If God knows everything, why pray?

One of the great paradoxes of our journey through life with God is that He wants us to talk to Him about everything going on in our lives, even though He already knows everything. If God is unchanging, why pray?

Throughout the centuries, believers have wrestled with God through prayer and Scripture with that question. When test results come back positive, why pray? When we’re devastated with a personal tragedy, why pray? When a friend’s heart is breaking, what difference does prayer really make? If God already has it figured out, why bother?

Here a few reasons the Bible gives us as to why we should pray to our personal, loving, sovereign, all-knowing, all-powerful God.

  • Because Jesus, the Son of God, prayed regularly and passionately for others and for the Father’s will to be done in His life (Matt. 19:13,26:36Mark 1:3514:32Luke 3:215:166:129:189:28John 17:1).
  • Because there is a devil, and prayer is a God-appointed way to resist Him (Daniel 10:10-14Eph. 6:12-1318).
  • Because prayer is God’s way for us to obtain what we need from Him (Lk. 11:3-13Jas. 4:2).
  • Because prayer is the means God has appointed for us to find “grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16).
  • Because prayer with thanksgiving is God’s way for us to obtain freedom from anxiety and to receive “the peace of God” (Phil. 4:6-7).

Prayer is not only about getting what we want, eventhough it’s okay to ask. Prayer is not faith in prayer, it’s trusting our faithful Friend. Prayer is about aligning our hearts and our desires with God’s. We read the command in 1 Thessalonians 5:17“Pray constantly,” and realize that God wants us to talk with Him.  Yes, He is all-knowing, but He wants us to walk with Him. Certainly, He’s all-powerful, but He wants us to live with Him.

When we seek God in prayer and confession of sin, we strengthen our relationship with Him. When we intercede for others, we trust Him for what He already knows. When we pray, we allow Him to lead us through the joys and sorrows of life according to His great purposes and plans.


What the…Hell?

“What the…Hell?”  It seems like I hear that phrase all the time. It pops up in some surprising places. Some substitute Hell’s more socially acceptable cousin, “Heck.”  While others just drop the word altogether by saying, “What the . . .  “ so that we get to fill in the blank ourselves. We hear people use the word in other ways, too. We hear some describe a friend who they admire as a “hell of a guy” and others talk about a task done well as a “hell of a job.” And in competitive arenas, fans cheer, “Give’m Hell!” Often, telling someone to “go to Hell” is an egregious step across most socially accepted boundaries.  But why is “Hell” itself among a list of four-letter words to some and to others, it’s simply a verbally expressive term? What’s wrong with Hell?

By using the word “Hell” in such trivial ways as a saying of surprise in our American culture, it seems, at least to me, that the reality of Hell is diminished. By using, “Hell,” as a expression of exasperation, we ignore it’s certainty. And when we dismiss someone who has offended us by a verbal damnation to Hell, we discard it’s existence.

Perhaps our biggest problem with Hell is that we really don’t want to consider the reality of it or why it would exist. We may give it token acknowledgment from time to time, but then quickly move along with the more positive, amusing things of life. “What the…Hell?” seems to be culturally acceptable as a verbal expression of self, but when used in the context of an eternal punishment of individuals both the word and it’s meaning are considered personally offensive.

What’s happened to Hell? Even in our supposedly disenchanted age, large majorities of Americans believe in God and heaven, miracles and prayer, but belief in hell lags well behind, and the fear of damnation seems to have evaporated.

Maybe too many well-intended preachers have proclaimed a legalistic, fire-and-brimstone message so much that we want to avoid talking about it’s reality today. Tony Woodleif said in World Magazine, “As a child I went to churches where it was used as a threat. As an adult, I believed for a time in the notion that God made man fall on purpose, solely for the pleasure of burning a great many people for eternity.”

Or possibly the religion of multiculturalism has left the idea of Hell intolerant. In order for Buddhists, Christians, Jews, Muslims and Atheists to live happily side-by-side, it’s politically incorrect to say one faith is superior to another. Believing that only one way leads to Heaven and all others lead to Hell is boorish, prehistoric, ignorant, unloving.

On Easter Sunday, two of the top three books on Amazon.com’s Religion and Spirituality best-seller list mapped the geography of the afterlife. One was Heaven Is for Real: A Little Boy’s Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back,” an account of a 4-year-old’s near-death experience as dictated to his pastor father. The other was Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived,” in which Rob Bell asks questions that raise the greater question of whether Hell actually exists: “Does a loving God really send people to hell for all eternity?”

Released March 29, 2011 by Harper Collins, Bell’s book was popularized by TIME Magazine’s Cover story article, “What if Hell Doesn’t Exist?” by Jon Meacham on April 14, 2011 and it quickly skyrocketed up the NY Times Best Seller list.  How Bell raises the questions about Hell seems just as distorting as the actual questions: “Has God created billions of people over thousands of years only to select a few to go to heaven and everyone else to suffer forever in hell? Is this acceptable to God? How is this ‘good news’?”

Bell reads Jesus’ warnings of divine punishment as addressing only the temporal, rather than both the temporal and the eternal. He begins the book arguing that Jesus’ story has been hijacked by a number of different stories that Jesus has no interest in telling. “The plot has been lost, and it’s time to reclaim it.” (Preface, vi):

“A staggering number of people have been taught that a select few Christians will spend forever in a peaceful, joyous place called heaven, while the rest of humanity spends forever in torment and punishment in hell with no chance for anything better…. This is misguided and toxic and ultimately subverts the contagious spread of Jesus’ message of love, peace, forgiveness, and joy that our world desperately needs to hear.”

Woodleif acknowledges that “[Rob] Bell appeals to people raised in an evangelical environment that is long on judgment and short on grace. I am certainly one of those people, and so the hard questions he asks appeal to me,” he says. More and more people are asking questions about life after death. Where can we find the answers?

There are many things Jesus said we could know for sure about eternity. One of those things is the reality and the certainty of Hell. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is indeed God’s Good News about Heaven and it’s also the bad news about Hell. The Gospel is that Christ died for our sins and rose from the dead to redeem everyone who believes in Him from spiritual death.

First of all, Hell exists because Jesus described it as a literal place. Jesus spoke about Hell more than anyone else did. He referred to Hell as a real place and described it in graphic terms (Matthew 10:28; 13:40-42; Mark 9:43-48).  In Matthew 10:28, Jesus said, Don’t fear those who kill the body but are not able to kill the soul; rather, fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” In Mark 9, Jesus repeatedly described Hell  as, —the unquenchable fire, where the worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.” Perhaps the most compelling passage on Hell can be found in Luke’s Gospel in chapter 16.  It is there Jesus tells the story of Lazarus and the rich man.  The rich man mistreats Lazarus in life and in death the rich man is punished while Lazarus is comforted.  Verses 23-24 speak of the rich man,

And being in torment in Hades, he looked up and saw Abraham a long way off, with Lazarus at his side. ‘Father Abraham!’ he called out, ‘Have mercy on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this flame!’

Jesus said the wicked suffer terribly, remain conscious, retain their desires and memories, long for relief, cannot find comfort, cannot leave their torment, and have no hope (see Luke 16:19-31).

Many, including some Christians, believe that God tortures people in hell. However, it’s significant to observe that in the New Testament, Hell is not described as a place of torture but rather a place of torment (Luke 16:23-28, Revelation 14:11). Torture is inflicted against one’s will, while torment is self-inflicted by one’s own will. Torment comes from the mental and physical anguish of knowing that freedom was used selfishly (for evil). The anguish results from the sorrow and shame of the judgment of being forever separated from God and all that is meaningful and joyful. Everyone in Hell will know that the pain he or she is suffering is self-induced. It is not a place where people are forced against their will to undergo agonizing pain. Some often use the image of torture to portray God as a cruel and vindictive being. However, the torment of Hell comes from the individual who freely chooses to reject God’s gift of forgiveness through faith in Jesus Christ and must live with the sorrow of being aware of all that was lost.

The emotional part of my soul and being wishes there was another way besides Hell. I don’t want anyone to be forever separated from God in eternal torment. If it were up to me, no one would go to Hell. Regardless of my feelings, a literal, eternal Hell exists because Jesus clearly and repeatedly affirmed it. We can’t dismiss Hell without dismissing Jesus. If we cannot trust Jesus’ teaching about Hell, why should we trust anything He said, including His offer of salvation?

16 “For God loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send His Son into the world that He might condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. 18 Anyone who believes in Him is not condemned, but anyone who does not believe is already condemned, because he has not believed in the name of the One and Only Son of God.  John 3:16–18

We can’t make Hell go away simply because it makes us feel uncomfortable, it seems intolerant, or it’s politically incorrect.

Secondly, Hell exists because God is just. When some people speak of what a terrible notion Hell is, they talk as if it involves the suffering of innocent people. Even if people acknowledge Hell as a necessary and just punishment for evildoers, we rarely see ourselves or others as worthy of Hell. After all, we are not Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Saddam Hussein, or Osama Bin Laden. We’re not murderers, sexual predators, or financial embezzlers. We consider ourselves and the people we call our friends, “good people.” God responds, however, through the Apostle Paul…

“Are we any better? Not at all…both Jews and Gentiles are all under sin, as it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one. There is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God…There is no one who does what is good, not even one(Romans 3:9-12).

When we deny the fairness of Hell, we deny the reality of our sin. When we ignore the seriousness of our sin, we ignore the extent of God’s justice. The justice of Hell doesn’t seem fair because we just can’t understand our sin problem and God’s holiness. Furthermore, if we regard Hell as a divine overreaction to sin, we deny that God has the moral, legal right to allow ongoing torment on any humans He created to exist forever. Most of all, if we deny Hell, we deny the extreme glory of God’s grace in Christ’s blood shed as the substitute for God’s judgment for all men and women who believe on the cross. If the sins He died for aren’t big enough to warrant eternal punishment, then perhaps the grace He showed on the cross isn’t big enough to warrant eternal praise. The more we understand God’s absolute justice and our sin, the more the reality of Hell will make sense to us.

With the reality of an eternal Hell, God exercises justice with absolute equity in the punishment of sin.

11 Then I saw a great white throne and One seated on it. Earth and heaven fled from His presence, and no place was found for them. 12 I also saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life, and the dead were judged according to their works by what was written in the books. 13 Then the sea gave up its dead, and Death and Hades gave up their dead; all were judged according to their works. 14 Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. 15 And anyone not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.  Revelation 20:11–15

The great white throne the apostle John saw is evidently God’s throne in heaven. It is great because it is God’s throne and because it is the seat of this last judgment. Its whiteness suggests that the verdicts that proceed from it are pure, holy, and righteous (cf. Ps. 97:2; Dan. 7:9). At the Judgment of the great white throne, the bodies, spirits, and souls of unbelievers will be reunited and then be cast into the lake of fire, a place of eternal punishment. The dead before this throne are evidently the unsaved of all ages who now stand resurrected before God (v. 5; Dan. 12:2). They come from all classes and groups of humanity. The books contain a record of their deeds (cf. Deut. 32:34; Ps. 56:8; Isa. 65:6; Dan. 7:10; Mal. 3:16; Matt. 12:37). The book of life contains the names of believers in Christ (Rev. 3:5; 13:8; 17:8; 20:15; 21:27; Isa. 4:3; Ps. 69:28; Dan. 12:1; Luke 10:20; Phil. 4:3). God will condemn those raised to face this judgment because of their works that include failure to believe in Jesus Christ: “This is the work of God—that you believe in the One He has sent.” (John 6:29).

We live our earthly life between Heaven and Hell and so our decision of trust prepares us for either one or the other. Eternal death in Hell is judgment by God according to sin and rejection of God’s gift through Jesus. Eternal life in Heaven is knowing God by faith in Jesus Christ: “This is eternal life: that they may know You, the only true God, and the One You have sent —Jesus Christ” (John 17:3).

Hell exists because God is loving. In our lifetime, the Creator God gives people freedom to believe or reject Him. On the cross, Jesus took upon Himself the Hell we deserve, in order to purchase for us the Heaven we don’t deserve. When Jesus died on the cross, He said, “It is finished” (John 19:30), using the Greek word for canceling certificates of debt, meaning, “Paid in full.” He paid our debt of sin. Jesus then rose from the grave, defeating sin and conquering death:

Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, He was buried, He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures. 1 Corinthians 15:3-4

Jesus, the Eternal Son of God, died in the place of every man, woman, boy and girl as the single greatest act of love in history. In fact, God’s love is demonstrated best and most by sending His Son to die for our sins that would otherwise result in Hell’s judgment. He took our judgment. He took Hell for us!

God does not send anyone to Hell – people choose to go there. He created us as free moral creatures and He will not force people into His presence if they do not want to be there. If a person chooses not to be with God in his or her lifetime, He will respect that decision. Wouldn’t we question God’s love if he forced people who have rejected Him on earth to spend eternity with Him in Heaven? In Matthew 23:37-39, Jesus weeps over the city of Jerusalem and the nation of Israel because they rejected their Savior and were not willing to accept the love of God. Christ as Lord of creation could have forced His will on His creatures, but instead respected their decision even though it broke His heart. Since God’s desire is that all be saved from Hell (Luke 19:10) and He has made this possible for all men, God cannot bear the blame for people going to Hell. In love, God gives us freedom to believe or reject Him (John 3:18).

Hell exists because God is not just loving – He is Holy. While it is certainly true that God is love (1 John 4:8) and that we love because He first loved us (1 John 4:10), this is not the primary characteristic of God. Love is not the primary characteristic of God, holiness is. It’s God’s holiness that holds His character and all of His characteristics (including love, justice, mercy, grace, goodness, truth, etc..) in absolute perfection.

Those who worship God in His very presence assert, with threefold emphasis, that God is holy:

 Seraphim were standing above Him; each one had six wings: with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another:
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts;
His glory fills the whole earth.”
The foundations of the doorways shook at the sound of their voices, and the temple was filled with smoke.  Isaiah 6:2–4

Each of the four living creatures had six wings; they were covered with eyes around and inside. Day and night they never stop, saying:
“Holy, holy, holy, Lord God, the Almighty,
who was, who is, and who is coming.”  Revelation 4:8 

In Heaven’s throne room, angels proclaim God’s holiness in His presence, and He does not correct them. As we examine the Bible we find that a twofold repetition is strong in both Hebrew and Greek languages, but threefold repetition is the strongest in both languages. The only characteristic of God described so forcefully is His holiness.

Maybe we’ve seen love in our lifetime, but we haven’t seen holiness.  Perhaps the closest we’ve come to seeing holiness is an infant child, but it doesn’t take too long for the selfish, sin nature of a child to raise it’s ugly head. When we gain a vision of the holiness of God, however, as He is portrayed in the Bible, we begin to understand the fairness of eternal judgment in Hell. Of course, God is love, but we must understand His love through the lens of His holiness. If we reverse things – understanding His holiness through the lens of His love – we are distorting what the Bible has said about Him and begin to question the justice of Hell.

All people really want to know what happens after death.  Many people are reading and talking about the afterlife these days. This is consistent with survey results that report more than 80 percent of Americans believe in some sort of life after death. This belief may take Buddhist, Baptist, or Oprah Winfrey form, but the belief is out there nonetheless. People really want to know what happens after death. The most loving thing is sharing the truth about Heaven and Hell as we share the story of God’s love for His greatest creation.

All people have a knowledge of God (Romans 1:19-25) and of eternity written on our hearts (Ecclesiastes 3:11), and so most eventually come around to asking the question, “What’s going to happen to me when I die?” Let’s listen for these afterlife conversations taking place around us and be ready to give a “reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15). Since the Bible speaks of an eternal Hell as a reality, it should motivate believers in Christ to share the truth of the Gospel – including the truth of Heaven and Hell – with urgency.

Hell isn’t just a verbal assertion of self, an emphatic outburst or an emotional expression, it’s a reality that everyone must consider . Heaven, by contrast, is not just an escape from judgment, it’s the free gift of a Holy God who is worthy of our love because He first loved us. What a tragedy that this present life is the closest unbelievers in Christ will ever come to Heaven. What a comfort that this present life is the closest believers in Christ’s death for us will ever come to Hell. If someone rejects the best gift that a holy, gracious and loving God offers, what remains in the end will be nothing but Hell.

Stand up and Stand out

Goliath has fallen. David has ascended.

Yesterday marked the end of an era for the mighty Los Angeles Lakers as they fell to the lowly, “soft” Dallas Mavericks. At the start of the playoffs, no one gave the Mavericks a fighting chance against their first round opponent (the Portland Trailblazers) much less the reigning NBA champions from the last two years who were aiming for a three-peat. Legendary Hall of Fame Coach Phil Jackson returned to the Lakers this season in pursuit of his Twelfth NBA title over a 20-year career. Multiple MVP star Kobe Bryant was shooting for his 6th championship with LA. In the end, the Lakers were out-manned and out-gunned by the Mavericks. Not only were they defeated, but swept in the first four games of a seven game series. By half-time of the elimination game, the Mavericks were ahead by 24 points. The champions were hanging their heads while the little guys were making history.

The assault came from the bench and the shots from the air as Jason Terry and Peja Stojakovic hit a combined 15 out of 16 3-point baskets. Terry had an NBA playoff record-tying nine 3-pointers. As a team, the Mavs also tied a record with 20 made 3-point baskets. The game and the series were both over by the second quarter.

