Where Was God?

See the source image

“Where was God?” the atheist demanded. “Where was God?” the frightened widow cried. “Where was God?” the shocked nation asked. Even Christians looked to heaven and said,  “God, where are You?” It was the most tragic and horrific day in American history and twenty years later it still makes us weep. I imagine the same question was going through the minds of the Jews when Nebuchadnezzar conquered Jerusalem. The event even sounds very similar:  “[The Babylonians] set fire to God’s temple and broke down the wall of Jerusalem, burned all the palaces and destroyed everything of value there.” (2 Chronicles 36:19).

A memorial sits at the very spot in New York City where the buildings fell. People come every year to remember and pay their respects to the thousands who lost their lives that day.  Every year religious Jews come to Jerusalem to pray and fast in remembrance of the destruction of their Temple, first by the Babylonians in 587/586 BCE, and again in 70 CE at the hands of the Roman legions led by Titus.

Where was God when the Twin Towers fell? The same place He was when Jerusalem fell. In His heaven, ruling over human history. How can that be? I wish I could give you a simple answer, but this is the age-old “problem of evil” that men have pondered for thousands of years. It has been used to deny the existence of God and His goodness and sovereignty and quite honestly, I cannot answer it. But I can tell you that evil may have claimed a few battles throughout human history, but it has already lost the war.

Oh, satan thought he was victorious when Jesus drew His last breath and cried out, “Father, into Your hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46). But he was trembling when the ground rumbled as the stone rolled away. He was dumbfounded when the angel told the women, “He is not here; He has risen!” (Matthew 28:6). He was horrified as Mary Magdalene ran back to the disciples with the amazing news, “I have seen the Lord!” (John 20:18).

So today I will remember the lives lost twenty years ago and pray for the still grieving. But I will not fear evil. I will keep my eyes on heaven and celebrate the risen Lord who dealt evil a fatal blow. No, the war is not yet over, but Satan has already lost. God has already won. God always wins.

Is He Lord?

See the source image

I had a t-shirt that got me into trouble in middle school. It wasn’t racy or low-cut or provocative – it was what it said. No, it didn’t have profanity on it or racist comments.  It said, “As long as there are pop tests, there will be prayer in school.” By my middle-high school years, faculty-led prayer had been banned from schools for ten years. Engel v. Vitale, 370 U.S. 421 (1962), was a landmark United States Supreme Court case in which the Court ruled that it is unconstitutional for state officials to compose an official school prayer and encourage its recitation in public schools. Fifty-nine years later we are reaping the consequences of that decision. Deadly, horrific consequences.

After the 9/11 tragedy, Anne Graham Lotz commented, “for several years now Americans in a sense have shaken their fist at God and said, God, we want you out of our schools, our government, our business, we want you out of our marketplace. And God, who is a gentleman, has just quietly backed out of our national and political life, our public life. Removing his hand of blessing and protection.” What fools we have been.

But we were not the first to tell God to leave us alone. The Old Testament Prophet Amos tried in obedience to deliver the word of the Lord to the people but they told him, “Do not prophesy against Israel, and stop preaching against the house of Isaac” (Amos 7:16). In other words, “Shut up and leave us alone.” And so God did. He told them, “The days are coming when I will send a famine through the land—not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the Lord” (8:11). They had said, “We don’t want to hear from you, God,” and He gave them what they wanted – silence from heaven. For four hundred years. Years of great oppression and persecution and struggle.

You and I can’t plead for God’s help in a crisis and then reject His holy and righteous ways when they rub against our “freedoms.” And I’m not just talking on a big, national scale – I’m talking about our every day lives. The missionary Hudson Taylor said, “Christ is either Lord of all, or He is not Lord at all.” You and I have to be all-in. What say you, Beloved? Is He Lord or is He not?

Don’t be Afraid, the End is Near!

See the source image

I am very dependent on my glasses to see past the nose on my face. This morning as I was getting out of the shower, I saw something I couldn’t make out on the towel rack – and my glasses were on the counter several feet away.  A lizard? Or a baby snake?! Maybe it was a piece of trash that missed the can below.  As I got closer I realized it was a shadow from the fold of the towel. What I thought was ominous turned out to be something else entirely.

