Was Hurricane Sandy really an act of God’s judgment?

Yesterday, I came across some statements by one church and one fundamentalist pastor concerning their views on the reason for Hurricane Sandy.  While these were the only two I saw, I am sure, unfortunately, that there are other groups and pastors who share this view.  I can only shake my head in sadness at the view and picture these groups and individuals have of God.

Their view of God has truly never left the Old Testament; they still operate in the mode of God just waiting for someone to get out of line so he can deliver his wrath upon them.  It really reminds me of the Pharisees and the religious leaders of Jesus’ day as well as those legalists in the early church.  They can talk all they want about believing in God’s mercy, love and grace, but when push comes to shove, when things are boiled down to reality, what they truly believe in is a God who is all about wrath, judgment and condemnation for that is how they see him operating in this world.  The problem with their view, really, is Romans 3:23: “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”  That would include them.  They still have their sin nature and if they want to believe in a God who is all about punishment, judgment and condemnation of people because of their sin, they need to jump in line because they still sin.  They are unloving, ungracious and unmerciful to people just like the Pharisees were and Jesus really lit into them on numerous occasions.  The reason I believe this to be true is because Jesus said that the very standard by which we judge people, we ourselves will be judged by God.  Therefore, if their view is that God demonstrates his judgment on people for sin through things like storms, I suggest that they “hunker down” themselves because they also are not without sin and therefore God needs to judge their sin.

I am so glad that God deals with us in a different way than he did with the people of Israel as we read in the Old Testament.  In Colossians 1:19-20, the Apostle Paul writes, “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile all things to himself, having made peace through the blood of his cross – through him, whether the things on the earth or the things in heaven.”  In addition, Peter writes, “The Lord does not delay regarding the promise, as some count delay, but is long-suffering toward you, not intending that any perish but that all advance to repentance.”

These two passages tell me a great deal about how God currently relates to his creation and us.  He views us through reconciliation, peace and EXTREME patience.  God has chosen, for now, to set aside his wrath in order to draw people to himself.  He has declared this time starting with Jesus’ death and resurrection to today and until Jesus’ returns as a time of peace between him and his creation.  He has done this because he desires to have all come to repentance.  It’s kinda hard to do that if you are dead because he sent a storm to kill you because he was done waiting.  And, unless God is like Hitler (and of course he isnt), you don’t attack someone with whom you have declared peace.  The way God related to people in the Old Testament demonstrated that people could not do, in and of themselves, what was necessary in order to have a relationship with God that would bring eternal life.  That’s why God sent Jesus so that he would do what we could not, so that we could have that relationship.

Devastating storms and other tragic events occur in this world not because of God’s judgment or condemnation, but because of how the world has been affected, marred and twisted due to the presence of sin and evil in it.  Just like a dog will be obedient to but cower in the presence of a master who beats it into compliance, if God’s wrath, judgment and condemnation is what is used as a way to bring people to God, with rare exceptions, people won’t be drawn to love God but only fear him like that dog.  Why would someone want to draw near or love a God would is all about punishment in order to gain obedience, compliance and love?  A relationship based upon true love is voluntary, not coerced.

God realizes this.  I bet he wishes those who trumpet storms like Hurricane Sandy as his judgment would realize it as well.

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This morning, I find myself in the latter portion of Acts 15 as I prepare for worship this coming Sunday.  On the surface, this passage would seem innocuous, rather boring, really.  But it is far from it and it is raising some serious questions, questions that most likely be the framework upon which this sermon is crafted, but questions that may not be answered in this sermon.  They may just be iterated, expounded upon, but not answered.  This is because, right now, I’m not sure of the answers.  I have my thoughts and the direction in which they lead is one I find very interesting.

One of the things I was taught growing up was that if there seemed to be a contradiction from one part of Scripture to another, it was only imagined for, through deeper study, this contradiction would be proved not to exist.  I wonder sometimes if this view of Scripture demands there be no seeming contradiction or tension in order for God’s revelation to be perfect.  I also must admit that I wonder if this type of approach to Scripture has given rise to bible idolatry, a practice where God’s spoken word is equated with God himself and worshiped.  I wonder, is this approach of there not being any tension like this the proper view and approach of God’s revelation to us?  This error is not unprecedented; the Pharisees and their contemporaries had a view of God’s revelation (the Old Testament) that was shredded by Jesus (read Jesus’ words in John 5:31-47).  

(Trust me.  I realize that I am treading on dangerous ground here.)

