Thursday, 13 January 2011

Flooding, Rains, And Life Lessons

This week our nation is reeling over the sheer devastation of the floods now affecting three of our States. There has been much heartbreak and sorrow and our hearts go out prayerfully to those affected by this disaster. Already people are beginning to think how this could have been avoided. There was an interesting article in the Australian Newspaper (12/1/11) written by a resident in the flood affected area of Queensland.
"At the intersections of Victoria, Margaret and Russell streets (in Toowoomba) - where the boiling muddy tsunami was its fiercest and most graphically filmed - the city council had embarked on an ambitious beautification plan to turn the creek into a pleasing urban feature, complete with boardwalks, gardens, illumination and seating. Everyone thought it was wonderful, except for cynics such as my husband and me. In fact, every time we drove past the feature we would say to no one in particular: This little creek is going to make them sorry one day. Tragically, we were right.
Early yesterday morning I went back to the bruised and battered Margaret Street to support any local business that still had the heart to open. My coffee shop was handing out free coffees to the battered owners of the local businesses who had lost so much. When I went to buy my newspaper, the newsagent told me he was devastated, not because of what had happened but because the engineer who had worked on the beautification project told him he couldn't make them listen when he pleaded for bigger pipes - "18-footers" he called them - to let the water through, because it simply didn't suit the aesthetics of the architects and landscapers.
So that's what happened to my city, folks, the same as happened to so much of flooded Queensland. We did stupid and really, really dumb things because we thought we could get away with them. We built the wrong sort of houses and the wrong sort of bridges. We built towns and suburbs on flood plains. And we ignored at our peril the forces of nature and the history of the great floods that have shaped this continent for thousands of years.
In our arrogance, we created towns and cities better suited to the whims of bean-counters and city-bound architects than the natural lie of the land. And for 20 years we cheerfully welcomed new settlers to Queensland with a "beautiful one day, perfect the next".
We didn't tell them what this place was really like when it rained. And we were wrong."
There are some striking spiritual lessons from this account.
...And the rain fell, and the floods came...Matthew 7:25
God has placed the church in the world as a wise word of warning to a daring world on the brink of eternal peril. These warnings are often rejected. Those giving these warnings are frequently seen as prudish, silly, and out-of-touch. While the world builds its lives on the sand of life's riverbanks, they bask in the view and the pleasantness of life on the river. Mockingly they scorn those who chose to build on life's rock-foundations of higher ground who, in doing so, deprived themselves of what the world thougt was scenery too good to miss out on.
¶ “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock.
Matthew 7:24
Certainly the views are far more dynamic and exciting when you build your life-house in a lush flood-plain. Or are they? The houses built on the rock seem so far away from the 'edge' that they couldn't possibly provide their inhabitants with the excitement of of the sand-founded-life-house. This idea is especially when true when we pretty up the lush flood-plains with magnificent parklands and gardens. People who scorn the higher-ground of living according to the teaching of Jesus often choose the popular and the pretty against the unpopular and the plain. But Christ calls us to resist the lure of man's mis-placed approval and to long for God's approval instead.
And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. 
Matthew 7:25
Just like the long-term Toowoomba residents who warned their community, and the Council approving new building proposals, that the flood-plain was not the place to build safely, we continue to appeal to the world that building your life-house in the pathway of eternal consequences is not wise or safe. But it often sounds like we are saying that it is only perilous for the life to come - when in fact, we saying that building your life on sand is perilous now and for the life to come!
When the long-term flood-surviving residents of Toowoomba protested that landscaper's small (but elegant) pipes were inadequate to handle the cyclic flooding that inevitably comes, and that they really should follow the advice of the Engineer to install large (but ugly) pipes, they were dismissed as being yesterday's people and out-of-touch. Similarly, we appeal to the world that the Chief Engineer of the Universe has called for people to build their lives on the Rock and to only use material sourced from a Cross, we are dismissed as belonging to a by-gone era and being out of touch by our "Post-Christian" audience.
so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.
Matthew 5:45
Sadly, there will probably be some who take the spiritual lessons from this tragic episode too far and claim that this is the judgment of God upon Queensland. This kind of judgmentalism was heard during the disastrous Victorian bushfires of 2009, Hurricane Katrina's destruction of New Orleans in 2005, and the Indian Ocean Tsunami of 2004. But we need not be purveyors of divine judgment at times like this. Tsunamis happen. Fires happen. Floods happen. Life will always have its disasters. These things are not necessarilythe judgment of God. In fact, God has designed that life on earth be sustained by fires, floods, tsunamis, storms, and the like. When mankind dwells with respect for their particular climate and environment they dwell well. It's when, as these Toowoomba residents pointed out, we disregard and disrespect our climatic cycles and environment that we risk paying a high price. Of course the same kind of regard and respect needs to be applied spiritually to life (the Bible refers to this approach as living in the fear of the Lord).
Despite accusations of unjust brutality by the Church down through the ages (Crusades, Inquisition, Witch-Hunts and so on) such calamities as this have historically mustered a very swift and very compassionate response from the Church. Because of our devotion to Christ and the resultant concern for concerns Him, the Church has always been at the forefront of care for the displaced, marginalised, hurting, impoverished, and downtrodden. Beginning with the first Christians setting up leper colonies to care materially for this despised group, to the establishment of hospitals after that, to aid agencies in the modern era, the Church has always attempted to show care for the whole person (body, soul, spirit and mind). Therefore, in drawing lessons from this most recent disaster we are not finger-wagging. Rather we are putting our finger to our chins and saying, didn't Jesus say something about building houses in flood-zones and didn't He draw a spiritual lesson for life and eternity from this?
Let's heed the wise warnings of the aged sages who have seen too many lives ruined by sand-founded living. Let's build our lives on the Rock. Let's warn those attempting to build their lives on the sand. Let's be compassionate toward those discovering that life-sand is no resistance to life-flooding, not just for the physical and temporal well-being of our countrymen, but more importantly for their eternal well-being as well. These floods have wrought severe devastation which has been materially and physically destructive. But it is possible that much good could arise from this. If we can see, and help others to see, the spiritual lessons in such tragedies, it will not only be much good, but great good which can arise.
Father, thank you for Your many blessings. We all too often take them for granted. Thank you for the wonderful gift of life You have given us. Especially thank You for the gift of salvation, forgiveness, and eternal life in Your Son, Jesus Christ. Please help us to be compassionate and sensitive toward those who are hurting and suffering. Cause us to see Your lessons in the midst of tragedy and give us the grace to endure them. We want to know You better. We want to give You glory even in the midst of life's storms. Amen.
Eph. 3:21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
Ps. Andrew

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