It has been an incredible week; one that none of us, I suspect, will ever forget. The images of destruction will be forever etched in our memories.
The image of an aircraft flying into an office building and disappearing in an explosion; the thought of thousands of office workers having just arrived for what they thought was just another day; hundreds of rescue workers themselves becoming victims as two of the tallest buildings in the world came crashing down around them; the prolonged horror of a hostage situation on board four aircraft; the grief and pain of hundreds of thousands of relatives as they experience the loss of their loved ones - has us all a little shook up and asking a lot of questions.
One moment the skyline of New York is as it has been for a quarter of a century; the next moment two 110 story buildings disappear. The images from New York City look like the war ravaged cities of Berlin or Beirut. They look like the scenes from third world countries after earthquakes or floods or other natural disasters. It isn't that we haven't seen such images before; it's just that in our lifetimes we've never seen such devastation in our country, on our land, involving our people.
Who could have imagined that the destruction of the World Trade Center complex and the gaping whole in the Pentagon could have been caused not by a bomb dropped from a military aircraft, not by an intercontinental missile launched from another country, not by an invading army, but rather by a handful of terrorists using unsophisticated knives to commandeer passenger aircraft. These aircraft are not tools of war or weapons of violence, but rather they represent the backbone of our transportation network; aircraft designed to facilitate business, carry our mail, deliver people to their vacations - these same aircraft were transformed into weapons of war by an unseen army. And the vastness and sophistication of our own armed forces were impotent to stop their assault. More American lives were lost and more economic disaster was created within one hour than on any single day in America's history, including the attack on Pearl Harbor in the last century, which claimed 2,300 American lives in a single day.
The events of the past week have left the American people with many questions, "Why?", "How could God allow this to happen?" "Why is this happening to us?" My answer to these questions is, "I view the events of this past Tuesday as a wake up call from God."
Tuesday, as I sat in shock over the magnitude of this unprecedented deliberate attack on an unsuspecting people, two passages of Scripture came to mind. The passages that God seemed to lay upon my heart were from the Old Testament.
Look with me at God's words to Judah:
Isaiah 10:1-4 (NKJV) "Woe to those who decree unrighteous decrees, Who write misfortune, Which they have prescribed 2 To rob the needy of justice, And to take what is right from the poor of My people, That widows may be their prey, And that they may rob the fatherless. 3 What will you do in the day of punishment, And in the desolation which will come from afar? To whom will you flee for help? And where will you leave your glory? 4 Without Me they shall bow down among the prisoners, And they shall fall among the slain." For all this His anger is not turned away, But His hand is stretched out still.
The word "woe" that begins these verses is a threat voiced in the face of coming disaster. God's people had turned away from Him, and because of their sin, God threatens them with judgement.
Isaiah 10:5 (NKJV) "Woe to Assyria, the rod of My anger And the staff in whose hand is My indignation.
Because of Israel's sin, God used the ungodly nation of Assyria to punish them. The Lord's anger is personified as having Assyria in its hand as a rod to be used for chastising Judah. Listen carefully, believers, God is the active agent and Assyria is a tool in his hand. Over and over in the scriptures when God wants to chasten a nation, he uses another nation to do so.
Notice also what God says to Judah through the prophet Habakkuk:
Habakkuk 1:5-9 (NKJV) "Look among the nations and watch; Be utterly astounded! For I will work a work in your days Which you would not believe, though it were told you. 6 For indeed I am raising up the Chaldeans, A bitter and hasty nation Which marches through the breadth of the earth, To possess dwelling places that are not theirs. 7 They are terrible and dreadful; Their judgment and their dignity proceed from themselves. 8 Their horses also are swifter than leopards, And more fierce than evening wolves. Their chargers charge ahead; Their cavalry comes from afar; They fly as the eagle that hastens to eat. 9 "They all come for violence; Their faces are set like the east wind. They gather captives like sand.
The Chaldeans were a fierce people with no mercy. And God said, "I am raising them up." Some what in shock, Habakkuk questions how God can use such an evil nation to punish Judah? Habakkuk's questions sound a lot like those of many Americans. "God, how could you do this to us?" This shouldn't be a hard question for a Bible literate Christian to answer. We know that God hates and judges sin!
Believers, we must understand that God is sovereign! Most of the church today denies the absolute sovereignty of God. Christians speak of accidents, or of things just happening by chance. This is not the language of the Bible. When we say that God is sovereign, we're saying that God is the absolute ruler over everything.
