Forgive me for the grainy picture. I took this picture of the New York skyline when I was a small-town kid visiting New York City for the very first time. I had no idea at the time that I would grow up to live so near the city, or that the skyline that awed me would be forever changed in an instant, so many years later.
We are coming up on the 17th anniversary of what has come to be known as "9/11". I can still remember what I was doing at the time that the twin towers fell. I was driving between work assignments, when I heard news reports on the radio. When I got to the next building I was assigned to, I arrived to find everyone glued to the radio there. It was all that happened the rest of the day, as we heard about the planes flying into the towers, and then the Pentagon, and then a field in Pennsylvania. When I went home, I turned on the TV and watched the devastating event over and over with the rest of the nation.
That was a horrific day, and the days that followed were not much better. Along with the heroism that was displayed that day was an overwhelming sense of grief and insecurity. Airplanes go over our house all the time, and for quite a while I got anxious every time I heard one, and I wasn't even anywhere near the crash. I can only begin to imagine what it was like for the people who were in or near the towers, and for the first-responders who ran through the smoke and rubble looking for survivors. I can only begin to imagine what went through the hearts of the people on Flight 93, who overpowered the terrorist and sacrificed themselves in an empty Pennsylvania field to save unknown people in a building that was slated to be hit.
Today's sermon was called "Remembering September 11," but it was really about how God can use sorrow and adversity in our lives to wake us up, and to teach us things that we would never learn without having difficult times in our lives. It is based on Ecclesiastes 7:1-4 and 7:14.
A good name is better than fine perfume,
and the day of death better than the day of birth.
It is better to go to a house of mourning
than to go to a house of feasting,
for death is the destiny of everyone;
the living should take this to heart.
Frustration is better than laughter,
because a sad face is good for the heart.
The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning,
but the heart of fools is in the house of pleasure.
When times are good, be happy,
but when times are bad, consider this: God has made the one as well as the other. Therefore, no one can discover anything about their future.
One thing that happened on 9/11 was that it made us think about our time left. People realized that tomorrow is not promised. This is a hard truth to realize, we who are afraid of death and sorrow. Our Declaration of Independence states that men are "endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." It is almost un-American to acknowledge that we are not, in fact, promised these things by God. And why not? I think it is because God knows that sometimes we need death, bondage, and sadness to wake us up. An easy, happy life can lull us into a false sense of security. It can make us think that we are handling everything on our own. As Christians, it can lull us to sleep and make us ineffective witnesses, and it can cause us to take our eyes off of God.
Fortunately, God does not leave us to sleep. He allows adversity in our life to keep us alert. God is in control, but he is not pursuing the same things for us that we want to pursue for ourselves. We want good things to happen to us. He wants us to grow in goodness. Just like we have to exercise with resistance to build our bone strength, we have to live with resistance to build our spiritual strength.
Christians, we are to be the light of the world. We have to allow our light to shine in the darkness. God does allow adversity, but we can do a lot to alleviate pain in others. Our adversity can give us insight into how other people are feeling. It can help us to have empathy, and can give us ideas of how to help others. Jesus said “In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you" (Matthew 7:12, NASB) Our adversity helps us to know how we want to be treated. When we see someone going through the same thing, we can better help them because we have been in their shoes.
We need to rely on God, and sometimes we have to fall down before we will look up. So next time adversity strikes, see if there is something you can learn from it. And remember to look to God. He is ready to teach, and ready to take care of anything that happens in your life.