It is my heartbeat this weekend to speak to you as a shepherd. I will not be teaching you with an outline, nor will I ask you to “fill in the blanks”. I would like to simply share from my heart the result of my prayer and study this week. I believe that these moments and days can powerfully shape the life of our church, our community, and our country.
The events of this past week are unparalleled in American history. We have witnessed the tragedy of thousands of our citizens losing their lives as the result of despicable evil and violent acts. These events have caused us fear, anger, and forced us to question our security, our morality, and our future. The events of the past week also raise significant questions about faith. Where is God during a crisis? Does the Bible have to say anything about what we have all experienced?
It is my hope that I can provide comfort, wisdom, and direction for us here today. What we need is not, however, my thoughts on the subject. What we need is a word from God. If there is a Godly perspective on what we are now experiencing, then we need it. I believe God is present during these hours, and I believe there is a word from Him that we can hear today.
There are 3 specific areas where I think God would like to speak to us this weekend. The first is the area of pain. How can God allow this kind of thing to happen? Where is He during the crisis? Are He and our world out of control? The second area is the area of power. What is the moral and spiritual responsibility of America as a powerful nation? Are there any boundaries for our behavior in response to these events? Should we turn the other cheek? Thirdly and finally, is there any hope for peace? Is our world doomed to repeat a cycle of attack and retribution? Are we headed for war and will we face bloodshed for the next many years?
Pain: Where is God during a Crisis?
We are sometimes prone in America to “foul weather faith”. When the weather gets foul, we want faith. When the weather is fair, we forget God. More typically, we also assume that if we have faith, that our life will be rosy. Pain free living is never promised in the Bible and that is not the experience of Christians around the world. Rather, what the Bible promises is God’s presence and power in the midst of our pain.
“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.” (John 16:33)
“You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come.” (Matthew 24:6)
“Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before His eyes.” (Hebrews 4:13)
These Scriptures, along with a host of others, tell us that God is not shocked by these events. God is not in heaven wringing His hands saying, “Oh my, I had no idea it would ever come to this”. God remains sovereign and in control over the universe, even when natural or manmade disasters strike our world. However, God does not take any delight in these events. Using Human terms, God’s heart is broken at the presence and consequences of this evil.
Now some have asked the question, “Is this God’s judgment on America”? While painful, that is a fair question. I have prayed about that question and don’t feel any sense of peace about it. I do believe America is worthy of judgment. We have forgotten God, we have sinned, we have allowed the presence and power of evil to take root in our land. And yet, it is my sense that this is not God’s direct hand of judgment upon us. Rather, I think these are the evil acts of evil men. And God has promised that He will judge the world for the evil that does exist.
“The LORD reigns forever; he has established his throne for judgment. He will judge the world in righteousness; he will govern the peoples with justice. The LORD is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. Those who know your name will trust in you, for you, LORD, have never forsaken those who seek you.” (Psalm 9:7-10)
While I do not believe God caused these things to occur, God can and will use even the most tragic of circumstances to call people back to Himself. The Bible teaches us that God can use these moments to comfort us and so that we can be a comfort to others.
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.” (II Corinthians 1:3-4)
Power: What is our Responsibility?
What is the responsibility of the United States, as a strong and powerful nation, towards those who have perpetrated these evil acts? On the one hand, the Bible teaches us that when someone strikes us, we should “turn the other cheek”. We also read in Romans 12:19 the following:
“Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay.”
So, should America simply turn the other cheek and wait for God to bring His justice to bear upon evil? I think the Bible gives us an important perspective on that so I want to briefly share 3 principles.
1) When God gives strength and power to a nation, it has accountability to God for its use.
America is not who or where it is by accident. God allows this nation to exist to fulfill His purposes on earth. We are responsible for righteousness and peace in our world. It is imperative that we act with wisdom and discernment, seeking to both acknowledge God and be obedient to His will in our decision making.
Proverbs 3:5-6 ” Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.”
2) As a powerful nation, we are accountable to act in a just and righteous fashion in order to protect the weak and the innocent.
“And the word of the LORD came again to Zechariah: “This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the alien or the poor. In your hearts do not think evil of each other.’” (Zechariah 7:8-10)
Scripture consistently teaches the responsibility of the strong to protect and care for the weak and oppressed. James 1:27 says that true religion in the sight of God is to care for the widows and orphans. The United States has been given great power and is responsible to our world and to God to use that power for righteous ends. We are facing an enemy that does not value human life, and has participated in the wholesale destruction of human life. While the vast majority of Islamic people are peaceful people, there is a brand of Islamic fundamentalism that is determined to extinguish the United States and other democratically free nations from the face of the planet. We have not only seen the effects of terrorism in our land, but have seen it played out across the world stage against innocent life.
