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When Nations are In Uproar - Study Notes

Category: Special Sermons


This is a huge weekend in our community. Today is 9/11/11 – a decade after one of the biggest tragedies and demonstrations of evil ever experienced in our world. So will remember and mourn with those who mourn. Tomorrow is Mid-autumn Festival – on of the biggest celebration days of the year for many of our church family from Asian heritage. So today we mourn with those who mourn and tomorrow we rejoice with those who rejoice. How is that possible? How do we mourn one day and rejoice the next? We will see that it’s because a savior who both died and rose again is with us and is our refuge and strength. Let’s start with the mourning and I’ll come back at the end to the reason we can rejoice too.

Like so many of us, I remember vividly where I was and what I was doing when it happened. I had just finished a tennis match at College Park Racquet Club in Bannockburn, IL and was sitting in the men’s lounge. The television was on but I wasn’t paying any attention to it at all until a man said to me, “Isn’t that strange? A plane just mistakenly flew into the World Trade Center in New York.” So, I looked up and saw the screen with smoke coming out of the building and remember thinking, “What is that?”

As I was watching, a second plane flew into the WTC. Then we all knew. There was no “mistakenly” about it. Something was afoot and that something was not good. What I saw via television was one of a series of four coordinated suicide attacks against the United States carried through by 19 al-Qaeda terrorists. There were a total of 2,996 deaths. It all happened in our country on Tuesday, September 11, 2001.

I was already scheduled to be the speaker at a seminary and graduate school chapel for Trinity Evangelical Divinity School at 11 am that day. We also cancelled classes at the undergraduate college and called an all-university convocation. I remember going to my president’s office, taking out my Bible and turning (almost by reflex) to Psalm 46:

God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear…

The LORD Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress

I then scratched out the main points to the sermon I gave at the convocation – and will deliver this weekend at LAC. I pray that we will see that, although our understanding of the 9/11 events has changed, the God who makes a difference in such times has not. He is still our refuge. He is still with us.

When we read Psalm 46, we see immediately that the Psalmist addressed the two greatest fears of the people who lived in his world – uncontrollable natural disasters and unjust oppressive governments (whether one’s own or enemy nations). Things haven’t changed much in this matter of ultimate human fears, have they? That’s what makes the Bible so relevant to people millennia after it was written. The Bible addresses the essential human issues faced by all people, at all times in history, and in every culture or society. And, as always, Psalm 46 points us directly to God as the only one who can help us make sense of the situation – and find peace in the midst of it.

As a pastor, of course, I’ve spent countless hours with people who are struggling with the biggest questions of life – especially our questions in the face of relentless tragedies and injustices. And like all ministers or counselors of any sort, I scramble to try to say something profound to respond to people’s pain and I come away from each attempt feeling inadequate. That was true for me that 9/11/01 morning at the university and, I’m quite sure, it’s not going to be any different today. But we should not avoid looking the big questions of life right in the face. I believe one of the reasons we come to church is that we believe we can face a world filled with constant devastation and loss when we know the kind of God the God of the Bible reveals himself to be.

So, here are the points I made to our university community the day that terror struck our nation:

  1. There is evil in this world and its effects lead to trouble for all people — those who follow Jesus and those who do not.

Psalm 46 speaks about trouble not as an exception that only a few experience but as something that all people living in this world should expect. “In times of trouble” -- it’s put just as a matter of fact. I know that people in the Western world used to find it hard to talk about personal sin and evil. I think that denying the reality of personal evil is a ridiculous attempt. Still, some therapies have tried to say no one is evil – and then try to explain suffering in our world in other ways. I think it’s impossible to do so but some say Trouble happens because everyone is a victim of something else. Some try to explain evil in terms of bad environmental issues, or bad sociology or… But when almost 3,000 people of all ages and from all over the world were killed in the way people were at the WTC by a group of people proud of what they were doing, we knew that personal evil is real. Few were denying that in the weeks and months after 9/11.

Of course, some tried to isolate that sin and evil to a few – “just Muslims”, “just Osama Bin Laden”, “just the few terrorists of this world”... And, we dare not deny the degree of the sinfulness and evil of those who planned and carried out the attack. But, Christians always have acknowledged humbly, as did the Apostle Paul, that “I too have engaged in evil”. This humble and honest acknowledgement has always set true Jesus-followers apart from a self-righteous or others-blaming world. Miroslav Wolf says, Poison comes into my heart when I exclude my enemy from the community of being human – and when I exclude myself from the community of sinners. Thus, we always look at crises in the world just as the Psalmist did in Psalm 46: We know that “times of trouble” come in this world because of the real evil that all humanity engages in. We know all needs forgiveness. We know the hearts of all people need to change.

And, most of us know that no one is immune to the harm of people’s evil acts. We know that when mountains quake and nations rage, all kinds of people will suffer. I was in a very international community when 9/11 hit. The thoroughgoing message that our non-US students gave me is that the kinds of attacks they have experienced their whole lives in their homelands have now come to America. Here in our own country – usually so free from such attacks by outside forces -- there have always been a few people who naively have tried to say that we can avoid suffering if we live right. Some seem to think that if we eat right and exercise right and work hard and stay out of bad places…, then injustice and suffering will not come to us. And even some supposedly Christian worldviews seem to live with that idea in mind – keep my kids out of bad schools, show up at the right church, pray in the right way, stay out of the wrong places in the city… then we can have “our best lives now.”

How can anyone read the Bible and think such a thing? Look at the lives of godly people in the Bible like David, Jeremiah, Isaiah, the Apostles Paul and Peter, and at Jesus -- and then try to say that the really strong people of faith will experience no trouble. No, the hurricanes sweeping through the Eastern part of the USA hit the just and the unjust. The fires in Texas hit the religious and the irreligious. And the people in the WTC were people of all ages, ethnicities, and political persuasions.

The Bible tells us we should not be surprised at this. It takes to Genesis 1-3 and the fact that God made us in his image. With that reality, he gave us the power of moral choice. And early on, we used it to disobey him. Adam and Eve sinned affecting everything in the cosmos. We now live in a world affected by generation after generation of self-directed and self-centered people failing to seek God and nothing is left unaffected by evil.

The 9/11 attack was simply confirmation of the Bible’s message: Personal evil is real. When we do wrong, everything and everyone is affected. Therefore, times of trouble come to us all in this fallen world. But, how do we respond when trouble comes?

  1. The response to trouble usually finds people either turning to God or away from him — toward faith or accusation, peace or anxiety.

At our convocation on 9/11/01, I told our students that I imagined that the enormity of these events would find people becoming religious in unprecedented ways — but that most of it could prove to be short lived. I told them this would provide opportunity both for us to live out our faith and to call others to genuine faith in God because, I imagined, many people would look to God in ways they usually do not. I’ve discovered that when we see the reality and apparent finality of death in this world, we who are human usually ask the big questions, such as: Is this the end of things? Is there any purpose to this? Is someone in control who can bring good out of this? In good times, we can try to ignore those questions – but not in the face of crisis.

When trouble comes, some get angry at the idea of God. And, indeed, we have to recognize that the problem of injustice and suffering is a problem for everyone no matter what their beliefs are. So, if you believe in God and for the first time experience or see horrendous evil, you know that that is a problem for your belief in God. Thinking people ask, “How could a good and powerful God allow something like this to happen?” So, when trouble comes some turn away from him declaring, “See, there is no God” or, “if there is a God who allows such things, I want nothing to do with him.”

But it’s a mistake (though a very understandable mistake) to think that if you abandon your belief in God that your decision to reject God will somehow make the problem of suffering easier to handle. Why do I say that? If there is no God or higher divine Law and the material universe is all there is, then violence is perfectly natural—the strong eating the weak! There is no purpose to things. This world is absurd when the best of people are slaughtered as they were on 9/11/01.

But our inner beings rebel against that thought. We have been made to know intuitively that evil must be punished and injustice is wrong. The thought that the Hitlers and Bin Ladens need not be punished makes us say, “That isn’t the way things ought to be.” Why not? Now that’s a big questions we don’t have time for today. I’m simply trying to make the point that the problem of injustice and suffering is a problem for belief in God but it is also a problem for disbelief in God---for any set of beliefs. So abandoning belief in God does not really help in the face of suffering will not make things easier for you.

So, I have found that trouble makes us as the big question of living in a dying world – and some run to God and others become embittered about him. And, as will not be a surprise, I believe the God of the Bible provides the kind of help that can sustain us in such times. I really believe he is the only one who can provide a sufficient resource enabling us to live with peace in the midst of crises. Let me say just a word about that today.

  1. The God of the Bible is at work in this world turning the darkest moments into the greatest times of his light — apparent defeats into the greatest victories.

The psalmist unequivocally declares, “God is our refuge and strength. Turn to him and you will find him to be a very present help – the one who can remove fear.

Of course, every religion and philosophy speaks of resources for dealing with suffering and injustice in the world. But, I want to remind us right now of why so many of us here are convinced Jesus-followers – we trust Jesus even when pain comes to us in the world. We have found Psalm 46 to be true.

