DEALING WITH DISASTER

INTRODUCTION:

1.      On Tuesday, September 11, 2001, tragedy struck America.

2.      Four airplanes (carrying some 266 people) were hijacked by terrorists.  Two crashed into the Word Trade Center towers…bringing both buildings down…killing thousands of people.  Another crashed into the pentagon and the other went down in Pennsylvania.

3.      This may indeed be the greatest tragedy in the history of our great nation. 

4.      Those of us who follow Jesus Christ are trying to make sense out of the devastation and disaster that has occurred. 

5.      Where do we go for answers? 

6.      If we merely look within ourselves, the natural response to these events for many of us is anger.  We naturally want to retaliate; to get justice; to seek revenge and to avenge the thousands of innocent lives that were taken.  So searching within ourselves won’t help us deal with this disaster.  We need to look outside of ourselves. 

7.      We need to look to the only One who can make sense out of these events.  We need to look to God.  And to find God’s perspective on how to deal with disaster, we turn to His Word.

8.      We could turn to many places in God’s Word to find our response, but the passage God has laid upon my heart is in the book of Joel in the Old Testament.  It’s probably a book that few of us have read before; even fewer have studied.  It’s not a book that would normally appeal to us when life is going well, because it is a book that describes horrific circumstances and warns us of God’s anger at sin among His covenant people. 

9.      But it is also a book that contains an incredibly encouraging word to God’s people who find themselves living in a time of disaster.  And it shows us in very clear terms how we should respond biblically to disaster and tragedy.

PLEASE TURN WITH ME TO (JOEL 1).  THIS PASSAGE SHOWS US IN VERY CLEAR TERMS HOW WE SHOULD RESPOND BIBLICALLY TO DISASTER AND TRAGEDY. 

I.      FIRST, I WILL READ SEVERAL OF THE VERSES IN CHAPTERS ONE AND TWO AND MAKE SOME BRIEF COMMENTS ABOUT THE RELEVANCE AND APPLICATION TO US TODAY.

1.      The prophet Joel begins his book by describing the historically unique disaster that his countrymen in the land of Judah some 2700 years ago had just experienced.

1:1-2— The word of the LORD that came to Joel son of Pethuel. 2 Hear this, you elders; listen, all who live in the land. Has anything like this ever happened in your days or in the days of your forefathers?

Some of you here have lived through some awful times in the last century—two world wars, Korea, Vietnam, a depression, tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, blizzards, traffic accidents, sudden loss of loved ones; but can any of you imagine anything more traumatic than the unexpected mass murder of thousands of civilians by an as yet unidentified but certainly depraved gang of organized terrorists? Has anything like this happened in your lifetime? Joel is about to describe an event in his nation’s experience that was unparalleled in its severity; a catastrophe so overwhelming that no historical precedent could be offered.

2.      The video image of an aircraft flying into an office building and disappearing in an explosion; the thought of thousands of office workers having just arrived for what they thought was just another day; hundreds of rescue workers themselves becoming victims as two of the tallest buildings in the world came crashing down around them; the prolonged horror of a hostage situation on board four aircraft; the grief and pain of hundreds of thousands of relatives as they experience the loss of their loved ones. Has anything like this ever happened in our lives before?

3.      Still describing the horror of disaster in his day, Joel writes in 2:3—Before them fire devours, behind them a flame blazes. Before them the land is like the garden of Eden, behind them, a desert waste— nothing escapes them.

4.      Joel describes an event where the disaster was like the movement of a forest fire—in front of the leading edge of the flames, everything is just as natural and normal as always. But behind those flames utter and complete destruction.

5.      One moment the skyline of New York is as it has been for a quarter of a century; the next moment two 110 story buildings disappear. The images from New York City look like the war ravaged cities of Berlin or Beirut. They look like the scenes from third world countries after earthquakes or floods or other natural disasters. It isn’t that we haven’t seen such images before; it’s just that in our lifetimes we’ve never seen such devastation in our country, on our land, involving our people.

6.      The disaster that Joel is writing about is an invasion not by a foreign army but by an army of insects. Joel describes the devastating effects of a swarm of locusts. This swarm of literally hundreds of millions of tiny insects moved through the land of Judah and consumed everything in its path. The people of Joel’s day could do nothing to stop their advance. They watched in horror as their world crumbled in front of them. 1:4—What the locust swarm has left the great locusts have eaten; what the great locusts have left the young locusts have eaten; what the young locusts have left other locusts have eaten.