A lot of scary stuff has been happening lately. The pandemic has turned the whole world upside-down and inside-out. Violence is rampant. Jesus warned that “Nation will rise against nation” (Matt 24:7), but here in the U.S., our nation is rising against itself. He said that there would be famines and earthquakes marking the beginning of the end. The UN sounded an alarm about famine as a result of the COVID-19 crisis and major earthquakes are on the increase worldwide. But the most critical evidence of the nearing end is in the hearts of people. Paul prophesied that “People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God – having a form of godliness but denying its power” (2 Tim 3:2-5). If you don’t recognize all this in our world today, you’re living in a cave. It is very threatening.

I’m not about to say that the world’s problems and woes are simple, but for the believer in Christ they are not as frightening as they are promising. These are indeed signs of the end times, but looking closer we recognize them as signs of Christ’s return. Jesus warned that there would be an “increase of wickedness [and] the love of most will grow cold” (Matt 24:12). But He also said, “When you see all these things know that [the Lord] is near, right at the door” (Matt. 24:33).

Speaking of the last days, the angel of the Lord told Daniel, “None of the wicked will understand, but those who are wise will understand” (Dan. 12:10). Beloved, now is not the time to be frightened – it is the time to be wise. It is time to keep one eye on the eastern skies with great anticipation. The King is on His way!

God Bless America

See the source image

For weeks leading up to the election, I prayed. I didn’t pray for President Trump to win. I didn’t pray for Biden to win. I prayed for God’s will to be done in America. Days after the voting ended we still don’t know whom the President of the United States is going to be in January 2021. To the consternation of the majority of Christians, it appears that Biden will take this election. I have heard the theories of stolen votes and impropriety by the Democratic Party. I’ve also seen and heard all the hand-wringing about the destruction of religious liberty under a Biden/Harris (or Harris/???) administration. That is a very real possibility. Why would God allow that to happen? Because it may very well be the best thing for His Church.

Acts tells the story of the birth and growth of Jesus’ Church. It wasn’t smooth sailing for the first-century Christians. Acts 7:54-60 tells the story of the stoning of Stephen, the first martyr of the Christian faith. Immediately afterward, “A great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria” (Acts 8:1).  God’s faithful people were running for their lives. Again, we ask, why would He allow that to happen? Because “Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went” (Acts 8:4). It was the persecution of the church that allowed the Christian faith to spread across the world.

What is God’s will? Is it the preservation of the United States of America? Or the preservation of His people, the Church? Around the world and throughout human history, the church has experienced the most growth – not just numbers, but growth in faith and strength – where she is being persecuted. Where the church was accepted and approved, the numbers may have increased, but the quality of faith suffered. Nothing spells the downfall of Christianity more than popular acceptance. This nation was founded largely by Christian men on Judeo-Christian values. But this nation is not a Christian nation and has not been for a very long time. Church membership was expected for generations, and like the church under Constantine, the moral value diminished greatly. I believe with all my heart that the church will undergo persecution in the coming days. And it will be a purifying fire. Those whose hearts are not devoted to the Lord will flee to save their skins. Those who remain will be the unshakable core that God will preserve and strengthen. Church buildings may be shuttered, but the Church will be healthier than ever. Beloved, do not fear what is to come. God is at work, and His work never fails.

Be Silent!

See the source image

One key point to Bible study is the principle of repetition. When God repeats something it is because He wants us to pay careful attention to it. One word has been repeated in my daily Bible Study this week, and not just repeated but almost raised up off of the page – like 3D print. I’ll share the two verses with you and see if you can spot it.

“The Lord is in His holy temple; let all the earth be silent before Him” (Habakkuk 2:30)

“Be silent before the Sovereign Lord” (Zephaniah 1:7).

I’m sure you guessed that the word is “silent” and in Hebrew, it is an interjection. For those of us who’ve been out of school for a while, an interjection is an abrupt remark made to snap the listener to attention. Thus, these verses would be delivered sharply and with an exclamation. “Be silent!” Why? Because you are before the Sovereign Lord who is in His holy temple. Because – if we really knew Him, we would be on our faces in silent awe and adoration. This is the One who rules and reigns in holiness and righteousness and complete authority.

What impressed my heart so clearly is the contrast of this command against the shouts of protest and words of anger that are so prevalent in the United States right now. Many Christians are asking, “What are we to do? How do we respond?” I believe we are to turn our eyes away from the scenes of violence and hatred and turn them to God. I believe we are to come before Him in silence, recognizing that “the Sovereign Lord is in His holy temple.” In other words, He is still on His throne. He is still reigning over all the earth. He is still in complete control. He is still God.

