It's been 4 years since 9/11 and 2 weeks since Katrina came ashore. God's judgment? God's indifference? Todd takes a look at what God's Word tells us about these events and what we should expect in the future.
Sovereignty, Hurricanes and Terrorism: What They Mean for Us Today
War, What's it Good For? Peace, Pacifism, War and the Word
9/11 - The Day That America Did Not Change Forever
Jesus' Response to Towers that Fall
Well, I'm going to tell you I have a message for you today that… I have a word for you. I don't say that very often, but this is not a message that… As it's come together, as I've thought about what I wanted to do today that I now really look forward to talking about, but you need to hear it and you need to share it with others who need to hear it because it is our stewardship and duty as people who, by the grace of God, are here today to be reminded of truth or to be introduced to truth for the first time.
It was now four years ago today that images like this began to show up on our television screens. It was a day that people said would change America forever, that we would never forget. We went on. We made different memorials. There were times that we stopped and put blue beams into the sky as a reminder of what once stood there and the fact that we wouldn't forget.
I stood here four years ago today and I told you that I would not put too much stock in the fact that churches all across the country were filled that day in a way that is only matched by certain high holidays when folks make an effort to go to places and houses that speak about spiritual things. I told you that we would probably stop and pause as a country for a week that particular day.
I said that the following year, we would probably pause for a day as a nation. We, the following year right around this date, talked about that second anniversary, and in fact found that to be very true. I said next year, you'll find we'll pause for an hour. Now four years later, you'll find folks run some flags out before some football games, but the truth is, this weekend has been thought of more as the start of the NFL season than the day that we would never forget because we've gotten over it.
Yet here just in the last 10 days, two weeks, we have another thing that has happened in our country that people go, "Whoa, I can't even imagine that this would ever happen in a civilization such as America. That there would be a city that is so internationally famous and so thriving that it could become a ghost town in a matter of hours.
That in this country of tremendous resource and wealth and ability to face any challenge that folks in America could, in effect, live in poverty, in waste, in lawlessness, in hunger and dehydration. Right here in America where they couldn't get the basic things they needed in a major city that was all of a sudden completely detached from us and suffering in ways that are worse than most third-world countries."
You would've said, "That's impossible in my lifetime for that to happen." Yet it happened in a moment. People have asked a lot of these two things. "What are we to make of this? What's going on in this land that we live in? Where is God in moments like September 11, that Tuesday four years ago when a bunch of people, close to 3,000, in less than two hours from the buildings they were in being struck by an airplane to have these towers, these pillars of strength and American greatness melt into the ground with thousands of lives in them?"
I want to tell you, that was a shot across our bow of biblical proportions. If I would've read to you a story from history that was in something called the Bible that said 15 men from impoverished nations brought the strongest and mightiest nation on the earth to a standstill, stripped them of trillions of dollars of business profits, cost them thousands of lives, went right to their heart of their statues of financial greatness and architectural strength and prosperity and melted them in an hour, you would go, "Fairy-tale, fable, and myth."
If I told you the most powerful nation on the face of the earth would have its symbol of greatest military strength itself impregnated and brought to its knees where chaos and death and loss of life was, you would say, "It could not happen. It's a joke. It's a myth. It's a fable. It's been passed down, and those things cannot happen."
If I would've told you that a nation of our prosperity and wealth would go through what it did just 10 to 14 days ago, you reading a story in your "Bible" would've mocked it and said, "That's why I don't believe these silly books, because things like that don't happen." Yet they've happened and what are you to do with it?
Well, I'll tell you we shouldn't do with it what we've done with it. The fact and the stark reality is America has not changed. This is something I received September 30, 2001. It said, "What a Difference a Day Makes." Now I want you to hear this as I read through this about what Monday was like and what Tuesday was like, and I want to ask you just four years later. Almost, let's just say this, just 14 days later (not even quite yet) from Katrina. What's your life like?
"On Monday, we emailed jokes. On Tuesday, we did not. On Monday, we thought that we were secure. On Tuesday, we learned we were not. On Monday, we were talking about heroes as being athletes. On Tuesday, we learned who our heroes really were. On Monday, we were irritated that our rebate checks had not yet arrived. On Tuesday, we gave money away to people we'd never met.
On Monday, there were people fighting against praying in schools. On Tuesday, you would've been hard pressed to find a school where somebody wasn't praying. On Monday, people argued with their kids about picking up their room. On Tuesday, the same people could not get home fast enough to hug their kids.
