Tornadoes, Drought, Fire, And Death


Some years ago, a handful of Christians infamously claimed that hurricane Katrina was God’s judgment on New Orleans, or later that the devastating earthquake that hit Haiti was His judgment on the culture of voodoo and the occult practiced there in times passed.

But what about events in Mid-America such as violent tornadoes? That would be the area of the US famously known as the Bible Belt. A number of years ago, spring tornadoes, numbering more than a hundred strong, tore through Oklahoma, Iowa, Kansas, over to Nebraska and Missouri, and up into Indiana, killing and destroying.

Not to be outdone, wildfires devastated Colorado, and drought consumed crops throughout the Great Plains and over to the Appalachians. In fact, the USA Today reported that 64% of the US was experiencing drought conditions.

And of course there are the shootings that have become all to common in all parts of the US.

All this, of course, comes to mind because of the horrific fires currently devastating Australia.

In the after-math of the natural disasters, news cameras often catch survivors picking through the ruins, thankful that they lived and vowing to keep going. Some way. Some how.

After shootings, there’s talk of the gun culture and insane people trying to grab the spotlight so that the world will look at them for a few fleeting days. Undoubtedly gun legislation again comes under discussion.

All of it is white noise to the real issues that we need to talk about. God works in the world today, as He has throughout history. Because we understand and can predict weather patterns does not mean God has no part in them. Because a psychotic killer picked up a gun and attacked a theater full of people does not mean God is indifferent or uninvolved.

These events remind me so much of the things Job experienced, all engineered by Satan, but permitted by God, used by God. Why do we think He has changed?

No, He did not cause shooters to open fire on unsuspecting victims. That’s an act of evil, and God doesn’t tempt anyone to do evil (see James 1:13). But He works His will in and through these circumstances. And He does so in order that we will look to Him rather than to our own supposed strength and goodness.

God allows fires and floods and wind and drought so that we can see we are weak, not strong. He allows evil men to kill and steal and destroy so that we will see, Mankind is not good.

Only God is strong. Only God is good.

When will we look to Him instead of looking to ourselves for answers?

We are so much like Israel of old. They were a religious people, keeping their feast days, offering sacrifices in their holy cities, and God said, I’m not interested. Instead He brought war and famine so that they would turn to Him.

Offer a thank offering also from that which is leavened,
And proclaim freewill offerings, make them known.
For so you love to do, you sons of Israel,”
Declares the Lord GOD.

“But I gave you also cleanness of teeth in all your cities
And lack of bread in all your places,
Yet you have not returned to Me,” declares the LORD.

“Furthermore, I withheld the rain from you
While there were still three months until harvest.
Then I would send rain on one city
And on another city I would not send rain;
One part would be rained on,
While the part not rained on would dry up.
So two or three cities would stagger to another city to drink water,
But would not be satisfied;
Yet you have not returned to Me,” declares the LORD.

“I smote you with scorching wind and mildew;
And the caterpillar was devouring
Your many gardens and vineyards, fig trees and olive trees;
Yet you have not returned to Me,” declares the LORD.

“I sent a plague among you after the manner of Egypt;
I slew your young men by the sword along with your captured horses,
And I made the stench of your camp rise up in your nostrils;
Yet you have not returned to Me,” declares the LORD.

“I overthrew you, as God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah,
And you were like a firebrand snatched from a blaze;
Yet you have not returned to Me,” declares the LORD. (Amos 4:5-11 – emphasis mine)

Are we somehow beyond God’s reach, that He would not be at our shoulder, calling to us, telling us we need to return to Him? Are we so oblivious to our egregious behavior, putting to death thousands and thousands of unborn babies year after year; calling evil good and good, evil; giving credence to false prophets who lie about God and His character, that we think God is pleased with us and will continue to bless us as a nation?

What will it take for us to realize, God might be trying to get our attention because He wants us to look at Him, listen to Him, bow before Him, and recognize that He is God and we are not.

This post is a revised version of one that appeared here in July, 2012.

