Humanity Lost

By Pastor Carl Henderson & Rachel Flemming  

On June 12th, 2016 humanity was lost.

That Sunday morning, I was getting ready for church when I heard the news: another mass shooting, this time in a gay nightclub, had claimed lives. In the aftermath of the Orlando shooting, details would paint a clearer picture of what occurred: who the shooter was, what his motives were, who he targeted, and why. With every new detail, my heart broke a little more.  I, like so many other angry Americans, felt a feeling of change stir in the air. We are tired of the slaughter, and we want it to stop. Enough is enough. 

That dark morning, I woke up and did the same thing that I do every morning. I reached for my glasses. Without those two beat up and scratched pieces of glass my world would look more than just a little distorted.

If only life could be so simple. Adjust the lens, and perspective snaps into clearer focus. But that is not how life works. Indeed, this past week has been incredibly distorted. We lost people and for some reason our focus seems to have shifted from the core issue of the loss of life to a political one.

If you don’t believe we have lost our focus, then answer this one question: what were the victims’ names?  

Perhaps 49 names is too much to ask someone to remember… so how about ten or even five names?  If you can’t answer this question without looking up the information on your phone, you are not alone.

The truth of the matter is, we have allowed this tragedy to become about US rather than about THEM. We have turned a mass shooting into a soap box for us to stand upon on the pages of social media—a digital sound board for our own opinions (because after all, those are what are truly important, right?). However, we cannot afford to allow the tragedy that took place at the Pulse night club in Orlando to simply be reduced to whatever we want it to be.

 

It’s bigger than that.

 

The Orlando tragedy is monumental because of what it signifies. Not the historical significance of being ‘the deadliest mass shooting in modern America;’ or the fact that it was brutal hate crime or a terrorist attack against Americans. Instead, it is monumental for the simple fact that human lives were taken, STOLEN from us. People died. That is why it matters. Or to put it another way:

The victims of this heinous, brutal crime mattered before they made headline news.

Each unique, beautiful person who was killed mattered because human life is sacred. Regardless of color, creed, cultural differences, sexual orientation, religion, or lack thereof, human life matters because it is important to God. The 49 victims- and even the shooter- who died on June 12th were precious to the Lord, whether or not they acknowledged Him. Yet, both Christians and non-Christians alike have shamed the memory of these people who mattered to God by focusing on the peripheral issues surrounding this calamity rather than the central importance of the sanctity of those human lives that were lost.

 

I don’t blame guns, I don’t blame Facebook, and I don’t even blame the political agenda. I blame us.

 

Shame on us for losing sight of the fact that life is sacred at any age. Like someone reaching for their glasses in the morning, or stumbling around in the dark, we have lost sight of what is sacred. Each and every person holds within themselves an intrinsic value that is not given to them by the world but by God. By ignoring this, we have lost more than just our focus, we have lost our humanity itself. It’s time to change the lens and get it back.  

Whether or not you believe in the Bible, the simple fact is that God loves everyone. He set humanity apart from animals or plants or any other thing in this world when he created humankind and He further demonstrated His love by sending us his own son, Jesus, to die for us. When he created Adam from the dust of the earth, he breathed in a breath of life that was special, unique to mankind alone. Furthermore, we know from the account of Cain and Able, that the Lord abhors murder and that to take another human life is to rebel against God’s design and commit sin worthy of ultimate punishment. However, when Jesus walked this earth, he explained that it is not enough to simply refrain from slaying other human beings. Jesus said: “that anyone who hates his brother or sister will be subject to judgement” or is guilty of murder (Matthew 5:22). With pinpoint accuracy, Jesus has shown that it is the human heart that counts, not simply the actions of a few fanatic gunmen.  Using this same line of reasoning, one can also see where we, the ranting observers, have fallen short of the best of humanity. 

You see, we have lost respect for each other and, much like Omar Mateen, have taken to attacking anyone who disagrees with us.  If you don’t believe me, simply log onto any social media account, read any news article, or listen to any broadcast about this issue and you will soon spot gross generalizations and broad stereotypes spreading like a modern-day plague. While reporters may not out-rightly state the current political sentiment, it is clear that both sides have taken an ALL OR NONE approach to logic and reason. For example, if current media is to be believed, it seems that “if you are not for gun control, you must be for mass shootings,” or “if you are not for immigration reform, you must be pro-terrorism.” Since when have we become so simple-minded that we have allowed ourselves to be pawns in a black and white decision making paradigm where disagreement is met with utter hostility from both sides of the proverbial table?

When did we allow this hate for others to degrade our society? When did we accept the public devaluing of another person’s being or the belittling of that person’s intelligence based on his or her opinion, political party, or beliefs?  When did we decide that it was acceptable to lump the people who disagree with us into the same category as Omar Mateen? 

Ironically, by doing so, the American people are readily agreeing with his blood-soaked message. Omar Mateen killed 49 people and wounded 53 others because they were different from him and they did not believe what he believed. This is heinous, but he was resolutely convinced that it was perfectly acceptable because, in his mind, the value of human life was worth less than his personal worldview. It is time for society to learn a lesson from his callous and calculated hatred.

As a nation we need to stop being intolerant of people who don’t agree with us 100%. Instead, we must respect the unique and diverse collection of human beings we are privileged to have in this great country. We need to demonstrate true tolerance and acceptance by allowing other people to have differing opinions, ideas, lifestyles, and religious beliefs without demanding that they conform to our own worldview or worse: the current, ever-shifting, cultural norm. We need to recognize that hatred is the core of this tragedy and it is the reason that such a grave sin has occurred. We also need to recognize the hate that we are allowing in our own lives, and as a result, extinguish it before it further degrades our humanity.

As a church, we need to begin seeing other people the way Jesus sees them. Jesus loves each and every person. Who are we to do anything less? The people in the Pulse nightclub were not the typical “church crowd;” and yet, who among us did not shed tears of rage and grief when we heard that they had been slaughtered inside of what was supposed to be a safe haven? We need to stop letting imaginary lines divide us simply because we have different lifestyles. We need to reach out in love to people who don’t know Jesus BEFORE the unthinkable happens. We need to stop merely praying reactively for the families of the victims, but pro-actively pray for revival and demonstrate the change and the light that this dark world so desperately needs.

Make no mistake, I am not saying that we should abandon Biblical principles or water down God’s holiness to allow for the world’s definition of “tolerance” and “acceptance.” Far from it. I am saying that we need to love people in the world the way Jesus did. In looking at the New Testament accounts of how Jesus spent his time, it is easy to see that he would have been more likely to have dinner with the people at Pulse, then with his sheep in the pews. Jesus said: “So now I am giving you a new commandment: love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples (John 13:34-35).”

As his disciples, we must glorify God by demonstrating love to the people who are in opposition to our worldview. In doing so, we can also honor the memory of the victims and respect the families and friends who were left behind. We should not waste our time and breath fighting over who has a better political opinion or policy to enforce. Instead, we should follow Jesus’s command and demonstrate overwhelming love in our actions, in our Facebook comments, and in our daily conversations with others.

Thus, we cannot allow our humanity to be lost. By hiding in the shadows of our own self-righteousness we encourage the hearts of evil men to continue to steal what is most precious from us. In contrast, we need to look at this world through the lens of Jesus’s perspective. Jesus came to seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:10). It is time we truly recognize the sacredness of human life, by respecting it. If human beings mattered enough for the God of the universe to come and die at the hands of the terrorists of the disciples’ time over 2000 years ago, then human beings should matter enough for us to treat each other with respect, love, and compassion. As Christians, if we truly believe that Jesus Christ has the power to save the lost, then we need follow our commission to actively love our neighbors in such a way that the world notices Him. Only then will we see lasting change and an end to hatred and violence. Only then will humanity be found.  

It's Not About a Cup

 

I have to confess, as Thanksgiving dinner drew to a close this year, all I could think about was the next holiday on my calendar. Undeniably my favorite holiday of the year, Christmas is the day that reminds me of what matters most. While this includes the hallmark staples of family, friends, and love for my fellow man; I, like most Christians, especially love this time of year because it brings to mind the birth of my Savior, Jesus Christ… or at least it should.   

 

For many in America, however, December is about dollar signs. As an essential part of the highest grossing quarter of the year, it is no wonder that Christmas often symbolizes revenue rather than reflection. Indeed, retailers have every monetary reason to be focused on sales, rather than saviors, during the holiday season. Especially in retail, Christmastime sales will dictate not only budgets for the next fiscal year, but also hiring decisions and year- end bonus values as well.  

Perhaps it is understandable, then, that retailers and corporations across America are attempting to target a broader customer-base by removing purely religious themes from their holiday decor. Instead, businesses (especially BIG businesses) are adopting non-descript winter/holiday branding throughout their marketing campaigns. After all, Christmas could be offensive and thus, to say “Merry Christmas” is to exclude everyone who does not share the same belief and so on and so forth (however, lest you think I am about to launch into a tirade and blame corporate America for being the proverbial root of all evil, I will point out that the erasure of Christ-themed imagery in retail is not the cause, but the effect of a broken society that now demands cultural equivalence while practicing the exact opposite).

In recent years, however, there seems to be renewed interest in “putting the Christ back in Christmas.”  Frustrated Christians throughout the nation have *finally* begun to speak out against the increasing political correctness that governs marketing and holiday decisions in December. Christians argue that removing “Merry Christmas,” nativity scenes, Christmas hymns, and other Christian themes from the holiday trimmings is equally (and even purposefully) discriminatory against both the Protestant and the Catholic faith.  

Now, I would love to say that the result of this long overdue rebuttal was that Christians went on to eloquently explain why Christ and Christmas cannot and should not be separated.  It would also be wonderful to say that Christians began sharing the gospel message, while using logical arguments and reason to demonstrate that, rather than removing Christianity from the holiday Season, businesses should include Christian celebrations as part of the diverse traditions of humanity. Imagine if Christians even modeled the love that Jesus had for His neighbors in a society clamoring for cultural acceptance! The opportunity is RIGHT THERE!

 

Yet, I’m sorry to say, the “Christian” outcry that made media attention this holiday season was not a call to return to the Lord because he came to earth one Christmas day (andiscomingbacksomedaytoo!!!). Nor was it a message of GOOD NEWS to all mankind or a demonstration of love and grace befitting of the advent season. Nope. The media moment this holiday season was sadly not about spreading Christ’s love… it was about a red coffee cup. A cup. How depressing.  

 

Why does an ombre coffee cup matter (*hint* it doesn’t)? Apparently because it didn’t look “Christmassy” enough. Not Christian-y, oh no, Christmassy. And yet, with seemingly righteous indignation some people began complaining about the “War on Christmas.” Quickly defenses were mounted and warnings of Christmas conspiracy spread like wildfire to the internet blogs and social media pages of concerned sheep. In the midst of calls for boycotting of certain shops and the clamor for a return to conservatism, there rose another voice.  

A still, small voice that said “this way, I AM over here.”   

 

You see, in the scuffle of defending our religious freedom (which is, of course, important), some of us have lost sight of what we should be “fighting” for. It’s not about coffee cups, diversity, freedom of speech, or even freedom of religion. Christmas has always been and will always be about Jesus.  

You see, whether you believe in Him or not, the truth is that Jesus did come into this world as a baby to save humanity from their sin. He was wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in the manger on the night he was born; but on the day He died on the cross, He paid the price for our true freedom. His story is one of hope for humanity and His birth was the cause for PEACE on earth. No more war. No more hate. No more attacking one another over different beliefs, opinions, ideas etc. Jesus died and saved us from all of it…. and that is something worth remembering.... that is a message worth spreading.

 

So this advent season, take off the boxing gloves. Sheath your iron swords and pick up the Word of God instead. We are Christ-followers and as such we are supposed to be a light in the world—not a picket line at a coffee shop. We need to defend our faith, but by speaking truth and sharing the gospel; not by calling for branding or holiday aesthetics to improve. Rather than demanding that other people respect our beliefs, we should be pointing those people in the direction of our Savior. After all, the Christmas story is just one chapter in the greatest love story that has ever been told— start telling it. 

Meet the "Parents": A Beginners Guide to the C&MA

Whenever I tell people that I attend North Country Alliance Church, I am always met by the follow-up questions: "Oh.... what denomination is that church?" or "what kind of church is that?" People expect me to say that we are a Baptist, Protestant, or non-denominational church. Maybe that is why I'm often met with a puzzled expression when I simply state: "It's an Alliance Church; we are Christians."   

Let me explain further by stating that North Country Alliance Church is a member of a larger organization called the Christian and Missionary Alliance (C&MA) or the Alliance.  The Alliance defines itself as a Christ-centered global movement made up of a family of more than 500,000 believers in the U.S. and 6 million believers worldwide who are passionate about bringing the good news about Him to their neighbors and the wider world.  

Alliance members desire to know Jesus as their Savior (Acts 4:12), Sanctifier (1 Corinthian 1:30), Healer (James 5:15), and Coming King (Acts 1:11). This is why the symbol of the Alliance is a Cross (Savior), Sanctifier (Cup), Healer (Pitcher), and Coming King (Crown).  The globe in the background of the Alliance symbol also symbolizes the Alliance’s commitment to the Great Commission or Jesus’s invitation to go tell others about Him throughout the whole world. 

The Alliance also attests that it is only through the Holy Spirit that we, as Christians, can express Jesus's love, compassion, and mercy to those who have never heard of or believed in Him. Additionally, the Alliance is excited about the fact that Christians are called to be a part of God's family and that, as members of Christ's church, we have been chosen to do His work on earth and love a broken world until Christ returns to it.  

With this in mind, the Alliance develops, supports, and plants local churches in neighborhoods throughout the U.S. in order to reach out and provide support to people who are trapped in spiritual darkness. In the U.S., there are over 2,000 Alliance churches!  The Alliance's influence also spreads beyond our American doorstep to support over 700 international workers (missionaries) who care for the sick, needy, and lost people throughout the world. It is Christ-inspired love for people and money-where-your-mouth-is-emphasis on actively seeking to bring the gospel to unsaved people throughout the world that characterizes the Christian and Missionary Alliance and sets Alliance churches apart from traditional denominations.   

So while many people may not be familiar with North Country Alliance Church, or the Alliance in general, it is clear that the A in NCAC is more than just a nicety in our church's title. The Alliance stands for something. Something important. It stands for the Christ-centered belief that believers are a family of individuals who have been chosen to continue to spread the message of who Jesus Christ is as Savior, Sanctifier, Healer, and Coming King to a broken and hurting world. It is a reminder of the call to action that Jesus made over 2000 years ago when he told his followers to go "unto the ends of the earth" and tell of this good news (that Jesus died to take away our sins so we could enter into God's family and have everlasting life!). Finally, the Alliance is a reminder of the global and local work that is to be done by loving and serving our neighbors as Christ demonstrated. In this way, we act as true followers of Christ. As I said, we are an Alliance church; we are Christians.