The Shepherd of Hope blog is here to serve you, to help you know Jesus better and to find hope in Him. This blog relies on the Spirit of God using the word of God to build people of God. All material has been prayerfully submitted for your encouragement and spiritual edification. Your questions and comments are welcome.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Can God Use an Earthquake?

On January 12th, 2010 at 4:53 pm in the evening a magnitude 7 earthquake hit the country of Haiti with its epicenter near the coastal city of Port au Prince. One year later the estimates of the impact of this earthquake on Haiti, a nation of about 10 million, are that about 30% of the population was affected. The loss of life is estimated at 222,570 lives with 300,572 survivors injured. There were 4,000 emergency amputations performed, “2,500 units of blood sent out in the last 45 days of the response” and 3.3 million Haitians without suitable access to food.”1.5 million people were left homeless initial shock and 810,000 are without permanent housing one year late. The United Nations estimate there is 11 million cubic meters of rubble left by the earthquake and only 15% of the rubble has been “managed.”

I was somewhat aware of the devastation and hardship of Haiti and took note of the reconstruction progress or lack thereof in the year after reports. But there is so much going on in the world today that it’s easy to allow particular tragedies to dissipate into a numbed sensitivity to the reality of the actual pain and suffering of each situation. It wasn’t until I was contacted by Pastor Dan Finfrock of Intensive Care Ministries and invited to join him on a trip there that I considered a mission to Haiti. He told me of a fledgling Christian school of ministry and that we would be ministering to Haitian pastors and other Christian workers. I prayed, checked my calendar, and decided it was the will of God to go.

ICM is an international ministry that teaches inductive Bible study to people and especially pastors. Our mission involved Pastor Dan teaching an IBS seminar and me preaching to exemplify what inductively prepared sermons look like. My son Stephen accompanied us to do some worship. Doctor Bill Cullins, a chiropractor, would hold clinics to treat hurting people and Jake Novak would also accompany us for general support.

To say that Haiti, and in particular Port au Prince, remains devastated by the earthquake is an understatement of seismic proportions. No report could have prepared us for the chaos and brokenness, the neediness of what we experienced in this island community. And truly words, even pictures, don’t fully explain the state of this area of the world. But let me share a bit as best I can. Lord please help me.

As we landed in Port au Prince from the four hour flight we went from the cool temperatures of the final stages of a heavy snowed winter in the Northeast to what felt like midsummer 80s heat in Haiti. The heat hit us in the face like jolt as we exited the plane. We were immediately transported by cart to baggage claims which consisted of a dark and dirty garage like building where a decrepit baggage belt noisily took baggage for a short ride and then was heaped in a large pile; all this with no crowd control and plenty of chaos. Fortunately, the administrator of the place where we would be staying and our driver was able to meet us at the baggage area. What you learn fast in Haiti is that five dollars here, ten dollars there, and even at times a twenty dollar bill, will get you where you want to go. Most everyone is looking for “help,” discreet help, but “help” nonetheless. It’s part of this hopefully temporary system of existence.

As we got our bags and left the area we had to walk through what was a gauntlet of people looking to “help” us with our bags. We were advised beforehand to beware of this as it would entail a tip and if it wasn’t forthcoming the “helper” would keep on walking with your bag until they got that tip. We travel light and really didn’t need help so we pressed through with the help of our driver and ministry friend. As we walked though my son happened to be wearing a New York baseball cap and that became a focus of attention as young men grabbed at it through an adjacent fence and begged him to give it to them. He wisely took it off and put it out of sight.
We safely got to our friend’s four wheel drive vehicle, hastily loaded our luggage and made our way out of the airport parking lot. We went less than a mile and made a right hand turn onto an unpaved street. What we then saw was a common scene we experienced throughout our trip. We encountered the most bumpy body rattling roads I had ever been on. They were barely passable in some places. My son later confessed that it was at this point where he felt “Okay, I’m ready to go home.” He kept that to himself but pressed on. We proceeded through the back streets of the city being jarred and shaken like bugs in a box. As we drove through consistently tight spots and steep inclines and declines all the while pedestrians were inches away from the vehicle. All of this, based on my observations of the looks on people’s faces, seemed ordinary and normal for them. For me and my son, we just hung on for dear life and gave an occasional concerned disbelieving glance at each other along the way.

We passed rubble piles and garbage everywhere. The structures in Haiti are made mostly of cinder blocks and bricks that are made there. The buildings look cold and makeshift. They usually have either tin metal or tent like coverings. Everything seemed broken down and patched up in some way. Stray dogs and goats roamed the streets. We saw pigs snorting through trash for food. People were sitting and selling tattered and worn looking goods periodically along the way. There were, believe it or not, small Lotto stands here and there.

On that first trip to our living quarters we stopped in a super market which was the only one we saw while there that was organized with new items on the shelves. It was guarded by police with shotguns. On that first night we went to a fast food place where we fast found that we couldn’t eat the food.

If I was to describe this trip and this land in a few words it would be with words like disarray, disorder, devastation, depression and despair. Since “God is not the author of confusion . . . .” (1 Cor. 14:33) it would be safe to assess much of what we saw and experienced as a work of the enemy. Sometimes the enemy attacks from without, as through the circumstances of earthquake like the one in Haiti. But sometimes he works from within as well. This became apparent as much of what we had been told about our living quarters and mission was simply not the reality. The enemy consistently attacked through disorganization throughout our trip and this can be expected in such an environment.

We had been told we would be housed in a pretty “new” home. All we needed to do was bring our own towels to bath with. When we got there the building where we stayed was “new” and structurally sound compared to the other buildings in the area, but sanitation was nearly nonexistent. Toilets barely if ever worked during our stay. Showers were only an occasional trickle of cold water. Food and water were at first scarce and always an issue. Mosquitoes, though we expected this, were a constant. Put it all together over days of toilets filled with waste, the smell of that, putting on mosquito repellent, sweating and not being able to wash and it ratchets up the tension meter.

In addition to this the plans we had been given were found to be more pipe dreams than true. We have been told there would be about forty students and fifty pastors to teach. In reality there were seven students, about five pastors and a local congregation to minister to. There is nothing wrong with ministering to small numbers of people. But I mention this to convey the miscommunication and disarray of ministry we encountered. There was also never any opportunity to see a prettier side of Haiti that I expect must exist.

To top all of this off during each night as we turned in early for bed we were serenaded by a chorus of the howls and growls of packs of street dogs fighting with each other or chasing a prey. It was hard to tell which they were doing but you’d usually here a blood curdling cry from some victim of their pursuits.

On a couple of nights we received a reprieve from the hot stickiness. We thanked the Lord for that. But every night around three in the morning a local pastor on a loudspeaker would begin shouting in French Creole first with a prayer and then with over an hour of what he must have believed was a message from God. The verse that came to mind for me was, “He who blesses his friend with a loud voice, rising early in the morning, it will be counted a curse to him” (Prov. 27:14). Even if I could have understood what he was saying I doubt if I would have been edified.

To this point I’ve shared a mostly negative picture. There were positives, great positives on this trip. Our team of five quickly were united in our common mission cause and there was absolutely no dissension between us during the trip. We solidified and formed what I believe will be lifelong friendships. The seven students who were at the school were wonderful young men of God who love the Lord. They would worship and sing new songs my son shared with them for hours on end. They were true worshippers of the Lord. We became fast friends whose hearts are eternally knit together in brotherly love. They were always cheerful and eager to serve. Their desire to serve the Lord was only surpassed by their desire to learn more about God and His word. These were brothers hungering and thirsting for the righteous ways of God and it was a rich blessing to be used by God to quench that thirst in some small way. The local church congregation where the Inductive training was held was attended by people hungry to learn how to study the word of God. It was a blessing to serve there. It was fun when the occasional rooster would pass by the tent or some other unexpected situation would develop. Haiti is not merely dirt and brick and refuse, it is people and those people are a rich blessing and worth ministering too. A mission trip is for the people. Both those on a mission and those being ministered to on that mission made this trip a rich blessing.

For relief from the heat and conditions at the end of the day we would retreat to the roof of our house and take in the cool breezes while fellowshipping and telling stories of what God had done in our lives and on this trip. As we sat on that roof and listened to the sounds of Port au Prince it was as though a massive outdoor picnic or concert gathering was going on. We could hear people talking and laughing, babies crying, life was going on. We could also smell the nightly aroma of trash burning as well as food being cooked. It was on the roof that we gathered many of the sights, sounds and smells that will stay with us a lifetime.

Some, (including the people of Haiti themselves), ponder whether or not God brought this earthquake on Haiti as judgment for sin. But Haiti is not alone in her sin. There are many nations just as sinful and just as deserving if this is a judgment for sin. The most that can be said is that God permitted this earthquake.

When we look at the devastation and pain caused by such a natural disaster we should not discount the involvement of Satan and spiritual evil entities. There is evidence that Satan can use natural disaster with evil intent (Job 1:19). But he could only do this after getting permission from the LORD (Job 1:8-12). Satan is not an equal to God but a part of God’s creation and under the authority of God. If the earthquake in Haiti has evil origins, God is able to take what was meant for evil and use it for His good purposes (e.g. Gen. 50:20).

Jesus warned that in the days before His return the earth would suffer natural birth pangs which would include earthquakes (Mark 13:8). Such earthquakes, as terrible as they are, can be seen as indicators of the times in which we live. Earthquakes are arguably on the rise in our world. Some point to statistics showing no real increase in the frequency of earthquakes. But there can be no doubt that our awareness, even fear of earthquakes and their sudden devastating effects are more prominently in our minds given reporting in the media.

We question why God would even allow such an earthquake. There are questions like that which we may not ever have the answer for in this life. When we come to a question or life situation that causes us confusion, even doubt about God’s sovereign decisions, we need to fall back on what we do know about God. We do know God is just (Gen. 18:25) and loving (John 3:16; Rom. 5:8) and we do know God has our best interests at heart (Rom. 8:31-32). We have to understand that God is Omniscient or all-knowing too (Ps. 147:5; Mat. 10:28-30). He is not limited by time. He sees the end from the beginning and makes His plans accordingly (Isaiah 46:8-11).

While we may not understand the decisions of the Lord it would be unwise to go against them. God ordered King Saul in the Old Testament to annihilate the Amalekites. God had waited four hundred years for the Amalekites to repent of their sins against Israel with no response from this sinful people. And God had good reason for His ordered annihilation. But King Saul thought he knew better and permitted what he thought was good to live. Instead of executing King Agag, he brought him home to Samuel. Samuel finally did execute King Agag, but the implication is that King Saul did not completely obey the Lord and allowed some of the Amalekites to live. For this partial obedience and downright self-reliant and proud disobedience to God King Saul lost his kingdom (1 Samuel 15). We might agree with King Saul and see him as merciful. But to side with any human and their puny perspective of life against God who is all-knowing is a massively foolish thing to do. God looks at situations and knows all the myriad networking of circumstances each decision will entail. We look at one action and one estimated consequential outcome based on a very limited perspective. And we are mostly wrong. Years later we are given the historical account of the captivity of God’s people under Persian rule. In this account a devilish schemer named Haman puts in place a plan to annihilate all Jews. If this were accomplished it would stifle the redemptive plan of God to bring a Savior to the world through Israel. God providentially protects His people from Haman’s genocidal intentions. You can read about it in the book of Esther. When we look in the book of Esther and the historical account of this threat to God’s people we learn that Haman was an Agagite! He was a descendant of the Amalekites! King Saul’s self-reliant disobedience almost cost his people their existence. We may not understand the will of God or what He allows in life, but it is always wise and the best decision to trust in His sovereign determinations. That is true with the Haitian earthquake as well.

But can God use an earthquake? Is there any Biblical precedent for Him doing so? The answer is Yes! God can indeed use an earthquake. He can even birth a church with an earthquake. My plan was to teach through Philippians. In preparation for my introductory message I turned to Acts 16 and began to prayerfully review. It wasn’t until I got to 26 that God opened my eyes. There it states:

“Suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were loosed.”

God impressed on me, that is My word for the Haitians! I prayerfully meditated on that verse and its context and the more I prayerfully read it the more the Lord impressed on me that it was a perfect fit for the Haitians. I got up and found Pastor Dan and simply read verse 26 to him. I really didn’t have to say a word of explanation. He too saw the connection. I believe the Lord can birth or bring revival to the church in Haiti out of the rubble of this devastating earthquake. He can do it and it can happen if we follow God’s plan and word in Acts 16.

In Acts 16 we find that God used an earthquake in the birthing of the beloved church at Philippi. It’s an incredible story with some incredible and profound truths to be applied to life.

First, be led by the Spirit (16:6-10). The first thing we see is that we have to follow the leading of the Spirit (16:6-10). Paul and his missionary team were forbidden twice about going into certain areas to minister. God had a plan and He was directing them in it. It was through a night vision that Paul saw a man of Macedonia beckoning him to come and help. Sons of God are led by the Spirit of God (Rom. 8:14). And before we embark on a mission we need to be sure it is based on the leading of the Lord. God will never contradict His word in a vision or dream. Where God guides God provides. He will provide resources and open doors to lead us in His plan. But that is not enough. Where God guides God gifts. We need to follow and serve the Lord based on how He gifts us. Every Christian has a spiritual gift. Not everyone has the same spiritual gift. We need to serve God where He gifts us to serve. On our mission trip a person serving in an administrative position without the gift of administration caused frustration through disorder. Fortunately God is able to work in spite of us but that should not be used as an excuse or rationale for people to insert themselves in places God never intended them to be. God uses willing hearted people but that willing heartedness begins first with seeking the Lord and fanning to a flame the gift God gives (1Tim. 4:14; 2 Tim. 1:6). If we don’t do that we’ll crash and burn.

Second, be obedient (16:11). The next we see is Paul setting sail to fulfill God’s call to Macedonia. Obedience is vital for those wanting to be used by God. God will not use the disobedient. He wants servants who listen to their master. Jesus said our love for Him is confirmed by our obedience to Him (John 14:21). We need to be like Paul not King Saul (compare 1 Sam. 15).

Third, be patient (16:12). Verse twelve tells us that they came to Philippi the foremost city in Macedonia and when they got there “were staying in the city for some days.” They waited for the leading of the Lord. They didn’t act on impulse or jump into action prematurely. They were there for some days before they began to take action. If we launch out into ministry or mission before we or God’s plans are in place it can lead to great hindrances. We need to let patience have its perfect work in us and in the plans God is putting together (e.g. James 1:2-4). If we do that God’s promise is that we will lack nothing or He will supply what we need.

Fourth, be aware of local customs (16:13). While there and waiting the Spirit directed Paul to a local custom the people to go to the riverside and pray. Paul seized upon this and began to teach some women he found there. If we follow God’s lead He will open doors of opportunity to share the gospel.

Fifth, be alert to God’s openings (16:14). Paul came to a woman named Lydia and shared the gospel with her. Notice how God was working here. Lydia “heard us.” The Lord must have been speaking to Lydia prompting her to listen to what Paul was teaching. She was a worshiper of God but needed to hear the gospel truth. Then most importantly it states, “The Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul.” Any soul saved or disciple made or ministry done on a mission trip or in any kind of ministry is a matter of God working. We are simply His instruments. If we make ourselves available to be used by Him when, where and how He chooses we will see His hand at work. Where God guides God grows. When we go where and how God guides there will be fruit from our labors.

Sixth, be receptive (16:15). When Lydia was saved she then invited Paul and his team to come to her house. It is believed Lydia was instrumental to the start of the church in Philippi. Paul could have been overly polite or hesitant to accept the invitation of Lydia. If he had, who knows how the church at Philippi would have been impacted. But if God provides us with a resource we should accept it.

Seventh, be holy and don’t compromise with evil (16:16-18). Jesus stopped a demon from proclaiming His identity (Mark 5:7-8). We cannot allow what is unholy to be involved in the proclamation of a holy message. When the mission team went to pray a demon possessed slave girl with a “spirit of divination” interrupted them. Martin Luther once said, “Satan trembles when he sees the weakest saint upon their knees” in prayer. Satan will do anything to interrupt or distract us from praying. Anyone who has sought to spend time in prayer readily realizes this to be true. Here the enemy sought to distract Paul and the mission team by proclaiming their arrival. What the demon possessed girl said was true, but it was unacceptable because it is inappropriate for that which is unholy to proclaim a holy message. I don’t mean that those who are used in ministry need be sinless. John speaks of a sin not unto death referring to the daily battling with sin and sometimes falls into sin we experience a Christians in this life (see 1 John 5:16-17).

What I am talking about is nonbelievers, those in rebellion against God in an area of their lives, or in this case a demonically driven person should not be allowed to participate in the holy mission of God. For instance in Haiti Voodoo is a large part of the culture. Some Christians continue to incorporate Voodoo traditions along with their Christian faith. This is unacceptable and a sin before God who is holy. God is of purer eyes than to look on wickedness (Hab. 1:13). If we regard or allow sin to go accepted and unchecked in our lives God will not hear our prayers (Ps. 66:18). Sin separates us from God (Is. 59:1-2). That is always true. We cannot compromise with sin or evil. It will short circuit what God wants to do in and through us.
It is unacceptable for a mission message to be proclaimed by such an entity. And so Paul did not compromise with this evil. It even said he was “greatly annoyed” at this spirit and commanded it “in the name of Christ to come out of her.” Demonic spirits will inevitably be encountered on the mission field or in ministry. When that happens our authority is “in the name of Jesus Christ” not in us. We need to hold Jesus in between us and the demonic. When we do that we will win out because the God of peace will crush Satan under our feet (Rom. 16:20), when we resist Satan in Christ’s name he will fell from us (James 4:7) and greater is He who is in us than he who is in the world (1 John 4:4).

Eighth, be persevering when persecuted (16:19-24). Paul’s deliverance of the girl with the evil spirit resulted in the loss of income from her owners. This caused a riot that led to Paul and Silas being thrown in jail. Profits should never be the main concern of prophets. And spiritual need takes priority over material needs. Pastor’s or ministry workers, even missionaries who are more concerned with fleecing the flock of God than feeding the flock of God have no business in the work of God.

But here the righteous work of ministry led to Paul and Silas being beaten and thrown in jail. This didn’t cause them to give up but they persevered under the pressures of persecution. There will always be obstacles in ministry and when they come we need to prayerfully address them. Sometimes they will indicate a closing of a door of ministry. At other times they will be something that needs to be persevered through.

Ninth, be joyful (16:25). Even though they had been beaten and thrown in prison Paul and Silas not only persevered but maintained their spiritual composure by joyfully worshipping the Lord. This ministered to and was a witness to the other inmates. And it is no accident that Paul’s prison epistle to the Philippians is a letter of exhortation to remain joyful in all situations (e.g. Phil. 4:4). Such joy is a fruit of the Spirit (Rom. 14:17; Gal. 5:22). Jesus told His disciples he taught them in part so that they could have joy and that it would be a full joy (John 15:10). That is what we see in Paul and Silas here. No matter what happens, maintain your joy. Joy is not mere happiness. Happiness depends on what is happening around you. Joy depends on that deep abiding trust in Jesus. Joy is the presence of Jesus within, assuring, guiding and empowering through the circumstances of life.

Tenth, be ready (16:26-34). When the earthquake hit and the prison was shaken and the cell doors flung open, Paul was ready to share the gospel. God can use an earthquake to set those imprisoned in sin free. God can shake the shackles of sin off of people. And He does that not only with an occasional earthquake; He does it with the power of the gospel that saves (Rom. 1:16). And when the time comes and someone being shaken by that earthquake, in whatever form it takes, when that person cries out, ”Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” Then we need to be ready to say, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.” This is not a demonic type of knowledge of God that has no force to move people to follow God (cf. James 2:19). The faith that saves is by nature repentant. It is a faith that results in a person turning from their sin to God through faith in Jesus Christ and as they confess and forsake their sinful ways, and ask God to forgive them based on Jesus substitutionary cross work, God will forgive them and give them spiritual life through the indwelling Holy Spirit (c. Rom. 8:9-11).

There is one other place where God used an earthquake. When Jesus rose from the dead it says there was “great earthquake” (Mat. 28:2). The world has been shaken ever since with the power of the gospel of the risen Lord Jesus Christ. When we believe in our hearts that He has been raised from the dead and confess Jesus as our Lord, we will be saved. (Rom. 10:9).

Can God use an earthquake? God can take what is meant for evil and use it for good. God can work through even the tragedy of a Haitian earthquake. Maybe just maybe, the circumstances of that earthquake will prove to be a means by which people will cry out “What must we do to be saved?” And we will answer, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved, you and your household.” Maybe we will see a revival that will birth a new church in Haiti. Maybe we will see the birth of a new invigorated nation as well. God can use an earthquake to do such things. Will we cooperate in His plans? Time will tell.

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