Anything For A Story


Sea_Cliff_Bridge_During_Rain_StormWestern society lives for pleasure–an adrenaline high or sexual titillation or culinary delights–if it feels good, then that’s what we want. The sad thing is that the parts of our day that don’t feed into these wants are often considered boring or second rate or something to be endured, to be gotten through.

Any wonder, then, that TV ads tell stories or make people laugh? The motto seems to be, whatever it takes to keep people entertained. Horrors if a product is described in boring terms. Why, even the dire warnings about possible side effects to prescription drugs are communicated in soothing tones while pictures of active, healthy seniors playing golf or basketball or swimming speed past our eyes.

So it’s not a surprise that TV news has joined the entertainment business. That happened some time ago. The sensational gets a hearing, especially if it comes with pictures.

What seems to be a new twist to this scenario, however, is the interpretation of facts to make them entertaining, one way or the other!

This tendency seems particularly noticeable here in SoCal concerning our weather. Maybe the meteorologists are simply tired of having nothing much to talk about, but I think it has more to do with creating a sensation. That, it seems, is now the role of TV news.

As most people have heard, all of California has been experiencing a drought. But at long last, news poured in this week that we had rain in the forecast. But not just any rain. We were looking at the BIGGEST STORM in YEARS! In fact, the “in years” turns out to be the biggest to hit the southland in three years.

Well, yes, since we’ve been having a drought during that time, there haven’t been any big storms. So this storm that has triggered mandatory evacuations and sandbagging and the construction of berms and barricades–to keep runoff out of homes and high surf out of neighborhoods–isn’t actually a particularly large one if you were comparing it to the storms in a non-drought year.

But the news media can’t pass up an opportunity to sensationalize even the weather. We can’t simply celebrate the fact that we’re getting rain, that farmers who have dealt with the lack of water, and ranchers who have had to truck in feed for their cattle, and small towns that have seen their wells dry up, are getting a little help.

Rain can’t be good. It can’t be an answer to prayer, most assuredly. Instead it has to be sensational. The irony of it all is that the one mention I heard of the rain and its affect on the drought was that it would help very little.

Sure, I get that this one storm isn’t going to replenish the lakes and rivers that have steadily shrunk over the last several years. But no help?

Must the story always be woe and beware? Well, yes, apparently the extreme and the dire fit the entertainment model, so that’s the kind of news we get. Even for the weather.

Published in: on February 28, 2014 at 5:49 pm  Comments Off on Anything For A Story  
Tags: , , ,

Gray Days


rifts-on-earth-1265066-mI know people back East and in the South are experiencing a particularly hard winter. They’ve had snow, certainly, but also Cold.

On the West Coast we’re having a hard winter, too, but you wouldn’t know it for the most part. Our problem is, the weather’s been too nice.

We haven’t had any rain as we usually get this time of year. January is the second wettest month of the year for us, and we got all of a trace of rain. In fact, since July, which is when they start the rain-total year, we’ve received under an inch of precipitation.

Today was a gray day, though. The weather forecasters had predicted only a twenty percent chance of rain, but I’m convinced God can bring us rain, if He wants, when He wants, no matter what the prognosticators say.

In fact, I’m praying that we’ll have rain and lots of it in the months to come, in part because we need it so much, but also because our governor dissed God publicly.

Two weeks ago Governor Jerry Brown declared a statewide drought emergency and asked us to cut back our water consumption by twenty percent. As part of his speech he said that his declaration wouldn’t cause it to rain, and that some people thought the answer to the problem was to pray for rain, which was as likely to bring rain as was his declaration.

Either the Governor doesn’t believe God hears and answers prayer or he doesn’t believe God can do anything about the weather.

He’s wrong on both counts. I mean, Elijah, Scripture says, was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the earth for three years and six months. Then he prayed again and the sky poured rain and the earth produced its fruit. (See James 5:17-18.)

So God answers prayer about the weather, according to His will.

I also thought about the Assyrian commander who stood outside the walls of Jerusalem and told the people of Judah God couldn’t save them from him, that they shouldn’t listen to their king and put their trust in God’s deliverance.

