Terror from the heavens
By Norman Miller
preached at New Hope Baptist Church
September 16, 2001
September 11, 2001---a day emblazoned in the collective American memory---a day that has burned into my heart an emotional collage of sympathy, anger, grief, love, and, yes, forgiveness.
At 8:45 a.m. last Tuesday morning, a Boeing 767--carrying, mercifully, only about half its passenger capacity, and weighing almost 200 tons and also carrying about 20,000 gallons of aviation fuel--slammed into the north tower of the World Trade Center.
Like millions in America and around the world, I watched the television news reports of the tower one tragedy when at 9:06 I saw the second Boeing 767 jetliner pierce the concrete and steel and glass of the south tower and then belch out the opposite side a murderous fireball.
I simply could not believe my eyes. What I saw reminded me of a life-sized video game scenario. But, what happened was not virtual reality--it was real-time tragedy.
Could it get worse? Yes, it could.
Thirty-two (32) minutes later, at 9:38 a.m., a Boeing 757--which, like the other planes carried about half its passenger capacity, and weighing almost 130 tons and carrying about 11,000 gallons of fuel--breached the 2-feet-thick walls of the Pentagon.
What next, God? What next? Surely this nightmare will end.
No, not for us. But some who had to choose between a death by fire or by falling, they jumped from the twin towers of the World Trade Center into eternity. One couple held hands as they plummeted some 1,000 feet to their deaths. Others, bless God, made their way out. One woman descended the stairs from the 92nd floor, giving hope that many more did the same.
Soon after the Pentagon was attacked, at 9:50 a.m., the upper portion of the south tower of the World Trade Center succumbed to the intense heat that had weakened its structural supports, and it fell into the tower’s lower floors, ultimately "pancaking" the 110-story structure into a pile of rubble and carnage barely two stories tall.
For those who were trying to hold their chins up in the midst of these diabolical acts, the stark realization came that it was but a matter of time until the north tower relented to the 200-ton, 20,000-gallon bomb that invaded the private office spaces of American and international businesses.
And the burden that compassionate souls around the world bore was increased again 10 minutes later, at 10 a.m., with the news that a fourth jetliner, another Boeing 757--again, mercifully, at about half its passenger capacity--had nose-dived into the rural soil of Shanksville, Pennsylvania, leaving a silhouette of the plane in the dirt.
At 10:30 a.m., it was hard for me to be horrified or terrorized any more. My heart couldn’t have sunk any lower in my chest, nor could I have sunk any deeper into my chair as I watched the World Trade Center’s north tower buckle and yield to what President Bush called the attack of a "faceless coward."
I stared at the television, frozen with fright, gripped by grief, tense with terror, and numbed into a dreamlike semi-consciousness by the nefarious deeds of cowards without conscience.
The death-toll rises as do the questions?
A local paper has commented that pastors should not let their parishioners believe that God did this.
Couldn’t God have stopped this tragedy? Yes, He could have. But I submit that God has stopped many tragedies in our past as he is a loving, merciful, and slow-to-anger kind of God. Do any of you parents like to spank your children?
One common question is, Why did God let this happen?
Countless preachers, pastors and other religious figures are saying this is a wake-up call to America--a spiritual wake-up call.
While preaching at Friday’s National Day of Prayer and Remembrance observance at the National Cathedral in Washington. D.C., Dr. Billy Graham said, "One of the things we desperately need is a spiritual renewal in America...a spiritual revival... And God has told us in his Word time after time that, we are to repent of our sins and return to him and He will bless us in a new way."
I was never happier to hear Dr. Graham preach the gospel as he shared that eternal message of hope with people around the world. And he was the only cleric who spoke that got any recognition from the crowd--a standing ovation.
But the question remains: Would God really allow 5,000 (or more) people die in order to get our attention? Would he let such a thing happen so it might serve as a wake-up call to saints and sinners alike?
I say yes. It is absolutely within His permissive will to allow evil to succeed in order to get the attention of His people. This is one of the ways He has worked in the history of Israel. So it shouldn’t surprise us that he has allowed this diabolical evil to transpire in order to get the attention of Christians in America and around the world--those, who, according to Romans chapter 11, are "spiritual Israelites."
Why should it surprise us that God has allowed such a massive, fatal tragedy to get our attention--when in America, a horrible natal tragedy occurs every 20 seconds? That means that during the two-and-three-quarter hours of horrific events on September 11, 295 living babies, created in God’s image and personally known by Him, were ripped, cut, vacuumed or burned with saline solution from their mothers’ wombs.
