An elephant in the middle of the room is what we say when there is one thing on the minds of everyone, but we are all waiting for someone else to say something about it. That’s what we all felt the first night of the annual conference, just two weeks after the September 11 attack. Someone had to say something, and since I was the first person on the platform that night, it was my responsibility to talk about the “elephant.” We promised the participants that we would publish an excerpt of those remarks in the next newsletter.
There’s an elephant in the middle of the room tonight, and I want to talk about it. We cannot avoid talking about the recent attacks but neither can we allow them to drive the agenda of the conference. We need to address it and I’d like to do that this evening by turning to Psalm 79: O God, the heathen have invaded your land. They have desecrated your holy Temple and left Jerusalem in ruins.
A good friend, Curtis Meadows, sent me an intelligence report from STRATFOR in Austin, Texas, last week. It is an analysis of the new form of warfare we have just witnessed. “In the wake of this week’s terrorist attacks in the United States, the U.S. government is trying to decide how it can defeat its new style of enemy. The key to victory is finding the enemy’s center of gravity, or what enables it to operate, and destroying it. But what has worked for the US military in the past may not be enough this time around. The foundation of any successful military operation is defining and attacking the enemy’s center of gravity; the capability that enables it to operate. A war effort that does not successfully define the enemy’s center of gravity, or lacks the ability to decisively incapacitate it, is doomed to failure.”
The center of gravity, the center of a people’s will to resist, the core of their values and their identity has to be successfully attacked and overcome to succeed. Without that-any enemy action is doomed to fail. Knowing that, what was attacked in the Psalm? It’s the Temple, isn’t it? For Israel, it was the Temple that was their center of gravity, the place that held them together as a people of God. Attack the Temple and you attack not only us but also our God. But you better destroy it if you want to destroy us, because we can lose any other institution and still survive.
What was attacked on September 11? Think about that. A pastor in New York City, Tim Keller, wrote yesterday that this attack is our first hint of what “post-modern” war is going to be like in the 21st Century. “This is postmodern war, and it is different than anything we have seen before. There are no rules. We can kill civilians, children, whatever. Second, it is not nation-on-nation. It is an international network of world terrorism attacking the multi-national corporations of world capitalism. Third, it is semiotic, aimed not at factories and airbases but at our icons and symbols in order to psychologically debilitate and demoralize. Fourth, it is deliberately and bitterly ironic. It uses no bombs or guns, but our own technology against us.”
Did you catch that part about it is not aimed at factories and airbases but at our icons and symbols-those things that define who we are, our self-defined centers of gravity, our temples? Osama Bin Laden has been studying America for thirty years, analyzing what our centers of gravity are. Not what we assume they are but what they really are from the perspective of an enemy looking to gain a decisive and fatal advantage.
What has he concluded about our icons and symbols and temples?
Our temple is global commercial power. That is why he struck the World Trade Center.
Our temple is global military power. That is why he struck the Pentagon.
Our temple is global political influence. That is why he was going to attack the White House.
Are these really our temples as he concluded? If they are, then God help us.
As you probably know, a young man named Alexis deToqueville came to America in 1835 to find out what was unique and great about America. He traveled the length of this country in search of that and this is what he said: “It was not until I went into the churches of America, and I heard her pulpits flame with righteousness that I understood her greatness.”
Is it still true? Can you still only understand the greatness of America by going into the churches? Is that the real center of gravity-or is Osama Bin Laden right? If Bin Laden is right and deToqueville is now wrong then God help us. Consider the ninth verse of the Psalm: Help us, O God, and save us; Rescue us and forgive our sins for the sake of your honor.
Rescue us for what? For the sake of our economy? For the sake of our markets or military or way of life or political system? No, only rescue us for your honor. If we perish then you are dishonored so it is in your own interests to save us. There is nothing we have that deserves it-only Your honor.
I have been struck all this week at the irony that there are thousands dead and lost and we are told to go out and buy on Monday to prove the terrorists wrong. We have a moment of remembrance for the fallen and save our prayers for the stock market on Monday. This is what is going to show the terrorists that they have misread America? If this is true then God help us.
I want you to look tonight at the final verse: Then we, your people, the sheep of your flock, will thank you forever and praise you for all time to come.
Whose is the victory? Yes, it is God’s. Whose people are we? God’s. Whose sheep are we? God’s. It is all God’s and that is the source of our strength. Whatever happens, it is all God’s and He will do what He will for His honor. Remember the text from Deuteronomy: “He sent hardships on you to test you, so that in the end you could be blessed with good things.”
He is our Rock and we are his people. Never forget that. Our center is not giving or missions or relief-it is only God and God alone.
Let me ask you as we begin this weekend together. What is your center of gravity? What has been attacked and threatened in your life this week? Was Bin Laden right about you? Has he discovered what it takes to not only throw you off balance, to disrupt you, but to make you fear for your life?
Or, is God the center of gravity of your life and you will not be shaken or surprised or moved-no matter what? We are not counting on a temple made by human hands but by a temple that cannot be destroyed-ever or by anything. Rest in that.
Gene Habecker of the American Bible Society gave me a bookmark this afternoon and I want it to be a text for us as we start. It is from Isaiah and it reads, “For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed, says the Lord, who has compassion on you.”
Rest in that.