How I’m Going to Talk About the Vegas Shooting

Jason Aldean was wrapping up his set at the Vegas weekend show when the shots rang out. From the 32nd floor of the hotel across the street, a deranged sniper was raining down automatic fire on the concert goers. When the shooting was over, 58 people and the shooter were dead.

And no one knows why. Investigators can’t find a note, anything on a website, or anything from his past that can be pointed to as the thing that set him off. Even if we did find it, I’m not sure it would help. One of the things that makes senseless acts of violence so hard to understand is they are, well, senseless.

Now, we’re left with the aftermath. What do we say? How do we talk about this? Do we talk about how we always have to be on guard and know our surroundings? Do we talk about how there are bad people in the world, and we have to always be wary of those people around us?

Perhaps. I guess we’ll always have to teach our children not to trust strangers.

But that’s not how I choose to tell this story.

Sonny Melton was, for all we can tell, a good old Tennessee boy. He had grown up in a small town and loved his family and his friends. He had just gotten married last year and was in Vegas with his new bride. Then, he heard the shots. He saw people falling around him, wounded and dead. In that moment, he realized his wife was in danger, and he put his body between her and the bullets as they tried to get out. He was killed. She lived. Sonny died protecting his wife.

Sonny is a hero, and that’s the story I’ll tell. I’ll tell the story that in the moment that all hell broke loose, Sonny made the choice that his wife’s life was more important than his, and he did what every hero does. He stood up and took the lead. I’ll tell the story about Sonny and countless others who stopped and treated wounded strangers and the doctors and nurses who worked around the clock treating the victims as they were brought into the hospital. I’m going to talk about security guards who, even when they realized they were being targeted first, made sure people found their way to safety.

I’m going to tell the stories about people who, when the worst moment of their lives happened, found it within themselves to be brave and compassionate. They found a way to be human in an inhuman moment.

That’s the story I’ll tell. I’ll tell it over and over again to the point that when I’m ever caught in the worst moment ever, I’ll know what to do. I’ll know how to be human.

First Response

A few years ago, I was the chaplain for the Brentwood Police and Fire Departments. After riding with these officers and firefighters and having seen them in action up close, I have nothing but respect for the courage these men and women find to do these jobs every day. Did you know most arrests are made during a routine traffic stop? An officer will pull a driver over for speeding, then find themselves face to face with a wanted felon. (Now you know why police officers are so edgy when they approach your car.) As for firefighters, well, I used to the tell them, “Anyone who gets dressed up to run into a burning house, isn’t right…”

But if I was in trouble, I wouldn’t want anyone else coming.

That’s the thing—these first responders never know what’s next. They train a lot, and they train for every conceivable situation, but they never know, from one minute to the next, what kind of situation they’ll find themselves in. If something’s happening, and they’re the closest unit, they’ll get the call. The police officers and firefighters can be anywhere in the city in a matter of minutes, and sometimes, it’s the minutes that save lives.

This is another reason I love the local church. (Hang with me. This is going to make sense.) You see, it’s the patrol car or the fire station nearest the problem that gets the call to respond first. Other units may be required, but the first unit is the closest unit. Who can get there first and offer assistance?

One of the great things about the local church—and this is one of the geniuses of its design—is that a local church is closest to the pain. We’re the closest ones to the child struggling with identity, closest to a young marriage trying to figure it out, and closest to family dealing with a tough diagnosis; we’re the closest ones to the situation. We can get there fast and offer any aid that might be needed. Christ has placed His people right in the middle of all of the pain in the world so that, if needed, we would get the call and get there first.

That means we need a lot of training in the church (we call this discipleship) to prepare for any and all scenarios. We need to be ready to get there in minutes because, well, as we know, minutes save lives.

Gratitude for the People Who Make Me Look Good

As Senior Pastor of Brentwood Baptist Church, I get a lot of credit for things I don’t do. People walk up to and will say something like, “Hey, Mike, I just got back from (conference, ministry event, mission trip, etc.), and it changed my life. You have a great church and you’re doing a great job!”

I will politely say thanks in response, but I’ll know the truth. I had nothing to do with the success of the mentioned event. I just have a great team around me.

Mike Rowe, in his hit TV show “Dirty Jobs,” has introduced us to those almost invisible people around us who make our society work. Street sweepers and sewer workers, people who raise worms commercially, and a whole host of other people who do the jobs that most of us would never do in a million years that keep our modern world turning.

In the spirit of Labor Day and in deep gratitude for those around me who make my life work, I would like say thanks to a few of my team. Now, I don’t have room to thank everyone. That list is impossibly long, but here are a few of the people around me who make me look good…

First, if I’m on time and reasonably prepared for the meeting, it’s because Jaclyn Swencki, my executive assistant, has done her job well. With my ADD, I’m like a herd of cats all by myself. Jaclyn keeps me reasonably focused and my life organized, and that’s not an easy task. Thanks, Jaclyn!

Every day, I walk into a nice building that is clean, ready for use, and everything works. That’s because Jim Vance and his team in facilities have done their job. They always do their job. The reason I know how well they do their job is how little I think about them. I just show up and everything is ready and works. Thanks, Jim!

Adam Dye makes our media work. He knows where all of the wires and buttons are. I know we ask him to do the impossible week after week, but he just smiles and then, he pulls it off. Few of us will understand how hard whatever he did was to pull off, but he does it. Thanks, Adam!

Whenever you call the church, Helen Hargrove is the first person you talk to. I can’t tell you what a great job she does in taking care of our communications. She’s the first impression of Brentwood Baptist Church, and she makes us look good. Thanks, Helen!

Todd Bishop makes sure the traffic doesn’t get snarled up and greeters are in place for all of our services. He also handles emergency situations. There are Sundays when we will have an emergency situation, and I won’t know anything about it until much later in the day. Todd does his job very well. Thanks, Todd!

To everyone, professional staff and volunteers, who show up when you’re supposed to and do what you committed to do with excellence and heart, I thank you. Yes, I get a lot of credit, but I know the truth. You’re a great church, and we have a great team. Thanks and Happy Labor Day!

What about you? Who are those people who make your life work? Perhaps today would be a good day to say “thanks.”

Only a Handful of Things Really Matter

In my role as pastor, I have the privilege of walking with people during their last days. I say “privilege” because most of the time it is a profound privilege to share the journey with someone as they prepare to die. Sure, there is the usual grief, sadness, anger, and deep sense of loss. There is the frustration of having wasted so much time on things that don’t matter.

And then, if time allows, there’s a turning point. A moment when the person says, “OK, the cards have been dealt. I only have so much time. I’m not going to waste a minute of it.” This part of the journey is always surprising to me. Within a matter of minutes, the person will have whittled the focus of their lives down to a handful of things. “Here are the things that matter,” they will say, “and I’m not wasting my life doing anything else.”

And they don’t. They’ll stop watching TV to engage in conversations with friends. They’ll seek forgiveness and offer forgiveness. They don’t want anything blocking their joy in their last few days. They’ll talk more about joy and less about money. They’ll stop surfing the web and not be bothered if their emails pile up. They know what matters and that’s all they’re going to do.

The funny thing is, what matters then is the only thing that matters now. Yet, few of us have the courage to live focused only on those things that matter. We get distracted by the noise of the world. We get turned around in a culture that demands we keep up with everything everywhere. But in the end, none of that matters.

And there’s no pain like the pain of realizing you’ve wasted your life on things that don’t matter.

So, what would you change today if the doctor said you only had a year to live? Go ahead and change them now. Sooner or later, the doctor will tell you that, and you’ll save time by already having your list done.