What if the proper approach towards God’s revelation to us is of what I would call a “growth process?”  What I mean by that is that God’s revelation is progressive and alive, not standing still and static.  Think about it, really think about it.  The way God relates to those of the New Testament (like the Gentile believers) is different than the ways he related to the people of Israel in the Old Testament.  There was a change from Law to Grace.  This changed occurred because of Jesus but as I read Paul’s thoughts on law and grace, I see the law pointing to grace as being superior to it and the natural outcome of the law.  Law could only point out how far short all people fall of God’s perfect requirements; it gave no way to deal with this situation.  Grace, however, came, fulfilled the requirements of the law and accomplished for people what the law never could – salvation.  It is a process that God is working out.

During the period of time, situations and context in which the New Testament was being written, this growth process never stopped.  And, at times, teaching at a deeper level of growth will be at odds with a shallower level.  I remember sitting in Greek class in college.  It was my first year of taking Greek, which was a two year study. (Anyone who wanted to have a minor in Koine Greek needed both years.)  We were taught the grammar and all of the different rules to the Koine Greek language.  I remember, though, early on in that second year.  The comment from the professor regarding the rules and grammar he had just taught us the previous year I can still hear.  He said that in the first year we learned the grammar and rules; in the second year, we were going to learn how to break them. It was a growth process in truly understanding the language of the New Testament, an understanding that would not be possible if one only stayed rigid on the rules and grammar.

All that being said, this passage in Acts 15 I find in direct conflict with Paul’s teaching to the church at Corinth.  The letter from the Jerusalem council to the new Gentile believers in Asia Minor (modern day Turkey) was that it was a necessary requirement for them to abstain from certain things and activities, one of which was eating meat sacrificed to idols.  The reason for abstaining was in direct connection with the sensitivities of the Jewish believers, but it was a directive nonetheless.  This council occurred around 50-51 A.D.  Within 5 years, Paul was teaching the believers in Corinth  that it was okay for them to eat meat sacrificed to idols within certain parameters, in direct contradiction to the directive from the Jerusalem council.  No matter how someone may try to spin it, the opposite teaching is there.

The question is why?  I believe the answer becomes clear when the view of Scripture is seen as progressive and alive, not standing still and static.  The spirit of Paul’s teaching did not contradict the spirit of the edict from the Jerusalem council, but it did open up avenues of expression of the freedom we have in Christ and grace that had been barricaded by the council’s edict.  That shows a growth in the understanding of and living in grace.  

That growth continues to this very day.  God continues to reveal himself today, growing us in grace and drawing us closer to him all the time as we move forward in this process.  There are those today, though, whose approach to Scripture does not see it as progressive and alive.  It is this group who see certain teachings of Scripture which were meant for a specific situation, context and time as translating point-by-point to today.  

There are two things I see emanating from this group.  First, I see incredible inconsistencies.  There are passages in the New Testament about which they are adamant in following them, yet other passages exist where that is not true.  Why is it that much of this group will tout the passage from 1 Timothy 2 to prove that women should not be clergy, but ignore the passage just verses before where Paul tells Timothy he wants men everywhere to raise up holy hands in prayer?  In my experience, it has been the rare case where a group who is against women in ministry doesn’t frown upon hand raising by people.  Second, many who are in this camp want things to be done exactly as they were back in New Testament times and want today’s world to abide by these rules and regulations.  They tout this as the answer for the problems of this world.  Part of this would be subjugation of women.  I find it interesting that this very group is very critical of Muslims who espouse Sharia Law in very much the same manner as this group does with the New Testament.

Enough rambling; maybe I’ve actually answered my own questions.

Pennies changing lives

My wife’s sister, Becki, introduced her to an organization called A21 which is committed to abolishing the injustice of human trafficking in the 21st century.  Here is how this organization describes its beginning: “When confronted with the horrific statistics surrounding human trafficking, it is easy to agree on the fact that “someone should do something.” The A21 Campaign was born when the decision was made to raise our hand, and be that “someone.” It was a decision of ordinary people who decided to take responsibility regarding the issue of human trafficking. So with little knowledge, and a lot of passion, in 2007 we set out to make a difference.”  

The trafficking, any type of trafficking, of humans is an abomination in the sight of God.  God places a very high value upon people because of his love for people.  That’s the reason why Jesus came to earth (John 3:16).  Trafficking views humans as “throw-away” commodities, not much different than common household products that are now considered disposable like cell phones and microwaves.  This behavior is straight from the pit of hell.  Even though the image is marred by sin and evil, every person who has ever walked the earth is made in the image of God.  When people are seen as disposable and “throw-away,” that image is thrown in the mud and trampled over.  

