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Where You See “Sin City”… (a response to the tragedy in Vegas)

 “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” certainly lost its meaning this week, as we were all deeply affected by another senseless act of violence.   Although, truth be known, that saying lost its meaning to me a long time ago.  When you move to Vegas, what happens and what stays in Vegas takes on a whole new meaning.  In 2012, I joined the staff at The Crossing Las Vegas as one of the pastors.  I must admit, when my wife and I were talking about moving there, we were a bit hesitant.  Why would we want to move to Sin City?  Part of my rationale was, “Who would ever question the need for another pastor in such a city?” I rolled up my sleeves and was ready to fight the good fight.

It didn’t take long for me to change my perspective and begin viewing Vegas with a different lens.  Yes, there are things that happen on the strip that should not happen. However, I also saw something very different.  I saw soccer moms, dads who were trying to be good husbands and fathers. The churches there are jam-packed with people who long for what is good.  We even met prostitutes that wanted to get out of the lifestyle but discovered that the answer of “just stop” was not a straightforward solution.  We met pit bosses, waitresses, military personnel, computer geeks, bankers, travel agents, and all sorts of other interesting people.  We got to know their story, we got to really know them.  Good people who are really no different than the people of any other city.

Before long, “Sin City” became my city.  My wife and I fell deeply in love with the people of Vegas.  Did we compromise?  Not at all; we saw past the veneer of glitz and glamour and saw the hearts and souls of many beautiful and wonderful people.  I have had people raise an eyebrow when they hear me say how much I love Vegas, probably making an assumption or two about me in the process.  It’s true though; my wife and I really do love the people of Vegas.

I now live in Orlando, where a senseless act of violence made national news not that long ago.

As I watch such horrific and heinous violence occur in cities I grew to love, amongst people I grew to love, I began to see something else.  People long for love.  I think Jesus has something to say about this. The Christians I know in Vegas have rolled up their sleeves this week to love on the hurting.  This is very similar as what I saw happen here in Orlando.

It’s funny how much of our time can be caught up in the petty details on social media.  We make bold statements that have little consequence.  We become argumentative without taking time to listen to the heart of the concern.  Don’t get me wrong, some are called to a prophetic voice. We need that.  Want to know what we need more of, though? Followers of Christ who are intimate with Jesus and love their neighbor as themselves.

So how do we respond in a time like this? I hope we are reminded and inspired to do what we have already been taught, to love our neighbor and bear one another’s burdens. 

Perhaps when you thought of Vegas before, all sorts of judgements and categorizations came to mind.  Perhaps when you drive past a gay nightclub, such as the Pulse in Orlando, you identified them in a certain way.  Perhaps there are groups of people in our world or even in your neighborhood, that you have put in a box and have made your mind up about.  I hope that these events inspire you to begin to look at people differently. 

I don’t just see a mass tragedy; I see individual stories.  My heart is heavy for the young lady who was involved in our church’s youth group and is now in the hospital. Her spine still has bullet fragments lodged against her L3/L4 vertebrae. As well as other fragments in vital areas, one fragment is currently inoperable due to it being lodged in the spinal canal.  My heart is also heavy for the young mom of a 2-month-old who lost her life. I think about the police officer who lost his life that night, and my good friend who serves as a police officer there who is mourning the loss, all the while serving 12 hour shifts to support the community.

 I also see churches that I am proud of, just like I saw in Orlando, who are coming alongside the hurting and loving on their neighbor like they have never been loved on before.

My prayer is that when you hear stories like this, something very foundational and beautiful rises up within you.  This is the greatest thing Jesus said you could do on this earth.  As you are loving on God, look into the eyes of the hurting with great compassion and help them encounter the love of the Heavenly Father, even through their pain. 

Get to know their story.  Don’t wait for a tragedy to occur in your city.  If you call yourself a follower of Christ, loving your neighbor is what you do. 

Yes, please pray for Vegas.  Please also prayerfully ask Jesus what He was once asked 2000 years ago, “Who is my neighbor?” Be warned though, you may not like Jesus’s answer, and you may not like what He tells you to do about it!  In the short run, anyway; in the long run, you might actually become the person you have been praying to be.

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