Did you feel the earth shake? How about a 5.8 or 5.9 earthquake rattling us from Maine to Georgia on Tuesday, August 23rd along the East Coast? By any measure, this is a very rare occurrence for us East Coasters. This week we are watching a major Cat 3 or Cat 4 hurricane called Irene bear down on the outer banks of the Carolinas, the stock market is acting like the Cliffhanger at Six Flags, (that’s one of those crazy, violent, up and down amusement park rides), and the rebels appear to have pushed Qaddafi’s forces out of Tripoli, perhaps ending his three plus decade long grip on that country. In other words to call the week unsettled would be a bit of an understatement.
Following the earthquake, looking at Twitter and also at some blog and comment posts attached to various stories about it, I did observe a common thread. Many, many people have remarked, tongue in check in most cases, it appeared, that it was time to go to church on Sunday. This response to unsettling events by our secular culture has always been curious to me. Why is reconnecting with God a thought that passes through our mind in times of calamity, even if it is just a half-hearted thought or a Tweet thrown out there for giggles?
Of course we are coming up on the 10th anniversary of 9/11 soon. We saw it play out in reality, not tongue in cheek, ten years ago didn’t we? (By the way, I think you would enjoy a great little video from our friends the Skit Guys at http://skitguys.com “just go there and click on the ten years ago video”). I personally attribute our thoughts and longing for God to a deep (at the level of our DNA type of deep), need in humanity to run to our creator in times of fright and uncertainty. A parent easily understands this dynamic… Any child, even the ones filled with wanderlust will urgently return to mom and dad’s side in crisis. Our need to turn to God betrays our deepest core value… we are God’s workmanship, so when we are cracked, crushed, or just shaken, we return to our maker for safety and repair.
Having said all of that, I think such seasons of fear (earthquakes, hurricanes, terrorism, etc), create an amazing opportunity for authentic christianity, but too often we have dropped the ball. At the very moment when frightened earthlings have looked to the skies for a Heavenly Father, we his ambassadors have had other agendas.
Instead of showing up on the scene full of grace and truth we have arrived like a dark cloud. After 9-11 many Christians “leaders” were quick to point out that God probably did this to punish the nation for _________ (fill in the blank with whatever the sin de jour most offended the person who was speaking). Don’t get me wrong, America gives God plenty of reasons to judge, and if He chooses to use nut job terrorists as his instrument so be it. But Biblically, prophetic words were usually received and delivered dynamically and with a broken heart (see Jeremiah), and they were usually directed at God’s people… not the non-believer. Would it be so terrible to just give a terrified Father- seeker a hug and John 3:16? When they come to know God, they will be more likely to hear and recognize His voice of warning.
Our second big mistake in times of turmoil is that many believers are as distraught as the non-believers. This must be confusing to the world. We claim to hold loosely onto this world and what it offers, then we act just like those who have no hope (1 Thess 4:13… you can tell this tendency of believers really troubled Paul). If the believers are walking around like the sky is falling what does that say about faith… and about the God we say will never leave us or forsake us?
Many years ago William Barclay said, “…a gloomy Christian is a contradiction in terms, and nothing in all religious history has done Christianity more harm than it’s connection with black clothes and long faces.”
Suppose all the turmoil in the world and in nature is actually a “sign” we should be aware of. That would seem to fit with Jesus’ words in Matthew 24, “You will hear of wars and rumors of wars… Nation will rise against nation… there will be famines and earthquakes in various places… all these are the beginning of birth pains.”
So if that describes our era… here is what we know for sure… by using the birth pains analogy Jesus was warning that these tumultuous events would only increase in intensity. So if that is the case, and this era will be marked by turmoil… how will we choose to carry the banner of Christ? I suggest you get those arms ready, because a lot of your neighbors are going to need a hug… and the love and truth found in Jesus!
And the truth will set you free!