1 Chronicles 29:11-13 (NKJV) Yours, O LORD, is the greatness, The power and the glory, The victory and the majesty; For all that is in heaven and in earth is Yours; Yours is the kingdom, O LORD, And You are exalted as head over all. 12 Both riches and honor come from You, And You reign over all. In Your hand is power and might; In Your hand it is to make great And to give strength to all. 13 "Now therefore, our God, We thank You And praise Your glorious name.
Psalms 47:7-8 (NKJV) For God is the King of all the earth; Sing praises with understanding. 8 God reigns over the nations; God sits on His holy throne.
God did not simply create the world and then walk away. He constantly sustains that which He created.
Isaiah 46:9-11 (NKJV) Remember the former things of old, For I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like Me, 10 Declaring the end from the beginning, And from ancient times things that are not yet done, Saying, 'My counsel shall stand, And I will do all My pleasure,' 11 Calling a bird of prey from the east, The man who executes My counsel, from a far country. Indeed I have spoken it; I will also bring it to pass. I have purposed it; I will also do it.
This prophecy is about the great Persian ruler Cyrus. The Lord would use this pagan ruler to carry out his plan on the earth. Believers, please understand, God rules over every event in history. Just as the Assyrians, the Chaldeans, and King Cyrus were rods in God's hand, so is Osama Bin Laden. Nothing happens in the world and nothing happens to our country but that which is the sovereign will of God. Whatever it is that we are going through, or will go through, we may be sure that our Father has a loving purpose in it.
C.S. Lewis wrote, "Pain insists upon being attended to, God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world." I believe that what we experienced this past Tuesday was God's megaphone to arouse a spiritually sleeping America.
Despite the recent downturn in our economy, we live in historically unprecedented economic well-being. We are abundantly blessed in this country. But as is so often the case, along with prosperity comes complacency about the spiritual realities of life. The prophet Hosea quotes God as saying;
Hosea 13:6 (NKJV) When they had pasture, they were filled; They were filled and their heart was exalted; Therefore they forgot Me.
Listen to how the NIV puts this verse:
Hosea 13:6 (NIV) When I fed them, they were satisfied; when they were satisfied, they became proud; then they forgot me.
Does that verse describe us? Americans have been lulled by our wealth into the false notion that we don't need God. Biblical promises of a life beyond the present fall on very deaf ears when all our hopes and dreams seem to be fulfilled by our own efforts. Television bombards us with the enticements of pleasure and urges us on to pursue pleasure more and more. The here and now, the moment at hand, these are where our thoughts linger. And that is true for both believers and unbelievers. We are all very much caught up in the present - and the present has been more than good.
Until last Tuesday, when in the midst of normalcy, our world was turned upside down. The destruction and devastation of the past week cause us to consider our own mortality and the fragility of each moment of life. These events are a wake up call to America. We have wandered away from God. We have promoted violence and homosexuality in our movies, television and music. We have become obsessed with sensual lust. We have allowed greed to possess us. We have been willing to sacrifice human beings for stem cell research, and kill unborn children for the sake of convenience. It is ludicrous that we have heard some people this week screaming about the sanctity of human life, when they have been the ones supporting the abortion industry in our land. We have grieved the heart of God and awakened his wrath. Did we really think we deserved his continued protection? These days should bring us to our knees in repentance and genuine sorrow for our sin as individuals and as a nation. We were gliding along thinking we could live any way we wished with no consequences.
Look at what Jesus said concerning a disastrous situation:
Luke 13:1-5 (NKJV) There were present at that season some who told Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2 And Jesus answered and said to them, "Do you suppose that these Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans, because they suffered such things? 3 "I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish. 4 "Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, do you think that they were worse sinners than all other men who dwelt in Jerusalem? 5 "I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish."
Jesus is saying that those people were an example; they received what we all deserve. They weren't worse sinners - they were an illustration of justice. As we look at the events of the past week, it should be seen as a call to America to repent!
When Hawaii became the 50th State of the Union, she brought with her to statehood the motto she had adopted as a territory, reflecting her missionary beginnings: "The life of the land is preserved in righteousness." It sounds like a pious platitude, but it is actually a profound truth which should be taught in every classroom in the land. Freedom rests on the moral righteousness of each individual member of the nation. When individual righteousness fails on a large scale, laws lose their force, judges fail in their powers, enforcement becomes impracticable, and the Constitution itself is soon changed to reflect the currently acceptable level of morality.