On Monday, people were upset that they had to wait six minutes in a fast food drive-through lane. On Tuesday, people didn't care about waiting up to six hours to give blood for the dying. On Monday, we waved our flags signifying our cultural diversity. On Tuesday, we waved only one flag.
On Monday, there were people trying to separate each other by race, sex, color, and creed. On Tuesday, we were all holding hands. On Monday, we were all men or women, white or black, or any other color, old or young, rich or poor, straight or gay, Christians, Jews, Muslim, Hindu, or other religions, all separated from each other. On Tuesday, we were Americans.
On Monday, politicians argued about budget surpluses. On Tuesday, they sang 'God Bless America' off key. On Monday, the President was going to Florida to read to children. On Tuesday, he returned to Washington to protect them. On Monday, we had families. On Tuesday, we had orphans. On Monday, people went to work as usual. On Tuesday, they died. On Monday, people were fighting the Ten Commandments on government property. On Tuesday, the same people all said, 'God, help us…'"
So where are you? Are you more Monday or Tuesday? Some of those, you go, "I'm more Tuesday right now." Well, that's because you're still not too far from Katrina, but where is our country? Oh yeah, we've done some amazing things here these last 14 days, but is it because we were changed forever four years ago when something that we never thought could happen would happen? No.
Katrina has moved us back to a time of great emotional and appropriate outpouring of compassion, hopefully informed by wisdom and love and not just something that makes us feel good. But are we really going to be changed by Katrina? No? Just like we weren't really changed by Andrew or Ivan or Osama bin Laden. You need to know that you live in a land that is going to increasingly experience a humbling.
Now let me just say this, because in making that comment, you might ask me, "Well Todd, what are you saying? Are you just saying that God caused September 11 or God caused Katrina? Is that what's going on? Do you think that?" Let me just walk you through very quickly six reasons why evil happens, why tragedies or trials come upon us. This will all be on the web. Don't try and keep up by writing them down. Just listen. From a biblical perspective, the reason sometimes tragedy evil comes upon us is…
First, because the presence of evil in a fallen world. This is a broken world where God's way is not the way. God did not intend for there to be death. He did not intend for there to be tears. He did not intend for there to be barren wombs, but when this world snapped its relationship with him and went its own way, things resulted from that that bring about horror in our lives. We live in a fallen, broken world and sometimes buildings fall in a horrible and broken world and sometimes oceans rise up.
Secondly, because the influence the Lord wants to have on your character. James 1:12 says, "Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him." In other words, God is going to have some people in this very fallen and broken world whom he is going to continually grow as examples of men and women who long, not for comfort now, but long for a place that is a true home with their true Father, that the kingdom of heaven is there as God intended and that while they're here are doing all they can to bring about the kingdom of heaven on earth as it is in heaven and are citizens of another place where earth is not their home.
So sometimes God allows trials and tragedies to come into your life because he wants to sharpen you and to use you as an instrument of hope and to have you as a person who lives in the midst of a very temporally-minded world with an eternal perspective and, in doing so, honor you in the day when he sets all things in order.
Thirdly, because of the influence the Lord wants you to have on others. Sometimes God is going to allow you to experience hardship because in your hardship he is going to allow others to find comfort from you. The story of Joseph in the Bible is an example of this. The story of Julie Fowler is an example of this.
Fourthly, because God is up to something wonderful to bring others to himself. There's a guy, his name we don't even know, but he was recorded in the Gospels as a blind man. It says, "As [Jesus] passed by, He saw a man blind from birth. And His disciples asked Him, ' [Teacher] , who sinned, this man or his parents…'" That was their limited view of why evil happens. Because somebody had done something terribly wrong. "Jesus answered, 'It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him.'"
Understand this. That God in his sovereignty sometimes will capture a tragic event and use it that he might be glorified so that as people see the greatness and glory of God, they would run to him and find true life in a world that is lacking it.
Fifthly, because we rebel sometimes and there are consequences to that rebellion and our godless, foolish choices. Jonah is an example of that in the Scriptures. Now there's a sixth reason and Jethro's son gave us that. Moses, if I could get my J's working here. That is, we don't know. Deuteronomy 29:29 says, "The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever, that we may observe all the words of this law."
We know some things. We don't know other things. It's difficult sometimes to pin the tail on the tragedy and say, "This is why it happened this way." The truth is that it's almost always a little of all the previous five. You'd better be careful before you stand up and say, "This is exactly why it happened."
I mentioned to you that I thought maybe Julie was like Joseph, but Julie is also like James 1 through 12 and other things in there. Frankly, I just don't know. I know that she is a little bit like the person in John, chapter 9, verses 1 through 3. There are all kinds of things that contribute to that.
