Saturday, September 10, 2011

Remembering 9/11

Ten years ago, on September 11, I was in my study, like most Tuesday mornings, working on my sermon for the next Sunday morning. The first notice I received of the attack on our nation was from a phone call from my brother. He asked if I was near a TV. I wasn't, but I turned on a radio and began listening to the reports. When the second plane hit the World Trade Center the commentators began using the terminology of "terrorist attack" and "war."

I remember speaking to my secretary, then interrupting a ladies' Bible study to inform them. After that, I went home to be with my family. With the exception of the youngest ones, we were riveted to the television screen for most of the rest of the day. We called for a special church prayer meeting that night. Strangers mingled with our people in solemn silence. Some struggled as we prayed not only for the injured and the families of those killed but also for the murderers who commandeered the planes, planned and financed the attack. We also prayed for six Muslim young men from Central Asia to whom we had been ministering for months.

That Sunday evening we once again spent much time in prayer for the great needs of our nation. At the close of the service, after I had dismissed the congregation, one of our young Muslim friends, JB, bounded up to the pulpit and asked to speak. I stood with him as he apologized, in behalf of Muslims, for the attack on our nation. He explained that not all Muslims shared the views of those radicals behind the attacks and with great emotion, expressed his deep sorrow. I took the opportunity to explain to him, once again, the gospel of Jesus Christ. For fifteen minutes, with my arm around his shoulder, I reasoned with him from Scripture and pleaded with him to trust Christ. Most of our folks were standing, having begun their exit before JB asked to speak. It was a touching scene, and a reminder to all of us that both the attackers and the attacked need the grace of God in the gospel.

The next Sunday I encouraged our church to consider nine realities as we were still processing what had happened to our nation. When reviewing them this week, I found them still relevant ten years later, as we remember the events on that horrific day.

1. The worst of human nature is on display

• The depravity of humanity has been highlighted by the terrorists

• Romans 3:10-20

2. The best of human nature is on display

• God created us imago Dei; the rescue workers; heroes on United flight 93; responses across the land; Red Cross turning people away, etc.

• Genesis 1:26-27; Psalm 8

3. This is a time to mourn

• Some of you are bothered by the fact that you find yourself weeping over the course of a day, and you can’t stop. I haves something to say to you: WEEP! It is right to "weep with those who weep" (Romans 12:15). Eccles. 3:4, "A time to weep, [as well as] a time to laugh; A time to mourn, [as well as] a time to dance."

4. This is a time to pray

• You may not always know what to say or do, or IF you should say or do anything, but you can always be sure that it is right to pray! Pray for those families who have lost moms & dads and sons & daughters. Pray for justice; for President Bush and our other leaders. Pray, as Jesus taught us, for our enemies.

• Philippians 4:6-7

5. This is a time to acknowledge the reality and power of evil

• Satan is real and powerful and he conspires with our own sin and the world to destroy people.

• Job 1:2; 1 Peter 5:8-9

6. This is a time to remember the Supremacy of God

• The Bible teaches us that God is sovereign over every creation. There is not a random atom anywhere in His universe. It also teaches us that He is infinitely wise and eternally good. Though we don’t have pat answers to all the questions which this attack raises in our minds, we can and we must rest in the greatness and goodness of God. He reigns supreme even over this cruel evil.

• Daniel 4:35; Job 42:2; Acts 2:22-24

7. This is a time to be humbled

• Our billion dollar monuments to power and wealth have been reduced to rubble. Feelings of superiority and invincibility have been shattered. We are forced to see how small we are before God.

• Job 38-41

8. This is a time to be hopeful

• Seriousness across our land, and indeed the world; cancellations of sports, etc.

• Interest in prayer—among God’s people and others (No ACLU complaints)

• Longing for justice; the evident hope that there is a God

• Psalm 42 (esp. v. 5)

9. This is a time to listen

• By that I mean a time to think. To reflect. To ask, "God, what are you saying to our world? Our nation? To me?" God speaks in providence. There are countless examples of this throughout the Old Testament in the way that God dealt with Judah and Israel. In Amos 4, for instance, God criticizes Israel for failing to listen to His voice when He spoke to them in circumstances:

• Famine and draught (Amos 4:6-8)

• Crop failure (9)

• Disease (10a)

• Military invasion from enemies (10b-11)

All this, "Yet," God says, "You still have not returned to Me."

Thursday, September 01, 2011

The Preacher's Difficult Work

John Venn (1759-1813) became rector of Clapham Church in South London in 1792 and served there until his death. He was the son of the better known, Henry Venn, also a minister in the Church of England, and a friend of William Wilberforce and Charles Simeon. He also served as chaplain to the Clapham Sect. After his death, a collection of his sermons was published by his son. The first message in the first volume is "The Importance and Difficulties of the Christian Ministry" based on 1 Corinthians 2:3. The whole message is worth reading. The following excerpt is taken from that sermon.

 It is a difficult service in its own nature. Were the work of a preacher indeed confined to the delivery of a moral discourse, this would not be an arduous task. But a Minister of the Gospel has much more to do. He will endeavour, under Divine Grace, to bring every individual in his congregation to live no longer to himself, but unto Him who died for us. But here the passions, prejudices, and perhaps the temporal interests of men combine to oppose his success. It is not easy to obtain any influence over the mind of another; but to obtain such an influence as to direct it contrary to the natural current of its desires and passions, is a work of the highest difficulty. Yet such is the work of a Minister. He has to arrest the sinner in his course of sin; to shake his strong hold of  security; to make the stout-hearted tremble under the denunciation of God's judgment; to lead him to deny himself, as to sacrifice the inclinations most dear to him--to repent, and become a new creature. Neither is the work of the Ministry less arduous in respect to those whoa re not open and profligate sinners. Self-love, the most powerful passion of the human breast, will render it equally difficult to convince the formalist of the unsoundness of his religion, the pharisee of the pride of his heart, and the mere moralist of his deficiency in the sight of God. In all these cases, we have to convey unpleasant tidings; to persuade to what is disagreeable; to effect not only a reformation in the conduct of men, and a regulation of their passions, but, what is of still higher difficulty, a change in their good opinion of themselves.  Nay, further we have not merely to “wrestle against flesh and blood but against principalities and powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” “Who is sufficient for these things?” For this office the Christian Minister may in himself “have no resources above those of any of his congregation,” their weaknesses are his weaknesses, he must therefore undertake his work in weakness, fear and much trembling, but knowing that it may yet be effectual, for it is in weakness that Christ’s strength is always made perfect.