Posts tagged ‘Florida’

In and After the Storm

File:Hurricane Dorian (peak intensity), September 1, 1240Z.png

Credit: Wikipedia

The Bible has a lot of stories of storms.  When God appears to Moses on Mount Sinai’s summit to give him the Ten Commandments, the mountaintop is covered in “darkness, gloom, and storm” (Hebrews 12:18).  When Job endures great suffering, he complains: “God would crush me with a storm” (Job 9:17).  When God speaks to Job after his trials, it says, “The LORD spoke to Job out of the storm” (Job 38:1).  When God calls Jonah to preach to the Assyrian city of Nineveh, but the prophet instead hops a ship heading the opposite direction, the Lord sends “a great wind on the sea, and a violent storm” (Jonah 1:4).  When Jesus is sailing with His disciples across the Sea of Galilee one day, out of nowhere comes “a furious storm” (Matthew 8:24).  The Bible has a lot of stories of storms.

These days, our headlines have been plastered with stories of a storm.  The pictures that have come out of the Bahamas in the wake of Hurricane Dorian are horrible.  Halves of islands are underwater.  Debris fields stretch for miles.  And the death toll has yet to be fully counted.  And, of course, Dorian’s destruction did not end with these islands.  The storm carved a path up our nation’s eastern seaboard, dumping rain, flooding communities, and disrupting and endangering countless lives.

Whenever we face a storm like this, a common question arises: Where is God?  Though there is no complete answer to this question, here are a couple of thoughts Scripture invites us to consider.

First, God is in the storm.  When God speaks to Job after all his trials, he speaks to him “out of the storm” (Job 38:1).  This means that in all of Job’s trials, God was right there, even though Job did not know it.  When Jesus’ disciples sail across the Sea of Galilee, Jesus does not avoid the storm they sail into, but is there with them in the storm.  And when Jesus dies on a cross, He does so in the midst of storm clouds so dark that they black out the sun: “From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land” (Matthew 27:45).  God, then, does not avoid our storms even if He does not still every storm.  He is with us in the storms.

Second, God is after the storm.  When the prophet Elijah, at God’s behest, goes to meet with God on a mountain, instead of finding God, he experiences a storm:

The LORD said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.” Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. (1 Kings 19:11-12) 

Elijah goes to meet with God.  But he finds only hurricane force winds, an earthquake, and fiery lighting.  It seems like God is nowhere to be found in these storms.  But then:

After the fire came a gentle whisper.  When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.  (1 Kings 19:12-13)

It turns out that God was there for Elijah after the storms.

Dorian’s destructive path has now been cut.  The damage has been done.  People’s lives and livelihoods have been uprooted.  But God did not run from this storm.  He was in the storm with those who suffered from it.  But, perhaps even more importantly, now, He is still standing tall after the storm with those who have come out of the storm.  The question is: as God’s people, will we also be there for those who need us after the storm?  There are multiple ways to help the victims of Dorian.  I pray that you will.  After all, God is there after the storm.  So, we should be, too.

The Psalmist famously writes:

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.  There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells. (Psalm 46:1-4)

The Psalmist reminds us that God is in the storm.  He is “an ever-present help in trouble.”  But he also reminds us that God is after the storm.  For He has prepared for us and now dwells in a celestial city, not with waters that are destructive like a storm surge, but with waters that bubble and babble with gladness.  In other words, God is not only in the storm, nor is He even only after the storm, He is there even after this life, waiting to welcome those who have lost their lives – including those believers who have lost their lives in storms like Dorian – into His eternal city.  A storm may end this life – but it cannot drown out eternal life.

September 9, 2019 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Hurricane Michael

3674821827_be34b282bf_o

It’s been a busy hurricane season.  This time, it was Hurricane Michael that slammed into the Florida Panhandle with Gulf-churned sustained winds of 155 miles per hour – the strongest storm ever to hit the region and the third most intense storm to make landfall in the United States.  The storm moved fast – some 13 miles per hour – but that kind of wind does not have to be around long to do serious damage.  So far, the death count stands at 16.  Tens of thousands are still without power.  Mexico Beach, where the storm made landfall, is devastated.  And now begins the long, slow process of cleaning up and rebuilding.

