Why does it take us so long to ask for help?

In the biblical book of Judges, we get an accounting of the history of ancient Israel before the monarchy was established. During this period, there was no king, the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes (often with disastrous moral consequences), and the nation as a whole descended along a downwardly-spiraling track of increasing despair and depravity.

In many ways, the history of Israel is similar to the personal history of an individual, struggling along life’s path, facing moral ups and downs, straying from the right path, making poor decisions, falling into addiction and reaping the consequences. How many of us can relate to those themes?

And yet in the book of Judges, another theme emerges, besides the theme of moral failure and degeneracy, and that is the theme of God’s rescue. In this book a pattern is established, wherein the people turn to idolatry and abandon God, God responds by allowing them to stray and “selling them” into the oppression of foreign nations, and then the people cry out (eventually) for help, at which time God raises up a deliverer to save them from their oppression and restore them to a right relationship with Himself.

What is incredible as we examine this cycle of apostasy-oppression-repentance-rescue, is how long it takes the people of Israel to cry out to God for help.

Look at Judges 4:1-3:

The Israelites again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord after Ehud had died. So the Lord sold them to King Jabin of Canaan, who reigned in Hazor. The commander of his army was Sisera who lived in Harosheth of the Nations. Then the Israelites cried out to the Lord, because Jabin had nine hundred iron chariots, and he harshly oppressed them twenty years.

Twenty years! That is apparently how long it took the Israelites to cry out to the Lord for rescue. In modern terms, 20 years is approximately one generation. And that is how long Jabin and Sisera oppressed the Israelites before they cried out to the Lord. They were so married to their idols, so rebellious in their hearts, that calling out to God was not merely the option of last resort, it did not apparently even occur to them as an option at all until they had endured two full decades of brutality.

Now the story continues, I would encourage you to read what happens next.  The Lord does indeed miraculously rescue His people, using, I might add, some very unexpected and even astonishing means to do so. But the stupendous nature of God’s rescue of Israel in Judges 4 only makes their long wait to call on Him all the more incredible. Why did it take them so long?

At this point, we may need to turn that same question around on ourselves. How many times, in the face of some trial or adversity–whether self-inflicted or outside of our control–do we view crying out to the Lord for help our option of last resort? Have we bought into the modern myth that “God helps those who help themselves?” To the extent that we have, we do ourselves a great disservice and we actually alienate ourselves from the God who calls Himself our helper and invites us to bring our burdens and labor to His Son, who will give us rest.

Israel’s sin had consequences and placed them under God’s wrath, but it also put them in a situation where they could call on God and experience His rescue. Our sin places us in very much the same situation.

Sin often leads to oppression and hardship in our lives (indeed whenever they do not lead to oppression and hardship, we should thank God for His incredible mercy!). God sent Jesus into the world to take on Himself the hardship–to the point of death–that our sin had earned us. He rose again and, having conquered our sin and God’s resulting wrath once and for all, He now offers real rest and true help to everyone who hears and believes.

We will not receive His help as long as we are relying on ourselves (or the “idols” in our lives which we trust instead of God–those go-to, functional saviors we turn to for comfort or help, or simply to numb the pain–which inevitably let us down). The Bible never says God helps those who help themselves, but rather that, “you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift—not from works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). Those verses fly in the face of our deeply-ingrained sense of self-sufficiency. It takes us so long to ask for help, because it is so hard to believe we can’t rescue ourselves. But believing that, and believing in the One who alone can rescue us, is the key to being rescued. It is just as true for you and me as it was for ancient Israel.

His rescue is a gift from Him alone, given to those who give up working to rescue themselves and trust Jesus; we cannot claim one scrap of glory for bringing it about. 

God’s deliverance will not mean you don’t have work to do; Israel did have a battle to fight as part of God’s rescue from Sisera. However, the good news is that God rescues everyone who calls on Jesus, and that rescue is unilateral. He defeats our sin and its consequences for us. Then the work that we do to root out sin in our lives is a result of the transformation He brings.

Are you going through hardship right now? It’s all around us, and indeed it is a pervasive part of life. If you aren’t going through it now, you can be sure that it will only be a matter of time until you are. It took Israel 20 years to ask for Help. How long will it take you?

What Kind of Church Outreach Works?

Since I started in ministry back in 2011, I have been a student of church outreach methods and practices. What is outreach? Outreach is simply the activity of extending one’s attention beyond one’s church community in order to bring the Gospel to outsiders, and to bring outsiders to faith in Christ and into the church.