I was speaking with a man down the day after Katrina really hit in all its fury. He looked at me. He didn't know who I was. He just said, "Let me tell you why this is happening. Do you want to know why this is happening? Do you want to know why we're here? Because I come from a wicked city."
He said, "This is God. God did this. God needed to do this because we come from a bad place." I talked to one of the leading businessmen of New Orleans. He said, "There is not another city in his opinion that was as base and was as carnal and was as rebellious as New Orleans. In his opinion, it made Vegas look like a child in its adult rebellion with the way it paraded it and the things that happened in certain weeks of celebration down there."
This first gentleman I talked to you about told me, "Do you know why this happened this week? Because this week was specifically the gathering of the largest time in the entire year where there's a convention of people of a certain sin expression, and they were all coming here. God said, 'Nuh-uh. Nuh-uh. Not here in my land.' So that's why Katrina came that way."
Now why did it come? I don't know. Probably for every reason, to some level, that was before us. The question is not so much, "Which one of those five reasons brought it about?" The question is, "What do we know?" I want to walk through what we do know. We do know this.
We do know we should first of all learn from the victims of this and every other tragedy. Katrina and 9/11. James, chapter 4, verse 13 through 16 says, "Come now, you who say, 'Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.' Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, 'If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.' But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil."
We should learn from the folks who went to work on Tuesday, September 11, 2001, who were pretty sure things were going to roll the way they've always rolled, but they didn't. Proverbs 27, verse 1, tells us, "Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring forth."
We should learn from the victims of sudden tragedy that there is no guarantee for tomorrow. We ought to get a perspective like, "Woo, that could've been me. That could've been my car that the drunk crossed the median and hit. That could've been me who was the victim of that levy breaking."
Now I want to tell you, Jesus himself was confronted with tragedies in his day. This is where we focused on the actual Sunday right after September 11. This was the text we taught from. Jesus was asked the question, "Hey, what gives about the people who the towers fell on them?" literally.
Luke, chapter 13, verse 1: "Now on the same occasion…" What occasion? It's the occasion when Jesus was talking about being alert to signs of your mortality and being alert to signs of coming judgment around them. Jesus was saying, "You can look at the clouds and predict the weather. You ought to be as astute in looking at the way life unfolds here on this earth and understand what it means. You need to realize that not only do you need to have a perspective that there is no promise of tomorrow, you need to be prepared yourself."
We're saying we know that we should learn from the victims of sudden tragedies. Jesus says, "Now on the same occasion there were some present who reported to Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices." Meaning, up north in this little city of Galilee there were some folks who were offering sacrifices to God. While they did that, there was a disturbance and one of the Roman leaders of that day slit the throats and murdered a bunch of God-followers.
These folks were saying, "What gives with that?" Not only that, Jesus trumps them. He says, "Do you suppose that these Galileans were greater sinners than all other Galileans because they suffered this fate? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish." You see how Jesus handled this?
He said, "Do you want to know why those guys died suddenly? If you're asking me if they died suddenly because they were more wicked than you and that was what they had coming to them, you'd better think again because it's not your righteousness that spared you and not necessarily their wickedness that kept them from living again tomorrow. It was just their day. Your days are numbered, and you'd better be ready when the tower falls on your little head to meet the judgment that is coming you."
He goes on and says… What about this? "Or do you suppose that those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them were worse culprits than all the men who live in Jerusalem? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish." Do you understand what Jesus is saying right here?
He goes, "What about that natural accident that you guys know happened a few days ago in Siloam? Some guys were there next to a tower, it fell on them, and 18 of them were killed. It made the Jerusalem Times. Jesus says, "Do you think I have the 18 wickedest people in the world hanging out under that tower in that moment? No, but what you need to know is that towers fall on people. This world is broken.
You had better be ready to meet the one who you are culpable before when the tower falls on your little head. Now many of you will get old and sickly and use a cane and die slowly, so you think you'll deal with God tomorrow, but don't be so sure. Because your little levy could break at any time."
What Jesus meant by this when he says, "…unless you repent, you will all likewise perish," is, firstly, that you will die in judgment before one who is in authority without time to prepare yourself for the death that quickly came upon you. Let me tell you what we do know.
Secondly, we know God is never surprised by tragedy and he is always sovereign over it. He is never shocked by something that has happened before him. God rules all of nature and all of human history. That means that if he himself was not making a wave to come up out of the Gulf of Mexico, he could've stopped it, and there are no two ways around it.
You can't have sovereignty of convenience and say it's a sovereignty of God that causes wombs that have been barren for years to all of a sudden have a child and celebrate God's graciousness in response and say that he is not sovereign and somehow responsible for big waves that come crashing onto cities, killing hundreds of thousands out of the Indian Ocean or thousands out of the Gulf of Mexico. He always rules all of nature and all of history. There isn't a man or a wave that isn't underneath him.
Thirdly, God is always at work, always in everything revealing his glory. Everything is within his purpose. Sometimes even that which men have intended for evil, God says, "I can use that for good." It doesn't mean he endorses it, but he is going to allow it because it's going to be a reminder that you live in a world that is out of sync with God.
You'd better run to him, develop a relationship with him because if you don't, you yourself will find yourself one day on the back end of life and have to meet this God, and then you're going to have something that doesn't have any of the grace and reminders of God's goodness that this world does. You don't want anything to do with him now? He'll grant you that wish for eternity.
Lastly in this little point, God claims absolute authority over everything. Therefore, wise people take note of everything they see in light of everything that God's Word says. Don't be a narrow-minded person who runs to one of the five reasons that trials or tragedies or evil happens and say, "This is it." You have to make sure your theology allows for all of those potential five reasons.
You have to work hard to be as discerning as you can, but you need to know everything that happens, everything you see is something that happens under God's sovereignty, revealing some aspect of his glory, even if it's man run amok under the permissive will of God as he accomplishes his purposes in reminding people of the foolishness of trusting in this world and the futility of trying to avoid ultimate judgment.
Let me lay it out for you this way. In Amos, chapter 3, as many of us read this week, it says this. "Hear this word which the LORD has spoken against you, sons of Israel, against the entire family which He brought up from the land of Egypt: 'You only have I chosen among all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities.'"
In other words, "I have elevated you, Israel, amongst all the other nations of the earth, and with greatness come one thing: responsibility." Now let me just say this. America is not the new Israel. Israel is the old Israel and will forever be Israel. God is going to do something uniquely with them as a nation that he is not going to do with any other nation.
For a time, Israel itself is suffering from their hard-heartedness to towers that fell and waves that came and Osama bin Ladens that were more than just 15 men who attacked a small section of a city, but marauding forces that were militarily more powerful that came and devoured all of them. Yet God has preserved a remnant, will preserve a remnant, and one day will accomplish through them what he said he will accomplish, but let me make this clear.
There is another nation that is favored among nations on the earth for some reason in this 300-year window of world history. This nation has been prospered like no other nation in world history. This nation has military strength and dominance like no other nation in world history. This nation has people who live in more prosperity than any other group of people have ever lived as a group of people as large as this in the history of humankind.
With greatness comes responsibility. God has used this nation that was founded, not by Christians, but by men who embraced truths that God had given men. Many of them Christians, others deists, but all of them embracing a common worldview that all men were created equal and were endowed by their Creator with certain immutable rights, among which is the right to pursue life, liberty, and happiness.
We're going to give them that freedom inside a democratic republic. "We embrace that," they said as a national group of leaders. "We have this ethic and morality that informs us." God has blessed that in his sovereignty. He has decided to use this group of people to take the gospel to the ends of the earth like no other group of people in the history of the earth.
Yet he is going to say, "Don't you get lazy in your greatness. Remember who it is who has made you great. You say on your coins, 'In God you trust', but no you don't. Not anymore. What you trust in is foolish. You trust in your wealth? I can melt your wealth in 30 minutes. You trust in your military power? I mock your military power with waves, with airplanes, with whatever I want to use to humble you. Don't you think for a second that I cannot allow something to turn this coin on a dime and have you someplace else."
"Do two men walk together unless they have made an appointment?" He says. Unless they have met, discussed, or agreed? What God is going to do here is going to give you six different reasons that he wants people to listen. He says, "Look, everything happens for a reason. Things don't happen unless something else has happened before it."
In other words, you don't just find two guys walking together down the street unless they've already met, they discussed, and they decided to continue to journey together. He is going to give you another example. He is going to say right here in verse 4. "Does a lion roar in the forest when he has no prey?"
No. A lion roars when it's coming out of the bush and he sees something he is ready to devour. "Does a young lion growl from his den unless he has captured something?" No. If you hear a lion eating in the bush it's because he got that wildebeest. Something has happened that has caused him to make that sound.
"Does a bird fall into a trap on the ground when there is no bait in it?" No. "Does a trap spring up from the earth when it captures nothing at all?" No. "If a trumpet is blown in a city…" It's supposed to do something. "And I'm blowing a trumpet," Amos said. "…will not the people tremble? If a calamity occurs in a city…" Watch this. "…has not the LORD done it?"