7.      Tiny insects, each individually no bigger than your finger, but able to cripple a whole country. Interesting how seemingly small and innocent things can cause such devastation. Who could have imagined that the destruction of the World Trade Center complex and the gaping whole in the Pentagon could have been caused not by a bomb dropped from a military aircraft, not by an intercontinental missile launched from another country, not by an invading army, but rather by a handful of terrorists using unsophisticated knives to commandeer passenger aircraft. These aircraft are not tools of war or weapons of violence, but rather they represent the backbone of our transportation network. Aircraft designed to facilitate business, carry our mail, deliver people to their vacations—these same aircraft were transformed into weapons of war by an unseen army. And the vastness and sophistication of our own armed forces were impotent to stop their assault. More American lives were lost and more economic disaster was created within one hour than on any single day in America’s history, including the attack on Pearl Harbor in the last century, which claimed 2,300 American lives in a single day.

8.      And as in Joel’s day the aftermath of this barbarous attack on American soil has far reaching consequences.1:16-18— Has not the food been cut off before our very eyes— joy and gladness from the house of our God? 17 The seeds are shriveled beneath the clods. The storehouses are in ruins, the granaries have been broken down, for the grain has dried up. 18 How the cattle moan! The herds mill about because they have no pasture; even the flocks of sheep are suffering.

9.      It’s not just the immediate horror of the loss of life, but the lingering horror of the effect of this attack on the economy of our country. America’s real strength in this world is not its ability to project military force, but rather its ability to provide the world with both the necessities and luxuries of life. It is no accident that the enemy who masterminded the attack struck at the symbols of American strength: the World Trade Center—the symbol of the banking and investment industry, and the Pentagon—the nerve center for America’s military industrial complex. We’ll probably never know for sure the target of the fourth aircraft. Best guesses are it too was destined to strike at a symbol of American power. Possibly its target was Camp David, both the retreat for the American President and the symbol of the Middle East agreement forged between Israel and Egypt in September of 1978.

10. Joel’s prophecy written 2700 years ago is as relevant and applicable to our day as today’s newspaper. But maybe you are wondering if it is appropriate to pull from an obscure book in the Old Testament written to a particular people in a particular time principles that can be applied to our day. Maybe Joel’s prophecy of disaster and judgment and sin and salvation is limited to the people of Judah or the Jewish people at some stage of history in the future. Maybe the national judgment that is described in these three chapters and the description especially in chapter 3 of the events of what Joel calls the Day of the Lord is limited to the Jewish people in either the distant past or the distant future.

11. I want to assure you from God’s Word that while Joel’s prophecy had special relevance to the people of his day and to the Jewish people of both the past and future, the Bible says that these things apply to us as well. At least that is what the apostle Peter believed and proclaimed as recorded in Acts 2. Peter understood that Joel’s prophecy had relevance to his day as he reflected on the unique circumstances of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit made his presence and power visible in a way that corresponded with the predictions of Joel hundreds of years before.  Peter by inspiration of this same Holy Spirit understood that Joel’s prophetic book was intended for God’s people in every age, but especially those of us who live in the last days, the days that immediately precede the return of Christ. While Peter quotes only a few verses of Joel’s prophecy, his sermon in Acts 2 is full of references to the rest of Joel’s book, especially in Peter’s call to action by those who heard his words.

12. So I believe we are on safe biblical and theological ground in finding words of instruction to us as believers in Jesus Christ in this ancient book.

13. So let’s see how Joel encourages us by inspiration of God to respond to the tragedy and devastation of our day.

II.      SECOND, LET’S EXAMINE SEVERAL STEPS FOR DEALING WITH DISASTER THAT JOEL GIVES US.

Mourn

Joel tells God’s people that the first step we are to take in dealing with disaster is to mourn. We are to join those who are suffering by joining in their suffering. 1:8-13— Mourn like a virgin in sackcloth grieving for the husband of her youth. 9 Grain offerings and drink offerings are cut off from the house of the LORD. The priests are in mourning, those who minister before the LORD. 10 The fields are ruined, the ground is dried up; the grain is destroyed, the new wine is dried up, the oil fails. 11 Despair, you farmers, wail, you vine growers; grieve for the wheat and the barley, because the harvest of the field is destroyed. 12 The vine is dried up and the fig tree is withered; the pomegranate, the palm and the apple tree— all the trees of the field— are dried up. Surely the joy of mankind is withered away. 13 Put on sackcloth, O priests, and mourn; wail, you who minister before the altar. Come, spend the night in sackcloth, you who minister before my God; for the grain offerings and drink offerings are withheld from the house of your God.