Do not let Hezekiah deceive you, for he will not be able to deliver you from my hand; nor let Hezekiah make you trust in the LORD, saying, “The LORD will surely deliver us, and this city will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria.” (2 Kings 18:29-30)

As if that wasn’t enough, he sent a written message a bit later saying

“Thus you shall say to Hezekiah king of Judah, ‘Do not let your God in whom you trust deceive you saying, “Jerusalem will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria.” (2 Kings 19:10)

He went further, equating God with those false gods worshiped by the nations around Judah:

Beware that Hezekiah does not mislead you, saying, “The LORD will deliver us.” Has any one of the gods of the nations delivered his land from the hand of the king of Assyria? Where are the gods of Hamath and Arpad? Where are the gods of Sepharvaim? And when have they delivered Samaria from my hand? Who among all the gods of these lands have delivered their land from my hand, that the LORD would deliver Jerusalem from my hand? (Isa 36:18-20)

Of course, this commander, a man named Rabshakeh, was wrong to say what he did about God. And Governor Brown is wrong to say what he did about prayer and the unlikelihood that rain would result from asking God for it.

Whether or not God chooses to send rain is His decision. He chose to rescue Judah and sent the Assyrian commander home empty-handed.

God may not rescue us from this drought, but the fact is, He CAN send rain. He, not the weathermen, not Mother Nature, not uncontrollable jet stream patterns, is in charge of the weather, the political climate, the economic situation, the tides, the paths of comets, the rising of the sun and its setting. We are foolish to think God does not actively “hold all things together” as His word says He does.

For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. (Col. 1:16-17)

So I do pray for rain, that God may be glorified over all these meteorologists, who truly do their best, and interpret the data with as much accuracy as possible. It’s just that they can only tell us what generally occurs when barometric pressure and wind currents and precipitation readings are what they are. They don’t know God’s mind or take into account His power.

He and He alone will decide if we need a drought or rain. But as for me, I will rejoice in every gray day that comes our way, and I will pray that God will be merciful and turn those predictions on their head and show His power so that all may see we have a mighty God who rules the Heavens and the earth!

Water!


622860_the_rushPerhaps no one in the US today appreciates the value of water like those folks in West Virginia whose water source was contaminated by an industrial chemical leak. Their water, officials were careful to explain, was poisoned, so no amount of boiling or purifying would make it OK. Not for drinking, brushing your teeth, laundry, cooking, or bathing. Presumably the only thing it was good for was flushing toilets, and that’s at least something.

But think about it. What a horrific loss of a necessary element we largely take for granted. Schools closed. Hotels closed. Restaurants closed. The business area of downtown Charleston was as good as a ghost town.

The Governor issued a state of emergency, and the National Guard was called in to provide residents with water and food. All for the lack of water.

People in other countries and in other times understood the importance of water much more than does the average American living in the 21st century. We water our lawns and fill our swimming pools (yes, I know it’s winter, but I live in SoCal, so these are year round activities), with little thought about the precious commodity we are using.

Until we hear news like we did last week about thousands of people no longer able to use their water.

We’re in the midst of a drought here in SoCal–we had just under four inches of rain for the entire meteorological year. And this year (which started in July) isn’t shaping up to be any better.

So the issue of what it’s like to be without usable water is one we should pay attention to.

Perhaps the physical shortage of something so necessary can help us understand more clearly the metaphor God used for Himself–the Fountain of Living Water.

Here are a few passages:

But my people have committed two evils:
They have forsaken me, the Fountain of living waters
To hew for themselves cisterns,
Broken cisterns that can hold no water. (Jer. 2:11)

Jesus answered and said to her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.” (John 4:10)

“He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’” (John 7:38)

Psalm 1 creates a picture of a flourishing tree planted by “streams of water” which bears fruit. And of course we know that a lack of water is the chief characteristic of deserts.