On the a21 campaign website, http://www.thea21campaign.org, they offer 21 ways to get involved.  Number 2 is called “Multiply Your Pennies.”  Here is how they describe this way to get involved: “Everyday changes can make huge impacts in bringing an end to slavery. By simply altering daily choices and saving money, you can become a partner with us as we bring an end to slavery. Instead of ordering a large coffee, opt for a smaller size and save those pennies!  A few small changes for us can help bring about lasting change for a survivor!”  

Whether or not they realize it, this suggestion is actually an idea that God gave to the Israelites some 700+ years before Jesus was born.  God commanded Israel to observe certain days of fasting, but they only observed these days as a ritual; they did not understand the spirit of why God commanded this.  Here is what he had to say to them from Isaiah 58:3b-10:

“On the day of your fasting, you do as you please

and exploit all your workers.

4Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife,

and in striking each other with wicked fists.

You cannot fast as you do today

and expect your voice to be heard on high.

5Is this the kind of fast I have chosen,

only a day for a man to humble himself?

Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed

and for lying on sackcloth and ashes?

Is that what you call a fast,

a day acceptable to the Lord?

6“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:

to loose the chains of injustice

and untie the cords of the yoke,

to set the oppressed free

and break every yoke?

7Is it not to share your food with the hungry

and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—

when you see the naked, to clothe him,

and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?

8Then your light will break forth like the dawn,

and your healing will quickly appear;

then your righteousnessa will go before you,

and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.

9Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;

you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.

“If you do away with the yoke of oppression,

with the pointing finger and malicious talk,

10and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry

and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,

then your light will rise in the darkness,

and your night will become like the noonday.

Fasting and not spending as much money on food was never meant as a personal savings plan!  God intended for the money that was not spent on food because of the fast to be used to meet the needs of those who are in need or oppressed.  That money would be redeemed.  And that is what a21 is proposing: redeeming money in order to assist those who find themselves trafficked.  

So, here is what I am going to do and what I am challenging you to seriously consider.  Do what this idea suggests.  Put a jar somewhere in your house that you put the money saved from moving to a smaller size or brewing your own coffee at home instead of paying $3+ for a cup of coffee at Starbucks or Caribou.  You already are used to spending this certain amount of money, so redeeming this money by not spending it on that cup of coffee will have no adverse effect on your budget.  By doing so, you will be helping someone who finds herself in a situation that is unfathomable.  

This suggestion mirrors God’s heart for it goes way beyond form to the reason why.

Atmosphere creation

I have been listening to a talk given by Graham Cooke (www.grahamcooke.com) titled, “Creating Momentum in the Church.” One of the things he talks about is atmosphere.  To get a church moving, the atmosphere needs to be changed.  During worship, the environment and atmosphere should mirror that of the throne room.  Because of that, we need to realize that we are not so much pursuing God’s presence as we are hosting him.  

Imagine if we truly recognized and visualized God in our midst as we worshiped.  How would that impact us?  How would that change the way in which we worship.  It makes me think of a couple of glimpses into the throne room we are given from passages of Scripture like Isaiah 6 and Revelation 4.  In those scenes, the focus is totally on God.  Cries of “Holy, holy, holy” are heard.  In Isaiah 6, we are told that the sound of the voices crying, “Holy, holy, holy,” shook the doorposts and the thresholds.  It was not timid worship!  

It was also worship that generated a spontaneous response in those worshiping.  The creatures in Isaiah 6 and Revelation 4 covered their eyes and their feet as they flew and offered praise to God.  The 24 elders present fell down before God and worshiped and offered everything they had, including themselves, to him.  

I know that a passage from I Corinthians talks about worship being done in “proper” and “ordered” fashion, but why is “proper” and “ordered” given the definition of a very conservative nature?  If by “ordered” and “proper” God meant that there would never be any spontaneous cries of worship or spontaneous responses because of being in his presence, then why would he allow these creatures and the elders do what they did in worship in his throne room?

Momentum is lost when the emotional element of worship is lost which then makes the atmosphere of worship stagnant and oppressive.  Worship should cause an emotional response in people because we do so in the presence of the Almighty God in all his splendor and glory.  Unfortunately, it is far too often the case that the atmosphere of worship is dull and boring, stagnant and listless, void of emotion and life.  I wonder if this type of worship is offensive to God.  Since the type of worship to which he is accustom in his throne room is energetic and spontaneous, I’m thinking this type of worship too often offered on Sunday mornings most likely is offensive to him.

This past Sunday, we closed our worship by singing “Christ Arose!”  If the words of that song can’t get our hearts pumping, our blood flowing, stir us in our souls and bring a high level of emotional excitement to us, then I’m not sure anything can.  May our worship be a pleasing experience for our God.