"The life of the land is preserved in righteousness." - that has been the fundamental secret of the strength of the United States. And that is why we are now in trouble.
As Christians, what should our response be the these tragic events? Let me give you several ways in which we should respond:
Our first response to the destruction and disaster of this past week should be to mourn. Death, injustice, hatred - these things should cause those of us who know God to weep for our nation. Paul tells us in Romans that as followers of Christ we are to:
Romans 12:15 (NKJV) Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.
Thousands of families have lost loves ones. As they began to publish the names and faces of those who died, I sat and cried. As I watched the news, my heart ached for those who were suffering such great loss. And most of the nation has stopped its normal activity to mourn for those who are suffering, T.V. shows, sporting events, parades, festivals, were all canceled in respect of those suffering.
But in the midst of grieving America, homosexual activists continued celebrating "gay pride" events in Richmond despite the tragic terrorist attacks that killed thousands of Americans in New York and Virginia. The so-called "Pride Coalition" demonstrated blatant disrespect for a grieving nation by continuing to celebrate their perversion in Richmond. The fact that homosexuals would celebrate their sins at a time like this shows they are "without natural affection," just as the Bible describes them in Romans 1:31.
One of the main responses that should come from this tragic event is prayer. As hundreds and thousands of rescue workers converge upon the sites of the disaster, as state militias are called out to provide order, as the military stands on alert awaiting orders to strike back, God's people can't afford to stand on the sidelines and pretend that life is normal. It is not business as usual; we face a national crisis, and God's people need to respond with a sense of urgency and direction. We need to seek God's face in prayer. Notice Jehoshaphat's response to a national crisis:
2 Chronicles 20:1-2 (NKJV) It happened after this that the people of Moab with the people of Ammon, and others with them besides the Ammonites, came to battle against Jehoshaphat. 2 Then some came and told Jehoshaphat, saying, "A great multitude is coming against you from beyond the sea, from Syria; and they are in Hazazon Tamar" (which is En Gedi).
Jehoshaphat learned that this great host was already at En Gedi, on the west shore of the Dead Sea, and would soon head for Jerusalem. One minute things are fine, and the next our world is caving in. Do you know the feeling? If you were in Jehoshaphat's spot, what would you do? How did you respond to the tragic events of Tuesday morning?
Let's look at Jehoshaphat's reaction and see if we can learn from him.
2 Chronicles 20:3-4 (NKJV) And Jehoshaphat feared, and set himself to seek the LORD, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah. 4 So Judah gathered together to ask help from the LORD; and from all the cities of Judah they came to seek the LORD.
Jehoshaphat's initial response was fear. Can you relate to that? We get bad news, a problem arises, and we fear. Is that wrong? No, it is the sense of fear that drives us to God. What do we do when we are afraid? David tells us in:
Psalms 56:3-4 (NKJV) Whenever I am afraid, I will trust in You. 4 In God (I will praise His word), In God I have put my trust; I will not fear. What can flesh do to me?
It's when we are afraid that we turn to God who is our refuge, and as we trust in Him, the fear goes away.
Psalms 46:1-2 (NKJV) God is our refuge and strength, A very present help in trouble. 2 Therefore we will not fear, Even though the earth be removed, And though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea;
David is saying..."when your world is caving in - look to God! He is our refuge and strength." The Hebrew word "refuge" (makhseh) means: "a shelter from danger." We are safe in His presence.
When you ask a person who has been a believer for many years, "When were the times you have felt closest to God?" The answer will almost invariably be that it was during a time when they were going through some kind of trial, and they found in the experience that God is truly a refuge, a shelter from danger.
David's advice in Psalm 46 is that we should not shake our fist our God, we should not be asking, "Why?", but instead, we should turn to God, trust Him, and seek refuge in Him. There is absolutely no guarantee of what tomorrow holds for you or me, but we are guaranteed that God will be our refuge, our strength, our constant companion.
So Jehoshaphat's fear moved him immediately to turn to God who was his refuge. He calls for national fasting and prayer. When the nation was faced with disaster, Jehoshaphat called upon the people to get serious with God and ask for His help.
I was so thankful that our president, George Bush, called our nation to prayer.
