September 11, 2016

Thoughts on September 11, 2001

Today, September 11, 2016, marks the 15th year since the attack happened. Following is a sermon I preached in Winona Lake, Indiana, just five days after the 9/11 tragedy. I remember the attack vividly. Today, as we mark the 15th year since the tragedy, I was reminded of that day in 2001 and how difficult and important it was to give our church a message of hope.

Most of us have been glued to our televisions and radios this week, watching and listening to details of the horror that visited our shores on Tuesday, September 11. We’ve been hoping and praying for more survivors and mourning the thousands of dead with the rest of the nation, all the while asking ourselves how such evil acts could have happened.

We’ve been inundated with commentary and video replays. One Muslim representative on National Public Radio commented the only way the west could appease the Muslim fundamentalists would be not to exist at all, while another said no cause justifies the immoral and inhumane acts that occurred on Tuesday. Palestinians in Israel were shown celebrating the terrorists’ success in the streets, and the Afghan government advised its citizens to prepare for a holy war and said that it is an honor and a holy service to die fighting the United States.

A few well-known conservative Christian television personalities offered the opinion that our nation has sinned against God, and He no longer protects it . . . and they said that’s why the horrendous tragedies occurred. But we must remember that our nation is not a chosen people in a covenant relationship with God, as was Israel. Every Christian, no matter his or her nationality, is bound by Scripture to honor his or her relationship with God by worship, prayer, and faithful and righteous conduct. It is a personal, not a national, relationship. As to why the attack occurred, a National Public Radio commentator summed it up simply: It happened because the United States supports Israel, he said.

As we have sought this week to internalize the events and their meaning and impact, perhaps the lament of a volunteer rescue worker in New York City, in a short interview on MSNBC states the relevant theological truth: "This world is evil; this world is evil," he said, shaking his head sadly.

Our sense of security has been shaken. No longer do our shores and borders seem safe from the hatred and violence in the world. Suddenly, we don’t just observe from afar the dangers people face in parts of the world torn by terrorism and violent persecution. We how experience the same fear and daily uncertainty as people living in countries of the Middle East, Africa, and other parts of the world. It’s not that hatred and violence is new. Indeed, the Bible teaches the wickedness of the unregenerate human heart beginning in the earliest chapters. But it is new to most of us experientially, and that has changed our thinking profoundly.

As Christians, we must not lose sight of three eternal truths as we ponder and respond to the awful acts of terrorism in our country: (1) our future is in Christ and not in the world, (2) God judges evil and will triumph over evil, and (3) while the battle rages in our midst, God wants us to live in the light of eternity.

Our future is in Christ and not in the world

Regardless of good or evil circumstances affecting us, the focus of our lives, as Paul put it, is Christ Jesus our hope (1 Timothy 1:1). Nothing that has happened this week and nothing that will happen will change the things that matter to us most as Christians. Those things are our relationship with God, our future home in heaven with God and with all our loved ones who have known Christ, and theforgiveness and lovingkindness God has shown us and continues to show us.

Jesus . . . HE is the issue for us, HE is our purpose and our goal, HE is what matters, not our circumstances.

And what about the sudden and violent loss of our sense of safety and security? In the world, there are no guarantees we will be safe. But there is the guarantee for Christians that we are loved, and that is the real security. Here is how God, through the inspiration of the Apostle Paul, describes it in Romans 8:34 & 35:

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger of sword? As it is written: For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered. No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Always remember in every circumstance, whether positive or negative, that your future is in Christ, not in the world, and while there are no guarantees we will be physically safe, there is the guarantee that God loves us.

God judges evil and will triumph over evil

Seeing video of the airliners crashing into the World Trade Center towers and the thousands of relatives on the streets searching for their loved ones, many of us have asked ourselves how such evil can prevail. Despite the evil acts we witness, we must remember that evil does not and shall not prevail. In the resurrection, Christ defeated death itself and gave us eternal life with Him.

God has a will and a plan to punish evil in the present. That is the very reason He established human governments--to reward righteousness and to punish evildoers. Knowing this, now as much as ever we should pray without ceasing that our national leaders will show the wisdom and the courage they will need to accomplish the task before them in ridding the world of the evil of terrorism. Here is God’s will and plan, as shown to us in Romans 13:1-4:

Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath, to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.

God also has a will and a plan to judge evil in the future for all eternity. Here is the scene revealed to John in Revelation 20:7-21:8:

When the thousand years are over, Satan will be released from his prison and will go out to deceive the nations in the four corners of the earth--Gog and Magog--to gather them for battle. In number they are like the sand of the seashore. They marched across the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of God’s people, the city He loves. But fire came down from heaven and devoured them. And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night forever and ever.

Then I saw a great white throne and Him who was seated on it. Earth and sky fled from His presence, and there was no place for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what he had done. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.
 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride, beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, Now the dwelling of God is with men, and He will live with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.
 He who was seated on the throne said, I am making everything new! Then he said, Write this dow, for these words are trustworthy and true.
 He said to me: It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life. He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be My son. But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters, and all liars--their place will be the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.

Remember as you ponder the tragedy our nation is experiencing . . . we may witness evil acts, but we can be assured that evil shall not prevail in the present or in the future.

While the battle rages,
God wants us to live in the light of eternity

Many, many times in Scripture, God gives us the assurance He will judge evil and reward righteousness. In the light of eternity, we may wait patiently for Him to act. Here is how God inspired David to assure us about this in Psalm 37:1-9:

Do not fret because of evil men or be envious of those who do wrong; for like the grass they will soon wither, like green plants they will soon die away.
Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture. Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.
Commit your way to the Lord; trust in Him and He will do this: He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun.

Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for Him; do not fret when men succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes. Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret--it leads only to evil. For evil men will be cut off, but those who hope in the Lord will inherit the land.

How plainly God has given us His plan! We are not to fret (literally in Hebrew, the term means do not burn with anger) because He will cut off evil people and their deeds and reward the people who hope in Him. Our task is to commit our own way to the Lord and to trust in Him. The Hebrew term translated trust in this passage also is quite specific to our current circumstance: the Hebrew term literally means feel safe.

God also is our refuge in the times we have tough questions about the evil around us, in times of uncertainty and insecurity, and in times of fear. In Psalm 46, He puts it this way:

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore, we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, thought its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells. God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day. Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall; He lifts His voice, the earth melts.

The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Come and see the works of the Lord, the desolations He has brought on the earth. He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth; He breaks the bow and shatters the spear, He burns the shields with fire. Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth. The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Remember what we have discussed today: As Christians, we must not lose sight of three eternal truths as we ponder and respond to the awful acts of terrorism in our country: (1) our future is in Christ and not in the world, (2) God judges evil and will triumph over evil, and (3) while the battle rages in our midst, God wants us to live in the light of eternity.

As a closing thought in our consideration of the new circumstances we in the United States find ourselves in, the church would do well to observe that we as a society have not seemed to prosper and grow spiritually in our times of material prosperity and sense of national security. Yet there are many Christians in other cultures where persecution, violence, and death are a way of life, and inevitably those Christians have grown in spiritual maturity, have seen the urgent need to expose the unsaved to the gospel, and whose churches are bursting at the seams. Our society has been lulled by its prosperity and strength into a sense of security, but now that sense of security has been shattered. We now have the opportunity to share our faith with those around us who are more ready than ever to hear about God’s plan of salvation and security for them. Let us hold each other accountable to begin sharing the good news of Christ to the people around us more urgently than we have ever done before!

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