I’ve been reflecting for the past few days on what happened eleven years ago (2001) on September 11 (see my blog post titled “Eleven Years After”). On September 11 this past week our American ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens, and three of his staff members were assassinated. And the violence that started in Libya and Cairo has extended to Yemen and across the Middle East. The original attack in Libya was planned to take place on 9/11. Planned . . . and executed.
In a statement by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Wednesday, September 12, 2012, she asked this question, “How can this happen in a country we help liberate, in a city [Benghazi] we helped save from destruction?” Clinton said that question “reflects just how complicated, and at times, how confounding the world can be” (quote source here).
“ . . . how complicated . . . how confounding the world can be.” As Americans, we have a tendency to think that the world thinks like we do. When we don’t understand the ideology of those who are our enemies, we can be easily duped. What happened to us on 9/11 eleven years ago is a classic example of how blind we are to what our enemies are capable of doing to us. Pearl Harbor (December 7, 1941) is another example. We didn’t learn from that one in 1941, and we haven’t learned from the second attack on September 11, 2001, either.
Our enemies do not think like we think. When will we learn this lesson?
For those of us who believe in God (the God of this Universe and His Only Son, Jesus Christ), God is a great source of comfort in the midst of suffering. Horrific events such as Pearl Harbor or 9/11 are not cancelled out as a part of our existence just because we believe in God, and many examples throughout the Old and New Testaments attest to the fact that people who believe in God will go through suffering (after all, Jesus Christ is our example). This is not an easy message for Christians in America to hear after the past few decades of “me-ism” that has invaded so many of our churches across the land.
While suffering on a national level seems to fade over time (to our detriment), suffering on a personal level can last for years, even a lifetime. I read the following devotion this morning in “Our Daily Bread” titled, “What We Need” (scripture reference: 2 Corinthians 1:1-7) which brings this message home, but with a great deal of hope in the midst of suffering:
The heartbreaking stories keep coming. The friend whose grown daughter has left her husband and kids. The dads I recently met who lost their teen sons in car accidents. The pillar of the church whose retirement years have been marked by a string of bad medical news. You know the stories. You may have your own.
Where do we go for help when struggles and pain threaten to shake our faith and steal our last ounce of joy?
Second Corinthians 1:3 may be just the right destination. It is full of hope, help, and possibilities.
Examine what that verse tells us: Paul lifts praise to God on two levels (and remember, Paul had more struggles and trouble than most of us could stand). First, he simply sends praise to God, who is not just our God but the God and Father of Jesus Himself. Think about the power and the love behind that!
Then he gives us even better news: Our heavenly Father is the God of mercy and compassion. He cares for us with an everlasting, gracious love. And there’s more—He is also the God of all comfort.
Need compassion? Need comfort? Go to God. He has an endless supply and is ready to pour it out on you in abundance. He is what we need in times of trouble!
I must have the Savior with me,
For my faith at best is weak;
He will whisper words of comfort,
That no other voice can speak. —Anon.
God’s whisper of comfort helps quiet the noise of our trials.
The following words are from the Apostle Paul, who’s life was full of struggles and trials from the time Jesus Christ made Himself known to him on the Damascus Road until his death many years later, yet he was always full of praise to the God of all comfort. These words are from 2 Corinthians 1:1-14, 24 from The Message Bible:
“I , Paul, have been sent on a special mission by the Messiah, Jesus, planned by God himself. I write this to God’s congregation in Corinth, and to believers all over Achaia province. May all the gifts and benefits that come from God our Father and the Master, Jesus Christ, be yours! Timothy, someone you know and trust, joins me in this greeting.
“All praise to the God and Father of our Master, Jesus the Messiah! Father of all mercy! God of all healing counsel! He comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, he brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us. We have plenty of hard times that come from following the Messiah, but no more so than the good times of his healing comfort—we get a full measure of that, too.