"NOW, THEREFORE, I, GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim Friday, September 14, 2001, as a National Day of Prayer and Remembrance for the Victims of the Terrorist Attacks on September 11, 2001. I ask that the people of the United States and places of worship mark this National Day of Prayer and Remembrance with noontime memorial services, the ringing of bells at that hour, and evening candlelight remembrance vigils. I encourage employers to permit their workers time off during the lunch hour to attend the noontime services to pray for our land. I invite the people of the world who share our grief to join us in these solemn observances."
Isn't it amazing, a nation that will not allow prayer in its schools or a manger scene on federal property is called on by its president to pray?
Do you understand your need for God? It is not only national tragedies that should turn us to him; we need Him each and every day. Speaking of the uncertainty of life, John Calvin wrote:
Innumerable are the evils that beset human life. Our body is the receptacle of a thousand diseases. Where ever you turn, all things around you seem to threaten immediate death. Embark on a ship, you are one step away from death. Mount a horse, if one foot slips your life is imperiled. Go through the city streets, you are subject to as many dangers as there are tiles on the roofs. All the fierce animals you see are armed for your destruction. But if you try to shut yourself up in a walled garden, seemingly delightful, there a serpent some times lays hidden. Your house, continually in danger of fire, threatens in the day time to impoverish you, at night even to collapse on you.
This insecurity and uncertainty is not a cause for fear or inaction, but a reason for accepting and realizing our complete dependence on God. Every day we live and every breath we take are dependant upon the will of God. Nothing in our Christian experience manifests our dependence on God more than our prayer life. To not pray is to say, "God, I'm independent, I can do it myself." That is pride, and the Scriptures teach that pride is a sin:
Psalms 10:4 (NKJV) The wicked in his proud countenance does not seek God; God is in none of his thoughts.
Proverbs 29:23 (NKJV) A man's pride will bring him low, But the humble in spirit will retain honor.
A specific example of the judgement against pride is seen in the prophecy about Edom, a territory southeast of Jerusalem in the desert which had many natural fortresses. The city of Petra, the great capital city of Edom, was well fortified; it was nestled between high cliffs, and the only entrance is just wide enough for a single individual to pass through. So it was very easy for that city to be guarded by one soldier, making it almost invulnerable.
Obadiah 1:3-4 (NKJV) The pride of your heart has deceived you, You who dwell in the clefts of the rock, Whose habitation is high; You who say in your heart, 'Who will bring me down to the ground?' 4 Though you ascend as high as the eagle, And though you set your nest among the stars, From there I will bring you down," says the LORD.
This prophecy was fulfilled and the city of Petra was destroyed. Petra had water coming into the city in little troughs, flowing down the sides of the cliffs. When the city's water supply had been cut off by its adversaries, the people eventually had to surrender for lack of water. God brought them down from their lofty pride. Could this happen to us?
Our founding fathers understood that prayer was an act of humility before God, and lack of it was pride. It was the summer of 1787, and the Constitutional Convention debate had dragged on for days over the issue of how the States would be represented in Congress. At this point, aged Dr. Benjamin Franklin rose and addressed himself to General Washington in the Chair: "In this situation of this Assembly, groping as it were in the dark to find political truth, and scarce able to distinguish it when presented to us, how has it happened, Sir, that we have not hitherto once thought of humbly applying to the Father of Lights to illuminate our understandings?"
He went on to remind the Convention that at the beginning of the war with England, the Continental Congress had, in that very room, prayed for divine protection, and their prayers were answered. He continued: "I have lived, Sir, a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth that God governs in the affairs of men. If a sparrow cannot fall to the ground unseen by him, is it possible that an empire could arise without his aid?"
Prayer is an act of humility and dependence which glorifies God and brings grace, but prayerlessness is pride and brings God's judgement. God had exalted Uzziah, King of Judah to the position of King and was using him mightily until he became proud:
2 Chronicles 26:3 (NKJV) Uzziah was sixteen years old when he became king, and he reigned fifty-two years in Jerusalem. His mother's name was Jecholiah of Jerusalem. 4 And he did what was right in the sight of the LORD, according to all that his father Amaziah had done. 5 He sought God in the days of Zechariah, who had understanding in the visions of God; and as long as he sought the LORD, God made him prosper.
Please notice that last phrase, "...as long as he sought the LORD, God made him prosper." Seeking God is a sign of humility, prayer is a sign of humility. Uzziah humbled himself, and God exalted him.
Our first and foremost response to this terrorist attack should be prayer. God is calling us to turn to him. This incident happened on the 11th day of the 9th month of the year. God was giving us his phone number: 911, and he is waiting to hear us call to him for help.