Outreach is important, because as followers of Jesus, we ought not to keep the good news to ourselves. We want to share it and see others–as many as the Lord will give us–come to saving faith, reconciliation to God and others, and the transformed life that only Jesus can give.

Over the years, I have worked with ministries and staffs to develop strategies ranging from pub theology groups, to backyard barbecues, to evangelistic retreats and lock-ins, to well-known programs like the Alpha Course. I have attended conferences and researched curriculum. I have preached it from the stage, and I have obnoxiously wedged it into conversations. I would by no means call myself an expert in outreach, but I am a student of it. I don’t know everything (far from it), but I have learned a few things. And after years of studying and practicing outreach, I am convinced that there are two methods of outreach that is more effective than everything else.

The two most effective methods for evangelism I have found are these:

  1. Studying the Bible in a small group.
  2. A personal invitation to church.

Studying the Bible in a small group

There is something about opening up God’s word with a group of two-to-12 people, reading it, discussing it, and asking and answering questions about it that is just powerful. In Isaiah 55:11, the Lord says, “My word that comes from my mouth will not return to me empty, but it will accomplish what I please and will prosper in what I send it to do” (CSB). I have written about the benefit of small group Bible study to spiritual growth, so I won’t belabor this point.

If you are looking for something you can do to reach unbelievers with the Gospel, I would just encourage you to pray first, and then recruit one or two other believers to do this with you. Together, pick up a book on one-to-one or small-group Bible study (like this one) and start inviting your non-Christian friends and acquaintances to study the Bible with you. You can say something like, “Would you have any interest in reading the Bible with me and a couple other guys (/gals) for a few weeks?”

An evangelistic, small-group Bible study on a book like Romans or one of the four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) can be a powerful environment for outreach.

A personal invitation to church

Ideally, there is one place you can count on the Gospel being announced at least once a week. That place, of course, is your local church (if your pastor is not preaching the Good News about Jesus every week, then you need to have a sit-down with him. Come on, Preacher! We’ve got souls to save here! Get on your horse!). Because of this, a church invite can be a great way to get your non-Christian friends, neighbors and family members in front of Jesus. The fact is, most of us are not inviting people to church. Before churches plan to spend money, time and volunteer hours on large-scale outreach initiatives, we should take advantage of the “outreach event” happening every weekend!

The invitation can be something as simple as saying, “Hey, if you don’t have any plans this Sunday morning, I’d love to have you join me at my church this Sunday. We can even grab lunch afterward. Want to come?”

These two outreach methods are simple, but let’s be honest, they are still intimidating. You still have to make the invitation. Sometimes, we may prefer large-scale events, because it allows us to hid behind everyone else in the church. These two methods require personal, face-to-face interaction and taking a risk. But this is exactly what the Lord did for us. Jesus came down and met us face-to-face. And last time I checked, He still invites us, through His word, to come to Him (see here and here).  It’s our privilege, as His followers, to pass that invitation along.

Further reading: 

  • Why Church Members Don’t Invite Others to Church: http://thomrainer.com/2014/07/church-members-dont-invite-others-church/
  • Five Surprising Insights about the Unchurched: http://thomrainer.com/2016/12/five-surprising-insights-unchurched/

Why Does God Allow the Devil to Live? (and a Couple Other Good Questions)

A friend of mine posted these questions, which her children had asked her, on Facebook today.  They were such good questions, and they struck me as the kind of questions people are asking at every age–certainly not just in childhood. I humbly submitted my response (which were written for kids, mind you), and I share that now with you.

The questions:

  • Why did God just not send Satan to death?
  • Why didn’t God just restart the world?
  • God knew that Satan was going to keep doing bad stuff so why didn’t He just put him in a cage or something?
  • Why did God create Satan if He knew he’d do bad things?

My response:

The Bible answers these questions, but not always exactly in the way we would like! There are three perspectives the Bible offers to the question.

First, God is God, and His ways are not our ways. We know He is good, but He is also WAY smarter than we are (obviously! He’s GOD!). Romans 9:20 says “But who are you, a mere man, to talk back to God?” In other words, at some point we just have to trust Him, that He knows what He’s doing!

