Airplanes crashed. Buildings burned. Paper flew. People jumped. America watched. Horrified. Passengers resisted. Airplanes crashed. Buildings toppled. People ran. Terrorists died. Americans died. Fighter jets scrambled. Air traffic stopped. A President stood firm. Americans wondered. Heroes responded. Flags flew. America cried. America resolved.
But many forgot.
Despite all the anti-W hysteria, it has been five years since a terrorist attack of any kind has touched America. If that is losing the war on terror, then I’ll take losing. Thanks to our military, many of whom have made the ultimate sacrifice defending our freedom.
Five years ago. It seems like it was just yesterday. Five years ago came this generation’s defining moment. For better or for worse, September 11 changed America.
And as our country reeled, my pastor, Pastor Mark Short, sent me an e-mail from the Fijian Islands, where he was visiting his daughter and son-in-law, Kory and Wendy Mears.
Pastor Short heard about the terrorist attack from Fiji. He wanted me to know that he had heard, and he had some thoughts about it. He saw in those attacks God’s hand of judgement against America. He gave me a verse: the horse is prepared against the day of battle, but safety is of the LORD. He encouraged us to pray for national revival. And he hoped that America would defend herself.
Then, another day later, Pastor Short e-mailed once again. This time, he told me that air traffic was restricted, that it didn’t look like he would be back for Sunday as originally planned. I e-mailed him back to tell him that I was preparing, and that we would miss him. Somehow, we managed to catch each other at the right time. Within thirty minutes, I had another reply. This time, Pastor Short told me that he would be enjoying the extra time in Fiji, that he and his boys were headed for a secluded beach where the waves were ten feet high, and they could have some fun playing in the water. It was the last we ever heard from him.
Later that night, we received the phone call that Pastor Short had been lost at sea. Three days later, they recovered his body.
Our church, already reeling from the terrorist attacks of September 11, was crushed. Our nation’s tragedy was forgotten, as we dealt with our own. Our deacons gathered on the night Pastor Short was lost, and poured out their hearts in prayer to God. Though we didn’t know for sure what God intended, when we finished praying, we had a peace that this was God’s will. We prayed more. We prayed for our church. We prayed for wisdom. We rested on God that night.
Friday morning came early. While Pastor Short was in Fiji, I was covering his paper route for him. I was up at 4:00 in the morning, driving to the route, when it finally hit me. Pastor Short was gone. I couldn’t see. I couldn’t drive. I pulled over on the side of the road, and cried. I can’t describe the pain I felt. I can’t imagine how Pastor Short’s boys felt as they watched the waves carry away their father. I can’t imagine the pain his family felt as they waited to no avail, hoping for a miracle, yet knowing there would be none. My pain was not their pain. But I remember the pain nevertheless. Pastor Short was my pastor, my friend, a father to me, as Paul was to Timothy. He was one of the most important influences in my life. As I sat there alongside the road, wave after wave of sorrow washed over my soul. And I cried. There was no holding back.
Finally, I was able to drive to the route. Time after time, as I tossed newspapers onto porches, I stopped for a fresh flood of tears. Back at home once again, I sat with my wife in the bedroom and together we poured out our heart to each other. Pastors called to comfort and help, friends called to offer a shoulder to cry on. I will always appreciate their help. I remember when my closest friends, the staff at Fairhaven, called. I remember that several times, I broke down on the phone while a fresh fountain of tears overflowed.
Five years later, as I look back, I realize that it was that time, holding my wife, pouring out my heart to God, crying, praying, talking, that God gave me the strength I would need. Some worried that, in comforting the church, I did not have time to mourn. It wasn’t something I could talk about at the time. But in those early morning hours, God allowed me that time. And then, the Comforter came, and gave me strength for the task.
Friday passed, and Saturday. I was to preach on Sunday. What do you say? What do you preach at a time like this? The weight of a church rested on me. I remember talking to Dr. Voegtlin about it. I remember his counsel and comfort. Look to God. Talk about him.
Saturday night, I still wondered what I should say. How can I comfort God’s people? What would you have me to say, Lord? And then, God drew my mind to the passage that my Grandfather had taught me so many years before, the passage that had sustained him through the death of his son, my father. I went to Romans chapter 8: Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, for thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principlaities, nor powers, nor things present, nor thing to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Sunday morning came. I walked in the door, heard the sobbing of our people, and walked back out. What could I say? I wasn’t the right person for the job. So many men were better equipped. What was I doing here? Yet I was the right person for the job. God put me there for such a time as this. It couldn’t be someone else. I walked back in. I saw our men, I looked them in the eye, and I cried. On that day in particular, I determined that I would hold back nothing. The tears came many times, yet we all found some level of comfort in the knowledge of the love of God, of His Sovereign hand guiding in our affairs.
Somehow, God got us all through that service. And when the day was over, we had found God's promise to be true. His grace was sufficient, his strength was perfected in our weakness.
Five years later, we look back with awe and wonder at all God has done. He brought us through this time, and we are better for it. Surely, we can say, though we do not understand all that he has done, that The LORD is righteous in all his ways, and holy in all his works.
What a God we serve!