An Anniversary America Will Never Forget

The date September 11, 2001, is forever etched in the national memory of the United States. That morning stands as the never-to-be-forgotten morning when time stood still. Wherever we were, we stared in horror and confusion. With calculated and unconscionable malice, beastly terrorists stabbed our nation repeatedly in the heart—at the World Trade Center in New York, at the Pentagon in Washington D.C., and along a quiet countryside in southwest Pennsylvania.

We remember and honor the almost three thousand dead—American citizens and foreign visitors. The anniversary of September 11 may be one we’d like to forget . . . but we won’t, because we can’t.

We dare not forget.

A Chronicle of Chaos

You only have to read a brief log of events to remember what transpired that frightening morning. The times I refer to are based on central standard time.

  • At 6:58 a.m., United Airlines Flight 175 left Boston bound for Los Angeles with fifty-six passengers, two pilots, and seven flight attendants.
  • One minute later, at 6:59 a.m., American Airlines Flight 11 departed Boston en route to Los Angeles with eighty-one passengers, two pilots, and nine flight attendants.
  • Two minutes later, at 7:01 a.m., United Airlines Flight 93 left Newark, New Jersey, headed to San Francisco with thirty-eight passengers, two pilots, and five flight attendants.
  • Nine minutes later, at 7:10 a.m., American Airlines Flight 77 took off from Dulles International Airport in Washington D.C. bound for Los Angeles with fifty-eight passengers, two pilots, and four flight attendants.
  • Thirty-five minutes later, at 7:45 a.m., American Flight 11 plunged into the north tower of the World Trade Center in Manhattan—a direct hit.
  • Eighteen minutes after the north tower was hit, at 8:03 a.m., United Flight 175 crashed into the south tower of the World Trade Center.
  • Forty minutes after the south tower was hit, at 8:43 a.m., American Flight 77 crashed full throttle into the Pentagon, ripping open a hole at least two hundred feet wide on the west side. Flames exploded from the nerve center of our nation’s major military facility.
  • Seven minutes after the Pentagon was hit, at 8:50 a.m., the south tower of the World Trade Center collapsed.
  • Eight minutes later, at 8:58 a.m., an emergency dispatcher in Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania, received a cell phone call from a man who said he was a passenger locked in the bathroom of United Flight 93. The dispatcher quoted the man as saying, “We are being hijacked! We are being hijacked!” The man then said the plane was going down and reported some sort of explosion and white smoke coming from the plane. At that moment, the dispatcher lost contact.
  • Twelve minutes after that cell phone call, at 9:10 a.m., United Flight 93 from Newark to San Francisco crashed near Somerset, Pennsylvania, eighty miles southeast of Pittsburgh. Representative James Moran of Virginia, after a Marine Corps briefing, said that hijackers evidently planned to crash the plane into the presidential retreat at Camp David or the United States Capitol building.
  • At the same moment, 9:10 a.m., a portion of the Pentagon collapsed.
  • Only nineteen minutes after the Pentagon’s west side collapsed, at 9:29 a.m., the north tower of the World Trade Center collapsed.

The whirlwind of repeated tragedies left us stunned, reeling in disbelief. I thought I had already lived through America’s worst disasters. How wrong I was.

Right on schedule, the horrible events, planned to the point of precision, ran their course. Thousands of unsuspecting civilians were brutally murdered. Our fellow Americans bled and died—some immediately, many slowly and painfully, all unexpectedly. Others bravely escaped with their lives bruised, broken, and burned. Whether whispered, shouted, or pondered in silence, the question most people were asking was: “Why, God?”

I Don’t Know Why, But I Do Know Who

In my many years on this earth, I thought I had seen it all . . . until September 11, 2001. On that day, I got a new understanding of the total depravity of humanity. And as a byproduct, I have a new appreciation for the gifts of liberty and life itself—for the love of my wife, my family, and my friends—and for the power of the human spirit to press on and to recover from tragedy, no matter the sacrifice or cost.

Today, the men and women who made it through the hellish anguish of September 11—who were in the towers and the Pentagon or who lost loved ones on the planes and in the buildings and in that Pennsylvania field—live with deep physical, emotional, and spiritual scars. Each anniversary, no doubt, reopens those scars and causes many to question anew, “Why, God?” And if we’re honest, as we contemplate recent world events, some of us wonder the same thing.

I don’t know the answer. But I do know this: our God is still sovereign; He is still in control. He is our refuge; He is our solid foundation. We can hold on to that truth. We must hold on to that truth! How can we be so sure? Read on.

How Firm a Foundation

At 7:30 p.m. on September 11, 2001, as millions of Americans met in places of worship to pray, the president addressed the nation in a speech we all watched and recorded for later viewing. One statement he made stood out in my mind and still lingers today: “Terrorist attacks can shake the foundations of our biggest buildings, but they cannot touch the foundation of America.”[ref]George W. Bush, “Statement by the President in His Address to the Nation,” White House, Washington, D.C., September 11, 2001, (accessed July 18, 2011).[/ref]

As I listened to President George W. Bush that somber night, I remembered a psalm I had studied years ago. David wrote Psalm 11 probably while being hunted by King Saul. With borderline insane paranoia, Saul had begun seeking David’s life, believing the young man was out to get him and take his position as king. David was on the run. As he wrote in the first part of this psalm, he had fled as a bird to the mountain. And in that hiding place, momentarily removed from danger, he asked this question:

“If the foundations are destroyed, What can the righteous do?” (Psalm 11:3)

Great question! Webster tells us a foundation is the “basis . . . upon which something stands or is supported.”[ref]Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th ed. (Springfield, Mass.: Merriam-Webster, 2008), “foundation.”[/ref] Every house, every significant structure, every building has a foundation. The taller the building, the deeper and more important the foundation. Destroy the building’s foundation, and you topple the building.

This was precisely David’s point. He wasn’t referring to structures. No house or building was in his mind, and there’s no reference to such in this psalm. Instead, this psalm is about life. David was saying that if the foundation of a life is destroyed, that life crumbles. But if the foundation remains secure, no amount of stress—in David’s case, no attack by Saul—can cause a life to fracture or crumble. Psalm 11 reveals that David could feel this truth being put to the test.

You see, one of the most effective weapons in those days was a sharp, slender arrow slipped from the bow and guided to the target by a marksman’s eye. David viewed the treacherous, threatening words of Saul as arrows coming from a warrior. Look at his vivid word picture:

Behold, the wicked bend the bow, They make ready their arrow upon the string. (11:2)

David’s point was that the wicked bend their bows; they make ready deadly arrows on the string. I don’t think he had literal bows and arrows in mind. Rather, he was thinking of words shot at him and statements made against him, as part of the plot to bring him down. But he wasn’t brought down . . . because the foundations of his life were strong.

If those foundations hadn’t been secure, his life would’ve collapsed, dropped like a sack of salt. How do I know his foundations were secure? Look again at the first verse. Occasionally in the psalms, the gist of the whole message is in the first sentence, and everything that follows is an amplification. This psalm is like that:

In the Lord I take refuge; How can you say to my soul, “Flee as a bird to your mountain”? (11:1)

David essentially said, “My soul is not on the run. My spirit has not capsized, because in the Lord I take refuge.” A refuge is a place of hiding, a place of protection. The ancient Hebrew term—chasah—means a protective place that provides safety from that which would hit and hurt. It’s a protective shield from danger and distress. David made it clear that Yahweh was his chasah. Because that was true, David could know, and we can know, his foundations were sure.

An old country preacher once said, “I may tremble on the rock, but the Rock don’t tremble under me.” He was right. The Rock is our solid foundation. It stands firm no matter what. It is our place of refuge.

God Is Our Refuge

That word refuge reminds me of another psalm—the forty-sixth. Who wouldn’t find comfort in the hope of this ancient promise? This is the very psalm in which Martin Luther found refuge more than five hundred years ago. Hiding in its truths he found strength. Psalm 46 gave him fresh courage to press on, even though he was misunderstood, maligned, and mistreated. How comforting to him were those words, “God is our refuge” (chasah, same word).

God is our refuge and strength, A very present help in trouble. (46:1)

The opening lines of this forty-sixth psalm later inspired Luther to write, “Ein’ Feste Burg Ist Unser Gott”—“A high tower is the Lord our God.” We sing those words today:

A mighty fortress is our God, A bulwark never failing.[ref]Martin Luther, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” The Hymnal for Worship and Celebration (Waco, Tex.: Word Music, 1986), 26.[/ref]

Why is such a foundation sure? Because it is God Himself! Our foundation is the God of creation. The God who made us is the God who shelters us.

