Is God really trying to tell us something?

Posted: August 30, 2011 in Christian Living
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As Hurricane Irene barreled its way up the eastern coast of the U.S., it brought with it brutal gale-force winds, torrential rains and massive flooding of low-lying areas. This comes on the heels of the August 23rd earthquake on the East Coast that unnerved some New Yorkers but did limited damage.

The hurricane that smashed into New Orleans and surrounding area has become immortalized in songs and books and on the evening news. The storm (and the subsequent flooding of New Orleans) killed at least 1,800 people, made tens of thousands homeless, and raised the ire of a public who were outraged by the slow response of both state and federal officials to the crisis.

In the beginning of 2010 a 7.0-magnitude earthquake ravaged Haiti. Hundreds of thousands of the victims still share makeshift camps where they live in one-room “T-Shelters” that are not much more than a tent. There are hundreds of these camps in Haiti, and all of them lack adequate water and sanitation facilities. A March study by the agencies noted that: Only 48 percent of the camp residents had daily access to an adequate supply of potable water; Only 61 percent of that water had the correct amount of chlorine, meaning that it runs the risk of being contaminated by and transmitting cholera; On average, 112 people had to share a single camp latrine; Only 18 percent of camps had hand-washing facilities; and only 29 percent of camps had a disposal system for solid waste.  Although it’s no longer making international headlines, the cholera menace still looms large here. Over 300 people are hospitalized each day, and as of Aug. 8, 2011, 426,285 people had been infected and at least 6,169 have died.

The ongoing tragedy arising from the earthquake and tsunami in northeast Japan in March 2011 not only killed 9,000 people and left more than 13,000 missing, but also it created an unprecedented radiation emergency when the plants at Fukushima-Daichi were damaged. More than 200,000 people had to be evacuated from the vicinity of the plants. A few months later on June 8, 2011 a devastating tornado destroyed thousands of homes and businesses and killed 145 people in Joplin, Missouri, leaving neighborhoods in ruins.

So are these just random coincidences? Or is God really trying to tell us something? Evangelist Pat Robertson said the earthquake in Virginia was a sign that we’re closer to the second coming. But he’s also the one who said Haiti suffered its earthquake because they made a pact with the devil.  And he’s the one who said Hurricane Katrina was a result of legalized abortions. Evangelist Jerry Falwell (now deceased) had the nerve to say that the 9-11 terrorist attacks was God punishing our country for homosexuality and feminism.

While some have said that we’ve infuriated God with our gluttony and our wicked, sinful ways, others insist that we should just stop overreacting. And that these preachers can only be described as spiritual bullies. They ridicule them and say, as  Tracy Simmons, editor of Creedible.com, wrote in her online column, CT@Prayer, ” If I’m worshiping a God who sweeps people off the Earth into the ocean to get a message across, then I must be the one who’s confused because I always thought God was a big-picture kinda’ guy.”

God is a big-picture kinda’ guy. As it turns out, I think people are the ones who refuse to see the ‘Big Picture.’  Although it is true that those who do not believe in God nor obey His commands stand condemned by God’s own standards; this is not because they have not believed. It is because they have transgressed against that which they knew to be right. God is not the cause of people’s doom. He is the way out of it!  “Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked?” declares the Sovereign Lord. “Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?” Ezekiel 18:23  “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.”   2 Peter 3:9

During the time of the prophet Ezekiel, individual lives were being shattered, catastrophe had come into homes. People were taken to the land of Babylon and placed in a concentration camp. It was a time of great despair. As we go through the scriptures we find that the Old Testament people of God – more often than not – were under false assurances. They had deluded themselves on many occasions, and when the prophets came to the people with the message from God, all they did was protest. It seemed to go against their lifestyle, everything they held dear. The prophets of God that came to them were a threat.

Today we hear those same protests: “God will not judge us. He has promised to bless us.” All the prophets of the Bible were preachers of repentance. That probably accounts for why most of them were martyred, including the last great prophet, John the Baptist, who lost his head because he was a preacher who stood up for God – when no one else was – and cried: “Repent!” What often happens when people do not repent is, in order for God to drive us to that holy act of repentance, he must first discipline us.