Folks, this is not just some accident of a world that has just gone amok. This is something that God is saying, "I'm not saying I caused it. I'm saying I'm going to use it, and I did, if you want to throw it under my bus, cause it, because I'm sovereign over it and could've stopped it, and I didn't stop this one. I let it come. Now what are you going to do with it?"
"Surely the Lord GOD does nothing unless He reveals His secret counsel to His servants the prophets." Amos, Hosea, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Elijah, myriads of others. Do you want to know what's going on? God is letting the word out. "A lion has roared! Who will not fear? The Lord GOD has spoken! Who can but prophesy?"
What that means is, "Haven't you seen the futility of the greatness of man?" When you see great nations humbled the way we were humbled four years ago, the way we were humbled two weeks ago, the way we're being humbled in many ways by isolated bands of insurrectionists taking the lives of our best and our brightest, you ought to go, "You know what, man? This thing isn't all under our control no matter how many chariots we have, no matter how much cash we have."
"…unless the LORD guards the city, the watchman keeps awake in vain." We had better cling to this God, and even in doing that, there's no guarantee. We live in a world that is broken and death is increasingly happening in the lives of everybody who I know. The statistics of death are overwhelming. Every person who is born dies. Get the message. There's something going on here. Isaiah 45, verses 5 through 7 say, "I am the LORD, and there is no other; besides Me there is no God."
He talks to Cyrus. He says, "I'm going to prepare you. I'm going to gird you, Cyrus." Who was the leader of a nation called Medo-Persia. He was going to raise them up, wipe out the Babylonians. He was going to use Cyrus as a means through which he would deliver Israel from their exile.
He says, "I want to do this so, '…men may know from the rising to the setting of the sun that there is no one besides Me. I am the LORD, and there is no other, the One forming light and creating darkness, causing well-being and creating calamity…'" Is God insecure about Katrina? No. He says, "Book it. It's underneath me."
Times of suffering are sovereignly allowed by God to bring truth to light. This we know. What I mean by this is that in times when there is not calamity around us, we can thank God. In times when towers fall and levies break, we can thank God. Why? Because of this. Because both the delays in God's judgment and the preview of God's judgment are part of his mercy and for our good.
They remind us of our need to, and provide for us at other times, an opportunity to repent. Did you not live in New Orleans? Did you have the finances and the means to hightail it out of town? Then you didn't die at Katrina, and God's mercy was heavy upon you. Repent. Do you see others who didn't? Family members who you know, loved ones who you care about who died in the towers that fell or floods that came? You too could die that way. Repent. Change your mind about who God is and who you are.
Romans 2:4 says, "Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?" That, folks, the mercy of you living today in your health and wealth and prosperity is God's mercy. What are you going to do with it?
Do you know what Jesus suggests? "Walk with me." Are you in the face of some tragedy? Maybe the towers didn't fall on you, but the diagnosis has. What are you going to do? Cling to God. Walk with him. Respond to the negative that's in your life by saying, "Lord, this world isn't my home. Sin has a wage. It is death. It is what I am deserving of, but your grace has invaded into my sin and provided for me a means through which the one who is due judgment can receive life and hope even in the midst of a body that is certain to die, if not suddenly, eventually."
Second Peter 3:3-9 says this: "Know this first of all, that in the last days mockers will come with their mocking, following after their own lusts, and saying, 'Where is the promise of His coming?'""Come on, Wagner. Are you serious? You really want me to believe this?" "For ever since the fathers fell asleep [from way back when] , all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation.""Things are just like it's always been. There have always been earthquakes. There have always been wars. There have always been hurricanes. Get over it. Don't tell me God is trying to send a message to a group of people."
I'm going to tell you God has always been trying to send a message to a group of people.I'm going to tell you that the wisest man who ever lived, said, "Because the sentence against an evil deed is not executed quickly, therefore the hearts of the sons of men among them are given fully to do evil." Ecclesiastes, chapter 8, verse 11.
Just because a tower didn't fall on you and the levy in your life hasn't broken yet doesn't mean that God isn't well aware of the wage that you and I are due. It's coming. It just hasn't come to you yet. Do you think it's because you're better than New Orleans? No, you're not when held up against the light of perfection, which is God's standard. It continues.
"For when they maintain this, it escapes their notice that by the word of God the heavens existed long ago and the earth was formed out of water and by water, through which the world at that time was destroyed, being flooded with water." In other words, there was a flood before. What was that flood for?
To remind people that, "Listen, there's a God up there that you have to do business with and sooner or later he is going to say, 'That's enough, and today's your day.'" Now for that particular time in world history, it was the day for everybody except for the lucky eight who built the boat in the middle of a desert because they knew who God was and embraced walking with him even when it seemed crazy to the rest of the world.
People go, "Oh listen, there was never a flood. Are you kidding me?" It says, "But by His word the present heavens and earth are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men. But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day."
In other words, time is not really one of God's biggest concerns. When you live in something called eternity, you can see why that might be the case, but know this. "The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness…" Or incompetence or indifference. God had not come yet because he is incompetent. God hasn't not yet come yet because he is indifferent to the New Orleans in your life.
He has not come because mercy is yours again today so that you might know him. Folks, judgment is certain. Hebrews 9:27 says, "And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment…" I'm telling you. There's going to be a place and a time where, if you have not yet started praying, it won't matter if you do.
What I want to say here is while there is often a second chance… Thank God you weren't in the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001, at 8:30 in the morning. Thank God you weren't eating some oysters on Canal Street with no means to get out just two weeks ago. For a lot of us, there's often a second chance, but there is always a last chance. Don't miss yours. That's what God is saying. Hey, it is true that God has promised forgiveness to our repentance, but he has not promised tomorrow to your procrastination. Hear me individuals. Hear me, America.
Now quickly. We know this. I wish I could spend a whole day on this. As a nation, we are following a path that no civilization… I want to say this again. Listen to me. As a nation, we are following a path that no civilization in the history of the world has ever lived without paying a dear price for it.
If we don't learn from what God says civilizations who were living as ours is, then we are going to end up like theirs has. What we know is that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. God has always dealt severely with people who in their prosperity turn their back on him. There's a gentleman by the name of Arnold Toynbee, who was a culturalist, a historian, and an observer.
He was an Englishman who lived during his prime between England in World War II and World War I. He observed the moral decay in society and culture, and he went back and looked at Gibbon's book The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. He began to say, "Europeans are uniquely interested in Europe, but there have been other great world civilizations."
Toynbee studied those civilizations and in a 12-volume set, he observed 22 of the greatest civilizations of the history of the world. He observed the characteristics which lead to their ultimate decay and fall. People who have looked at Toynbee's work and have studied great civilizations of today like America, say this.
They say America, as it was constituted when they made this observation… Of the 22 civilizations that appeared on the stage of world history, 19 of them collapsed when they reached the present moral condition of the United States. That was in 1979 that that quote was made. If you look at history and you see where folks are headed, when they got to where America is, they didn't last long.
In other words, we're already on borrowed time, people. We're 30 years into it that God is letting us, by his grace, be an exception. But mark my word, whether he uses Katrina or Osama, he will not be mocked by a group of people who consistently take his name in vain and who say that they believe that all people are endowed by their Creator with some inherent rights, and yet they act as if there is no Creator and there is no inherent law.
It's never because of the threat from without. It's always the corruption within that rots and ruins us. This is the fact. This is the way nations have always rolled. If you want to read one nation's story about it, turn to the book of Judges. You'll find this little progression: nations go from a time of rest. In other words, prosperity, where they live in relationship with God, and then they get fat and happy and think, "It's not God who made us great. It's we who have made ourselves great."
They start to go their own way and parade down city streets celebrating their own morality and ethic. They abandon what God says is right and true about how they love and serve each other, how they steward their resources, how they serve other people, and they rebel. Then there is retribution. Then they gather together in churches and repent. God often restores them. Then they experience a time of rest. Then they rebel. The retribution gets a little more severe. And on and on we go.
Folks, we are fooling ourselves if we think that God is not aware of our arrogance and he is not willing to deal with our retribution. The Lord is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Don't be deceived. God has never been mocked, and he will not be mocked by America.
Whether you want to make Katrina to be God's gracious effort to get our attention or Osama bin Laden and his little minion of 18 to be God's effort to get our attention or the murder of unborn children and the dearth that brings to us as a people or the breakdown of family or the increase in poverty or the fact that one out of every 160 Americans is so godless and lawless that even a country that embraces lawlessness has to incarcerate them. I'm telling you, we are on borrowed time.
Hosea, chapter 4 says, "Hear the word of the LORD, O people of Israel!" Great nation of its day. "The LORD has brought charges against you, saying: 'There is no faithfulness, no kindness, no knowledge of God in your land. You make vows and break them; you kill and steal and commit adultery." See also: Dallas Morning News.
