What if you could have warned us before 9/11?

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What if you could have warned us before 9/11?

September 12, 2023 -

Two beams from the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Towers form a cross. The numbers 9-11-01 are stamped on the center beam. misu /stock.adobe.com

Two beams from the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Towers form a cross. The numbers 9-11-01 are stamped on the center beam. misu /stock.adobe.com

Two beams from the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Towers form a cross. The numbers 9-11-01 are stamped on the center beam. misu /stock.adobe.com

Each year on September 11, if you’re thirty or so years of age or older, you’ll flash back to where you were when the planes hit the buildings. You’ll revisit the horror of the burning buildings, the people jumping to their deaths, the skyscrapers collapsing.

If you had somehow known prior to the attack that it was coming, wouldn’t you have sounded the alarm? Wouldn’t you have told everyone you could whatever they needed to know to prevent the tragedy?

A call to apagogics

These reflections were spurred recently by a phrase I read in Lamentations 2. Looking back to the fall of Jerusalem and ahead to the future, the writer told the broken nation, “Your prophets have seen for you false and deceptive visions; they have not exposed your iniquity to restore your fortunes, but have seen for you oracles that are false and misleading” (v. 14, my emphasis).

I had never thought of exposing iniquity as a means to restoring one’s fortunes in precisely those terms. But the two are directly related.

A patient must admit they are sick before they will seek the help of a physician. A traveler must admit they are lost before they will seek directions from a guide. In the same way, lost people must believe they are lost before they will be open to the gospel and salvation in Christ.

Consequently, pastors must expose the “iniquity” of those they serve before they can restore their “fortunes” through biblical truth and faith.

Francis Schaeffer, the great apologist, was once asked what he would do if he found himself on a train for an hour next to an unbelieving passenger. He replied that he would need the first forty-five minutes to help the man see that he was lost and that his belief systems were flawed. It would then be easy, he added, to take the last fifteen minutes to share the truth of the gospel.

The former is known to scholars as the “apagogic” task—exposing the flaws in one’s present worldview. It often precedes the “apologetic” task whereby we defend the truth of the biblical worldview.

You and I live in a culture in desperate need of effective apagogics.

However, my call comes with two significant caveats.

One: We must expose the iniquity of our culture with compassion.

The writer of Lamentations testified, “My eyes are spent with weeping; my stomach churns; my bile is poured out to the ground because of the destruction of the daughter of my people” (Lamentations 2:11). When Samuel realized that Saul could no longer be king, “[he] was angry, and he cried to the Lᴏʀᴅ all night” (1 Samuel 15:11). We read later in the chapter that “Samuel grieved over Saul” (v. 35).

It’s been said that we should never preach on hell without a tear in our eye. Someone added, “Avoid the person who preaches on hell as though he liked it.”

Two: We need empathy to persuade others effectively.

It is human nature to resist and even reject those who expose our weaknesses and failures. Defensiveness makes us deaf to the reasoning of our critics. But if they share their insights with humility that admits they are no better than us and that they often struggle as we do, our barriers are lowered.

Evangelists have been well described as “beggars helping beggars find bread.” We are no better than those who need the grace we have experienced—that’s why it’s called “grace.”

When pastors share their own failures and frustrations, they earn the right to discuss the challenges of those they serve. When they are transparent with their own humanity, they are better able to speak to the humanity of their people.

Ten days before 9/11

If you could travel back in time to ten years before 9/11, your work in warning the nation of what was coming would be more important than urgent. If you could travel back ten days before 9/11, by contrast, your work would be urgent in the extreme.

Every person you know, including yourself, is living on the morning of 9/11. Each of us is promised only this day (and not even this day in its entirety). Every sermon you preach could be the last sermon someone hears. Every encounter with every person you meet could be the last time you meet them.

This is why we need so desperately to be “filled with the Spirit” each day (Ephesians 5:18). He knows the condition of every human heart on a level we never will. He will lead us to the people who most need our ministry and will give us the words they most need to hear.

Our part in this partnership is to take it as seriously as God does.

Do you?

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