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?

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.

Why Does God Allow Evil In The World?

This topic has come up a  couple times in recent days, so I wanted to just bang out a few thoughts on it.

What follows is not a full, scholarly treatment on Problem of Evil (in any of its various philosophical formulations). However, I hope it might be helpful to you, the next time someone poses this question to you.

I’m happy to get any feedback on this–and certainly let me know if you are able to use it in a spiritual conversation!

Why does the all-powerful, perfectly good God allow evil in the world? 

  1. God is good and the ultimate standard for what can be defined as good. Without God, there is no way of accounting for good.

    And evil is the opposite of good, so there is no way to account for evil if you don’t already know what good is.

    Therefore, unless you believe in God (as He has revealed Himself in the Bible) you can’t say anything meaningful about evil. So we have to start there.

  2. If God allows evil to happen in the world (and He does), then there must be a good reason behind it. The perfectly-good God of the universe is working all things together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28-30).

    In this world or any other, evil can never ultimately “win.”

  3. God does allow evil–both natural “evil” and evil committed by evil beings (humans and evil spirits). We see this in Scripture and in life.
  4. There are biblical examples of God intending and even predestining evil people to freely commit evil actions, in order that God’s surpassing goodness might be worked out in the end. For examples, consider Joseph’s brothers selling him into slavery (explained in Genesis 50:20) and the betrayal and crucifixion of Jesus (explained in Acts 1:16-17; 4:27-28).

    God is not the author of evil–He is light, and there is no darkness in Him (1 John 1:5). However, He is sovereign over everyone and everything, the righteous and the wicked, and He is free to use it all according to His good purposes. He uses good people to make good decisions and bring about in good outcomes (often far better than was even intended!); He also uses evil people to make sinful decisions and result in (ultimately) good outcomes. How incredibly frustrating that must be for the devil! All his evil schemes keep being turned around against him to bring about good in the end!

    Take, for example, the worst sin that was ever committed. The unjust torture and crucifixion of the only perfect man to ever live–God Himself in the flesh–turned out to be part of God’s plan to carry out the greatest rescue act in history.

    Every time the Lord does this, the good He brings about far surpasses the evil that was worked, which, while still being authentically wrong, pales in comparison to the glorious greatness of God’s goodness.

  5. To keep from making this any longer, let’s summarize: God allows evil in the world, in order to demonstrate that He is so good that even evil cannot upset His good, pleasing and perfect will.
  6. When the redemption of Jesus becomes a reality in your life, He gives you a completely new perspective on the evil in the world and in your life. Jesus gives you the Holy Spirit to be with you and comfort you during your suffering.

    Even in your hour of death, He will be there to strengthen you and to welcome you into Christ’s kingdom, where evil is finally overcome and only goodness remains. Again, the worst thing becomes the best thing. That’s how incredibly good God is.

Trying to Do It Yourself?

The Bible says that God is the one who brings good out of evil and calamity in the world. However, if you are like me, you naturally like to be the one in control. You would rather shape and direct your own life, but you and I cannot possibly work everything out for good. That is a God-sized task, and we can only get that from Him. And the Bible says we can only get to Him through Jesus (John 14:6).

If you don’t yet know Jesus, you can meet Him right now! Repent–give up trying to bring about your own good in your life (how’s that been working for you anyway?), and trust in Him. Claim Jesus as Lord and believe that God raised Him from the dead (the ultimate good-out-of-evil story), and He will save you (Romans 10:9-11).

Want to know more? Looking for more resources to use in spiritual conversations? Got Bible questions? Drop me a line: jsettecase@parkcommunitychurch.org.

Serving with Hope in God’s Household (A Sermon Skeleton of Titus 2:9-15)

Titus 2:9-15 (Author’s Translation)

9 Slaves are to be subjugated to their own masters in all things, to be acceptable, not contradicting, 10 not embezzling, rather demonstrating all good faithfulness, in order that they may adorn the doctrine—that of our savior God—in all things. 11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all people, 12 educating us in order that, denying ungodliness and wordly lusts, we may live in the present age, soberly and righteously and piously, 13 looking forward to the blessed hope and appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself on behalf of us, in order that he may redeem us from all lawlessness and cleanse for himself a particular people—zealous for good works. 15 Speak these things and exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you.

Outline of major and minor points

  1. (9-10) Slaves are to be subjugated to their own masters in all things (This applies to all employees, servants, etc.)
    1. What submission looks like: Slaves are to be
      1. (be) Acceptable
      2. Not (be) contradicting
      3. Not (be) embezzling
      4. Rather (be) demonstrating all good faithfulness
        1. Why slaves choose to live this way: (Demonstrating) in order that they may adorn the doctrine—that of our Savior God—in all things
  2. (11-14) For the grace of God has appeared!
    1. God’s grace has appeared, bringing salvation to all people
    2. God’s grace has appeared, educating us
      1. The goal of studying at “Grace Academy”: The grace of God educates us in order that… we may live in the present age
        1. (live) denying ungodliness and worldly lusts
        2. (live) soberly
        3. and (live) righteously
        4. and (live) godly
        5. (live) looking forward to the blessed hope and appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ
          1. He gave himself on behalf of us
            1. He gave himself in order that he may…
              1. He gave himself to redeem us from all lawlessness
              2. And He gave Himself to cleanse for himself a particular people zealous for good works
  3. (15) Preach it!
    1. Speak these things
    2. And exhort and rebuke with all authority.
    3. Let no one disregard you.

Notes

Slaves, servants and employees are to live and work in an honest way. In doing this, they give the Gospel a good reputation—just look how their lives have been changed by it!

In fact, God’s grace has appeared not just to slaves but to all kinds of people. These are the people Jesus died to “purchase” for Himself. What incredible grace—he came particularly for you!

Focus on the grace you have received, and look forward to the glorious hope we have that Jesus Christ will appear again in glory. With your eyes set on that hope, live in a way that gives your God and Savior a good reputation.

Hello friends & family!

What’s going on with my family lately: a post from my wife Aliza about our son.

prayforlukas

My name is Aliza Settecase and I am a mom to three beautiful children, Jakob (3.5 years old), AnnaSophia (2 years old) & Lukas (10 month old.)  I never saw myself as being a stay at home mom, but I was thrust into the role when I lost my job at 35 weeks pregnant with my second born, AnnaSophia.  At the time I was angry with my company for putting my family in this situation at such an inopportune time, as I was the SOLE bread winner for our family at the time, but God knew better.  I have absolutely LOVED staying at home with our kids and feel blessed by my new role.

That being said the road has not been an easy one for me and my family.  After losing my job, Joel, who was in seminary full time, was able to find a full time position at a…

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