Messages from Houston
“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (Revelation 3:22).
For the past few days, one of the largest hurricanes ever to enter the U.S. mainland pummeled the Gulf Coast of Texas–reeking havoc on Houston–America’s fourth largest city. Ten people have died, thousands needed courageous rescues, scores of thousands are in temporary shelters, and billions of dollars are needed to rebuild after the rains cease and water recedes.
Living in the Northwest, my family didn’t experience Harvey first-hand, but our hearts go out to those who lost loved ones, homes or businesses. We have a number of YWAM bases in Texas and we will certainly assist their efforts to help their neighbors emerge from the devastation.
What are the messages being sent via Hurricane Harvey?
Houston is an interesting city–one that sports a number of extremes.
On one side is a strong and vibrant Church–including one of the largest mega churches in the nation–Lakewood Church, pastored by Joel Osteen. Though partially flooded by Harvey, Lakewood is now open as a distribution center for helping displaced residents. The Houston Area Pastors Council is also one of the most vibrant and active in the nation, unifying God’s people to reach out to others in the Name of Jesus.
I know many wonderful spiritual leaders in the Houston area–including some current students.
On the other side is a rabidly progressive government, formerly led by the city’s first lesbian mayor who threatened to subpoena pastor’s sermons in 2014–labelling them hate speech. She also helped lead the fight for genderless bathrooms in the nation–an ill-advised secular idea. Houston’s current mayor, Sylvester Turner, is widely criticized for not encouraging residents to evacuate the city.
So, faith in God and radical secularism are both vying for the soul of Houston. How will the devastation of Harvey affect that battle?
Here’s my view on the messages from Houston.
First, we must admit that analyzing natural disasters is a subjective business. We can error on one of two sides: 1) That we know this was an act of God to judge the residents of the area, or 2) It was only a natural phenomenon, and we need to clean it up and move on.
Believers in God make the first error when we rationalize everything through the lens of justice. Secularists commit the second error when they pretend there’s no God and that humans can save us.
There’s a better understanding: God either causes or uses all events to bring individuals and nations into right relationship with Him–if we listen to His messages.
In the book of Revelation, the Bible describes a future when God will judge evil on earth with natural catastrophes and supernatural signs. The result is stated in Revelation 16:9, “They cursed the name of God who sent all these plagues. They did not change and give him glory” (New Living Translation). It seems strange that people wouldn’t confess their faults when faced with the power of nature’s God.
The politically correct (secular) view of natural disasters is that God is not involved in the calamity–only (maybe) in the relief efforts. How do they know? Why is there such a strong aversion to considering that God could be a part of the natural disaster?
Here’s why. Secularists want to convince the world that there is no God–that they are the ultimate authorities and their forms of human government, including humanitarian relief, are the main things that should be trusted and appreciated. The atheistic interpretation of reality instructs people that there is no God, no such thing as sin and thus no wrongs to be righted.
From that vantage point a future Revelation 16:9 taking place in an atheist dominated world makes total sense. No God–no repentance–even when it’s the smart thing to consider.
But what are the greater realities behind natural disasters and environmental catastrophes that we experience on earth, including Hurricane Harvey?
I can think of four factors, or combinations of them:
The Bible is clear that the loving God of the Universe uses weather and other phenomena as a means of discipline and life change. In the 8th century B.C., God brought a vision through the prophet Amos “two years before the earthquake” (Amos 1:1) during the reign of King Uzziah that spoke of the land being shaken by God (8:8), houses being smashed (6:11), altars being cracked (3:14) and even the Temple at Bethel being struck and collapsing (9:1).
As Stephen Austin writes, “The prophet’s repeated contemporary references to the earthquake is why it bears his name. ‘Amos’ Earthquake’ impacted Hebrew literature immensely. After the gigantic earthquake, no Hebrew prophet could predict a divine visitation in judgment without alluding to an earthquake. The panic caused by Amos’ earthquake must have been the topic of legend in Jerusalem because Zechariah asked his readers to recall that terrifying event 230 years later.”