There are serious foreign policy challenges which the United States must wrestle with as a powerful nation. It seems clear to me that we cannot be a global policeman. Yet, I do believe that we have a responsibility to act in a just and righteous fashion. Events at the end of the Second World War demonstrated the depths of evil to which Hitler’s regime had sunk. It was right for us to eliminate that evil from the world. More recent atrocities in Rwanda and Bosnia/Herzegovina make for more difficult choices, but our power make us accountable to at least ask the question about when we are responsible to act in order to protect the weak and innocent.
3) We are an agent of justice and therefore must confront evil in our world
“Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.” (Romans 13:1,4)
The Bible teaches that government is an agent of justice. It is my hope that we will confront evil with strength and that we will pursue justice in these matters. I have consistently prayed for our president and other leaders that we will discern the right equilibrium between justice and vengeance. If we allow evil to go unchecked, we will be held accountable; unchecked evil soon becomes a force of destruction to nations, to families, and to individuals.
The confrontation we are now seeing is, in my view, only just beginning. A serious wake up call has begun; now we may see a series of events which will lead us to further economic, military, and social consequences. We may be in or at the brink of a global time of war and difficulty. We are strong and we are powerful. But our security does not rest in our strength. Real peace and lasting peace only come through one pathway.
Peace: Will we ever see it again?
God wants our world to have peace, doesn’t He? But will we see it again any time soon? What does the Bible have to say about peace in the world in which we live?
We’ve already seen that this world will have trouble; the end times will bring wars and rumors of wars, famines and earthquakes. The Bible also teaches that God has a plan for Israel and that we should pray for the peace of Jerusalem. But is peace possible anymore?
Peace is possible in the midst of any storm. We have heard amazing stories of people who have given their lives to rescue others. We have seen gripping images of police and firefighters who have worked throughout the night. Peace can be present even when the world around us is swirling in chaos.
“You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you. Trust in the LORD forever, for the LORD, the LORD, is the Rock eternal. “(Isaiah 26:3-4)
Peace on the outside may not be possible in our world. But it is possible for us to experience a peace that is not dependent upon the external world. War is an opportunity to trust and to radically revisit the very fiber of life. Much like a death of a loved one; war brings people together and unites our national soul. I am convinced that one good thing that God may bring out of this evil is the stirring of our nation to call upon Him. If that occurs, then we may see the stirrings of revival in our country and in our community.
The LORD is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. (Psalm
God does want peace among nations. But there will be no peace for as long as evil prospers in our world. God does want His righteousness to reign on the earth; that will not occur if people do not surrender their hearts to Him. Jesus Himself promised a peace that our world does not understand,
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27)
The Bible tells us that we can have peace with God through Jesus Christ and what He did for us on the cross when He gave His life for us. It just might be that one good thing that would come out of these horrible events is that our hearts would be drawn to God and we would seek His peace.
Thousands of Christians in North America sing Don Moen’s praise song, God Will Make a Way, which affirms God’s sovereign involvement in our lives. Most who sing his lyrics don’t know their origin. Several years ago, Don was awakened in the middle of the night. His mother-in-law called to tell him of a tragic car accident involving his wife’s sister, Susan. Susan and her husband, Craig, and their four little boys were on a trip when the tragedy occurred. Jeremy, age eight and the oldest of the four boys, was killed instantly. The others were seriously injured.
As Don and his wife grieved and poured out their hearts to the Lord, they felt helpless at communicating hope and grace to Susan and Craig. Don recalls how God helped him through the tragedy. “It was as if the Lord gave me these words”:
God will make a way when there seems to be no way.
He works in ways we cannot see. He will make a way for me.
He will be my guide; hold me closely to his side.
With love and strength for each new day, he will make a way.
God will make a way for us. He will make a way for us to find His comfort in the midst of our pain, to confront evil with justice, and to experience His peace in our world. This weekend, it is my prayer that we will be a church that shines brightly the love of God in a way that cuts through any measure of darkness that has fallen in our country or community. The darkness of pain, the darkness of evil, and the darkness of despair, can all be eliminated by the bright light of the love and life of God. I know that this church, if resting completely upon the power and promises of God, is a place where His light can shine brightly to the entire world around us.
“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:4-7)