Dealing with Natural Disasters

[To go along with the theme of the sermon, the special music for this service was a video of “Beauty Will Rise” by Steven Curtis Chapman – you can see it here]

It was the day the world went wrong
I screamed til my voice was gone
And watched through the tears as everything
Came crashing down

Slowly panic turns to pain
As we awake to what remains
And sift through the ashes
That are left behind

But buried deep beneath
All our broken dreams we have this hope

Out of these ashes beauty will rise
And we will dance among the ruins
We will see it with our own eyes
Out of these ashes beauty will rise
For we know joy is coming in the morning
In the morning, beauty will rise

So take another breath for now
And let the tears come washing down
And if you can’t believe, I will believe for you

Cause I have seen the signs of spring
Just watch and see

Out of these ashes beauty will rise
And we will dance among the ruins
We will see it with our own eyes
Out of these ashes beauty will rise
For we know joy is coming in the morning
In the morning

I can hear it in the distance
And it’s not too far away
It’s the music and the laughter
Of a wedding and a feast
I can almost feel the hand of God
Reaching for my face to wipe the tears away
You say it’s time to make everything new
Make it all new

This is our hope
This is a promise
This is our hope
This is a promise

It will take our breath away
To see the beauty that’s been made
Out of the ashes, out of the ashes

It will take our breath away
To see the beauty that He’s made
Out of the ashes, out of the ashes

Out of these ashes
Beauty will rise
And we will dance among the ruins
We will see it with our own eyes
Out of this darkness
New light will shine
And we’ll know the joy that’s coming in the morning
In the morning
Beauty will rise

Oh, beauty will rise
Oh, oh, oh, beauty will rise
Oh, oh, oh, beauty will rise
Oh, oh, oh, beauty will rise

Scriptures: Psalm 57; Philippians 4:10-20

We have been using the psalms of lament as a means for seeing where God is when the world is just … wrong. We have looked at a variety of approaches with remembering God’s plan, God’s perspective, and God’s promise; being obedient to God’s will even when we don’t understand, and focusing on faith winning out over emotion.

We then began looking at how to personally deal with various issues such as enduring during a personal experience of evil or tragedy, and keeping our sense of peace and purpose when dealing with large-scale evil (which is almost always man-made), in order to continue to praise God’s goodness and be effective in our response.

Today we are going to look at where to or how to see God during large-scale upheavals in our lives, like with natural disasters. Whether it is because we have better equipment for sensing things, higher population densities, or it is the beginning of the end times as some think, we can all agree that there seem to be more reports of earthquakes, wildfires, and extreme weather like tornadoes – or even snow in mid-April.

As we begin this study today, I want to point out some very basic, yet easy to overlook things about what we call “natural disasters.” I’ll tell you, this is not exactly a pet peeve, but this is one of those things I come back to again and again, when trying to counsel some people about things.

First of all, this is a fallen world, a fallen creation. Things happen. It’s not a perfect world, and it won’t be until Christ comes and the new world and the new heaven are created. But there’s also, within this fallen world, still, a purpose and a plan, because God’s plan is perfect.

Even weather phenomena and things like wildfires serve a purpose in nature, outside of human impact. Many of you know I went to University of Nebraska – Lincoln for my bachelor’s degree, and they have a plot called Nine Mile Prairie. They grow, intentionally, like the prairie was in the mid-1800s, like the 5-foot tall grass that the buffalo roamed through.

They check it, ecologically, for biodiversity. That means the different kinds of plants and animals that are there. They experiment to see what happens when things occur. One of the studies that they did in the early 80’s was a burn.

It used to be that there were stories of wildfires that would cover multiple states across the prairie (we still have that today, to a degree). They would be terrible, and terrifying. So they wanted to know, what happens when there’s a wildfire. What they discovered was, after the wildfire, the soil was richer in nutrients because the ashes returned the nutrients from the plants that burned and biodiversity actually went up.

That means there were more species of things around. Because stuff that can’t grow when the grass is five feet tall, blocking all the sunlight, was able to grow once there was nothing there. So apparently something that is as destructive as a wildfire can still serve the purpose of creating new life and new beauty.

My wife and I lived in New Jersey for about nine years. It’s called the Garden State – they have large sections of it set aside for parks and things like that. One of those is a park that’s a reserve for an endangered species of pine called the jack pine. They took care of these pine trees. They made sure that nothing was feeding on them, like woodpeckers. They made sure that fires got squashed so that nothing burned.

After they did this for a couple of decades, the pines were still dying off. They weren’t growing new ones, and this causes a little bit of a panic, since they were set aside as an endangered species. So they looked at what was going on, and they discovered something amazing. Jack pines require fire to germinate.

You know how there are pine cones that are closed, that are kind of green and have sticky stuff all over them, and then there are ones that are germinated, that are the ones that have things sticking out, that we used to throw at each other when we were kids, during the fall, and we would put in our wreaths and things like that? Well, in order to get to that germinated state, jack pines require that kind of heat that occurs during a wildfire. The trees would burn up, but all of the pine cones would burst and explode and shoot out more seeds.

We know historically that flooding of the Nile is necessary for good crop growth because sediment and detritus are deposited on otherwise very poor, clay-like soil. They actually pray for the flood. Yes, it’s destructive. But without it, nothing grows.

Undersea earthquakes and eruptions can lead to new land and islands forming. So if there is a purpose to these things, and they naturally occurs, what makes them disasters?

Man’s presence! Not because man causes them, but because it impacts us. We see them as disasters because of our losses – loss of property, loss of homes, loss of employment, and sometimes even loss of life, on a small or large scale, such as that earthquake in China.

We want to remember our place in the universe, when these kinds of things happen, and to remember what is really important. We’ve discussed how to remember our place in the universe, as we remember God’s perspective. But I also want to read the lyrics of another song to you, that help us to see what’s really important. The song is by Craig Morgan called “This ain’t nothing.”

He was standing in the rubble
Of an old farmhouse outside Birmingham
When some on the scene reporter
Stuck a camera in the face of that old man
He said “tell the folks please mister, what are you gonna do
Now that this twister has taken all that’s dear to you”
The old man just smiled
“Boy let me tell you something, this ain’t nothing”
He said I lost my daddy, when I was eight years old,
That cave-in at the Kincaid mine left a big old hole,
And I lost my baby brother, best friend and my left hand
In a no win situation in a place called Vietnam
And last year I watched my loving wife,
Of fifty years waste away and die
And I held her hand til her heart of gold stopped pumping,
So this ain’t nothin’

He said I learned at an early age,
There’s things that matter and there’s things that don’t
So if you’re waiting here for me to cry,
I hate to disappoint you boy, but I won’t
Then he reached down in the rubble and picked up a photograph
Wiped the dirt off of it with the hand that he still had
He put it to his lips and said man she was something
But this ain’t nothin’

In this song, the old man doesn’t dismiss the loss of his house, his “stuff,” and the hardship to come; but he notes that all these things can be replaced – unlike his wife of 50 years, or his brother, or his best friend.

It is the relationships that are critical. For all other things, we have the words of Paul that tell us about being content in all situations, and being able to continue because of Christ who strengthens us.

Even more important than remembering our place in the universe and what is important (all of which can be hard to focus on in those moments of crisis), we need to use the tools of perspective, plan, and promise, to see God not in the disaster (though He is sovereign, and nothing occurs without God’s declarative or permissive will – and you can ask me about that some other time, and I’ll explain those theological terms), but in what happens after.

Look for God in the responses of people caring and sharing, and helping those who are suffering – many of whom are still suffering themselves! As the song from Steven Curtis Chapman says, we can look for God in “the beauty that rises out of the ashes,” that comes in the morning after the long night, and that grows out of the residue of disaster.

New beauty, like the memorials in the spot of 9/11 air attack (that’s one of the only reasons I’d want to go to New York City, to see what’s there, because everything I’ve seen about it is so beautiful and peaceful), or like a song coming out of the pain of loss of a child, and inventions to cope with and prevent what happened from happening again.

There are new opportunities that can arise when we lose a job, or an entire place of employment, or even a place to live. We joke a lot of times, about when we try to sell a house, all the stuff we have, we need to do spring cleaning. I guess when you have a disaster that takes your house, your spring cleaning is pretty much done.

We can look for new relationships, as we meet with those who are helping us, or whom we are helping, and form bonds of friendship, gratitude, and care. We can see how God kept us safe through something, even if we were not kept safe from what happened, and appreciate the knowledge that God is faithful to His promise never to leave us nor forsake us. God holds us in His hands, and showers us with grace even in those times of disaster.

As the Psalmist says, we can take refuge under God’s wings until the destruction passes by, and believe He will send forth His lovingkindness, His chesed, and truth. Both the Psalmist and Paul realize that what is impossible for us on our own is possible with God, because of who God is: Jehovah Jireh (our provider), Jehovah rapha (our healer), Jehovah shalom (our peace) – just to name a few. The Bible study on Wednesday evenings did a study of God’s names, and I believe there were over one hundred that they found are in the Scriptures.

In Douglas Adam’s book Hitchhiker’s guide to the Galaxy, its catchphrase is “don’t panic” (that and to always have a towel with you). While in a humorous setting, the advice is serious. Not panicking doesn’t mean not feeling fear. It doesn’t mean not feeling out of our depth, confused, or overwhelmed.

It does mean not giving in to the fear but continuing on through it (which, by the way, is courage – someone who is fearless doesn’t know courage; courage is continuing on despite the fear), giving your own best efforts, and being willing to lean on God and God’s strength as you move through it, whatever that disaster might be.

“Natural disasters” will occur as long as life on this planet lasts and creation is fallen; but we can begin to see what new thing God is doing, when we look for that opportunity, that relationship, that beauty that rises. As Jesus said, “unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds”

I pray that when it seems things have died, or disasters have produced loss in your lives, that you can let it go. Don’t just fatalistically accept it, but rather actively move on, as you look for the beauty that can rise, if you allow Christ to strengthen you in that time of need. And then, you can praise God even in the storms of life, and give Him glory in all that you do.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

%d bloggers like this: