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SOS Monthly Newsletter - November 2005
"Act of God"
Dear Christian friends,
In legal terminology, an event outside of human control, such as a natural disaster, is called an “act of God.” The idea is that nobody can be held legally responsible for such things. Unfortunately, this term gives people the mistaken idea that God is responsible for hurricanes and floods, but He is not responsible for beautiful, sunny days. A city may enjoy hundreds of years without a hurricane or flood, and few people give God credit. However, when a natural disaster occurs, people are quick to blame God.
Many non-Christians have difficulty understanding how a good God can allow evil on this earth. They are especially troubled by the idea that God would allow bad things to happen to people who are “good” or “innocent.” The idea that God would cause natural disasters is especially abhorrent to many unbelievers. Christians sometimes struggle with tthese questions, but usually less than unbelievers. Christians view things in light of eternity. Also, Christians know that everyone is a sinner. The closer we get to God, the more we are aware of our own sinfulness and need for a savior. We find God’s mercy more surprising than His judgment. “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me...”
Many in the news media condemn any Christian minister who implies that Hurricane Katrina or the recent earthquake in Pakistan is “God’s judgment on sinners.” As a result, very few prominent ministers make such statements any more. There is no doubt that God judged nations for their sins in Old Testament times. God often waits a long time before He judges people for their sins. In the year that Methuselah died, the great flood came. He lived almost 1000 years. God’s judgments affect not only adults but their children. In an extremely wicked society, the children will grow up to be as ungodly as their parents. The entire society must be destroyed. Most evangelical Christians believe that children who have not reached the age of accountability are saved. If this is so, God is doing these children a great favor. However, it is hard for unbelievers to understand the eternal perspective from which Christians view these things.
Christians know that the flood of Noah’s day, the captivity of Israel, the destruction of Babylon, etc., are all judgments of God because the Bible says that they are. Today, however, we cannot be certain that any given natural disaster is a specific judgment on that people for their sins.
According to a recent poll, 33% of evangelical Christians believe Hurricane Katrina was a deliberate act of God, compared with 23% of the general population. Most relate it to the “sinfulness” of New Orleans and the U.S. Some relate it to the pressure the U.S. placed upon Israel to give up some of its land.
We can speculate about these things. However, when we preach on the streets, it is important that we preach God’s Word, not our personal opinions. We especially need to avoid expressing personal opinions that will be an obstacle to people getting saved. Do we really need to tell someone whose friends or relatives just died in Hurricane Katrina that it was God’s judgment on America? What if we’re wrong?
When we preach the Gospel, we must preach about God’s holiness and justice. “And as he [Paul] reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come, Felix trembled” (Acts 24:25). When God’s final judgments come to this earth, people will have no doubt what is happening. “Every bondman, and every free man...said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb” (Rev. 6:16).
Despite this knowledge, a great many people will not repent. “By these three were the third part of men killed...and the rest of the men which were killed not by these plagues yet repented not...Neither repented they of their murders, nor of their sorceries, nor of their fornication, nor of their thefts” (Rev. 9:18-21). The Greek word translated “sorcery” is pharmakos, “a sorcerer, especially one who uses drugs” (Vine’s Expository Dictionary). It is interesting that four of the most common sins of our day are listed here.
In Peter’s famous sermon on the day of Pentecost, he quotes the prophet Joel, “The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before that great and notable day of the Lord come. And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Acts 2:20-21). In Rev. 6:12, we are again told “When he had opened the sixth seal...the sun became black as sackcloth, and the moon became as blood.”
When the seven vials are poured out on the earth, the judgments on everyone who “had the mark of the beast” become even more severe. “And the fourth angel poured out his vial on the sun...And men were scorched with great heat, and blasphemed the name of God...and they repented not to give him Glory. And the fifth angel poured out his vial...and they gnawed their tongues for pain. And blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores, and repented not of their deeds” (Rev. 16:8-11).
We are living in evil days. When we preach on the streets, it is easy to get angry at people for rejecting or ignoring us. When we do, we become less effective witnesses for Jesus. Our preaching gets harsher, and more people reject us. This becomes a vicious cycle. The gospel message is not merely about judgment. It is also about God’s love, mercy and forgiveness. The fruit of the spirit—love, joy and peace—needs to be evident in our witness.
Many of our outreaches feature more music than preaching. Music allows us to communicate the gospel in a way that is joyful. It also allows our workers to get refreshed as they sense God’s presence. Non-Christians also can sense God’s presence as we worship God on the streets. We desperately need a musician for our Friday night outreaches, so these outreaches will be more effective.
When I preach, I look for someone who seems to be receptive to the gospel. I direct my preaching to that person, not to the hostile or indifferent person. We use amplifiers so we don’t have to yell at people. When I preach about God’s judgment, I try to do so in a way that is as loving and gentle as possible. God is not willing that any perish, but that all come to repentance. My desire, too, is to see as many people as possible get saved from God’s wrath.
Love Parade Outreach
A few weeks ago, I learned that the world’s largest electronic music festival was coming to San Francisco on Sat. September 24. Founded in Berlin in 1989, the event had grown to over 1.5 million attendees by 2000, with Mexico City, Santiago de Chile, and Tel Aviv all playing host to international Love Parades. This year, an estimated 75,000 people were expected to attend the Love Parade in San Francisco, marching up Market St. to Civic Center from 1 - 4 PM. The parade featured 30 floats with DJ’s spinning various kinds of music. Everyone was encouraged to dance in the streets.
Last March, we obtained a permit for United Nations Plaza on that day, from noon to 5 PM. Paul Coca, Jr. is a Christian DJ. He and some of his friends brought Christian DJ music to minister to the crowd as they passed by us. Several Christians preached while the music was playing. Many of the people were dressed in colorful outfits. A few were naked. Most of them undoubtedly saw our 10-foot long Jesus banners as they passed by and many heard our preaching. We gave out about 1000 gospel tracts. The DJ music helped us relate to the crowd. We had some good conversations and prayed with several people that afternoon.
ON THE STREETS
On Friday September 16, we held our last outreach of the season at a Giants baseball game at SBC Park. We went to a new location where we reached even more people than at our usual location. It was an awesome, and somewhat scary sight to see the huge crowd of baseball fans walk by us as they left the stadium. The Giants had defeated their arch-rival, the LA Dodgers, in the bottom of the 9th inning, so most were in a jubilant mood. They were not eager to hear about Jesus, but God again protected us. We also gave out a lot of tracts and had some good conversations that night.
On Friday September 23 we witnessed on Union Street. This is one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in San Francisco. Mark Whitehead, now Pastor of Northridge Assembly of God in Ceres, CA, played music. At about 8:30 PM, a police officer threatened us with arrest unless we shut down. He said he had received a complaint. We moved two blocks down the street and continued our outreach, even though there were fewer people at that location.
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