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Attack On Civilization
On Tuesday, September 11, 2001, I spent most of the morning at the church. I did not listen to radio, or TV, did not check the Internet. About lunch time, Dot Yarborough came by the church, and told me something of what was happening. I went to the manse for lunch and turned on the TV. You know, of course, what happened. Terrorists crashed two jet passenger planes, fully loaded with fuel, into the twin towers of the world trade center. A third plane crashed into the Pentagon. A fourth crashed into a field in Pennsylvania. About an hour after being struck by the airplanes, both towers of the WTC collapsed. At this time, we do not know how many people have been killed. We know that about 50,000 people worked in the WTC. We hope that most of those got out, but certainly the casualty toll will be in the thousands. Right now over 200 firemen and police are listed as missing.
As I watched the television on Tuesday afternoon, I was stunned. I could not believe it. Over and over, I saw the video of that plane crashing into the second tower and the fire ball going all the way through the tower. I heard witnesses describing how people were jumping to their deaths to avoid being burned alive. The scenes of horror were too much for me, the catastrophe was too much, I sat there on the couch and cried.
And I felt an awful anger. I wanted to kill the people responsible for this. My first thought was that this is why we have nuclear weapons--to use on people who do this kind of thing. We ought, I thought, to make Afghanistan a radioactive waste. I have since heard that Osama Ben Laden, the prime suspect, in Tuesday's terrible attack may not even be in Afghanistan. So had we nuked Afghanistan on Tuesday afternoon, we would probably have killed a million Afghans, perhaps none of whom would have had anything at all to do with the WTC attack.
After I calmed down a bit, I began to look at my own reactions to the terrorist attack, and to reflect somewhat more calmly upon what had happened. My first reaction was that this was an assault on the United States of America. And it was. Terrorists struck on American soil and killed many American citizens. But it was more than that. The twin towers of the WTC were not primarily an American symbol but were a major cog in the world banking system. One newsperson made the comment that when we finally identify all the dead, there will be many foreign nationals among them--simply because so many nations did business at the WTC. The WTC was part of a global economic system. It was an institution of a developing global civilization. As such, the WTC represented everything that the terrorists hate.
Let us get into the mind of the enemy for a moment, and ask ourselves: What do the terrorists want? They are people who are alienated from all of modern civilization. They feel that the whole world has been westernized and americanized, and they desperately want to turn the clock back to another time. They want to go back to about the eighth century a.d., when Islamic nations were world powers, when Christianity consisted mainly of a cluster of barbaric nations in Western Europe, when women did what they were told and went veiled in public, when Arabic was the world's dominant language.
Arab terrorists, however, are not the only people who despise any notion of world civilization. We have our own Christian versions of such people. We have people who would like to turn back the clock to about 1950--when White males ran everything, and feminists and blacks and Hispanics had not been invented.. In 1950, all families were like the Cleavers on the old "Leave It to Beaver" TV show. All the kids were above average, and mom stayed home and fixed all this great food, and everone was white. Of course, most of that was not true even in the 1950's, but we are dealing in fantasy here And these so-called Christian White supremicists, Christian terrorists, will blow up buildings and kill to make a reality out of their evil fantasy.
Terrorism of any kind is an assault upon civilization. What happened on Tuesday was not just an attack upon America but an attack upon the very fabric of our culture. Part of our response should be to gather an alliance of nations that we can lead against all terrorists of every kind and stripe. In other words, we want not just to strike back against these terrorists, we want to stop terrorism. We want to prevent something like Tuesday from happening again.
The terrorists want us to unthinkingly strike back at all Moslems or all Arabs. All that would do would be to create more enemies and more terrorists. This is the kind of thing that has been going on in the Middle East for a long time. An Arab suicide bomber kills some Israelis. Israelis strike back and kill a bunch of Palestinians. Relatives of the dead Palestinians become terrorists. "You killed my father, I will kill you," So the cycle goes, and both sides become more and more polarized and filled with hate, and all that there can be is a war to the death. That is what the terrorists want. But if we can put together an alliance of nations, including Islamic nations, that are willing to act against terrorism, then we can create an atmosphere in which terrorism cannot prosper.
But I do not want to minimize the difficulty of the situation. There are people in the world, who are so alienated and angry that they want to destroy the whole world and they do not care if they die in the process. They have networks, resources, support from some nations. Terrorism is not a problem that we can somehow magically sweep under a rug somewhere.
What can we do? As individuals and as a church, what can we do? Our nation has a problem, our world has a problem. What can we do about it. Let us look at the apostle Paul's problem and see if we can find some answers. Paul did not have the same problem that we have, but he has definitely had severe difficulties.
During the great riot at Ephesus, when Demetrius and his fellow idol-makers raised a mob against Paul, because they saw that he was a danger to their craft, Pauls very life was in jeopardy. Thus, he writes in V8 "we were pressed out of measure, above strength, insomuch that we despaired even of life." The Apostle Paul attributes to God alone his preservation saying in V9 "that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God which raiseth the dead."
Paul argues that because God has delivered him in the past, and is still his help in the present, that he will be with him also in the future. The Apostle Paul is a master of spiritual arithmetic. He computes by the believers Rule of Three. He argues from the past to the present and from the present to the future. In V10 we read, "Who delivered us from so great a death, and doth deliver: in whom we trust that he will yet deliver us."
These are the kind of words we need to hear after Tuesday. Whatever our circumstances may be, however perplexed we may be, however dark our outlook may be, if we compute by the rule of three, we shall have confidence not in ourselves but in God. The rule of three is "God has, God does, God will." That rule gives us a comfort in God that can never be destroyed. When it seems to us then that we have witnessed a horror too evil to be contemplated, we must depend upon the rule of three. We trust in God because "God has, God does, God will."
