The past two weeks have been a tragic time of upheaval, uncertainty, and
insanity in the lives of our young people. When the news came forth about
the shooting in Littleton, Colorado we were all stunned by the news of two
students carrying out their plan of unleashing death and destruction upon
their fellow classmates and a teacher. We have been overwhelmed by the
pictures and video that we have seen on television and in newspapers. We
are amazed that these boys, so young, could coldly calculate a plan and then
execute it in such a devastating manner. We are horrified when we found out
that the killers chose their victims because they were athletes, one young
man because he was black, and others because they believed in God. More
than one person asked out loud, “How could such monsters exist in a
The killing in Littleton sparked arrests around the country as other young people leaked their plans for carrying out their anger and hatred upon their
school. On the day of the shooting a young fifteen-year-old boy at Sante Fe
High School in Edmond was arrested for having a “hit list.” My son attends
that school and it brought the tragedy in Littleton too close to home. The next morning our family held hands in a circle before our kids left for school and prayed for God to build hedge of protection around them. On Friday of last week, Memorial High School in Edmond couldn’t hold class until noon because of a bomb threat that kept the kids out of school. This past week a young man was arrested at Putnam City High School for planning an attack on his school. Authorities found the materials for a pipe bomb in his home. Then, on Wednesday, a young man in Alberta, Canada stormed into his school in a blue trench coat carrying a gun. When the attack was over another student lay dead in the halls of learning while another was wounded. Along with these incidents, on Tuesday of this past week Ray and I spent time with students from John Marshall High School who were grieving the loss of a friend who took his life on Friday night. The room was overflowing
with grief and loss, regret and remorse, and the questions of “Why?” I told
the kids that I didn’t come to solve their problems or to give them answers,
but I wanted to visit with them because my heart has been broken by the loss
of friends who died at their own hand as well. What Ray and I tried to do
was to let the kids talk – to share their good memories of their friend,
their sorrow over his loss, and what would they would do different if they
had it to do over again. I wish you could have been there as God moved in a
All of these events that have unfolded in the past couple of weeks, and
other heartaches having to be dealt with by kids that I’ve spent time with
this past week have prompted me to take time this morning to speak to the
young people among us. I am so sorry that you have to deal with such
uncertainty and sorrow on a daily basis. Things were different when I was
We live in a very different day today in America than we did twenty years
ago when I was a senior in high school. All of the lines of right and wrong
seem to have been blurred. You, as young people, have been left alone to
make up your own rules and to suffer the consequences of ill-informed
decisions brought about by your lack of experience at life. My apology is
offered to you in part because you have been left in the dark due to the
failure of many adults like myself. It was not students who took the Ten
Commandments down from the wall in your school. It wasn’t students who
implemented the teaching of “situational ethics” in your school. It wasn’t
students who bombarded our society with the teaching that at as long as
something is right for you then it is okay for you to do it. It wasn’t
students who opened the gates on sexual promiscuity. We, the adults of this
land, have failed you miserably and I am so sorry.
Because of our failure you are living in the midst of chaos and things are
very different, diabolically different than they were when I was young. For
those adults who think I am off-base, let me give you a dose of reality.
The National Center for Victims of Crime reports,
During 1996-97, about 4,000 incidents of rape or other types of sexual
battery were reported in our nation’s public schools. There were about
11,000 incidents of physical attacks or fights in which weapons were used
and 7,000 robberies in schools that year. About 190,000 fights or physical
attacks not involving weapons also occurred at schools in 1996-97, along
with about 115,000 thefts and 98,000 incidents of vandalism. (National
Center for Victims of Crime)
The National Center for Victims of Crime also reports these startling
statistics concerning young people in our country.
* In 1996, students age 12-18 were victims of about 255,000 incidents of
nonfatal serious violent crime at school (Kaufman & Chen, et al, 1998).
* Over the five year period from 1992 – 1996, teachers were the victims of
1,581,000 nonfatal crimes at school, including 962,000 thefts and 619,000
violent crimes which translates into about 316,000 nonfatal crimes per year
over this time period (Ibid).
* In 1995, 14.5% of students ages 12 through 19 reported experiencing
various forms of victimization at school (Chandler, et al, 1998).
* Between 1989 and 1995, the percent of students who reported a street gang
presence in their schools nearly doubled, increasing from 15.3% to 28.4%
* One in ten U.S. public schools reported experiencing at least one serious
violent crime during the 1996-97 school year (Heaviside, et al, 1998).
* Fifty-seven percent of U.S. public schools reported experiencing at least
one crime (violent or non-violent) in the 1996-97 school year (Ibid).
* During the 1996-97 school year, schools reported experiencing 4,000 rapes
or other types of sexual battery, 11,000 physical attacks or fights in which
weapons were used, and 7,000 robberies (Ibid).
* Since the mid-1980’s the rate of murder by youth has doubled, increasing
to102% (Fox, 1998).
* In the United States, homicide causes 20% of all deaths among youth and
young adults 10 to 24 years of age (Centers for Disease Control and
* During the 30 days surveyed, students carried a weapon on school property
8.5% of the time, 5.9% of the time the weapon was a gun. The prevalence of
students who had been injured with a weapon on school property one or more
times during the twelve months preceding the survey was 7.4% (Ibid).
* According to data from the National Center for Health Statistics, gunfire
killed 5,254 children age 19 and under in 1995, an almost 10% decrease since
1994. This means that fourteen children die each day from guns in America
(Children’s Defense Fund, 1997).
* Data from the Bureau of Justice Statistic’s National Criminal
Victimization Survey and the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Uniform Crime
Report indicate that juveniles age 12 to 17 committed about one quarter of
the serious violent crimes, a category that covers rape, robbery, aggravated
assault and homicide (Bureau of Justice Statistics, Perceived Age, 1997).
* Over 2,000 law enforcement agencies reported that 23,388 youth gangs were
active in their jurisdictions in 1995. Ninety percent of these agencies
believe that their gang problem will remain the same or become worse. By the
number of gangs states reported, California had the most (4,927), followed
by Texas (3,276), Illinois (1,363) and Colorado (1,304) (Office of Juvenile
Justice and Delinquency Prevention, 1997).
With all of these alarming statistics there is talk going on in our society
about what can be done. How do we stop the violence? How can we provide
for our kids a safe environment? Sadly, the focus of the discussion that
has taken place over the past several days is about guns. We’ve got to get
guns out of the hands of our kids. We’ve got to place more control on guns
in our society. We need to outlaw guns. I understand how people can jump
to this conclusion, but guns are really not the issue my friends.
On Wednesday night I was listening to a town meeting in New Jersey with many
students and authorities talking about the tragedy in Littleton, Colorado.
During the discussion Franklin Graham, the son of Rev. Billy Graham spoke
and said, “What we have is not a gun problem, but a heart problem. You can
put all of the guns in America in a big pile and have a picnic by them if
you want and the guns will never jump up and shoot anyone. Shooting a gun
and killing another human being only happens as a result of human will, when
a person makes the decision to kill another person.”
With all of the confusion surrounding the solutions to the problems we have
to ask, “Is there any hope for our kids today?” Should young people simply
give up their hopes and dreams and become cynical and fatalistic? I have
come today to tell you that I don’t believe that for one minute. As dark as
the skies may appear and as chaotic as civilization may be there is one hope
left for us today, but He is a sure hope for every one of us.
Before I share with you the hope that you and I have I want to take a moment
to share with you the problem that we have facing us. Some authorities are
telling us that the problem is accessibility to guns, others are saying that
it is having kids in schools that are too large, and others are saying that
it is the fault of parents. I say to you that the root of our problem is a
matter of the heart. We have a severe, fatal heart problem in our society.
In Jeremiah we read, 9″The human heart is most deceitful and desperately
wicked. Who really knows how bad it is?” (Jeremiah 17:9)
Jesus spoke of the wickedness of the human heart lived apart from God.
20 “It is the thought-life that defiles you. 21For from within, out of a
person’s heart, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder,
22adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, eagerness for lustful pleasure, envy,
slander, pride, and foolishness. 23All these vile things come from within;
they are what defile you and make you unacceptable to God.” (Mark 7:20-23)
All throughout God’s Word we are taught that we are born as sinners, that
our hearts are hard and bent on living a life that is totally in defiance to
God’s will for us. God continues to call us, inviting us to come to Him so
that we can gain a new heart, so that He can take our heart of stone and
replace it with a heart of flesh. We are taught throughout God’s Word that
because of our hardened hearts, our sin, we will destroy ourselves if we do
not confess our need for Jesus as Savior of our life, but we persist on
telling people that we don’t need the Lord.
Our hearts lead us into sin and sin leads to death. We, in America, have
become a nation of death because we are becoming increasingly defiant
towards God. The time is now for us to cry out to God for our sins and
plead with Him to heal our hearts and our land. If we continue to dismiss
God’s solution for our problem of sin then we are doomed to see even worse
things than we have witnessed in the past.
Our hope this morning rest solely in Jesus. Any person who is here this
morning who has never asked Jesus to come into his or her heart as Lord and
Savior does not have a prayer of living a life of purity, integrity,
sincerity, mercy, grace, and love. That is the bad news, but the Good News
is this: even though you and I have sinned against God He is willing to
forgive you of your sins, give you eternal life, and give you the power to
live by faith and not fear. Through Jesus, God will give you His Spirit and
the Spirit will lead you into a life of Truth and give you the power to have
a right relationship with God and those around you.
Paul wrote in the book of Romans,
22This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who
believe. There is no difference, 23for all have sinned and fall short of the
glory of God, 24and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption
that came by Christ Jesus. (Romans 3:22-24)
I don’t know what condition your heart was in when you came in here, but I
know that God desires to change your heart while you are here and begin your
new life today. You may be thinking to yourself, “I can’t change. I’ve been
living like this for so long that I know I’ll always be this way.” What you
can’t change my friend God can. Let me give you an example.
Cassie Bernall was a 17-year-old junior with long blond hair, hair she
wanted to cut off and have made into wigs for cancer patients who had lost
their hair through chemotherapy. She was active in her youth group at
Westpool’s Community Church in Littleton, Colorado and was known for
carrying a Bible to school. Last week, Cassie was in the school library
reading her Bible when the two young killers burst in. According to
witnesses, one of the killers pointed his gun at Cassie and asked, do you
believe in God?” Cassie paused and then answered, “Yes, I believe in God.”
“Why?” the gunman asked. Cassie did not have a chance to respond; the gunman
had already shot her dead.
At Cassie’s funeral thousands turned out to hear the story of this
modern-day martyr and hero who loved her Savior so much that she was willing
to say “Yes” even in the face of death. Cassie’s story will be told long
after you and I are gone. She is a hero and she will be the inspiration for
countless kids who truly want to live their life for Christ in their school,
but what most people don’t know is that Cassie wasn’t always such a bold
witness for Jesus.
Cassie’s martyrdom was even more remarkable when you consider that just a
few years ago she had dabbled in the occult, including witchcraft. She had
the same darkness and nihilism that drove her killers to such despicable
acts. But two years ago, Cassie dedicated her life to Christ, and turned
her life around.
According to the Boston Globe, on the night of her death, Cassie’s brother
Chris found a poem Cassie had written just two days prior to her death. It
“Now I have given up on everything else
I have found it to be the only way
To really know Christ and to experience
The mighty power that brought
Him back to life again, and to find
Out what it means to suffer and to
Die with him. So, whatever it takes
I will be one who lives in the fresh
Newness of life of those who are
Alive from the dead.”
Can real change happen? Only through Jesus my friend. Education is good,
but it can’t change the human heart. A solid family is good thing to help
young people grow in a healthy environment, but some of the most passionate
followers of Jesus have come from dysfunctional homes. Making a good living
is fine, but you can’t buy a heart set on serving Jesus. Only Jesus has the
power to change your heart and mine and give us the power to truly see
change happen in our life.
Cassie was not the only teenager killed for her faith. Rachel Scott also
died because she had the courage to say, “Yes” to Jesus.’ There was at
least one other student who was willing to cling to Jesus in the face of
death and she survived.
“Valeen Schnurr was studying in the library last Tuesday with her good
friend Lauren Townsend when a teacher ran in yelling about a gunman and
warning the students to take cover. Valeen and Lauren huddled together,
listening to the guns and bombs in the cafeteria below.
She saw the two gunmen come into the library and walk past the area where
she hid. She thinks they threw a pipe bomb because she saw books flying.
She heard others students being shot, some pleading for their lives. The
screams coming from her end of the room drew the gunmen’s attention, and
they came back her way, guns blazing.
When bullets and shrapnel hit Valeen, she slumped and clutched her abdomen.
“Oh my God, oh my God!” she remembers saying. “God!” one of the gunmen
taunted her. “Do you really believe in God?” Moments earlier, Valeen saw
what happened when Cassie was asked the same question and answered yes. “Val
was scared to say ‘yes,’ ” says Valeen’s mother. “But she was scared to say
‘no,’ because she thought she was dying.” Finally, she told the gunman,
“Yes, I believe in God.” “Why?” he asked, as he stopped to reload. “I do
believe in God,” she said, “and my Mom and Dad have taught me about God.”
She thinks she babbled on for a few seconds after that, but her memory is
fuzzy. Finally she remembers crawling away, under a table.
How can those who are so young muster should boldness? Was it because they
were strong? Smart? From good families? All of those may have
contributed, but the real reason they were able to face a barrel of a gun
with faith instead of fear was because they had been given power to live in
the face of death by Jesus.
Jesus brings real change to those who are willing to ask Him into their
hearts. The hope for us today, for young and old, is not more legislation
or more authorities or more metal detectors, but for all of us to cry out to
the Lord this morning. Cry out to God to give you eternal life in Jesus our
Savior so that whether you and I live or die we may be found in Jesus.
One of the pastors in Littleton, Colorado who preached one of the funerals
this past week sent out an e-mail this week. He said,
The killing will not stop with more gun laws, more psychology, more
computers in the classrooms, more money for teacher’s salaries, etc. Only
when there is a change in the hearts of our youth can we hope to stop the
slaughter. Jesus can make that difference, and we can encourage and
embolden the youth of America to stand up and demand safer schools by
confronting evil in their midst. Pastor Bruce Porter