The Los Angeles Lakers’ frustration boiled over in a final two-prong meltdown with flagrant foul 2 calls dished out and with two player ejections in a 45-second span of the fourth quarter. As my friend, Doug Bankes, commented during the 4th Quarter, “the Lakers are leaving Dallas…one at a time.” First it was Lamar Odom who set an illegal, blindsided pick against the Mavericks’ Dirk Nowitzki. Then, three possessions later, 7-foot center Andrew Bynum delivered an intentional mid-air body slam to under 6-foot guard J.J. Barea, who repeatedly dogged the Lakers’ defense with drives to the hoop. After the game Bynum said, “For me, it was embarrassing to have the smallest guy on the court keep running down the lane and making shots.” Barea was also the victim of a flagrant foul in the waning seconds of Game 2 when Ron Artest reached out and grabbed Barea’s face, earning Artest a one-game suspension for Game 3. Mavs starting shooting guard DeShawn Stevenson said after the series, “When people get frustrated they show their real character.” On Sunday, Goliath showed his character.

During his post-game interview, Jason Terry commented on Goliath’s demise, “To God be the glory – we stayed focused. We came out and we executed our game plan.” It was the little guys, the ordinary guys who showed up, played hard, and stayed tough who eventually won the day – and the series.

Most of us like to cheer for the underdog. We want Goliath to fall and David to stand victorious. We are fans of the little guys like JJ Barea who seem so ordinary. We cheer all the more when they do something extra-ordinary.  Maybe it’s because we feel so ordinary. We want to stand up and stand out because daily life seems so mundane, so…daily.

Throughout the Scriptures, we find that God routinely uses unlikely people and uncommon means to accomplish His eternal purposes and everlasting promises. He uses hard working, faithful men and women with ordinary talents to accomplish extraordinary things.

Most everyone is familiar with David verses Goliath from 1 Samuel 17. Goliath stands as the tall champion and defiant enemy of the living God and His people. David, just a youth at the time, stood up to ask why no one has stood up to the giant. He was criticized by his older, bigger brothers, but answered their rebuke and King Saul’s by trusting in the Lord and the ordinary life experiences as a common shepherd boy that prepared him to fight an extra-ordinary battle.

Similarly, in Judges 4:15-24, God used the most unlikely woman (Jael) and her common skills (setting up a tent) to accomplish His greater plan (of defeating the General, Sisera) to bring peace to His people.  Simply by doing the daily things of serving milk and setting up tents, Jael was prepared to stand up and stand out when the time came for her to be used by God for His purposes.

Whatever your daily routine and no matter how mundane it may seem – whether it’s washing dishes, doing the laundry, filling orders, teaching children, writing software – realize that God works through the ordinary to accomplish the extraordinary. By serving faithfully each day, you’ll be ready to stand up and stand out when the Lord provides an opportunity.

God uses the little people for big things so that all the world will recognize that it’s the Lord who saves (1 Sam. 17:46-47). When leaders lead, servants serve, and workers work – praise the Lord (Judges 5:1-2). And as Jason Terry said, “To God be the glory!”

2010 Texas Rangers Season on Facebook

Every year on Opening Day of MLB for the previous 38 years of my life, I was hopeful, but not optimistic that the Texas Rangers would make it to the World Series. The 2010 season was no exception as the team wrapped up Spring Training in Surprise, AZ and headed for Arlington. I guarded my heart and curbed my enthusiasm all the way through the heat of August, but in the end it was an unbelievable ride.

The following is a chronology of my 2010 facebook posts through the course of the Rangers’ season.

Opening day for the Texas Rangers. Hope springs eternal…at least for April.
April 5, 2010

Hello, Win column! Rangers score two in the bottom of the 9th. Opening Day win.
April 5, 2010

And the hits just keep on comin’! Way to go #10!
June 17, 2010

Vote Young, vote often. http://bit.ly/cGtVoE
July 4, 2010

Crazy night at the Ballpark in Arlington…we’ll never forget this one (a fan fell out of the upper deck landing on the people below. After a long delay, on the next at bat, fans began a brawl over a foul ball).
July 6, 2010

I’m not there yet. Let’s wait to see what happens after the All-Star game. I’ve been hurt too much for too long.
July 8, 2010

Not just Smoak signals, Rangers acquire Cliff Lee and another reliever for their first baseman and three minor-leaguers. Will Davis get called back from OKC?
July 9, 2010

Texas…it’s hot. Rangers? they’re on fire!
July 24, 2010

Dear Texas Rangers, I’m in! Drinking the Kool-Aid, on the bandwagon, committing my heart. After 38 years, it’s time!
September 3, 2010

Rangers are AL West Champs heading into the post-season for the first time in 11 years. The stars are aligning — Lee, Wilson, and… Lewis? Hoping Hamilton can make it back this week.
September 27, 2010

Hallelujah! The Texas Rangers are a championship team again at last. http://es.pn/ax50f5
October 1, 2010

Los Angeles Angels of Aneheim, California – 1, Mitch Moreland – 2.
October 1, 2010

On day two, the post-season has finally begun for Michael Young with a 3-run homer and Rays manager, Joe Madden, is tossed out of the game.
October 7, 2010

Ok, Rangers. It’s time. Really. It’s time. I mean it.
October 12, 2010

FINALLY! After 50 years, a playoff series win for the Rangers franchise. Happy? Yes. Relieved? Definitely! Bring on the Yankees!
October 12, 2010

Four wins to the World Series, four more to win it.
October 13, 2010

Yes, I’m watching…waiting…and worrying.
October 16, 2010

When the Cowboys grow up…they want to be Texas RANGERS!
October 17, 2010

Tonight’s ALCS Game is brought to you by the letters R, H, and K; starring Josh Hamilton, Cliff Lee and YOUR…TEXAS…RANGERS!!!
October 18, 2010

Hunter on pitching at Yankee Stadium, “I had Moms screaming at me when I was 12 that’s probably more intimidating than people I don’t know.”
October 18, 2010

He’s the most interesting Molina in the world. “I don’t always hit homeruns, but when I do, I hit them against the Yankees.” Stay thirsty my friends.
October 19, 2010

