This week, as I' m sure all of you know, Hurricane Floyd hit the Bahamas and the East Coast states. I remember in school last Tuesday we prayed for the safety of those in Florida and the surrounding area. On the news, they had said it was going to be in the top four of east-coast hurricanes this century.
Well, it didn't hit quite like they expected. The storm weakened some, and moved north till North Carolina was hit by the eye of the hurricane. They now have the worst flooding in their history.
It could have been much worse! I think many lives were spared. But still, it has led to the evacuation of 2.6 million people. It has caused more than $6 billion dollars in damages. It is North Carolina's worst natural disaster in their history. They had up to 20 inches of rain, leaving more than 1,500 people stranded on top of buildings and trees. Thousands of acres of crops were ruined, livestock have drowned. The damage is incredible. And worse, ... another powerful hurricane looms on the horizon, and no-one's sure where it will go.
On another front: Last Wednesday, in Fort Worth, Texas, a man named Larry Gene Ashbrook walked into Wedgwood Baptist Church during a Christian music concert. He had a homemade pipe bomb and two handguns, which he used to shoot Justin Strenger, Cassandra Griffin, Shawn Brown, Sydney Browning, Joseph Eunis, Susan Jones, and Kristi Beckel. He also injured 7 others before killing himself.
The man was full of hate for the legal authorities, which he thought were after him. He also seemed to hate his father, who he assaulted several times; in spite of the fact that his father supported him. He hated his bosses - from the jobs he couldn't keep. And he seemed to hate Baptists too. ... As he shot his victims he was shouting words against Baptists.
Beyond our country, in Africa, a Rwandan Biship in the Roman Catholic Church is currently standing trial for the involvement in the genocide of over 500,000 people in 1994. Some blame the Church for remaining silent during the murders, though this man is accused of allowing many to die inside of his own church. While the trial is not yet over, one thing is sure - over half a million people were killed.
There is so much death and murder in the world today that many feel as if something DIFFERENT is happening. Many wonder if the winds and floods and drought and earthquakes are evidence that the end is near. Many are also anxious about the Y2K problem, fearing that when the clocks in computers hit 2000 the computers will stop working, along with our power, water, and gas supplies.
WHAT CAN WE SAY ABOUT THE THINGS HAPPENING AROUND US? WHAT SHOULD WE DO? To answer these questions, we need to look to Scripture for insight - and to ground our interpretation of the times we're presently in:
In the book of Job, chapter 38, God responds to Job. In verse 2, God says, "Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me. Where were you when I laid the earth's foundation? Tell me, if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it? On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone - while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?
Later, in verse 24, God continues ... "What is the way to the place where the lighting is dispersed, or the place where the east winds are scattered over the earth? Who cuts a channel for the torrents of rain, and a path for the thunderstorm, to water a land where no man lives, a desert with no one in it, to satisfy a desolate wasteland and make it sprout with grass? DOES THE RAIN HAVE A FATHER? Who fathers the drops of dew?"
The answer to most of these questions is "GOD!". God is the father of the wind and the rain - and every other thing. God causes gardens to grow, for he gives them water and sunlight. So, we should remember when we see the storms come, that God is the author of the rain.
BUT then we may want to ACCUSE Him - and say, "You're responsible for this destruction and death." We may blame God.
After praying for the people in the Southeast last Tuesday, I honestly fel that God deserves thanks and praise for answering that prayer and saving lives. I, and many others, even some of those left without a home, acknowledge that it could have been much worse. SO, IN ACKNOWLEDGING THIS, WE ARE SAYING - "GOD, WE KNOW YOU ARE IN CONTROL".
But if we begin to BLAME God, we, like Job, must realize that He, the creator of all things - is sovereign - He is GOD! This is why in reaction to God's words, Job said, "I put my hand over my mouth." (40:4), and later Job repented - realizing he had not understood (42:3).
God is in control, and He is just! In this, His people should find comfort amidst the storms of life, even when we don't understand his purposes.
