September 11 is a date that will always be remembered in this country, and many other countries. And we know why. It is one of those dates that will always be etched in our memories; we will all remember where we were and what we were doing on September 11, 2001, over ten years ago now.
“9/11” as it is known, was and is a day to remember. It is a day when the nation takes time to pause and reflect. Most people will say that things will never be the same again after that date. The nation lost its sense of security, its sense of invulnerability, its feeling of being all-powerful and it’s thinking that bad things like this always happened somewhere else, outside these shores. People reflect upon these things, particularly on that day. They do not think of them all the time or just that day, but that day is special, it is different.
Think back to that day. When the first plane hit the tower I was in a meeting and someone knocked on the door to say a plane had hit a building in New York. We paid little attention. We thought a small plane or helicopter had hit a building. Then the second plane hit and everything erupted. We were glued to the TV screens and our computers. Then it dawned on someone; the son of our company chairman worked on the 105th floor of one of those buildings. We knew him. He had worked with us in the summers. Then the tragedy started to hit home. Then there came the videos of people falling to their deaths, of huge clouds of debris swirling madly after crowds of fleeing people. Then the first tower collapsed, this huge edifice, seemingly so impregnable. Then the second tower. It all seemed so impossible. Two huge towers that had commanded the skyline for 20 years, and suddenly they were gone. Also gone were almost 3,000 people.
So many lives would be forever affected by this tragedy, and the ones in Washington and Pennsylvania. Families torn apart, parents, children, relatives of all kinds. Life would never be the same for so many.
We have, perhaps, come to terms with the new realities of life. Any of us who travel will know just how much longer it takes to board a plane and anyone travelling from the U.S. to Canada will know how what was once a 30 second encounter can now last up to an hour.
All in the name of security. People need to feel secure. They feel unprotected and vulnerable, and fearful when they think about it. So many choose not to think about it, except on this date.
With this as a background, then, we need to ask ourselves if this is how it has affected us, as Christadelphians. Are we more fearful, more insecure, feeling more vulnerable?
We read “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psa 46:1). What exactly does that verse mean to us? God is our refuge. That word refuge means “a shelter (literally or figuratively) — hope, (place of) refuge, shelter, trust”.
God is our refuge, our shelter, our hope and our trust. It sounds good; actually a lot more than good, but what does it mean to us as we live our daily lives? I suspect we were just so glad it hadn’t happened to us! I wonder whether we thought to offer prayers for the safety of our brothers and sisters in the affected areas. Just suppose it happens here, and then what will our thoughts be? Are our minds so familiar with the Word that we immediately go to: “Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea” (Psa 46:2).
I am not a Hebrew scholar but I think you will find this interesting. The word for refuge in verse one is “machaceh” with the meaning we have looked at. However the word for refuge in verses seven and eleven is a different word, “misgab” meaning a cliff (or other lofty or inaccessible place); abstractly, altitude; figuratively, a refuge — defense, high fort (tower), refuge.
So now we can read verse 7 like this: “The God of Jacob is our high tower” and verse 11 the same way. So our God is not only a place to take shelter, a place to take refuge, but He is also our high tower, standing above the tumult. Perhaps, when we think of those high towers in the World trade center we should think of the really high tower, our God, who, the Psalmist says, is with us.
I guess that is the problem we all have from time to time. We ask ourselves, “is God really with us” or “if He is, why is this happening to me”?
Perhaps later in the Psalms we will see the question we should be asking .Or, rather, the statement we should be making. “I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and my fortress; My God, in Him I will trust” (Psa 91:2 NKJV).
Here are three dictionary definitions for trust:
- reliance on the integrity, strength, ability, surety, etc., of a person or thing; confidence.
- confident expectation of something; hope.
- a person on whom or thing on which one relies: God is my trust.
Trust, there is very little of it in the world we live in, but we are not of the world, we have a different frame of reference. “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding” (Prov 3:5).
There are over 30 references in the Psalms alone to trusting in God.
So this idea of trusting God is not just some hypothetical idea or comfortable thought. It is something that has to be a reality in our lives. We really, really have to trust God and know that He will care for us. “For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence;” (Psa 91:3 RSV).
Our God will deliver us. Our God has delivered us. He has delivered us from the snare of death, the “deadly pestilence”. Because of what we remember here this morning, the death and resurrection of our Lord, we have escaped the snare of permanent death. We have escaped it! Why would we want to go back to the trap again, to be ensnared in this life, to “enjoy” what this life has to offer? When we saw people rushing from those crumbling towers only the firefighters were rushing into them. They had escaped and whatever it took, they had escaped and were thankful for it. Eventually the full impact of what they had experienced would sink in. All of their colleagues who would not escape, all of their personal items they could not retrieve, and sometimes the whole thing would seem overwhelming. Two thousand children lost a parent on that day. Sometimes, perhaps, we allow ourselves to think of the Truth as something where we have lost so much.
We have lost friendships with those who think we are strange for our beliefs.
We have lost family connections for the same reason.
We may have lost the friendship of brothers and sisters because of our stand for truth.
We sometimes get depressed. We have lost so much! Ironic isn’t it, we think we have lost so much but we have been given our life! We have escaped from the trap of the fowler, the certain trap of death. We may have lost the benefits of this life in some ways but what is that compared with the Kingdom? When people were staggering home from the WTC none of them were thinking, “I wish I was wearing my best suit”. They were overjoyed to have escaped and that is what we should be, overjoyed to have escaped a certain death.
“Because you have made the Lord your refuge, the Most High your habitation,” (Ps 91:9 RSV).
So the question remains, have we made the Lord our refuge, our habitation? Or, with different emphasis, have we made the Lord our refuge, our habitation? Or, again, have we made the Lord, our refuge, our habitation?
“Be thou my strong habitation, whereunto I may continually resort: thou hast given commandment to save me; for thou art my rock and my fortress” (Psa 91:9 RSV).
It is the same word as used in “Lord, thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations” (Psa 90:1).
So we ask ourselves, is this what our God is to us, a place where we live, the center of our lives, our strong habitation? It is worth noting that this same Psalm contains these words; “So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom” (Psa 90:12).
In what way can our God be our dwelling place, the center of our lives? How do we apply our hearts unto wisdom?
It starts with a basic, fundamental, truth that if we want God to be the center of our lives we must put Him there. In our personal lives and our ecclesial lives, He has given us His word, to tell us everything we need to know about Him and His purpose with us. Yet sometimes it seems that we look on this as a burden to be endured, rather than a joy to be shared. So the first, most basic way in which we can put God in the center of our lives is by reading what he has written for our instruction, and let us not forget, for our comfort.
“Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God” (2Cor 1:3-4).
Our God is a God who comforts us when we are down, when we are troubled, when we are depressed or discouraged and, in turn, He expects, requires, that we will do the same for others.
We are not to fear things, because:
“I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and my fortress: my God; in him will I trust… Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night; nor for the arrow that flieth by day; Nor for the pestilence that walketh in darkness; nor for the destruction that wasteth at noonday” (Psa 91:2-6).
When, earlier, we read from Proverbs 3 of trust, we should also have read “In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths” (Prov 3:6). This is how we show our trust for our God. We acknowledge Him, or as the word really implies, we know Him.
It is a word used often in Ezekiel with the idea of knowing that what God says He will do He will definitely do. In Ezekiel’s case what He was going to do to Jerusalem.
“And mine eye shall not spare thee, neither will I have pity: but I will recompense thy ways upon thee, and thine abominations shall be in the midst of thee: and ye shall know that I am the Lord” (Ezek 7:4).
They were being told; we are being told. Know that what I say I will do, I will do. In the case of the Proverbs reading we are being told, “know God, acknowledge Him in the way you live your lives and He will direct your paths”. God has offered to be our refuge and strength but we have to make Him that and we have to start somewhere.
So what is our priority? Is our priority putting our trust in God, in making Him our refuge, the place where we choose to live? Or are our priorities somewhere else? The economic downturns of the past few years should have made us realize that to trust in this world for security is pointless. When we have re-prioritized our savings plans and our retirement plans have we given any thought to re-prioritizing our spiritual lives?
What about us? We have probably all experienced tragedies in our lives, or acute loss, or physical pain. When the tragedy was at its worst, or the loss so hard to bear or the pain so acute I suspect that we were constantly seeking our God in prayer, begging Him for help, seeking consolation in His word. But when time passed, and the urgency of the tragedy, the loss, the pain faded, and then the urgency and consistency of our prayers faded too.
God is always there for us. Always. But are we always there for Him? “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble”. Always.
“Though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof….the earth melted” (Ps 46:3).
On 9/11 the towers shook, and melted and death and destruction followed. But we are still here, because, “The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge” (Ps 46:11).
That is indeed a day to remember. But not just for the reason the world remembers. This is our day of remembrance every week, not just once a year. On it we remember what it is that has brought us together, the price paid for rescuing us from the trap of death. Remember, our God cares for us. He wants us to be in His Kingdom. That is what we have, brethren and sisters, God’s care and protection through his angels. It is real, although we have a hard time comprehending it at times.
So what shall we remember today for? We should remember it for the time in which we have shared fellowship together, for the time when we shared these emblems together and above all for the death and resurrection of our Lord who has made all of this possible for us
We cannot help but remember that tragedy of the day, September 11, over ten years ago now, but perhaps we can also reflect, as we examine ourselves, what have those years meant to me? Am I closer to the Word than I was then? Am I trusting in God that He will be my refuge from the storms of life? Am I more prepared for His coming? After all, we have been given time to prepare ourselves: what have we done with that time?
The people trapped in those towers would have given anything to have been able to escape from that inferno. Anything to be able to start over again. Would have promised anything to have been allowed to begin that day again. This is what we have been given. An escape from the trap of death, an opportunity to start over, beginning today, a time to renew the promises we once made at the time of our baptism, to serve our Lord to the best of our ability.
God is our safe haven. He will keep us safe and secure. He is our refuge and our strength.
“..for he has said, ‘I will never fail you nor forsake you.’ Hence we can confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid; what can man do to me?’ ” (Heb 13:5-6 RSV).
Now we will remember our Lord, and renew our vows and start over.
Bill Perry (Detroit Milford, MI)