Sunday, September 04, 2005

On Katrina

The following are comments I shared with my church family this morning. There's nothing new here, but I pray it encourages us all to rightly respond to these sad events. The content is shaped by wise counsel from my mentor CJ Mahaney and from John Piper whose website has many helpful sermons and resources on suffering listed. I hope you'll visit the Covenant Life Website and listen to the comments of Claude Allen, domestic policy advisor to the President on how Christians can pray and respond to the disaster. - Joshua


"We’ve spent this week in disbelief at the images of devastation and human suffering on our television screens. Just a week away from the fourth anniversary of Sept. 11 we feel many of the same emotions we experienced then—grief, sorrow and disbelief at the destruction and pain caused by this storm.

CS Lewis once wrote, "God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: It is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world." We’re so quickly distracted, so easily enamored with the insignificant, but right now God has our attention. God is shouting to us. What does he want us to hear? How does he want our hearts to be effected?

It's appropriate for us to be…


1. Humbled before a Sovereign God

It is appropriate for people in government to carefully evaluate how to better respond to natural disasters. But if our first and primary thought in response to a storm like this is to look for safety and security in better preparation or higher levees we’re missing the point. If our first thought is comfort that we don’t live near the coast, we’re not hearing at all. A disaster like this reminds us of the fearsome power of God. “Does disaster come to a city, unless the Lord has done it?” (Amos 3:6). The answer is no. He is the Sovereign One who controls all things, whose power is limitless, who does whatever he chooses.

America, the world’s greatest super-power has been humbled by this storm. We all feel vulnerable and weak. And you know what, that’s a good thing. We are vulnerable and weak. The only true super-power in this world is the Sovereign God of Heaven. It’s appropriate for us to be humbled before Him. We cannot by our own cleverness or strength make ourselves safe from him. We live in a world that is rebellion to Him and suffering from the effects of the fall.

2. Repentant before a Holy God

In Luke 13 we read how Jesus commented on two current events in his day, two tragedies that the attention of the nation. Jesus used it as an opportunity to call his hearers—to call all of us—to repentance.

“Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? 3 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. 4 Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? 5 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3-5).

Notice that he doesn’t attempt to assuage our curiosity by explaining the mysteries of why God works in a particular or way or why he allows tragedy.

Neither does he leave any room for self-righteousness that assumes that other are suffering because they’re worse sinners. Jesus is saying, you’re concerned with the tragedy of a tower falling. I’m telling that it’s much worse to have the wrath of a holy God fall on you. And every one of us, because of our sin against God and our disobedience is deserving of this punishment.

We are not called to compare ourselves to others, but to compare ourselves to God. And the only appropriate response on our part when we do this is to repent, to turn from our sins, and cry out to God for mercy.

As you watch the news this week, hear God speaking! “Do you think that the people in New Orleans were worse sinners than those of you who live in Montgomery County? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, we will all likewise perish.

3. Grateful before a Merciful God

In a sermon John Piper described the two kinds of responses to suffering:

"1) We can rail against God and say, "If you are such a great and powerful and loving God, why am I in this hellish mess?" 2) Or we can acknowledge that we are sinners and don't deserve any good thing, and cry out for mercy and help in our time of desperation. The world is full of those who rail against God in their self-righteousness and presume that the creator of the universe obliged to make their life smooth. But there are only a few who own up to the fact that God owes us nothing, and that any good to come our way will be due to his mercy, not our merit.”

We need to see the tragic events of this week in view of the fact that God owes us nothing. And when we do, we begin to see the evidence of his mercy all around. Instead of asking, “How could God let this hurricane happen?” we ask, “In light of our sin, why isn’t there a storm like this every week?”

When we hear stories of heroic rescues by members of the national guard. When we hear of doctors and nurses who bravely stand by their patients and risk their own lives. We see stories of citizens providing food and care for strangers we are witnessing expressions of God’s grace. It is the grace of God that so many people in our nation are selfless, brave and caring people. It is the grace of God that we have a government, however, imperfect that is seeking to protect, guard and rescue its citizens. When we see all this we should be filled with gratefulness and give thanks to God for these undeserved mercies.
But all these expressions of mercy should only serve to point us to the ultimate mercy: God has provided a Savior in his Son Jesus Christ! We were trapped in our sin, in a condition far worse than that of the Superdome. We were dead in our trangressions. We were God’s enemies. And yet God in his mercy gave his Son to die as our substitute.

As we see and read stories of rescue, let our hearts be reminded of the ultimate rescue that God accomplished through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ! Through faith in Him we have been spared the judgment we deserve.


4. Compassionate before a God who seeks and saves the lost

Finally, our gratefulness to God for his mercy should find expression in our lives through mercy and compassion toward those who are suffering. The same Jesus who called all men to repent, calls us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves and to weep with those who weep.

I’m so grateful that so many of you called and emailed the church this week to find out how you could give. This is a Christlike response to the unimaginable suffering we’ve witnessed. Jesus loves the men, women and children, the elderly and the poor who have suffered so grievously this week. He cares for them. And he calls us to represent his love and his compassion.

We’ll be exploring practical ways for us to do this in the days to come…Right now the clearest way for us to do this is to give financially and to pray.

I’m sure many of you have already contributed to worthy organizations like the Red Cross and the Salvation Army. I thank God for these organizations and the work they’re doing. But today the offering that we’re taking for the Sovereign Grace Disaster Relief Fund is going to be channeled through local churches. We want to give money to pastors of local churches in the effected region so that they can minister to their community and provide practically even as they share the gospel with them.

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