God's control over nature is so well understood in Scripture that the Psalmist writes in Psalm 104:3-4 that "He makes the clouds his chariot and rides on the wings of the wind. He makes winds his messengers..."
Again, Psalm 148:7-8 says, "Praise the LORD from the earth, you great sea creatures and all ocean depths, lighting and hail, snow and clouds, STORMY WINDS THAT DO HIS BIDDING...".
Nature is also used as metaphors to show that in the same way God controls nature, He can use nations or armies to bring about His will. In Daniel 7:2-3, Daniel says, "In my vision at night I looked, and there before me were the FOUR WINDS OF HEAVEN CHURNING UP THE SEA. Four great beasts, each different from the others, CAME UP OUT OF THE SEA." Later, in verse 17, we find that the four great beasts are four kingdoms that were to rise from the earth.
In this passage, God has stirred up nations that will bring destruction. And the fourth nation will bring destruction on the whole world.
Notice, though, what the next verse - Daniel 7:18 says, in contrast to the destruction these nations will cause: "But the saints of the Most High will receive the kingdom and will possess it forever - yes, for ever and ever."
GOD IS IN CONTROL. So when storms happen - and hurricanes and floods - we can find comfort in knowing He is ultimately in control of the situation - working out His plan. And we can find comfort in the knowledge that as saints - we have a future in the kingdom. Therefore, WE WILL NOT PERISH.
Unfortunately, sometimes when we realize God is in control, we point to a death, illness, or catastrophe and pronounce it as God's judgement against a particular person or people. When we make such an assertion, we are claiming to understand more than we really do - and we, like Job, SHOULD COVER OUR MOUTHS, and repent.
Turning to Luke 13, Jesus talks about whether those who suffer are suffering because they've sinned more than others. It says, "...there were some present at the time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, 'Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them - do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish."
Notice the tone here: We are all sinners in need of repentance. If we repent we will have eternal life - if we don't we will perish. But this is a "spiritual" life or death. It is speaking of eternity. At the same time, Jesus makes it clear that suffering and disaster do not come upon some people because they are worse than others.
The truth is - there are disasters in the world because this is a fallen world, not because the victims are more evil than others.
Still, it is tough when disaster strikes. Whether it be a death by shooting, or hurricane. Whether it be the loss of home to floods or the extermination of a people.
WHAT DO WE DO WHEN THESE THINGS HAPPEN? Do we point our finger and say, "you sinner!", whether at others or ourselves? Do we become weighed down or depressed or worried? Do we fear the world is out of control?
WHAT SHOULD WE DO?
In Luke 21:25-36, Jesus speaks of the "last days", when terrible calamities will happen in the world. He says "nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea", and that "men will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken." In verse 34, he says, "Be careful, or your heart will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness, and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap. For it will come upon all those who live on the face of the whole earth. Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man."
We may not yet be in these "last days", for many of the things happening today have happened in the past. There were many murders and many storms - even hurricanes in the Bible. But I think the principals still apply to us today.
We must be careful not to let our hearts be weighed down with the anxieties of life. At the same time we must always watch for the "end" and pray - so that we will be able to stand before God.
In other words, we must attend to our souls - for the troubles and storms that our fallenness have brought upon us can not hurt the souls of God's saints.
As sad as it is when people are killed and when hurricanes strike, these things will pass away - and a new order of things will come. Revelation 21:4-5 says, "He will wipe every tear from their eyes. THERE WILL BE NO MORE DEATH OR MOURNING OR CRYING OR PAIN, FOR THE OLD ORDER OF THINGS HAS PASSED AWAY. He who was seated on the throne said, 'I am making everything NEW!'".
Some day, the "new order" will come, and there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain. As Jesus said, "these words are trustworthy and true." (Rev. 21:5).
So we can look ahead WITH HOPE. God is in control. He authored the stars! He father's the rain! And one day - He will make everything new! He says, "I am the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life. HE WHO OVERCOMES WILL INHERIT ALL THIS, and I will be his God and he will be my son." (Rev. 21:6-7).
