How Would Jesus Make Sense of the Shooting at the Westroads?

Luke 13:1-5 (ESV):

There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”

In a sermon to Campus Crusade students at the TCX conference in Minneapolis back in 2003, John Piper preached on this passage. You can find that message here and I would recommend you listening to it. It’s riveting and convicting. Some of what I will say has been adapted from Piper, yet much of it is simply personal reflection over the past four days or so.

On Wednesday, December 5, Robert Hawkins walked into the Westroads Mall in Omaha, Nebraska, and shot and killed eight people, wounded five others, and then turned his AK-47 assault rifle on himself. It was the second deadliest mass shooting in Nebraska history. The scene was literally unbelievable as Nebraskans, and Americans, watched the aftermath unfold.

Personally, I was horrified. I grew up in Omaha and I’ve been to that mall probably hundreds of times. I have been right by the stores where those nine people were murdered. My parents’ neighbor and I talked on Friday night. His wife and two children were at the mall the day before. That’s extremely sobering. And for me, there was only one thought that reverberated through my mind all day and week.

Lord, why them and not me?

You see, the Bible makes it clear that I’m a sinner. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). What happens because of this fact? Romans 6:23 says, “For the wages of sin is death.”

I deserve to die. There is nothing in my human nature that deserves to live. That is where my mind was last Wednesday. It could have been me. It should have been me. As John Piper said in the sermon, “Don’t be astonished the tower fell on those Galileans. Be astonished YOU weren’t under the tower!” How humbling is that? How much perspective we lack! Rarely, if ever, is this our first thought in a time of crisis.

Now, what would Jesus say about the shooting? I think Luke 13 speaks for itself. Jesus seems to make it pretty clear. For those eight people, and thousands of others who die everyday, it’s not that “it was their time to go.” Jesus says, “Everyone deserves to go. They deserved to die and so do YOU.”

Don’t hate me for saying this, because God said it first: There are no “innocent” people. There were not eight innocent people shot at the Westroads last week. We are all guilty (see Romans 3 for more on this). This may sound harsh, but if we die at one month, one year, or 100 years, God has done us no wrong. He is perfectly justified at taking us whenever he pleases. As Job said in Job 1:21, “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” And again in Job 2:10, “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil? In all this Job did not sin with his lips.” What happened was according to God’s glorious will. Is it hard to take? Most definitely. Is it difficult to understand? It is a mystery. But the Bible says God has accomplishes his purpose, so must I trust and praise him through a situation like this? Yes.

What did Jesus say to the people who did not die in the tower catastrophe or by Pilate’s hand? “Repent or you will all likewise perish.” The events at the Westroads have brought me to my knees, more frequently and fervently than usual. It could have been me there. It could have been you. It puts life in perspective and makes you repent of the wickedness that lives in us. When Jesus says, “You will perish” he doesn’t mean physically. Everyone dies physically! If there is no repentance of sin, people die spiritually and are separated from God. Jesus is relating spiritual death to physical death here. “Repent, or you won’t see the Kingdom” is essentially what he means. This should offer hope to us; it should not make us afraid of going to Jesus. Repent! Be broken! Be contrite and reverent before God! This brings life and joy and peace and eternal satisfaction. Events like the shooting at the Westroads should put us on our faces, because God had mercy on us for one more day to confess our need for him and fall more in love with him. If that is not encouraging, I don’t know what is.

Martin Luther said, “Pray hard, for you are quite a sinner.” May that be what God moves our hearts toward when we consider events like this. We cannot control anything, so let us give everything to the King of kings and Lord of lords. And also, may we heed the words of the Lord Jesus when he said:

Come to me all who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.



This song has been especially interesting to me in the past month or so. It’s by Anberlin; it’s about 9 minutes long; and it truly is an awe-inspiring, gripping song, sometimes even eerie and creepy. Nevertheless, I think everyone can relate to its theme. Here is what frontman Stephen Christian says about the song:

“Fin” (pronounced like the fin on a shark’s back) means ending in French. I felt like this was a conclusion (or a start) to my epic tug-of-war with God. I have a lot of questions, a lot that I may never really understand or have the capacity to comprehend in this lifetime. “Fin” is a series of four stories, that all tie together in the line ‘patron saint of lost causes.’ The first story is a personal memoir about my life as a child and the pull on my soul even then. I deliberated even at eight years old, that it would be better that God and the devil would just both leave me alone. The second story is about a couple from my early teen years’ church who cried for a miracle. It was a promised miracle, and it never came about. That leaves an impression. The third is about a mentor that used the guise of ‘missions work’ to leave his family in shambles and eventually decay. That plays with your salvation, when one experiences it. [The fourth story is about] Billy, a traveling ‘ healer’ who crippled my life and growth right in front of me. All these things and many, many others made me lose my salvation. But later in life I realized I needed to stop looking at Christians to see Christ. I wrestled with God, and he won.

