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September 11, 2001

That date requires no explanation. I'm sure that almost every reader remembers where he or she was on the morning of September 11, 2001. The events of that date in New York, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania live in our national consciousness. The world changed on 9/11 and most of us sensed the dramatic shift at the time though we are still trying to understand its implications.

September 11, 2001 was a Tuesday. Do you remember Sunday, September 16, 2001? I recall that Sunday and it has left me questions that I still haven't answered.

I was serving as pastor of a church in South Florida in 2001. I remember quite vividly that our attendance on the Sunday following the terrorist attacks was nearly double of an average Sunday. That people flocked to church following the events of September 11th was not a surprise. Similar tragedies throughout the 20th Century produced similar responses.

What leaves me with the most nagging question is Sunday, September 23, 2001. After a surge in attendance that rivaled Christmas or Easter the week before, attendance went back to "normal" on September 23rd.  Where did everyone go? Why didn't they come back?

People came to church for the first time in a long time (or ever) on September 16 and stayed home on September 23 why? I don't know if any of the social scientists that study religious behavior have explored that question (if you have some research that rises above opinion, send it to me). The easy answer is to blame those who came to church once and didn't come back: they were looking for the wrong thing when they came to church or they were "carnal" in their thinking.

A spiritual answer might be to blame the Devil. Satan snatched the seed of the word from the path before it could take root (see Luke 8:4-8). I believe the Devil is a real being and active in our world, but that may be an incomplete answer to my questions about September 23rd.

I invite my Christian brothers and sisters to explore these questions: what did we do that made the "seekers" of September 16 not want to come back on September 23? What didn't we do to bring them back?

I ask those questions about the events of 13 years ago not as a lament over the past, but to inform the present and find direction for the future. The reality of our present and the direction for our future is that Jesus made us His witnesses (Acts 1:8). "Witness" is both our identity and our core activity as believers in Jesus.

My prayer for myself and for everyone who reads this is that we will become more effective in our witness to a broken world. From time to time the full extent of our brokenness will become clear. Those moments of clarity may be personal tragedies or national calamities. In those moments believers have a message of hope and healing in Jesus Christ.

The text for my message on Sunday, September 16, 2001, was Lamentation3:22-23 "The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness." (ESV) God bless you in your witness to the truth of God's steadfast and limitless love.

NOTE: I will be following up this post with some thoughts on "witness" in the coming weeks.

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