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Sunday, February 18, 2018

Who is The Real Killer? A Christian's Thoughts on the Florida Killings.

There is a problem in America and it isn’t guns. It uses a gun sometimes. Sometimes it uses a knife, or a car, or a truck, or a homemade bomb. Whatever tool it chooses to do its dirty work is immaterial. The problem isn’t the means…it’s the cause.
What causes a 19-year-old kid to walk into his school and gun down 17 children? What caused him to beat his mother and have such a history of violence that the police were at his house no less than 36 times in the last 18 months? (I’ll leave the dereliction of duty by the FBI, who were warned twice about this kid, for others to discuss.)
What rages inside a teenaged young man that causes him to do these things, and then almost immediately surrender and appear repentant? By all accounts, almost as soon as he was apprehended, he was saying he was sorry for the hurt he caused and was willing to plead guilty to avoid causing the community further pain.
You see this all the time. A person tortured by the demons of mental illness, (I use the term “demons” figuratively and literally…more on that in a moment) and filled with an unexplained rage, comes to the point of murder and almost as soon as the deed is done, they surrender peacefully, or they kill themselves.
Why? What are we missing in these events?
We see the carnage. We blame the gun. (We only blame the guns. Nobody ever calls for the banning of trucks, even though they’ve been use to greater effect in mass murders than guns lately. Nobody ever calls for a ban on knives, even though we’ve had mass stabbings) We call for legal action to strip weapons from people who have never used them to harm anyone, and then we scratch our heads when these things happen anyway.
There was murder long before there were guns. Murder didn’t develop as a result of there being weapons. Murder was always here. Ever since Cain killed Abel…probably with a rock or a log.
Because there is evil in the world.
There is evil in this world and it is larger and more powerful than people want to believe. I saw people posting things about “Being more loving” and “Love conquering hate” and I shrugged. These folks don’t get it. They don’t understand evil and what it really is and who it really comes from.
There is a hate problem in this world. But it’s genesis isn’t between humans…it’s a battle on a much larger, and unseen, front. The problem is Satan. The problem is sin.
God brings life. God brings love. God brings hope. God brings peace.
Satan is the antithesis of all those things. Where God is the author of Life…Satan causes death. Why do you think abortion is such a terrible thing? Because a baby is slaughtered? YES! Of course! But also, because when we, as humans, take a life, we tell the Author of life that we have no regard for Him. We take the most precious gift He gave us other than His Son –life-- and we destroy it in the name of convenience.
When one human murders another, it is the act of extinguishing a life that is the most egregious. The violence is terrible, but the death is the insult to God.
Psalm 139 tells us we are “fearfully and wonderfully made.” The word for “made” in the ancient Hebrew was the same word in Genesis that described God “making” Adam. He formed him with His own hands. Man was the only thing in all of creation that God created by touch. Everything else, He spoke into existence. But Man, He created by His loving, careful, artistic touch. It’s no coincidence that the same word is also used in scripture when describing an artist making art with his hands. We are God’s art.
We are His beloved.
And His arch enemy hates us for it.
Make no mistake…Satan is real, and he has one goal in all eternity and that is the defeat of his enemy. Knowing this is not going to happen, his intent is to take as many with him as he can, and to damage as much of God’s beloved as possible.
He hates us. He hates humanity. He grinds his teeth in rage at each and every human soul. Why? For one reason: Because God adores us, and since Satan can’t harm God…he’ll harm what God loves.
This is his domain, this world we live in. This is his finite kingdom. He knows how this will end but he has convinced himself that he can change the outcome. His problem always was pride. It still is.
He seeks any open door and he’ll spring as soon as he sees one. And then…when he’s done his dirty work and he’s wrecked his havoc…he leaves the scene and moves on to the next atrocity.
He finds cracks in the souls of men. Things like anger, bitterness, isolation, and so often, mental illness. When the soul’s natural defenses are weakened, he makes his move and takes control. Call it demon possession, demonic influence, or whatever. Name it what you will, but recognize it.
The vast majority of human beings do not have the capacity, on their own, to take a life. Not intentionally and not without remorse. If this were not true we would have murder in the streets to the extent that we’d be extinct. And don’t think the weapon would make a difference. We’d use our bare hands. If not for the flicker of the image of God in our souls, we’d be entirely without restraint and chaos would rule the day. The Holy Spirit of God is active on this earth and His presence in the hearts of Believers is what holds Satan at bay and keeps humanity, for the most part, at peace with each other.
But there are times. There are people, who break down emotionally, or mentally, or physically, often all three. And when this happens, Satan swoops in and takes control. He seizes an opportunity, inflames the already damaged sense of restraint, and uses that person to carry out his greater plan.
In Florida, this morning there are families whose lives are forever changed. Parents who have been pulled into a nightmare that will never end…not while they still breathe.
Because Satan found himself a very damaged, very wounded human. A young man filled with rage, and bitterness, and a broken soul. He was mentally ill. His natural decency was easily influenced by this evil one. Maybe Satan whispered in his ear and fed his anger and amplified his pain, all the while convincing him that he was his buddy. That he understood. That there was this one way to get revenge, or get noticed, and to finally not be an invisible, broken kid anymore. Maybe the words were audible, or maybe they were internal. But they worked.
They worked and This kid bought himself a gun and decided to kill students in the high school he was expelled from a year ago. Maybe Satan convinced him the he really did have an axe to grind. That he really had been wronged. That these kids and those teachers really did need to pay. That the enormous pain in his heart and in his head, was somehow their fault and that killing them would finally make people see him. Satan convinced him to surrender himself to his control. The kid didn’t realize that’s what was happening. He just thought he made a decision to kill. But he gave control to Satan and Satan gladly used the vessel. And as soon as his work was done, he dumped the boy and moved on looking for another willing accomplice, and the boy –no longer under Satan’s grip—surrenders without incident.
I don’t know…I’m guessing. But I do know that no normal human being has the capacity to walk through a high school and gun down kids. If you’ve ever been in a situation where you’ve had to defend yourself, and the possibility of deadly force was on the table, you know it’s not what the average human wants to do. It’s scary and it’s humbling and it makes you a little ill in your heart. I know. I came close to it once when an intruder was approaching my home. A man with known mental illness and who had committed murder years before. I held him at bay with a bow and arrow, (Because it was the nearest weapon) until the cops arrived. When it was over, and my adrenaline receded, I almost broke down in tears at the mere thought that I might have had to kill him. Murder isn’t normal for God’s creation.
But it’s the way of doing business for Satan. It’s the coin of his realm. Jesus came that we might have life. Satan comes to kill, steal, and destroy. (John 10:10)
Does this absolve Nicholas Cruz of the murders he committed? Never. But until people –especially Christians—take this seriously and stop thinking that “we just need to love each other more,” we’ll never see an end to this. We’re not likely to see one anyway. This is part of the end of days.
What Christians need to be doing is praying more. Really praying. Not just chit-chatting with God. Seriously grasping the truth that our prayers, and our lives and our presence on this Earth are the only boundary that remains between Satan and his devices, and the rest of humanity. Spiritual warfare is real. The battle in the heavenly realm is real.
Satan is real.
Sadly, Christians behave as if he is a fairy tale.
Until we wake up and see the battle for what it is and realize our role in it…we’ll see more killing, not less. You’re not going to “love” this away. This is war.
Get in the fight.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Thoughts on a Rainy Saturday Morning. A Man Who Once Was Homeless...Longing For a Home

This morning is a very rainy, chilly February morning in Lynchburg, Va.
We're expecting rain for the next 36 hours, maybe as much as 3 inches. (Thank goodness this isn't snow! It would be three feet!)
When I lived in TN and owned a home, I enjoyed days like this. I didn't want them often, because being a single dad and busy in my business at the time, I didn't have the luxury of very many weekends with nothing to do. There was yard work, or housework and every other weekend was filled with time with Daisy. (Which, of course, I never minded) 
But once or twice each winter I'd wake to find a cold, rainy Saturday and it became a chance to just relax. Typically, I made soup, or chili, for Saturday and Daisy and I would make gravy for Sunday. 
I would read a lot. If Daisy was with me that weekend, we'd watch movies and she would draw for hours. 
I could relax. I could let my breath out, realizing that; nobody would have any expectations for me on a day like this. No mortgages to write, no reports to run, no real reason to go to my office.
I didn't have to cut the grass. You can't hang your clothes on the line when it's raining. (One of the things I miss the most is a clothesline!) Nothing to do outside the house on a day like this.
Often, in the morning before Daisy awoke, I would make coffee, and sit in my living room with the blinds open and look out at my front yard and across the street to the cattle farm. I'd spot some deer making their way across the fence line, or the flock of turkeys that ranged from my neighbors yard, to mine, and over to the farm in their grazing pattern.
I could read the Bible and pray and think. It allowed me time to sort through the tangled yarn that our hearts become every few months or so. 
In a lot of ways it was healing. Healing from the divorce that broke my heart and from the intermittent fatherhood I had to accept due to that divorce. The rainy Saturday's when Daisy was with me were the best. In the quiet of those mornings, when the only sound was the rain hitting the roof, I could be sitting in the living room, knowing in my heart that she was asleep in her room, in my house, and for that day at least...everything felt normal.