In one day in America, 4,320 babies are aborted. How much of God’s attention does that get? That’s 1.5 million babies a year. And since the passage of Roe v. Wade, and using these statistics, that’s about 40 million little lives.
And some in our nation are ready to blast Afghanistan off the face of the earth for the deaths of about 5,000 people?
Hmmmm......wonder how incensed God is about 40 million little souls He blessed us with, and we threw into the garbage dumps because they were considered "inconvenient"?
Some argue--What about rape, what about incest? To them I would refer the statistics that prove that 97 percent of abortions are convenience abortions.
Abortion is but one sin from which our culture needs to repent, and there are so many others, like homosexuality, pornography--a "free-speech" right...and our US Constitution’s framers are turning in their graves over that one--and greed, and pride, and a host of others.
Yes, the low-down, rotten sinners in our country really have cheapened our value system of Judeo-Christian ethics, RIGHT?
Let’s turn to 2 Chronicles 7:14 and see what it will take for God to heal our land from the blight of all these Godless abortionists, homosexuals, thieves and money mongers.
2 Chronicles 7:14 says:
"If my people, who are called by name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land."
Whoa, did you see that? For years, we’ve been blaming the American Civil Liberties Union for our countries ills, along with People for the American Way and Planned Parenthood. For eight years we blamed President Clinton. We blame the Democrats, the Republicans, the National Organization for Women, the homosexuals, transsexuals, bi-sexuals, the Mafia, the liberals, the New-Agers, the Cults, M-TV, Disney, Hollywood, Punk Music, Rock Music, hippies and marijuana, thugs and drugs, freaks and geeks, and nerds and dips. Hey, we have blamed everyone for our country’s ills but the appropriate party-----US!-----God’s church.
Note the verse: If MY people will humble, pray and turn (repent), then--and ONLY then--will our country will be healed of the blight of the same kind of wickedness that inspired the recent attack on our nation.
Have you felt in recent decades that our Judeo-Christian ethic--the one that founded our nation--has been trodden underfoot by a godless society?
That shouldn’t surprise you.
Jesus said in Matt. 5:13 that when salt loses its savor, it is good only to be tossed on the road and to be trodden underfoot.
How does real salt lose its savoring power?--by dilution.
Christians have willfully diluted themselves--or, more accurately--polluted themselves by eating from the world’s sinful table rather than the table God prepares for us in the presence of our enemies--the table of the Bread of Life, the table of manna from heaven.
Here’s one question that might help illustrate what I mean about how we have polluted ourselves: WITHOUT raising your hands, because I don’t want to pick on individuals--that’s the Holy Spirit’s job, to convict us of sin--how many of you saw the movie, The Titanic?
First, let me say that I did NOT see the movie--because I had an idea of what the storyline and content were. I found out by going to www.screenit.com and I read the detailed reviews.
Here’s what screenit.com had to say about the movie:
It was rated PG-13 (13 is for one’s age) for "disaster related peril and violence, nudity, sensuality and brief [bad] language"
And about the brief language:
At least 1 "f’ word, 12 "s" words, 8 "d" words, 6 "h" words, 3 "a" words, 2 S.O.B.s, and 9 uses of "GD," 4 uses each of "For God’s sakes" and "Oh God," 2 uses each of "God," "Jesus" and "My God," and 1 use each of "Jesus Christ," "Christ," "Oh my God," and "God Almighty" as exclamations. WOW, lookit how many times people were calling on the name of the Lord. This must have been a movie about a church service.
Sexual content included drawings of full frontal nudity, and during the time of a similar painting, actress Kate Winslett is seen several times naked from the waist up as she poses for that painting.
There is another scene in which two actors use the back seat of a car as a bed for illicit sexual activity.
Now, for any Christian that saw that movie, I would ask, How would you feel if Jesus Christ walked into your living room as you watched that movie, or walked into the theater as you watched that movie?
Guess what, people, Jesus DID see every believer that watched that movie--a story of an immoral affair complete with nudity, the sex act, and language that demeaned Him.
My wife works at a Christian organization that employs hundreds of Southern Baptists, and she said there were many people there who spoke in glowing terms of that movie. I can tell you that I heard many believers talking about that movie, saying how "wonderful" and "tragically romantic" it was. Hey, the tragedy is that God’s people spent His money on such filth. That’s the tragedy!
In how many other Godless and sinful things has the Lord’s church indulged?
Do you know any Christian that cheats the Internal Revenue Service?
