Saturday, September 03, 2005

Matt's Messages - Struggling with Katrina

“Struggling with Katrina”
September 4, 2005

I was planning to begin a new series of messages this morning on the doctrine of the local church. I now hope to start that next week–some teaching on the local church.

But the destruction of Hurricane Katrina and the mayhem that followed captured my attention this week (it captured all of our attention this week, didn’t it? It captured the attention of our nation–and still is!). And I felt so strongly about it all week, I felt like I couldn’t NOT talk about it this morning.

A “category 4 hurricane,” hit the Gulf Coast this week with a deadly force bringing devastation in its wake. Millions of people without power, hundreds of thousands of people adversely affected, thousands and thousands without homes, food, water, or other basic necessities. Thousands dead. An entire city, New Orleans (the 35th largest city in America), still underwater because their levee broke. An estimated three months before the city can be drained of flood water. American refugees filling football stadiums. Relief workers working around the clock. Thousands of National Guard troops called up into active service–and now the Army. Oil spills, fires, and incalculable damage.

And then after the devastation, came the violence and the mayhem. Looters, vigilantes, snipers, gangs of roving men with guns stealing, destroying, and raping all in their path. For a time, anarchy. And a seeming delay in help arriving in time. A few days of pure hell for those trapped inside the city.

We all watched and read this story unfold in the news this week. CNN has perpetual coverage. It’s the worst natural disaster, in economic terms at least, that the United States has ever suffered. Much worse than September 11th in terms of the number of people affected (though the two are very different cases).

The pictures of suffering people and their stories were heartbreaking this week. Especially the elderly, the children, and the sick.

This disaster’s name was Katrina.

And Katrina brought for us certain feelings and temptations, didn’t it?

I struggled all week with processing what I was seeing and reading about in the news, didn’t you?

Today, I want to talk about those feelings and temptations that Katrina raises. I’m going to title my message, “Struggling with Katrina.” And I want to bring the Word of God to bear on what we have seen and struggled with this last week.

The biggest struggle I had this week was with the feeling and temptation of IMPOTENCE.

It was so overwhelming to read the news reports on And there didn’t seem to be anything I could do about it.

These people were suffering and even if I gave money right away, it wouldn’t relieve the immediate dangers. If I drove down there, I probably couldn’t have been any help to them. It took the federal government 4+ days to scramble up the help that New Orleans needed. What could I have done?

I felt so helpless, watching this unfold on the screen.

Did you feel that way, too?

And Thursday, which was the worst day down there was such a beautiful day up here! The sun was shining, blue sky, white puffy clouds, a cool breeze. It was a delightful day up here, but here I was sitting and watching on my computer screen, all of this evil and mayhem in New Orleans.

I felt so impotent to do anything.

Especially about the violence and rioting and urban warfare. Those punks seemed to be getting away with murder! I was so angry and felt so helpless.


What’s the answer when you feel impotent?

The answer is God’s omnipotence. The answer is God’s sovereignty and power.

The answer is confidence in God’s goodness and sovereignty.

That’s what we need.

I might not have been able to do anything about it. But I know Who does. And He has not let go of the reigns of the universe for even one second. He is not overwhelmed by all of this. He is, mysteriously, in total control.

And I need to believe that.

I need to pray for Him to do things that I cannot do. And I need to trust Him to control things that I cannot control.

I need to have confidence in God’s goodness and sovereignty.

That’s hard to do in times like Katrina!

And that’s why I need to go back to the Bible and remind myself of what is true.

This is true: God is sovereign.

He is called the Sovereign Lord over 250 times in the Bible.

Psalm 103:19 “The LORD has established his throne in heaven, and his kingdom rules over all.”

Nothing escapes His powerful rule.

Not wind and waves. Not storms and streams. No even evil looters.

Nothing escapes His powerful rule. God is sovereign.

And God is good. Psalm 100, verse 5: “For the LORD is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.”

Psalm 34:8, “O taste and see that the LORD is good!”

Jesus said, “No one is good but God alone” (Luke 18:19). He is the standard of goodness. He is the ultimate in good.

He is good, and He is sovereign. And while that opens mysteries for us to ponder, it makes life bearable. It makes it possible for us to go on and do what we should trusting in God’s goodness and sovereignty and leaving things in His hands that are outside of our control.

I needed to tell myself this week that those hoodlums with guns would not escape the sovereign hand of God. They can be sure, as the Bible says, that their sin will find them out (Numbers 32:23).

