Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Forgive But Never Forget

I know every year on this day I write this same blog (or at least one very similar). But 11 years ago today (14 as I make some updates), hatred struck our nation with such cruelty that it is necessary to remember the outcome of those violent acts.  

See ... I was living on another planet 11 years ago. I was high on drugs and just living in a completely different "reality." My head was in the clouds. Anyone who knew or hung around me at the time can vouch for my self-destructive lifestyle. It never occurred to me that I had a soul to be responsible for, much less, it never occurred to me that America had enemies. Of all the countries in the world, I naively believed that America was the greatest and the most loved, and that everyone in the world wanted to live here.

The 9/11 attacks took place while I was en route to my job at Vanderbilt. When I walked through the doors there was a very heavy silence, and people everywhere were huddled around computer monitors. I asked my friend Katie what was going on. She said, "One of the twin towers has been hit by a plane. They think it's a terrorist attack." I was in instant disbelief.

 As the day grew on, we would watch yet another plane hit the remaining tower, and watch in shock as the towers fell. We would watch the reports of another plane flown into the Pentagon and even hear of United Airlines Flight 93 that crash landed in a field near Shanksville, Pa. Thousands of heroes lost their lives that day because America had a very real enemy -- AND STILL DOES.

My vocabulary expanded that day. I learned the words "radical," "Islam" and "Jihad." I learned about a radicalism so deeply rooted in evil that is cannot be fathomed. According to the authoritative Dictionary of Islam, jihad is defined as "A religious war with those who are unbelievers in the mission of Muhammad ... for the purpose of advancing Islam and repelling evil from Muslims." Jihad is an Islamic term and is an important religious duty of Muslims. According to the above definition, if you believe something other than what they believe -- like it or not, aware of it or not -- you are at war with them. I still cannot get my mind around one's desire to serve in a religion that would require them to see all other peoples of the world as enemies and even infidels who must be put to death for simply believing something different than oneself.

Most unbelievers in America think that Christians "force their religion down other people's throats," but in reality, it's not the religion of Christianity that they have to worry about. I am appalled every time I hear or read that over-exaggerated statement -- that Christians "force their beliefs on others" -- while around the world radical Islamic Muslims are cutting the throats of anyone who aligns themselves with any other god but Allah. (And do not be deceived: Allah and Yahweh are not the same God as many believe.) People should really think about the words they say before they let them leave their mouths. The unbelievers of America have no idea how good they have it!

We recently had a special guest speaker at Cornerstone Church, Brigitte Gabriel, who spoke of her life growing up as a Christian in an Islam-occupied Lebanon during that country's own civil war. She has many critics who do not believe her testimony to be the full truth, but full truth or not, her testimony is one that leaves you thankful for the freedoms of our American-born lives! Google her and read about the terrors she survived at the hands of "people" who really are forcing their beliefs and religion on others in the world.

Sept. 11, 2001, was a turning point in my life. It was beautiful weather much like today. As I entered the office that morning and was met with the news of what had just taken place in New York, my first assumption wasn't that of terrorism -- that was furthest from my mind. I once heard somewhere that government mandate wouldn't allow two born again believers of Jesus Christ to operate a commercial jet. It was said that one had to be a non-believer. I guess our government wanted to cover all their bases in the event that this whole "rapture thing" held any truth. And to this day I don't know if that statement is true or not, but I do know that God used it to convict me. Cause you see, that's exactly what I thought had happened -- that the Rapture had taken place. I sat there at my desk contemplating my life and the tribulations to come.

When those planes hit those two towers it was a wake-up call for me. I could've just as easily been one of the 3,000-plus people who lost their lives that day. I said to myself, "Okay, that's it! I don't want to live a life of sin anymore." For the first time in my life, though I had been raised in church and raised to know God, I finally had a revelation of who God was, who Jesus was, and how He, through the Holy Spirit, had always been with me -- operating behind the scenes of my life.

All the news broadcasts were confirming the terrorist attacks. Once I realized that the Rapture of God's saints hadn't happened, I began to question myself and how I was living. I felt compelled by a call to "take up my cross," but didn't immediately surrender to it. Over the next 4 days it was a call that became louder in my spirit; I was in a war of my own. All around me, an unseen, bloodless battle was being fought for my soul. I was waging God's will against my own. It had become painfully clear that I was standing at a crossroads. On Sept. 15, 2001, I finally said yes to Jesus! I could no longer concern myself with what anyone thought of me. After all, I had come into this world alone and I would leave this world the same way!

I am so glad for the sacrifice of Christ! And in a very reverent and respectful sense, I am glad for 9/11 and the 3,000 people who unknowingly died for me -- even those flying the planes. If it weren't for the price of their lives I would've never had this revelation!

Since that day, life hasn't been easy. I have had many struggles, both public and private. I have stumbled and fallen many times, but unlike life before Christ, I don't stay down! With His help, I am able to pick myself back up again, shake the dust off and move on with Him -- I in Him and Him in me!

And please don't take this blog as an attack on Islamic Muslims or unbelievers of Christ. There have been other news reports since my conversion that have struck a cord in my soul and have opened my eyes to the evil in this world: Like the fatal shooting of a technical school headmaster in Eching, Germany, by a factory worker who lost his job and then traveled to the school from which he had been expelled -- as though it was the school's fault he was fired! He wounded another teacher before fatally shooting himself. That was February of 2002.

In October of 2006, five Amish girls were shot and killed before the gunman took his own life in Lancaster County, Pa.

In April of 2007, the infamous Virginia Tech massacre took place.

I recall the murder of Canadian Tim McLean, who on July 30, 2008, was beheaded and cannibalised on a Greyhound bus while the bus driver and other passengers fled in horror.

The Dendermonde daycare massacre of 2009 will never leave my memory. The stabbings took place in a small village in Belgium. Three people were stabbed to death and 12 "mutilated." The killer was reported to have been wearing black and white make up with vivid red hair like that of "The Joker." A total of 2 infants and one adult were killed, six children between the ages of 1-3 were seriously injured. The perpetrator simply got on his bike and rode off like nothing happened.

And speaking of The Joker, the more recent movie theater shooting in Aurora, Colo., during the midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises is most likely the freshest on most of our memories, but it is quickly moving to the back of our brains. Twelve people thought they were just going to see a movie, but they never came home. Fifty-eight people survived but are forever traumatized! How quickly our society moves on and forgets tragedy!

And perhaps the more recent and more local stabbings in our own Bellevue, Tenn., community can more easily be accounted. A 14-year-old boy, his mother and grandmother were stabbed to death at around 3 a.m. on Sept. 3. A 9-year-old girl survived. She ran to a neighbor's house for help. That same neighbor reported seeing the assailant going through the home of the victims "very nonchalantly." I find it interesting that the attacks happened around 3 a.m. -- what is known as the witching hour, the hour of day that demonic activity is at its peak.

*And since the original post date of this particular blog, Sandy Hook happened. On December 14, 2012, news reports have explained countless times how "a man dressed in black fatigues and armed with two handguns entered Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., and killed 27 people, of which 20 were small children."

I cannot begin to fathom the fear in the minds of those precious babies! I cannot begin to imagine the anguish of those parents! Most of us give no thought each morning as we send our children off to school. We wake up in turbo mode with thoughts of the day already on our mind: What to wear? Who's dropping the kids off -- mom or dad? Getting to softball or soccer practice on time. What's for dinner? At the beginning of each day our thoughts immediately rush to the end of it and bypass the very moments and people who make our lives what it is. You ask those parents today what their regrets are and I'm sure it will sound something like, "I wished I had hugged my kids a little longer and a little closer that morning," or "I wished I had told them one more time how much I loved them."

My point in all this is that there is a very real evil in this world. One that is even after the very innocent among us -- our children. Evil has no compassion for age or innocence. In fact, that's what makes evil so evil; it seeks to devour purity. It takes advantage of the Godless and molests the idea of goodness.

And I'm not neccesarily pointing fingers at Islamic Jihadists, Muslims or the mentally insane. It is not that simple. There is an underlying, unseen devil at play who wants to destroy the human soul. When tragedy strikes, people ask how God can let such things happen but what they don't understand, what they don't see, is the invisible big picture. There is an unseen spiritual realm where the devil and his demons are constantly waging war against us. They win out every time we blame another or blame God. What we fail to realize is that the seed of evil is in us all. It is something we are all capable of, but also something we can keep at bay through the help of the Holy Spirit.

There are other words I learned on Sept. 11, 2001; words like "grace," "mercy" and "forgiveness." They weren't an addition to my vocabulary, but rather I finally learned the true meaning. Grace, for example, is unmerited favor. That means there is nothing I (or you) can do -- nothing too bad or nothing so great -- to earn the favor of God. Mercy is the compassion extended toward an offender or enemy. I was once an enemy of God. Because of the cross of Christ He now calls me "friend." And forgiveness ... well that's one of God's many attributes that I still have trouble getting my mind around. Let's break down the word forgive. For-give or "Fore"-give: to give away something before or ahead of a designated time. Forgiveness is the disposition of God about our sin. Meaning before time began, He decided He would give pardon to our wrong-doings even before they happened. That means that the sins I committed before I gave my life to Christ were settled by the debt He paid on the cross. And the sins that I will commit in the future (because God knows I am not perfect) are covered by that one same act. "It is finished."

We must forgive, but never forget ... lest we ourselves forget how to extend grace, mercy and forgiveness! God be with the families who lost loved ones in the 9/11 attacks. God be with those who are born into and forced to serve evil radicalism and God be with us all today as we forget our own unGodly capabilities (because we will). Holy Spirit, please remind us of our human condition, but help us to be more Christ-like in spite of it! Amen!