The news media is very good at reporting on all of these disasters and inspire some to point a finger at God and paint Him as some type of heavenly dictator who is out to get revenge on those who don’t obey him. But in reality God only wants what’s best for us – even if it causes pain in the process. There have been some great results from the disasters that the media seems reluctant to report about.

Churches in Haiti now overflow with worshippers, including thousands of people who accepted the Lord after the earthquake there. Though the disaster drove many people to churches out of fear, effective witnessing and discipleship is helping transform that fear into living faith. The slums of Cite Soleil, situated on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince, are now alive with song as believers gather in groups of 50 to 200 under tattered tarps and tin-roofed canopies to worship Jesus Christ. Many lost virtually everything in the quake, but their faith made them joyful and strong. A young pastor leads a group of women from his church on afternoon prayer walks along the rutted, dirt roads of Titanyen. They stop and pray along the way, extending their arms toward homes that were often in ruins. “We pray in front of every house, asking for God to bless and comfort the people of our town,” Pastor Merete said. “We thank God for sparing us. Now we need His help to rebuild our lives.”

During the devastating tornado that ripped through Joplin, Mo. several churches were destroyed. The ones that survived quickly became shelters and gathering spots for neighbors, friends and loved ones to reunite. Almost instantly churches of different denominations from across the country stepped up to aid the people in Missouri bringing a fresh renewal to the people there.

If we look hard enough we can find God’s blessings because of the disasters, not in spite of them. People tend to turn to God in times of despair and tragedy.  I believe that is God’s plan.  All through the Bible we can read how God used either Israel’s enemies or natural disasters to discipline His people and bring them back to Himself. I don’t believe that has changed.

Let me make myself perfectly clear; I do not believe that all of the natural disasters are the result of a particular sin in a particular place or people. But we cannot put God into a box. We do that sometimes, don’t we? We cannot limit God geographically either. We confine the experience of God to particular places or locations and you can’t do that! You can’t confine Him to a place, whether it is a church or a city or a country. When we say, “‘God cannot do this.” or, “God must do this” – when we place God into our little theological A-B-C, we can miss God’s lesson for us; because sometimes sin will affect his people around the world. Look at the recent violent flash mobs in the U.K. and America. How many innocent people have been affected by the violent acts of others in recent years?

Radio personality Glenn Beck recently declared that Hurricane Irene was a “blessing.” He touts the strong storm lashing on the East Coast of the United States as a harbinger to warn Americans to be prepared for anything and to stock up food. I’m sure that the families devastated by the deaths of their loved ones caused by the storm don’t see it as a blessing anymore than the victims in Haiti, Japan, or Joplin, Missouri do.

Many are wondering what in the world is going on with a rare earthquake hitting the East Coast only to be followed by a hurricane a few days later. Occasionally God really does shake things up as a sign to us of the consequences of disobedience and indifference to our Creator. When people become desperate to find someone who has a vision of the future, sometimes the loud media personalities get the most attention.

There is plenty of suffering to go around; from severe flooding, hurricanes, drought, wildfires and economic insecurity. Instead of shouting about how we need to prepare for the retribution of an angry God we need to humble ourselves, and pray, and seek God’s face, and turn from our wicked ways; then we will hear from heaven, and God will forgive our sin, and heal our land.  (2 Chronicles 7:14)

We need to remember that sin does not affect only one or two individuals. When a person commits the sin of murder it not only affects the perpetrator and the victim, but it also affects the friends and families of both. Any sin always creates a ripple effect that in one way or another affects the lives of many. For those who don’t believe this,  just think of how the sin of greed on Wall Street has affected so many. And think of how the sin of murder affected so many lives for decades when President Kennedy was assassinated.

Yes, I really believe that we are all accountable to a sovereign God, and if we ignore His laws and disobey His commandments, there is a price to pay. God is trying to get our attention but are we listening? What will it take? Will our world have to be turned upside down before we recognize what’s happening? Would even that be enough?

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