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September 3, 2005
The October 2004 issue of National Geographic Magazine featured a major article warning of an impending catastrophe in the New Orleans area — a catastrophe most likely to be caused by a major hurricane. The article, entitled “Gone with the Water,” now appears to have been hauntingly prophetic.
Writer Joel K. Bourne, Jr. outlined a “doomsday scenario” like this: The storm hit Breton Sound with the fury of a nuclear warhead, pushing a deadly storm surge into Lake Pontchartrain. The water crept to the top of the massive berm that holds back the lake and then spilled over. Nearly 80 percent of New Orleans lies below sea level–more than eight feet below in places–so the water poured in. A liquid brown wall washed over the brick ranch homes of Gentilly, over the clapboard houses of the Ninth Ward, over the white-columned porches of the Garden District, until it raced through the bars and strip joints on Bourbon Street like the pale rider of the Apocalypse. As it reached 25 feet (eight meters) over parts of the city, people climbed onto roofs to escape it. Thousands drowned in the murky brew that was soon contaminated by sewage and industrial waste. Thousands more who survived the flood later perished from dehydration and disease as they waited to be rescued. It took two months to pump the city dry, and by then the Big Easy was buried under a blanket of putrid sediment, a million people were homeless, and 50,000 were dead. It was the worst natural disaster in the history of the United States.
When did this calamity happen? It hasn’t–yet. But the doomsday scenario is not far-fetched. The Federal Emergency Management Agency lists a hurricane strike on New Orleans as one of the most dire threats to the nation, up there with a large earthquake in California or a terrorist attack on New York City. Even the Red Cross no longer opens hurricane shelters in the city, claiming the risk to its workers is too great. “The killer for Louisiana is a Category Three storm at 72 hours before landfall that becomes a Category Four at 48 hours and a Category Five at 24 hours–coming from the worst direction,” says Joe Suhayda, a retired coastal engineer at Louisiana State University who has spent 30 years studying the coast. Suhayda is sitting in a lakefront restaurant on an actual August afternoon sipping lemonade and talking about the chinks in the city’s hurricane armor. “I don’t think people realize how precarious we are,” Suhayda says, watching sailboats glide by. “Our technology is great when it works. But when it fails, it’s going to make things much worse.” The chances of such a storm hitting New Orleans in any given year are slight, but the danger is growing. Climatologists predict that powerful storms may occur more frequently this century, while rising sea level from global warming is putting low-lying coasts at greater risk. “It’s not if it will happen,” says University of New Orleans geologist Shea Penland. “It’s when.”
Now, look at this satellite image of Hurricane Katrina at her full strength.
September 2, 2005
Dr. Russell Moore, Dean of the School of Theology and Senior Vice President for Academic Administration at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, is a proud native of Mississippi and its Gulf coast. He waited through anxious days to hear news of his parents and relatives, who had remained in Biloxi throughout Hurricane Katrina. Thankfully, they survived. Their homes did not.
How does one deal with the virtual disappearance of one’s hometown? Russ has written a moving first-person reflection, “Christ, Katrina, and My Hometown.” Read the entire article, but look carefully at his conclusion:
My hometown isn’t there anymore. But, then again, it never really was. The hope after Katrina is not for civil defense and architectural rebuilding. It is for Biloxi, Miss., and all of the created universe, to be redeemed and restored in Christ. There will come a day when the curse is reversed, and the Gulf Coast along with the entire cosmos fully reflects the glory of a resurrected Messiah. And John sees in his vision that, on that day, “the sea was no more” (Revelation 21:1). He also sees that in the Holy City, “nothing unclean will ever enter it” (Revelation 21:27).That includes the curse of Eden and all of its children: including a hurricane named Katrina. On that day, and not until then, nothing will ever threaten the New Jerusalem, our hometown.
September 2, 2005
On Thursday’s edition of The Albert Mohler Program I discussed the outbreak of lawlessness and moral anarchy in New Orleans. Snipers and rioters have hampered rescue attempts and gangs are moving throughout the inundated city, looting and setting fires. Rapes, shootings, and assaults are now reported from within the Superdome.
My guest was Dr. Ligon Duncan, senior minister of the First Presbyterian Church in Jackson, Mississippi and president of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. We talked about the realites of fallen human nature and our need for the restraints of law, order, and authority.
Dr. Sam Storms of Enjoying God Ministries has written a very helpful essay on the same question, arguing that the anarchy in New Orleans reminds us of our true human nature and of God’s gift of common grace. His article, “Katrina, Common Grace, and a Theory about the End of the Age,” is important reading. Consider these paragraphs:
The reason for looting is obvious. All the normal impediments to thievery in New Orleans are no longer in place. There is no electricity, so there are no alarms or lights or other manifestations of electronic protection on personal property. Security guards are gone. The police cannot gain access to certain areas of the city. Surveillance cameras that otherwise would photograph burglars are no longer operative. In other words, virtually all the restraints and obstacles to criminal behavior have disappeared. What kept the sinful and criminal inclination of the human heart from expressing itself is gone. [Needless to say, there was, before Katrina, a considerable amount of criminal behavior in spite of such restraints.]
Here’s my point. Electricity and light and alarms and the police are analogous to the common grace of God. They function as something of a barrier to criminal behavior or a deterrent that hinders the full expression of human wickedness. Once these natural restraints disappear, the full extent and expression of evil and criminal inclination begin to emerge. My point is that what electricity and light and alarms and police do to restrain wickedness in a singular American city is analogous to what the Holy Spirit does to restrain human sin on a more global scale.
September 2, 2005
The California Senate voted Thursday to allow homosexual marriages. As The Washington Post reports, this represents the first time a legislative body has approved same-sex marriage without a court ordering it to do so. The bill redefines marriage as a union between two people, rather than a union of a man and a woman.
The bill passed by a 21 to 15 vote. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has not indicated whether he would support or oppose the bill.
Just five years ago, California voters overwhelmingly passed a referendum defining marriage as the union between persons of the opposite sex. The action of the California Senate represents an incredible act of arrogance against the voters of the state.
OTHER COVERAGE: San Francisco Chronicle, The Los Angeles Times, The Advocate, Baptist Press, The Dallas Morning News.
September 1, 2005
“Pray for the circumstances of our seminary family,” said New Orleans Theological Seminary President Chuck Kelley. “They’re all over the southeastern United States. Virtually all of us on campus now are homeless. My wife and I have what we can put in our car in an hour, and that’s it. We’re all homeless.” [see story in Baptist Press]
New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary is one of six seminaries serving the Southern Baptist Convention. Like the City of New Orleans, it is now underwater, and may be for some time. We have no idea of the devastation, and the full extent of the damage may not be known for months. The entire campus may be lost or catastrophically compromised.
Chuck Kelley loves the school he leads, and he loves his students. He has led NOBTS with a firm vision and his own deep Christian conviction. He is an evangelist who also loves the city he has called home for so many years — a city that represents one of the greatest and most challenging mission fields in North America.
He, his wife Rhonda, and the senior seminary leadership have now moved to Atlanta for some time, operating out of their North Georgia extension campus.
Today, they will be meeting to consider the future of their school. They must develop a plan, based on what they know now. I am confident of this — no hurricane is going to keep Chuck Kelley and the NOBTS family from doing what God has called them to do.
Their students and faculty have lost almost everything. They still have their faith, their calling, and their Christian hope. Let’s pray for Chuck and his team as they meet today — and then let’s help them recover and rebuild.
For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for wholeness and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me. When you seek me with all your heart, I will be found by you, declares the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile. [Jeremiah 29:11-14, English Standard Version]
September 1, 2005
Consider this opening paragraph from an article in today’s edition of The New York Times: Chaos gripped New Orleans on Wednesday as looters ran wild, food and water supplies dwindled, bodies floated in the floodwaters, the evacuation of the Superdome began and officials said there was no choice but to abandon the city devastated by Hurricane Katrina, perhaps for months. President Bush pledged vast assistance, but acknowledged, “This recovery will take years.”
More: And to the rising toll of victims killed, injured or homeless and jobless were added other plagues: possible epidemics of disease; overwhelmed hospitals and sanitation facilities, lost communications and transportation systems and almost everywhere hellish scenes of wreckage-strewn communities. . . . . The bulk of the city’s refugees were in or around the Superdome, which has become a shelter of last resort for more than 20,000 people. Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco of Louisiana said conditions there had become desperate, with food, water and other supplies running out, with toilets overflowing and the air foul, with temperatures hitting 100 degrees and tempers flaring. It’s becoming untenable,” the governor said. “There’s no power. It’s getting more difficult to get food and water supplies in, just basic essentials.” She said she wanted the Superdome totally evacuated within two days, and plans were being made to move most of the refugees to Houston’s Astrodome, 350 miles away, in a convoy of hundreds of buses. About 700 of the elderly and sick were removed from the sweltering stadium on Wednesday, but they were being sent elsewhere in the state.
Think back to last Saturday. Could we have imagined such a report? The suffering in New Orleans is beyond words. The grief throughout the region is immeasurable.
TO CONTRIBUTE TO DISASTER RELIEF: The North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention is the nation’s third-largest disaster relief agency. In order to contribute, go here.
DOCUMENTING THE DISASTER: The Chicago Tribune, The Washington Post, BBC News, Forbes, The Los Angeles Times, The Times-Picayune [New Orleans], CNN.
August 31, 2005
William Cowper [1731-1800] was among the greatest of English poets and hymn writers. With John Newton, he produced the famed hymnal, Olney Hymns, in 1779. Cowper wrote “God Moves in a Mysterious Way” in 1774. The phrase quickly entered popular parlance, but Cowper’s reverent and thoughtful understanding was quickly lost. When he described God’s ways as mysterious, Cowper was not shrugging his shoulders in resignation, but expressing a Christian confidence.
Cowper’s words should encourage believers troubled by the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina, or by any great distress. “Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,” Cowper instructs, “but trust Him for His grace.” Our confidence: “Behind a frowning providence He hides a smiling face.”
Those words define Christian truth and Gospel courage in the face of what truly appears as a “frowning providence.” Cowper did not deny the reality of evil and suffering, but he did deny the victory of evil and suffering. We dare not doubt God’s smiling face.
God moves in a mysterious way His wonders to perform; He plants His footsteps in the sea, and rides upon the storm.
Deep in unfathomable mines of never-failing skill, He treasures up His bright designs, and works His sovereign will.
Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take, the clouds ye so much dread, are big with mercy, and shall break In blessings on your head.
Judge not the Lord by feeble sense, but trust Him for His grace; Behind a frowning providence, He hides a smiling face.
His purposes will ripen fast, unfolding every hour; The bud may have a bitter taste, but sweet will be the flower.
Blind unbelief is sure to err, and scan his work in vain; God is His own interpreter, and He will make it plain.
August 31, 2005
From CNN: Harvey Jackson, of Biloxi, Mississippi, told CNN affiliate WKRG-TV that he believed his wife was killed after she was ripped from his grasp when their home split in half. “She told me, ‘You can’t hold me,’ … take care of the kids and the grandkids,” he said, sobbing. [Read the article, see the video] Hundreds are now feared dead even as the water in New Orleans continues to rise. Americans have never faced a natural disaster of this scale and immediacy.
In some areas, rescue workers pushed aside dead bodies in order to reach the living. As the television images make clear, the scenes are almost apocalyptic. [see gallery]
Hear this, you elders; give ear, all inhabitants of the land! Has such a thing happened in your days, or in the days of your fathers? Tell your children of it, and let your children tell their children, and their children to another generation.
[ Joel 1:2-3, English Standard Version]
August 30, 2005
On January 5, 1868, Charles Haddon Spurgeon preached a sermon entitled “Creation’s Groans and the Saints’ Sighs.” The sermon is filled with biblical insights, and it speaks directly to the realities of natural evil and human suffering. As always, Spurgeon preached Christ, even as he offered rare biblical insights into the groaning of our fallen creation:
Creation glows with a thousand beauties, even in its present fallen condition; yet clearly enough it is not as when it came from the Maker’s hand–the slime of the serpent is on it all–this is not the world which God pronounced to be “very good.” We hear of tornadoes, of earthquakes, of tempests, of volcanoes, of avalanches, and of the sea which devoureth its thousands: there is sorrow on the sea, and there is misery on the land; and into the highest palaces as well as the poorest cottages, death, the insatiable, is shooting his arrows, while his quiver is still full to bursting with future woes. It is a sad, sad world. The curse has fallen on it since the fall, and thorns and thistles it bringeth forth, not from its soil alone, but from all that comes of it. Earth wears upon her brow, like Cain of old, the brand of transgression. Sad would it be to our thoughts if it were always to be so. If there were no future to this world as well as to ourselves, we might be glad to escape from it, counting it to be nothing better than a huge penal colony, from which it would be a thousand mercies for both body and soul to be emancipated. At this present time, the groaning and travailing which are general throughout creation, are deeply felt among the sons of men.
August 30, 2005
“It came on Mississippi like a ton of bricks,” said Gov. Haley Barbour. The Governor was not exaggerating. Hurricane Katrina has left a path of death and destruction that reaches from Alabama to Louisiana, and the full extent of the devastation will be unknown for some time. Communications are still out in most of the region, and emergency personnel have been unable to reach most of the effected areas.
The Associated Press is reporting at least 55 deaths due to the storm — thirty in a single Biloxi apartment complex. The death toll is almost certain to rise as rescue teams spread through the region. Millions are without power and thousands have been left homeless. Families are grieving and many souls are suffering. This is a time to weep with those who weep — and to both pray and help.
HOW TO HELP: I recommend the disaster relief program of the North American Mission Board [SBC]. NAMB is the nation’s third-largest disaster relief agency, and their disaster relief ministries are both effective and trustworthy. NAMB and its teams have been asked to provide 300,000 meals a day by mid-week, and up to 500,000 per day by the end of the week. Here is a link for information and donations.
THE UNFOLDING TRAGEDY: The New York Times, CNN, Fox News, The Weather Channel, The Times-Picayune [New Orleans], The Washington Post, The Sun Herald [Biloxi, Mississippi], The Clarion-Ledger [Jackson, Mississippi].
August 29, 2005
Hurricane Katrina spared the city of New Orleans her worst, but the city has suffered a great deal. The same is true for cites like Mobile, Alabama. The worst has been experienced by the Mississippi Gulf coast, where the city of Biloxi took a direct hit from the storm, which was a Category Four hurricane when it landed.
We need to pray for those on the ground in effected areas, and for their family members and loved ones who have yet to hear of their condition.
My guest on The Albert Mohler Program today will be our friend and guest host Dr. Russell Moore, a native of Biloxi. He is among those waiting to hear from family. We’ll be talking about how Christians should be thinking about this powerful storm.
HURRICANE KATRINA UPDATE: The Weather Channel News Coverage, Projected Path of the Storm [The Weather Channel], CNN Hurricane Coverage.
TO HELP: North American Mission Board Disaster Relief Update. Southern Baptist Disaster Relief is preparing for a 300,000-meal response within 24 hours of Hurricane Katrina’s landfall. This comes at the request of the American Red Cross. The Disaster Operation Center at NAMB opened this morning, and an Incident Command Team (onsite command post) has been activated. Currently, 25 Southern Baptist feeding units have been requested by Red Cross and four by Salvation Army. Preliminary site locations have been identified in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, and each feeding unit has been asked to bring clean-up/recovery, shower, and communication units with them.
August 28, 2005
Hurricane Katrina is now a Category Five storm on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale, threatening to bring massive destruction to a region ranging from Alabama to Louisiana. We need to pray for those in the path of this dangerous storm.
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Selah.
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved; God will help her when morning dawns. The nations rage, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts. The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah.
Psalm 46:1-7, English Standard Version
HURRICANE LINKS: National Hurricane Center, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, The Weather Channel, CNN Weather, Fox News Weather, The Times-Picayune [New Orleans], North American Mission Board Disaster Relief [SBC], New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, Google News on Hurricane Katrina.