I needed to tell myself that if gas prices rise over $5.00 a gallon, that God is good and sovereign over that. And He is (Romans 8:28), working all things to the good of those who love him, who have been called according to His purpose.

I needed to tell myself (preach to myself) that, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows” to your Heavenly Father (Matthew 10:29-31).

And that’s true for me, and it’s true for all of God’s children wherever they are. Whatever they are going through. Even if it is horrendous suffering on the Gulf Coast.

Romans 8. “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? [Or flooding? Or hurricanes?] As it is written: ‘For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (35-39)

I am impotent. But He is omnipotent. And even when it doesn’t seem like it, He is bending all of the universe to my good and His glory by His sovereign will.

Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Nothing. Not even Katrina.

Do you believe that?

The second struggle is the exact opposite of the first. It is INDIFFERENCE.

Because I couldn’t fix it, I was tempted to do nothing at all.

To walk on by, to ignore it all. To become indifferent to it all.

To whistle a little tune and put my fingers in my ears. And not care. And not act.

That’s just as bad as hopelessly worrying. Maybe worse.

You’ve probably already heard cruel jokes about New Orleans. As if it was all over. But it isn’t. For an unbelievable amount of people, the nightmare is just beginning.


But that is unacceptable. The answer for indifference is compassion for the last, the least, and the lost.

Our Lord calls us to care. To be His hands and feet in mercy and compassion for those who are hurting.

That phrase, “The last, the least, and the lost,” is a phrase from our President of the EFCA, Bill Hamel. In an email this week, President Hamel said, “While it is hard to imagine the scope of what has happened, it is the poor who will suffer most. Already struggling in life, there are tens of thousands who now have nothing and no safety net. Most do not have insurance to help them rebuild their lives.

Great hardship gives the church great opportunity to show the love of Jesus. One group that fled New Orleans are members of Urban Impact Ministries, an EFCA affiliate ministry that works among the poor and disadvantaged in that city. Seventy of them are being hosted by Village Bible EFC in Hot Springs Village, Arkansas. Other EFCA churches in the south are already taking in refugees who may need long term care given the evacuation and flooding of New Orleans.”

That’s right. That’s what we should be doing. And Christian people are. When we see great hardship and suffering, we should do what we can to help.

The Good Samaritan didn’t pass by like the Levite and the Priest. He stooped to help his neighbor.

The Bible is full of exhortations to care for those in need. Remember what we saw in the Book of the Covenant in Exodus 20-23? All of those commands to care for those who are poor and disadvantaged and hurting. It was built into the law.

And the Lord Jesus wants us to continue.

We need to have compassion for the last, the least, and the lost.

We need to pray for them. We need to give as we can. We need to consider what other ways we can lean into their needs and provide help.

It’s what the Lord Jesus did for us. 2 Corinthians 8:9, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.”

We must do the same. We cannot be indifferent. We need to get behind groups like Samaritan’s Purse, and EFCA Compassion Ministries and all the rest that are bringing compassion to the last, the least, and the lost.

The third struggle that Katrina brings is the struggle with ARROGANCE.

Arrogance is thinking too much of ourselves.

And it comes out in this case in two ways. Both are insidious and perfectly natural for fallen sinners like you and me.

The first is arrogance towards our fellow sinners.

When the violence started down South, you and I could be tempted to see ourselves as better than those people who looted and raped and stole and did those other heinous things.

Or we could be tempted to see ourselves as better than the general population of New Orleans–because we don’t hold a Marti Gras in West Branch. There are some people who claim to know infallibly that this was judgment on New Orleans for their particular sinful lifestyles.

Now, this disaster was a result of sin, and it is a foretaste of judgment. The whole creation was subjected to futility because of our sin. But there is not always a one-to-one correlation that we can discern between suffering and sin. The Book of Job makes that clear. The man born blind in John 10 makes that clear. “Who sinned, this man or his parents that he should be born blind?” Jesus answers, “Neither.” He suffered simply for God’s glory to be seen. Not because of a direct sin-to-suffering ratio.

And we would do well to not wag our fingers at other people’s sin without first looking at our own sinful hearts.

The seed of every sin committed in New Orleans this week is resident in my evil heart. That’s why I need a mighty, mighty Savior!

And while I denounce those sins, and I call for them to be held accountable, I need to be careful that I do not think I am incapable of them myself.

Have you struggled with this kind of arrogance this week?

A couple of times, I caught myself being amazed that this kind of behavior was going on in America. It seemed more like something that would happen in some third world country like Africa.