In the two weeks since I found this house we're looking at, and since I let the idea of home ownership make it's way back into my heart, I've found myself reminiscing about when I last owned a home. How much I miss it. How much days like today were a gift. I can already see the new house in finished state. This morning, if we lived there, I'd be sitting in the living room, with the blinds open, looking out at the woods that the house backs up to, and the Peaks of Otter off in the distance to the West. Daisy would be asleep in her bed and it would feel like we finally landed from this difficult journey we've been on. 
I'm safe. I have a good job. I sleep indoors again.  Homelessness is over. But our life here is punctuated by noisy neighbors, doors slamming, car alarms going off, people who drive as if the gas pedal only has two positions...all the way up, or all the way down.
The music of the rain outside is interrupted by cars passing, the echo of the factory across the open field behind this townhouse, and the trains that run up and down the tracks at the end of the block. 
Of all the things that others consider negative about this neighborhood, the train tracks are the least negative in my book. Whenever a train comes by, I still stop to see it. Trains still turn me into a little boy.
I'm a little afraid because I've let myself hope about this house and at this stage I'm not close to getting it. I know God is able, and this is no big thing to Him, but to Daisy and me it is, literally, everything right now.
If you're sitting in your house this morning, and your day is stalled because of the rains we're getting, or if you're about to spend a busy Saturday running errands...stop and think about what you have. Home is truly our haven. It's our safe spot. It's "home base" in the great game of tag that we play each day. 
Whether your home is a mansion or a shack...if it's yours, and those you love are there with you, and you're relatively's a kingdom. 
Please keep praying for Daisy and this can be our Saturday one day soon.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Go to the White House: An Open Letter to Chris Long, Torrey Smith, and Malcolm Jenkins

Malcolm, Chris, and Torrey,
First of all, as a native Philadelphian and lifelong Eagles fan, CONGRATULATIONS! And thank you! Thank you from the bottom of my heart for enduring the difficulties and heartbreaks this season threw at you, and still emerging as the best team in football!
We’ve been waiting an awfully long time for this, and we’ve endured the butt end of a lifetime of cruel jokes about never winning the big game. All that ended on Sunday, and I thank you.
I want to tell you a little about myself and why this win meant so much to me.
I am 54. I was born in Philly, and grew up about 20 minutes away. My family still lives in the area, some of them still in the city, and some in the nearby suburbs. We’re Philadelphians. We’re cheese steaks and hoagies and Mummers. We’re the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution and the Liberty Bell. We’re Rocky and we’re Vince Papale. More than anything…we’re proud to be from Philly.
20 years ago, I moved away. I had legitimate reasons at the time, but I’ve regretted it pretty much every day since. I don’t get homesick…I’ve been homesick for 20 years now. I remain so. Every great memory, every great moment in my life, except my daughter being born, happened on the sacred ground of my hometown and the Delaware Valley.
I’ve not had it easy. In 2008, when the economy collapsed, I lost my job, as did a lot of folks. Then I lost my home. I had been divorced for a number of years and my ex-wife had remarried several years prior. We have a daughter together and so at least my little girl had a place to live. But her home life was a nightmare. Her mom’s second husband was an abusive monster. I’ll spare the details but it was bad enough that I chose to stay in Nashville instead of leaving to find some place where I could work. I lived in my car for almost six years. I was hired three times and all three of those companies went under eventually.
There were days when I made meals out of the samples they were giving away at kiosks in the grocery store.
There were days when I survived on the free cookies they laid out for paying customers in the grocery store near where I parked my car.
There were nights when I shivered until sunrise. Nights when I sweltered in the heat. I showered at the county rec center. I did odd jobs and worked every menial task anyone offered, just to survive.
It was hell. It was demeaning and painful and embarrassing. But my daughter needed her daddy, and I needed to remain in her world. I saw her almost every day. I never missed a birthday or a recital or her eighth-grade graduation. I put my finger in the chest of her mom’s husband more than once because he was hurting my daughter. I stayed, because I was the “thin red line” that kept him from harming her more than he did. I did what a dad does for his child.
It was the longest, darkest time of my life. It came close to breaking me on many occasions. There were three things that kept me going during this nightmare…and that’s why I wrote this.
Three things literally kept me alive while my world was spinning out of control and pieces kept flying off.
My Faith. My love for my daughter.
And Philadelphia sports.
My faith defines me. My faith is who and what I am. My prayers were ragged, and weary and sometimes angry…but they kept me connected to the very Source of Life and the strength I needed for the journey. If not for my Faith in Jesus Christ, I would be dead.