Wicked men have been causing chaos and destruction since the beginning of time. But none of it has unseated the Lord God. He always wins in the end. Always. Read it again. A.L.W.A.Y.S. Friends, evil has not won the day, because the day is not over. God will never let His people down. Never. Read it again. N.E.V.E.R. Besides, I read the end of the book. Evil loses. God wins. Beloved, don’t be anxious but turn your eyes to Almighty God. And be silent.

Give the People What They Want

See the source image

Perhaps two popular songs of the ’70s and ’80s with the same title could be the anthem of this age: “Give the People What They Want,” was recorded by The O’Jays in 1975 and The Kinks in 1981. Both songs portray the power of popular opinion and its ability to sway leaders to bend to the masses. It fits the culture of the day perfectly, as a megaphone and a social media account are all you need to start a fire-storm and demand change. But it’s not a new concept by any means.

Paul warned Timothy to guard against such pressure and always be bold in keeping the truth of God’s Word before his congregation. “The time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear” (2 Timothy 4:3). Almost every New Testament writer touched on the issue of false teaching and the demands of people with “itching ears.” But it goes back even farther still.

The obstinate nation of Judah told the prophet Isaiah: “Give us no more visions of what is right! Tell us pleasant things, prophesy illusions. Stop confronting us with the Holy One of Israel!” (30:10-11). The people didn’t want to hear what God had to say because it conflicted with what they wanted to do.

Human nature hasn’t changed much has it? As Christians, we have an unpopular and even “offensive” message. The more we speak it the more the world attempts to shout us down with accusations and condemnation. So what are we to do? Speak it anyway. Live it anyway. Didn’t the Lord warn us: “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.” (John 15:18)? We should rejoice, as the apostles did when they were persecuted for proclaiming the Name of Jesus: “The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name” (Acts 5:41). Beloved, disgrace, rejection, abuse, and disdain are not something to avoid if it’s for the Name of Jesus – it is something to celebrate. Let’s not worry about giving the people what they want. Let’s give them what they need. A Savior.

Is God Still Speaking?

See the source image

Sometimes God gives us exactly what we ask for. Amos was not a “professional” prophet, but he faithfully opened his mouth and spoke for Almighty God. He chastised Israel for turning away from God’s Law and disregarding and oppressing the poor. He called out those who were “complacent,” who lived in excess and ease and had no compassion for the downtrodden. Amos extended God’s hand of peace and life in calling for the people to repent and seek Him.

But they wanted no part of God – no wait, that’s not quite true. They wanted His blessing and favor. They didn’t want repentance and obedience. They rejected the word of the Lord and “commanded the prophets not to prophesy” (2:12) saying, “Do not prophesy against Israel, and stop preaching against the house of Isaac” (7:16). They told Amos to shut up. But they were really telling God to shut up because Amos was speaking the very words of the Lord. And so He did. “‘The days are coming,’ declares the Sovereign Lord, ‘when I will send a famine through the land – not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of God” (8:11). That is terrifying. Back in Deuteronomy Moses told the people of God “[These] are not just idle words for you – they are your life” (Deut. 32:47). A famine of the words of God was life-threatening. The people of God were taken captive for seventy years, and when they were graciously allowed to return home, God was silent. They had told Him to shut up and he gave them exactly what they demanded. For four hundred years.

The Word of the Lord has been stripped from almost every public place in America. God’s people have been told to stop proclaiming God’s Word. Not just in the public square, but even in God’s own house. (No, really. Google “Governor demands to review Pastor’s sermons.”) If you speak up for truth, you will be told to sit down and shut up.

Thankfully, God did not stay silent forever. John tells us that God once again sent His Word to His people, not through prophets, but in His Son, Jesus Christ, who is “The Word made flesh” (John 1:1, 14). He still speaks and His message is this: “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). Oh, hear the Word of the Lord. He is speaking to you, Beloved.

Is the United States in the Bible?