“When we suffer for Jesus, it works out for your healing and salvation. If we are treated well, given a helping hand and encouraging word, that also works to your benefit, spurring you on, face forward, unflinching. Your hard times are also our hard times. When we see that you’re just as willing to endure the hard times as to enjoy the good times, we know you’re going to make it, no doubt about it.
“We don’t want you in the dark, friends, about how hard it was when all this came down on us in Asia province. It was so bad we didn’t think we were going to make it. We felt like we’d been sent to death row, that it was all over for us. As it turned out, it was the best thing that could have happened. Instead of trusting in our own strength or wits to get out of it, we were forced to trust God totally—not a bad idea since he’s the God who raises the dead! And he did it, rescued us from certain doom. And he’ll do it again, rescuing us as many times as we need rescuing. You and your prayers are part of the rescue operation—I don’t want you in the dark about that either. I can see your faces even now, lifted in praise for God’s deliverance of us, a rescue in which your prayers played such a crucial part.
“Now that the worst is over, we’re pleased we can report that we’ve come out of this with conscience and faith intact, and can face the world—and even more importantly, face you with our heads held high. But it wasn’t by any fancy footwork on our part. It was God who kept us focused on him, uncompromised. Don’t try to read between the lines or look for hidden meanings in this letter. We’re writing plain, unembellished truth, hoping that you’ll now see the whole picture as well as you’ve seen some of the details. We want you to be as proud of us as we are of you when we stand together before our Master Jesus.
“ . . . We’re not in charge of how you live out the faith, looking over your shoulders, suspiciously critical. We’re partners, working alongside you, joyfully expectant. I know that you stand by your own faith, not by ours.”
The Apostle Paul considered himself a partner with those he worked with and among throughout all of his travels. He didn’t look over anyone’s shoulder “suspiciously critical.” He clearly pointed the way of following after Jesus Christ is all of his letters to the churches, always giving praise and thanks, in good times and in bad, to the One who redeemed him.
I remember a conversation I had not long ago with a friend who was going through a hard time. This friend, a devoted Christian, made the comment that he didn’t understand why there were so many ongoing trials in his and his family’s life and said to me, rhetorically of course, “I thought God wanted me happy.” That, in a nutshell, is what so much of Americanized Christianity is all about–being happy. And that’s not it, folks. It’s not even close.
Where did we get the idea that once we accepted Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord that our lives would get easier? I don’t find that message in the Bible anywhere. And yet we’ve been fed that message for decades–a soft, easy Christianity complete with prosperity at our fingertips and every “need” (read that “want” or “whim”) met. That’s what happens when you don’t study the Bible on your own on a daily basis and listen to all the other “voices” out there in society that state that you can have Jesus and everything else, too.
You can’t . . . . The type of love that Jesus Christ shows us is a “sacrificial” love–a love that cares more about others then about self. In the “InTouch” devotion for today titled “A Life Worthy of Reward,” this type of love is a love that “gives sacrificially, forgives willingly, and loves extravagantly (Acts 2:45; Eph. 4:32; I Peter 1:22). Pride and selfishness have no place in this edifice.” Other points included in this devotion are applying the Word of God to our lives on a daily basis; using our gifts to glorify the Lord (and not ourselves), and sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ with others. As stated at the end of this devotion, “The Lord Himself has called us to this task” (Matt. 28:19).
We may never fully understand the thinking or the ideology of the fierce enemies that surround us in this world, but we are called to love them. Here’s what The Message Bible states about loving our enemies (Matt: 5:43-48):
“You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives his best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that.
“In a word, what I’m saying is, Grow up. You’re kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.”
If you’re like me, I tend to rail at my enemies and I just want them to leave me alone. Well, enemies seldom do that. I need to heed these words of Jesus as much as anyone, so let’s work at this together and look to that “great cloud of witnesses” who have gone before us, and to Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith (Hebrews 12:1-2), blazing the way . . .
Now that’s a plan that works . . . .
YouTube Video: “All You Need is Love” (Lennon/McCartney) by The Beatles (1967):
Photo credit here