Second, God is so GOOD, that He has a plan to make everything work out for good. He has already planned it out ahead of time. He has even planned it so that, when bad people or spirits (like the devil) choose to do evil things, God makes those bad things work out for good in the end. That’s pretty amazing, right? Romans 8:28 says that, “We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” In Genesis 50:20, Joseph tells his brothers (who had been super evil to him), “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good!” The worst thing that ever happened was when the Son of God, who had NEVER done ANYTHING wrong, was killed. Satan probably thought he had won–that he had beaten God! But God used that terrible sin to save all His people! The joke’s on the devil, because Jesus wins every time!

Third, we can have peace about these questions, the more we get to know Jesus. In Philippians 4:7, God tells us that “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” The more we live with God, trusting in Jesus, following the Holy Spirit who lives inside God’s children, the better we feel about life, and God’s control over the world. The Bible says (in Romans 1:17) that the righteousness of God is revealed in the Gospel (the good news about Jesus) “from faith for faith.” In other words, when we trust in Jesus, God gives us His Holy Spirit who helps us trust in Jesus more and more and more.

So to summarize it…

  1. God knows what He’s doing… even though we don’t!
  2. God’s plan is not just to make a good world, but to bring about a good world in which good completely wins the victory over evil. God will bring every bad thing that the evil devil does around for good. Take that, Devil!
  3. God will help you understand and trust Him more and more–even when you don’t totally get it, because He’s always with you!

Does the Trinity Matter in Apologetics?

The truth that God is Triune (“God is Three, God is One”) was not something I had previously given much thought to in doing apologetics. However, at a time when many Christian apologists are trying to convince non-believers of “bare theism,” I have now come to see that the Doctrine of the Trinity is absolutely vital to the defense of the Christian faith.

I came to this conclusion while researching and writing one of my Capstone papers (like a Master’s thesis) for Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, which addressed the question, “What is the role of the Trinity in John Frame’s Apologetics?”

In the paper, I dig into the writings of John Frame (in my opinion, one of the most important theologian-philosophers doing work today) and his unique contribution to the world of theology, namely triperspectivalism. Don’t know what that is? You aren’t alone. It’s unfamiliar to many, but incredibly important, and incredibly cool once you find out how it works. I submit this paper as a resource for thinking about doing apologetics in a more biblical way.

Access the white paper at the Resources tab or here.

Read more by Dr. Frame here.

One Sure-Fire Way to Grow in Spiritual Health this Summer

Before we begin, join me, for the sake of argument, in assuming two things:

  1. You have a spirit.
  2. Your spirit could be healthier.

Your spirit is the deepest core of who you are.  It’s the truest essence of “self” that you have. It’s your very life. When your spirit departs your body (i.e. when you die), your body dies. Ever since our Creator breathed the first human spirit into the first human body (creating the first human being), all people ever since have been both physical and spiritual (or “psychosomatic”).  While it is relatively easy to find reliable data on how to pursue physical health, when it comes to spiritual health, things get a littler more murky. There are countless traditions, techniques, and writings out there on how to grow in spiritual health, but I want to suggest one simple, repeatable, and enormously beneficial practice that is guaranteed to grow you in spiritual health.

That practice is: study the Bible with followers of Jesus.

Now, you might object that you aren’t a Christian. That’s fine, you don’t have to be one, to study the Bible with some. If you live close to a Bible-believing church, call them up and see if your local pastor or church leader can recommend any Bible-study groups meeting in your neighborhood. But the goal must be to get into a group where followers of Jesus–Christians–are studying the Bible together.

Why do I say that this practice is guaranteed to grow you spiritually? There are three reasons:

It’s God’s own recommendation for spiritual growth.

In the ancient book of Deuteronomy, it’s recorded that God told His people, “man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord” (Deuteronomy 8:3). Later, in another book (Hebrews, chapter 10), it is written, “…let us watch out for one another to provoke love and good works, not neglecting to gather together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day approaching.” So the Bible is like food for the soul, and we’re instructed to gather together for encouragement. Together, we see a strong recommendation for studying the Bible together. 

It will give you access to supernatural insight.

Jesus famously told His disciples, “…I tell you truly that if two of you on the earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by My Father in heaven. For where two or three gather together in my name, there I am with them” (Matthew 18:19-20). Jesus does not physically show up at every gathering of His followers; rather He shows up by God’s Spirit–the Holy Spirit, who indwells every true Christian. When Christians gather together around God’s word, they should expect the Holy Spirit to give them insights together that transcend anything they could come up with on their own. This insight is relevant to life changes, to one’s relationships to God and others, and to simply understanding life’s important questions.

