Making Sense of Senselessness

Words seem insufficient in response to Sunday night’s shooting in Las Vegas. Still we want to make sense of senselessness. We want to make the inhumane, humane. In the absence of explanation, I’ll speak to response. How do we think? What do we do?

How do we think?

  1. There is no excuse for senseless violence. Any kind. Anywhere. Since the shooter killed himself we will never fully know why he did what he did. Investigators will try to put the pieces of the puzzle together and find answers. Whatever they discover, we must hold fast to the reality that senseless violence of any kind is reprehensible.
  2. Words kill like weapons. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus raised slander to the level of slaying. Words don’t just hurt, they kill. When 70,000 fans boo a bad kicker in a football game, something in that kid dies. When politicians and journalists throw verbal daggers at one another, someone dies. Whoever said sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me was denying reality.
  3. Enough is enough.  We are becoming desensitized. Push notifications bombard phones. Cable news reports violence all day, every day. Video games turn killing into competition. Music celebrates murder. Even too much news of the Las Vegas tragedy can desensitize. Overexposure deadens the conscience.

What do we do?

  1. If you see something, say something. Yes, this is Homeland Security’s slogan, but it belonged to Christianity long before the government trademarked it. Don’t tolerate any form of bigotry, hatred, or violence. Jesus called us salt and light. Salt and light do the same thing: they reveal. Salt is a cook’s friend–when the right amount is put in a recipe, it reveals the flavor of the food. No one has ever said, “The salt in this casserole tastes good.” Light is a photographer’s best friend. People don’t look at a portrait and say, “I love how the light is coming in from the front.” Rather they talk about the subject of the photograph. As salt and light we flavor the world without drawing attention to ourselves–rather we reveal Christ.
  2. Choose your words carefully. James 1:19 says, “Be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.” His statement is both counterintuitive and countercultural. Our culture is quick to anger, quick to speak and slow to hear. Proverbs 18:21 adds, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.” Peter wrote, “Whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit.” (1 Peter 3:10)
  3. Filter what comes inExamine your intake of violence. How much do you see or hear in a given day? Resolve to reduce it. Proverbs 4:23 says, “Above all else guard your heart for everything you do flows from it.” What goes in will come out. Kevin DeYoung writes, “Having a conscience is one mark of being a sentient human being. Scripture sometimes speaks of people “who do not know their right hand from their left” (Jonah 4:11), or of “children, who . . . have no knowledge of good or evil” (Deut. 1:39). Knowing right from wrong is what makes us functioning adults. To have a malfunctioning conscience is to be less than human.”

Perhaps in DeYoung’s statement lies the explanation for the shooter’s capacity to cowardly and mercilessly kill 59 people: he was less than human. Something happened to his conscience. Scripture says our conscience can be seared (1 Timothy 4:2) or defiled. Titus 1:15 says, “To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled.”

Only Jesus can clean us up and clear our consciences. John said, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9) Only Jesus can turn senselessness into salvation and make the inhumane, humane.

Praying Through Anxiety

Every day I talk with someone who deals with fear or anxiety. If your personal life isn’t falling apart, 5 minutes of the news reveals a world seemingly spinning out of control. This week I discovered a resource from Biblestudytools.com.  Use this as a prayer guide when you’re afraid.

  1. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:7) God, I acknowledge my need for you today. I pray that you would breathe peace onto me through your Holy Spirit. Guard my heart. Show me how to protect my mind. I am weak on my own and so I fall back on your strength today.
  2. When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. (Psalm 56:3) Jesus, I put my trust in you today. Anxious thoughts are taking over my mind, and it’s easy to take my eyes off of you when I feel afraid. Remind me of who you are. Pour out your love on me, that I might remember you are always good and always faithful, especially when I am afraid.
  3. So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. (Isaiah 41:10)  Lord Jesus, thank you for always being with me. Your name, Immanuel, means God with us. I’m so grateful today that you are near me no matter what anxious thoughts try to creep into my mind. Thank you for being my strength when I am weak. You are faithful always. I love you, Lord, and I rely on you today and every day. Amen.
  4. For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind. (2 Timothy 1:7) God, thank you for this truth. Thank you for the gifts you bestow on us–gifts that help ease our anxious spirits and remind us of who we are in Christ. Thank you for giving us power to fight the lies. Thank you for loving us even in our brokenness.
  5. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go. (Joshua 1:9)  Lord Jesus, we know in you we are conquerors. Sometimes, it can feel so hard to believe that. We don’t feel strong or courageous, and we worry relentlessly about our lives and circumstances. Remind us today that we are strong in you.
  6. The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. (Psalm 34:18) Lord, my heart is broken. My mind is restless and my spirit is uneasy. When I feel broken down or defeated, I want to run to you, knowing you are always present and always near. Comfort me, Jesus.
  7. An anxious heart weighs a man down, but a kind word cheers him up. (Proverbs 12:25) Jesus, my anxious heart is weighing me down today. I confess that I have become consumed by my own thoughts and I have lost sight of who you are. Speak kindly to my heart, Lord, and remind me of what is true. Thank you for your forgiveness and your endless grace for me.
  8. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. (Colossians 3:15) Dear Lord, it is my deep desire that your peace would rule in my heart. When I feel uneasy or unsettled, I want to know you are near me. Calm my fears, settle my spirit, and bring rest to my heart as I surrender myself to you today.
  9. The Lord gives strength to his people; the Lord blesses his people with peace. (Psalm 29:11) Lord, thank you for giving me strength. On the hard days, help me to remember you are never far away. Your strength is always fighting for me–I need only to be still in your presence. Thank you for bringing peace to me. Thank you for every blessing. I want to name and remember them today, for you are always good. Amen.