Never though I would live to see this day. The TEXAS RANGERS are going to the MLB WORLD SERIES.
October 22, 2010

Dear Rangers, Thanks for the great win. Thanks for the long ride. It was worth it. I promise not to call you the Texas Strangers ever again.
October 22, 2010

Had a crazy dream last night that the Texas Rangers beat the New York Yankees in the ALCS playoffs and are going to the World Series.
October 23, 2010

So who else doesn’t know what to do with all of their nervous energy about tonight’s World Series Game?
October 27, 2010

Let’s Go Rangers! We need some hits before the Giants turn to their bullpen of Rutherford B. Hayes and Abraham Lincoln.
October 27, 2010

Great game by CJ is overshadowed by a complete bullpen meltdown. Nolan’s packing Rangers into his pick-up and driving thru the night back to Texas. Except for Holland, Lowe, and Kirkman – they have to walk.
October 28, 2010

It’s Time! GO RANGERS!!! I’ve got my antlers up and my rally towel out!
October 30, 2010

Hello World Series Win Column!!!
October 30, 2010

Waving my Rally towel. Waiting for the Rangers to drop the Claw and Antlers on SF.
October 31, 2010

Nolan, let me know if you need me to be there tonight to help the Rangers win Game #5. I can just pick up the tickets at Will Call. I’m also available to fly with the team to San Francisco for Games 6 & 7. You know how to reach me. Larry
November 1, 2010

Thank you, Texas Rangers, we enjoyed the ride. Let’s do it again next year!
November 1, 2010 at 10:12pm

Faith greater than Fate

When others suffer unexplainably, we often want to provide encouragement with words of explanation. “Everything happens for a reason,” we hear people say. “It will all work out in the end,” others proclaim. In the aftermath of the earthquakes and tsumani in Japan, many Buddhist survivors may be told, “Your karma (destiny) is that you lived and you must honor and remember and live a life worthy of your having survived” (USA Today). Even for the best things of life, like love and marriage, we often hear, “We were destined to be together.” Impersonal forces such as chance, luck, or fate, however, do not control our lives. Naïve optimism in destiny may help us to stay positive for a while, but eventually, we need help making sense of the madness of our lives and our world.

When test results reveal cancer, when we’re fired unjustly from our jobs, or when our car gets totaled from a rear-end accident, we find that our wonderful, personal Lord allows both good and bad things to happen for a specific purpose. He alone knows what is best. In Romans 8:28, we learn that instead of trusting in fate, we can live by faith in a loving God who is actively involved in every aspect of our lives. Only God, and God alone, causes all of life’s puzzle-pieces to fit together to form a beautiful, complete picture.

“We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God: those who are called according to His purpose” Romans 8:28 (HCSB).

Next to John 3:16, Romans 8:28 may be the most well-known and oft-quoted verses in the Bible. The last 12 verses of Romans 8 may be unequaled anywhere else in the NT. Paul begins with five unshakable promises in vs. 28. He continues with five undeniable affirmations regarding God’s eternal purposes, and concludes with five unanswerable questions about theses promises and affirmations. Rather than trusting in fate, we can live by faith in a loving God who is actively involved in every aspect of our lives.

Bethany Hamilton - Soul Surfer

Consider Bethany Hamilton who grew up surfing on the island of Kauai, Hawaii. At age five, she chose to trust Jesus as her Savior and follow Him. When she was 13, a fourteen-foot tiger shark attacked her, severing one of her arms. Bethany returned to surfing one month later. A year later, despite her disability, she won her first national title. Bethany says, “it was Jesus Christ who gave me peace when I got attacked by the shark…and it was what God had taught be growing up that helped me overcome my fears…to get back into the water to keep surfing.”  She continues, “My mom and I were praying before the shark attack that God would use me. God considered me faithful enough to appoint me to His service.”

Obviously, not every tragedy leads to winning a national title, but Bethany began where all of us can, by trusting God. In her case, with a support system of people having an biblical perspective of God’s ultimate good, she was prepared to face suffering when it came, and to emerge stronger by faith in Christ. Bethany’s inspiring story of trusting God’s greater purposes is coming to theaters this April 8 in the movie Soul Surfer with a cast of Helen Hunt, Dennis Quad, and Carrie Underwood. Bethany’s life testifies to the truth of God’s Promise that “all things work together for the good of those who love God: those who are called according to His purpose.”

As believers in Christ, we have the reliability of God’s Promise:

1.  God gives us a definite promise: “We know…” “We know” is used five times in Romans and the word “know” is used 16 times. It refers to that which is common knowledge of believers. Paul says that we can know beyond all doubt that every aspect of our lives is in God’s hands and will be divinely used by the Lord to show His glory and to work out our ultimate blessing. Earlier in Romans 8, Paul said we know about the groaning of creation (vs. 22) and here he says we know of God’s providential care. Yet in vs. 26 he says we sometimes don’t know how to pray as we should. This juxtaposition is not accidental; it illustrates a tension in the Christian life. We know that God is ultimately in control in this life, but sometimes we don’t always know how all the pieces fit together. God’s definite promise forms one of the great paradoxes of the Christian Life: We are often the most certain about the ultimate when we are most uncertain about the immediate.

All through Scripture we have examples of those who learned to trust God through very difficult circumstances – and examples of those who ultimately saw the good that God accomplished. Job was a man who lost everything he had even though he was a godly man who feared God and shunned evil (Job 1:1). His property, his livestock, his possessions, even his children were taken from him through a series of disasters. Finally, even his health was taken from him. But thru it all, Job believed that the Lord gives and the Lord takes away and blessed His name. Through his life circumstances, Job gained knowledge of God that he had never had (Job 42:1-6) and was blessed far beyond compare.