Last week, I was delighted when a cold front moved through San Antonio – not only because it brought us clear blue skies and lower temperatures, but because I recently had new grass installed in my yard and the rain meant my sprinklers could take a break and my water bill could take a dive.  Rain is good – except when there’s too much.  Then we call rain a flood.  Sun is also good – except when there’s too much.  Then we call sun a drought.

A hurricane is the poster child for “too much.”  With a hurricane comes not a cooling breeze, but a battering gale.  With a hurricane comes not a needed shower to quench a parched land, but a torrential downpour to deluge an already saturated ground.  With a hurricane comes not a peaceful wave on a picturesque beach, but, in the case of Hurricane Michael, an eight-foot storm surge that floods neighborhoods and guts homes.

The book of Jonah famously tells the story of a reluctant prophet who does not want to carry out his God-assigned preaching mission to a town called Nineveh, which is, in Jonah’s day, the capital of the Assyrian Empire.  Jonah cannot stand the city of Nineveh because it represents, in Jonah’s view, all that is wicked and vile – violence, decadence, and religious irreverence.  So, Jonah seeks to scuttle his preaching obligation by hopping a ship heading in the opposite direction of this miscreant metropolis.  But God is having none of it.  A storm comes upon the ship in which Jonah is stowing away.  The sailors, who quickly realize that this storm is bigger than they can handle, each cry out “to his own god” (Jonah 1:5).  But the sailors’ gods sit silent.  It isn’t until Jonah calls upon his God, and surrenders his stubborn will to his God by allowing Him to transport him to Nineveh via a titanic tuna, that the sea is finally calmed.

Storms like Michael and like Jonah’s are reminders of just how little power we have over the wind and the waves.  In an article for The Atlantic, Sam Kemp recounts a time when a Nobel Prize winning chemist, Irving Langmuir, led a 1947 experiment to slow a hurricane:

On October 13, 1947, a mild hurricane named King sliced through Miami and began drifting northeast, out into the Atlantic Ocean. Because King seemed to be dying anyway, Cirrus officials decided to seed it the next day. A B-17 puttered out to meet it and scattered 180 pounds of dry-ice pellets into the eyewall. Everyone sat back and waited for the eye to widen and for King to collapse. Instead, the storm grew stronger, fiercer. To everyone’s horror, it then pivoted – taking an impossible 135-degree turn – and began racing into Savannah, Georgia, causing $3 million in damage ($32 million today) and killing one person.

Though, at the time, people blamed Langmuir for making the storm worse, in reality, he didn’t make the storm do anything at all.  The storm was simply beyond even a Nobel laureate’s control.

The Psalmist reminds us that it is the Lord alone who can still “the storm to a whisper” and hush “the waves of the sea” (Psalm 107:29).  Yes, storms may be out of our control.  But they are not out of God’s.  And although we may not understand why God does not always still storms before they collide with coastlines, we do know that God Himself willingly goes through them.  Jesus, after all, claims to be another Jonah: “For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matthew 12:40).  Jonah’s stormy salvation finds its counterpart in Jesus’ tempestuous tomb.  Jesus went through the storm of sin – and conquered it.  And if He can go through a storm that fierce, I’m sure He hasn’t left – and He won’t leave – anyone alone in the aftermath of Michael.

Today, then, Jesus lovingly stands with the people of Florida.  He knows how they feel.  Perhaps we should stand with them too.

October 15, 2018 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

The Parkland Innocents

It happened again, this time at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.  Near the close of the school day last Wednesday, a gunman opened fire in the high school’s freshman hall, killing 17 and wounding another 14.

The scenes that unfolded in Parkland have become achingly familiar. There were law enforcement officials swarming the campus.  There were kids filing out with their hands on their heads.  There were paramedics, rushing to stabilize the wounded and, awfully, to confirm the dead.

Besides the horror of the shooting itself, there is the added tragedy that the sheer volume of these kinds of events has, in some ways, deadened their effect on our collective psyche.  And yet, long after the SWAT teams and paramedics leave, long after the news crews move on to the next story, and long after the national attention fades, for the students and staff of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, the pain and terror of this shooting will remain.  Days like these may be forgotten by those who watch them on the news, but they will not be forgotten by those who live through them in real time.

Sadly, these types of tragedies have also become occasions for hot takes filled with political rancor, with those who offer their “thoughts and prayers” being labeled as disingenuous by some while those who argue for a debate on gun control being accused as opportunistic by others.  Fights erupt on social media while comfort and aid to victims often get overlooked.

