Archive for May, 2008

29
May
08

A Christian Response to This Year’s Deadly Tornadoes

 

Does anyone have a clue what is common to these towns in this country?

Marshfield, Strafford, Seneca, MO

Birdtown, Appleton, Conway, AR

Poseyville, IN

Memphis, Hardin, Fayette, TN

Independence, LA

Leeds, Pisgah, AL

Lake City, FL

Atlanta, GA

Greensboro, NC

Pitcher, OK

Pratt, KS

New Hartford, Parkersburg IA

Hugo, MN

These are just a few of the locations in this country which have been hit by a tornado and suffered at least one fatality in 2008.  There are some huge cities such as Atlanta and Memphis on this list; and there are little hamlets known only to the locals.  There are rural locations which are not within any city and there are sleepy little towns of a thousand people.  “Tornadoes are equal opportunity destroyers” the Red Cross sign on I-70 says accurately.

In each location where a tornado has claimed the life of someone this year; no one expected that storm to claim them as a casualty.  In many of these places they looked at the sky, saw the bulletins on television and heard the sirens wail; yet they never believed this storm would be any different than the countless others which set off all the warnings and never even touched down.

Many of those who lost their lives in tornadoes live in mobile homes.  Many were caught in their vehicles.  Some were doing as they were instructed to do and were in their basements.  No matter where they were, the common denominator is they were not able to live through a tornado’s violent destruction. 

God speaks often in the Old Testament of “whirlwinds” which are tornadoes.  The context is always regarding sudden destruction.  Indeed, there is nothing in nature which strikes as suddenly and with more destructive power (other than an earthquake) than a tornado.  Those who have watched the video of the Oklahoma tornado from this past weekend saw how it goes down and then up and varies in width and strength.  It is nigh unto impossible to predict where and when a tornado will form and actually reach land.

Last Friday evening, a tornado took aim on Greensburg, Kansas.  It touched down on the west side of town moving east.  Unlike a year ago, this tornado went back up into the clouds and waited until it reached the east side of town to drop down again.  Stating the obvious, there must have been a whole lot of praying going on! 

Last Sunday, a vicious F-5 tornado dropped down on Parkersburg, IA and plowed through one entire side of the town.  Pictures show nothing left of what used to be houses, schools and businesses other than the foundations.  For a small town like this to lose over 200 homes is catastrophic; for there not to have been more fatalities is nothing short of a miracle.

Whether dealing with the horrible tornado outbreak back on February 5th or an isolated tornado such as in Independence, LA; the one overwhelming common thread is that no one expected to die in a tornado that day.  People lived life as they always did and never expected that day to be their last on this earth.  I am quite sure that the vast majority of those who perished in tornadoes this year were thinking of all the things to do the next day even as the roar of the storm deafened their ears.

I do not present this to be morbid.  I only share these things with you to serve as a wake-up call that we are not in charge of when or where our life on this earth ceases.  Our times are in God’s hands and when our time comes to depart this life; whether suddenly or after a long bout with an illness—our trust has to be that our times are in His hands.

We can live making plans and provisions for twenty years from now but we don’t know if the plans we made for twenty minutes from now will actually happen.  As believers we must understand that this life is but a stepping stone to our eternal habitation with the Lord.  Nothing in this life, including its end, can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. 

As a believer, we should approach each day as if it is the last one we have before either the return of the Lord or the end of our physical life.  Each day, each hour, each minute should be viewed as a gift from God to be enjoyed and used to His glory.  Until and unless we put this life in the correct perspective, we will find ourselves fearing death.  When this happens, more of life’s energy is consumed avoiding death than in living life.

Our responsibility is to stay faithful in this life no matter what it holds.  If we end up poor and sick; so be it and praise God.  If we end up wealthy and healthy; so be it and praise the Lord.  Our life is not measured by financial success or how good of shape our body is in.  Our life should be measured by how deep our fellowship with God is and how faithful we stay to His Word regardless of the circumstances that arise in this life.

The way to overcome fear of tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, terrorist attacks or airplane crashes is to manifest full confidence in God’s ability to take care of us and to realize that this life is but a stepping stone to our eternal life with the Lord.  Until the point is reached in our heart where we can boldly proclaim our total belief that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ; we will have to deal with fear and especially the fear of death.  Let us rejoice and thank God for the victory He has given us in Jesus Christ over him who has the power of death, which is the devil.

 

 

16
May
08

The Skewed American Perspective of Disasters

In the United States last weekend, there were around 25 people who lost their lives in the horrible tornadoes that hit Oklahoma, Missouri and North Carolina.  To us in this country that seems like a high number and arouses great sorrow and empathy for those affected, which it should, for they were our fellow citizens and countrymen and women.

In Burma, no one will ever know how many people lost their lives in the cyclone catastrophe and ensuing mess brought on by the government’s failure to allow relief supplies and workers into the country.   Despite the howls of despair from all around the world, those in charge of that country made decisions to protect their own power even if it meant the suffering and death of its countrymen and women.

A few years ago, the incredible earthquake in China would have been handled in the same manner Burma has handled the cyclone.  The world would have known few details of the scope of the disaster and national pride would have not allowed any outsiders to come into the country to help.  Now that China is a world power, there is no longer the need for secrecy and strict government control over everything.  Thus, the world is able to see, to a limited degree, just how devastating the earthquake and continued aftershocks are.

When all is said and done, there will probably be between 50,000 to 100,000 thousand people perish in both the Burma cyclone and the China earthquake.  Estimates of 2 ½ million homeless people in Burma are probably accurate.  No one knows how many people lost their homes in China.  What is known is that perhaps never in history have there been back to back disasters of such magnitude happen within a week of each other and so near each other geographically. 

To put these disasters in perspective all one needs to do is think in terms of our United States of America.  The number of people left homeless in Burma roughly equals the population of Chicago, Illinois.  Can you imagine the response if suddenly lake Michigan sprung a leak and flooded the entire city of Chicago?  Can you imagine the incredible problems resulting from having 2 ½ million people suddenly without a place to live or a job to work at?

Everyone who follows NFL football has heard of the Green Bay Packers.  The population of Green Bay, Wisconsin is right at 100,000.  Can you imagine the impact it would have if suddenly the entire population of Green Bay were killed by a meteor falling from the sky?  The shock of losing that many people all at once would throw the country into a state of depression and utter helplessness.

In the United States, if 25 people die from a flaw in a product, the company is forced to do a re-call to fix the problem even if it forces them out of business.  In many countries of the world, 25 people could die and literally no one would know or care except the immediate family.  In the United States one of the biggest problems is finding space for landfills to bury the tons and tons of waste thrown away each day by millions of families.  In most countries of the world there are no landfills for there is no waste.

In the United States, if Lake Michigan flooded Chicago, there would actually be headlines in sports sections of newspapers lamenting the season ending for the Cubs or White Sox.  If Green Bay vanished the headlines would lament there no longer being any Packers to play on Sundays any more.  We have a warped view of life in this country brought about by our lack of any huge disasters ever plaguing our country along with the abundance of wealth and leisure time.

Whatever good has come from this, it has bred ignorance and a skewed perspective towards those places which do have to deal with overwhelming disasters.  There is simply no way Americans can relate to images such as have come out of China.  Our earthquakes have never brought about such devastation and loss of life.  Americans cannot relate to Burma because they remember Katrina and how in spite of terrible mistakes made along the way, still only a few thousand people lost their lives from the storm.  It is simply inconceivable for Americans to fathom the scope of destruction such as in Burma.

God blessed, protected and spared America from having to deal with the kind of catastrophes we have seen the past two weeks in Asia.  God has protected and spared America from ever having enemy soldiers tred on her soil.  America never has had to endure a war such as World War I or II in Europe.  God has protected and spared America from the combination of natural and political disasters such as have plagued Africa for centuries.  Americans have no clue what it means to live in a land with 125,000% inflation or a government devoted to the destruction of half the population.

America has had its fair share of problems and has suffered the consequences of them.  The Civil War still produced more causalities than any other war fought in or by this country.  America is still reeling from its sins of slavery and discrimination.  America is far from perfect and millions of its citizens are suffering in hellholes called inner city slums.  Yet, America has remained largely immune from the levels of pain, suffering and death that grip many other countries in this world.  Why, because God blessed America for the giving heart she used have.

Americans still race to disasters, whether down the block or around the world, but for everyone who still runs to help, there are 100 who sit at home and either “think about helping” or complain that others do.  Americans still open their wallets and give many dollars to help those who have lost everything, but those dollars don’t buy much anymore and most Americans give out of compulsion not out of true compassion.

God blessed America as no nation ever was blessed in the history of man.  But, I fear America has become lost and disoriented like a drunken sailor.  Her excesses have caused her to be bloated and unable to respond to situations quickly as she used to.  Her compromises on one Godly principle after another have caused God to take His mighty hand of blessing off her and leave her to her own devices.  Evil and self-serving people have swooped in to fill the void left by the removal of God’s hand.  Those very people now run America and are driving her straight to hell itself.

We cannot save America but we can help save the neighbor next door.  We cannot undo what has happened in this country but we can undo error in our own lives and help others do the same.  We cannot stop whatever has happened and is going to happen environmentally or politically in this country or world, but we can stop the apathy or fear that causes inaction or retreat.  We cannot change the world but we can, with God’s help, change ourselves to be fully equipped to handle whatever the future holds.  If there ever was a time in history God needs His people to arise and stand it is now.

 

08
May
08

The Coming Economic Jolt; Rice & Oil are Only the Beginning

I do not write this to be a “fear-monger” or to claim the world is ending tonight; but there are some things going on that if people do not wake up and make plans for, are going to cause great weeping and gnashing of teeth.  There is little anyone can do about situations happening in distant parts of this world, but it does behoove us to know what is taking place so as to plan accordingly.

FOOD SHORTAGES, ESPECIALLY RICE

There was a real problem with rice supply before the devastating cyclone tore through Myanmar.  Now, the 7th biggest producer of rice has lost their entire crop.  This not only spells disaster for the citizens of that country, but it places even greater strain on world supplies.  Rice is the overwhelming basic food for almost half of the world’s population.  With supplies running out and prices increasing, the frustration level is boiling over in various poorer countries.

On the same day that a huge tropical cyclone basically wiped Myanmar off the map, a volcano that had not erupted in 9,000 years suddenly erupts in Chile.  Huge agricultural areas are at risk of being permanently ruined by volcanic ash.  Much of the fruit and vegetables eaten by those in the United States during the winter months are grown in regions of Chile that may or may not survive the eruption.

Perhaps most troubling of all was an announcement today that fully one third of the honeybee colonies in the United States have collapsed since last year.  At first glance this story means absolutely nothing to most people.  What difference does it make to the average American if the honeybees colonies collapse.  It should make a huge difference if people took the time to get educated. 

Honeybees are the great pollinator of most fruits and vegetables grown in this country.  Without honeybees the blooms are never pollinated and there is no fruit.  The honeybee is perhaps the most important component in keeping the insatiable hunger for fresh fruits and vegetables satisfied in this country.  If the honeybee colonies continue to collapse, it will spell the end of the very foods doing the most to keep us healthy.

SPIKE IN OIL PRICES AND PETROLEUM BASED PRODUCTS

In one day, some governmental agency states that gasoline prices might hit $3.75 per gallon this summer; oil sets yet another record trading for the outrageous price of $123 per barrel.  I go to town and see the price of gasoline went up to $3.69 per gallon.  Who is kidding whom?  With the price of oil setting records almost every day, the inevitable raising of gasoline prices comes a week or two later.  When some economist says oil may hit $200 per barrel and it immediately causes a jump of $3 in the price of oil; it is time to seriously take stock of the situation.

As the inevitable $4 per gallon gasoline gets closer and closer to reality; those driving huge SUVs that get woefully low gas mileage are trying to sell their albatrosses and not finding much of a market.  It has taken awhile, but the shock of spending close to a hundred dollars to fill up one’s Hummer is making even those who are wealthy think twice about driving all over the place in time they wish.

Among the products using petroleum are many of the fertilizers farmers use on their huge corn, wheat and soybean fields.  Suddenly, these farmers are being hit with the double whammy of sky high diesel fuel to run their equipment along with the bigger problem of fertilizer costs that have jumped so far so fast the farmers were not prepared.  Without the fertilizers they will never get the yield they would get otherwise.  It is a truly a catch 22 situation for hundreds of thousands of farmers.

There is no way fuel costs can be as high as they have been for as long as they have without pressures sooner or later being forced on producers to raise prices to make up the difference.  With shipping costs quickly going up and more and more businesses putting surcharges on their services to cover for fuel; inflation is going to go up whether the government’s figures say so or not. 

FUTURE PRESSURE POINTS

The cyclone that has destroyed Myanmar followed the scenario many meteorologists in this county are extremely nervous about when it comes to the upcoming hurricane season.  The cyclone that hit Myanmar as a strong category 4 was only a minimal cyclone two days before reaching land.  The storm “ramped up” at the last minute and because it did, the storm surge was worse than to be expected and and the resulting flooding proved as fatal as a tsunami.

Last summer, the United States coastlines from Texas to Maine were spared any direct hits from some of the largest hurricanes ever to form in the Atlantic basin.  Many of these category 4 and 5 storms slammed into Mexico as they stayed just south of not only the United States mainland but also the oil platforms in the Gulf of Mexico. 

Remember that part of the reason Katrina caused such a dramatic spike in gasoline prices was that it shut down numerous oil refineries in Mississippi and Louisiana.  Remember also that Katrina was actually only a category 3 hurricane when it came ashore in Mississippi.  If a category 4 or higher storm followed Katrina’s path this year and shut down the oil rigs in the Gulf and the refineries on the coast; realistically we would be facing $7 per gallon gasoline or higher for weeks.

We get much of our oil from Mexico.  They are having major problems down there at the moment.  If a huge hurricane disrupted their oil production or transport systems there would be a dramatic spike in prices in this country.  Last year a “freak” cyclone struck the Persian Gulf for the first time in centuries.  If the same thing happened again and actually took out some oil facilities; the price or oil would jump in an instant.

We live in an age when data is transmitted instantaneously around the world.  When something happens in one part of the world, everyone knows about it immediately.   When a terrorist blows up a pipeline in Nigeria, the price of oil jumps that instant.  God Forbid a major conflict would break out among any of the nations producing major quantities of oil.  If one did, the price would shoot up to that $200 level so fast no one would have time to prepare.

CONCLUSION

We live in perilous times.  All that we hold so near and dear to us could change in a day or even an hour.  If there ever were a time to prepare for the worst while praying for and believing for the best, it is now.  If there ever were a time to plant a garden, this year is the year, before it is too late.  If there ever were a year to store a few 5 gallon containers of gasoline in a safe place in the garage it is this year.  If there ever were a time to cut back on frivolous expenses it is now.

Whether wet fields which have prevented farmers from planting much of the spring corn and rice crops in this country or the looming hurricane season which officially starts in a little over three weeks; there are ample reasons to feel a bit of apprehension about the upcoming summer.  God will provide and protect, but He needs His people to be smart and to be extremely circumspect.  If they are, then no matter what happens, there can be “corn in Egypt” just as there was in Joseph’s time and food in the pantry’s of God’s people.

 

06
May
08

Why We Need To Care About Myanmar

Just as in the case of the tsunami in Indonesia, the horrible facts regarding the destruction from the cyclone in Myanmar (Burma) will take time to come to light.  This much is known for sure; the initial estimates of 400 casualties were just the tip of the iceberg.  If and when the true magnitude and scope of this disaster ever is known, the death toll could reach well into the tens of thousands and the number of homeless could be in the millions.

It would be very easy for those of us in the “civilized world” to brush aside this tragedy as something reserved for a backwards country, run by a repressive regime and that they more or less “had it coming” to them.  After all, if a similar hurricane hit the United States, the damage would be great but the loss of life would be small.  “These people should have taken care of themselves” is the temptation to justify a lack of compassion.

It is the government’s responsibility to warn the population of an impending weather related disaster.  The problem in a country such as Myanmar is the extreme poverty in which the population lives and thus the lack of modern conveniences such as radios and televisions.  How do you warn millions of people of an approaching storm with no means to broadcast instructions to them?  How do you move millions of people to safety who don’t own vehicles to get to safety in?

Stories surfaced immediately after this storm struck of people spending their last resources just to buy a candle at a highly inflated price to have any light.  It is truly beyond the ability of our “civilized” minds to grasp the idea of spending the last money you own to buy a candle.  Of course, it is beyond our ability to conceive that people live in “houses” made of cardboard and survive on a daily diet of perhaps 1000 calories (on a good day).

The United States of America has less than one twentieth of the world’s population but controls the vast majority of the world’s wealth.  The standard of living enjoyed by those in the United States and other “civilized” countries is impossible to compare to how the majority of this world lives.  Whereas many people in this world barely make enough to stay alive another day, those privileged few who were blessed to be born into and live in the “civilized world” make more in a day than many make in a year.

We can read accounts in the Bible of severe famines caused by droughts and wars.  We can read of times when mothers were forced to eat their own children due to lack of any other food.  History is full of accounts of pioneers and explorers who died of starvation as they found themselves in hostile environments with no source of food.  A fairly current movie chronicled such an account of a troubled young man in Alaska who faced running out of food.

As most of us lug around twenty to one hundred pounds of excess fat, there are literally billions of other humans living on this earth who don’t have one ounce of fat on their bodies.  Starvation is one of the cruelest forms of slow death possible.  Unless one has seen the people who have turned into literal skin and bones; no one has the right to say when they are hungry “I’m starving to death”.  Most of us do not have a clue what it means to really be “starving”.

Unless and until those who have lived the pampered and sheltered lives common to the “civilized world” go to places of extreme poverty and suffering and see for themselves how people are forced to live who have no way to make a living; there is no way a truly compassionate response to a disaster such as the one in Myanmar will ever be mounted.  Sure, there will be the typical few hundred millions of humanitarian relief offered, but it will be offered with no genuine sincerity.

I lay out a challenge to any and all who might read this that grew up in middle class America and have never actually seen up close the throes of abject poverty.  Next time you have some of your weeks of stored up vacation time come up; instead of using it to go sailing, on a nice cruise, visiting some exotic country full of palm trees and over priced drinks or playing golf everyday; why not volunteer to go to one of the multitude of places just in this country struggling to recover from floods, tornadoes and even the lingering effects of Katrina.

Nothing changes your life, your perspective and your ability to manifest true compassion quicker than having to live with and find ways to help people who had nothing, or have lost everything.  When one is forced to look into the eyes of a person who has nothing in this life of any value, then you can finally see the reason Jesus came to this earth to begin with.  See, He didn’t come to heal the whole, feed the full or befriend the popular. 

Jesus Christ came to heal the brokenhearted, to set the captives free and to bind up the wounds of the broken.  Those who glory in their own self-sufficiency do not need a Savior.  But those who have nothing and mean nothing to this world desperately need the love and compassion only our Savior can bring.  When one reads the account at the end of Matthew 25 there is no question as to what the proper response SHOULD be by a Christian when confronted by human suffering.  Please Respond with Love.