2. God gives us a determined promise: “for the good of those who love God”. In the original word order, this phrase comes next. God is at work for the cumulative, ultimate good of His people. Since God is good, the work that He is doing for His people is good. We define our good in terms of what brings us health and happiness now, but God defines our good in terms of what draws us closer to Him by faith and what makes us more like His Son, Jesus (Phil. 3:7,10-14).  Our ultimate destiny is conformity to Jesus Christ’s image, much more than just deliverance from sin and death (Romans 8:29). God accomplished this goal partially through believers’ justification. He is presently accomplishing it partially through our progressive sanctification, and He will accomplish it completely through our glorification. God’s determined plans for our good have eternity in mind more than simply temporary happiness.

Ten months after his son was killed in a car accident, Greg Laurie said, “What I wish is that I could have learned and grown and drawn close to the Lord just like I have, but that Christopher was still here.” The difficult things in life often accomplish God’s greater good in ways that only hardship and loss can.

Paul is not expressing a superficial optimism or simply wishful thinking, rather he uses form of the word “agape” (lit. the one’s loving), to describe the recipients of God’s determined, unwavering promise. “We love because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19) Loving God, through faith in Christ, puts us in a distinct class of human beings, separate from all others. For those who love God, He works through all of life’s circumstances for the best according to His good and sovereign plans.

Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers. Rising to a place of honor within Potiphar’s household because of his faithfulness to the Lord God, Jospeh was falsely accused and thrown into prison where he was abandoned and forgotten. Later, he earned favor in Egypt by interpreting Pharaoh’s dream and he was made the second in command over all of Egypt. When he was ultimately reunited with his brothers, he saw that God had sent him ahead to prepare a place for Jacob’s family to survive the famine in Canaan.  As he told his brothers when they realized with shame that Joseph had become their salvation, “You planned evil against me; God planned it for good to bring about the present result—the survival of many people” (Genesis 50:20).

3. God gives us a definitive promise: “all things” The all things of Romans 8:28 is totally comprehensive. “All things” means just that: all things. Taken in context, the promise allows for no restrictions or conditions. All things includes the sufferings of vs. 17 and the sighs of verse 23. In other words, all that is negative in this life is seen to have a positive purpose in the implementation of God’s eternal plan. Paul is not saying that evil things are good or excusing our sinful choices. Neither is he saying that God causes temptation or sin. Nor is Paul expressing faith in the goodness of all things but in the goodness and sovereignty of God! The Lord takes all that He allows to happen to His beloved children, even the worst things, and turns those things ultimately into blessings. No matter what our situation, our suffering, our sinful failure, our pain, our lack of faith—in all those things, as well as in other things, our heavenly Father will work to produce our ultimate victory and blessing.

Jacob reaped the harvest of his younger years through the pain of his children’s lives: Joseph was gone. Rueben was disgraced. Judah was dishonored. Simeon and Levi had broken his heart. Dinah was defiled. Simeon was in prison. His beloved wife, Rachel was dead. On top of all of his hurt, a famine in Canaan threatened their very lives. Then came the demand from Egypt that young Benjamin must appear there before its governor before any more supplies would be sent.  Jacob felt that everything was aligned against him (Gen. 42:36). Yet all these things were working together to keep his family, and God’s promises alive for future generations.

4.  God gives us a dynamic promise: “work together” From the Greek word for “work together,” we get our English word, synergy. Synergy is the working together of various elements to produce an effect where the sum is greater than the individual parts. For example, consider the individual ingredients of a chocolate cake. Almost everything that goes into a cake tastes terrible by itself. Flour. Baking soda. Cocoa powder. Vanilla extract. Raw eggs. But consider the remarkable metamorphosis that takes place when they are mixed together and baked together. The end result of the individual ingredients working together is greater than the individual parts. No matter how bitter the taste of the individual components of our lives, God can carefully measure out and mix all ingredients together, and raise the temperature in order to produce a wonderful final product.

It’s important to point out that Paul is not saying that all things will just simply “work out” on their own. God is not promising, “I will try to make everything work together.” It isn’t about God trying, it’s about God actually working together all things for our good. God is saying that He is the One who causes they synergy of all things happening in our lives. God is the One who stirs the mix and bakes the cake.

Jonah was called by the Lord to go to his enemies in Ninevah and preach against their wickedness and rejection of God. Instead of obeying by faith, Jonah jumped on a boat heading for Tarshish hoping to escape from the Lord’s presence. Thrown overboard from the ship, the Lord turned up the heat as Jonah was swallowed by a fish and was in the fish for 3 days and 3 nights. God allowed Jonah’s rebellion to bring him to repentance and a closer relationship with Himself (Jonah 2:6-8). God worked in Jonah’s life and through Jonah’s life to bring the people of Ninevah to faith in God. The individual decisions by Jonah, the King of Ninevah and the people of Ninevah worked together to complete God’s plans for all of them. And Jonah learned how much God cares for all the people He created.

5. God gives us a defined promise: “for those who are called according to His purpose.” There are two limitations contained in this promise. The first is from the human perspective “those who love God.” The second limitation to this promise of God’s sovereign plans is from God’s perspective, “those who are called.” From our viewpoint we are believers because we love God, but from God’s viewpoint, we are believers because we are called by Him to believe. Because God has called us as His children, all things have a purpose.

At a time when the Jews were about to be carried away into Babylon after the terrible destruction of Jerusalem, God gave them a promise through Jeremiah about their future, “For I know the plans I have for you”—this is the Lord’s declaration—“plans for your welfare, not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope” (Jer. 29:11).

As believers in Christ, we can also find peace in the  results of God’s promises:

1. God fills our hearts with trust. God’s trustworthiness is based on His total, not partial, knowledge of the future. “I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and no one is like Me. I declare the end from the beginning, and from long ago what is not yet done, saying: My plan will take place, and I will do all My will…I have spoken; so I will also bring it about. I have planned it; I will also do it” (Isaiah 46:9–11). Romans 8:28 assures us that God intends life’s ordeals for our good—but there is a difference between immediate good and ultimate good. Seeing the difference requires faith.

