A terrible storm with torrents of rain left southeast Texas devastated. Hurricane Irma appears to be heading for Florida with major impact likely if forecasts are accurate. In the Northwest, record heat and fires are making headlines. It is an awful time for millions. What strikes me is that people who have not given God a thought suddenly become ‘prophets’ who are sure that God is terrible, or that He has decided to judge this land, or that He is not really “God” at all.
Do I know why these things are happening? In one sense, yes. They are weather patterns, part of the natural cycles of this beautiful globe. And yet, I also know that God can use storms, floods, wars, and drought to capture the attention of people who have forgotten Him and that He needs wise and Spirit-filled preachers to stand up. No, we cannot fall into silly sermonizing that makes every catastrophe into a harbinger of the Last Days, but we must kneel down to listen to His voice, and then rise to speak His Word.
The preacher, Joel, lived in Judah about 800 years before Christ. The nation had been through a terrible plague of locusts that stripped fields bare, leaving people and livestock on the brink of starvation. In addition, he saw the pending invasion of the Assyrian army. He speaks up. “Sound the alarm in Jerusalem! Raise the battle cry on my holy mountain! Let everyone tremble in fear because the day of the Lord is upon us. It is a day of darkness and gloom, a day of thick clouds and deep blackness. Suddenly, like dawn spreading across the mountains, a great and mighty army appears. Nothing like it has been seen before or will ever be seen again.” (Joel 2:1-2, NLT)
His message is not just doom! He reminds the people of the faithfulness of the Lord for those who will turn to Him, leaving sinful ways. “That is why the Lord says, “Turn to me now, while there is time. Give me your hearts. Come with fasting, weeping, and mourning. Don’t tear your clothing in your grief, but tear your hearts instead.” Return to the Lord your God, for he is merciful and compassionate, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. He is eager to relent and not punish.” (Joel 2:12-13, NLT)
Christian friend, we need to sound the alarm, not consigning our land to the junk heap of history but calling Christians to prayer, to repentance, and to lead the way to God. One of the terrible tragedies of our time is that even the Church and many of her preachers are totally compromised by their immersion in the sins of the land to the extent that they are the ‘blind leading the blind and falling into the pit together.’
This nation I love is staggering like a drunk, intoxicated with Self, consumed with pleasure, every person bent on doing his own thing with little thought of what is ‘right’ or ‘just’ or ‘good.’ I am sorry that so many pulpits are full of sermons about genital issues as if our worst sins are those of sex! We have confused the symptoms with the disease. Promiscuity is rampant but the real spiritual sickness of America is Self-will and disregard of God. Yes, pornography is a terrible evil. Prostitution ruins lives and destroys persons. Casual sex has an awful cost to stable societies and is plainly condemned in the Scripture. Those sins, however, flow out of a sin-sickness far deeper and to focus only on them without speaking to our prevailing godlessness is like treating cancer with aspirin!
We sit at a privileged place in the world – a place of unparalleled wealth and power. We are fat, sated with food and goods that are our idols, chasing ever more pleasures and diversions, ready to scream insults at any who suggest that we pause and reflect, that we could benefit from humility, that God waits for us to ‘come home.’
I pray that the ancient words of Joel will come alive in our minds and hearts and that the disasters that are on the land will be a trumpet call to repentance. “Be glad, O people of Zion, rejoice in the Lord your God, for he has given you the autumn rains in righteousness. He sends you abundant showers, both autumn and spring rains, as before.” (Joel 2:23, NIV)
“And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days.” (Joel 2:28-29, NIV) “Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision! For the day of the Lord is near in the valley of decision.” (Joel 3:14, NIV)