Have We Forgotten?
It was twenty years ago today. September 11, 2001. I remember being in my office in a staff meeting with our education minister and music minister. It is likely, that if you were at least in upper elementary school on that day, you remember where you were, and what you were doing, at that time.
That day was so surreal and tragic, Americans had a difficult time processing what was happening and why. As reality sunk in, and as the death toll raised into the thousands, Americans were not only stunned, we were devastated. That day changed the life trajectory for a generation of Americans.
And yet, for many young people today, 9/11 is simply 'something bad' that happened quite some time ago, something that has little to no bearing on how they view life and reality today. A generation went off to war, a generation lost sons and daughters, mothers and fathers and friends, and yet, in that brief twenty year period of time, we are in danger of doing what we said we would never do: forget. We said we would never forget.
A quick timeline of events from that day courtesy of the September 10, 2021 Wall Street Journal:
Between 7:50 a.m. and 8:42 a.m., four commercial flights take off: two from Boston, one from Washington D.C. and one from Newark, New Jersey. All were headed for California. After takeoff, all four planes were hijacked by terrorists affiliated with al-Qaeda.
8:46 a.m.-Hijackers crash American Airlilnes Flight 11 into the North Tower of the World Trade Center.
As the news breaks, most Americans think this was simply a terrible and tragic pilot error, perhaps a small, private plane that somehow hit the building, a coping mechanism as people tried to process how something like this could happen. I remember that day, while in our staff meeting, when our music minister walked into his office to grab a notepad, that he lingered, and as he returned, he announced 'some plane just hit one of the World Trade Center.' I also remember how we all thought it was some strange and sad accident.
9:03 a.m. it becomes very clear America is under attack. Hijackers crash United Airlines Flight 175 into the South Tower of the World Trade Center.
Americans now realize this is no accident, rather a planned attack.
When we heard about the second crash from one of our secretaries, our staff meeting immediately ended. We went into the fellowship hall to turn on the television so we could try to understand what was happening and why.
9:05 a.m. President Bush, who is about to begin reading a book to elementary school students in Florida, is informed by his Chief of Staff that a second plane has crashed into the World Trade Center and that 'America is under attack.'
9:37 a.m.-Hijackers crash American Airlines Flight 77 into the Pentagon
9:42 a.m. The Federal Aviation Administration grounds all flights in the United States. Americans have no idea how many more attacks there will be. A nation is on edge.
9:45 a.m.-The White House and U.S. Capitol are evacuated.
A few people are jumping out of the World Trade Center buildings, perhaps believing they stood a better chance of surviving the unbelievable fall than they did the burning building.
9:59 a.m.-The horrific image of the South tower collapsing is broadcast all over America and the world.
10:03 a.m. United Airlines Flight 93 crashes in southern Pennsylvania after passengers vote to try to take back the plane from hijackers, knowing it will cost them their lives. The passengers succeed in preventing the pland from hitting its target: the United States Capitol Building in Washington, D.C.
10:28 a.m. The North Tower collapses
I remember being with our staff in a local restaurant. We quickly drove the three miles to the establishment, knowing they had a large network of televisions on display. The restaurant was packed. I don't recall anyone eating. We were all watching the North Tower collapse. We sat in stunned silence.
The collapse of the Word Trade Center caused an immense plume of toxic dust. Tens of thousands of people have reported long-term medical conditions such as respiratory disease or cancer as a result of inhaling the dust. The images of people fleeing as the dust rose and spread and the debris fell was apocalyptic.
On that day, 343 members of the New York City Fire Department died in the 9/11 attacks as they attempted to save people's lives. Most died after willingly entering the buildings after the planes crashed to try to find people to save.
5:20 p.m.-World Trade Center Building 7 collapses after debris falling from neighboring buildings caused it to catch on fire.
The September 11 attacks caused almost 3,000 deaths and tens of thousands of injuries as well as long-term health problems for thousands more.
8:30 p.m. President Bush addressed the nation from the White House and said, 'Today, our fellow citizens, our way of life, our very freedom came under attack in a series of deliberate and deadly terrorist attacks.'