I love songs. This one will serve as a good backdrop to this prayer.

Shutting Down the Factory

John Calvin said that man’s nature is a “perpetual factory of idols.” Almost unnoticed idols can creep onto the throne of our hearts and before we know it, we’re worshiping at their altar. Work. Sports. Money. Accomplishments. Alcohol. Someone. Idols come in all shapes and sizes. So how do you shut down the factory? Here are a few steps:

  1. Identify your idols. What allures you may not even interest your friends. The common way of referring to this is, “he has his own demons.” But this terminology deflects the blame from the real source. We all have sinful natures that produce customized idols. How do you know when something has become an idol? Tim Keller says, “When anything in life is an absolute requirement for your happiness and self-worth, it is essentially an ‘idol,’ something you are actually worshiping.” (Counterfeit Gods)
  2. Put away your idols. Once you know what they are, take the next step to get rid of them. If you’re a workaholic, adjust your work hours. If you’re an alcoholic, quit drinking–completely. If you’re addicted to gambling, don’t carry indiscriminate cash.
  3. Get help. You will not successfully fight idols alone. You’re not equipped to battle alone. Scripture is replete with examples of people who, when left alone, self-destructed. (See Samson, King David, Esau…to name a few). Join a Life Group (email james@graceforall.org). Get counseling (Chuck Tripp is a great resource: 828-803-7281).
  4. Worship God. If the worship of God doesn’t replace whatever else you were worshiping, you will return to your idols. You are created to worship. You will trust in someone or something. Will it be God? Take 3 minutes to let the words of Lauren Daigle’s song sink in.

When God Preaches to Me…While I’m Preaching

Sunday in the second service something remarkable happened. I’ve studied Romans 7 for years. God used this passage to rock my world many years ago and I have referred to it for years while counseling others. But God showed me something Sunday that I had never seen. It may be so obvious to you–but came to me near the end of Sunday’s sermon. The part in bold is what I’ve never before realized quite as powerfully as Sunday. (If you missed Sunday, you can hear the sermon here:http://graceforall.org/media.php?pageID=6)

So, as strange as this, I’m gonna quote from my own sermon:

Unless you realize that there is a victor who lives within you now, because you belong to Christ, who is also outside of you–the victor is both within and without–you will never win the battle over sin. When did he become victorious?  Jesus came, sinless one, and died on the cross. On the cross he didn’t have just one of your sins attached to himself, he had all of your sins attached to himself. He didn’t just have what you’ve done and plays through your mind like a broken record that you can’t get rid of, but for every human being who’s ever walked on the planet–imagine the multiplied guilt–put it on Christ on the cross and on the cross he died for those sins–every single one of them–once and for all.

But listen to this. As awesome as that is, if it ended there Paul said, “we are of all people most to be pitied.” That would be horrible–that the weight of our sin crushed him and that was it.

Friday followed by Saturday. The disciples fled. Mary cried. Joseph and Nicodemus buried his body. Judas is dead. Peter denied. Hope seems lost until early Sunday morning. Because early Sunday morning your sin was not powerful enough to keep him in the tomb! It wasn’t! And if your sin was not powerful enough to keep him in the tomb then, is your sin powerful enough to keep him down in your life today? NO!

This is why Paul writes in Romans 8:11:

If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.