2.  God fills our hearts with thanksgiving. “Be filled with the Spirit: speaking to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making music to the Lord in your heart, giving thanks always for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Eph. 5:18-20). “Don’t worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses every thought, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6–7). “Give thanks in everything, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” 1 Thess 5:18.

3.  God fills our hearts with tenacity. “Therefore we do not give up; even though our outer person is being destroyed, our inner person is being renewed day by day. For our momentary light affliction is producing for us an absolutely incomparable eternal weight of glory”  (1 Cor. 5:16-17)

In the mid-eighties, I was going through the life-changing transitions of college. I needed an eternal perspective for the earthly struggles all around me. My wife had recently lost her brother in a motorcycle accident. My dad had lost his job. I was trying to figure out where God was leading me in school and in my career. One of my close friends watched his parents divorce during his mother’s battle with MS.  During those faith-stretching days, DeeDee and I found great comfort in a song written by Babbie Mason (Trust His Heart) that reflected the truth of Romans 8:28:

God is too wise to be mistaken
God is too good to be unkind
So when you don’t understand
When you don’t see His plan
When you can’t trace His hand
Trust His heart

He alone is faithful and true
He alone knows what is best for you
So when you don’t understand
When you don’t see His plan
When you can’t trace His hand trust His heart

There are still days that I face discouragement from personal disappointments, personal failures, personal pain. There are times I struggle to make sense of the hurts and pain of others. There are events like 9/11, earthquakes, or events in the Middle East that make me wonder what in the world God is doing? Rather than trusting in fate or blind faith, we have the privilege, as children of God, of thankfully trusting in a loving God while living life joyfully every day, never fearing the future or what it might bring.

Where is God when the Earth shakes?

Over the past week, the reports, pictures, and videos following the 8.9 magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsunami on March 11 have overwhelmed us. Since the initial earthquake, dozens of aftershocks have continued to shake the island nation including an aftershock with a preliminary magnitude of 6.1 that struck Tuesday in the eastern part of Honshu, Japan. Thousands of lives have been lost. Millions of people have been displaced or are without electricity or water. Explosions at the quake-crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant raised more concerns about possible radiation leaks.

The fears of living on Planet Earth are not limited to the Japanese. Over the last several years, we have seen several earthquakes that have rocked our planet and our world. The people of China, Haiti, and Chile have witnessed how quickly an earthquake can change lives and take lives. Many around the world are living in fear of the natural, physical, and economic disasters looming ahead. In the Bible, we are told that earthquakes are ultimately from God. God does nothing without an infinitely wise and good purpose. “He also is wise and will bring disaster” (Isaiah 31:2). “The LORD is good” (Psalm 100:5). Therefore, God has good and all-wise purposes for the heart-rending tragedies that are both public and private.

Every time a disaster happens anywhere in the world someone recklessly tell us it’s the judgment of God being poured out on sinful people. It has become increasingly difficult for me to think in those terms. When Adam and Eve disobeyed God and sin entered the equation the entire creation was impacted. All creation fell and “has been groaning together with labor pains until now” (Romans 8:22). Since fallen humans live in a fallen creation we can expect disasters like the Japanese earthquake to happen from time to time. We use the term “natural disasters” because can be expected to occur quite naturally in a fallen world.  There are specific instances in the Old Testament where God used natural disasters to express His judgment on a nation or people. However, this was not the norm in ancient history. They too had their share of disasters occurring naturally in the context of a fallen world. In Luke 13:15 Jesus clearly teaches that tragedy is not necessarily the consequence of greater sin for then none of us would escape. To begin with, He made it clear that human tragedies are not always divine punishments and that it is wrong for us to ‘play God’ and pass judgment. Rather, tragedy should be seen as a warning to all that unless they repent, a similar doom would come upon them. Job’s friends made this same mistake when they said that Job’s afflictions were evidence that he was a sinner. If we take that approach to tragedy, then we will have a hard time explaining the sufferings of the Prophets and Apostles, and even of our Lord Himself. So the earthquake in Japan or other natural disasters yet to come do not need to be placed in the context of a judgment from God. If earthquakes are not God’s specific judgment on a specific people, then what is God’s purpose?

Indeed He has hundreds of thousands of purposes for all things in life (Romans 8:28), most of which will remain hidden to us until we are able to grasp them at the end of the age. “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and the knowledge of God! How unsearchable His judgments and untraceable His ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been His counselor?”(Romans 11:33-34). “The hidden things belong to the Lord our God, but the revealed things belong to us and our children forever, so that we may follow all the words of this law” (Deuteronomy 29:29).

Here are a few possible purposes for earthquakes revealed in the Bible that believers in Jesus Christ may pray will come to pass.

  1. Earthquakes are God’s patient calls to repentance. “The Lord does not delay His promise, as some understand delay, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). The end-time earthquakes in the book of Revelation are meant as calls to repentance to warn people who deny Jesus Christ that a day is coming when unbelievers will cry to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of the One seated on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb” (Revelation 6:16).
  2. The end-time earthquakes in Matthew 24:7-8 are meant to be interpreted as “the beginning of the birth pains.” That is, they are a wake-up call to this oblivious world that God’s kingdom will soon be born; so be alert and prepare to meet Jesus Christ.
  3. God’s unilateral taking of thousands of lives is a loud declaration that He is sovereign over all of His Creation. “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away” (Job 1:21). The message for all the world is that life is more than our physical possessions — life is a loan from God (Luke 12:20) and belongs to Him. He creates it and gives it and takes it according to His own will and owes us nothing. He has a right to children (2 Samuel 12:13-18) and to the aged (Luke 2:29). It is a great gift to learn this truth and dedicate our lives to our Creator and Savior rather than ignore Him till it is too late.
  4. The power felt in an earthquake reveals the fearful magnificence of God. This is a great gift since “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Job 28:28; Psalm 111:10; Proverbs 1:7, 9:10, 15:33 ). Natural disasters and the suffering that follows either pushes us away from God or pulls us toward Him. A fear of earthquakes can lead to a healthy fear of God involving worshipful submission, reverential awe, and obedient respect. Most of the world does not recognize the Lord God of Creation and therefore lacks saving wisdom.
  5. The suffering and pain that comes from earthquakes is incomparable to the eternal suffering of those who reject Christ (Matthew 8:12, 25:46; John 5:29; Romans 2:8-9; Revelation 20:11-15).  Patrick Fuller, a Red Cross Spokes person in Japan, says what he’s seeing is “a scene from Hell.” Without a taste of Hell on earth, we would not see its horrors or feel much motivation to do everything possible to avoid it. Earthquakes serve as a warning and foretaste of eternal suffering that can get our attention and prompt us to turn to God by faith.

