After 9/11…or any Tragedy: Where was God?
Where was God on September 11?

This week we commemorated a horrific event in our nation’s history. Social media feeds once again overflowed with posts and photos from September 11, 2001—a day that (please excuse the cliché) will live in infamy.

Whether it’s 9/11 or another tragedy, personal or national, responses tend to move to two extremes: we either run to God or run away from Him.

We saw it 18 years ago. Some people asked “Where was God?” almost derisively. As if the tragedy was proof God did not exist. Meanwhile, others recounted how they had a strong sense that God was intimately present, helping them through the worst day of their life.

For a time during and after 9/11, there was a surge in spirituality. Talking about God was suddenly more acceptable in mixed company. Houses of worship were packed as people sought comfort in the midst of confusion. Displaying a spiritual perspective was not just accepted, it was admired and applauded. For a while it was even okay—barely—to include the name of Jesus in conversations, as long as you didn’t make any exclusive claims about Him.

But spirituality and Christianity are not the same thing. Spirituality accepts that there is another world—a world we cannot see. That spiritual world contains many ways to god…and many gods. However, the biblical belief in Jesus Christ as God and Savior is an exclusive belief that says Jesus is the only way.

In fact, Jesus said this about Himself. “I am the way, the truth…” (John 14:6 – emphasis added). Not one way among many. Not one truth among many. For those who disagree, they are not disagreeing with us, they’re disagreeing with Jesus’ own words.

So it’s not a surprise that the surge in spirituality has dissipated over the past 18 years. After all, feel-good spirituality offers nothing of substance. It’s often a composite of beliefs chosen from a wide spectrum of faiths, cobbled together with nothing more than personal preferences.

And once again, Jesus is left outside our culture. A culture desperate for answers to the meaning of life, yet stubbornly running away from the Giver of Life.

Personal preferences make a poor foundation for beliefs about eternity. For your preferences will be different from mine, and mine will be different from the next person. And we can’t all be right.

Christians are told it’s okay to believe what you want, but only if you acknowledge that Jesus is not the only way. Problem is, if we acknowledge that, then we’re no longer followers of Christ. We would become followers of yet another belief system comprised of empty promises. A belief system led by a god of our own making.

So how can we justify a belief in a sovereign God who allows tragedies such as 9/11 to occur? Perhaps a better question to ask is, why does God get blamed for all the bad things that happen, but those same people fail to give Him credit for the good that occurs?

Or why does our culture demand total freedom to do what we want, when we want it, and in the next breath, demand to know why God doesn’t intervene and stop all evil from occurring?

Why do tragedies keep coming? It boils down to the reality that this is a broken world and all of us are broken people in need of a Savior. And it helps me to remember that in light of eternity, our troubles are temporary. The apostle Paul put it this way:

“For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (II Corinthians 4:17-18 ESV).

This world—on its best day or on its worst day—is not all there is. But this life does give us opportunities in the midst of tragedy. For when people ask, “Where is God?”, we can be the vessels He uses to display His grace and kindness. We can be the ones to meet a need in Jesus’ name. And we can love in a way that gives others a taste of the love their heavenly Father has for them. A love that was willing to provide the way—the only way—to restoration, healing, and wholeness.

The darkness of a broken world is the backdrop which allows God’s light and love to shine most brightly. Don’t blame God for tragedies. Be His hands and feet to love people in the midst of their suffering. Give them the answer to their question:

Where was God in the tragedy?
He was right here all along.


 
The Relationship Between Worry, Trust, and Eternity
Worry

It happens all too frequently. I sing praises to God on Sunday morning and wake early on Monday morning beset by worry.

The cause might be my growing to-do list. Or circumstances outside my control. It could be due to loss and grief. Actually, the reason is less important than my response.

Worry. Anxiousness.

It comes in the form of a thought life that constantly imagines the worst possible outcome for any situation. I might worry about health, finances, relationships, safety, or any of a hundred other topics.

When I find myself worrying, it means several things.

First, I’m depending on myself. Specifically, I’ve fallen into the trap of thinking that outcomes are dependent on my own ability.

Being consumed by worry also takes me out of the present. Instead of enjoying today, I’m too busy obsessing about tomorrow.

And depending on myself means I’m not trusting God. Worry means I believe the lie that God is not working for my ultimate good and His eternal glory.

Antidote to Worry

The antidote to worry is to remember who we belong to.

And that leads to understanding what salvation in Christ really means. Our salvation has 3 components:

Past

At the moment we trust Jesus Christ as our personal Lord and Savior God declares us justified in His sight (Romans 5:1). Justification means we have a right standing before God. His wrath is no longer directed toward our sin, for Jesus “drank” the full cup of God’s wrath against sin when He died on the cross for us.

So I have no need to worry about the past. As a Christian, my past has been covered by the substitutionary sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

Present

But God did not stop at addressing our past. He also addresses our present. Every committed believer in Jesus Christ has the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit (II Thess. 2:13). The Holy Spirit does the work of sanctification in our life—a  lifelong process of becoming what God has declared us to be: righteous!

So I have not need to worry about the present. God is at work in my life to make me more like His Son. And He will use every situation in my life toward that end.

Future

Finally, we look forward to an amazing future. At the moment a Christian dies, he or she is immediately in the presence of God. As the apostle Paul said, “To live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). Our glorification includes having glorified bodies, free from even the temptation of sin.

 

Understanding the full breadth of our salvation reminds us God is in control, so there’s nothing to worry about. Whatever happens in this life is both temporary and will be used by our heavenly Father for our good and His glory.

Kick worry to the door and replace it with trust in the Lord who has us covered: past, present, and future!


 
Is Forgiving Yourself Biblical?
I can't forgive myself.

“I know God forgave me. I just can’t forgive myself.”

Perhaps you’ve said those words. Maybe you heard someone else say them. But is forgiving yourself a biblical concept?

Christians know faith in Christ as Savior and Lord provides freedom from the eternal penalty of sin at the end of our earthly life, as well as freedom from the power of sin now. We understand we are no longer slaves to sin, as Romans 6:17 tells us. We have the power to say no to temptation.

But that doesn’t mean we always make right choices. While we don’t have to give in to sin, there are times we do it anyway. If not in actions, then in words or thoughts. There’s truth in the adage, “Old habits die hard.”

When that happens, the Bible tells us to confess our sin, knowing God is faithful to forgive and cleanse us (I John 1:9). And because we have been much forgiven by God, we are to extend the same forgiveness to others. Jesus included this truth in the pattern of prayer He taught His disciples: “Forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:12).

We ask forgiveness from God because our sin if first and foremost against Him. King David understood this when he wrote in Psalm 51:4, “Against You and You only have I sinned.” When David committed adultery and then compounded it with murder, he wasn’t saying he didn’t offend or harm other people. He was saying the primary offense was against God, because sin is ultimately rebellion against God Himself.

So when we sin, whose forgiveness should we seek?

First, we turn from our wrongdoing and ask God’s forgiveness. God promises this forgiveness for every Christian who trusts Jesus because of the substitutionary sacrifice of Christ for us. And, as we’ve already noted, God promises to forgive.

We also ask for the forgiveness of the person we have wronged (Matthew 5:23-24). Unfortunately, while the Bible calls us to forgive each other (Colossians 3:13), this doesn’t always happen. A recent Barna study revealed that almost “one in four practicing Christians (23%) has a person in their life who “they just can’t forgive.” While we cannot force someone to forgive us, we can live in a way that shows them the authenticity of our request.

But what about forgiving ourselves? Where does the Bible say we are to forgive ourselves? It actually doesn’t. And that’s where Christians can take a wrong turn.

The issue is not whether we forgive ourselves. The issue is whether we truly believe God has forgiven us. Do we take Him at His Word? Because if we did, the matter would be settled. We become presumptuous when we think forgiving ourselves is also required.

So why do we struggle with accepting God’s forgiveness? I can think of several reasons, including:

