The day “evil did what evil does” (Lafayette, Louisiana Theater Killing)

On Thursday, July 23, 2015, in the beautiful city of Lafayette, Louisiana, evil did what evil does. Actually, evil had been hard at work weeks, months or even years before that fateful Thursday. Somewhere at some time, evil crept stealthily into the mind of a broken man. Evil then stalked him, waiting for just the perfect moment to make its ambitious move.

Finally, on a gorgeous day in a Lafayette motel, evil saw the opening it had been looking for. With seductive glee, evil whispered into the ear of a desperate man and convinced him to carry out a diabolical plan. “Go to a local theater, buy a ticket to a movie, and oh yeah, don’t forget to take your gun. When you go into the theater, sit near the back. Wait until the movie has reached out and grabbed the audience, then stand up and start shooting people. It doesn’t matter that those people are innocent. As a matter of fact, that’s even better,” evil says. “That will enhance my reputation even more.”

“And,” evil continues, “you can get away with it. Park your car near an exit. Then in the confusion caused by your grand surprise, mix with the crowd and make your escape. You’ll be famous and you’ll finally get some degree of satisfaction that somebody is finally paying for all the bad things people have done to you.”

So the man does as evil commands. He stands in line with innocent people, young and old, who are just out on a hot summer Thursday to enjoy a movie and maybe some popcorn and a cola. He then makes his way to Theater 14, finds a seat near the back, checks to make sure his gun is still where he put it, and sits down. He watches as about a hundred people find there places. There’s lively chatter and laughter in an atmosphere punctuated by low lights and the smell of buttered popcorn.

The man is probably nervous as he thinks about what he is about to do, but the voice of evil comforts him by telling him he’s doing the right thing. After all, people like those he was sitting with were responsible for his misery. Somebody needed to pay.

The movie starts and the man waits for the moment. Finally, twenty minutes or so in, evil whispers, “Now!” Like a robot, the man stands and starts shooting. One, two, three shots ring out and now he loses all control. He keeps pulling the trigger and watches as a chaotic scene unfolds in front of him.

When its all said and done, two beautiful young women are dead and many others are wounded. Seeing that evil had lied to him about escaping, the man turns the gun on himself, pulls the trigger for a final time, and just like that, its done. Evil grins and mutters, “Mission accomplished.”

How should we respond to heinous events such as this one that occurred in my hometown? Our initial reaction is of course, disbelief. How could this happen, not just in Lafayette, but anywhere? After the initial shock, then comes the anger. This is where we must be careful. In our pursuit of justice, we often lose sight of the real enemy. We naturally think things like, “The killer deserved to die.” And certainly, he did deserve to pay for his actions. We also must not, (and we will not), forget the innocent victims and their heartbroken families.

The real villain here though is not the man who pulled the trigger. The gun is not the villain either. If we blame the gun, we also must blame the car that took him to the theater, the motel that allowed him to rest and scheme, and the contractor who built the theater.

No, the real villain is the culture of evil that was born when the first person chose to not do good. God did not create evil as some would suggest. Everything He created was “good.” Evil is simply the absence of good and our world has created an atmosphere where, even though its the way of cowards, self-gratification is more easily attained by choosing to shun good even though it may come at the expense of someone else’s success or even their life.

So, is there hope? Evil seems to be winning. It seems to be winning with terrorism. It seems to be winning with poverty, hunger and politics. I believe good will eventually prevail. As Christians we must never forget the promises God has made to His people.

Ps 37:7  says, “Be still in the presence of the LORD, and wait patiently for him to act. Don’t worry about evil people who prosper or fret about their wicked schemes.” NLT

Because we have and believe God, the proper response to tragedies like this should reflect our faith in His Word. While we must abhor evil, we cannot forget that our purpose on earth is to preach the Gospel, especially in times like these. While we cannot give people faith, we can give them hope and hope is where faith is formed.

So, if evil exists only in the absence of good, our comeback to evil should be a response of good. Let the volume of good be louder than the volume of evil. You see, darkness does not chase away the light, light defeats darkness. Darkness does not exist, only an absence of light.