When the earth shakes under your feet there is a dramatic sense that there is no place to flee. In most disasters the earth is the one thing that stands firm when wind and flood are raging. But where do you turn when the earth itself is unsafe? The Answer: God Himself.

The psalmist proclaims:  “God is our refuge and strength, a Helper who is always found in times of trouble. Therefore we will not be afraid, though the earth trembles and the mountains topple into the depths of the seas, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with its turmoil” (Psalm 46:1–3).

May the Lord fulfill at least three other purposes from this painful catastrophe.

  1. Pray that Christians would turn to the Lord Jesus in the last days and be prepared to serve Him. “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing those from whom you learned, and that from childhood you have known the sacred Scriptures, which are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:14-17).
  2. Pray that Christians, around the world, step forward with extraordinary, sacrificial love to show more clearly the mercy of Christ who laid down his life in the midst of the Father’s judgment. As followers of Jesus, we have hope knowing that the temporary sufferings are not worth comparing with the eternal glory of living with Christ in heaven (Romans 8:18, 24-25). To live well, suffer well, and die well, our eyes must lock on the invisible God. When they do, God makes Himself visible to us and to others through us. They will know Christ by our Chrsit-like love (Matthew 22:37-40; Galatians 5:14; James 2:8, 14-17).
  3. Pray that unbelievers in Japan and around the world would examine their hearts, repent of their rejection of Jesus Christ, and turn to Him by faith. Operation World notes that in Japan, Christians make up less than 2 percent of the population. May the temporary suffering from Creation’s groanings draw mankind’s attention to eternal life-and-death realities far greater than natural disasters.

How Long, O Lord?

Though we often wish He would move sooner, God is always right on time. Everything in God’s plan has a proper time; the gap between the present and that proper time tests and cultivates our faith. When we are in the middle of intense suffering or pain, time is of the essence. We want relief. We want an escape. We want out. For centuries, people and prophets alike have sighed, “How long, O Lord?” (Ps 6:3; 13:1, Hab. 1:2).

Just after promising we will reap whatever we sow, Paul says, “We must not get tired of doing good, for we will reap at the proper time if we don’t give up.” (Galatians 6:9). God knows the right time. It’s our job to trust Him. When the time does come the harvest will correspond to the work invested: “Remember this: the person who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the person who sows generously will also reap generously” (2 Cor. 9:6). God says He will repay the wicked “in due time” (Deut. 32:35), just has He will lift up the humble “in due time” (1 Peter 5:6).

After centuries of His people’s prayers for deliverance, God sent His Son into the world “when the completion of time came” (Gal. 4:4). Even demons recognize that their freedom to inflict suffering on people will expire and they will be severely judged at “the appointed time” (Matt. 8:29). On various occasions people wanted to kill Jesus, but they didn’t because “His time had not yet come” (John 7:30; 8:20). Likewise, God knows the proper time for Christ’s triumphant return. God intends to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under Christ. That plan will be according to God’s good pleasure that “He planned for Him in the fullness of time” (Eph. 1:10). Though we often wish He would move sooner, God is always right on time.

God doesn’t delay justice or relief from suffering for as long as we often imagine. Some rewards of goodness and punishments of evil come in this life. And though ultimate rewards and punishments await the final judgment, considerable justice, but reward and retribution, gets dispensed upon death, when God’s redeemed children immediately experience the joy of His presence and the unrepentant suffer the first justice of Hell (Luke 16:19-31).  This means that the maximum duration of injustice experienced by any person cannot exceed his life span.

What we consider too long is not too long by God’s standards. 2 Peter 3:9 explains why God postpones His judgment upon sin, allowing evil and suffering to continue before He brings to an end this cursed world: “The Lord does not delay His promise, as some understand delay, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance.” Isn’t it better that we willingly endure the suffering of further delay so that others may obtain the mercy God extended to us?  Immediately before telling us that God patiently gives us time to repent, Peter says, “friends, don’t let this one thing escape you: with the Lord one day is like 1,000 years, and 1,000 years like one day” (2 Peter 3:8). Currently, the average U.S. life expectancy of 78.06 years. If a thousand years were a day, the average life span would convert to one hour and fifty-two minutes. Think how brief our lives—even all of human history—will seem when we look back at them a million years from now in eternity.  One day we’ll know the answer to the age-old question, “How long, O Lord?” Only long enough to accomplish the greatest eternal good.

The length of time in which our prayers seem to go unanswered tests and cultivates our trust in God. Sometimes, after all hope seems lost, a breakthrough from suffering comes and we are relieved from our pain. Other times, those who have prayed sometimes don’t live to see their prayers answered. God may use even death of faithful saints to accomplish His purposes. The author of Hebrews tells us that many of the Godly men and women mentioned in the “Hall of Faith” in chapter 11, “died in faith without having received the promises.” They lived and died with unanswered prayers and under intense suffering, “but they saw them from a distance,” by faith, “greeted them, and confessed that they were foreigners and temporary residents on the earth” (Hebrews 11:13).

The ultimate harvest comes only in eternity when the invisible becomes visible. The contrast between temporary suffering and eternal goodness will be clear when we see Jesus face to face. Paul summed it up in Romans 8:12, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is going to be revealed to us.”

How long? In God’s time, He will make everything right. And that’s all right with me.