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Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
April 22, 2007
Dealing with Disaster
This past Monday, April 16, was a hard day for a lot of people. The huge storm that reached our area on Saturday was still playing havoc throughout New England and the Mid-Atlantic states causing winter conditions in the northern and higher elevations and widespread flooding in the southern areas and lower elevations. Locally, several governments declared states of emergency as overflowing creeks, streams, rivers and lakes flooded people homes and business and closed roads. Mudslides and local drainage problems added to the destruction making life miserable for many and even ending the lives of a few. Even here at the church, though several of us had checked the water levels Saturday night, were caught by surprise when we got up in the morning and found four inches of water in the church. Monday and Tuesday were spent getting water out and opening up the walls so everything could dry. Several of you are dealing with similar situations in your own homes.
Far worse than the storm though were the murders of 32 people and wounding of others at Virginia Polytechnic University. I won’t repeat the name of the killer because he has already been given enough notoriety, but his evil actions shock us even though we should not be surprised that there are those around that will do the bidding of the devil who was a murderer from the beginning (John 8:44). The January murders of the entire Morey family in Fishkill are another example of the same evil, but it is still disturbing to drive by the remains of their home.
Disaster is what occurred on Monday morning, but those are certainly not the only disasters that have occurred. We read or hear about natural disasters from around the world every year including earthquakes, hurricanes & typhoons, fires, flooding, droughts and even volcanoes. Just the December 2004 tsunami caused by an earthquake off of Sumatra killed over 200,000 and left millions homeless. The coastal areas of Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi are still trying to recover from Katrina & Rita.
We also know about the disasters caused by man’s bent to evil. We even live in a time when terrorism has become worldwide as homicidal Islamic fanatics not only plant bombs in public locations to try to kill people, but they will even strap them on themselves and blow themselves up in order to kill people on buses, trains, subways, in market places, restaurants, schools and any other places people would gather. All of it in an effort to create terror so that they can control people and even societies and nations through fear. The greater tragedy here is that they are too often successful in their goals because too many do give into their demands which in turn only causes them to use more terrorism to achieve their next goals.
We must also remember that disaster does not have to be widespread or involve multiple people to be a disaster. You do not have to have a major rainstorm to have a flood disaster. All it takes is for a water pipe to break in your home. A fire does not have to cover hundreds of acres to be a major catastrophe to an individual. It is a major catastrophe to them when only their home burns down. A loved one does not have to die because of terrorist activity or a volcano eruption for it to be a tragedy. It is also a tragedy when a loved one dies in a car accident or from a disease. Disasters happen both on large scales and on individual levels. Where do they come from? What do they mean? How should we respond to them? Those are the questions I would like to answer today.
WHERE DO DISASTERS COME FROM?
There are four sources of disaster.
MAN. Monday’s disaster at Virginia Polytechnic University came from the intentional actions of a man. This is very important to point out because there are some who have an incorrect view of the sovereignty of God that want to blame Him for it. The problem is that man is sinful and God allows man a limited amount of freedom in choosing to do evil. This was an act of one evil man against other people.
Is God sovereign? Yes. No question about it, but God is not the author of evil or the cause of it. His very attributes such as holiness (1 Pet. 1:16; Isa. 6:1-7), righteousness (Acts 17:31; Gen. 18:25), love (1 John 4:8; Eph. 2:4-7), goodness (Mark 10:18; Acts 14:7; James 1:7) and truth (Jer. 17:3; Num. 23:19) preclude Him from being the origin of the antithesis of His own being. It is God’s sovereignty and righteous attributes that restrains evil. His goodness is demonstrated in the stories of those that survived.
Do not blame God for man’s intentional evil against other humans. Neither should the victims be blamed for the evil actions of the perpetrators. You will see a lot of that in the coming weeks as so called experts try to analyze why the murderer committed his crimes. In fact, you will see a lot of blame placed on all sorts of people instead of the one person who is actually guilty, the young man that purposefully shot down his classmates and professors. The same thing is going on in the current war on worldwide terrorism. There are many that blame America, our society and our military for the actions of Islamic terrorists. However, the guilt stands alone on them for their own evil actions.
Islamic Terrorist groups hate America because we are not Islamic and we give support to Israel. That being true then in reality their wicked actions are just an expression of Satan’s hatred for God’s chosen people, both Jews and Christians. They are people who follow the religion of a false god who loves death instead of the true God that gives and values life.
The murders on Monday are not the only disaster intentionally caused by man. Israel, among many nations, regularly experiences acts of terrorism against them. There are also the many wars, both just and unjust, that have occurred and are currently going on. The genocides in the last century which include not only the Nazi holocaust, but also those in Armenia, Russia, China, Cambodia, and what was Yugoslavia. All crimes are intentional acts of evil, and again, even if it only affects one other person, it is a disaster to them.
Other disasters caused by man are not intentional. There are accidents which occur because of ignorance, mistakes or neglect. Cars crash, ships sink, trains wreck, and fires get out of control. Even attempts to help can wrong. Joni Erickson Tada was paralyzed as a result of the rescue effort to keep her from drowning after her diving accident.
NATURE. Many disasters occur because nature is taking its course in following the laws of physics. Earthquakes and volcanoes occur when the pressures within the earth are released. When the pressure along a fault plane exceeds the frictional resistance, the rock formations slip and an earthquake occurs. A lava dome, being less dense that the surrounding rock, will finally be forced to the surface where its material will burst out in a volcano. The differences in the heating and cooling of the earth’s surface give rise to high and low pressure zones and as these pressure zones follow the laws of physics and equalize themselves, weather patterns develop which give rise to both drought and flood, blizzards and blistering heat. Most of the worst disasters that have ever occurred in the history of mankind have occurred simply because nature follows the laws of physics and man was in its path.
Let’s face it. If you live in Minnesota you have to expect some mighty cold days. If you live in the North East there will be blizzards on occasion. If you live in Florida you will have to endure hurricanes periodically. If you build your house on the flood plain then don’t be surprised when you get water in your living room. If you live on the side of a volcano someday you may find lava flowing through your back yard, and if you build on top of a fault then expect to be shaken out of bed once in awhile.
SATAN. The book of Job tells us that the devil does have power to bring havoc on man. His power is limited by God, but the devil is the source of some disasters. In Job we find that he is the instigator of theft, murder and even a supernatural wind that destroyed the house Job’s children were in resulting in their deaths. He was also the source of Job’s physical afflictions.
GOD. The Lord Himself also brings about disasters. He can strike an individual, an entire nation, or the whole world. Miriam grumbled against Moses and God struck her with leprosy. Korah rebelled against Moses and God had the earth swallow him and all those who joined in his rebellion. Egypt refused to let Israel go and God sent 10 plagues against her and then destroyed her army. The Canaanite tribes allowed themselves to descend into complete debauchery and utter evil and God destroyed them all to make way for Israel. The world Noah lived in had become so wicked that the Scripture describes mankind of that time by saying that “every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” God sent a flood that wiped out all of mankind except for the eight people God preserved on the Ark.
We find in the Scriptures case after case where God directly intervenes against man and brings disaster. And since the Scriptures clearly declares the sovereignty of God in all things we also believe that God has control over and limits the disasters that come at the hands of nature, men and Satan.
God still is in the business of intervening into the lives of men in the midst of the various calamities that come. It may come directly from His hand or by his merciful limiting the calamity caused by nature, evil men, or Satan. The declarations of Job, the Psalms and Proverbs are still true. It is God that sends the snow, the rain, the wind and the storm. Nature may be following physical laws, but it is God’s hand that guides it all. In addition Romans 1 declares that “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness.” God is still in the business of judgement and His wrath still comes against the ungodly that will not submit in humble obedience to Him. That is also true for Christians who fail to live properly. 1 Cor. 11:30 tells us that because of some of them were not properly celebrating the Lord’s Supper, some were sick and some had even died.
Disasters happen and they can arise from different sources, but what do they tell us? What do they communicate to us?
WHAT DO DISASTERS COMMUNICATE?
MAN IS SINFUL. First, the disasters that man brings upon himself, whether intentional or unintentional, tell us that man is sinful. Remember that sin means to “miss the mark.” It is the failure to achieve that which is good and right before God and it includes acts of commission (something you did), and acts of omission (something you failed to do). We have no problem understanding that the disasters mankind suffers due to war are the direct result of the actions of sinful men. We all understand that the actions of people such as Adolf Hitler, Emperor Hirohito, Mao Tse Tung, Ho Chi Mihn, Saddam Hussein and Usama Bin-Laden are evil. We all understand that someone who commits a crime is doing evil. But we also need to understand that the failure to do right is also a sin. A car crash caused by either a drunk or by someone who simply went to sleep at the wheel is still the result of sin. One is more heinous than the other, but both are still sinful.
When we trace disasters to a human origin, we can be sure that we will find a powerful reminder of man’s sinful nature. Adam’s fall has far reaching effects in all his offspring which is all of us. The more we are aware of our fallen nature, whether we are the ones suffering or causing the suffering of others, the greater should be our desire for redemption from it. Disasters of human origin communicate the fallen nature of mankind.