I’ve seen drought conditions before. When I was growing up there was a year when the stream that runs by our cabin in the mountains of Colorado dried up. That was the source of our water. Now it was a muddy ditch with pools of stagnant water attracting swarms of mosquitoes. It wasn’t a pretty place to be. What had been a relatively easy task of carrying water up to the cabin now became a search for a new source of water and an arduous job of hauling it up hill. But we still had some water.

What would it be like without any?

The most amazing truth is that God will bring water to the desert.

“The beasts of the field will glorify Me,
The jackals and the ostriches,
Because I have given waters in the wilderness
And rivers in the desert,
To give drink to My chosen people.” (Isaiah 43:20)

Indeed, the LORD will comfort Zion;
He will comfort all her waste places.
And her wilderness He will make like Eden,
And her desert like the garden of the LORD;
Joy and gladness will be found in her,
Thanksgiving and sound of a melody. (Isaiah 51:3)

But I think the people who don’t know they have no water will not look for Him to supply it.

How about those people in West Virginia–before they could receive the water the National Guard brought in, they first had to admit that the water coming out of their kitchen tap was not usable. They had no source of water they could use unless someone else provided it for them.

So too are we all in need of spiritual water but to receive what we need, we first have to be aware of our need.

Published in: on January 13, 2014 at 6:48 pm  Comments (2)  
Tags: , , , ,

Accusations Against Christians


California_Drought_Dry_Riverbed_2009There’s quite a litany of accusations against Christians these days, from non-Christians and other Christians alike. Those charges include things such as Christians can’t do art or create good speculative fiction, are greedy and hypocritical and hateful.

Sadly a selection of very visible individuals or groups claiming to be Christians have reinforced some of these ideas–pastors who end up having affairs, televangelists who preach health-and-wealth rather than sacrificial giving, sign-waving funeral crashers who condemn rather than present the good news.

But then there are individuals like the owner of Chick-fil-A who became the brunt of accusations because of his stand for monogamous, heterosexual marriage. He too was accused of being hateful.

Recently, as I was reading Scripture, I realized, we might as well get used to these sorts of recriminations. All the way back in the Old Testament, people proclaiming the truth about God and man’s sinful condition were tarnished with the brush of accusation.

Even Elijah. He prophesied during the reign of one of the most sinful kings Israel would know. Ahab married a pagan and proceeded to lead his people into idolatry like no king before him. He built temples and altars and assigned priests and made sacrifices to these false gods, all the while persecuting those who were faithful to the Lord God who lead them out of Egypt.

As judgment on the nation, God, through the prayer of Elijah, withheld rain from them for over three years. Needless to say, they suffered severe drought and famine. Ahab apparently conducted an extensive search for Elijah, thinking perhaps to force him to beseech God for rain. His search failed because God kept Elijah safe and supplied with food and drink.

When at last God told Elijah to return to Ahab, his first assignment before dealing with the drought was to confront the prophets of Baal. But before he could propose a showdown, Ahab accused him of troubling Israel.

Elijah didn’t let the accusation stand. Rather, he turned it back on Ahab:

He said, “I have not troubled Israel, but you and your father’s house have, because you have forsaken the commandments of the LORD and you have followed the Baals. (1 Kings 18:18)

Of course today such a statement would be seen as further evidence of a hateful, intolerant, unloving attitude.

I think this is why New Testament writers like Paul and Peter were instructing Christians about how to handle things like false accusations and suffering. Peter in his first letter makes a strong case for suffering for the sake of righteousness, not for wrong doing:

and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame. For it is better, if God should will it so, that you suffer for doing what is right rather than for doing what is wrong. (1 Peter 3:16-17 – emphasis added)

In the end, it seems the only thing we as believers in Jesus Christ can do is live godly lives. Earlier Peter said

Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation . . . For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men. (1 Peter 2:12, 15)

Hypocrites! Hateful! Greedy! The accusations will come. The key is to silence our critics, not by taking a defensive stand, even though that worked for Elijah, but by exhibiting good behavior with which the accusers cannot argue.