It works.

Studying the Bible with Christians has been one of the top three practices that have grown me spiritually. In other words, I know from experience. In case you’re wondering, the other two practices have been prayer and teaching (what you prepare for, you learn!). When I think back on the periods of my life in which I grew the most spiritually–when I grew in peace, humility and confidence, when my heart grew larger toward my fellowmen, I immediately think of early morning and late night conversations with followers of Jesus, had while studying Scripture together.

Where to find a group:

Many churches (and probably one in your area) offer small group ministries or so-called Sunday School classes. If you happen to find yourself in Chicago, click here to get connected through Park Community Church. Again, whether you have faith or not, whether you consider yourself a strong believer or are just looking into spirituality for the first time, my recommendation is: get in a group and study the Bible with followers of Jesus. It’s God’s own recommendation, it will give you access to supernatural insight, and it works.

What About Those Who Don’t Believe in God?

As I prepare for tomorrow’s message on the book of Jonah–the man who was plunged into the abyss, into the belly of a giant fish, and returned after three days–one concept has really shocked me. In this incredible (though not un-credible) story, there are two groups of people who become worshipers of the Lord, namely the polytheist sailors and the wicked citizens of Nineveh, who had previously been the furthest thing from believers. And yet, it is clear from the story that God actually expected their worship. He deserved it. They owed Him worship.

There is no sense, from Scripture, that worship of the Lord is something optional, or that God only certain people to worship Him, or that He only wants to be known, glorified and enjoyed by people who currently adhere to a particular religion.

God is the God of everyone He has created. And He has created everyone. He is even the God of those who don’t believe in Him. (Or at least, they claim to believe in Him. Whether anyone can truly be an atheist is an issue for another time. Spoiler alert: they can’t.)

These theme of the universality of God’s worship-worthiness continues on into the New Testament, in which Jesus is said to be the Savior, not only of certain people, but of the whole world (see 1 John 2:2 and 4:14). That is to say, there is only one God, and One who goes between God and man, to make peace between us.

Like the pagan sailors and the Ninevites in the book of Jonah, you, me, and everyone we know owe our allegiance to the one true God.

This is difficult, because there are many religious systems out there claiming to be true, and insofar as they deny the Gospel, they are therefore all wrong (see the recent controversy with Senator Bernie Sanders and presidential appointee).

However, it is also wonderful news (the word Gospel means “good news”), because there is a sure way to God. There aren’t multiple ways, but that’s okay, because there aren’t multiple gods. There is only one. And He has given us a way. That way is through faith in Jesus (John 1:12).

This Gospel is the message that Christians must take to our family, friends and neighbors: there is one true God. He made us, and we owe Him everything. We’ve been refusing Him the worship He deserves, and we’ve earned His punishment (that’s why God sent Jonah to Nineveh in the first place!). Rescue from that punishment comes through faith in the one who was plunged into the abyss of death and returned to the land of the living after three days. Not Jonah, but Jesus. Do you know Him? Whom will you tell?

Why I Believe the Bible’s “Crazy” Stories (or: What Shrek Can Teach Us about Knowledge)

The movie “Shrek” features a talking donkey (creatively named just, “Donkey”). Did you ever stop to think that Donkey was a subtle dig against the Bible? Here is why: the characters of Shrek are ostensibly all from fairy tales (Pinocchio, the Ginger Bread Man, etc.). By including the talking donkey, Dreamworks is basically lumping the Bible in with the “other” fairy tales.

Because the Bible has a talking donkey in it. Read on.

The other night, at a certain weekly discussion group of which I am a part, the question came up concerning the stories of the Bible that seem, not merely miraculous (such as Jesus turning water into wine or raising the dead), but actually outlandish. You know, the Bible reports as historical fact such events as the following:

The difficulty of these stories

These stories seem far-fetched to our (post)modern sensibilities. They really seem like fairy tales–unbelievable. The stuff of story books and CGI movies for children.

Of course, these stories undoubtably seemed far-fetched even to many of the pre-modern people who read the accounts. Talking snakes and donkeys were not everyday occurrences then, either.

Certainly, pre-moderns had myths of all shapes and sizes, but the Bible does not present itself as myth. It presents as historical truth–a factual account of a rational Creator who loves, judges, and communicates with His people. Yet this historical account is peppered with stories that stick out like a sore thumb, stories which stretch our sense of plausibility.

So why do we, and I am speaking of followers of Jesus today, believe those stories? Why do we not simply accept the “reasonable” stories, and discard the others as myth–as good-natured attempts of pre-modern theocrats, doing their best to make sense of the world using nature imagery and metaphor? Why not do that? I can think of many reasons (including the astounding archaeological evidence that corroborates the Bible), but I want to focus in on just two, and one is far more important than the other.

Because genre matters

The first reason is this: to discard the unexpected, outlandish-seeming stories from Scripture is to do damage to the text. These stories were not written as fairy-tale add-ons to an otherwise sensible historical narrative. They are part of the warp and woof of the tapestry of the God’s story. They belong in Scripture, and they are written as history. Sure, we could ignore all that and simply decide to only accept what seems appropriate to us.

But in doing that, we would be ignoring all meaningful categories of genre and authorial intent.

Far from making the Bible more intelligent, chopping it up that way–with total disregard to what the biblical authors intended–is a far less intelligent way of interacting with ancient texts, or any texts for that matter. More than being un-faithful, it would be un-intelligent and incoherent.

Because Jesus matters

The second reason why we should believe the stories in the Bible that offend our sense of reasonability is simply this: Jesus believed them.

To read the Gospels (the four accounts of Jesus’ life in the New Testament) is to read about a Messiah whose life and ministry were deeply rooted in the Hebrew Scriptures (what we call the Old Testament–which contains many of the aforementioned “outlandish” stories).

For example, Matt Slick (in this excellent article) that Jesus believed in…

Jesus believed in the Bible. All of it. Even the hard parts. And that matters, because of who Jesus is.

He is God’s ultimate prophet, conveying God’s truth in an infallible way–He cannot be wrong.

He is the king of the universe, and He commands His people to believe God’s word–of which word He claims to be the central theme.

He is the ultimate counselor, who lovingly guides his people like a shepherd leading his sheep, by the comforting presence of the Holy Spirit and through the Bible.

When the King of Everything tells us to believe and obey something, our first response ought to be absolute, unquestioning belief and obedience. Of course, we all stumble and struggle in many ways. None of us has totally perfect faith (as my dad says, “only one person was ever perfect, and they crucified Him”).

However, there can be no question that Jesus believed the Old Testament is true. We can rest confident that God the Son knows what He is talking about.

What this means about everything else the Bible teaches

I do not have time to get into it right now, but there are some wonderful implications of the above.

The Bible lays out the world’s most comprehensive, cohesive and coherent worldview ever. No other system so satisfyingly, so scientifically, so truthfully answers the deepest questions of life:

  • Who are we?
  • What’s wrong with us?
  • How do we fix it?
  • Where are we going?

I have argued elsewhere (though I am certainly not the first to do so!) that the Bible, taken as a whole, alone provides an adequate basis for science and knowledge–for thinking we can know anything at all. But that means it all must be true, even the part about the talking donkey and the big fish. All 66 books of the Bible, and everything in them, must be true, or none of it is.

To conclude: because Jesus believes the Bible, we must believe it too. So while Shrek may have been poking fun at something unexpected in Scripture, it turns out to have been getting at something much deeper. We really can know, because the Bible told us so. Now sing it with me: “some-BODY once told me….”

On Being Prepared to Defend Your Faith

In the Bible, God instructs his people to be prepared at all times to give a response, whenever anyone asks us about the hope that we have.

Most followers of Jesus have probably heard that command, yet how many of us are confident that we could, at the drop of the proverbial hat, feel ready to give an adequate defense of the Christian message?

A few months back, I was asked to create a resource that will answer the biggest objections and questions that people have about the Christian faith. If you know anything about me, you know that one of my main passions in life is tackling the tough questions–I do not always have the answers, but it’s a real thrill tracking them down. And I happen to be a believer that, as God’s breathed-out word (2 Tim. 3:16-17), the Bible has the answers contained within it; any resource like this is going to direct folks right back to Scripture. So the thought of creating a resource that would defend Christianity against the toughest objections out there, and encourage my friends at Park to get deeper into the Bible, was really exciting to me. It was exciting to the other Park pastors as well–and a couple of them actually had enough margin in their schedules (a small miracle to be sure, given that many are husbands and dads–and all are incredibly busy) to be able to come alongside me on the project.

This initiative will certainly be aimed at non-believers who have real questions and objections, but it will also be for equipping Christ-followers to obey that command that we all know, but most of us never quite feel ready for: defending the faith.

