Christian Living

Spiritual Life

The View From Above, part 3

"And of the sons of Issachar, men who understood the times . . ." (1 Chronicles 12:32)

Was God Taking A Break Tuesday Morning?

Was God distracted for a little while on Tuesday morning? Or--at the least--was He momentarily distracted when it came to the East Coast of America? It can seem that way. After all, if God was on the job, why did so many innocent people die?

There are many answers to this question which touch so many areas, yet I'd like to confine myself to one simple point: We would be foolish and shortsighted to judge God's apparent activity or inactivity only by what we see with our eyes.

First of all, God is always at work sustaining our world. The Bible makes it clear that it is God's Hand that holds our universe together (Colossians 1). The fact that the sun rose and the rain fell on Tuesday morning are evidences of God's activity and care for His Creation. (See my booklet entitled Why I Believe in God for more on this.)

Furthermore, the Bible clearly teaches that man is sinful (Romans 3:20-21) and that wickedness is simply part of life in a fallen world. Bad things happen to good people. This is precisely why sin is so very costly. (Sin wouldn't be as big a deal if the consequences only affected the guilty.) It's also important to say that, from the Bible's perspective, the "real deal" is not this life but rather the life to come. Those who died "in Christ" Tuesday morning are now in Paradise. They wouldn't come back even if they could. Behind the scene of world events, God welcomed many of His children into Heaven on the morning of September 11th.

It's also important to acknowledge that in the midst of so much tragedy, miracles still took place. I heard on the news of one man who fell from the 84th floor as the World Trade Centers collapsed. He literally "surfed" down the cascading debris on a large piece of concrete. When all was said and done, his only injury was broken legs.

A personal friend of mine was scheduled to be in the World Trade Center for a 10:00 a.m. meeting. The night before, one of his business partners missed his plane, and so my friend canceled his Tuesday morning flight to New York. At the time, he was aggravated. Later he realized that the Providential Hand of God had spared his life.

I also heard the story of one woman who suddenly felt compelled to pray for her family's protection on Monday night; she did so for about 30 minutes. When the reports started coming in Tuesday morning she found out why she had been praying:

  • Her brother works in the World Trade Center. He was two blocks away in a meeting when the first airplane struck.
  • Her father was scheduled to fly out of Boston aboard one of the two planes that was later hijacked. His secretary had rescheduled his flight so the office could give him a "surprise birthday party."
  • Her sister works in a building directly across from the Pentagon. She was delayed in traffic on her way to work.

Wednesday morning I heard one of our staff members tell the story of a young woman who worked in the World Trade Center. She was in her office when the first plane hit several floors above her (she was on the 42nd floor). A believer in Christ, she suddenly felt God speak directly to her and tell her to get out of the building immediately. She didn't hesitate but left, stopping only to persuade others to leave with her. Many listened to her warnings and hurriedly walked down the 42 flights of stairs. They left the building and the World Trade Center complex just as the building began to collapse. They made it out but just barely. Had she waited at all, she and those who came with her would have been crushed.

Why did some make it and others did not? Why were some in the building and others re-directed? There are reasons and some of those reasons we will never know - at least this side of heaven.

I know that what I'm about to say will be less than satisfying to some folks . . . At some point we must simply bow our knees before God and lean on His comfort rather than question His Sovereign Will. Indeed, the thoughts of God are beyond us, but His tender mercies are within reach. God sits on high, but He bends down low.

Furthermore, I have some questions for the skeptics among us . . . How do you explain the existence of this universe? How do you explain the finely tuned nature of creation? How do you explain the presence of goodness and unselfishness in this life? Why is it that man seems forever drawn to know this God? How do you account for all of the changed lives of those who claim to have met Jesus Christ personally? You skeptics have your questions, but I have mine. I think my questions to you are less troubling than your questions to me.

What Can I Learn?

Perhaps the most basic lesson in all of this is that life is fragile and short. As I recently flew to Dallas when my brother was dying, I was amazed at how short life seemed. He was 50 when he died - and the years seemed as if they had flown by. The Bible tells us that man is "enosh" (Psalm 103:13-16). That is, man is weak, frail, and vulnerable. We saw that graphically portrayed as hundreds of lives were so quickly snuffed out in the fireballs of planes impacting the sides of the World Trade Center.

All of us will die. And life will seem very short even if we live into our 90s. It seems to me that the most basic of messages here is that we must get right with God. Despite our own fantasies to the contrary, life neither ends at the grave nor will God accept all mankind into Heaven. The Bible makes it very clear that each of us will stand before God and have to give an account for our lives. If you have any self-honesty, you know that you have sinned. What will happen when God judges you for those sins? How will you explain yourself? Your self-justifications or easy rationalizations will matter little to the Eternal Judge.

Yet, God has an answer for sinful man. He sent His Son Jesus Christ to die as our Savior. If you know you have sinned, then intuitively you sense that you need a Savior. Someone has to solve your sin problem for you. That someone is Jesus Christ. A simple prayer said in humility of heart is God's method of forgiving our sin.

