LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (BP)–9/11. No one in America is confused about that date. Evil men with evil intents, bearing down on thousands of innocent men and women; buildings demolished at the core of who we are as a nation; blood and smoke and fire as twin towers slid into the earth.
All across the land in the days leading up to Sept. 11, 2002, we saw images, lit candles, prayed prayers for the victims and remembered.
But I propose a different kind of memorial. A memorial not to those who are slain, although this is not to slight or minimize in any way their loss, or to the 9/11 heroes who gave so courageously and fought so valiantly. I offer a memorial to God.
What REALLY was 9/11 all about? In reality, this world is not about earthly kingdoms, but heavenly. It is not about human agendas, but divine. It is not about preserving our way of life for this age, but equipping ourselves and others for the next. It is about God and man and their relationship to each other. Jesus said it was about God’s kingdom coming and God’s will being “done on earth as it is in heaven.”
Has there been a nation in this millennium more blessed than America? We have received more good gifts from God than imaginable. Life, liberty, the ability to pursue our dreams. Abundant wealth (opulent wealth). “Every good and perfect gift comes from above, from the Father of lights,” James said. It is all from him; he has been overwhelmingly generous and gracious.
And what about the American church? With the click of a computer key, every Christian in America can access millions of bytes of biblical information. Bookstores abound with spiritual data. We have had the opportunity to learn, to know, to hear and to respond to Christ and his Word perhaps more than any group of people who have ever lived. We have “received and heard” infinitely more than the church of Sardis in Revelation 3 which Christ said was, despite its deeds, spiritually dead. We have resources for ministry of which they never dreamed. If mobilized, we have the wealth, the personnel and the message to reach the world for Christ.
God is clear. “To whom much is given, much is required.” Although we may have partially fulfilled our responsibilities to touch the world in worship and service and evangelism and missions in past seasons, we are in a robust decline today. And 9/11 brought no change.
We are spiritually bankrupt as a nation. 9/11 proved the point. After a foxhole flurry of religious prayer and activity, America has returned to a decreased interest in church attendance, worship, prayer and spiritual response. Our churches, although some are dramatically bigger, seem to make no moral or ethical dent on the society. Every denomination, when viewed realistically without creative accounting, is losing ground statistically. The landslide of moral decay has not in the least been abated by 9/11 (so says George Barna, who is our best Christian statistician). Our show of religious fervor was a spiritual hiccup.
9/11 was about evil. It was what the world is like apart from Christ. What drove the terrorists into the twin towers? A godless man who promotes a godless religion. What is behind that religion that would make true believers the enemy (which is at the heart of Islamic theology)? That would seek to “kill, steal, and destroy” the lives of those who name the name of Christ? That is causing more Christian martyrdom around the world in this decade than any decade since Jesus walked on the earth? It is Satan, who is the father of all lies. It is the archenemy of God who has sucked men into his hellish deception, both capturing their lives and dooming them to an eternity without Christ and convincing them that it is a good and spiritual thing to kill those who represent Christ and lead others to Christ.
9/11 was a wakeup call, just like God’s call to Sardis to repent. In the midst of evil, God calls to the church of America, to every true believer, “I know your deeds, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead. Wake up, and strengthen the things that remain, which were about to die; for I have not found your deeds completed in the sight of My God. Remember therefore what you have received and heard; and keep it, and repent.”
Has anyone listened? I know 9/11 has made us sorrowful, but has it made us repentant? Has your prayer life changed? Are you leading more people to Christ? Has your lifestyle been altered as a result of God’s voice through the wreckage? Do you have a more fervent passion to reach a world that is drowning in deceptions such as Islamic thought? “This is what evil does,” God shouts. “This is what happens when God is ignored and lives are not adjusted to his eternal agenda … when evil goes public.” 9/11 was a gruesome picture of what happens in a world without God.
For those of us who know Christ, it’s not about fighting a human battle ultimately, but spiritual warfare. It is a call for us to remember what we’ve been given, wake up and repent and do the only thing that will prevent such evil from occurring to the lives we love — to love God with all our heart and to lead people to him so that their lives can be changed. People changed by the power of God do not commit such acts. Our “deeds are not completed in the sight of God” until we make that known to every person in our circle of influence and offer them the invitation to know the God who changes lives and brings, peace, righteousness and genuine love.
So I offer a different kind of memorial. A memorial to the God who has been ignored. An offering and a prayer to the Lord who has been deprived by our self-centeredness from the glory he deserves. I offer a memorial of remembering him, what he has given me and said to me, and the call and commission he has given to my life. I offer a memorial of repentance from my narcissistic lifestyle that has given no picture of God to those around me who are desperately in need of him. I offer a memorial — not of a candle, but a life burning in service to be consumed in making disciples of all nations. Rather than a 50-cent votive candle, I offer an awakened life in remembrance, repentance and aggressive service until my “deeds are completed in the sight of God.”
Television has been filled with pictures and programs that remember the slain, and I join them in grief. But I carry, and I believe God carries, a greater sorrow. A sorrow for a church that will not awaken.
Thus I offer a different kind of memorial.
Elliff is pastor of The Summit Church in Little Rock, Ark.