More details will follow. However, in the meantime, maybe your interest in defending the faith has been piqued. If that’s the case, I want to recommend the blog of another Settecase–my brother Parker. Parker has been tackling some of the toughest questions and objections against the Christian faith for awhile now, and he does it well. You can also check out my older blog, with the unfortunate title, “Don’t Forget to Think.” And one final recommendation: go get The Reason for God, by Timothy Keller, right now. Read it and re-read it, then hand it off to a friend (maybe that one friend or coworker with all the objections about God that you never quite know how to answer). You will be glad you did.

Every follower of Jesus needs to be able to obey the command to be prepared to defend his or her faith. The steps we take today can prepare you to better do that tomorrow. Happy preparing!

A Christian Response to Terror

As I write this, I have just read the news about what is apparently the latest terrorist attack on innocent Britons. At this point, many of the details are still unconfirmed, so my purpose in this post is not to offer commentary on the attackers, or their apparent extremist Islamic ideology. That commentary will come. But for the time being, I want to share some thoughts for those of us in the West who are beginning feeling the fear and paranoia sink in–the dread that nowhere is safe, and that our security, or our lives, or the lives of our loved ones could be taken at any moment by a maniac with a weapon (for those of us living on the Northwest Side of Chicago, that feeling may be intensified by the recent, seemingly completely random murder of an Uber driver in the area, just as  senseless killings are a tragically frequent realityfor many across Chicago).

How are we to cope with that feeling of dread we may feel? There are two “natural” options, and one supernatural one. The natural options are (1) allow ourselves to go numb to the endless flow of headlines, or (2) to give in to the fear and panic, constantly living in terror of the next attack. The Bible, however, offers a third way–a supernatural way–of responding to the news of terrorist attacks. That third way consists of three elements, outlined below (N. B. this is a post about our individual response to terrorism, and it is not intended to be taken as outlining how we as a nation or as a civilization must respond to the existential threat that is radical Islamic terrorism).

The three elements of a biblical response to reports of terrorism are:

  1. Acknowledge the evil and sinfulness of the attack (it is objectively evil and against God’s good character).
  2. Search and repent of evil in our own hearts (like the terrorists, we too are sinners in need of repentance and forgiveness).
  3. Prayerfully trust the sovereign Lord (who protects us, gives us peace, and will ultimately triumph every injustice).

Without going too into detail on each of the three elements, here are some Scriptures for each of them.

Acknowledge the Evil of the Attack.

Murder is sin, and it is diametrically opposed to God’s holy character. Truth and morality are absolute. It’s good and right to call evil actions what they are: evil. The Bible is not ambivalent about the sinfulness of murder and terror. Edit: acknowledging the evil of terrorism allows us to authentically pray to God–that He will comfort those affected, that He will prevent further attacks and harm, and that He will use the evil actions for ultimate good.

  • “Whoever takes a human life shall surely be put to death” (Leviticus 24:17).
  • “There are six things that the Lord hates, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil…” (Proverbs 6:16-19). 
  • “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).

Search and Repent of Evil in Our Own Hearts

The sin of others ought to remind us of our own, often secret sins, and bring us to repentance. The same holy God who hates terrorism and murder, hates our sin as well. This life is short, and when it ends we will stand before our Creator–either as Judge or as loving Father.

  • “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.” (Matthew 5:21-22)
  • “And he responded to them, ‘Do you think that these Galileans were more sinful than all the other Galileans because they suffered these things? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as well‘” (Luke 13:2-3).
  • “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

Prayerfully Trust the Sovereign Lord

Jesus Christ died for sinners–the ultimate injustice producing ultimate justice–and rose again. He ascended to Heaven, where He reigns, and from whence He protects His all who trust in Him, from all eternal harm, and from whence He will return to judge the living and the dead.

  • “Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me, even if he dies, will live. Everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?'” (John 11:25-26). 
  • “Don’t worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7). 
  • “And Jesus said, ‘I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven'” (Mark 14:62). 
  • “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4). 

Followers of Jesus never need to fear terrorism–and not just because of the statistical improbability of being killed by a terrorist attack. Rather, it is because we know who holds our destiny, and nothing can separate us from His love (Romans 8:35) and the future He has planned for us (Jeremiah 29:11; Romans 8:28-30). Nothing! Though terrorists may kill the body, they cannot harm our soul. Jesus teaches us to, “Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28). It is a terrifying thing to consider facing God with unforgiven sin. It is an incredibly joyful thing to understand that, because of Jesus, we are forgiven. And that is the antidote to terror.