Our first response to the destruction and disaster should be to mourn.

Death, injustice, horror, hatred—these things should cause those of us who know God’s life and justice and mercy and love to recoil in shock and grief. Joel says our first response to disaster is to mourn. Paul tells us in Romans 13:15 that as followers of Christ we are to—rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.

Gather

But the book of Joel doesn’t leave us static and alone in our mourning. The second step Joel gives us for dealing with disaster is to gather.
1:14—Declare a holy fast; call a sacred assembly. Summon the elders and all who live in the land to the house of the LORD your God, and cry out to the LORD.

Joel doesn’t encourage God’s people to deal with disaster by themselves, he tells us to gather together. It is a time of finding strength in one another—a time for discussion and reflection that requires us to assemble together to experience.

In the aftermath of disaster we are called upon as God’s people to break away from the normal and the ordinary. All are summoned by God to gather together, from oldest to youngest, nursing mothers and newborn babies, not even the demands of caring for a young child or the arrangements involved in conducting a marriage ceremony are to pose an obstacle or an excuse for not gathering together.

As hundreds and thousands of rescue workers converge upon the sites of the disaster, as state militias are called out to provide order, as the military stands on alert awaiting orders to strike back, God’s people can’t afford to stand on the sidelines and pretend that life is normal. It is not business as usual; we face a national crisis and God’s people need to respond with a sense of urgency and direction. We are to gather together and seek God’s face. I commend you who are here today because you are being obedient to God’s call to gather.

Pray

But it’s not just breaking the routine and seeking the comfort of others through our gathering. When we gather we are told that we have a third way of dealing with disaster.
1:14—Declare a holy fast; call a sacred assembly. Summon the elders and all who live in the land to the house of the LORD your God, and cry out to the LORD. When we come together, we come together to pray. The third step in dealing with disaster is to pray.

When we don’t know what to do, when we don’t understand, we are to turn to God in prayer. We are to call out to Him to provide His comfort and understanding and peace. 1:19—To you, O LORD, I call, for fire has devoured the open pastures and flames have burned up all the trees of the field.

When all the props of our sufficiency and comfort, our satisfaction and complacency, are stripped away, where else can we turn? Where can those who have lost loved ones, friends, associates, businesses, and property turn? What can replace these people and things? Nothing can but the Person of Jesus Christ. Only He can bring sense out of the senselessness. We need to turn to Him with our questions and our grief. We gather to pray.

And when we leave this place we need to continue to pray. As you watch the events unfold on TV or read about them in the newspaper or discuss them with your friends and neighbors, take time to pray. Model prayer as your first response to those who ask you to help them make sense out of this. Admit that you don’t have all the answers, and then look to the One who does.

Repent

Joel informs us that there is a fourth step we are to take as we deal with disaster. He tells us that for us to deal with disaster we have to deal with ourselves. He tells us that in the midst of our grieving about our disastrous circumstances, there are issues within us that must be honestly and deliberately dealt with. Joel calls upon God’s people in the aftermath of national disaster to repent.
2:12-13a— ‘Even now,’ declares the LORD, ‘return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.’ 13 Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the LORD your God...

Times such as we are facing challenge our normal emphasis on the here and now. God desires to shift our focus off of an exclusive preoccupation with the temporal present to an awareness of eternity. God will use the disastrous circumstances we’ve just faced to get our attention firmly focused back on Him. He tells us to return to Him. Prior to this catastrophe, God’s people in Joel’s day had hearts that were cold and calloused. They went through the motions of religion, but didn’t have hearts that were really inflamed with a passion for God.

How true that is of today’s American church. Our passions are for such insignificant things—the pennant race or the SuperBowl, an upcoming cruise, a new car, a new house, the ups and down of the stock market, a big sale, a date to homecoming, the latest Christian novel. But how often is our attention on God’s agenda? How often are our thoughts and dreams and actions focused on fulfilling His will rather than our own? Disaster awakens our need to return to God and seek His face.

Engage

Once we have engaged the heart of God by identifying with the pain of those who are suffering, by gathering together to pray, by repenting those things that dominate our attention and distract us from God, then we are in a position to respond to the inquiring, seeking the world around us with the next step.

Step five in dealing with disaster is to engage our neighbors. Look at 2:17—Let the priests, who minister before the LORD, weep between the temple porch and the altar. 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?

People of the world are wondering, “Where is our God? Where is the God of the Bible who would allow such a thing to occur in our land? Where is God in this terrible act?”

Christians claim that God is sovereign; that He is in control. Was He in control in New York City? Was He in control in Washington, DC? Is God to blame for these events? Is this the judgment of God upon America as a nation? Is it the judgment of God against sinners?

Well, the answer is more involved and complicated than the simplistic pronouncements by some that these events are the first signs of God’s judgment upon America.

Indeed we affirm that God judges sin. And indeed “the wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness” as we read in Romans 1:18.

But don’t miss our own responsibility for these events. Don’t miss the fact that real human beings conducted this act of war. It is the evil of misguided and enslaved humans that are to blame for the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington.

It is sinful humans, demonically inspired and controlled perhaps, but responsible nonetheless for their actions, who are the causes of this disaster.

So where is our God? What is God doing in the midst of this disaster? God is where God has always and will always be—He is still on His throne and actively involved in rescuing evil humanity from its bondage to wickedness, evil and sin.

Proclaim

As we engage our world by addressing their questions, we are to proclaim the truth about our God. The sixth step in dealing with disaster is to proclaim the Good News about God. Look at the second half of
2:13b— … 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.

Our world wonders as it grapples with the senselessness of this disaster and asks, “Who is God?” And having taken the step to draw close enough to them to engage their questions, we respond by proclaiming the truth about the nature of God—God is gracious, compassionate, patient, loving, and merciful.

God is gracious—He gives us what we don’t deserve. His grace extends to all and is free to all. The gift of His love is available to all who will come to Him and seek His forgiveness through faith in Jesus Christ.

God is compassionate—He feels the pain and suffering of those who have been touched personally by the wickedness and evil of this disaster.

God is slow to anger—He is patient with our complacency and has shown remarkable restraint in tolerating our rebellion against Him. There is a limit to His patience and His anger will flare up on a Day of Judgment, but that day, although nearer now than yesterday, is still future. Right now, in this present moment, God remains slow to anger so that many may respond to His love and be delivered from their bondage to sin.

God is abounding in love—His love knows no limits. No one is beyond His forgiveness. No one has sinned so far that He is beyond God’s ability to forgive and cleanse. God’s love extends even to those who are right now angry and hostile and bitter because of these events. His love encompasses you and me. His love even encompasses the terrorists who conceived this awful plot to attack what they do not understand.

God is merciful—He relents from sending calamity. It is within God’s prerogative and sovereignty to end the world right now. He could bring all things to their conclusion and open His final judgment, but He extends instead His mercy to all who will come.

This is the God that our world needs to hear about. And what a contrast to the descriptions of god given by a few misguided and deceived zealots. These zealots proclaim a god who rejoices over the loss of life and the humbling of mighty America. Their god proclaims that the pathway to salvation is to destroy their enemies. Their god urges them to seek revenge and to seek domination.

But the God we worship, the true God, the only God, is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity. [2:13b]

Invite

After we have taken the step of proclaiming the true God to a wondering world, we need to take the next step of inviting them to respond to this God of mercy and compassion. Joel tells us that the seventh step in dealing with disaster is to invite those who are suffering to know their God. Look down at
2:32—And everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved; for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there will be deliverance, as the LORD has said, among the survivors whom the LORD calls.

Everyone is invited to know and enjoy a relationship with God.

“Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved."

When asked by Wolf Blitzer to explain and make sense out of the disaster of Tuesday, the archbishop of Los Angeles dropped the ball. Instead of proclaiming the name of Jesus and the forgiveness and healing that is available in His name, this representative before the world of the church of Jesus Christ invited each person to seek his or her own path. To fall back on the comfort of whatever religion he or she embraced.

It was a missed opportunity to invite suffering people to come to the only one who can relieve their suffering—Jesus Christ.  Notice in verse 32 that it is the survivors that have the opportunity to respond to God’s call and to call upon Him for forgiveness. It’s the survivors in our day that need for us to share with them the invitation from God to experience His mercy, forgiveness and grace. Those who perished in the moments following these despicable attacks have no further opportunity to respond to God’s grace. The decisions they made prior to Tuesday sealed their eternal fate.

But for us who survive, we still have the opportunity to respond. We can heed the call of God to experience His merciful love and receive forgiveness through faith in Jesus.

Rejoice

Those who respond to God’s call and come to Him in repentance and faith will experience His peace. No, we don’t understand fully what has happened nor why, but in knowing God and spending time with Him in the intimacy of His word and prayer, we can experience His comfort. In the midst of this tragedy of enormous proportions, we can nevertheless be enabled by God to take the next step. The eighth step in dealing with disaster is to rejoice.

Let’s read 2:20c-22—Surely he has done great things. 21 Be not afraid, O land; be glad and rejoice. Surely the LORD has done great things. 22 Be not afraid, O wild animals, for the open pastures are becoming green. The trees are bearing their fruit; the fig tree and the vine yield their riches.

It’s hard to think of rejoicing so close to the events of this past week, but if we truly believe in the love of God and in His infinite mercy, then we have faith that this tragedy is not the end. Our faith looks beyond the grief to the reality of God’s purposes and the future He is producing.

Joel’s people, the people of Judah, though their land had been devastated by the invasion of locusts such that nothing green remained, yet in faith trusted God for the future. They trusted that a compassionate and loving God would restore and rebuild. And they praised Him for His active presence in their life and their hope in the future.

Those of us who know God, know that even in the darkest valley we have His promise to be with us. And even more than simply being with us, He promises to take us through the valley. We demonstrate our faith in Him as we choose to trust Him and then rejoice in Him and praise Him for all His works.

Remember

And rejoicing is the step that will enable us to accomplish the last step Joel provides us for dealing with disaster. The final step in dealing with disaster is to remember. Look back at
1:3— Tell it to your children, and let your children tell it to their children, and their children to the next generation.

We all have short memories. Yesterday’s disaster can quickly fade into the recesses of our memories and we can easily drift back into complacency.

The people of Joel’s day did. Despite the lessons God desired them to master in view of the disaster of the locusts, the people failed to take the steps God intended them to take. Their mourning was brief, their gatherings tapered off, their prayers grew cold and formal, their passion for God waned and became displaced by more immediate concerns, their engagement with their neighbors devolved into conversations about nothing, they failed to proclaim truth about God and consequently didn’t invite seekers to respond to God’s grace, and they ceased rejoicing in their Lord.

As we read the history recorded in Scripture of the steady decline of affection of God’s covenant people for the God who saved them and blessed them, we are struck over and over again at how short their memories were. They did not tell their children and equip their children to tell the next generation, and equip that generation to tell the next. Life drifted back to the daily grind and the disaster that had been unimaginable became just a distant memory—as has Pearl Harbor and the Holocaust and the Berlin Wall and maybe even this latest wake-up call.

We must remember.

CONCLUSION:

1.      As significant and unique as the attack on America has been, the disaster is not the final chapter in our history as a people or the final chapter in our history as a nation.

2.      God continues to have a purpose for our lives and a purpose for the nation of America. But we are at a crossroads. Some, maybe many of us, will avoid dealing with this disaster. We’ll quickly shift our focus back onto the everyday and the routine. Business will get back to normal and we’ll miss out on what God wants to teach us through these events.

3.      But others of us will see the significance of these events and seize the opportunity they afford to deal with our own sin and to respond to the confusion of our neighbors. How will we respond, church? How will we deal with this disaster?

4.      This morning we want to remember and take this opportunity to pray. For the next several minutes, I want you to just silently join hearts together in prayer. As we join in a spirit of prayer together, I will suggest some areas to guide our prayers.

Prayer

Let’s begin by praying for those who are mourning and grieving: those who lost loved ones, sons, daughters, husbands, wives, mothers, fathers, friends.

Pray for a genuine compassion among us for those who are grieving

Pray for those who survived, but are in hospitals hanging on to life

Pray for those who survived who are emotionally scarred by their experience

Pray for those who are on the scene with the survivors trying to give comfort and counsel.

Pray for rescue workers, disaster specialists, investigators and all those involved in sorting through and cleaning up the chaos

Pray for those in leadership that they would have wisdom from God in this situation

Pray for our response as a nation to these circumstances

Pray for our response as God’s people to the needs around us

Pray that God will be exalted and many would come to know him through the tragedy of this disaster


Pray that we will remember

Primary Resources Used:

Sermon by Mike Maggard