The events September 11, 2001 will leave an indelible mark on everyone's lives. Never in any of our lifetimes has this nation endured an attack of this magnitude. What are we to make of this? How does God want us, as individuals, the church and our nation to respond?
Daniel 9:3-19 reads:
So I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes. I prayed to the LORD my God and confessed: O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with all who love him and obey his commands, we have sinned and done wrong. We have been wicked and have rebelled; we have turned away from your commands and laws. We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes and our fathers, and to all the people of the land. Lord, you are righteous, but this day we are covered with shame -the men of Judah and people of Jerusalem and all Israel, both near and far, in all the countries where you have scattered us because of our unfaithfulness to you.
O LORD, we and our kings, our princes and our fathers are covered with shame because we have sinned against you. The Lord our God is merciful and forgiving, even though we have rebelled against him; we have not obeyed the LORD our God or kept the laws he gave us through his servants the prophets. All Israel has transgressed your law and turned away, refusing to obey you. Therefore the curses and sworn judgments written in the Law of Moses, the servant of God, have been poured out on us, because we have sinned against you. You have fulfilled the words spoken against us and against our rulers by bringing upon us great disaster. Under the whole heaven nothing has ever been done like what has been done to Jerusalem.
Just as it is written in the Law of Moses, all this disaster has come upon us, yet we have not sought the favor of the LORD our God by turning from our sins and giving attention to your truth. The LORD did not hesitate to bring the disaster upon us, for the LORD our God is righteous in everything he does; yet we have not obeyed him. Now, O Lord our God, who brought your people out of Egypt with a mighty hand and who made for yourself a name that endures to this day, we have sinned, we have done wrong.
O Lord, in keeping with all your righteous acts, turn away your anger and your wrath from Jerusalem, your city, your holy hill. Our sins and the iniquities of our fathers have made Jerusalem and your people an object of scorn to all those around us. Now, our God, hear the prayers and petitions of your servant. For your sake, O Lord, look with favor on your desolate sanctuary. Give ear, O God, and hear; open your eyes and see the desolation of the city that bears your Name. We do not make requests of you because we are righteous, but because of your great mercy. O Lord, listen! O Lord, forgive! O Lord, hear and act! For your sake, O my God, do not delay, because your city and your people bear your Name.
This was a prayer by Daniel that is rooted in a covenantal understanding of the Lord's relationship with His people: blessings for obedience, cursing for disobedience. Daniel knew that God had promised 70 years of desolation in Jerusalem through Jeremiah's prophecy; and he prays in a spirit of contrition and humility. As we face a national crisis, let us go to the Lord in that same spirit and ask Him what He would want us to understand, for we know that our times are in His hand; and for those who have ears to hear, He will speak and His purposes will be accomplished.
Father, as Daniel did over 2500 years ago, we acknowledge you, as the great and awesome God Who keeps covenant and mercy with those who love You and keep Your commandments, we confess our sins, our disobedience to Your Word, we acknowledge Your just and righteous judgments and we humbly ask that You would grant us mercy, for Your name's sake, that we might turn from our rebellious and apathetic ways and worship You in spirit and in truth. Open our minds and hearts that we might be convicted of our sins and know Your instructions for Your church so that we would be used as agents of reconciliation. Amen.
Aftermath of Terrorism
I do not think I have to review what happened September 11, 2001 in New York and Washington D.C. This is the most significant one-day attack, in our territory, by a foreign enemy in our nation's history and the only "invasion" of our territory other than Japan's attack on Hawaii, since the War of 1812. Congress has authorized the President to prosecute those individuals and nations behind this attack, and it is possible that we will be engaged in a level of conflict (a war without frontlines) that none of us have ever experienced in our lifetimes.
We will all be affected, to a greater or lesser degree, by what is taking place; and, as a church, we must understand how God would have us respond. I cannot tell you how much wacky, new age, humanistic commentaries I have been emailed. Thinking "good thoughts" is not the answer to what is happening today. God has assigned His bride, the church, to represent Him and has sent His Spirit to work through His people to be agents of reconciliation. I would like to take the four parts of Daniel's prayer as an outline for part of what I believe God would have our response be to the events of the week. In the future days, weeks, and months I want to expand on these issues outside of the pulpit through emails and newsletters. If we respond in a Biblical and redemptive manner, God may take what the enemy meant for evil to be a "good" thing in regards to His church and, hopefully, our nation. If Christ's church does not respond Biblically, we may be in for far worse.
I trust that is not an issue for us, "For as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord." There will be challenging and difficult days ahead. May we hear and obey what our Commander-in-Chief, the Lord of Hosts, is saying to us, and may this nation's commander-in-chief, President Bush, do likewise.
As we go through this outline I am focusing on the foundational actions we must take, which are spiritual by nature. For without establishing a firm foundation, God cannot bless that which we put our hands to. The state must reply, for it is the legitimate, right and responsibility, to raise armies and provide for the common defense. However, we must not act in presumption, that just because we are not Islamic terrorists, we are not necessarily, in the right. We need to beseech God for the proper military and political leadership that would understand the principles and issues involved in this war, and that we would pursue the capture, or death, of the murderous accomplices who have undermined the basis for social order.
Worship (v. 4)
In verse 4, Daniel worships the Lord, He declares Who He is, the great Sovereign Who keeps covenant with those who love Him and keep His commandments. This is a restatement of the second commandment. Everything begins and ends with God. His people must acknowledge that all things come from Him, even calamities.
Amos 3:1, 2, and 6: "Hear this word the LORD has spoken against you, O people of Israel - against the whole family I brought up out of Egypt: You only have I chosen of all the families of the earth; therefore, I will punish you for all your sins. When a trumpet sounds in a city, do not the people tremble? When disaster comes to a city, has not the LORD caused it?"
The Lord has allowed this event to happen, and despite its horror, we cannot forget that, "His ways are not our ways." And as Job said after God allowed Satan to level him, "Yet, I will worship You."
Revival always begins with the individual and his relationship with his Lord, and extends, through his family, into the church. Discipled believers will then extend God's reign in every area of life, including civil government. We cannot accept a "secular" nation.
In my lifetime, I have seen this nation go from an unashamedly Christian nation, however nominal, to a determinedly non-Christian nation. The church must wake up and challenge the rewriting of history and the changing of the meaning of our founding documents. The state has its legitimate sphere of authority; but it is not supposed to interfere with the church as it engages in its particular sphere. The church is not only free to speak into the life of the state, it has an obligation to do so. The church also has an obligation to equip members to be public servants, using God's wisdom to govern equitably.
In times of crisis, we need to identify faithful men who have been equipped and called, and fulfill our citizenship responsibilities by electing them to public office. The unbiblical, pietistic worldview that keeps Christians from influencing the civil sphere has allowed the unrighteous to govern and has made our nation a reproach for which we are, and will, be judged.
Confession of Sin (vv. 5-11)
We are His people, yet we have been unfaithful. All of us. On September 11, I went with a few pastors to hear George Barna, the Christian pollster. He had just completed a poll titled "A Look at Morality and the Church." I am not going to go into much detail, but it is a graphic illustration of our apostasy:
- 45% of members of mainline Christian churches said having an abortion is morally acceptable; this percentage is more than the general population which was 36%. In addition, 20% of born-again believers agreed. The number of babies killed every day by abortion in this nation nearly equals the number of people killed in the terrorist attack.
- 49% of mainline Christians answered that homosexuality is an acceptable lifestyle and 27% of born-again believers agreed.
- Cohabitating, or having a premarital sexual relationship, was seen as fine by 54% of mainline congregants and by 36% of born-again believers.
This is apostasy in the church and its leaders must take the blame. These are gross, moral failures; but those of us who engage in more subtle sins should not be prideful. All of us sin and fall short of God's glory.
The entire chapter of Nehemiah 9 is devoted to the confession of sins. Vs. 1-3: On the twenty-fourth day of the same month, the Israelites gathered together, fasting, wearing sackcloth, and having dust on their heads. Those of Israelite descent had separated themselves from all foreigners. They stood in their places and confessed their sins and the wickedness of their fathers. They stood where they were and read from the Book of the Law of the Lord their God for a quarter of the day, and spent another quarter in confession and in worshiping the Lord their God. Notice the pattern: confession and worship. Not these great "ecumenical" gatherings with various pagan priests offering up sacrifices and mindless chatter to gods that exist only in their imagination. But, believers set apart, confessing their sins to the Living God Who hears and can answer. We need to note that there are only two sides in this battle, God's and those that align themselves against Him.
These sides are not determined by national boundaries, but by faith in Jesus Christ. There are those who initiated those horrific acts, who did so based on the lie that they would be rewarded in Paradise. Now to their great everlasting horror, the fireball has not diminished and they will burn for eternity. Then there are the victims of these Islamic warriors who were unprepared to meet their God and are suffering the same fate. Then there are those, faithful and true, the elect of God who were called home early to be with the Father. We may miss them, but we can have confidence that, though they are absent from the body, they are present with the Lord.
Finally, there are the rest of us who Jesus is referring to in Luke 13:2-5 when He answered, "Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! However, unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them -do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish." In this battle, just because we are opposing the terrorists does not mean we are safe. To be ready to fight, we need to confess our sins and repent.
The Recognition of God's Justice (vv. 11-14)
We are a blessed people to have inherited a Biblical form of government, and God calls us to be faithful in our citizenship responsibilities. We need to acknowledge the justice of God's judgment for we have been unfaithful in our execution of our civil responsibilities. As Nehemiah recorded in chapter 9:32-35:
"Now therefore, O our God, the great, mighty and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love, do not let all this hardship seem trifling in your eyes - the hardship that has come upon us, upon our kings and leaders, upon our priests and prophets, upon our fathers and all your people, from the days of the kings of Assyria until today. In all that has happened to us, you have been just; you have acted faithfully, while we did wrong. Our kings, our leaders, our priests and our fathers did not follow your law; they did not pay attention to your commands or the warnings you gave them. Even while they were in their kingdom, enjoying your great goodness to them in the spacious and fertile land you gave them, they did not serve you or turn from their evil ways."
We have been given a great land and a godly heritage and have squandered that inheritance. Those who would be leaders, particularly, bear the heavier burden. We need to confess our sin, repent, and demonstrate our love for Him by keeping His commandments, which is our acceptable worship. For He is faithful and just to forgive us our sin and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
Plea for God's Mercy (vv. 15-19)
Daniel prays that God would extend mercy based on concern for His name, for the sake of His kingdom, and to accomplish His will. While we desire God's mercy, the sides of this battle are not so clearly drawn. Our Fundamentalist Islamic enemies are clearly not fighting to extend the kingdom of God, but neither is the government of the United States, or what is known as the Christian church in America, representing God's kingdom.
We, the church of Jesus Christ, need to repent of our idolatry, of our unholy mixture with the world, of our unfaithfulness to the clear purposes of God, for the wrath of God is turned away by repentance. We need to fight with the weapons that God has provided us, for we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but principalities and powers. As Paul said in 2 Corinthians 10:3-6: "For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ, and being ready to punish all disobedience when your obedience is fulfilled." We need to recognize, that we are fighting a real flesh-and-blood enemy that would not hesitate to kill and destroy, but if we want God's mercy, which we desperately need, we must enter this battle on His terms, not ours. Repentance must first begin in the house of God, for He declares in Isaiah that He hates sacrifices by those who do evil.
Isaiah 1:10-20: "Hear the word of the LORD, you rulers of Sodom; listen to the law of our God, you people of Gomorrah! 'The multitude of your sacrifices — what are they to me?' says the LORD. 'I have more than enough of burnt offerings, of rams and the fat of fattened animals; I have no pleasure in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats. When you come to appear before me, who has asked this of you, this trampling of my courts? Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me. New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations — I cannot bear your evil assemblies. Your New Moon festivals and your appointed feasts my soul hates. They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them.
"When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide my eyes from you; even if you offer many prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are full of blood; wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight! Stop doing wrong, learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.'
"'Come now, let us reason together,' says the LORD. 'Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool. If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the best from the land; but if you resist and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword.' For the mouth of the LORD has spoken."
We need to repent, turn around, change our life and lifestyle, for God declares that the gospel is a two-edged sword - eternal life for those who obey, and eternal damnation for those who rebel. And the good news is that it is not our perfect life that will earn us eternal life, but Christ's perfect life.
Father, I ask that Your word would not come back void. That we would repent, turn from our self-indulgent absorption, our complicity with murder (abortion), our failure to read Your Word, hear Your voice, and faithfully and consistently do those things that You are commanding us to do. That, in doing so, we would begin to lay a foundation for true revival in Your church and that Your kingdom purposes would be established in our personal lives, our families, and in the life of this church. That we would be like the men of Issachar, knowing the truth and, therefore, knowing what Your church ought to do. And as that foundation is established, that we would begin to build Your church according to Your Word and that it would bring You glory, honor, and praise. And as Your church becomes established, that we would take our rightful place in Your economy, being salt and light to the other governments that You have established. I ask that You would be our protection and that righteousness would be exalted in our land and we would again be able to rely on Your righteous protection. I ask that You would give those in civil government wisdom and strength to know and apply Your Word to the serious life and death issues that we are facing.
- Bill Garaway