Want to know more about how to have your sins forgiven, overcome fear and attain complete peace in this world? The Bible has the answers. Start reading here, or email me.

App Recommendation: PrayerMate

I used to be a youth pastor. And one of the most significant events on any youth ministry’s calendar is the annual lock-in. They take a ton of prep work and team building, but the intense teaching, prayer and sharing time can have an incredible impact on the students who attend.  I remember one time at one such lock-in, my friend Larry, who was serving as one of the guys’ group leaders, asked his small group a question: “If you had God’s cell number, and you could ask Him any one question, what would you ask?” That question sparked some deep, thoughtful answers from the students–who ranged from spiritually mature to more immature. Of course, the question is somewhat unrealistic, given that God doesn’t have a phone number. Yet it also communicated a powerful point that night, because the fact is, we can talk to God anytime we want. He is easier to reach than if we had Him on speed dial; we can contact Him through prayer.

Prayer, I submit, is probably the most powerful, most under-utilized resource of the Christian life.

Now, if you are not yet a follower of Jesus, maybe you pray and maybe you do not (I know unbelievers who do all the time, and some who would not dream of it). But I would pause right now and encourage you to pray the most important prayer of your life: repent of your sin and receive Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord. The Bible promises that, “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). This is because, “One believes with the heart, resulting in righteousness, and one confesses with the mouth, resulting in salvation” (Romans 10:10). If you call out to Jesus in prayer to save you, He will not deny you. 

Alright, I am going to make the assumption that every (former) non-Christian reading this post has now become a Christian, and that everyone reading this is now officially following Jesus Christ (a bold assumption? Certainly. But go with me here).

Now, my dear Christ-following friend, let’s talk about Larry’s question. If you could get God on the phone, what would you ask Him? Or what would you share with Him? Or what would you praise Him for? Or what would you confess? What kind of help would you request? Again, we do not need to pick up the phone. We can close our eyes or look skyward and simply speak to Him, and He will hear us. How astonishing should that be to us? And how much do we take that for granted? How much do we neglect this wonderful opportunity that we have to communicate with our Father and Creator?

If you are like me, you wish your prayer life were better. You know you ought to pray more. You have even promised some people that you could pray for them (if you came to this post from Facebook, maybe you recently commented “praying!” on someone’s post. Sound familiar?), but for some reason you cannot seem to get any kind of consistency in prayer. Maybe you have read or heard about the great men and women of the faith who prayed for hours a day and saw God provide in magnificent ways. Whatever your situation, if you are Christian, you ought to pray, and pray often. But we don’t pray like we should. Why not?

We don’t pray because we are busy. We don’t pray because we don’t really understand how it works, or because we have unanswered questions about prayer’s effects. We don’t pray because we simply don’t think about it, or we forget. We don’t pray because we believe we think prayer is only for dire circumstances, and life (while frantic at times) is under control right now. We’ll get serious about prayer, but… later. When we can figure it out.

My friends, that time has come. I present to you, the PrayerMate prayer app. I will cut to the chase (because I have recommended PrayerMate before): PrayerMate has transformed my prayer life. Its features are super practical and helpful. It lets you quickly create prayer categories and customize how many requests you want to pray for (and from which categories) every session. Then it shuffles your prayer “cards” for you, so that you never pray for the same request in any category twice, before you get to them all.

getting_started1I have tried prayer journals, but I don’t always have my journal with me, and it becomes hard to track the requests as God answered them. PrayerMate lets you archive subjects when they are answered or no longer relevant. It will also let you set push notifications, reminding you to pray at certain times of day. It is super easy to set up.

I have been using PrayerMate for about two years now. Recently, however, I upped my game. I actually deleted my Instagram app (a huge time waster for me), and set my PrayerMate app to serve me up three subjects per session. Now, when I habitually grab for my phone, instead of flipping through Insta-time-wasting pictures, I send up three quick prayer requests. And every session ends with, “Now may the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your heart and mind in Christ Jesus” (from Philippians 4:7). So multiple times a day, I’m praying God’s peace over my heart and mind. This is having an impact on my decision-making and wisdom already.

You and I have the ability to speak with God. Let’s not waste another day on prayerlessness.