All of that happened over the course of the day.
For the first two weeks after the attacks, Americans turned and returned to church in droves. People were looking for answers and wanted to get serious about God. Sadly, by the third or fourth week, depending on the locale, church attendance went back to 'normal.'
That day led to our nation soon going to war in Afghanistan, a war most Americans supported, to deal with those who caused the attacks and those who gave safe haven to would the terrorists. Osama bin Laden became a household name.
That was twenty years ago. Later, America would expand the war to Iraq. Some of our nations' best and finest gave their lives in service to this country in these wars.
But something else happened in America over the years: not only did Americans begin to turn on each other, we increasingly turned away from God. The secularization of America has accelerated the past decade. Somehow, we went from seeking God to turning away from Him, from pulling together and watching out for our neighbor to pulling away from our neighbor in distrust and anger, all in the span of twenty years.
What are we to make of all of these things on this 20th anniversary of 9/11?
I wish I could tell you I had all the answers, but I don't. Like you, I only see in part and know in part. God alone knows all of the reasons for 9/11.
We do know a few things:
1) Our study in Daniel affirmed strongly that God is Sovereign over the affairs of men, of all nations, all history, all events. He does as He pleases. I do not know all of the reasons (but one day when we are Home, we will know in full) why God allowed 9/11, but I would submit to you that He has been speaking to our nation for some time, using a megaphone to be precise, to get our attention. God was sovereign over 9/11 and He was (and is) seeking our attention.
2) God has been speaking to us loudly for twenty years, yet I fear we have not been listening. In the past twenty years, we have experienced 9/11, gone through a near complete financial collapse, have seen the extreme polarization and fragmentation of our nation, experienced Covid-19, our first pandemic of the modern era, and we are seeing not only the rapid advancement of secularism, but also the profound 're-writing' of so very much of what God says is Good and Holy and Virtuous. We see a rejection of His Good and embracing what He says is evil. God has been speaking and it would seem we are turning a deaf ear.
3) We have also seen a great falling away in terms of professing Christians and the church. There are many reasons for this, but it is significant. From packed churches to countless churches closing. This is no small thing.
4) We are seeing a growing hostility toward Christianity in our culture. This too is important.
So what do we do? May I suggest a few simple things:
First, we must not forget 9/11. There are still husbands and wives, children and parents who and friends who are grieving lost loved ones from that day, and, there are many who experience lasting trauma from that day, and the wars that followed. We must remember and we must pray for those who grieve, and those who hurt. Only Christ can heal those wounds and fill those voids.
Second, we must pray for our enemies. Jesus told us to do this. We must pray for a gospel movement among those who hate Christianity or hate America or both. We must pray for the salvation of those who intend us harm.
Third, we must pray for this nation. I believe that unless there is a Third Great Awakening, we are racing toward a very severe judgment. I am no 'prophet' in the foretelling sense, but I do have the very strong sense that these times are very significant. Many have the same sense. We must pray.
Fourth, we must engage the culture. We cannot shrink back into fear or indifference. We must follow Jesus no matter the cost. In an age of Great Indifference, I pray that we who profess His Name would burn brightly for Him. The darkness desperately needs to see the Light of Christ.
Fifth, we must engage those around us with the gospel. We are surrounded by people racing toward a Christless eternity. If 9/11 taught us anything, it is this: we have no guarantee of how the rest of the day will go. We must share Jesus. This culture needs Jesus.
Sixth, we must cry out to our Sovereign God for mercy. We are in His Hands.
Seventh, we must not forget. We must tell the story so the younger generation does not forget. We don't remember for the sake of vengeance, but rather so we might perhaps, in His grace, remember how much we need Him.
There are more things I could mention, more things we could think about and more things we could talk about in terms of application. Space does not permit that, however.
On this 9/11 anniversary, may we remember, may we pray, and may we humble ourselves before the Living God and cry out for mercy. We need Him. Desperately.
Grace to You,
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