As Christians, we are called to “mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15).  It is incumbent upon us, then, to care about and, if opportunities arise, to care for those who are affected.  While many in our culture are fighting predictably, we should be thinking critically about what events like these say about and mean for our culture so that we can offer a hopeful voice on behalf of the innocents who have had their lives unjustly extinguished.

According to the liturgical tradition of the Church, this past Wednesday was both Ash Wednesday and the Feast Day of Saint Valentine.  Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the season of Lent, when the Church focuses on Christ’s death and resurrection for us and for our salvation.  Saint Valentine was a third-century bishop in Rome who was beheaded for his faith, tradition has it, on February 14, 269.

The death of Saint Valentine reminds us that, all too often, innocents can unjustly lose their lives at the hands of evil perpetrators, as did the innocents in Parkland.  The season of Lent promises us, however, that even when innocents are killed, their lives are not ultimately lost.  For Lent points us to a moment when an innocent – The Innocent – was unjustly killed on a cross by evil perpetrators.  But in this instance, the evil perpetrators didn’t win.  The Innocent did when He conquered their cross.  And this Innocent promises life by faith in Him to the many innocents who have lost their lives since – be that by beating, by beheading, by blade, or by bullet.

A gunman took the lives of 17 students this past Wednesday.  But Jesus has plans to bring their lives back.

A rifleman, it turns out, is no match for a resurrection.

February 19, 2018 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

The International Hurricane

As Hurricane Irma tore across the Atlantic, it had its sights set on ___________.

How you fill in this blank depends on where your focus lies.  For most of us in the states, we saw Irma targeting Florida.  Floridians themselves might have gotten a little more specific.  Hurricane Irma had its sights set on:  Key West, Marco Island, Naples, Fort Myers, and, even though it is on the other side of the state, Miami.

But, of course, Irma affected – and devastated – more than just our nation’s southeastern-most state.  Cuba, the Bahamas, Turks and Caicos, the Virgin Islands, and Antigua and Barbuda, among others, were all hit.

In a piece for NBC Nightly News a week ago Sunday, Joe Fryer tugged at the heartstrings by showing a parade of pictures of those overwhelmed by Irma’s wrath while delivering a monologue:

These are the faces of Hurricane Irma – victims who found themselves in the long path of a heartless storm, forever connected by what they’ve endured.  Looking at the damage, it’s impossible to tell which territories are American or British, French or Dutch.  The hurricane did not discriminate.

Mr. Fryer reminded us that the story of this hurricane cut across peoples and nations, islands and mainlands, nations and territories, rich and poor.  Irma indeed did not discriminate.  Irma was sweeping in its devastation.

Sweeping problems need sweeping solutions.  Mr. Fryer ended his piece on Irma by musing: “The human spirit – every bit as powerful as the storm.”  This is certainly a sweet sentiment.  And, in one way, I suppose I agree.  The human spirit that has been on display across the regions now affected by two major hurricanes – Harvey and Irma – has been indefatigable.  People are determined to recover from these storms.  But as much as the human spirit may help us recover from storms like these, it does not help us restrain storms like these.  We cannot turn a category 4 hurricane into a sunny day.  We cannot steer the “cone of uncertainty” we’ve heard so much about over these past few weeks in whatever direction we might like.  The human spirit may be strong, but it is not omnipotent.

But we know Someone who is.

We know a God of whom the Psalmist writes, “He stilled the storm to a whisper; the waves of the sea were hushed” (Psalm 107:29).  And we know a Man of whom the disciples ask, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey Him” (Mark 4:41)!  We know Someone who has power that the human spirit does not.  We know Someone who has sweeping solutions to the sweeping problems of this world.

In Acts 15, the Christian Church is meeting in Jerusalem to debate and discuss whether or not Gentiles should have to follow certain old rules of Israel.  Specifically, there are some Jews who are teaching, “Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved” (Acts 15:1).  Peter, himself a Jew, speaks into this debate and asserts that God does not “discriminate between us and them, for He purified their hearts by faith” (Acts 15:9).  Peter says that whether a person is Jew or Gentile, they are purified from sin in the same way – by faith in Jesus Christ.  God does not give different paths to purification to different people because God does not discriminate. He purifies all the same.  He has a sweeping solution to the sweeping problem of sin in this world – faith in His Son, Jesus Christ.

The God who is sweeping in His solution to the problem of sin is also sweeping in His love for the people who struggle through the effects of sin.  Just like Hurricane Irma did not discriminate in its destructive power, God does not discriminate in His love and care.  He sees every lost life in Cuba, every now-homeless person in the Bahamas, every hungry soul in Turks and Caicos, every exhausted worker in the Virgin Islands, every forgotten resident in Antigua and Barbuda, and every hurting family Florida, and He says, “I care about that and I have come into that through Jesus.”

A hurricane that hurts the world needs a God who loves the world and a God who can still the storms of the world.  And we have a God who does and a God who will.

“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

“In front of the throne there was what looked like a sea of glass, clear as crystal.” (Revelation 14:6)

September 18, 2017 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Comfort in Stormy Times: Reflections on Hurricane Matthew

screen-shot-2016-10-05-at-6-00-50-pm

The people of Florida are picking up the pieces.  Along with the people of Georgia.  And the people of the Carolinas.  And the people of Cuba.  And the people of Haiti.  As Hurricane Matthew churned its way through the Caribbean and up the east coast, it left a path of destruction in its wake.  In Florida, mandatory evacuations were issued before the storm.  Grocery store shelves were stripped bare.  Gas stations were pumped dry.

It could have been worse.  They eye of Hurricane Matthew skirted much of the eastern seaboard, sparing these regions from what could have been even greater damage.  But even if things were not as bad as they could have been, this storm was still a whopper.  For a brief time, Hurricane Matthew reached Category 5 status, making it the first storm to reach a hurricane’s most powerful potential since Hurricane Felix in 2007.

Whenever a natural disaster of this magnitude strikes, it presents a unique set of struggles and questions.  When we suffer a man-made disaster in a shooting or in an accident or even in a terrorist attack, we can point to the source of the calamity and explain that the person who created the catastrophe is unstable or incompetent or even evil.  When a hurricane strikes however, there is no one from whom we can demand a mea culpa, save nature and nature’s God.  And such a mea culpa is tough to come by.

So how are we to process this disaster?  Here are a few things to keep in mind.

We cannot control everything.

In an election year such as this one, it is easy to live under the illusion that we wield a great amount of power and authority.  We do, after all, have a say – even if it is a small one – in who the leader of the free world should be.  But for every bit of control we think we have, there are so many things that simply fall outside our hands.  Hurricanes are one of these things.  We can forecast them, but we cannot steer them.  They strike where they may.  They strike with the energy that water temperatures give to them.  The smallness of our power when compared to the scope of something like the weather should lead us to marvel at the bigness of God’s creation.  There is still so much we cannot tame.

We can help others.

Though we do not have power over all things, this does not mean that we can help in some things – like in hurricane relief.   My congregation, Concordia Lutheran in San Antonio, has set up a relief fund to help those in Haiti.  We are exploring opportunities to help those in other areas as well.  You can donate by clicking here.  Part of our calling as Christians is to be a neighbor to those in need.  Being neighborly need not be constrained by proximity, nationality, economy, or any other earthly barrier.  To help others is to love Christ!  Rolling up our sleeves by opening up our pocketbooks is a great way to get involved.

There is someone who is in control.

In a world that seems shaky, it is important that we remind ourselves that just because we are not in control does not mean that everything is out of control.  Christian theologians will often describe God as omnipotent, a word that means “all power.”  In other words, God has all control.  When a storm like Matthew strikes, it serves us well to consider the many instances in Scripture that remind us that God, quite literally, guides the weather.  In the case of His disciples, Jesus saves them from a storm on the Sea of Galilee by calming it with just a word.  In the case of Jonah, God saves him with a storm that forces some sailors he is with to toss him overboard so God can send a giant fish to take the prophet where he needs to be.  In the words of the Psalmist, God can also save people through storms as they seek refuge in Him:  “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea” (Psalm 46:1-2).  God, then, does not use storms in the same way in every instance.  Sometimes, He saves us from storms as weather patterns change.  Other times, he saves us with storms as these trials turn us toward Him.  Still other times, He gives us strength to make it through storms, even if they hit us straight on.

Ultimately, it is important to remember that no matter what storms – whether they be literal or figurative – this world may bring, we have assurance in them because of Christ.  When Christ was on the cross, the Gospel writers tell us that “darkness came over all the land” (Matthew 27:45).  In other words, it stormed.  But what looked like a storm of death became a storm that gave way to life three days later.   Jesus overcame the storm of the cross so that we would never be lost to the storms caused by sin.  For even if a storm takes lives, as did Hurricane Matthew, we can be assured that those who die in Christ go to a place where there is “a sea of glass, clear as crystal” (Revelation 4:6).  In other words, in heaven, the weather is a flat calm.  There, every storm has been conquered by Christ.

With the extent of the damage from Hurricane Matthew just now becoming clear, there is still a lot – economically, emotionally, and theologically – to sort through.  But this much is clear:  God does not abandon us in storms like these.  He is there.  And He cares.

October 10, 2016 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Where Human Justice Cannot Tread: The Case of Trayvon Martin & George Zimmerman

Martin Zimmerman

Credit: The Associated Press

We will never know for sure what happened.

Well, we will never know for sure all that happened.  There are a few things we do know.  We do know that on the night of February 26, 2012 in Sanford, Florida, an altercation took place between Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman.  We do know that this altercation left Trayvon Martin dead of a single gunshot wound, fired at intermediate range.  We do know that George Zimmerman was the shooter.  And we do know that on Saturday, July 13, Zimmerman was found “not guilty” of both the charges of second-degree murder and of manslaughter.

As the trial of George Zimmerman unfolded before a nation of breathless spectators, it became clear to many pundits and reporters – regardless of how these pundits and reporters hoped this case would turn out – that the prosecution was in trouble.  Consider this from ABC News:

Prosecutors started strong with a powerful, concise opening statement from Assistant State Attorney John Guy, in contrast to the silly knock-knock joke and seemingly disorganized and meandering defense argument …

But then something happened that many would have thought improbable as this case received wall to wall coverage leading up to Zimmerman’s arrest.

What the state hoped would be proof that Zimmerman initiated the altercation and that he, not Martin, was on top as they grappled on the ground, did not appear to proceed as planned …

With each witness there were either facts that we now know are not true (like hearing three shots, when there was only one) or indications that their memories have somehow become clearer since the incident itself.[1]

The prosecution’s witnesses, in their testimonies of what happened that night, gave conflicting and confusing accounts.  Coupled with the fact that the burden to prove that Zimmerman shot Martin in something other than self-defense rested on the prosecution, the prospects for a conviction were grim for the state.  Again, ABC News summarized the prosecution’s problem well:

Prosecutors still have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Zimmerman did not “reasonably believe” he was “in imminent danger of death or great bodily harm” during their altercation. That is a heavy burden to bear.

It turns out, as the verdict this past Saturday revealed, that it was a burden too heavy to bear.

Along with the wide range of human emotions that a trial such as this one elicits, this trial has also exposed the limits of human justice.  The jury found George Zimmerman “not guilty.”  This does not necessarily mean that Zimmerman committed no crime.  It simply means that, in the opinions of the jurors, there was not enough evidence to demonstrate beyond a reasonable doubt that he was guilty of a crime.  The jurors’ verdict does not pretend or presume to rule on George Zimmerman’s guilt or innocence as a matter of fact.  It simply says that Zimmerman will not be incarcerated as a matter of the law.

The justice of our God is much more comprehensive and, as strange as it sounds, just than the justice of our courts.  For our God is concerned with infinite transcendent justice rather than with limited legal justice.  Indeed, our God is passionate about justice.  God shouts in Amos 5:24:  “But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!”  Where human justice falls short, God’s justice does not.

Ultimately, regardless of the verdict, the justice rendered in that Florida courtroom can only be provisionary and incomplete.  Even if George Zimmerman had been found guilty, his incarceration would not have undone the painful problem of death, which is finally what this case – and every murder case – is all about.  But the painful problem of death cannot be solved in any courtroom; it can only be solved on a cross.  Only Jesus can bring justice to death by conquering it with His life – a life that will finally and fully be revealed on the Last Day.

So while a Florida court has ruled, we are still waiting for Jesus to rule – or, to put it more clearly, to reign – when He returns on the Last Day.  And, blessedly, the justice He will bring on that day will be far better than the justice we have in these days.  For His justice does much more than merely rule on tragedies; His justice fixes them.


[1] Dan Abrams, “George Zimmerman’s Prosecution Woes: Analysis,” ABC News (7.1.2013).

July 15, 2013 at 5:15 am 2 comments


Follow Zach

Enter your email address to subscribe to Pastor Zach's blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 2,047 other followers


%d bloggers like this: