Lower ManhattanNote: The following is an excerpt from Jack W. Hayford’s recent book, Sharpening Your Leading Edge: Moving From Methods to Mindset. It is the first of a two-part series.

Within hours following the 9-11 events in New York and Washington and through the following two weeks, I served, as did others, in a bittersweet task. It was bitter by reason of the need, and sweet by reason of the opportunity to offer healing truth and prayer. Doors opened across our nation to speak into the lives of many—some only seeking comfort, others seeking some meaning in their torment amid the apparently meaningless tragedy.

I was invited to nearly a dozen radio and TV venues—local, regional and national. Network reporters and talk-show hosts ask hard questions in such moments. I was glad that, in most cases, they were sensitive enough not to require “sound bite”-size answers.

Reviewing the questions most frequently asked, I realized how often these same inquiries are thrown your way. Every leader faces situations in which he or she needs to address these themes either in local news media or with individuals we serve. Be it a national or global disaster, or a car wreck maiming or killing someone in your congregation, a myriad of questions inevitably surface. What follows addresses questions asked regarding September 11, but the “thought grid” involved is offered for what value it might serve in the face of any number of tragic situations.

These answers, while brief, are my effort at providing people—believers and unbelievers alike—with what I see as helpful, clear-thinking principles rooted in God’s Word. I realize my responses may conflict with some, but I am troubled by the fact that even Christians often yield to ideas that, at most, are only philosophical answers flavored by theological prejudice or popular opinion.

Let me invite your consideration of the following. I hope the concepts may serve a future time, and I think that possibly, even yet, they might help you address issues related to the unthinkably demoniacal events we navigated only weeks ago.

Question No. 1—Was This a Judgment From God?

All sin exposes human beings to judgment, so perhaps it is always wise to inquire into this at some point. However, I do not believe this is the right question to ask first, though evil or destructive things should prompt this honest personal inquiry: To what degree is my repentance—not that of others—being called for or overdue?

Plague, famine, war, disaster, tragedy and calculated evil are constant points of vulnerability to humanity by reason of our sin, sinning or outright godless rebellion, but it is deeply troubling to me to witness the inclination of some Christians to make a rush to judgment anytime something tragic or disastrous occurs.

Jesus addressed this human disposition in Luke 13:1–5, noting two things:

  • That everyone one of us needs to repent to avert judgment
  • That no one, in God’s eyes, is deemed worthier of judgment than others

The terrorist attack on our nation (or any other visitation of human or hellish awfulness) calls believers more to identify with the brokenness and pain present among those impacted than to seize this as a platform to issue self-righteous denunciations of sin. Yes—sin does reap a bitter harvest.

Yes—America is a sinful nation. But, no—I don’t believe God slashed New York and Washington apart in order to get even with America.

In speaking to a blinded, broken society, my understanding of God’s present judgment relates to that which He visited long ago, on His own Son, when He dealt conclusively with all sin with unmeasured grace and redemptive power. When people are torn, I believe the church is to rise with love, com- fort, service and redemptive hope. We are to demonstrate the Good Samaritan’s example and contribute to the healing process of the broken rather than the religionists’ separatism.

This is how Jesus taught neighborliness—with a definition requiring partnership in pain, not condescension toward those apart from God. I hold no casual attitude toward sin. But I fear some sincere believers hold too casual an attitude toward God’s mercy—especially at times when people need to hear of it from us who have tasted His love.

Jack W. Hayford is president of The Foursquare Church and founder and chancellor of The King's College and Seminary. Best known as "Pastor Jack," founding pastor of The Church on the Way in Van Nuys, California, he is also the prolific author of dozens of books and 600 hymns, including the classic “Majesty.” Dr. Hayford and his wife, Anna, have four children, eleven grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.

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