So what is tripping you up? Wrecking your life? Derailing you? Jeremy Camp has put this brilliantly. Take a few minutes to listen:

Promises for Perilous Times

Once again the news announces another attack. This time, more than 80 people killed as a lone truck driver plows through families celebrating Bastille Day in France. Fifty children are hospitalized. Even for someone with great faith, the question of God’s presence can surface. Where is God in all this?

But now thus says the LORD, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. (Isaiah 43:1 ESV)

In this one sentence, we discover two powerful reasons God is concerned about those who are his: he created them and he redeemed them. You are God’s masterpiece, the climax of his creation. God breathed the breath of life into Adam and he became a living being. “And God saw that it was good.” God also redeemed you. To redeem is to buy or pay off, to clear by payment. God bought Israel back…many times. Their most powerful redeeming moment was the Red Sea rescue. With Pharaoh’s army closing in, God parted the Red Sea and more than a million Israelites left 400 years of slavery in their rearview mirror.

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. (Isaiah 43:2 ESV)

Notice the tiny word that begins God’s next statement: when, not if. God’s created and redeemed people will pass through deep waters. They will ford raging rivers. They will walk through fiery places. Don’t miss God’s promise: I will be with you. God’s people are not exempt from trials–they are exempt from abandonment. I will be with you.  God’s people are also safe from ultimate destruction. Though the water rises, the rivers rage and the fire threatens, they will not ultimately destroy. Why?

In the next five verses, God makes these statements:

For I am the Lord your God (vs. 3)

Because you are precious in my eyes (vs. 4)

Fear not, for I am with you (vs. 5)

I created you for my glory (vs. 7)

Let those sink in today. When you read the newspaper, watch the news, check your twitter feed, hear the insistent voice of your Redeemer.

A Prayer for Saturday

From The Valley of Vision, a book of Puritan prayers:

My God, I bless you that you have given me the eye of faith to see you as Father, to know you as a covenant God, to experience your love planted in me; for faith is the grace of union by which I spell out my entitlement to you.

Faith casts my anchor upward where I trust in you and engage you to be my Lord.

Be pleased to live and move within me, breathing in my prayers, inhabiting my praises, speaking in my words, moving in my actions, living in my life, causing me to grow in grace.

Your bounteous goodness has helped me believe, but my faith is weak and wavering, its light dim, its steps tottering, its increase slow, its backsliding frequent; it should scale the heavens, but lies groveling in the dust.

Lord, fan this divine spark into glowing flame.

When faith sleeps, my heart becomes an unclean thing, the fount of every loathsome desire, the cage of unclean lusts all fluttering to escape, the noxious tree of deadly fruit, the open wayside of earthly tares.

Lord, awake faith to put forth its strength until all heaven fills my soul and all impurity is cast out.

Without Him

O Lord God,

Teach me to know that grace precedes, accompanies, and follows my salvation, that it sustains the redeemed soul, that not one link of its chain can ever break.

From Calvary’s cross wave upon wave of grace reaches me, deals with my sin, washes me clean, renews my heart, strengthens my will, draws out my affection, kindles a flame in my soul, rules throughout my inner man, consecrates my every thought, word, work, teaches me your immeasurable love.

How great are my privileges in Christ Jesus! Without him I stand far off, a stranger, an outcast; in him I draw near and touch his kingly scepter.

Without him I dare not lift up my guilty eyes; in him I gaze upon my Father-God and Friend.

Without him I hide my lips in trembling shame; in him I open my mouth in petition and praise.

Without him all is wrath and consuming fire; in him is all love, and the repose of my soul.

Without him is gaping hell below me, and eternal anguish; in him its gates are barred to me by his precious blood.

Without him darkness spreads its horrors in front; in him an eternity of glory is my boundless horizon.

Without him all within me is terror and dismay, in him every accusation is charmed into joy and peace.

Without him all things external call for my condemnation; in him they minister to my comfort, and are to be enjoyed with thanksgiving.

Praise be to thee for grace, and for the unspeakable gift of Jesus.

From The Valley of Vision (a book of Puritan prayers)

The Wrong Question

The Lord turned to him and said, “Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?” “But Lord,” Gideon asked, “how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.”  Judges 6:15-16

Gideon asked the wrong question. “How can I save IsrGideon1ael?”

God never asked Gideon to save Israel. And God has not asked you to save anyone either. You can’t. You can’t even change them.

Some of you are trying.  You’re trying to save your husband. Only God can do that. Others would love to save your boss–before you lose your job! As a mom, you would save your son in a heartbeat. You can’t. You can’t even change your husband, your boss, or your son.