And then I realized, that I was being prejudiced. It was like those people in Africa were somehow worse than I am. They were savages. I am civilized.

But New Orleans has shown us what is in the heart of man. We are not all as bad as we could be, but there is a twistedness deep down inside. And when the restraints are taken off, when there is no police force, no security camera, no alarms, and pandemonium everywhere, the masks come off, and we Americans are shown to be who we really are–sinners, rebels against God’s holy law.

And if we are not as bad as someone else, it is because of God’s grace poured out into our lives. Because the seeds of all of those sins are resident in my old, wicked heart.

Turn in your Bibles to Luke chapter 13, verse 1.

People came to Jesus with bad news.

“Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices.”

Pilate had made a public and gruesome spectacle of these Galileans–they probably were rebels. And Jesus knows that these people wanted to arrogantly look down their noses on these Galileans who had suffered. But Jesus says unexpectedly (v.2), “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 [a natural disaster like Katrina]–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.”

Their suffering was not in proportion to extraordinary sin. Their suffering was in proportion to ordinary sin.

The wonder in the world is not that people suffer. The wonder is that people don’t suffer more often because we are all ordinary sinners–and deserve a fate worse than death. That’s Jesus’ perspective.

What’s amazing is that we do not get hurricanes every single day. That’s what we deserve! But instead, we think of ourselves as pretty good people.

That’s not Jesus’ perspective. Jesus sees us as we are–sinners in need of His grace.

The answer to arrogance is repentance before God. We need to humble ourselves and repent.

The good news is that God is using things like Katrina to awaken repentance in us.
And He is still accepting repentant people. Look at v.6 of Luke 13.

“Then he told this parable: ‘A man had a fig tree, planted in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it, but did not find any. So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, 'For three years now I've been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven't found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?' 'Sir,' the man replied, 'leave it alone for one more year, and I'll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.'”

This story is about us and God. The fig tree is you and me. And God’s justice is looking for fruit on us, “the fruit of faith, the fruit of repentance.” And He has not found it in every case. So He plans to cut us down (that is to judge us!). But there is another part of God’s character–His mercy, His longsuffering, His patience–that stays His hand for another period of time with more gracious care and fertilizing words of promise rained down upon the fruitless fig-tree.

This parable is saying that God is patient–that there is time today for us to repent.

If you are listening to this sermon, if you are alive: breathing, thinking, weighing what I’m saying, then God is being patient with you and giving you a chance right now to repent. My words this morning are the vinedresser’s care and fertilizer for you. God is calling you now–while there is time–to repent.

2 Peter 3:9 says, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise as some understand slowness [some are wondering why God does not kill the looters right away. 2 Peter 3:9 says...] God is patient with you [why doesn’t God strike you dead right now?], not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”

For those of us who are un-repentant today, God is saying, “Don’t cut the tree down just yet. Wait a bit. I have every right to cut this tree down [and Katrina shows that], but I will give him or her more time for the fruit of repentance.”

The good news this morning is not only that God has sounded a warning that we should repent, but God is also giving us time to repent.

God is not just holy and righteous. God is merciful and patient.

And we need to humble ourselves and not be arrogant and repent.

To turn to and trust in Jesus Christ.

But maybe you are saying, “I think it’s God that needs to repent. I’m not so sure that He doesn’t have something to answer for here.”

And that’s the second kind of arrogance that we could struggle with this week: arrogance towards God.

Do you wonder if God is just to bring such massive suffering our way?

And God did do this. This was an act of God.

Whatever role our sin played in the curse...
Whatever role Satan played in desiring destruction...
God is ultimate. God rules His world. And He calls up storms and sends them away at His pleasure.

Remember, what we saw last week in Hebrews 1? What God’s Son has made and holds together by His will?

This, too, is an act of God.

Do you wonder if He has done rightly?

Daniel Schorr did. Daniel Schorr is an 89 year old news analyst for National Public Radio. I’ve really enjoyed some of his commentary over the last 10 years. He has a good sense for writing and understands people really well.

But he doesn’t understand God.

Instead, Mr. Schorr has tried to somewhat humorously call God to account on National Public Radio [Listen to him here.].

This week, my favorite author, Pastor John Piper wrote a strong letter to Daniel Schorr and reminded all of us of the arrogance of trying to tell God what to do.

I’m going to read all of it to you. It’s titled, “Was Katrina Intelligent Design?”

