is to come.

Cancer cannot separate us from the love of Christ.  Romans 8: 35-37.  Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.”) No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us. And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow–not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below–indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  The world would say that if God loves us we wouldn’t ever get sick or have cancer or go through difficulties, however the scriptures tell us a different story.  Paul asks, “Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity?”  Overwhelming victory is ours even in suffering and sickness.  As horrible as cancer can be, it cannot overwhelm the love of Jesus Christ in a person’s life. Cancer ultimately reveals the love of Jesus more clearly for those who make the decision to dwell in it. Though our world may be failing around us if we will trust in the perpetual presence of His love, then His peace will soon follow.  “Life with God is not immunity from difficulties, but peace in difficulties.” -C.S. Lewis.

For that person fighting cancer, don’t give up, don’t give in.  Keep fighting, keep striving. But you should know, that for everything cancer IS doing to you, there is much it CANNOT do to you.  Cancer can only touch the temporary, but it cannot impact the eternal.  I am praying for you today. Praying that you will know His grace in the moments, His love in your doubts, his light in your darkest hours and his ever present hand that is holding yours. Hear his sweet voice as he whispers, “I have prepared you for this.”