I feel as if everyone can identify with that, especially for me in the past few weeks as I’ve been figuring out how to wrestle with the Lord. In the chorus, Christian sings: “I am the patron saint of lost causes.” Aren’t we all just that? Without Jesus, we are just a lost cause, hopeless, helpless, and lonely in a dark world.

Here are the lyrics:

Feels like I’m miles from here in other towns
With lesser names where the only ghost doesn’t tell
Mary or William exactly what they want to hear
You remember the house that we drew
Told you and the devil to both just leave me alone
If this is salvation I can show you the trembling
You’ll just have to trust me
I’m scared

I am the patron saint of lost causes
Aren’t we all to you just mere lost causes
Are we all to you just lost?

Tommy you’re left behind
Something you’ll mean everything right before you die
But if you gain the whole world
You’ve already lost four little souls from your life
Widows and orphans aren’t hard to find
Their home missing daddy who’s saving the abandoned tonight
wish your drinking would hurry and kill you
Sympathy’s better than having to tell you the truth

That you are the patron saint of lost causes
All you are to them is now a lost cause
All you are to them is now cause lost.

Billy, don’t you understand?
Timothy stood as long as he could and now
You made his faith disappear
More like a magician
And less like a man of the call
We’re not questioning God
Just those he chose to carry on his cause
We’ll grow better, you’ll see
Just all of us, the lost causes

Aren’t we all to you just lost causes?
Aren’t we all to you lost?
Lost causes
Aren’t we all to you
Is all we are, is all we are
What we are is all we are

Patron saint. Are we all lost like you?
They just saved all of the lost, like you
(Lost causes, we are is all we are)
Patron saint. Are we all lost like you?
(To you, lost causes)
Patron saint. Are we all lost like you?
He just saved

End Bridge:
Take what you will, what you will and leave,
Could you kill, could you kill me
If the world was on fire
And nothing was left but hope or desire
And take all that I could recall
Is this hell
Or am I on the floor
Over desperate cold hands?
Screaming of love again?

And take, fall away, follow me
From my bad dream
Figure this out
It’s me on my own
A helpless, hurting hell

Is this all that you promised
‘Cause I’m stranded and bare
To me this is worse still
But all that I have does not deaden this at all just

And this takes the place
Of the father you never had
Bending and breaking and tearing apart
This is not heaven, this is my life.

*     *     *

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What Does it Look Like to Wrestle with God?

I wrote an article last week (Tuesday, November 20) about Jacob wrestling with the Lord. During that event, Jacob wouldn’t let go of God until he was blessed. God then proceeded to break his hip–quite the blessing! Then, in due time, God did bless Jacob in a real, genuine way. Jacob walked away a changed man, with a new name, and with a physical disability. The story is quite nice, isn’t it? A man wrestles with God, doesn’t give up, and walks a way with a blessing and a new perspective on life. If only it was that easy.

Someone who read what I wrote asked, “What does it look like for us to wrestle with God?” So, in this post, I’m going to try and elaborate a bit more on what it looks like for us to do that. I made the point in the first post that wrestling with God consists of being humble, being prayerful, and being repentant (thanks to Pastor Mark Driscoll for those aspects on preaching–I simply adapted them to fit into a relationship with God). This past Sunday, while I was in Omaha for the Thanksgiving holiday, I heard a sermon on petitioning God in prayer and lo and behold, one passage used was Genesis 32 and Jacob wrestling with God. The key, the preacher said, was when God said, “Let me go.” What God means when he says that is not “Let me go.” Rather, he means, “Strive with me. Don’t give up. Pray hard with faith and maybe I will be gracious enough to grant your request.” As I sat and listened to the sermon, I was challenged even more than by what I wrote five days prior.