Father in heaven, I acknowledge I have sinned. I can only ask you to forgive me. And so I turn to Your Son, Jesus Christ, and I accept that He is my Savior. Thank you for Your mercy on my soul. Teach me what it is to walk with You.

Yes, that's a pretty short and simple prayer, but God has never been impressed with flowery insincerity or an abundance of words.

Perhaps you have been away from God and are realizing you need to return to your earlier faith. What better time to do so than right now? May I suggest another basic and simple prayer . . .

Father in heaven, I realize I have turned away from You. That's no one's fault but my own. Father, I want to walk with you. Forgive me and accept me once again. Through Jesus Christ I come to You . . . Amen.

What About Prophecy?

You will hear many things in the coming weeks. Indeed, in the past couple of decades, there have been many prophecies given regarding a coming destruction around the world and for the United States. What I can tell you is this: God does judge nations, and perhaps we are on the edge of a great judgment. I do not know. We could also be on the edge of a great revival. In fact, we could pass through judgment as a prelude to revival. Or things could stay largely as they are for an indefinite period of time.

There are wicked people in the United States and our sin - including the sin of abortion - is a great affront to God. Yet, there are also many righteous people in the United States who are tirelessly working to advance God's Kingdom.

(As God's people, let us always remember that we are called to be "salt and light" in our society. Let us also remember that salt has a preservative-like effect. In other words, our presence in a culture serves to push it in the direction of good rather than evil. Therefore, we are an expression of God's mercy to fallen mankind. Perhaps you remember the story of Sodom and Gomorrah and the questions of Abraham (Genesis 18). Time and again, Abraham asked God if there were just a few righteous people in the wicked cities, would God withhold judgment. God told Abraham that if there were as few as ten righteous people in Sodom and Gomorrah, He would not destroy these twin cities of immorality. Am I saying that there were fewer than ten righteous people in the World Trade Center or the Pentagon? Of course not. In all probability, many believers died alongside the non-believers. Rather, I am simply affirming a basic Biblical truth: Our presence as Christians has a preservative-like effect on our society as a whole. Therefore, it is imperative that we live as "salt and light" not only for our own sakes but for the sake of our entire nation. The more effective the Church is in our testimony and ministry, the more we move our nation as a whole away from God's judgment and towards God's blessing.)

Even in the midst of these terrorist attacks, stories of personal heroism by believers and non-believers abound. Evidence of God's judgment is in our midst. Yet, evidence of God's blessings surrounds us as well.

Let me be clear about what I am saying. I am saying that we should live only in the fear of the Lord and those that fear God live under His protection, and so the godly need not fear whatever the future holds. I am saying that we should not automatically believe every prophetic word we hear (though you know I believe God speaks through prophets). But I am also saying we should heed voices calling us to national repentance regardless of what is said about coming judgment or the lack of it. Those who are calling us to repentance are speaking for God.

The spiritual leaders and godly kings of ancient Israel understood that when national tragedy or attack from the outside struck, the first place to look was within their own hearts. As Pogo, the old comic strip character from the 1960s once said, "We have met the enemy, and it is us." When Israel came under attack, godly leaders knew that the ultimate problem was sin within Israel. This is exactly the message given to Solomon when the Temple was dedicated,

" . . .the LORD appeared to him at night and said: "I have heard your prayer and have chosen this place for Myself as a temple for sacrifices. When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among My people, if My people, who are called by My name, will humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from Heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land." (2 Chron 7:12-14)

When things are going wrong our first act should be to search our hearts before God. Were the terrorists who did this in sin? Absolutely. Yet, the Scriptures are filled with stories of God using wicked nations and wicked people to humble His own.

Nehemiah understood this and thus, in Nehemiah 1:6, he judged the events of his times through the lens of national repentance. In Nehemiah's day, Israel had already been judged for stubborn and ongoing sin. As a result, he began with open confession of national sin before God (Nehemiah 1:6).

Ezra the priest also freely confessed the sins of the nation (Nehemiah 9:37). Under their leadership, Israel entered into a time of humble contrition -- and God restored the nation. They chose not to focus first of all on the sins of a wicked Babylon who had enslaved them. Instead, they grasped that had they feared God, no enemy would ever have been able to penetrate the national borders.

Some say that just because God dealt with Israel in that manner doesn't mean He will deal with us in the same way. Yet, the story of Jonah is that of a Gentile nation that was in sin. Jonah the prophet announced coming destruction, and the King of Nineveh led his people in humble confession and repentance. As a result, God relented and revival broke out.

I believe this is the course we should follow here in America. I have read more than my share of emails in recent days calling for national revenge on whoever did this. I've already affirmed the Biblical place of justice but, just in case you misunderstood what I'm saying, I'll affirm it once more . . . Those who did this should be brought to justice and, if rogue nations are ultimately behind it, then we may well have the moral cause to declare war. The world will not be safe for anyone if justice is not carried out.

However, all the emails and political pundits calling for either justice or revenge are missing God's point. The ultimate problem is not these terrorists. The ultimate problem is our sin. This is precisely what Nehemiah, Ezra, Solomon, Jonah, the King of Nineveh, and countless other Biblical figures discovered in this matter. They chose to focus on national sin rather than national revenge. As a result, they saw God restore and rebuild. We should do the same.

Will our response merely be one of anger? (And I understand the anger and much of it is appropriate.) Or will our response include a humble and contrite heart before God? This, more than our success in hunting down these terrorists and dealing with any nations who may be behind them, will determine the future security of our nation and our true well-being.

If we're tempted to believe God isn't speaking to us through national tragedy as He did so often in Bible times, I would simply like to make one point. The Bible tells us that God will tear down all the idols of man (Ezekiel 30:13). Did we not see a national idol torn down before our very eyes on Tuesday morning? The World Trade Center was an American symbol. It stood for our own wealth and power. Yet, it disintegrated in front of us.

Please don't misunderstand me. Wealth and power are gifts of God (Psalm 35:27 KJV). But when we imagine that we have created them with our own hands, they then become idols. And . . . God destroys all idols. Thus, when we saw the World Trade Center peel into millions of fragments, we were witnessing the unseen hand of God tearing down a national idol. Isn't it time we start to take God seriously?

Perhaps the most serious question is not who is responsible for the terrorist events but rather will God forgive our sin? Will God forgive a nation that has aborted 40 million of her own children? Will God forgive a nation that has embraced immorality and greed on a wholesale basis? Has God looked at a coming generation of young Americans who are so filled with violence and immorality that, for the sake of the world's future safety, He must judge us as a nation? These are very serious questions that seem curiously absent from Good Morning America.

Let's return to what must be the key question . . . Is God willing to forgive our individual and national sin? My answer is drawn from Scripture. If Old Testament Israel had access to the promise of confession and restoration (2 Chronicles 7:14), then how much more so do New Testament believers (1 John 1:5-9). We have every reason to expect that God will respond favorably to our humble prayers of confession.

Many things have been prophesied in the past few days, and many of those words center on coming judgment for America. I cannot control events on the world stage; I leave them to God. But I can control my own heart, and I see Scripture's call to repentance. I choose to believe that these terrorists could accomplish only what God allowed. My fundamental, Biblical conviction of God's sovereignty leaves me no other choice. And so I choose to take the posture of a child who has been justly punished, and I throw myself upon the mercy of God. I believe God has called KPC to be part of a national movement of repentance that may well lead to national revival. After all, God had promised judgment to the city of Ninevah, but when they humbled their hearts, God sent revival instead (the book of Jonah). Only through repentance do I know I will be ready to meet the future whatever it may hold - good or bad. Indeed, it is time to confess the sins of our nation before God . . .

God our Father, we acknowledge the truth about our people. We have sinned before You. It is abundantly clear that You gave us a headstart that few nations have ever enjoyed. Men and women of deep principle and faith birthed us. The womb of our nation was constructed of humble piety and Biblical faith. Our founding documents, the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights are drawn directly from Your Word. We were committed to You as a nation from the very beginning by our Pilgrim forefathers. We have a foundation that is second to none.

(As Americans we have a still greater advantage in that our forefathers deliberately committed this nation to God in covenant. Those who birthed this nation exercised their covenantal right as national parents . . . they gave us to God. Regardless of whether or not modern-day America likes the idea, that covenant still stands. Personally, I am grateful to be a citizen of a country given over to God even before I was born. Indeed, we have been given every possible invitation to come to God even when we may have abandoned Him as a nation. See David Barton's website . . . Wallbuilders.com)

Lord, it is You who delivered us from a vastly superior army during our War for Independence. Many of our forefathers paid a tremendous debt that we might enjoy our freedoms. If this weren't enough, You gave us great wealth and raised us up to be a nation second to none. In times past You sent revival when we strayed from you. And yet, in recent decades we have moved far from Your Ways and Your heart. Violence, arrogance, godlessness, greed, cruelty, prejudice, racism, adultery, divorce, immorality, spiritual apathy, foolishness, immorality in the media, abandonment of our children, prayerlessness, cowardice, gluttony, abortion, and deceit have increasingly characterized our country.

We have deceived ourselves. We have thought our greatness was in our military might or economic power. We have become idolators. We have worshipped ourselves. Even now we think we are invincible. Yet, God Most High, no one will stand against You. Give our nation grace to humble ourselves before Your Mighty Throne. We confess our sins and ask that You forgive this people. Restore us to a rich and vibrant faith in You which is grounded in Your Word. Give us a far greater vision for living than personal wealth or influence. Let us be Your servants once again. We ask this in the Name of Your Son, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Finally, this is also the time to share your faith. I saw a brief newsclip of a woman who attended a downtown prayer service on Tuesday night. She said she didn't view herself as a religious person, but she felt strongly that she needed to attend a church service. Do you see where I'm going? This event is shaking people up. Many around us will be looking for answers. Suddenly all of us feel a little less secure. That's not a bad thing at all, because it can lead us to depend on God. If you're sensitive to people around you and the Holy Spirit within you, the opportunities to influence other people for Jesus Christ will abound.

Copyright 2001 Nate Atwood, Senior Pastor of Kempsville Presbyterian Church in Virginia Beach, Va. Used by permission.
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