My love for my daughter drove me to not give up. She needed me, and in truth, I needed her just as much. She is my only child. She’s all I have from a three-year marriage that broke my heart when it ended. My fatherhood is the single most important thing I’ll ever have and I refused to surrender it even though it required me to be homeless for six long years.
The other thing that kept me going, was Philly sports. 
On October 29, 2008, I had been homeless for six months. It was freezing cold in Nashville that night. It was raining. I was scared, wondering how long my life was going to look like this. I thought my life was over. I was sleeping in a Volvo 850. I would drive it behind a church in Nashville and hide it in some tall weeds, out of sight from the world. That’s where I was on that night. Zipped into two sleeping bags, broken, tired, hopeless and hurting.
That was the night the Phillies won the World Series.
I listened on my car radio and actually heard Harry Kalas (Our legendary announcer, who died the next year) and for a few minutes…I wasn’t homeless. I was home.
I was a kid again, listening to the ball game with my grandad on the front porch of his house by the Philly airport. I was playing Little League with my friends. I was celebrating in the streets with my neighbors.
I wasn’t 850 miles away.
I wasn’t homesick.
I wasn’t homeless.
I was home.
I’m getting tears in my eyes writing this right now, at 6 AM. Because I’ll never ever forget that night. I’ll never forget how much I needed that win, and how it made me feel like I was home, if only for a few moments.
You see…I can’t go home as often as I’d like. I live in Virginia now, with my daughter. We’ve bounced back and we’re rebuilding. I have a good job, she is in college and we’re trying to buy a house.
My first real home in ten years.
I still miss home. I still miss Philly. So, when I watch you guys on Sundays, I can feel –if only for a few hours—like I’m there again. I can wear an Eagles jersey, and get a knowing smile from others in the area. 
This past Sunday night and Monday, I was receiving texts and emails and phone calls congratulating me…because I’m from Philly. And my team won.
For you it’s a job and it’s even a passion. But for me, when you wear the uniform of my hometown…you’re me out there. You’re carrying the dreams and pride and passion of an entire city. You did the hard work for us, because we can’t.
Which brings me to my main point…
I know you have already said you won’t go to the White House when the team is invited.
I understand your position. I disagree with it entirely, but I understand it.
I will be very honest here and tell you that I despised Barack Obama as a president. I can’t think of one policy that made us better as a nation, or as people. In fact, I could tell you of some of his policies that specifically hurt me and my family and literally kept me homeless for at least 3 of the six years I suffered. But I respected his office. 
But I will also tell you that if he were president right now, dislike him as I do, I would want you to go, even if you disagreed with him as much as you do president Trump.
Because it’s the office…not the man, who is inviting you. The president is inviting the Eagles to the White House to honor them…not for them to honor him.
I’m asking you to go. Go for me, because I can’t go. I wasn’t invited. I’m not a football player who won the Super Bowl. But make no mistake…I was on that field in Minnesota last Sunday. I -like every Philadelphia Eagles fan-- was woven into the fiber of that green Eagles jersey you wore with pride and distinction. My voice echoed throughout US Bank stadium. You couldn’t distinguish it from the others…but it was there.
It’s there every Sunday, no matter where you play. You play for me. You play for my town…for my home. When the crowd roars and inspires you to push just a little harder, to go just one more snap…my voice is in that sound. It was when I was homeless and had nothing else in this world to cheer for or be happy about but the games you play and the uniform you wear. Nothing.
I have a dear friend who grew up in the area but now lives in Nebraska. He’s faced a lot of difficulties in life. Philly sports keeps him going too. The same for every former Philadelphian who is scattered across the country. Or the men and women serving in the military overseas.
Every one of us will be there at the White House on that day. You won’t see us, but we’ll be there. Because we are Philadelphia. And you are us when you’re out there. When we’re little kids we dream of being you. Not being merely a football player…we dream of being an Eagle. Of winning the Super Bowl. Of getting invited to the White House…regardless of who the president is.
I’m asking you to go.
I’m asking you to go and meet this man you dislike so much. Use that afternoon to have a conversation –if only for a few moments—and try to convince him of your position. Maybe you will, maybe you won’t. But I know that by not going, you’ll have no impact on him whatsoever. Go for me…because I can’t go. Go for my dad and my uncles and cousins who have waited for this all their lives. Literally.
Go for the man who sat shivering in his car on a cold, rainy October night when he was 850 miles from home and had lost everything he’d worked for and had nothing left…
…except the pride of his hometown winning a world championship.
Go for that guy. Because he’d love nothing more than the chance to go himself.
Thank you for a miracle season, and for granting the wish of an entire city.
Craig Daliessio,
Believer, Dad, and proud Philadelphian.