What can we glean from this passage for our practical application? I think the most important thing is to not give up in prayer. Strive with God (that is what the name Israel means). In the Christian life, we must have a satisfied discontentment. We could argue phraseology all day long, but for the sake of this issue, let us put it this way:

1) Are we satisfied with who Jesus is and who we are in him and the relationship we have with him? I’m sure most would say, “Definitely”. 2) Are we content to stay in the same spot we are today in this faith journey? I hope your answer would be no.

Jacob was satisfied with God enough to not leave him, to be physically close enough to him and wrestle him. Yet, he wasn’t content with just that–he wanted a blessing. He wanted God to touch him in a way that only God could. I think a satisfied discontentment would be a key point to the way we approach our relationship with God. To wrestle with him is to ask him for big things–to not be content with the status quo of American Christianity and just go about our daily lives the way they are. Yet, at the same time, we must become subject to his will and be satisfied with his sovereign purpose.

To summarize, I’ll elaborate on the three keys I made in the previous post:

1) Humility: Wrestle with God as you try to put to death your pride, arrogance, and selfish attitudes. Trust the Lord for blessing when you seek him and fully put your trust in him. Your worth is found in Christ, not in looking good. This is not where our disposition lies as humans. Naturally, we seek out the good for ourselves. Be radically Christ-centered and others-oriented. Peter says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Wrestle with the fact that your flesh says, “Me first” and your spirit says, “Christ first.” It’s not an easy thing. It is a battle. Seek the Lord for humility. It is the foundation for quality in prayer, study, work, and relationships.

2) Prayer: Wrestle with God as you commit your requests to him. During the sermon I heard this past weekend, the pastor used examples from the gospels when someone asked for a healing and Jesus said something to the effect of “Your great faith has made you well.” Now, this pastor is a Reformed Baptist. He is not, nor am I, talking about faith healings or things of a Charismatic nature. Simply, Jesus said, “Have great faith!” We must wrestle with God and say, “Help my unbelief! Help me to have greater faith! I don’t believe you can bring my family to you, Lord! I want you to change that in my heart.” We cannot manufacture great faith. We must ask for it. When the disciples thought they were going to be destroyed at sea, Jesus said to them, “O, you of little faith.” There are degrees of faith. We must wrestle with God in our requests. Ask him for great things with great faith that he has the ability to do them. Don’t have great faith? Ask God for it–that even demonstrates faith that God can give it. Another facet of this is persevering in your prayers. Trust the Lord to change your life, a friend’s life, or do a mighty work in your school or workplace. In 1 Kings 18, Elijah was praying for rain after a three and a half year drought. He told a servant to go up on a mountain to check for rain. Every time he went up there was nothing and each time Elijah told him to come back. Elijah went back to prayer “with his head between his knees.” This happened seven times! Elijah was persevering in prayer. Eventually, God granted the request. We cannot treat God like a servant of ours. We cannot expect him to do things based on our desires or needs, but we can ask him to do things based on his infinite goodness and perfect character.

3) Repentance: Wrestle with God and seek him to find the sins that are prevalent in your life and repent of them. Turn away from the wickedness! There are so many sins we know about and don’t know about. We must wrestle with him over Scripture texts that are uncomfortable to us. Labor in prayer so we can trust the Holy Spirit to put to death the evil thoughts and deeds we do. Labor in prayer and ask God where we are falling short if we do not realize it–not so we can have a quick fix and stop sinning–but so we can fall more in love with Jesus and be more sanctified. When we repent, essentially, we are saying, “God, I hate what I am doing and I want you do a great work in me to change me. I confess my sin. Bless me, Lord, though I don’t deserve it. Help me treasure your Son, Jesus, more than this sin.” The great wrestlers of the Christian faith are those who continually run back to the Lord and have faith that he is there for them and that he rewards those who seek him (Heb. 11:6).

I hope that is insightful as to how we can wrestle with God on a daily basis.

Wrestling God with You,


A Treasure in a Jar of Clay

On November 14 and 15, three friends and I went to Chadron, Nebraska, to minister to college students at Chadron State College. The trip itself was unforgettable. Random stops in the middle of nowhere, at the Nebraska National Forest, small towns with no post office, and bathroom breaks at places where animals might not stop to relieve themselves. It was so refreshing and glorious to spend so many hours in a vehicle with people that I love so much, people I work with, and people who share the same vision of reaching students for Jesus. Needless to say, we had fun–probably too much fun. We almost hit a deer (or two) we almost had our car destroyed by an ancient tractor, and we sat on a roof of an old stable, relishing the stillness of the Nebraska Sandhills and praising the Lord for his awesome creation.

