Tuesday, December 25, 2007

The Odegard Advent Wreath

Every year now we have an Advent Wreath at our house. We are using the candles to teach our kids the meaning of Christmas. We start on December 20th, and light one candle at supper each night, ending on Christmas Eve. It really creates a sense of anticipation as the Holy-Day draws near. As the kids get older, we'll take them deeper into the symbolism, but for now it's pretty simple. The Blue (or purple) symbolizes Christ's royalty.
  1. The first candle (bottom center) is the Candle of Anna & Simeon, who were waiting for the promised Messiah, just like we are waiting for Christmas to come. It is the candle of Prophecy and Hope. (Isaiah 9:2-9; Romans 15:12-13; Micah 7:7)
  2. The second candle (bottom left) is the Candle of Joseph and Mary, Jesus' mommy and step-daddy. The candle holder is shaped like the star of David to remind us of Christ's royal lineage. This is also the candle of Peace. (Micah 5:1-2, 4-5; Isaiah 7:14)
  3. The third candle is the Candle of the Angels and Shepherds. It is Rose colored because of the joyous message, and is called the candle of Joy. (Luke 2:7-15)
  4. The fourth candle is the Candle of the Wise Men, who came to worship the newborn Christ. It is the candle of Worship and Love. (John 3:16; 1 John 4:19)
  5. The center, white candle is the Candle of Christ, the Candle of Faith. He is the answer prayers for Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love. It is the candle for Jesus' Birthday! (John 1:29; 3:1-8; 8:12; Isaiah 9:2; Matthew 5:15)
May you and yours have a wonderful Christmas Season!. Merry CHRISTmas from the Odegard's!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Defending the Church Against Maniacs, Crooks, and Others

Authorities have finally released Matthew Murray's reasons for killing innocent Christians at the YWAM center in Arvada and at New Life Church here in Colorado Springs last weekend.
“I’m coming for EVERYONE soon and I WILL be armed to the (expletive) teeth and I WILL shoot to kill. . . . God, I can’t wait till I can kill you people. Feel no remorse, no sense of shame, I don’t care if I live or die in the shootout. All I want to do is kill and injure as many of you . . . as I can especially Christians who are to blame for most of the problems in the world.”
How do you defend against someone like this? He is obsessed, furious, and beyond reason. He has a plan in place, has equipped himself (a rifle, two pistols, smoke grenades and backpack with 1,000 rounds of ammunition), and doesn't care if he lives or dies. When he shows up at the dorm, or the church, or the shopping mall, or the playground, you can't reason with him. You can't say, "hey, let's talk about this over a cup of coffee." Your only option is to respond with force the moment the threat is identified. You shoot to stop and you don't stop until he does. It doesn't matter if he is a homicidal maniac, a thief with a gun, a fanaticist strapped with explosives or a mugger with a knife. Life is a precious gift from God, and your life and the lives of those you are defending outweigh his a hundred times over.

For churches, there are a number of things to consider. There are several threats that must be considered. The staff needs to develop contingency plans (including responses to each identified threat, fallback plans, plans for communication and notification, etc.) and train staff members what to do in case of an emergency (including medical emergencies - CPR and first aid). Threats could include anything from:
  • power outages
  • accidental fires and floods
  • hecklers
  • vandals
  • thieves and con artists
  • arsonists
  • bomb threats
  • armed attackers
    • (against the preaching pastor, staff, or congregation in general)
  • suicide bombers or car bombs
  • hostage takers
The church needs to consider all entrances and exits and how to protect them. If a situation arises, where should the people in the sanctuary, adult Sunday School, and children's ministry be taken? Where are the fallback positions in case the first place is unsafe? Who determines if an evacuation is safe or if people need to remain in secureable areas in the building. How will the staff and security team communicate? Will the security staff be uniformed or plainclothes, openly carry arms, carry concealed, or be unarmed? Will the church hire permanent staff, off-duty law enforcement or use trained volunteers (or some mix of the three)? How much training and preparation is required for safety, effectiveness and legal liability purposes? What information should be given to the congregation? Are there physical measures that can be implemented (like proper lighting at night or concrete posts in front of the building to protect against car bombers)? What are the best positions to post security staff? What areas of the building are most vulnerable to specific threats?

Matthew Murray sent threatening emails to YWAM before the attack, and made hate-filled posts to an anti-Christian website just before and after the Arvada attack. Does the staff know how to identify warning signs like this and know who to notify? Can they distinguish between someone acting suspiciously and some poor guy just looking for a handout? After hearing about the attacks in Arvada, New Life Church beefed up their security and it paid huge dividends in human life. They identified a possible threat and took action to protect their people, even at the risk of looking silly in the eyes of some.

I need to caveat this post with a disclaimer - I am not an expert on physical security - I'm a network security professional, but I am also a gun owner who has thought a great deal about how to protect my family and what it means to carry a weapon. I know enough to say that basic security principles apply whether you look at a computer network or a church foyer. Common sense and deliberate, forward thinking will save lives. The basic steps of incident response are:
  • Planning and preparation - without this, you are doomed to failure...
  • Prevention - what can you do now to reduce the threat or your vulnerability
  • Detection and notification - training, training, training...
  • Containment - you need a capable, properly equipped team in place. Now...
  • Eradication - removing the threat and protecting people and assets...
  • Recovery - working with authorities, updating plans
The church needs to build relationships with local law enforcement agencies and identify trained individuals (with current or former law enforcement backgrounds, military , government or private security experience) within the church. Those organizations and individuals will be your best resources for increasing security and protecting your congregation. Only bring in outside consultants if you are unable to get the help you need from within the church or from local law enforcement. On the other hand, realize that this will not be a zero-balance item in the church budget. You are going to have to spend at least some time, effort and money to increase your security and protect your people.

We live in a dangerous world. Great Britain has learned that trying to eliminate guns through gun control and bans is an abject failure. Attacks against churches and other public places are becoming regular occurrences. Churches need to take some time, now, to plan, prepare, and train for contingencies. Old plans need to be updated on a regular basis. Training must be recurring. Security needs to be added to the church budget. While we shouldn't turn our churches into fortresses or make security a distraction from worship and fellowship, it should be a reassuring, felt presence that will act as a quiet deterrent for would-be attackers.

Scripture tells us that "God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power, love and discipline" (2 Tim 1:7, NASB). We do not live by fear, but by faith. God has given us the ability and the right to defend ourselves (Ex 22:2), and has promised His protection as well. We do our part and then trust Him to do His. Please don't let this tragedy pass by and believe that it can't happen to your church! Do something about it!

Monday, December 10, 2007

The Latest on Hagee

John Hagee seems to be backpedaling on statements he made earlier in his book In Defense of Israel, which I commented on earlier. In an open letter, Hagee says that there was confusion over his use of the term, "Messiah," in which he apparently distinguishes between the "suffering Messiah" of the First Advent and the "reigning Messiah" of the Second Advent. He wrote that he is releasing a new version of the book with Chapter 10 expanded and revised to make his position more clear.

I am going to have to wait and see what changes he makes - how far he backpedals - before commenting further. In his letter, he says:
"I was surprised to learn that some people were interpreting my words as a rejection of this most fundamental Christian belief that Jesus came to earth as the Messiah promised in the Hebrew Scriptures. I have been preaching the gospel for half a century."
If you read what he wrote, and listen to what he said on his TV ad, it's extremely hard to come to any other conclusion. He has already said that Jews do not need to trust Christ for salvation, and he keeps some pretty radical company in the heretical word-faith movement, so he didn't exactly have my trust to begin with. In fact, a claim that Jesus did not come to be the Jewish Messiah seems to follow logically for someone who has taken great pains not to offend Jews or the nation of Israel, and who said that Jews can find salvation apart from becoming a Christ-follower.

I'll remain skeptical, but I'll wait and see what Hagee has to say before commenting further.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

On the Colorado Church Shootings

I was shocked to hear about today's shootings so close to my new home, and I'm grieving for the families of those killed at the YWAM training center in Arvada and here in the Springs at New Life Church. One or more bad guys with guns ended the lives of four innocent people (including two teenage sisters at New Life) and put several others in the hospital (including the father of the slain girls). We have some new friends who left New Life only minutes before the shooting.

In the midst of this, I am left wondering how long it will be before the gun-control crowd start to make their foolish noises. One of the differences between gun law here in Colorado and where I lived in Texas is that it is legal for those with a Concealed Hangun Permit to carry in church. As I thought about the similarities and differences between the shootings, I realized that there is one major fact that stands out: at the YWAM center, none of the victims, to my knowledge, had a firearm. At New Life there were armed security personnel. The pastor credited the security gal (yes, a woman with a gun!) who shot the murderer with saving lives. The media was emphasizing the rapid response of the Colorado Springs police and El Paso County sheriff's department (only two minutes), but if you read the facts carefully, you will see that by the time they arrived, the shooting was over, and the bad guy was dead.

This only emphasizes all the more the great need for law-abiding citizens to be armed. Even when the police can respond in minutes, it only takes seconds for a bad guy to kill innocent people. Only armed citizens already on the scene, trained and ready, can stop the violence before it is too late. New Life Church wisely had contingency plans in place, the staff were trained, and they had people with guns ready to defend the congregation. Thankfully, the planning and preparation worked, and lives were saved. Before His death, Jesus told His disciples that if they weren't armed, they should sell a coat and get a sword (Luke 22:36). It wasn't his intentions that they be armed to the teeth (two were enough for the group), but simply that they be able to defend themselves.

As a Christian, I believe that human life is one of the most precious gifts God has given us and I hope that I will never have to defend myself, my family, or others. I would like to think that God will keep us from harm, send the bad guys somewhere else and let us live a peaceful life. Today's shootings remind me that the bad guys are never far away, and that we have to always be diligent, watchful and prepared. The Christians shot today were no different from me - I just happened to walk out of a different church this morning, an hour earlier and 8 1/2 miles away. I think that Scripture is pretty clear on my right to use lethal force in self-defense. (Note to gun control people: the Bill of Rights, including the Second Amendment, is an acknowledgment of rights that the people already possess - it does not grant rights. The people grant rights to the government, not the other way around!)

If it had been my church, would there have been someone armed and ready to defend the innocent from some homicidal punk? I know the answer to that question at my church. Do you?