Reflections on 9/11

I will never, ever forget the day when planes crashed on the Twin Towers and in Washington, DC. It is vividly engraved in my mind, as one of the most horrible images I’ve seen. Buildings on fire, people hanging and eventually jumping out of windows, structures melting into rubble, and panic everywhere. So much death and destruction. So much darkness.

Today, September 11, 2015 is no different than that day 14 years ago. We often times live under the illusion that we are safe; we assume that we will get up in the morning, go to work, come back to our families, dine a good meal, and sleep in our beds at night, untouched. But life can change in an instant. And evil is still alive and at work. Just across the Atlantic there are millions of Syrians trying to stay alive, walking to refugee camps, hoping to find a place of permanency. How are they different than us? 9/11 is a sad reminder that we are just as vulnerable as the rest of the world, and that our lives are as fragile and finite as anybody else’s.

  • This world can be a harsh place to live in. Evil surrounds us; evil lives within us. Perfect happiness and absence of pain are impossible to achieve. The bad that we don’t want to do, we end up doing. We cannot control evil and good in ourselves, much less in others around us. This world is harsh.
  • Life and death are  unpredictable. We can make plans, structure our weeks, months, years, take care of our health, eat well and exercise. We can go to school to get a degree that will land us a job that will provide a good income for the family we are to have and the life we want to live. But in an instant, it could all be gone. My friend, Haider, recently lost a good friend who was riding a bike and got hit by a truck. Just like that. Alive one moment and gone the next. We cannot control death. The only thing for certain is that sooner, everyone will go through it. Everything in this world is unpredictable.
  • Life is fragile. Relationships can crumble; jobs can be lost; friends can move away; children grow up and leave; health deteriorates with age. Such is life! Gunmen can open fire; planes can crash into buildings; terrorists can terrorize; countries can wage wars. Such is life! Fragile and uncertain.

“I have told you these things, so that in me you will have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

  • God is not of this world. He does not live under our rules, uncertainties, or frailties. He is above it all, safe, trustworthy, and sovereign. Not only do we have his power available to us right now, but we also have his life extended throughout eternity, accompanied by his peace and complete satisfaction. In this world, he conquered death and suffering, by freely giving himself to undergo a horrific act of sacrifice on our behalf. Through this sacrifice, he satisfied the guilt we carried and made way for us to have access to him, not only now, but for all eternity. So despite the sufferings of the here and now, we can all have this hope. If we believe in Christ, then we will also receive his life. God is not of this world!
  • Nothing can harm us, in Christ. We can suffer evil, loss, and destruction, yet have all things, because we have his life. Our bodies can cease living and decay in a grave, but our spirits can remain alive and in his presence. We can laugh and love and enjoy every day on this earth, knowing that this is not everything there is! Noting can harm us!! Can there be a sweeter hope?

“He will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove his people’s disgrace from all the earth. The Lord has spoken.” Isaiah 25:8

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Dealing With Anxiety: Answers in Philippians

So I’m reading Philippians this morning (one of my favorite books of the Bible — basically my go-to book whenever I need perspective), and I stop in my tracks when I get to 2:28. I notice something for the first time, “Therefore I am all the more eager to send him, so that when you see him again you may be glad and I may have less anxiety.” I notice the words: Less anxiety.

Paul had anxiety?

I try to put it in context, understanding the background story: The believers in Philippi loved Paul and wanted to provide for him, knowing he was enduring suffering and persecution (just as they were). So they sent him a man called Epaphroditus to help him. EP (let’s abbreviate, shall we?) stayed with Paul, risking his life and becoming very ill, to the point of near death. EP had become very distressed to hear that the Philippians found out that he was ill. He didn’t want to cause them worry (a lot to learn from that kind of selfless attitude), and now longed to return home.

So here comes the verse where Paul says that he is also eager to send EP back home, so that when the Philippians see him again, they can be glad. This would relieve Paul of anxiety. It would not take it away, but it would lessen it.

Yes, Paul had anxiety.

I shouldn’t be surprised. After all, anxiety is a human emotion; a natural response to difficult circumstances. I’ve read psalm upon psalm where King David pours out his anxiety in song. However, I am smiling just because, for the first time, I read it in Paul’s words.

I just love the apostle Paul. I love that he freely shares his struggles and he also explains how he deals with them. He has so many reasons to be anxious. Pain. Persecution. Loneliness. Alienation from loved ones (no facebook or skype, say what?). Sickness. Poverty. You name it! He is not some kind of saint who is above human feelings and discouragement. He struggles, and in the midst of his struggles, he writes encouraging notes to his friends. He shares how anxiety and pain do not rule him, but he has found inexplicable peace.

Shouldn’t I read this letter and see what advice he gives his loved ones? Paul doesn’t only write from a purely theological and intellectual place. He writes from experience! Yes, there is copious amount of doctrine in every line, but similarly, there is practical, day to day help for people like me. In this letter, I read not only what Paul says to his friends in the form of counsel, but I also read about his own attitude and view of life. This wonderful, little book gives me insight into the man who experienced peace in spite of the storm. Here are the 7 answers to anxiety I see in the book of Philippians:

  1. He is thankful for the people who surround him and spends himself encouraging them, praying for them, and building them up. He has learned to love people deeply and genuinely care for their well-being. He puts others first. (1:3-9, 2:1-5)

  2. He lives, not for himself, but for the glory of another. He is driven by the call to advance the Gospel. He is single minded in purpose and pursuit. (1:12-26)

  3. He truly understands that suffering and hardship are in the hand of God. It’s not simply that God is not surprised by the suffering he’s going through, but he is convinced that God has sent it his way, and for a good reason. (1:28-30)

  4. He rejoices. I think this is an attitude of being joyful, as opposed to grumbling or complaining. Because he has such a high view of God, he is able to see his life from a positive perspective. (2:12-18

  5. He not only gives encouragement, but he allows himself to receive it from others. He is not proud to think he doesn’t need help, but rejoices when others offer friendship and support (2:19-30, 4:10-20)

  6. He is not self-reliant, in other words, he doesn’t trust that he is strong enough or good enough to achieve his goal and complete his race. He trusts and relies in the power of God. He prays earnestly, confident that God will empower him to do His will. (3:1-11)

  7. He does not dwell in the past and doesn’t wallow in the things he could have done or should have done. He looks to the future instead — not the immediate future, but the ultimate one. Within that perspective, he doesn’t rely on temporary things, but has his eye on eternal things. (3:12-4:9)

Thank you, Paul, for sharing your life in writing. One day I will meet you and rejoice alongside you.

I will keep this book close by to meditate on through the course of my life. I want to imitate Paul, because he imitated Christ.

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.” (4:6-7)

 

From One Church Member to Another

Church friends, can I vent a little? I know we are generally well meaning, and I understand that we have good intentions. But we need to realize that our words are weighty. When we speak to each other in church meetings or prayer groups and talk about reaching the lost, let’s not use phrases like “we are called to love the unlovable” or “there are a lot of sinners out there” or “let us be open to receiving them (you know, the sinners).”

Statements such as these imply that the sinful and the unlovable are out of the church, and by default the lovable and the sinless are inside. We know better, right? We know the Bible says we are as unlovable as the next guy, yet despite ourselves, we are immensely loved. We know that we are sinners, every single one of us, forgiven sinners. We KNOW this. Yet, somehow, when we communicate with each other, we separate ourselves from “those” people, as if we were somehow better or more worthy. Let us remember we were DEAD in our sins, but Jesus, in his great mercy breathed life into us, called us by name, and rescued us. WE DID NOTHING other than believe. And we cannot even take credit for our belief, since we know that even faith is a gift from God.

The Gospel is God’s transforming truth for ALL of us, inside and outside the church. For some, it may be the welcoming into the kingdom of Christ. For others, it’s the shedding of a self-centered lifestyle. But that doesn’t change who we are: LOVED SINNERS. The Gospel is free! Let’s season our words so they say what we really mean. When we communicate, let us include ourselves in the sinners and the unlovable and the needy categories. Because we are. We are part of mankind, and mankind needs a Savior.

Venting complete.