  • We simply don’t believe God does what He said He will do. Do you really believe there’s no condemnation for those in Christ (Romans 8:1)? We would never call God a liar, yet our supposed inability to forgive ourselves is actually unbelief—a failure to take God at His word.
  • We’re stuck in a performance perspective – we think we have to earn God’s forgiveness, much as we often expect others to earn our forgiveness. But by definition, God’s grace is unearned and undeserved.
  • We beat up ourselves for failing. Somewhere along the line, we’ve established an expectation of perfection. And in the process, we refuse to accept God’s offer of forgiveness because we’ve failed our own standard. But this isn’t an issue of forgiving ourselves, it’s about understanding the reality of our relationship to God in Christ. He knows we will fail, but He forgives us anyway (Psalm 103:11-14).
  • We’ve failed to train our thought life. The Bible tells us to “take our thoughts captive” (II Corinthians 10:5). Philippians 4:8 tells us to focus on thinking about things that are noble, right, pure, and lovely, but the first item in that verse is to think about things that are true. So if we don’t feel forgiven, we’re dwelling on an untruth. But to take control of our thoughts requires help—and there’s no better Helper than the Holy Spirit (John 15:26).
  • Finally, by not acting as though God’s forgiveness is enough, we’re voluntarily placing ourselves back under the enemy’s kingdom, even though the Bible tells us God rescued us from the domain of Satan and placed us in the kingdom of Christ (Colossians 1:13).

So the next time you’re struggling to forgive yourself for something God has already forgiven, ask yourself why. You just might discover your forgiveness is irrelevant…and unbiblical.


 
Absolute Truth…or Not?

Is there such a thing as absolute truth?

If you answered yes, you share a traditional world view that is quickly falling out of favor in our culture.

If you said no, you’ve just contradicted yourself. Saying there’s no such thing as absolute truth is actually making an absolute truth statement!

Absolute truths are accepted in almost every meaningful discipline of life: mathematics, chemistry, biology. Two plus two equals four. Not three or five. It’s an accepted absolute.

So why, in a world where absolute truth exists in most disciplines of life, does it not apply to morality and spirituality? Who decided these two areas are an exception?

We’re living in a time when things are true until we don’t want them to be. Think about it.

  • By the world’s standards, a baby in the womb is a baby only if the mother wants the baby. Otherwise, it’s a “clump of cells.”
  • Our culture has decided binary gender—male and female—are now two of many options that are no longer exclusively male or female, despite physical biological evidence to the contrary. Gender is now “fluid” depending on the individual’s changing feelings.
  • Right and wrong are no longer absolutes, either. Now, what’s wrong for you may be right for me. And who are you to judge?
  • A recent Netflix documentary, Liberated, was created to “present the sexual landscape of our culture as it is rather than preach about it.” But critics were furious to learn it “showed the emptiness in hook-up culture and one-night-stands.” Apparently, it’s no longer acceptable to speak the truth.
  • Our culture decries control of the nation’s borders to stem illegal immigration in the name of children’s best interests, yet celebrates the legality of killing babies minutes before their birth.

It’s difficult to justify such contradictions in the name of logic and rationality.

We can call evil good and good evil, and claim truth is relative, but that doesn’t make it so.

We live in a world that demands hard evidence, yet refuses to believe in a Creator because they won’t recognize the evidence that’s there. This delicately balanced universe could not have accidentally evolved any more than a Rolex watch just happened to evolve into a sophisticated time piece.

People who deny the evidence of their own bodies in favor of gender-bending claims are basing those claims on feelings and faulty thinking, rather than biological evidence.

We follow scientists who teach the universe began with a “big bang,” but they can’t produce evidence or explain the source of the gasses that supposedly exploded.

So what’s a Christian to do? How can we respond in a way that engages the culture? How can we present evidence based on a biblical world view instead of simply arguing with those who disagree with us?

Follow the ABCs!

Ask questions:

  • Before sharing what you believe, ask what the other person believes and why.
  • Have they researched the topic for themselves?
  • What are their personal experiences related to the subject?

Be respectful:

  • Don’t demonize those who disagree with you.
  • Really listen to what they say…and what they don’t say.
  • Try to understand why they believe what they do. Are their beliefs influenced by past emotional wounds?
  • Be willing to “plant seeds” rather than “go in for the kill.”

Communicate compassion:

  • Care about the person more than you care about winning an argument. Be willing to build a relationship with them.
  • Leave the door open for further discussion. Most serious disagreements are not resolved in one conversation.

As Christians, we find ourselves living right-side-up in an upside-down world. But nobody promised it would be easy. Ask the Holy Spirit for the perseverance to stay true to the Person of Truth, Jesus Christ. Then speak the truth in love and live it out, regardless of others’ responses.

I suspect some of those who disagree with us may be secretly cheering us on. Because if we can live for the One who said, “I am the Truth,” it gives others hope. Hope that their shallow world, built on shifting contradictions, is not all there is to life.

And that can be the best truth of all.


 
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