"There is violence everywhere—one murder after another. That is why your land is in mourning, and everyone is wasting away. Even the wild animals, the birds of the sky, and the fish of the sea are disappearing. Don't point your finger at someone else and try to pass the blame! My complaint, you priests…"
You spiritual leaders. See also professed followers of Christ. "My complaint, you priests, is with you. So you will stumble in broad daylight, and your false prophets will fall with you in the night. And I will destroy Israel, your mother. My people are being destroyed…" Why? Why is this nation falling down? "…because they don't know me."
"It's your fault, people who I asked to be salt and light, for you yourselves, '…refuse to know me, I refuse to recognize you as my priests. Since you have forgotten the laws of your God, I will forget to bless your children.'" Did you know that the kids of folks who will attend church today are just as given to premarital sex, alcohol, and drug abuse as folks who won't go to church this morning?
Now that is not true of fully devoted followers of Christ, but folks who stumble their little selves into dead religiosity are having the same heartbreak with their kids as folks who are going to sleep in this morning. Now I want to tell you some stories about folks who are loving their kids and raising them well and God is blessing their kids and teaching them to protect themselves from the horrors and the sins that are in this world, but not because they go to church.
Because they walk with Jesus Christ. Because they embrace God and love his Word and humble themselves underneath it, surround themselves with community that spurs them on. God is protecting those kids, but there are others who have not turned their hearts toward home even if they've turned their alarm clocks toward 7 o'clock on Sundays. God is fed up with that.
Look what it says in… I'll just jump with you over here to Hosea, chapter 5. He says, "Hear this…leaders… Listen…royal family." Jump down to verse 3, where it says, "I know what you are like…O Israel." See also today, rebellious nation. Verse 6: "When they come with their flocks and herds to offer sacrifices to the LORD…" When they have a hard time, but it will be too late. "…they will not find him, because he has withdrawn from them." They are now alone.
They are "…bearing children that are not his." In other words, there is no being fruitful and multiplying, making disciples, creating other Christ-followers, passionately building into other people. Hosea 9:5: "One thing is certain, Israel: on your day of punishment, you will become a heap of rubble." Do you think that God could make America a heap of rubble? Do you think he could do it?
In half an hour he has shown you how he could do it in 1.6 acres. In a day, he has shown how he could do it in 90,000 acres. Don't you think for a second he can't do it in 50 states. Especially don't think he can't do it in your home. "The people of Israel will be crushed and broken by my judgment because they are determined to worship idols.""I will destroy Israel," He says. "Therefore I am like a moth to Ephraim and like rottenness to the house of Judah."
What he is saying right here is, "Look, I'm trying to get your attention." Have you ever been around a moth? It is absolutely annoying. You're trying to get that sucker away from you, but you can eventually squash the moth. Have you ever gotten a scrape and a scab that gets infected? It takes a little bit longer to heal, but you can eventually heal that deep wound.
He said, "I've been like a moth to Israel. I've been like rottenness or a deep wound to Judah, but that still hasn't gotten their attention." So guess what God does? The discipline of God is patient, but folks it is progressive and it is purposeful. God will meet his mark. He says, "For I will be like a lion to Israel." Now let me ask you a question.
Anybody here ever been confronted with a lion that's hungry? No, because if you had been, you wouldn't be here. It is not a moth that you can eventually get away from and squash. It is not rottenness that you can eventually heal. It is something that becomes a part of his digestive system.
Hosea continues with this little line of thought, and I close with just telling you about this little event in the history of the nation when he comes across them and he shares with them this little insight. We need to laugh a little bit so I want to throw this to you here. There's a quote by C.S. Lewis. What C.S. Lewis talks about is that there are moments where suffering is not there in our life.
This is what it says. "The Christian doctrine of suffering explains, I believe, a very curious fact about the world we live in. The settled happiness and security which we all desire, God withholds from us by the nature of the world: but joy, pleasure, and merriment He has scattered broadcast…"
Let me just put that into American English. What he says right there is that, "God doesn't ever let us be completely satisfied with anything in this world no matter how pleasant it is." No matter how much we experience a shadow of home and hope, there is always something missing at the end. At the end, he'll never let us be satisfied in human love. He'll never let us be satisfied in human achievement, human fame. Even in times of great merriment, he holds it back.
Now he scatters it broadly because he is a good God even in a world that's corrupted, but, "We are never safe, but we have plenty of fun, and some ecstasy. It is not hard to see why. The security we crave would teach us to rest our hearts in this world and oppose an obstacle to our return to God…"
If we were ever able to be fully satisfied by something in this world, we would never long for that which is the true source of our happiness. So God, because he is good, lets you have a great time in sex that's free from guilt in marriage. He lets you, as a man who serves his family and loves his home, come home and have his little boy go, "Daddy home! Daddy home!" And run to you.