Our responsibility as Christians is to live in dependence upon God and to live righteously. The hope of America is the righteousness of her people. God calls us not only to pray but to turn from our sin. The words of God to Israel apply to His people in every time and nation:
2 Chronicles 7:14 (NKJV) "if My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.
The God who sovereignly established this country will hold his children responsible for its righteousness and justice. The hope of our nation lies not in its military might but in the personal godliness of its people. Believers, this call is to us! We must turn from our sin and begin to live righteously. Only as we live righteous lives will we be able to influence our world.
Not only should we mourn, pray, and repent, but we must live in faith trusting God no matter what our circumstances are. How do we react to living in an unsafe world? What is our response as Christians? From where does our security come? We draw our strength from a different source than those who do not know God. As the Scripture says:
Psalms 124:8 (NKJV) Our help is in the name of the LORD, Who made heaven and earth.
That is good, but what does it mean in practical terms? How does that play out in times like these? Our security in an unsafe world comes from several truths which the Scriptures teach us. The first truth we need to have planted deeply in our lives is this: Our security is in God, not in this world. The Bible says:
Psalms 20:7-8 (NKJV) Some trust in chariots, and some in horses; But we will remember the name of the LORD our God. 8 They have bowed down and fallen; But we have risen and stand upright.
Our faith is not in our military power, our intelligence network, our economy and financial institutions, the power of our foreign alliances; our hope is in the Lord our God.
Our security is in our faith, not in our safety. Security is not about safety. It is about faith. There are those in our culture who live in great safety and prosperity, yet their lives are consumed with worry and fear. On the other hand, there are those in the world who live in very difficult and dangerous places who are full of faith and confidence. They have security. We want to be safe, but it is more important for us to be secure in our faith and find our security in God. The Bible says:
Psalms 125:1 (NKJV) Those who trust in the LORD Are like Mount Zion, Which cannot be moved, but abides forever.
Security is not the absence of trouble, but confidence and courage in the midst of trouble. It is this faith that gives us the courage to say:
Psalms 91:5 (NKJV) You shall not be afraid of the terror by night, Nor of the arrow that flies by day,
Our confidence cannot be shaken, because we have a God who is in complete control of the universe. We say with the Psalmist:
Psalms 16:8 (NKJV) I have set the LORD always before me; Because He is at my right hand I shall not be moved.
Psalms 121:2 (NKJV) My help comes from the LORD, Who made heaven and earth.
So, terrorist may attack our country, and we may end up in war, but this shouldn't be cause for fear if we realize that God created us insecure and placed us in an insecure world so that we would find security only in Him. What peace and joy it brings to trust in God in the midst of our insecurity. Trusting God is the very essence of what Christianity is all about.
Our security is in eternity, not in the present circumstances. If you are looking only at the present circumstances of life, you will be shaken, but if your life is grounded in eternity, you will stand firm. As Christians, our lives have an eternal dimension. We know that nothing that happens here can harm or change the things that matter to us most: Our relationship with God, our home in heaven, the presence of our loved ones and friends who have known Christ. Nothing can change those things. No one can take them away. The Bible tells us:
2 Corinthians 5:1 (NKJV) For we know that if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.
When we are grounded in eternity, our lives are built on a foundation that cannot be shaken. The Bible says:
Romans 8:28 (NKJV) And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.
God works in all the situations of our lives to bring about his good. God will use these terrorist attacks for his eternal purposes. Our confidence does not go up and down with the stock market. Our security is not in how good the news is on television. Our confidence is not shaken even though the earth burns and its smoke rises. For God says:
Psalms 46:10 (NKJV) Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!
Our faith in God is a very practical commodity. Believer, if we understand God's sovereignty, we can trust in Him in the midst of the worst possible circumstances. Could our country suffer from a nuclear holocaust or a chemical or biological warfare attack? Maybe, but if it does, it is under the sovereign control of a loving and gracious God and not the whim of a mad man. Osama Bin Laden may plan terrorist attacks against the United States, but apart from the sovereign will of God, he can do nothing. God is sovereign over everything, and we can trust Him. Our trust in Him will strengthen us in all the circumstances that we face.
God, in his goodness and love, always wills what is best for us. In His wisdom, He always knows what is best, and in His sovereignty, He has the power to bring it about.
My prayer is that the events of this past Tuesday will cause America to wake up spiritually. Believers, we need to pray and repent, then we need to call our nation to repentance. May God help us to rest in Him and influence our world.