When it addresses the issue of ”why there is trouble”, the Bible consistently calls us to look at three truths: who God is, what he has done and what he will do when he is finished with his work.

Who God is – He is an all-powerful Creator who is good, who is present and is working out a beautiful plan, and who cares about all people. One of the great themes of the Hebrew Scriptures is that God identifies with the suffering. There are many great texts that say things like this: “If you oppress the poor, you oppress me.” “I am a husband to the widow. I am father to the fatherless.” These are powerful declarations! But the New Testament takes us beyond those messages. In Philippians 2:5-11 Jesus, the one who is in very nature God, became vulnerable to and involved in - suffering and death! He was born in a manger. He served people all his life. But it is on the cross that we see something even more amazing. As Tim Keller has said, "On the cross we sufferers finally see, to our shock that God now knows too what it is to lose a loved one in an unjust attack." Do you see what this means? Yes, we don’t know all the reasons God allows evil and suffering to continue, but we know what the reason isn’t, what it can’t be. It can’t be that he doesn’t love us! It can’t be that he doesn’t care. God so loved us and hates suffering that he was willing to get involved in it.

So, the God we believe in is an ever-present help in times of trouble – caring about us, present with us, and sufficient for any challenge.

What God has done – In the midst of trouble, the Bible calls people who have known God a while to look back and remember what he has done. We are to remember those times we thought were hopeless and were ready to give up and then to realize, “Hey, we’re still here.” The Psalms are filled with this! When we remember what he has done in our lives in the past, we are reminded that he is sufficient for the present.

Today, we will have a moment at the end of the service to pray. I want you to use a part of your time to remember when God has been faithful to you – even in times when you and I were not faithful to him. When we remember, we are reminded that we are not alone. God never abandons us. God is with us and, as he was sufficient in the past, he will also be today and in the future.

What God will do –We who follow Jesus have an empowering hope for the future. In both the Hebrew Scriptures and even more explicitly in the Christian Scriptures we have the promise of resurrection and that God will make all things new. He will remake his world so that there will be no more pain, injustice, tears, sorrow or death. Now this is what the claim is: That God is not preparing for us merely some ethereal, abstract spiritual existence where we float on clouds and play harps. The bodily resurrection the Bible teaches means the restoration to us of the life most had thought we lost. New heavens and new earth means this body, this world! Our bodies, our loved ones—restored, returned, perfected and beautified! Given back to us!

Jesus wept at the death of his friend Lazarus – and at the agony Lazarus’ family was coping with at his death. So the best and most mature people will weep. Weeping is not a lack of faith. But Jesus also knew that there was more to come. People who are like Jesus will weep when things in this world are wrong – and, especially, we will weep when others are hurting. But, when we see something as huge as 9/11, we also know that God alone can fix things. We are to be faithful – we are to love people and help people – and we are to trust God. We are not in despair because the God we know is here – and he is at work.

God declares “I am bringing something beautiful out of the worst this world can throw at you if you let me. Trust me. Love me and love people.” Learn to work and wait until you see my victory. Major Juliani kept saying, “We will bring a better New York out of these ashes. President Bush said, “We will bring a better nation out of this tragedy.” They sounded like the gospel. But, the Gospel has the most essential element – God. He promises that someday he will make everything right.

That’s why we who follow Jesus can soberly remember 9/11/01 on one day and celebrate a Moon Festival on the next. We grieve when we remember what happened on 9/11 and the lives lost. We take time to grieve about evil in this world. To fail to grieve would make us hard unfeeling people. But we never grieve as those do who have no hope. We rejoice that the one God and Father over all is our personal heavenly father through faith in Jesus.

A close friend from China once explained what the Mid-Autumn Festival had come to mean to him. He told me that he is far from home and family but takes time to remember that the one moon is over us all and we all look up to the same moon. He said that this draws him close to those who seem so far away.

Today, we look up to the One who made the moon and know he is the God who is over all and who loves all and who is working out his plan in this world. As he does, we rejoice with those who rejoice and we weep with those who weep and we pray – that all will come to know him as their refuge and strength and present help in times of trouble through faith in Jesus.

Prayer Time: We will take time now specifically to tell Jesus – to give it all that is on our minds to Jesus. We say sometimes, “I don’t quite know what to do with this – but I know you. I trust you. I give (whatever mess you are facing) to you, my Lord. I lay it at your feet.”

I encourage you to do that now. Even if you haven’t spoken to him in a long time – even if you have never spoken to him. Go to Jesus. Give yourself to Jesus and see that he is indeed a very present and sufficient help in times of trouble.


To His glory alone,

Dr. Greg Waybright
Senior Pastor

Greg Waybright • Copyright 2011, Lake Avenue Church