Published in: on November 30, 2012 at 6:54 pm  Comments (1)  
Tags: , , , , ,

Tornadoes, Drought, Fire, And Death


Some years ago, a handful of Christians infamously claimed that hurricane Katrina was God’s judgment on New Orleans, or later that the devastating earthquake that hit Haiti was His judgment on the culture of voodoo and the occult practiced there in times passed.

What are we to make, then, of the events in Mid-America this year? That would be the area of the US famously known as the Bible Belt. This spring tornadoes, numbering more than a hundred strong, tore through Oklahoma, Iowa, Kansas, over to Nebraska and Missouri, and up into Indiana, killing and destroying.

At the beginning of this summer, wildfires devastated Colorado, and drought has consumed crops throughout the Great Plains and over to the Appalachians. In fact, the USA Today reports that 64% of the US is experiencing drought conditions.

If all that isn’t bad enough, the Denver area experienced another horrific shooting event last night. Some reports say more than seventy people were hit and twelve died.

All this, of course, comes in the midst of the feeble recovery from the Great Recession that has our spend-happy nation reeling.

In the after-math of the natural disasters, news cameras caught survivors picking through the ruins, thankful that they had lived and vowing to keep going. Some way. Some how.

After last night’s shooting, there’s talk of the gun culture and insane people trying to grab the spotlight so that the world will look at them for a few fleeting days. Undoubtedly gun legislation is on the horizon.

All of it is white noise to the real issues that we need to talk about. God works in the world today, as He has throughout history. Because we understand and can predict weather patterns does not mean God has no part in them. Because a psychotic killer picked up a gun and attacked a theater full of people does not mean God is indifferent or uninvolved.

These events remind me so much of the things Job experienced, all engineered by Satan, but permitted by God, used by God. Why do we think He has changed?

No, He did not cause the shooting suspect to open fire on those theater-goers last night. That was an act of evil, and God doesn’t tempt anyone to do evil (see James 1:13). But He works His will in and through these circumstances. And He does so in order that we will look to Him rather than to our own supposed strength and goodness.

God allows fires and floods and wind and drought so that we can see we are weak, not strong. He allows evil men to kill and steal and destroy so that we will see, Mankind is not good.

Only God is strong. Only God is good.

When will we look to Him instead of looking to ourselves for answers?

We are so much like Israel of old. They were a religious people, keeping their feast days, offering sacrifices in their holy cities, and God said, I’m not interested. Instead He brought war and famine so that they would turn to Him.

Offer a thank offering also from that which is leavened,
And proclaim freewill offerings, make them known.
For so you love to do, you sons of Israel,”
Declares the Lord GOD.
“But I gave you also cleanness of teeth in all your cities
And lack of bread in all your places,
Yet you have not returned to Me,” declares the LORD.
“Furthermore, I withheld the rain from you
While there were still three months until harvest.
Then I would send rain on one city
And on another city I would not send rain;
One part would be rained on,
While the part not rained on would dry up.
So two or three cities would stagger to another city to drink water,
But would not be satisfied;
Yet you have not returned to Me,” declares the LORD.
I smote you with scorching wind and mildew;
And the caterpillar was devouring
Your many gardens and vineyards, fig trees and olive trees;
Yet you have not returned to Me,” declares the LORD.
“I sent a plague among you after the manner of Egypt;
I slew your young men by the sword along with your captured horses,
And I made the stench of your camp rise up in your nostrils;
Yet you have not returned to Me,” declares the LORD.
“I overthrew you, as God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah,
And you were like a firebrand snatched from a blaze;
Yet you have not returned to Me,” declares the LORD. (Amos 4:5-11 – emphasis mine)

Are we somehow beyond God’s reach, that He would not be at our shoulder, calling to us, telling us we need to return to Him? Are we so oblivious to our egregious behavior, putting to death thousands and thousands of unborn babies year after year; calling evil good and good, evil; giving credence to false prophets who lie about God and His character, that we think God is pleased with us and will continue to bless us as a nation?

What will it take for us to realize, God might be trying to get our attention because He wants us to look at Him, listen to Him, bow before Him, and recognize that He is God and we are not.

%d bloggers like this: