By / Dec 19

Like the turning of a page, years inevitably come and go. Some years are memorable. Some are forgetful. Some are joyful. Some are devastating. In light of what we read in Ecclesiastes 3:1 about there being a season for everything, this should not be surprising. Still, as we relish success or lament loss, the knowledge of this reality does little to contain the delight or mend the heart in the moment.

I was pondering this recently as I was reading Zechariah’s prophecy following the birth of his son, John, in the first chapter of Luke. Countless Christmas sermons have been preached from these opening chapters of the Book of Luke (I’ve already heard three myself this season). But this brief section with the old man’s words doesn’t typically receive as much attention as it should in many evangelical churches, which is understandable given its placement between Mary’s song of praise and the birth of the Christ child.

As a father of three, it is intriguing to me that Zechariah’s first words in nine months aren’t about his son, at least not at the outset. For months, he was forced to be silent because of his unbelief. All the while, he was undoubtedly dealing with a flood of mixed emotions. I can’t help but think he was filled with pride and overcome with gratitude at this blessing from the Lord (Ps. 127:3). Were I in his shoes, I’m not sure I could have restrained my excitement. Yet, I wonder what Zechariah did with his time?

Perhaps a partial answer to that question is revealed in his prophetic words. A significant portion of what he discusses are the promises laid out by the prophets of old. I tend to believe, having been rebuked by the Lord, Zechariah devoted himself to studying Scripture and searching for all the ways God was faithfully keeping his promises. The path the Lord was taking to fulfill them, which very few understood in that time, had brought him right to the door of Zechariah’s household.

And so, even in the midst of a blessed occasion for his family, Zechariah’s first words are about the Rescuer who has come as a horn of salvation for us (Luke 1:69); a Redeemer who is a Dayspring from on high that shatters the darkness (vs. 78-79). The whole Benedictus is vivid and moving. It is as relevant in a season of jubilation as it is in a season of hurt. 

The shadows point to the Light

That’s been meaningful for me as much of 2023 has been a season of immense challenge, not unlike what Zechariah describes as “living in darkness and the shadow of death” (vs 79). The worst school shooting in our state’s history was perpetrated at the small Christian school my children attend. The aftermath and recovery created a number of challenges for every family involved.

More acutely, there are seven families this Christmas season without a cherished loved one in their home because one disturbed and emotionally distressed individual decided she would act on the hate that consumed her and destroy six innocent lives. Weeks would come and go when pain was more prevalent than happiness. Sleepless nights and anxious days were the norm in many homes. With all this, the words that open verse 79 are more real than I would have imagined possible. 

Still, Zechariah’s words have ministered greatly to my heart this season. A wise friend, one walking this same path, pointed out that the fact we see the shadows should offer hope. For, that has to mean there is a source of light causing the shadow. And, of course, he is right.

Even in the darkest of valleys, there is light: Jesus, the Light of the world (John 8:12).

So, I am reminded to imitate Zechariah in this moment––however long it lasts. Even if he and I are engaging from different angles: he from a season of blessing, me from a season of sorrow. From either place, we point to the truth that our Savior pierced the darkness of this broken world so that we may have light.

I hold fast to this truth this Christmas, as we weep with those who weep and mourn with those who mourn. The Light we follow promises to guide our feet “into the way of peace” (Luke 1:79). And when we arrive at our destination, there will be no more evil, no more gun violence or mass shootings, no more broken bodies or traumatized minds, and no more shadows.

When this season on Earth ends, and we find ourselves with him, “there will be no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5). That season of glory without end is one both Zechariah and I, through joy or pain, proclaim to the world.

By / Apr 21

On this episode, Lindsay Nicolet talks with Hannah Daniel about the Tennessee governor’s Order of Protection proposal. They also discuss several important Supreme Court developments including the religious postal worker case and the abortion pill 

Content

Tennessean: SBC public policy president, a Covenant parent, backs Lee’s gun law proposal

Groff v. DeJoy: Religious postal worker case

  • Rundown of oral arguments

Abortion pill at the Supreme Court 

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By / Apr 21

In the wake of the recent shooting at Covenant School in Nashville, Tennessee, Gov. Bill Lee has called on Tennessee lawmakers to introduce an Order of Protection law aimed at preventing firearms from being bought or possessed by people who may be a danger to society or themselves.

Gov. Lee’s proposal is fundamentally about providing law enforcement officers with the tools necessary to protect citizens, while upholding the rights of Tennesseans to exercise their constitutional rights. 

