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November 2018 Member Letter

November 8, 2018

Dear Brethren,

I am writing this letter in the aftermath of another tragic shooting in our country. This time it was in a Jewish synagogue in the city of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The reports are that a gunman entered the synagogue during morning services on the Sabbath of Oct. 27 and began shooting. Before he was apprehended, 11 people were killed and several more were injured, including four police officers. The shooting is being investigated as a hate crime since the suspect is reported to have yelled “death to all Jews” during his rampage. We all agree how wrong this is on several levels—the hatred for a race of people, the disregard for human life and the anger that consumed this individual.

As we watch the world become more and more violent—a place where human life isn’t valued and random killings are the norm—we have to wonder what is really going on. Few seem to associate any of this with a very dark spirit world that is bent on destroying humanity. We can find examples of mental illness in some of these shootings, but often the shooter is described as an “average” person. Why would an “average” person pick up a gun and storm a synagogue to murder as many people as possible?

This past summer I came across an interesting book titled The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil. It was written by psychologist Philip Zimbardo and first published in 2007. The book was based on the 1971 Stanford Prison experiment, which proved that an average person given certain information could do harm to a perfect stranger if instructed to do so. Here is a portion of the summary of the book as found on Amazon:

By illuminating the psychological causes behind such disturbing metamorphoses, Zimbardo enables us to better understand a variety of harrowing phenomena, from corporate malfeasance to organized genocide to how once upstanding American soldiers came to abuse and torture Iraqi detainees in Abu Ghraib. He replaces the long-held notion of the “bad apple” with that of the “bad barrel”—the idea that the social setting and the system contaminate the individual, rather than the other way around.

While one cannot blame society for the choices one makes, there is truth in the statement that society is really the “bad barrel” and it’s not simply that the individual is the lone “bad apple.” Individuals can certainly affect other individuals, but when you have a society that is awash with hatred, abuse and evil, you have a “bad barrel.” John speaks of the “wicked one,” who has the whole world under his sway (1 John 5:19). He was a murderer from the beginning and the father of lies (John 8:44). He is also the originator of hate. As “the god of this age” (2 Corinthians 4:4), he is directing the charge, immersing society in hatred and violence.

In His model prayer Jesus Christ directed His disciples to pray to be delivered from the “evil one” (Matthew 6:13). We can point to many good things going on and deny the reality of the world we live in all we want. It doesn’t change the facts. Tragedies and death can be found all around us in our modern world. According to The New York Times, 470,000 people have been killed in the Syrian civil war, many of them innocent civilians. According to The Economist, “Latin America, which boasts just 8% of the world’s population, accounts for 38% of its criminal killing. The butcher’s bill in the region came to around 140,000 people last year, more than have been lost in wars around the world in almost all of the years this century” (April 2018). The website worldhunger.org says that 10 percent of the world’s population is dying from hunger, and Britain’s The Independent says that only 10 countries are currently free of conflict.

Why should we pray for protection from the evil one if there is no evil one or if he is not active in the world today? Who is the author of the hatred that consumes so many people? There is but one true author and that is Satan himself! Peter described him as a roaring lion going about “seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8).

Nothing I have written thus far in this letter surprises any of you. As members of God’s Church, you have heard for many years, perhaps even decades, about how bad the world is and how Satan is fanning the flames of evil around the world. My fear is that we have heard this message for so long that we are in danger of becoming “dull of hearing” (Hebrews 5:11). You see, many of us in this country live relatively good lives. With Thanksgiving approaching, we are making plans to have our families together for a special dinner and to give thanks to our Father for the wonderful blessings He has given us.

This can create a false sense of “everything is okay” even though we know it isn’t! I am not writing to make you feel guilty. We have been given a very good life, and we have enjoyed many of the wonderful things that life has to offer. We don’t dwell on tragedy, even though we all experience it as part of this life. It is through tragedy and trials that we must grow in our love for God, His way of life and those He has given us to share this wonderful Christian journey.

I am writing to encourage us not to become complacent. When preaching the gospel, we must warn the world about the true cause of evil and about the world’s rejection of the true God and worship of a false god under the guise of Christianity. But that message doesn’t seem to resonate with the world today. Even though we have three-quarters of a million unique visitors to our website each month, we are still waiting for most of them to respond, wanting to know more. We continually pray that God will call more new people into the Church—not because we desire to brag about numbers, but because each person who is called and repents is a special blessing and a cause of joy from the throne of God. It is a great thing! But the truth is that relatively few people are responding to that message in our world today.

Does that mean we should change the message? Is the world not so bad? One of the most grotesque aspects of the political environment in the U.S. is the hatred and sincerity that coexist on all sides. The Democratic Party sincerely believes it is right and has the answers for a better society. The Republicans believe they are the standard-bearers for the greatness of our country. Which one will bring about a better world? The fact is that neither will be able to bridge the gap of hatred that divides this nation and the world. The Bible tells us it will only get worse (2 Timothy 3:1-5).

The solution doesn’t lie in a political candidate or a political leader, but in the plan laid out in the annual festivals. This plan hinges on the return of Jesus Christ as the real solution. My question is the same as I asked earlier—have we heard this message for so long that we have grown dull of hearing? As long as Satan is around and actively involved in society, we are doomed to more violence, more tragedies and more hatred. It is the barrel that is the problem and not just a few bad apples.

Let’s not be dull of hearing. Let’s live what we teach, and let’s do our best to carry the true message to the world and pray daily that the Father will call more people to this way of life—the only real solution to the evil in this world. We grieve with the families of those who lost their lives in the synagogue shooting. But, like other events before it, this horrific killing will fade from the American press in a few days and will be mostly forgotten, until it happens again. Evil cannot be wished away but will require Jesus Christ to return and remove its cause. It’s the barrel that has to be changed rather than simply removing a few bad apples.

Sincerely, your brother in Christ,

Jim Franks

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