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09/06/2005: "A difficult season... and a call to return to God."

In the literal wake of Hurricane Katrina, the people in the southern United States are reeling from an unbelievably awesome tragedy. The scale of what has happened is tremendous, recalling the tsunami of December 2004, the multiple hurricanes that hit Florida in 2004, and the terrorist attacks on 9/11 in 2001.

The number of those who've died still cannot be estimated yet as all anyone can say about it is that corpses lie in the streets and float in the receding waters.

As was said in last week's Hunger For More column, it is time right now to rally love and support IN TANGIBLE WAYS for those who are suffering. This should be a point about which God's people, Christians, gather in force to mobilize resources to meet the needs of those who are homeless, foodless, friendless and clueless about where to turn now. (Click here for ways YOU can help.)

This is a season of reaching out with the love of Christ, that people whose physical crises are being addressed will also allow God to address their spiritual crisis - that of their need for salvation.

But there is yet another crisis which we must also face... and face immediately: that of the complacency of the Church in the face of human evil and the imminent judgment of God. There are, mercifully, some shining examples of God's people giving tirelessly and selflessly to others. There are also many horrific examples of the opposite taking place: men and women who clearly do not know Christ who are murdering, stealing, raping and oppressing others.

It is interesting to me how clearly unexpected such a development was. But should it really surprise us? Did we really think that people apart from God would or even could behave any differently? Immersed as New Orleans is in sexual immorality, drugs, gambling, and Voodoo (a very dark and slavish animistic religion), there are a significant number of people very much under the control of evil and oppressive powers who can only demonstrate their allegiance to those dark forces when the restraining influences of law and order are removed.

And what must we conclude about God's perspective on the matter? As painful as it is to acknowledge it, we must observe the "judgment factor." Biblically speaking, does God or does He not judge sin? He does. Has He or has He not decreed judgment upon entire cities and nations for their sin? He has.

It would be a terrible mistake to assume that all those who are suffering so deeply are especially deserving of that judgment. Nevertheless, we are a foolish people indeed if we think that we can arbitrarily "thumb our noses" at God for all these years with impunity.

Of course, one may ask "If this is judgment, then why now? Why at the end of August in 2005?" Not such a good question for it obscures the REAL question is which is why has He not begun to bring judgment sooner?

“The LORD is a jealous and avenging God; the LORD takes vengeance and is filled with wrath. The LORD takes vengeance on His foes and maintains His wrath against His enemies” (Nahum 1:2 NIV).

And what can we expect for our land if we continue to pursue the idols of selfishness, pride, luxury, oppression, and immorality?

“‘Days are coming,’ declares the LORD, ‘when I will punish her idols, and throughout her land the wounded will groan’” (Jeremiah 51:52 NIV).

“Alas for that day! For the day of the LORD is near; it will come like destruction from the Almighty” (Joel 1:15 NIV).

But lest we think that the Big Easy was especially singled out and that all the rest of America is above judgment, be careful!

Jesus addressed a similar misconception during His earthly ministry when some people believed that judgment had befallen some Galileans who had been targeted.

“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” (Luke 13:2-5 NIV).

So how must we respond? My prayer is that we will hearken to Jesus’ warning and repent.

“‘Even now,’ declares the LORD, ‘return to Me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.’ Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the LORD your God, for He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and He relents from sending calamity. Who knows? He may turn and have pity and leave behind a blessing – grain offerings and drink offerings for the LORD our God. Blow the trumpet in Zion, declare a holy fast, call a sacred assembly. Gather the people, consecrate the assembly; bring together the elders, gather the children, those nursing at the breast. Let the bridegroom leave his room and the bride her chamber. Let the priests, who minister before the LORD, weep… Let them say, ‘Spare your people, O LORD. Do not make your inheritance an object of scorn, a byword among the nations. Why should they say among the peoples, “Where is their God?”’ Then the LORD will… take pity for His people” (Joel 2:12-18 NIV).

Though we are wise to fear God’s great wrath with a holy reverence and awe, we have His assurances that His mercy and goodness are available to us if we’ll just choose to receive them. This is especially true and relevant for those who place their hope in the Lord Jesus for their eternal salvation.

“…Everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved…” (Joel 2:32 NIV).

Isn’t it good to know that “the LORD is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in Him” (Nahum 1:7 NIV).

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