NATURE IS CURSED
Natural disasters tell us that the earth is cursed. The neo-pagan environmentalist that tell you that disasters such as fires, flood, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions are just nature’s way of renewing itself have their heads in the sand. When a natural disaster occurs we do not see “nature renewing itself” in the sense of it is now going to be better because of the disaster that happened. That is simply idiotic. Instead, it is nature “renewing” itself in the sense of recovering from all the damage inflicted upon it. Mount Saint Helens in Oregon blew its top off in May 1980 – 27 years ago. Even an idiot can compare the pictures of what it was like before and what it is like now and tell you that the natural world there was in better shape before the volcanic eruption. I can take you to many, many places in Southern California that have never recovered from the fires that burned 10,20,30,40,50 years ago. What were once green hills covered with trees, bushes, grass and flowers are still barren with only the hardy wild flowers and scrub growing on their slopes. Romans 8:19-22 tells us plainly that nature itself is cursed and is longing for its own redemption. “For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now.” Natural disasters tell us that nature itself is cursed and longing for the day of redemption.
GOD IS POWERFUL
Disasters also communicate the power of God regardless of the origin of the calamity. Anyone who has ever been in any kind of natural disaster – earthquake, hurricane, tornado, flood, volcano, severe storm, etc. knows that there is no denying the power of God in those things. Over and over we find that Scripture uses the power of what God has created to demonstrate that God Himself is powerful.
In Job 38-41 we have recorded God Himself declaring His power to Job by pointing out what He has created and controls. In 38:4-7, 31-33 God speaks of the vastness of the universe itself and He is the one that set the constellations in place. In 38:8-11 God declares that He is the one that set the boundaries of the mighty sea itself. In 38:19-24 & 34-38 God declares Himself the one that controls the weather – the clouds, the rain, the wind, the lightning & thunder. God brings the cold of winter and the warmth of summer. In addition God declares in these chapters the power of the creatures He has made including the Behemoth and Leviathan. Their descriptions match those of dinosaurs, and Leviathan a fire breathing one at that. Man is insignificant by comparison. And yet throughout this whole section, it is not just His power that God is declaring to Job, but also His mercy, tenderness and compassion of how God cares for His creation and limits what is done.
Some have said the disasters that have occurred in recent years in the United States are the acts of an angry God demonstrating His wrath against wicked Americans. Perhaps there is some truth to that idea, however, to whatever degree that is true we must understand that the message is not just to the “sinners” immediately affected. Jesus said in Luke 13:4, “Or do you suppose that those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, were worse culprits than all the men who live in Jerusalem? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” The point is simply that all people are deserving of God’s judgement of their sins. Those who suffer in a disaster are no more wicked than those who do not. It is God’s mercy that all of us do not suffer His immediate holy wrath because of our sins. We should marvel as much about God’s mercy and grace as seen in the stories of survival as we do about His wrath as seen in the disaster itself.
Disasters communicate the evil of man, the curse upon nature and the power of God in displaying both His wrath & judgement and His mercy and grace.
HOW DO WE RESPOND?
Disasters, both those that are widespread and those that are personal, are going to happen. They are a fact of human existence. They come from various sources and they communicate that man is sinful, nature is cursed, and that God is powerful. The remaining question is how will we respond to them?
A person left to follow his or her natural inclination could respond in a number of ways. None of them are good.
The response of Pharaoh to the many plagues thrown against him was resistance. It would not cause him to change his mind and the course of his life. His resistance eventually ruined his kingdom and cost the lives of many of his people including his own son.
In 2 Kings 20 we find that King Hezekiah was told by Isaiah the prophet that the illness he had would kill him. This was a personal disaster. Hezekiah’s response was one of depression. He turned his face to the wall and wept bitterly. Though he had seen the Lord do great and marvelous things, Hezekiah still centered his life in himself and so news of personal disaster brought depression.
In 1 Samuel we find another response to disaster. King Saul had raised his first army of 3,000 men, but now the Philistines had come against them with 30,000 chariots, 6,000 horsemen and people “like the sand which is on the seashore in abundance.” As far as they were concerned, disaster was imminent so they hid in caves, thickets, cliffs, cellars and in pits where they trembled. They shook with fear. When disaster is upon you or looks inevitable, fear can control you. I remember being in a store in California when a 5.3 earthquake hit. That was a pretty good jolt which caused things to fall of the shelves. I heard quite a few people screaming and running for the door which was not a good idea since the front of the store was all plate glass. They were controlled by fear and panicked, and that is another common response to disaster.
Another common response is bargaining with God. We find an example of that in the book of Jonah. He had set sail on a ship going to Tarshish and suddenly there was a great storm upon them. These pagan sailors first became afraid and started crying out to their gods. Then they threw the cargo overboard. Then they went down and tried to get all the passengers to cry out to their gods. They wanted to find some way to appease the right deity to make the trouble go away.