Amos. If the United States was anywhere in the Bible it is here. God  called out the arrogance and sin of the people of Israel – calling the wealthy women who oppress the poor “cows” (Amos 4:1)  He declared that “the time will surely come” when the godless nation will receive their just consequences – judgement (4:2).
In chapter  3, He said he would send “an enemy [who] will overrun the land, pull down your strongholds and plunder your fortresses” “destroy the altars and tear down” the homes of the wealthy (3:11-15). Then he described the disasters and hardships He brought on them for their sin: lack of basic necessities, lack of rain when the crops needed to grow, pestilence that destroyed what little survived the drought, plagues, and the stench of death from the multitudes of rotting corpses. Despite all that He declared: “Yet you have not returned to me” (4:6,8,10,11) Does any of that sound familiar?
Then He said the most frightening words of all, “Prepare to meet your God.” But first He offered an olive branch and a second chance with a call to repentance: “Seek me and live” (5:4,6). He called to Israel “Seek good, not evil, that you may life. Hate evil, love good; then the Lord Almighty will have mercy” (5:14, 15).
Oh, Christian pray that it’s not too late for the United States. Pray that the disasters that the country is facing – COVID 19, political and social unrest, hate and anger, destruction of public, religious, and private property, and all rest – will cause us to repent and to “seek God and live.”  Otherwise, as I glance ahead in Amos, the worst is yet to come.
Hold fast to what is good Beloved. Hold fast to holiness and righteousness. Hold fast to God. He is your only hope.
But what a hope He is!

Pray for America

See the source image

I want to be like Jesus. I want to think like Him and speak like Him (including and especially social media). I want to respond like Him. I want to be wise like Him. Most of all, I want to love like Him. Because I want the world to know Him. This morning I prayed, “Lord if you were on earth today, how would you respond to the angry mobs and rebellious crowds and violent protests?”
I finished reading Jonah this morning. Jonah was sent to Nineveh to proclaim the Lord’s coming judgment. He didn’t want to go so he ran (or sailed) away. God would not let him go and he eventually obeyed and brought the message. And the nation of Nineveh repented. Stop. Don’t rush over that. Read it again and feel the glory of it. The most wicked nation on earth repented and turned to God. Wouldn’t you be elated? Not Jonah. He was angry. He didn’t want Israel’s enemy to receive God’s mercy. But God did. “Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left . . . Should I not be concerned about that great city?” (Jonah 4:11). God had compassion on the people of Nineveh. Yes, the wicked, disobedient people.
There’s a verse tucked away in Acts that I think perfectly identifies those who are turning our nation upside down. Paul had been preaching the Gospel in Ephesus and the people were turning to Christ – and turning away from idols. Which hurt the purses of those who made and sold idols. A riot started and rocked the city for several hours. Luke said of the rioters: “The assembly was in confusion: Some were shouting one thing, some another. Most of the people did not even know why they were there” (Acts 19:32). I believe that is true for the majority of the protesters today. They don’t know what they’re protesting about. They just get swept up in the action and believe the line they’re given.
How would Jesus respond? Like His Father – with compassion.
I want to offer a challenge to you. Every time you hear or read a news story about the riots and violence in America  – before you tweet or post or rage – pray. Pray for the protesters see the light and turn to God. Friends only God can save this nation, but you and I must pray. Let’s stop ranting about whose life matters the most. Just pray. Let’s stop yelling back in anger. Just pray. Let’s turn away from our own anger (yes and prejudices). Just pray. Pray for the Gospel to go out and save. Pray for the people who “cannot tell their left hand from their right.” God, have mercy on our country. Send forth Your Word and Your Spirit and save Americans and America.

Wake Up Church!

See the source image

“Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you” (Ephesians 5:14).

The book of Jonah is so much more than a good fishing story. The wickedness of Nineveh had gotten on God’s last nerve – and that takes some doing. The Lord ordered His prophet, Jonah, to go there and “preach against them.” God could have just gone into Nineveh and starting blasting, but He wanted to give them a fair warning – and an opportunity to turn themselves around. Lesson 1: God never sends a warning without an invitation to repentance.

Jonah wants no part of this (we’ll see why later) and jumps on a ship, trying to run away from God. That’s never smart and it’s also futile. Lesson 2: You cannot run away from God. A storm breaks out at sea, so severe that the ship and all on board were in danger. The sailors were frantically trying to save their lives, throwing cargo overboard to lighten their load. Meanwhile, Jonah was fast asleep. No really. The ship is going down and Jonah is asleep, comfortably oblivious to the storm and the danger every soul was in. Lesson 3: You can become so comfortable in your sin that you are ignorant of the danger you are in. And the danger of every soul around you.

I see so many parallels to the United States in this.

The wickedness in this place has become a roar in the heavens.

God desires for this nation to repent before His judgment falls.

The messengers who were called to confront the wickedness are running away.

The church has become so comfortable that we are sleeping through the storm.

Souls are in grave danger all around us.

Oh church, wake up before it’s too late.