In closing, I would like to look at an example of what it means to keep on looking ahead, watching and praying, and standing firm in our faith amidst the trials of life that attack us:
Last April, in the Columbine High School shooting, one of the deceased was a girl you probably have heard of: Cassie Bernall.
When Cassie was in 9th grade, she began to change. She was suddenly unhappy and quiet. She began using drugs. She was fascinated by Satanic things. She listened to music about death, suicide, drugs, sex, and hate.
She became very hateful, writing letters and drawing pictures depicting her parents being violently murdered. She had friends who did some similar things.
Cassie was suicidal and hateful.
Wanting to intervene, Cassie's parents put her in private school, but Cassie still rebelled. Her parents said she couldn't see her old friends, but she'd violate that at every opportunity.
Finally, Cassie made a new friend - a Christian friend.
One day, while away at a camp, Cassie, her friend Jamie, and others spent a night in the Colorado mountains, talking about God and life. Looking at the mountains and the trees, they were all overcome by a sense of awe and wonder at how incredible God is.
To quote Cassie's friend, Jamie, "If He can make the mountains, He can make our LIVES into something that is really beautiful." THERE ON THE MOUNTAINSIDE WITH HER FRIENDS, CASSIE BROKE DOWN CRYING. SHE PRAYED WITH HER FRIEND, JAMIE - AND WAS CHANGED FOREVER.
Her eyes brightened. She smiled. And she no longer hated God or her parents, who noticed an immediate difference in her countenance and her behavior.
Just days before her death, now at Columbine High School, Cassie talked to her mom about how she looked forward to being in Heaven with the Lord. Her mom said she couldn't live without her, but Cassie said, "Wouldn't you be happy for me?"
On the day of her death, Cassie gave a note to one of her good friends. She wrote, "HONESTLY, I WANT TO GIVE COMPLETELY TO GOD. IT'S HARD AND SCARY BUT TOTALLY WORTH IT." Her mother says that she didn't just "talk the talk", but she "walked the walk"
During the shootings at her high school, Cassie was frightened, and was saying, "Oh, my God. Oh, my God" One of the murderers heard her and went over to her and asked, "Do you believe in God?" After a short pause, she said, "Yes, I do believe in God."
Then they asked her "Why?" and they shot her.
Cassie was committed to Christ till her death. Her hope was in the Lord and the day when she would be with Him in heaven. She was more concerned about her soul than her life. She is a model for us all to follow amidst the trials and storms of life. Her trust was in the Lord.
Cassie's parents are models for us too, because instead of being drawn into hatefulness or caught in the defeat of depression over their daughter's behavior, they interceded for their daughter's good. And often, as some stories I didn't recount revealed, they let her know she was loved, even when she was full of hate.
And finally, Cassie's friend, Jamie, who led her to the Lord, is a model for us - of how to be heavenly minded - leading others into eternal life.
Amidst the genocide and earthquakes, hurricanes, floods, and shootings - LET US ALSO STAND STRONG AND REMAIN HOPEFUL - REMEMBERING THAT THE GOD WHO SAVED US - IS IN CONTROL!
Cassie Bernall material taken from 20/20 transcript - Friday, Sept. 10, 1999.
Rwandan story taken from article by Dianna Cahn, Associated Press Writer, from "Rwandan Biship Pleads Innocent", Tuesday, Septermber 14, 5:52 PM ET.
Fort Worth story taken from article by Stefani G. Kopenec, Associated Press, from "Before he went on a shooting rampage at a Baptist church, Larry Gene Ashbrook did what many people do when they have something to say. He wrote a letter to the editor." September 17, 1999.
Hurricane Floyd information taken from ABCNEWS.com article from September 17, 1999, titled, "Although Hurricane Floyd did not bring the massive damage once feared, some communities along the East Coast are finding little consolation as floods have stranded thousands and left entire areas without drinking water or power."
Additional Hurricane Floyd information regarding North Carolina taken from Misti Lee (Reuters) article from Friday, September 17, 1999 at 5:04 PM ET, titled, "Snakes, Waste Add to N. Carolina Flood Perils".