Friday, June 02, 2023
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A Response to Terrorist Attacks

I want to thank Matt, Dale and Wayne for the way they handled the service last week and for their words and perspective. (A summary of their statements is on this site. I encourage you to read it.)

As we think again today about the horrific tragedy in New York, I want to encourage you to continue to pray for our country. We should be praying:

  • for all of those who are in authority in government—1 Timothy 2:1-4
  • particularly for our President
  • for the victims’ families
  • for Congress
  • for the Cabinet
  • for our law enforcement officials and officers everywhere in our nation
  • for our military forces
  • for those who fly and manage our airplanes—all of our transportation systems
  • for the firemen and policemen of New York City
  • and for all the children and adults everywhere who are still traumatized, fearful and in a great quandary because of the events of September 11th (How ironic it was a 911 call for America.)


We will continue to hear more and more reports; and we will see our nation's needs in the media, but along with that information, I want to remind you that the awful tragedy that happened in New York is not only a call for us as Christians to pray for our nation, but a time for us as a Christian community to look very closely at our spiritual needs and those of people around us.


On one occasion Jesus used a falling tower as an opportunity to ask a question about the spiritual state of those who wondered why it had happened. I want to follow His example.

This section of Scripture asks two questions. The second one is in Luke 13:4. Jesus asks—"...those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem?"

That’s a very pointed question about an historical event in Christ’s time that must have been the news story of the day. We know only a few of the details. A tower fell; the incident was in an area or place called Siloam in the city of Jerusalem; and sadly, 18 people died. I’m sure many were talking about the event and trying to give meaning to what had happened, much like we are doing in our nation today.


Apparently, as we read between the lines, some were mistakenly saying, "Well, the people in the tower must have been guilty of something for this to have happened to them." The overriding belief of those who came to that conclusion might have been, "Bad things happen to bad people."


Did Jesus, however, believe that is what had happened? No! Obviously, bad things happen to everyone. No one seems to be immune from the bad or the good. Scripture says in Matt. 5:45b, "...he causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous."

What was the lesson for the people of Jesus’ day and ours? Jesus used the event to make clear that the people in the collapsing tower were no more guilty or innocent than all those living in Jerusalem. The lesson for those in Jerusalem and for us is that we all need to repent and be ready to meet our God, because we don’t know when we will meet Him.


Ecclesiastes 9:12 is painfully blunt. It says: "Moreover, no man knows when his hour will come: As fish are caught in a cruel net, or birds are taken in a snare, so men are trapped by evil times that fall unexpectedly upon them."


We are all potentially one heartbeat away from a death that may fall unexpectedly upon us. We may die in a collapsing tower, of a terminal illness, a car wreck, or old age; but in all cases, Jesus wants us to know that repentance and a right standing with God is what assures us of an eternity with Him. John 3:16 tells us, "For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only son, that whosoever believes in Him will not perish, but have everlasting life."


I recently had the privilege of coaching my dad through to his entrance into eternity, and one of the most comforting things about the whole experience was that we could talk about meeting his God without fear because he was ready! I would hope all of us could have that kind of entrance into eternity. I said to him as he was breathing his last few breaths: "Okay dad, let go; you don’t need to have any fear, because Jesus is there with you—look for Him. He’s right there beside you..." and I quoted Psalm 23—"..even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me..." What a privilege to be there at such a significant time.


This verse in Psalm 23 is so powerful and helpful in death and in any tragedy. Even though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death (buildings falling down, planes crashing or the hour of death), we need not fear any evil, because our God is with us. We should look for Him because He is there right there beside us. So, the call to us when we see tragedy and death of any kind is:

  • Are we ready to meet our God?
  • Are we ready to let go and walk to Jesus with joy when our time comes?
  • Are we those who need not fear any evil because we know God is with us?

Now beyond that call for our readiness to meet God, as we look at the collapse of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, the lessons are not absolutely clear and we still have many questions. As Christians living in America, I don’t know of just one definitive lesson we can learn. It seems to me we have only general observations that are typical of all tragedies, or when evil rears its head.


For example, we don’t know why some people were spared this evil and others were victims. We don’t know when God will make allowances for evil; or when in other instances, He will rescue us from it. We simply don’t have all the answers.

At one church in the area of the towers, some people were spared from death and others were killed. Some had unusual things happen that kept them from work while others from the church died in the collapse. Why? I believe the answer to our questions is all wrapped up in the meshing together of God’s sovereignty (His complete and absolute authority and dominion) with our free will, the free will of mankind to choose to follow God or reject Him; to choose to do good or to do evil. This meshing of God’s sovereignty and man’s free will is a mystery that is greatly debated and not one we will be able to trace out in this service.

We don’t, then, have all the answers to our questions about the why of evil, but we do know that God is not the author of evil, and that Scripture clearly teaches us that "adversity and suffering are never a good indicator of how God feels about us as much as it is an indication of the consequences of evil among us." (Quoted from a message by Bruce Wersen, His Place Foursquare Church, Burlington, Washington 98233.)

On the other hand, Jesus Christ does give us a clear indication of God’s attitude toward us. Scripture clearly teaches us that Jesus’ attitude toward us and His disciplining of us, is always loving—that is what should be emphasized during this time (Hebrews 12:10-11; Revelation 3:19).

Our "why" questions are not easily answered. We simply don’t have the thoughts necessary to give birth to complete answers. Isaiah 55:8-9 says, "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," declares the LORD. 9] "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts." We cannot know all of God’s ways (some but not all), so we choose to trust that God has appropriate and wise thoughts about this tragedy, and His ways and purposes will ultimately be accomplished, even if evil seems to have won the day.


So I want to offer you this statement to think about:

When it is impossible to trace God’s hand, we can always trace His heart

When it seems impossible to understand God’s ways—to trace His hand— we can always trace His heart, not by our circumstances but by the cross. We should all know that extreme circumstances are going to come and go, and chaos will inevitably visit us from time to time. But the cross on which Jesus died and the empty tomb prove to us that God’s heart toward us is never going to change and His hand will always watch over us!

He will always love us, for Jeremiah 31:3 says "I have loved you with an everlasting love." Even when we can’t understand all His ways (His hand), we still know that hand will always take care of us. Jesus said in John 16:33, "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."


Now, with all that I don’t know, I am thankful there are five things I do know:

  1. I know God is on the throne—Psalm 2; 8; 19; Eph. 1:20-22. The power of God was "...exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21] far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. 22] And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, 23] which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way."


  2. I know my God can take the worst of circumstances and redeem them for ultimate good—Romans 8:28. "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." (In His time He will bring good even out of the worst tragedy.)


  3. I know that I am mortal and transient, but someday I will live with Him for eternity—James 4:14. I quoted to you some sobering words a couple of weeks ago in our sermon on: "Planning With The Big ‘If’ in Mind." They are the words of James 4:14b: "What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes." Romans 6:23 says: "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord."


  4. I know that today is the day the Lord has made and we should make the most of every precious moment that He has given to us—Psalm 118:24. "This is the day the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it."


  5. I know by God’s grace I must be like Jesus when I see people around me who are in trouble and in need and be moved with compassion—Ephesians 4:22-24. (See Compassion Compelled Community.)

We as the Lord’s servants must be like those brave New York firemen and police officers and walk into pain and suffering every day and show Christ’s love. We must understand that as believers, we too are to put our lifestyle comforts on the line and invade the fires of pain and suffering as we extend Christ’s love, grace, mercy and healing to those around us.

In the words of Jude 1:22-23 we are to: "Be merciful to those who doubt; 23] snatch others from the fire and save them; to others show mercy, mixed with fear..."

This verse is one I used four weeks ago in our message entitled, "To do all things to win some and leave a legacy for the next generation." I know when we hear the call in Jude 1, it leaves some of us saying, "I don’t know if I would have the strength to be one who snatches people from the fires of their pain and sin." We might sincerely ask ourselves, "How might I be prepared for the needs of the world and the needs that will take place in this church in the years ahead?"


But before we can talk about what we might need to be, the first step is to determine whether we are even aware of what is happening around us right now. We need to ask ourselves what we are seeing with our spiritual eyes; what we are hearing with our spiritual ears; how attuned our spiritual senses are.


If we have spiritual eyes to see, we have already viewed the spiritual carnage around us. We know we are literally walking over and around people in great spiritual need. The difference between New York and Bellingham is that the wounds and carnage of those around us are seen only if we look through spiritual eyes! Only with spiritual eyes can we can see ourselves walking by and around people in crisis and great need.

  • Around us are bombed-out homes where families have imploded on themselves.
  • There are people who are in fear, not only because of the crisis in New York, but because their lives aren't working. They are falling down around them.
  • Many around us are walking wounded, so traumatized by the everyday events in their lives they don’t even know their clothes are covered with the muck and ashes of their sin and the effects of living in the world.


The evidence of spiritual destruction is everywhere, but tragically, our nation’s true spiritual needs are not being heard. Just as they would stop working at the wreckage of the World Trade Center and listen for "life sounds," we need to stop and listen for the spiritual cries that only the quiet and trained listener can hear. We desperately need times of prayer so we can sensitize our ears to the cries of those around us.