But note this: Although the Apostle Paul acknowledged Gods hand, and Gods hand alone, in his deliverance, yet Paul did not undervalue the help that he received from people. On the contrary, having first praised God, he then remembers with gratitude the earnest prayers of Gods people, saying in v11 "Ye also helping together by prayer for us." And he desires Gods people to now unite their prayers with his, saying, "that for the gift bestowed upon us by the means of many persons thanks may be given by many on our behalf."
The Power of Prayer.
The first thing we notice then about these verses is the power of prayer. It is a power that we desperately need after Tuesday. Prayer is like an abounding and rejoicing river through which Gods blessing flow to us. Prayer is the golden key that unlocks for us the well-stored warehouses of heaven.
Sometimes the favors of God come to us unsought, and unprayed for, for God knows what we need better than we know ourselves, but there are other favors that are only bestowed upon those who ask. The scripture teaches that those who ask receive, those who seek find, those who knock have the door opened for them.
Some people always ask: Why does God want us to pray? Because our real life is in God and when we pray we acknowledge the source of our life. It is not the particular words of a prayer that are most important. After all, God knows our needs before we pray. So our prayers are not made effective because of certain formulas or certain phrasings, but rather by the very act of praying. By the very fact that we pray, we express our dependence upon God, and our obedience and devotion to God.
Prayer reminds us of how much we need God. If God gave us favors without requiring us to pray for them, we would never know how bad off we are without him. Prayer is an application to God for help, but it is also a confession of human emptiness. The most healthy state of a believer is to be always empty of self and always depending upon God.
Meister Eckhart says "The most powerful prayer, and almost the strongest of all to obtain everything, and the most honorable of all works, is that which proceeds from and empty spirit. The emptier the spirit, the more is the prayer and the work mighty, worthy, profitable, praiseworthy and perfect. The empty spirit can do everything."" [Meister Eckhart p248] Perhaps I should explain that by an empty spirit, Eckhart means an unattached spirit. He means a free heart or disposition. He goes on to say, "An empty spirit is one that is confused by nothing, attached to nothing, has not attached its best to any fixed way of acting, and has no concern whatever in anything for its own gain, for it is all sunk deep down into Gods dearest will and has forsaken its own." [ibid].
This then is one use of prayer. It teaches us to be poor in self and rich in God. It teaches us that without God we are weak as water, but with God we can do mighty things. Thus, prayer in itself, apart for the answers it gives, is a great benefit to the believer. As the runner gains strength for the race by daily exercise, so in the great race of life we gain strength by the holy labor of prayer. Spiritually speaking, most of us are like young birds still in the nest, afraid to fly. Prayer enables us to stretch our wings and leap out in faith to God.
Or put it another way: Prayer is the major weapon of Gods warriors in the constant ongoing combat with Satan. The scripture tells us that during the Exodus, it was the uplifted hands of praying Moses that routed the Amalekites more than the sword of Joshua. Prayer clothes the believer with the love of God. Prayer turns human folly into heavenly wisdom. Prayer gives to troubled people the peace and serenity of almighty God.
There is a power also in the united prayers of Gods people. We receive many favors of God because of our individual prayers, but we can receive some favors only by the united prayers of the congregation of the faithful. Elijah and Daniel prayed alone, and God answered their prayers, but Jesus promised us in MT 18:19, "If two of you shall agree on earth as touching anything that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven." In the book of Acts, we read that the Holy Spirit came on the day of Pentecost because all of the disciples were praying "with one accord in one place." And later on in that same book we read that Peter was delivered from prison because the church was praying for him.
God answers the prayers of one who prays, but God answers better when many pray together. We say in the Apostles Creed, "I believe in the communion of the saints." In part that means that we believe in communal prayer--in praying together. The scripture speaks of the church as the body of Christ. When the body prays together, it is Christ himself praying, and his prayers will not go unanswered or unheard.
The ministry of prayer is a ministry for every Christian. From the youngest babe in the faith, to the oldest saint of God, we can all pray. And these prayers of Gods people are the true wealth of the church. We have offering plates to receive your offerings for the cause of God. We also have a spiritual bank account in which we can deposit our prayers, and every Christian can and should contribute to that account.
Today, we have much need of prayer, and much to pray for. We pray for those who suffered in Tuesdays attack upon civilization. We pray for the victims and their families. We pray for the firefighers, policemen, emergency workers who are even now risking their lives to try to find survivors in the ruins. We pray for the leaders of our nation and the leaders of our world.
When we pray, we need prayers of strength. The prayer that prevails with God is a prayer of earnestness. We need some Samsons of prayer who will shake the pillars of heaven and labor to pull down those pillars rather than be denied. We do not want featherweight prayers that only touch lightly upon our real burdens and concerns. We want prayers with heavyweight punching power. We do not want those little, hesitant, uncertain, half-hearted, half-believing prayers that barely knock at the door of Gods mercy. We want warriors in prayer who will hammer at heavens gate until it opens. Eckhart says, "We ought to pray so powerfully that we should like to put our every member and strength, our two eyes and ears, mouth, heart, and all our senses to work; and we should not give up until we find that we wish to be one with him who is present to us and whom we entreat, namely God" [Eckhart 249].
Terrorists seek to inspire fear and terror by striking at innocent people, but we have a mighty power that can overcome terrorism. We have the power of prayer, a power inspired by the rule of three. Because we know that God has been with us, God is with us, God will be with us, we pray with confidence. That is what we need After Tuesdayconfident prayers, strong prayers. Amen.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
Copyright 2000 York Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church
Last modified, 9/20/01