What is the Order of Protection proposal?

Gov. Lee’s proposal is not a new law, but rather builds on already existing legal frameworks and standards. In particular, it is linked to the existing Order of Protection for domestic violence. Currently, if a husband threatens to abuse a wife in Tennessee, an order of protection may be issued by the court temporarily restricting the husband’s access to weapons. This proposal expands that law to allow the same court to temporarily restrict access to weapons should a person threaten to attack a church, school, or other area of the community. 

The Order of Protection would institute a system so that firearms could be temporarily removed from individuals who have been deemed in a court of law to be a potential threat to themselves or others. 

The first step in the process is the involvement of law enforcement. Upon an official report that a person is a danger to themselves or others, law enforcement officers would conduct an investigation. If the officers deem that there is sufficient evidence for an individual to meet the evidentiary standard, then law enforcement would file a petition to the court. 

Once the petition is filed, the court has an extensive process which includes:

  • Setting a hearing date
  • Notifying the individual
  • Having a homicide/suicide assessment conducted by medical professionals

The court process requires that both sides have legal representation. Thus, there is a high bar for the process to begin, and individuals are entitled to full due process so as to challenge the claims of the court if they believe they are in error.

If the court grants the order of protection, then a person’s firearms may be removed for up to 180 days. The judge would also be required to consider alternatives before issuing the order. The firearms must be surrendered to either a third party or to law enforcement. Additionally, individuals may petition to have the firearms returned. The proposal also includes penalties for false reports.

The Order of Protection Proposal is Not a “Red Flag” Law

Red flag laws, also known as Extreme Risk Protection Orders, are currently effective in 19 states along with Washington, D.C.  The guidelines and specific provisions vary from state to state, but there are key differences between these laws and Gov. Lee’s proposal. 

First, the Order of Protection only allows law enforcement officers to make the official request to the court. Some red flag laws allow multiple actors—such as medical professionals, family members, educators, and other individuals—to file a petition before the court to have firearms confiscated. However, the governor’s proposal restricts the power of filing the petition to law enforcement alone, supporting them in their efforts to prevent crime. 

Additionally, Gov. Lee’s proposal allows for a structured procedure to meet all the demands of due process. Many states’ red flag laws include an emergency ex parte. An ex parte allows for an expedited process in which firearms can be confiscated prior to a court hearing. In some states, the ex parte emergency seizure can last up to one year. The proposal from Gov. Lee does not include this provision, meaning that a person can only be dispossessed of the firearms if they go through the entire court process, which means due process is preserved.

How have Southern Baptists spoken to this issue?

Southern Baptists have spoken clearly about the need to meet and curb the plague of mass shootings in recent history. 

  • The messengers to the annual meeting in 2018 passed a resolution, “On Gun Violence and Mass Shootings.” 
  • This was reaffirmed in 2022 in the resolution, “On the Imago Dei and the Helpful Content Submitted in Several Resolutions.” 

Both resolutions affirmed the solidarity of the convention “with all those victimized by gun violence.” Further, the 2022 resolution called on local, state, and federal leaders to “take concrete steps, toward solutions that uphold the dignity and value of every human life . . . and to minimize the threat of gun violence throughout our society.” 

Additionally, Randy Davis, president of the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board, in addition to a group of pastors in the Middle Tennessee region, sent a letter to the members of the Tennessee General Assembly. In a Baptist and Reflector article, Davis commented on the Order of Protection:

“This is personal for me. . . . . I am a gun owner and I strongly support the Second Amendment, however I also have a daughter who is a school teacher. She loves the children she teaches. She and her students, like all teachers and students, deserve a safe environment in which to teach and learn. 

“Measures must be taken to address the mental health side of gun violence, especially as it pertains to mass shootings and the unnecessary and deeply unfortunate deaths of innocent people such as 9-year-old children.”

Representing more than 20% of the state’s population, these Southern Baptists and other ministers called on the members to support Gov. Lee’s proposal reminding them of their duty before God as “His servant[s] in matters of justice, protecting the vulnerable from those who do evil” (Rom. 13:1-7). 

As ERLC President Brent Leatherwood explained in his own letter to the Tennessee Assembly, the actions of Southern Baptists are drawn from the commitment that every life possesses intrinsic value and worth. The same convictions, Leatherwood argued, that motivate Christians to protect the preborn, urge them to protect vulnerable children from the violence of mass shootings.