The prophets said for centuries that God used famines, natural disasters, and invading armies to bring people to repentance. This is why insurance companies categorize natural disasters as “acts of God.” As C.S. Lewis stated: “Judgment is a severe form of mercy.” Isaiah said this: “When the earth experiences Your judgments the inhabitants of the world learn righteousness” (Is. 26:9).
He does this as a loving father disciplines his children. Hebrews 12:10 says, “For our earthly fathers disciplined us for a few years, doing the best they knew how. But God’s discipline is always good for us, so that we might share in his holiness.”
When we don’t listen to God, he uses other means to get our attention. The goal is our good– through changed lives and hope for the future.
The Bible also records that the devil, Lucifer or Satan, has some delegated powers to bring physical calamities upon people. His goal is to destroy people.
This was the case of the trials of Job whom God allowed Satan to test Job’s character (Job 1:12-19). In this particular story, fire, invading tribes, and violent winds were used by the enemy to test and impoverish Job. God used Satan’s evil physical testings to bring Job to humble change, actually expand his prosperity (42:5-10).
We also know that we live in a fallen world where accidents, both of man and nature, happen to people. The world is no longer a Paradise, but one where “the whole creation groans and travails in childbirth” until it is set free from its fallenness (Romans 8:18-30). Many of the physical disasters and calamities we face may not be the direct hand of God or Satan, but simply the fruits of a fallen and imperfect world that are allowed by the Creator.
A final possibility for human suffering is the curse of human sin. Notice the graphic word picture in Isaiah 24:1-6: “Look! The Lord is about to destroy the earth and make it a vast wasteland. . . Priests and laypeople, servants and masters, maids and mistresses, buyers and sellers, lenders and borrowers, bankers and debtors–none will be spared. . .The earth suffers for the sins of its people, for they have twisted the instructions of God, violated his laws, and broken his everlasting covenant. Therefore a curse devours the earth and its people. And those who live in it are guilty.”
This possibility involves God, but stresses man’s part in the curse of creation. None of this scenario is God’s fault. It’s the direct result of man’s sin.
So why did Hurricane Harvey visit the Gulf Coast these past few days? We don’t know for sure, but it clearly could have been an act of God, or was influenced by Satan, or simply involved fallen creation, and/or was a direct result of people’s sins.
We have to be careful in our assessments. But let’s not deny that God and supernatural forces could have been involved.
It would be helpful for all Americans, including the people of southern Texas and nearby Louisiana who were devastated by the storm, to seek the face of God for the reasons for this misfortune. In response to their seeking, God just might use this terrible tragedy to bring renewal to them–and us.
I believe the messages from Houston are clear:
- Turn back to our Creator and Savior in humility and prayer.
- Realize how vulnerable we and every nation are before nature’s God.
- Reject the toxic political environment of the past year and throw ourselves into uniting our nation through compassion, acts of service, and helping the people of Houston rebuild their homes and lives.
- Wake up to the reality that we may be facing large-scale political, social and financial upheaval if we do not experience revival as a nation, under God.
The message is loud and clear: “Houston (and all of America), there’s a problem.” Answer: “There’s a solution through faith in Jesus Christ and supporting each other with His love and compassion.
“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (Revelation 3:22).
Yes, He is the final Controller and the only One who can bring great good out of suffering. The enemy even may attack at times through weather (think Job), but God turned it for good.
That's because, He is Good!
A great blog Ron. What devastation this storm has/is bringing to the people of TX and the loved ones watching. Whatever and/or whomever is to be named for this; we can be sure that God is ALWAYS in control and He will use this disaster somehow for His Glory. Don't know when it will be, but we are both ready to hear the trumpet. 🙂
It is good that mentioned both God and the devil can bring storms.
When we have open air meetings outside our church here in Auckland, I rebuke the devil who brings rain. Obviously God does not want us to stop preaching…
So far we have not had to cancel any meetings!