"Turning Tragedy Into Triumph?"
December 7, 1941 and September 11, 2001 are two days that will forever live in infamy in American history. This Tuesday, 19 men changed the world in which we live. From this tragedy, as people who are seeking to be honest and devoted followers of Christ, what can we learn? There are three things, I believe, that we must realize and three things that we must do.
We need to realize that one person CAN change the world. The Bible (Romans 5:12) says, “Just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned.” Paul is talking about Adam. His choice to eat one piece of fruit has changed the way we live as well. His sin allowed sin to enter into our world. His sin has resulted in the hatred and bitterness that is becoming a part of our everyday lives. His sin has allowed death to reign supreme, victorious over all except Enoch and Elijah. One person CAN change the world.
On Tuesday, one man changed our world. Whether Osama bin Laden is the mastermind behind this tragedy, we do not know just yet. What we do know is that he has changed our lives. He has become the symbol that we as Americans will relate to this tragedy. In one hour, he has changed the way Americans feel about air travel. In one hour, he has changed the way Americans feel about their personal safety at large special events. In one hour, he has changed the way Americans live. In one hour, he has changed the way Hollywood does business. For years, cultural commentators have complained about the excess of violence in the movies. Things have changed. Arnold’s new movie “Collateral Damage” about terrorism, will not be released any time soon if at all, unless the criminals in this tragedy are caught. Other movies and even some TV series, such as the premiere of Dharma and Greg, are making and or considering changes in their programming. What many people have sought to do over decades, one man has done in one hour. One person CAN change the world.
Too many times, too many people fall prey to the lie that their lives really don’t matter that much. They believe they are insignificant. Worse, they believe they are unimportant. (Listen) There is not a person here today who cannot change this world. Edward Kimball was an unknown Sunday School teacher who led D. L. Moody to Christ. Full of fear and trembling, God still used Kimball to change the world that we live in. D. L. Moody is one of the best-known evangelists in the world. Billy Sunday, the famous evangelist, came to Christ because of Moody and Billy Graham came to Christ because of Billy Sunday. Over 1 Billion people, 1/6 of the world’s population has heard the gospel of Jesus Christ from Billy Graham’s lips. Why? Because of one unknown Sunday School teacher who trusted God to change a life. One person CAN change the world.
One person HAS changed the world. His name is Jesus. Just as Adam’s one simple choice to eat a simple piece of fruit changed the world, Jesus choice to give His life, His choice to die on a cross for us and for our sin, has changed the world in which we live in. Yes, we still face the twin tyrants of sin and death, but Jesus has conquered both of them. He has set us free from the power of sin and death through His death on the cross and His resurrection unto life. Jesus has given us a hope, the hope of eternity and a hope of glory.
We need to realize that God CAN turn something evil into something for good. Joseph, speaking to his brothers, in the Bible says (Genesis 50:20), “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” One day, Joseph’s brothers, full of bitterness and hatred, decided to get rid of their upstart brother. Who was he to think that he would rule over them? First, they thought to kill him, but this seemed too much for their sensitive conscience. Then, they decided to make money off of him by selling him as a slave to a bunch of traders. Hiding their sin, they lied to their father about his son’s death. Now in Egypt, with their father dead, the brothers decided to come to Joseph and apologize so that he would not hurt them for the wrong that they had done to him. Notice what Joseph says. (Genesis 50:20) God CAN turn something evil into something good.
This Tuesday, we saw a great evil. Several thousand unsuspecting people lost their lives. As honest and devoted followers of Christ we are (and should be) angry. Such cowardice and callousness are beyond our comprehension. This was a deliberate act to harm America and the people who live in this country. Who knows how many other teams were on planes or were about to board planes with similar motives. Who knows how many people are alive today because the FAA grounded all flights all across America. Evil reared its ugly head on Tuesday, but God is doing something. For decades, America has been pushing God out of the schools and out of the courts. Our culture has rejected God. We have become independent of the very Person who has created us for a relationship with Him. Yet, in the last week, in light of this terrible tragedy, more people have turned to God and to prayer. ABC ran locations for prayer services all over Chicago. For one hour on Friday, America worshipped together as a country. God is drawing people to Himself. God CAN turn something evil into something good.
The Bible says (Romans 8:28), “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Almost 2000 years ago, a 33 year-old carpenter hung on a cross between two thieves. He did not deserve to die. Instead, He deserved to be worshipped. His death was a tragedy. The King of Kings and the Lord of Lords, the Creator and the Sustainer of the universe, humbled Himself to die on a cross, a horrid and painful death. An absolute tragedy. Why? So that we might be able to have a relationship with God. God DID turn something evil into something good.
Third, we need to realize that we MUST examine our lives. The Bible says (James 4:14), “Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” James is writing to businessmen who are making plans for the future without considering God or the frailty of their life. They are making plans. They are investing for the future. They believe that there will be another tomorrow, but James reminded them that they can never be so sure. Death stalks us and may confront us at anytime. We MUST examine our lives.
On Tuesday, over 5000 people went to work thinking about tomorrow. Some were concerned with family difficulties. Some were concerned with financial difficulties. Some were concerned with personal difficulties. Some may have believed that they didn’t have a care in the world. They may have even believed that they were on top of the world. I doubt there were few if any who believed that their lives would end before the day was over. If they knew otherwise, I bet they would have made some serious changes. We MUST examine our lives. This week America examined itself. Baseball games, football games, soccer games, concerts and other huge special events were cancelled. Why? America realized what they were: entertainment or trivia. America examined itself and realized what really matters. Can you imagine Bobby Bonds complaining about losing his home run record because of some crazy terrorists? What would we think of him? We MUST examine our lives.
