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I still remember where I was and what I was doing on that morning 16 years ago today. As my co-workers and I gathered around a television to see what was going on, we watched with a mix of confusion and horror as the second tower of the World Trade Center crumbled to the ground. The moments after that were a fog of bewilderment as we tried to make sense of what we were seeing. May we not forget that there are many today still trying to make sense of the events surrounding 9/11.
No matter the tragedy, trying to make sense of tragedy is elusive. Even though difficult, we are called to love God and love neighbor everyday, even on tragic days.
Here are a four thoughts on dealing with tragedy from a missiological perspective:
We live in a broken world ruled by the enemy. It is easy to forget this fact, but our hope is not in this world, but in one to come. One day there will be no more tears, natural disasters, wars, or loss. King Jesus is coming again to restore the heavens and the earth. Until that day, we need to be aware and live accordingly. We have a responsibility and opportunity to minister compassionately to those around us as they deal with the implications and impact from tragedy in our broken world. Let us #neverforget tragedies like 9/11, but let us also #neverforget that the way we respond in the face of tragedy tells us where our hope lies.
While the people involved in perpetrating evils like 9/11 deserve to be brought to justice, they also deserve our prayers and compassion. Justice and prayer can and should go together. One of the most difficult things to do is to forgive someone who has wronged you. Now, multiply that a hundredfold in times of national tragedy. However, as Jesus followers, we are called to seek justice and love mercy. When faced with tragedy, we have an opportunity to face it with a global mindset and pray for those who wrong you, your neighbors, or your nation.
People perpetuate evil, not entire peoples or cultures. It is hard to call tragedy a mix of good and evil. Psychologists term this an underdeveloped “good-bad” split. In other words, when something bad happens, the tendency is to deny any good. And, when something good happens, the tendency is to deny any bad. Oftentimes, the response to an underdeveloped good-bad split is to attack and judge the other person or thing. The world might seem simpler if everything is either all good or bad, but it’s a bland and cynical world.
In 9/11 we saw a face of terror and Islam that was repulsive and evil. We shouldn’t be surprised by lost people doing evil things because the Bible describes lost people as blinded (2 Cor 4:4), enslaved (Titus 3:3), and dead (Eph 2:1). However, this does not mean that all Muslims or Middle Eastern peoples are terrorists and evil. They, like all peoples and cultures, are a mix of good and bad.
Let’s not take today for granted or assume tomorrow. James 4 reminds us that our lives are but vapors. Not an encouraging thought, but a true statement. Therefore, we need to live our lives with the mindset of Martin Luther, “There are two days in my calendar, this day and that Day.” Live today in light of eternity. Love your family well, take opportunities to share the gospel, and remember that life is more than tragedy because tragedy does not have the final word.
“Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.” Hebrews 2:1-4
- Read. You don’t fall into reading the Word, it takes work. Reading the Bible exposes you to the grandeur and goodness of God. George Guthrie says it well …
As we read on a daily basis, growing in our skill in Bible reading, the rhythm of a life lived deeply in God’s Word will become as nurturing as our daily meals, as spiritually strengthening as daily exercise, and as emotionally satisfying as a good-morning kiss from a spouse. It takes discipline, but Bible reading can come to be a discipline of delight if we open our hearts and lives to it (15).
– Read the Bible For Life: Your Guide to Understanding & Living God’s Word
Make it your daily routine to read the Word. If you need a change of pace, make use of listening to the Bible via an app. I do this often when I am running or getting ready in the morning. It’s a great way to bolster my reading habits.
- Study. Saturate yourself with the Word. Don’t settle for skimming over the surface, but commit to delve the depths of God’s Word through study. Spend time studying a book, a theme, or find that area in your life that you want to grow in or a sin you need to slay and study everything the Bible says about that particular topic.
- Meditate. Consider the Word for more than 15 or 30 minutes a day. Think about the Word, come back to it, keep it before you as often as possible throughout your day. Maybe try writing the passage out multiple times or even summarize it in your own words. Use the Word as a prompt to pray specifically for the day ahead—the circumstances and people you will encounter. Allow God’s Word to enflame your love for Him and empower your investment in your neighbors.
- Memorize. I find that this is a dying discipline for many. Whether it is due to the disease of busyness or the ease of the click and search Bible or something else, many do not take the time to consistently commit the Word to memory. Cultivate the ability to call the Word specifically to mind–key verses, whole chapters, and even books. It takes work, but knowing the Word allows the Spirit to minister to you and others no matter where you are or what you are facing.
- Pray. The Word informs and inspires our prayers. The psalms are a wonderful help in this arena. Use them as your words to pray back to God. The psalms are honest, raw, and lofty. They speak to the emotional spectrum, and, at least for me, are often the seeds for extended prayer when I just don’t feel like it or know what to say.
- Apply & Obey. Think of your own life and family first and not your next ministry appointment, small group, teaching time, or assignment. The Spirit wants to use the Word in YOUR life to grow you, mature you, and help you to pursue God with more expectation and passion. As He transforms you, He will use you in the lives of others.
What are other ways you have found to pay closer attention to the Word?
The end of A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving always puts a smile on my face. Two things stand out. In the midst of a Thanksgiving feast, Charlie Brown and friends have popcorn and jellybeans on their plates. Such simple food, but it makes total sense for kids to have these foods at Thanksgiving. They are being thankful, so why not something as simple and praiseworthy as popcorn and jellybeans.
I am not as naturally thankful as Charlie Brown and his friends. Not that I am ungrateful, but too often I don’t call to mind the things in life for which I am thankful. It doesn’t come naturally for me. I have to work at the whole thankful thing. If you are anything like me, being thankful takes some work. All good habits take work.
Here are 4 verses that spur me on to give thanks:
Psalm 118. This psalm is a vivid reminder of the goodness and steadfast love of the Lord. Reading this psalm always causes me to erupt in grateful worship.
Romans 1:21. As I already mentioned, I have enough problems already thinking rightly and giving thanks. Giving thanks clarifies my thinking and reminds me to honor God as God.
Philippians 4:4-7. Giving thanks is connected to joy. As I come to God in thanks, I am reminded of His goodness and His provision. There is no reason for me to be anxious because I can trust the Lord with everything.
Colossians 3:16-17. These verses remind me that I need the body of Christ. Giving thanks is a corporate event. I am renewed, refreshed, and encouraged when I share in thanksgiving with my brothers and sisters in Christ.
This Thanksgiving and beyond, cultivate the practice of giving thanks with me. Hopefully one day, I can work less at giving thanks and simply be a thankful person.