In the midst of a disaster you may have many sinners making a lot of desperate promises to God that they soon forget all about once the danger is past. Such is the story of the shipwreck victim whose promises to God kept diminishing as he got closer to shore.
At the same time you will find the self-righteous that blame the disaster on the “sinners” and fail to see any message to themselves. As I mentioned earlier, that was the reason Jesus spoke about the tower in Siloam that collapsed and killed 18 people. The self righteous claimed that those killed had to be great sinners. Jesus rebuked them and stated that they were no more wicked than anyone else and that unless they repented they would likewise perish. All are deserving of such judgement and only the mercy and longsuffering of God withholds it from happening. Repentance should be the proper response.
The natural response to disaster can be denial, resistance, anger, depression, fear, bargaining with God, self righteous condemnation of others or any combination of these things. But none of these are good. How does God want us to respond?
We just saw from Luke 13 that we cannot be self righteous, but must be humble and repentant ourselves. Homosexual AIDS victims do reap the just consequences of their actions according to God’s warning in Romans 1:27, but the godly response to them is not condemnation, but sincere praise to God for His mercy to you while having compassion and caring for them while also calling them to repentance to receive God’s gift of forgiveness of sin in Jesus Christ.
I also need not fear, resist, be angry or depressed about any disaster I may face during my life. Why? Because the godly response recognizes that my life is totally in the Lord’s hands to use as He sees fit. My life here is unimportant except in how it is used for the glory of my Creator. I died with Christ and the life I now life is His life. I can expect tribulation to come for Jesus said it would, but in Him I can have peace because He has overcome the world (John 16:33). This is accordance with the very nature of being a Christian which is following Christ. The more your life is marked by Christlikeness the more you will respond with godliness to any disaster that comes in your life. Instead of fear there will be peace. Instead of depression their will be joy. Instead of anger there will by grace. Instead of seeking revenge, you will seek forgiveness. Instead of tragedy you will find triumph.
The definition of a successful Christian is “a person who has been saved from their sins by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ, and as an adopted child of God is bringing glory to His name by being conformed into the image of Jesus by submitting themselves to the will of God in faithfully pursuing holiness and blamelessness along with serving the Lord in doing the good works He has prepared before hand.”
The person who is successfully living the Christian life does this even in the midst of disaster. What really matters in your life? Don’t wait for some disaster to come before you find out. Set out now to make sure your living for eternity. Take the admonishment in Hebrews 12:1,2 to heart . . . “lay aside every encumbrance, and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith . . .”.
The basis of this is learning to trust the Lord in all circumstances. The prophet Jeremiah understood this and so could deal with disaster. After the destruction of Jerusalem Jeremiah wrote 5 poems concerning it which we call Lamentations. As he looked over the ruins of the city he wrote in 3:22-25, “The Lord’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, For His compassions never fail. 23 [They] are new every morning; Great is Thy faithfulness. 24 “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “Therefore I have hope in Him.” 25 The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, To the person who seeks Him”
The hymn writer paraphrased it this way.
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
His mercies never come to an end.
They are new every morning, new every morning;
Great is Thy faithfulness, O Lord,
Great is Thy faithfulness.
Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives. Here is some help. Young Children – draw a picture about something you hear during the sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch. Older Children – Do one or more of the following: 1) How many times is the word “disaster” is mentioned? 2) Talk with your parents about the reasons for disasters and how we should respond to them
THINK ABOUT IT!
Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others.
What have been your thoughts when you have seen tragedies unfold? How do they effect you personally? What kinds of general disasters have you experienced? What kinds of personal tragedies have you experienced? What evidences have you seen of man’s sinful nature? Of your own? If God is sovereign, then why isn’t He to blame for disasters? What stories are you aware of that show God’s mercy and grace in the midst of disasters? How can man unintentionally cause tragedy? Why do natural disasters happen? How could man avoid many of these? What do disasters communicate about man? What do disasters communicate about the nature? What do disasters communicate about God? What are the natural ways that people respond to disasters? What was wrong about the responses of Pharaoh? Hezekiah? Saul? Why can’t you bargain with God? Are those who suffer in a disaster more wicked than those that do not? Why or why not? What responses does God want us to have? What must change so that you do so?
Sermon Notes – April 22, 2007
Dealing With Disaster – Selected Scriptures
Sources of Disaster
What Do Disasters Communicate?
Man is Sinful
Nature is Cursed
God is Powerful
How Should We Respond to Disasters?
The Successful Christian is: “a person who has been saved from their sins by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ, and as an adopted child of God is bringing glory to His name by being conformed into the image of Jesus by submitting themselves to the will of God in faithfully pursuing holiness and blamelessness along with serving the Lord in doing the good works He has prepared before hand.”
Do this even in the midst of disaster to be truly successful.
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