Do you know any Christian that steals from his or her boss?
Do you know any Christian that treats the Lord’s Day as anything other than holy?
What other wickedness and sinful practices might the Lord’s people do?
Let me ask you this:
With the tragedy of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the blame game has begun. Some say our "intelligence community" should have known about this, some say our "intelligence community" did know some facts about it and chose not to act appropriately. If they did fully know, would it have been a sin if they didn’t warn people in the twin towers or Pentagon? Of course!
You know what? We Christians have a pretty well-kept secret. We have information about impending doom, about a stealthy terrorist who is the ultimate "faceless coward" who with subtlety and hatred plots the destruction of billions of people with a quenchless fire.
We have a secret that can help people escape the tragic snares of that destruction. In fact, the secret we have also offers an alternative to destruction that is more than a simple escape--it offers a refuge of proportion yet to be fully known. Some say the escape leads to an eternal paradise.
Is it a sin for us to keep such information a secret?
Of course, I am talking about the gospel, the saving message of Jesus Christ. And, yes, it IS sinful for us to keep our mouths shut about the greatest hope the world has ever known.
And at the time of tragedy, whether personal or national, people who don’t know God are the most sensitive spiritually, and are the most willing to hear about God than at any other time in their lives.
Now, IF we were to ask for anyone in this room who has led someone to Christ in the last year to raise their hand, how many hands would there be raised?
Of course, I do suspect that many more hands would go up IF we asked who all has at least SHARED the gospel in the last year--but if we to ask how many times?
And if we were to ask if anyone here had NEVER led anyone to Christ, how many hands would be raised?.....or never even TOLD anyone about Jesus?
While I have been privileged to share the gospel in countless public settings, and thereby have no conclusive knowledge of how many may have accepted Christ though those efforts, I am ASHAMED before you AND the Lord about the low number of people I KNOW I have led to Christ.
Now, I am NOT trying to shame anyone into witnessing to others about the saving grace of Christ, for shame is NOT the proper motivation: Love is----love for the Savior, and love for the sinner.
But the problem is, we love ourselves more than Jesus or others.
We quail under the terroristic threat that someone may slam a door in our face--or think we are a fanatic--so we are silenced into satanic submission.
There is much from which God’s people must repent. I do not recall specific statistics, but I have read studies and surveys taken among those people who claim the name of Christ, and those studies reveal that we are guilty of more abortions than those who do not claim Christ--that we are guilty of more divorces than those who don’t claim Christ.
Actress Anne Heche--a self-professed bi-sexual--recently traversed the nation’s talk shows touting her new biography in which she claims she was molested repeatedly all through her childhood by her father----a Baptist minister! Of course, her family denies these charges. No matter, the prisons in our country have many former ministers who are incarcerated for the same crime.
But how did we get into this condition? How do God’s people get to such a place?
It is said that if you put a frog in pot of hot water, it will jump out. But if you put it in room temperature water, it will remain. And then if you put that pot on the stove and slowly increase the heat, the frog will remain until it is boiled alive--never really aware of its coming demise.
Satan has been slowly turning up the heat.
God’s people are being boiled alive in their sins of selfishness, materialism, and spiritual apathy.
And we got here slowly, like the frog in the kettle.
We have grown complacent--and complacency is but a prelude to comfortable disobedience.
Did you hear that?
Complacency is but a prelude to comfortable disobedience.
That is what has happened to the Lord’s church.
What’s the remedy?
We must get ourselves off of the thrones of our lives and humble ourselves before a holy God.
Not until we are broken about our sins of commission and omission will the Lord begin to hear our pleas for revival--that is, if we really want revival.
But, humility is not a popular personal attribute today. We have the Grammys, the Tonys, the Golden Globes, the Academy Awards, as well as play-offs and championship games in a variety of sports. These are not based in humility but on one’s superior ability, or that of a team.
Of course, many sports and other amusements are not inherently evil. It’s what goes along with them that determine their value, or lack of it. And pride in one’s self, or conceit, is not a value that brings revival.
When preachers get together and talk, the first question usually asked is, "What’s the size of your church?" Or, maybe, "How many did you have in church last Sunday?" Preachers never ask each other "How many people found Christ through your preaching and personal witnessing last week?" I have never heard that question. Wonder why?
And church laypeople are no less prideful in the matters of their lives, whether it is pride in their children or grandchildren or property or retirement funds or hobbies or possessions. Pride is one of the 7 deadly sins. Humility is the opposite of pride, and that is the only condition of God’s people in which true revival can occur.
Whereas in our verse, the humility of God’s people is the 1st key to revival
Praying is the 2nd.
We have talked about prayer before, and here is some of what we said about it:
Jesus quoted Isaiah 56:7 in Mt. 21:13 when He said, "My house shall be a house of prayer."
Listen folks, the amount of time we spend in prayer is directly reflective of at least two things: what we believe about prayer and how much time we want to spend talking with God.
The Bible says we Ought always to pray
Daily, in the morning Psalms 5:3; 88:13; 143:8; Isaiah 33:2
Twice daily Psalms 88:1
Thrice daily Psalms 55:17; Daniel 6:10
All night Luke 6:12
Without ceasing 1 Thessalonians 5:17
But the problem is that God hears no more than our hearts speak. And if our hearts are silent--then God will certainly be deaf
I told you of a church I know about that spends 30 minutes each Wednesday night in prayer--not sitting listening to each other pray, which is a good thing--but as individuals, praying over a spiritual and physical needs list.
Is New Hope Baptist Church ready to do that?
Prayer is the 2nd key to healing our sick land
Seeking God’s face is the 3rd
The Scripture says
"Seek the Lord while He may be found
Are we actively seeking God?
If you lost your car keys, how long would you look for them? If your child got lost, how long would you look for that child. If you lost your wallet, how long would you look for it? Have you lost your fervor for the things of God? How long have you spent looking for it? For all those other items we mentioned, you’d look for them until you found them. Have you done the same in terms of your relationship with God? I guess our car keys, children and wallets are more important to us than the condition of our relationship with God.
You know, when I was a disobedient child, I never went looking for my Dad! Rather, I was on the LOOKOUT for him. The hair stood on the back of my neck when I heard Dad’s car crunching the gravel in the driveway. That meant that Dad was home, and my personal peace was at risk!
Do you think that is why we don’t seek God as often as we ought? How many of us tell God, "You just wait down there at the old hardware store--where New Hope Baptist Church meets--what’s that--you know where it is? Well, anyway, I’ll come seek you there twice a week"?
For some of you, it’s once a week---and for some---even less.
Now I am not offended when people don’t come to church. I just feel sorry for them that they think they have found something better than to meet with God and His people.
I HOPE our church attendance is NOT indicative of how often we want to seek God in our lives. I do hope such is not the case.
But, I am afraid that it is true for the church in America. Our country is sick because the church is sick----and we need revival--that is, the church needs revival.
Notice that even if we humble ourselves and pray and seek God, that those three things are NOT enough for revival. If we stop there, we are just shadow boxing. We are expend ding energy, but doing no damage to the enemy. We are hardly winning a war that way.
After we do those three things, humble, pray and seek, we must repent. All the first three things will be in vain unless we follow them up with repentance. Otherwise, we are just going through the motions.
What does it mean to turn from our wicked ways?
Repentance is an inward decision that is reflected in outward action. Wanting to repent, saying we will repent, talking about repentance--those are NOT repentance. We MUST CEASE our WICKEDNESS.
We must cease the sins we commit, whatever they are, and we have already talked about many of them
PLUS: there are some things we need to START doing, thereby riding ourselves of the sins of omission. Those sins of omission might include not humbling ourselves, not praying enough, not seeking God’s face!
Whatever we are doing wrong......STOP!
Whatever we are NOT doing that is right........START!
Only when we do these things
Seek God’s face
Then we have God’s promise that He will heal our land. We have God’s promise!
If New Hope Baptist Church does not do these things
and if Christian all across America do not do these things, then I fear the next spiritual wake up call that we get might make the events of September 11 look like a scuffle between school boys. The next wake-up call may put millions of us to sleep!
Shall we continue to thumb our noses in the face of a holy and loving and righteous God? NO! Because the God we claim to love and to serve is also a God of wrath. He is slow to wrath, but that doesn’t mean He will never get to it.
New Hope folks---I have said some hard things. Someone asked me earlier this week if I would tell them what my sermon would be about today. I said that would be difficult because the sermon was, at that time, preaching to me--and it still is. Has it preached to you?
If it has, I will be here in the front, ready to counsel with you.
If you want to pray where you are, that’s fine.
If you want to come and sit on the front row and pray--as a testimony to the rest of us---that’s fine.
If you want to get involved in a local church and get to work for God by joining New Hope Baptist Church, that’s fine.
But the finest of all is for you and for me to humble ourselves, pray, seek God’s face and repent.