Dr. Piper writes, “On his 89th birthday (August 31) NPR Senior News Analyst,
Daniel Schorr, observed that President Bush had ‘staked out a non-position’ on
the debate between evolution and intelligent design. Bush had said that ‘both
sides ought to be properly taught in the schools of America.’ Then, with
manifest scorn, Schorr linked the devastation of Hurricane Katrina with the
concept of intelligent design: ‘[Bush] might well have reflected that, if this
was the result of intelligent design, then the designer has something to answer

No, Mr. Schorr, you have something to answer for, not God. God
answers to no man. Come, Daniel Schorr, take your place with Job and answer your
Maker: ‘The Lord answered Job [and Daniel Schorr] out of the whirlwind and said:
‘Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Dress for action
like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me. . . . Who shut in
the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb, when I made clouds its
garment and thick darkness its swaddling band, and prescribed limits for it and
set bars and doors, and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here
shall your proud waves be stayed’?’‘ (Job 38:1-3, 8-11).

Who are you, O
man, to answer back to God? Shall the pot say to the Potter, ‘This is an
unintelligent way to show your justice and your power? Come, Maker of heaven and
earth, sit at my feet—I have lived 89 years and have gotten much wisdom—and I
will teach you—the eternal God—how to govern the universe’?

No. Rather
let us put our hands on our mouths and weep both for the perishing and for
ourselves who will soon follow. Whatever judgment has fallen, it is we who
deserve it—all of us. And whatever mercy is mingled with judgment in New Orleans
neither we nor they deserve.

God sent Jesus Christ into the world to
save sinners. He did not suffer massive shame and pain because Americans are
pretty good people. The magnitude of Christ’s suffering is owing to how deeply
we deserve Katrina—all of us.

Our guilt in the face of Katrina is not
that we can’t see the intelligence in God’s design, but that we can’t see
arrogance in our own heart. God will always be guilty of high crimes for those
who think they’ve never committed any.

But God commits no crimes when he
brings famine, flood, and pestilence on the earth. ‘Does disaster come to a
city, unless the Lord has done it?’ (Amos 3:6). The answer of the prophet is no.
God’s own testimony is the same: ‘I form light and create darkness, I make
well-being and create calamity, I am the Lord, who does all these things’
(Isaiah 45:7). And if we ask, is there intelligent design in it all, the Bible
answers: ‘You meant evil . . . but God meant it [designed it] for good’ (Genesis

This will always be ludicrous to those who put the life of man
above the glory of God. Until our hearts are broken, not just for the
life-destroying misery of human pain, but for the God-insulting rebellion of
human sin, we will not see intelligent design in the way God mingles mercy and
judgment in this world. But for those who bow before God’s sovereign grace and
say, ‘From him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory
forever,’ they are able to affirm, ‘Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and
knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his
ways!’ (Romans 11:36, 33). And wisdom is another name for intelligent design.

No, Daniel Schorr, God does not answer to us. We answer to him. And we
have only one answer: ‘Guilty as charged.’ Every mouth is stopped and the whole
world is accountable before God. There is only one hope to escape the flood of
God’s wrath. It is not the levee of human virtue but the high ground called
Calvary. All brokenhearted looters and news analysts and pastors are welcome
there.” [Permanent Link]

Those are strong words, but they are absolutely right.

The answer to our arrogance is to repent before God.

This hurricane was just a foretaste of the wrath to come.

Katrina was a wake-up call to a sleepy world.

Katrina is a reminder to us that though we are impotent, He is omnipotent and we can trust in His sovereign goodness to His people.

Katrina is a reminder to us to show compassion to the last, the least, and the lost and not be indifferent to their suffering.

And Katrina is a call to repentance. We do not judge God. And we are not better than our fellow sinners. We need a Savior and so do they.

Dr. Piper said, “There is only one hope to escape the flood of God’s wrath. It is not the levee of human virtue but the high ground called Calvary. All brokenhearted looters and news analysts and pastors [and good church-goers] are welcome there.”

And that’s what this table represents.

It is the Table of God’s grace to undeserving sinners like you and me.

It is the place that symbolizes grace–where we get what we need and not what we deserve–all because of Jesus and His Cross.
For further resources on where and how to be compassionate
with gospel-centered efforts, go to the EFCA
or to the list at DesiringGod or Samaritan's Purse.
For more good biblical and theological based thoughts on
Katrina, read Sam Storms' article at the Reformation21 Blog: Katrina,
Common Grace and the End of the Age