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High Will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. [El Shaddai] I will say to the Lord, “My refuge [my chasah] and my fortress, My God, in whom I trust!” (Psalm 91:1–2)

No matter how insecure and chaotic our times may be! No matter if terrorists topple our buildings or kill our fellow citizens! No matter if God doesn’t fully answer our question, Why? On that solid foundation of our Sovereign God—and only there—we are secure.


 A Prayer of Remembrance

Lord, we bow before our great God, who offers His peace when so many panic. You are our refuge, our one and only chasah. Rivet that into our minds. Prompt us to pause, and let that sink in. Remind us of Your power and presence when evening song changes into the fearful tears of the night. Remind us of that when the shrill ring of the phone awakens us. Remind us of that when we sit down and read the morning headlines. Remind us of that on this day of remembrance—this eleventh anniversary of that infamous day, September 11, 2001. Remind us, even when we don’t understand the why of what’s happening, that we have no reason to fear, that we need not be moved, and that our future is never uncertain with You.

In the strong name of Christ, our Shield, our Refuge, our almighty Lord, Amen.

Excerpted from Charles R. Swindoll, Why, God? Calming Words for Chaotic Times (Nashville: W Publishing Group, 2001). Copyright © 2001 by Charles R. Swindoll, Inc. All rights reserved worldwide.

A Word about the Emerging Church

When Paul stood on Mars Hill in Athens and proclaimed the grace of God to the lost, he preached to a crowd of skeptics, critics, and those we might call “sophisticated eggheads.”

(The Acropolis in Athens, with Mars Hill in the foreground. By Χρήστης Templar52Templar52 at el.wikipedia, from Wikimedia Commons)

Rather than beginning with the Scriptures, Paul began with the created world in which these unbelievers lived in order to introduce Jesus to them. He began with their spiritual hunger and pointed them to Jesus as the satisfaction for their longings . . . and the payment for their sins. Paul even quoted a well-known pagan poet as a means of building a bridge between the lost and the Lord (see Acts 17:16–33).

A number of ministries have adopted for their churches what I call a “Mars Hill philosophy of ministry.” Modeled after Paul’s message on Mars Hill, their goal is to connect with the unbeliever, or the postmodern, or any person they would call a “seeker.” In recent years the emerging church movement has attempted to “do church” (or be the church) in a new way amidst our postmodern world. Their purpose is “missional living,” that is, to get involved in the world in hopes of transforming it. This style of ministry engages the culture in a “conversation” rather than preaching to people like a prophet. A wide range of theologies and strategies exist within this current movement. Some individuals hold to orthodox beliefs but have adopted very unorthodox ways of communication.

I have read of sermons that use language that would make most believers cringe . . . and cover their children’s ears.

Are we to minister as those in the world?

The Church’s Need to Look in the Mirror

In late 2007, Pastor Bill Hybels and the leadership team of the Willow Creek Community Church shared the startling results of a study they conducted of their own church—as well as other so-called “seeker churches.”

(Photo Courtesy of

The results, Hybels said, were “the greatest wake-up call of my adult life.” Among other findings, they discovered that their ministry to “seekers” was very effective for introducing Christ to those who were new to church.

No big surprise.

But they had not been as successful in fulfilling their mission statement to turn “irreligious people into fully devoted followers of Christ.” That is, they had not been as strong in developing the spiritual lives of those who had trusted Christ. As a result of a conversation Hybels had with his executive pastor, Greg Hawkins, they realized:

Thanks for Sovereign Grace

Today marks the 240th birthday of the United States Marine Corps—November 10, 1775. It’s a day I always pause, look back, and call to mind some of the great memories of days gone by. Ah, those were the days . . .

See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

As my buddies and I always screamed in unison before the 10th of November ended:

ONE for the Corps . . .
TWO for the Corps . . .
THREE for the Corps . . .
HOO-RAH for the Corps!

Exactly fifty-seven years ago tonight, I was in my full dress-blues uniform, brass and medals shining, shoes spit-polished, playing first-chair clarinet in the 60-piece, Third Division Band for Major General David Shoup, our base commander—and Medal of Honor recipient. We played into the night for the annual Marine Corp Birthday Ball at Headquarters’ Company, Camp Courtney, on the American-held island of Okinawa. What a celebration!

That was November 10, 1958. And, believe it or not, even though the final large battle of WWII had been fought (on that very island) and the Japanese had surrendered over 13 years earlier, we were STILL digging Japanese soldiers out of dark caves and deep bunkers located on that island. They stumbled into the sunlight emaciated and bearded, uniforms torn and tattered, boots rotting on their feet. They had no idea the war had ended … and they were still clinging to their rusty rifles, still existing in hiding and living on stolen rice and rodents and roots.

I was a 24-year-old Marine. I had been a husband for a little over three years. And I was living 8,000 miles away from Cynthia, ultimately, for 16 long months.

Ah . . . those were the days; I thought they’d never end! The following April, 1959, I mustered out of the Corps with an honorable discharge (followed by six years on active reserve) . . . in June of ’59 I applied as an incoming student at Dallas Theological Seminary. In July ’59 I was accepted (on probation my first year!), and in August ’59 we moved to Dallas where later that month I began as a first-year student with a Marine Corps flat-top. (Cynthia got a job as secretary to a vice-president at Preston State Bank.) The following summer I hired in as the lawn boy for Dallas Seminary, where I had the privilege of beautifying the grounds for the school I loved. And since the seminary’s president, Dr. John F. Walvoord, loved blooming, colorful flowers, I planted lots of ’em . . . everywhere! It was through his and my early-morning conversations during the summer of 1960 that he actually learned my name. Ah . . . now THOSE were the days!

Thanks for traveling with me along this brief, nostalgic journey through the past. Every November the 10th I pause to give God thanks for His hand on every detail of my life—His hand of SOVEREIGN grace.

Saying it Well: Touching Others with Your Words

I wrote my new book primarily for you—for speakers in general and preachers in particular. After five decades of honing the craft, I feel that I’m finally ready to put into print much of what now works for me as a preacher and public speaker.

Saying It WellI wanted to communicate everything I’ve learned, but that’s unrealistic. Some things—let’s face it—can’t be put into words on a page; they must come naturally from within. Each of us has an inimitable “style” that is ours and ours alone. But there are some things I mention that might be of value to you; I certainly hope so.

Our own individuality is what makes our message compelling and our delivery unique. Let’s never forget that. From this point on, it’s important that you release yourself from the straitjacket of others’ expectations. Furthermore, you must determine to overcome your fear of not sounding like some other person you admire. You can learn from each of them . . . but don’t waste your time trying to be them—or acting a little like them. That’s phony. The goal, remember, is authenticity. Until you free yourself from that trap, you’ll not find your own voice. I repeat: you are YOU and none other. Never forget that each insight or principle or suggestion—whether from me or another author—must be fitted into YOUR style and YOUR way of expressing yourself when YOU speak or preach.

How I wish someone in my formal education had told me these things! Because no one did, I spent far too much time trying to look like or sound like someone I wasn’t. Thankfully, all that is behind me—and I hope the same is true of you. If not, maybe my book will help to free you to become the preacher God created you to be.

I pray the book is a major encouragement to you and an enhancement of your pulpit ministry.


Pastors and Pornography

Let me ask you a tough question:

Do you struggle with internet pornography?

If you do, you’re not alone. Many pastors today are caught in porn’s deceptive tentacles and they feel there is no way to escape.

But there is.

I want to recommend an article that we recently published on our Insight for Living Web site. It’s Pastor Darrell Brazell’s candid story of his addiction—but more importantly—of his freedom from pornography’s grasp. You can read his story here.

Let me also add that if you want to contact someone in complete confidentiality, you can connect with our pastoral counseling team on our Pastor-to-Pastor line at 972-473-5102 (Monday through Friday, 8:00 a.m.–5:00 p.m. central time). They are well-trained and can offer you some practical steps.

You will also find encouragement and resources on our Men’s Purity topical page.

If you struggle with porn as a pastor, I know that you want to break free. I’m certain that you want to honor the Lord. Freedom is possible.

I urge you to begin right now.


Follow Our 2010 Reformation Video Blog

My fellow pastors,

I’ll be overseas for the next couple of weeks, leading our Insight for Living Reformation Tour. During that time, I won’t be posting my regular pastor’s blog.

However . . . I invite you to follow along with our tour by subscribing below to our Reformation Tour Video Blog. The blog will feature daily video of sites we’re seeing and lessons we’re learning. I believe you will enjoy it!

Please pray for me as I teach at many of these locations. Pray that God’s Word would take firm root in the hearts of those who travel with us.



P. S. Although I won’t be posting to this blog, I will post regular FaceBook and Twitter updates throughout the trip. If you are interested, you can follow me on FaceBook and Twitter.