The problem of seeing the needs has further been complicated by the fact that a little-known terrorist attack has been executed against Christian believers in America as well. Our enemy has stealthily introduced a deadly, insipid strain of Christianity that has infected many Christian believers. This infected strain is not a Christianity that is red hot, or is cold. We have been inflicted with a Christianity that is lukewarm and acceptable to many who view its symptoms.

Sadly, many don’t even know they have been inflicted by this deadly virus. The Lord’s view of this disease, however, is put rather indelicately in the Scripture—God will spit it out of His mouth. (Not the individuals, but the condition is repulsive to the Lord.)

Revelation 3:14—"To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God's creation. 15] I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! 16] So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. 17] You say, 'I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.' But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. (That’s what we need to see as Christians.) 18] I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see. 19] Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent. 20] Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me. 21] To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne. 22] He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches."

Are we listening? Do we see how important spiritual eyes and ears are? Jesus says we need "salve" for our eyes and spiritual ears to hear so we can not only see and hear the needs and cries of those around us, but the needs we each have as believers. Otherwise we might say of our culture: "(We are) rich; (we) have acquired wealth and do not need a thing." But we do not realize that we are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.


How can this condition be helped? How can we help the pitiful, poor, blind and naked? The cure is for us to repent, or we, too, will perish. Rev. 3:19b—"...So be earnest, and repent. 20] Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me." Notice the call is to be earnest and repent. We are to take this seriously and turn from our way of living—Lk. 13:5.

Do you see or hear the Lord is knocking at the door of lukewarm believers, those not having a regular fellowship with Him? Read v. 20 again as if it was addressed to you, your church or your friends. Of course this church is filled with a majority who have a vibrant and ongoing fellowship and friendship with Jesus, but maybe there are some who are also hearing a knocking at the door of their life. If you hear the Lord’s knocking at your heart, I encourage you to be bold and open it up! You will be grateful you did for eternity!


A correct response to the knocking of Jesus at the door of our life is important, because once repentance has taken place, we will be able to respond to the crises of those around us. As those in fellowship with God, we are able to go into the streets and rescue people. Again, in Jude 1:22-23 we are to "be merciful to those who doubt; 23] snatch others from the fire and save them; to others show mercy, mixed with fear..."

In other words, as we said a moment ago, "To do all things to win some and leave a legacy for the next generation." One of the most moving examples of what I think Christianity and the church is all about is when the fire department’s Catholic chaplain died while giving a fireman the last rites, and was then given the last rites himself by another fireman on the scene. Later that fireman asked another priest if was okay that he had administered the last rites. The priest responded by saying that he thought "it was okay under the circumstances; God understood."

My point is not whether we agree with the last rites, but that the chaplain was present and ministering to those who were in immediate need, even though it might cost him something. That’s a picture for us—the church needs to be in the wreckage and fire of our world: giving assistance, answering questions, and offering hope and help to people who are in great need around us. Sometimes we will need to take on roles we are not trained for simply because the need is so great.

In other words, we are called to be the church in our city and county. Our mission is outlined very clearly for us as a church in our mission statement: "We are to be a dynamic force (community of believers), filled with the Spirit, meeting people's needs in Jesus name wherever we find ourselves." As a church we have purposes, a mission statement, and a strategy. Because this is our mission and because of the unusual times we are living in, I want you to know I am challenging you to be all you are called to be!

This is not a time when we should do church as usual. Let me give you examples of some of the implications to our new day as a church.

  1. Next week we will begin a new service order, with three services in the morning and one in the evening. And who knows...that may have to change if we have more people come. If we carried on without regard to those who are in need around us, or even of those in this church, do you know what would happen? Everyone would pick the service time that is most convenient to them and their children. However, if we allow the horrific tragedy in New York to affect us positively and open the door to the Lord’s knocking, we will no longer live a lukewarm Christianity; we will be begging for the opportunity to make things work, regardless of the cost or the inconvenience.


  2. This year we will also need volunteers as we have never needed them before, and quite frankly, the response of those in New York should be a wake-up call to us to say: "I will make coffee, serve kids, greet people, join a small group—do whatever is needed to take care of this church, and search for and rescue those who are lost. Whatever it takes, count me in.


  3. This is a time when our budget situation could suffer, but if we allow the needs of this church to be a priority, we will begin giving as we have never done in the past, and we will literally beg for the privilege of giving to this church. We, like the Macedonians of 2 Corinthians, will be giving generously and joyfully, even if we are in poverty.


Finally, are you prepared to meet God? Is He knocking at the door of your life? Please open it!


Write down:

The name of one person toward whom you will act in the love of Christ___________________

One decision where you need the rule of the peace of Christ_____________________________

One believer with whom you can share the word of Christ______________________________

One place where you will begin acting in the name of Christ_____________________________


Another teaching that may be helpful, "How should we respond to an evil person?"