Despite all the fun, we still had a job to do–a job that is, by definition, fun and exciting. My job as a Campus Crusade worker is the most amazing, yet weird job in the world. I got to drive to Chadron to reach students for Christ. During the weekly meeting on Wednesday night–after 8 hours in a vehicle–I spoke to 80 students about receiving Jesus as a Treasure, not just a Savior.

It is very difficult to speak passionately and with conviction to people whom I do not know. God was merciful and gracious, however, to ignite in me a desire to see students love Jesus, not just because he saves them from sin and death and hell, but because he will satisfy their deepest longings for love, peace, and hope.

The core of the message was from Matthew 13:44 and how a man found a glorious treasure in a field and sold all he had, simply to buy the field that contained the treasure. I challenged the students–with a dozen or so present who were non-Christian–to treasure Jesus enough to be willing to sell it all to follow him. Later in the message, I talked about Paul’s description of himself in Philippians 3, when he wrote that he counts everything as loss because of Christ and it is by faith alone that he is saved–not by works of righteousness. I said something that I didn’t plan on saying while in preparation. Regarding works and good deeds, I said, “Trying to be good enough, trying to get out of hell is a good way to get yourself into hell.” By that, I mean that if people try to be legalistic and Pharisaic, we will never see the real Jesus and treasure him like he deserves to be. I saw the faces of a few people when I said that. I don’t regret it. I don’t care if people were offended. We need to know that we cannot be righteous. We are incapable of doing anything good on our own. We need to know that so we count everything as loss. We need to count all things as rubbish for the sake of treasuring Jesus.

In the days leading up to speaking at Chadron, I was over the railing with the Lord, getting walloped for the times I do not treasure him. I love that about teaching and preaching. I am convicted of my own sins and because of that, I can be vulnerable and not be a “Holy Joe” as I share my heart with people. I hope the students saw my sorrow and grief over the cheap substitutes that steal my attention away from Jesus and that it brought them to their knees to confess and repent before him.

I found this morning, two days after the meeting that three students received Christ–not just as their Savior–but as their Treasure on Wednesday night. Praise the Lord for the fruit that he alone bore! God alone prepared their hearts and used his effectual call and beautiful love to draw them to himself. I never ceased to be amazed at how God uses me for his glory. I am such a sinner, such a broken, jar of frail clay that cannot hold any kind of weight without crumbling. Yet, 2 Corinthians 4:7 says, “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not us.” How glorious is it that I am weak and needy and worthless, and Christ uses me to communicate his word to other jars of clay! How splendid is it that the love of God lets me keep the treasure of Jesus in a vessel that so often cheats on him and runs away from his grace! That is what I love about speaking and preaching the word of God. Toward the end of his life, John Newton said: “I remember two things, that I am a great sinner and Christ is a great Savior.” In Philippians 3, after Paul talked about losing everything to know Jesus, he said, “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own” (Phil. 3:12). He was vulnerable with the people he was writing to. “I don’t have it all figured out yet! I still sin; I’m still crooked!” How incredible are those words from the world’s greatest preacher and evangelist.

Knowing that when I speak is comforting. I’m a great sinner and Christ is a great Savior.

I wouldn’t have it any other way.


O the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus

How glorious are these words? The love of Christ is so pure, so comforting, so splended, so stern! It is too vast for my understanding. The lyrics of this hymn are priceless. I could not have penned better verses to describe the love of my Savior. Enjoy!


– – –

O the deep, deep love of Jesus,
Vast, unmeasured, boundless, free!
Rolling as a mighty ocean
In its fullness over me!
Underneath me, all around me,
Is the current of Thy love
Leading onward, leading homeward
To Thy glorious rest above!

O the deep, deep love of Jesus,
Spread His praise from shore to shore!
How He loveth, ever loveth,
Changeth never, nevermore!
How He watches o’er His loved ones,
Died to call them all His own;
How for them He intercedeth,
Watcheth o’er them from the throne!

O the deep, deep love of Jesus,
Love of every love the best!
’Tis an ocean vast of blessing,
’Tis a haven sweet of rest!
O the deep, deep love of Jesus,
’Tis a heaven of heavens to me;
And it lifts me up to glory,
For it lifts me up to Thee!