He lets you share life with somebody who is going to love you despite all your flaws. Those are some sweet moments, but if he let me be satisfied there, I'd go, "I have enough. I don't need something else." But all those things are just a shadow of what God created me to enjoy. So Lewis continues. He says, "…a few moments of happy love, a landscape, a symphony…" He's more cultured than I am. "…a merry meeting without friends, a bath or a football match…" There you go, C.S.
He says, "…have no such tendency." Which is it say they don't fully ever satisfy you. "Our Father refreshes us on the journey with some pleasant inns [along the way]…" Do you know why God does that? Because he is good, people. "…but will not encourage us to mistake them for home."
In other words, enjoy yourself, TCU, when you have a great time up in Norman, but realize you aren't home yet. Have a great time, UT fans, when you win in Columbus, but you haven't played the Cotton Bowl against a little school from Norman yet. Have a big time, USC. Two national championships in a row. It's great ecstasy, but you're not home yet. You're not crowned forever king.
There's going to be heartbreak, loss, recruiting violations, devastation, and years of losing records. You're going to go, "That was so great. I could die here." Yeah, but you won't. You have to live and you have to find life somewhere else. That life is not in national championships or one week victories up in Norman. Full satisfaction comes, not in football games, in baths, merriment, or symphonies. It comes in Jesus Christ. Do you know him? Do you know him? So what are we supposed to do with this?
First, we must make sure we're ready. Are you ready? I know David is ready. I baptized the chump. Are the rest of you ready?
Secondly, are you doing what you should do to help others be ready? Are you? You see those being led away to slaughter? If you see, I did not see them. Will he not hold you into account? If the watchman knows that the army is coming and he falls asleep or keeps his mouth shut, he says he'll hold their blood on your hands. How are you doing?
Thirdly, live as salt and light. Do you know why God is angry? Because people who say they know him live just as rebellious, wicked, godless, separated lives as those who don't. Do you want to know why America is screwed up? Because guys who are preaching in churches all across America today won't preach God's Word.
Because people who go to church today won't be salt and light in their community. That's why America is screwed up. Not because of what happens on Bourbon Street. When sinners sin, it doesn't surprise me. They're just fulfilling the job description. But when we, who say we know God, don't follow him, rottenness will reign.
Fourthly, are you, therefore, as a person who is salt and light, building into others?
Lastly, as a person who knows Jesus Christ, are you sober-minded? Hey, I'll probably catch a football a little bit later today, and I'll enjoy it for a moment with my boy. I'll play football a little bit later with my boy and it's going to be great. I love teaching him to catch. I love him loving me because I spend time with him, but that's not life, man.
I'll have sex with my wife as many times as I can this week and it will be good. But I'll get hungry again and I won't say, "I'm home," and so I'm sober-minded about where life really is. I'm going to sleep soundly, just like I brought my kids to me, and they said, "Daddy, what's going to happen to us? After 9/11 is Osama bin Laden going to blow us up? Is the levy in Dallas going to break? Is Dallas every going to flood? Is our roof tall enough that we could survive until they come and get us?"
I said, "You know what? I think our roof maybe is. I'm not sure a flood is going to hit here, but one day, something's going to happen. Do you know that? There's no guarantee that your daddy won't be gone next week. There's no guarantee you won't be gone next week, but you know what?
There's a guarantee that if you deal with the God who created you and is sovereign over this world, that you can rejoice even when you lose the life that we think is everything. It's not everything. It is but a vapor. Sleep soundly, dear one. Sleep soundly and live as a sold-out servant. Get serious about following Jesus Christ. Don't impress yourself that you go to church.
Live as his church. You come and pray with me today. You come and worship God with me tonight. You serve as a follower of Christ this week. Amen? If you don't know this Jesus, would you check a box on that Watermark News and let us tell you about it? Your levy is going to break. Your building is going to fall. I want you to know the hope that I have. I am not better than you, but I have a better Savior if you don't know Jesus Christ.
Have a great week of worship.
Many are looking for answers to make sense out of the disasters that have taken place in the last few years. Everywhere, people want to know where God is in events like these and how or why things like this happen. In the midst of grief and fear, God's Word offers us peace, hope and wisdom for living in a world plagued by sin and tumult. Looking at more than just terrorism and hurricanes, this series addresses all sin and its consequences and offers God's answer to our great need.