Your prayers will never be answered as long as you ask the wrong question.

How can you save? You can’t.

So there’s no need to list your weaknesses. They don’t matter. You’re not doing the saving anyway. You’re not doing the changing. Your weaknesses are inconsequential to what God is wanting to do through you.

Change the way you pray.

Change your focus.

John said, “He must increase; I must decrease.”

Warring Through Worship

Then Jehoshaphat bowed his head with his face to the ground, and all Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem fell down before the LORD, worshiping the LORD. (2 Chronicles 20:18 ESV)

The enemy is marching in–three mighty armies. A great horde is harassing Jehoshaphat and his people. After his honest prayer of remembering God’s character and God’s work, and begging God to intercede, he leads his people in a worship service! It’s easy to worship when things are good. It’s easy to sing God’s songs when our bills are paid, our families are healthy, and our work is prosperous.

How do you worship instead of worry?

And they rose early in the morning and went out into the wilderness of Tekoa. And when they went out, Jehoshaphat stood and said, “Hear me, Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem! Believe in the LORD your God, and you will be established; believe his prophets, and you will succeed.” (2 Chronicles 20:20 ESV)

If you want to worship God when the enemy is marching in, you have to believe. Believe in the LORD your God, and you will be established. The writer of Hebrews described faith as the assurance of things hoped for, conviction of things not seen. Faith is convinced of God’s faithfulness in the face of life’s hopelessness. Faith rests in God’s presence in the midst of life’s difficulties.

And when he had taken counsel with the people, he appointed those who were to sing to the LORD and praise him in holy attire, as they went before the army, and say, “Give thanks to the LORD, for his steadfast love endures forever.” (2 Chronicles 20:21 ESV)

They sang. With the enemy marching in, they sang. They didn’t have all the answers. The diagnosis was grim, the prognosis was worse. They sang anyway. They sang the character of God. They didn’t sing because God answered the way they wanted him to. They sang before God answered them. They sang.

This weekend at Grace Community Church, we are spending 48 hours in prayer. As you pray, worship. Worship God for who he is, not what he can do. As you march into battle this weekend, make war through worship.

We Don’t Know What To Do

Last night Adam, Rachel, Greg and Jackie (Rachel’s parents) and I spent some time in the Word together. Here’s what God taught us…and I wanted to share it with you today. What follows is the simple prayer Jehoshaphat prayed when he received word that three armies were advancing against him–they were less than 30 miles away! From Jehoshaphat’s prayer we learn these simple, yet profound principles for praying during difficult times. His prayer opened with these words:

“O LORD, God of our fathers, are you not God in heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. In your hand are power and might, so that none is able to withstand you. (2 Chronicles 20:6 ESV)

Pray the character of God. Jehoshaphat was praying in the presence of all of Judah. They needed to be reminded of God’s great character. God, in heaven, has a perspective you and I will never have. He knows the end from the beginning. For Jehoshaphat, it was important to remember that God ruled over all the kingdoms of the nations. Do you believe that God rules over whatever you’re facing? He continued to pray:

Did you not, our God, drive out the inhabitants of this land before your people Israel, and give it forever to the descendants of Abraham your friend? And they have lived in it and have built for you in it a sanctuary for your name, saying, ‘If disaster comes upon us, the sword, judgment, or pestilence, or famine, we will stand before this house and before you—for your name is in this house—and cry out to you in our affliction, and you will hear and save.’ (2 Chronicles 20:7-9 ESV)

Pray the works of God. God doesn’t need to be reminded of what he has done in the past–we do. Jehoshaphat, in the hearing of his people, prayed God’s mighty works. What has God done for you? What mighty works has he performed? As Christians, we need only go back to the agonizing cross and the empty tomb to see God’s greatest work for us.

And now behold, the men of Ammon and Moab and Mount Seir, whom you would not let Israel invade when they came from the land of Egypt, and whom they avoided and did not destroy—behold, they reward us by coming to drive us out of your possession, which you have given us to inherit. O our God, will you not execute judgment on them? For we are powerless against this great horde that is coming against us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.” (2 Chronicles 20:10-12 ESV)

Pray your personal problems. Jehoshaphat named them–men of Ammon, Moab and Mount Seir. What are you facing today that seemingly has a stranglehold on you? Name it. Ask for God’s help. Be real. We do not know what to do. What hard words for a king to pray in front of his people!

But our eyes are on you. Turn your eyes on Him today.