Saturday, September 10, 2011

lessons from ground zero

In the 10 years since the Twin Towers fell, the American landscape has changed. Families no longer greet daddy at the gate as he steps off the plane from a business trip. Backpacks and purses are checked at ballparks. And, the nightly news usually reports on at least one international incident related to our military presence in terrorist hotspots.

But, it’s the spiritual shift--the internal change to our personal landscape--that is most significant. Reflecting on the last 10 years, these lessons have been most important to me:

WE ARE NOT INVINCIBLE. In Genesis 11, the people of the world decided to build a tower, reaching to the heavens, so that they could “make a name” for themselves. Their mighty monolith was going to be a testimony to their ingenuity, their power and their will. America prides itself on being “the most powerful nation on earth.” And, I am privileged to be born in and enjoy all of the resources available to me in our great country. But, our success puts our souls in danger. Our ability to invent, overcome, solve, construct and win---the very things that put us on top of the world—actually prevent us from humbly relying on God. Jesus said that it was difficult for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of heaven [Matthew 19:23] because his riches prevented him from realizing his great need. Today, Jesus might also add that it is difficult for accomplished architects, fund managers, trial lawyers, expert physicians, published professors or technology entrepreneurs to enter the Kingdom too. The tragedy of 9/11 reminded all of us that our greatest accomplishments are nothing compared to the greatness of God. Apart from Him, we can still do nothing. We are not invincible.
This reflection leads me to a second thought.
IT ALL FALLS DOWN. I write these words on my computer as I sit in the Fort Worth Water Gardens. It’s an idyllic setting…that will one day pass away. So will my computer. And the buildings that surround me. Second Peter 3:10 foreshadows a day when “the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.” Only God and the souls of men are eternal. This reflection doesn’t drive me to fatalism. It does, however, help me invest in the right things.
This leads to a third reflection.
LIFE IS PRECIOUS. The greatest loss on 9/11 wasn’t buildings, equipment, office files or the architectural legacy of two great towers. Loss is measured in almost 3000 people who didn’t make it home for dinner that evening. Loss is hundreds of infant children who never met their fathers. Loss is first responders who paid the ultimate price. 9/11 awakened us to the value of human life, no matter what age, what socio-economic category, what color their skin. When Jesus said “God so loved the world,” I think he meant the overweight woman smoking a cigarette a few yards from me. He meant the little boy with Down’s Syndrome playing on the stairs. He meant the homeless man in a straw hat with a cane, staring blankly into another world. All of these people have a beating heart, a life-story, future dreams and a family who would grieve if anything ever happened to them. And, each of them are priceless treasures to God—“red and yellow, black or white, they are precious in His sight.” The loss ten years ago taught us all about the value of human life.
I HAVE THE HEART OF A TERRORIST. I’ll never forget the general tenor of the words Billy Graham spoke at the memorial service for victims of the Alfred Murrah attack [Oklahoma City] years earlier: “The evil you have seen committed this day is in the heart of every one of us.” As sharp as these words were, Graham was reminding us of the fundamental truth of sin. As I have watched the nightly 9/11 news retrospects during this last week, I have reminded myself that I could have just easily devised a plot to hijack a plane. I could have bombed a building. I could have hated people. In fact, I have. I have wanted to harm people. I have wanted to push my agenda at all costs. I have wanted to make whole groups of people “pay a price.” I have participated in conspiracies. It’s in me. It’s in all of us. What the terrorists did on American soil was only a matter of degree.
EVIL IS A PERSON. With all the talk of “terrorists,” we might think that the enemy of 9/11 was a coalition of evil, power people. But, driving the sinister, self-centered actions of people [plural] is a person. Not Osama Bin Laden.  Not Saddam Hussein. Not any extremist leader hiding in the hills. Evil is the mastermind of Satan, a very real spiritual person. He is a created being [therefore, not the equal, opposite of God], not simply an impersonal “force” in the world. Paul affirms this in Ephesians 6:12, For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Because our enemy is spiritual, military might in the Persian Gulf will not ultimately defeat him. He must be fought with spiritual weapons of truth and prayer [see 2 Corinthians 10:3-5]. Because He is a person, we can be sure that he has a will, an agenda and a strategic plan leading to a strategic end. Peter warns us, “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” [1 Peter 5:8]

JUSTICE IS FIERCE. The work of the devil is dangerous. But justice is even more furious. When the smoke cleared from ground zero, the Pentagon and the Pennsylvania field, Americans were left with a lingering sense of injustice. Freedom had been violated. Innocence was robbed. What happened “wasn’t right.” The response that followed in the days and months afterward may have looked like revenge. But, it was no doubt motivated by a commitment to “make things right.” Justice is hardwired into every human being. It’s part of what it means to be made in the image of God [Genesis 1:26]. This global pursuit of justice is in-line with God’s purposes [because it reflects His character]. But, it is also a reminder that God will have the final say on justice—among all people. The whole world is accountable to Him. One day, we will all stand before His fierce judgment. And, the only way that anyone will stand secure is if the violence of their life has avenged at the cross of Jesus Christ.

GENUINE VIRTUE GIVES INSIGHT INTO THE ETERNAL. As the drama of 9/11 unfolded, hundreds of stories began to unfold. Brave firefighters climbed up the stairs as terrified workers streamed down. Teachers protected elementary school students. Flight passengers took matters into their own hands. Tributes have been written about calling, courage, community, and commitment. Each of these virtues is simply a shadow of a greater, eternal reality. Since we are made in the image of God, it’s not surprising that we would look and live like Him. So, just as our need for justice [see above] reflects the perfect justice of God, so each beautiful act of kindness, generosity, or bravery is a window into who God must be—but infinitely more.

GOOD TRIUMPHS. Just as the period ended the last sentence, so the good of God will be the final stroke in the history of the world. Every terrorist will be caught. Every evil will be recompensed. Every life will be restored. Every loss gets repaid. Every uncertainty gets clarified. This isn’t just a hope; it’s a promise. In the end, good triumphs because God triumphs. Dawn awakens the night. And for this reason, we can lay our heads down to sleep.

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