So our response to the evil, while including mourning with those who suffered injury and loss, will be with good. We will love those who persecute us. We will pray for those who hurt us. We will spread the hope of Jesus Christ.

The events of July 23 should serve to unite us. No matter our ethnicity, culture, religion or lifestyle, we have a common purpose and that is to combat evil. So evil, we serve notice to you. Our troops are deploying, but we are not coming with knives, guns or civil disobedience. We are coming in the name of what is right and good and in case you haven’t noticed, good always prevails in the end.

To the people of Lafayette, God is not mad at you. He loves you. He has a plan, it’s brilliant and we are all in it. Of course, His plan did not include the murder of innocent people, but in view of the fact that someone chose to not do good, God is present and ready to help the suffering cope with their loss. He will use present circumstances to unite us in cause and spirit and if we allow, He will help us defeat the spirit of evil that is out to destroy us all.

To the injured, and to the families of  Jillian Johnson and Mayci Breaux, though we cannot fully grasp the depth of your grief, our hearts are broken for you. We are praying for you and we know God will bring the comfort that only He can give.

To the family of the killer, John Houser, we pray also for you. May the grace and mercy of God be with you.

And, to Westboro Baptist Church, if you decide to visit our beautiful city, do not think that just because we are a Happy City that we will just lay down and let you spew your hate. We will rise up, but our rising up will be with the banner of God’s love and mercy and His unbounded grace. We will drown you out and send you back to your hole in the ground with your tails tucked. Know this!

Dinner and a Devo

Misfits are always Welcome

We (Nancy and me) had been invited to attend an after service social for ministers only, that was going to take place at the home of a high ranking church official. Being the introvert that I am, I struggled with the idea of going, but I overwhelmed my anxiety about the whole thing and we went. When we got there, we were greeted by the lady of the house who told us to make ourselves at home. After that initial welcome we were left alone. Apparently everyone else there knew each other well. They had gathered around all the big tables and were having what seemed like the time of their lives. There was loud laughter and conversation all around.

We looked around for a place to sit and there was nothing available except for a little table for two that was located in a hallway around a corner and out of view of the other rooms. We sat down there and remained there for probably 45 minutes. No one approached us or attempted to include us in any of their conversations. It was really quite awkward. We knew this was a place where we didn’t fit. So, while everyone was busy enjoying themselves, we quietly slipped out.

Although this was not a fun event to live through, that little “party” actually helped shape me when it comes to my style of leadership. I remember how bad I felt as we left that night and I promised myself two things: 1) I will never put myself through that again, and 2) I will always try to be aware and make sure this never happens to anyone who comes to the church I pastor.

Hear this…at Landmark, EVERYONE is welcome and EVERYONE belongs. Now, it’s one thing to say that and another to live it out. The purpose of this devotional is to remind us to always be on the look out for the misfits who walk through our doors and to intentionally make them feel included. Even if that means losing our place in line or giving them our chair.

It’s easy to get caught up in our own little confined space and forget to notice anyone who is not at our table or in our comfort zone. But we must never forget that at one time WE were the ones who didn’t fit in. If someone hadn’t take the time to notice and include us we would have walked out the door.

Matthew Barnett wrote in his book entitled Misfits Welcome:

Jesus loved working with rugged fishermen, prostitutes, and people whom nobody wanted. In fact, He loved misfits so much that He placed Rahab, a known prostitute, in His hall of heroes. David, whom He warmly called “a man after my own heart,” also made the list (Acts 13:22). The same man who committed adultery and orchestrated a murder plot known as a man after God’‘s own heart? This guy is in the ministry hall of fame? Yes, and it’‘s an amazing picture of just how much God loves us.

He doesn’t condone the mistakes in our lives, but often, when misfits realize that they need God for everything in their lives, it’s a glorious connection. A life so perfectly attached to God’s heart. Do you feel incapable? Then go ahead and pray sincere prayers. Those are ones that say, “God, I need You to show up because You are so much bigger than me.” Misfits tend to pray for things that require God to show up.

When you get to church Sunday, make sure you take the time to look around and meet that person you do not know. Speak to them and shake their hand. Who knows, you may have just saved their life.