So many of us waste our lives on trivia. We play golf on Sunday because we believe we deserve a rest from the busyness of our lives, while our soul dries up and dies. We hunger for the NFL on Sunday, putting God aside as we pursue what we are really passionate about. We watch baseball and basketball with an intensity unequaled in our spiritual lives, and yet we forget about eternity. We forget all about God as He gets pushed out of our lives as we pursue the security of our financial future. Don’t get me wrong. I want to see Barry Bonds hit 71 home runs. I want to watch baseball, but these things really don’t matter. We MUST examine our lives.
The Bible says (Psalm 90:12), “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” One day, all of us will die and then we will face God. What do we want to hear Him say? What are you living for today? Who are you living for today? You have one life to live, how will you live it. Joseph Dittmar, an Aurora insurance executive, who was in the second tower on the 105th floor stated, “I don’t know how to repay God, repay those people who helped me, but I’ll find something.” Passengers on United Flight 93, including Thomas Burnett and Jeremy Glick decided to do something. Realizing their lives may be over, especially if they stayed quiet, they sought to wrest control of their hijacked plane. Although they lost their lives, their actions saved the lives of hundreds of other people. I must admit I am so proud of them. You have one life to live. Wouldn’t it be great to give it our all and hear God say, “I am proud of you?” We MUST examine our lives.
What do we need to do? Jesus said we need to pray for our enemies. (Matthew 5:44-45 – “But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.) If we are to be honest followers of Christ, we must admit that it is not easy to pray for people who are angry with us. It is not easy to pray for people who hate us. It is not easy to pray for people who have hurt us. It is not easy to pray for the people who have committed this crime. Everything within us cries out for justice and revenge. “Nuke them,” says one caller. Kill them all, especially those who rejoiced over such a tragedy. Personally, I think I wore out the word scum this week. Yet, Jesus tells us we are to pray for our enemies. And not only are we to pray for them, but we are to forgive them as well.
Why? While on the cross, Jesus said, “Father forgive them because they do not know what they are doing.” They were sinning. They were actively involved committing a tragedy. They rejected God, the very One who loved them and hung on the cross in front of them. Yet, in the midst of this, Jesus prayed for his enemies. He did not pray they would be crushed by the mighty hand of God’s judgment. He did not pray for justice or His vengeance. He knew that day would come. He knew there would be a day when God would right all wrongs. In fact, in a way, that day had already come. There on the cross while praying for His enemies, Jesus took their sin, the sin of rejecting Him and killing Him, and bore it the cross so that one day they could be forgiven and restored to a relationship with God.
Jesus also said, we need to forgive those who sinned against us. “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. (Matthew 6:14-15) One day, God asked Jonah to go to the Ninevites and preach judgment and repentance. Jonah refused to go. In fact, he ran the other way. You see, the Ninevites were the terrorists of their day, but worse. They did not hide out, instead they grew strong and conquered nations. They raped, they pillaged and they killed, and worse, to Jonah, they had done it to his country. Now, God wants him to go and preach to these evil people who commit such atrocities? Yes, God did and eventually Jonah went there, and preached spiritual awakening. The people turned to God. In the end, Jonah was angry with God. He was angry that God had spared his enemies. Not only had He spared them, but He had forgiven them. How? Why? We may question God’s sanity and His ways. We may question how God can love such people. I question how God can love people like these criminals, but He does and He calls us to forgive them. Remember, it wasn’t only the sin of these terrorists that put Jesus on the cross. It was my sin and your sin too!
Finally, God calls us to trust Him. The Bible says (Psalm 71:5), “For you have been my hope, O Sovereign LORD, my confidence since my youth.” Let me finish with this. You have no assurance about tomorrow. In fact, you have no assurance as to how this day will end. Yet, no matter how it ends, you can have hope. The Psalmist says to the Sovereign LORD is his hope. No matter how bad things go or how bad they get, you can place your hope in Him. He is in control. You can trust Him, because there is no one like Him. He is faithful.
On Tuesday, these terrorists attacked the symbolic heart of our economic and military power. They were successful. They destroyed these symbols of power. They force us to realize that the government cannot save us. Sure they have been successful in the past, but this time they have failed and they have failed miserably. Unfortunately, they will fail us again. Some may say God has failed us too. Why didn’t He stop this tragedy? Why didn’t He simply swat those planes out of the air? Why didn’t He give us some warning? I don’t know why He didn’t but He didn’t. But His Word shows us that He is more grieved than we are. I can picture angels all over the World Trade Center rubble weeping at the death and destruction. God’s grief is even greater. Why God? Why? For some strange reason, God has given people the power to choose. And this week some people chose to kill.
Today, you have a choice. You can choose to continue to live the way you always have. (Maybe this week or maybe you already know) You know its not working. You are in the same place you were years ago, but only older. God is calling you to choose Him. Examine your life. Come to grips with your sin that has separated you from God. Then, come to Him and believe in who He is and what He has done.
Perhaps you are a prodigal. You have wondered off. You know its not working either. You are empty and miserable, afraid to come back into the arms of your loving Father. You might even think you can never come home. Humble yourself, turn from your sin and come back to Jesus. He waits for you with open arms.
We all know our lives have changed this week. In what and how many ways, I do not know. For some, it may be but a temporary change. Once you have forgotten what as happened, you will go back to business as usual. What a waste. Don’t let this tragedy become a personal tragedy. God is asking you to come to Him, to choose Him instead of rejecting Him. Choose Jesus and choose Him today because you do not know what will happen tomorrow. In doing this, you will see that He gives us hope and peace even in the worst of circumstances as He turns a tragedy into triumph.