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STORM WARNINGWHETHER GLOBAL RECESSION, TERRORIST THREATS, OR DEVASTATING NATURAL DISASTERS, THESE OMINOUS SHADOWS MUST BRING US BACK TO THE GOSPEL
By BILLY GRAHAM
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2010 Billy Graham
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe Winds of Change
He makes winds his messengers, flames of fire his servants. -Psalm 104:4
Killer Earthquake Rocks Haiti-230,300 Dead!
Quake Hits Chile-Tsunami Roars Across Vast Pacific Ocean. Triggers Tsunami Alerts For United States. Alarms Sound Across Hawaii.
Hurricane Flattens New Orleans Parishes: Thousands Ignored Warning!
Tornado Rips Through Canadian Campsite: Searching For The Missing And Dead.
These are samples of catastrophic headlines.
Cyclones, monsoons, twisters, typhoons-raging winds that part the waters-storm shocks that reduce the earth to rubble. Camera lenses snap like lightning bolts, capturing the aftermath of catastrophe.
We've heard about them. We've seen them. We've felt for those caught up in their wrath. At one time or another, we have all been warned of an approaching storm. Many live in fear that the earth will shake beneath their feet suddenly-without warning.
Human nature reacts differently. Some head straight to the grocery store at the first hint of a winter storm. When the meteorologist warns of thunderstorms, people scurry to locate their umbrellas. When the Weather Channel posts a warning to take cover because a tornado has been spotted nearby, parents hurry their children to shelter, snatching flashlights and candles in case the electricity goes out for hours-even days.
These are responsible reactions. These are people who heed the warnings. Yet how many times have we watched and waited as the snow clouds moved another direction, or the showers sprinkled just enough to calm the dusty air, or the sky abruptly changed complexion-and the warnings turned out to be nothing more than a distraction, an interruption to the activity of life? After a while, one false alarm after another, people become complacent-until it's too late, because at some point the warning is real.
WINDS OF WARNING
I have watched these cycles most of my life. Repeatedly, I have heard of people who faced oncoming storms with defiance, refusing to pay attention to the warnings or prepare for catastrophe, only to be caught in the storm's fury.
I can remember as a boy on our dairy farm that storm warnings were taken with great seriousness. We didn't have technology to track storms by the minute. We didn't have the benefit of forecasters to tell us with precision the exact hour a storm would hit, but that didn't prevent Mother Nature from sending her warnings-in the wind, in the falling temperature, and by darkened clouds in the sky.
My father taught me how to watch the sky and listen to the winds for those warnings. He knew that a power-packed storm could wipe out a year's crop, and gale-force winds could scatter a barn across the fields like a stick of dynamite. One violent storm could destroy the livelihood of families and communities for years. Joy could overcome the losses if physical life was spared, but the loss would still be great.
Jesus said, "When you see a cloud rising in the west, immediately you say, 'It's going to rain,' and it does. And when the south wind blows, you say, 'It's going to be hot,' and it is.... You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky. How is it that you don't know how to interpret this present time?" (Luke 12:54-56).
The truth is, we don't like our lives disrupted. We have important things to do: ball games to watch, work to finish, concerts to attend, trips that have been arranged and perhaps paid for months in advance.
This was the case as Labor Day 2005 approached. Families were making plans for a cookout, a beach trip, or visit to the amusement park. Plans were altered for many travelers who were riveted to any outlet reporting weather conditions. Why? What began as a little storm over the Bahamas gathered strength as it moved across Florida and into the Gulf of Mexico. Hurricane Katrina became a major threat, with ominous news reports warning that it might strike New Orleans and even wipe it off the map. Some cautious travelers cancelled their holiday plans to visit the city. Others gambled with the wind and headed right into the height of hurricane season, figuring the storm would diminish before landfall. They were wrong. The winds grew stronger.
As the storm warnings loomed, officials struggled to evacuate the shoreline cities-particularly New Orleans-and highways became choked with vehicles bumper to bumper. Many who lived along the coastal waters in jeopardy opted to weather the storm rather than battle the traffic moving at a snail's pace. The rest of America watched anxiously as the satellite images documented the hurricane's relentless march toward land. Many moaned as they watched the conflict between the rights of citizens to remain at their own risk and the responsibility of civic leaders to protect lives. Some watched with chagrin as the rebellious owners of Bourbon Street's bars refused to leave or even fortify their establishments, but instead geared up for hurricane parties. As the storm bore down on the helpless city, the nation watched in horror as thousands jammed the city's famed Superdome, desperately seeking shelter. After the ferocious storm breached the levees protecting New Orleans, large portions of the city flooded, making Hurricane Katrina one of the deadliest and most destructive natural disasters in American history.
I couldn't help but think of another group of people who defied Hurricane Camille thirty-six years earlier, in Pass Christian, Mississippi. Warnings had gone out. But instead of boarding up and escaping the city, there were those who actually prepared for a "hurricane party." How could they be thinking it was party time? Were they ignorant of the dangers? Did they believe their egos and pride could overcome nature's unpredictable fury? We'll never know. They didn't discern the warning blowing in the wind and paid the deadly price.
What we do know is that the wind was howling outside the posh Richelieu Apartments when Police Chief Jerry Peralta pulled up sometime after dark. Facing the beach less than two-hundred and fifty feet from the surf, the apartments were directly in the line of danger. A man with a drink in his hand came out on the second-floor balcony and waved. Peralta yelled up, "You all need to clear out of here as quickly as you can. The storm's getting worse!" But as others joined the man on the balcony, they laughed at Peralta's order to leave. "This is my land," one of them yelled back. "If you want me off, you'll have to arrest me."
Peralta didn't arrest anyone, nor could he persuade them to leave. He wrote down the names of the next of kin of the twenty or so people who gathered there to party through the hurricane. They scoffed as he took their names-and ignored the warning.
When the front wall of the storm came ashore, it was 10:15 p.m. Scientists clocked Camille's wind speed at more than 205 miles per hour, the strongest on record at the time. Raindrops hit with the force of bullets, and waves off the Gulf Coast crested between twenty-two and twenty-eight feet high.
Reports later showed that the worst damage occurred in the little settlement where the party of twenty came to an end-literally! Nothing was left of the three-story apartment structure but the foundation; the only survivor was a five-year-old boy found clinging to a mattress the following day.
WINDS THAT BATTER
In the midst of a world in chaos-battered by everything from natural disasters to financial hurricanes that threaten the very foundations of our societies-we must never forget the personal suffering and fear that grip the hearts of those who have been caught in the aftermath of these events. I've maneuvered through the rubble of such disasters around the world. I've looked into the eyes of the brokenhearted standing in the midst of life turned inside out. No one is ever prepared for the aftershocks, and our hearts should be filled with compassion for the victims.
You may have found yourself touched by events like this-events that were outside your control but still caught in their grip. This certainly was the case when I toured south Florida in 1992. Hurricane Andrew had carved a path of devastation more than thirty miles wide. It was a picture of absolute chaos as far as the eye could see. Not a single house or building had been spared.
Florida governor Lawton Chiles invited me to join him for a meeting with the people in the hardest-hit areas of the state, especially Homestead and surrounding communities where Andrew's destructive power severely damaged everything in its path. My son Franklin, president of Samaritan's Purse, was already there with a team working in the shambles of what had been home to tens of thousands. The governor called Floridians together and asked me to lead them in a prayer service in the aftermath of this killer storm. My heart ached as I looked into the eyes of the assembled crowd. Just days earlier, these same people had been routinely going about their lives, unconcerned about the dark clouds that satellites had detected somewhere off the west coast of Africa.
At first, it was just another tropical depression. But it began to grow in size and momentum, slowly moving westward across the sea. Forecasters noted that it was the season's first hurricane, but quickly added that it was too far from land to cause concern.
That assessment changed radically over the next three days as the storm approached Caribbean waters. The winds howled. Weather advisories became more ominous: small craft warnings, gale warnings, tropical storm warnings, and finally warnings of a major hurricane. Andrew's initial landfall was in the Bahamas. Four people were killed on the island of Eleuthera, and property damage was the most extensive in the island's history. Four hours later, the palm trees in south Florida began to dance in the wind as the first gusts from Andrew arrived.
My daughter Gigi called that evening from her home near Fort Lauderdale. "I'm sitting here waiting for Andrew," she said. "No one is exactly sure where it's going to hit, but it should be here within the next four hours." Gigi's family was taking what precautions they could, having decided to stick it out at home. Her words gave the storm a new sense of drama and urgency for Ruth and me. Hurricane Andrew was no longer just the lead story on the news; it had become personal.
Farther south, near Florida City, seventy-eight-year-old Herman Lucerne was also preparing to ride out the storm. A former mayor of Florida City, Herman was a renowned outdoorsman and fishing guide. He was known to many people as "Mr. Everglades," because that great swampland was his stomping ground. He had lived there all his life. When he heard the storm warnings, he took his usual precautions, just as he had done for countless other hurricanes. He had seen so many in the past that he was convinced he could withstand another.
Hurricane Andrew crashed into south Florida around 4 a.m. During those long and terrifying hours, it unleashed a fury of wind and water of incredible proportions. For the first time, a hurricane passed directly over the National Hurricane Warning Service Center in Coral Gables, ripping the radar array from the top of the six-story structure. The Center's anemometer was destroyed shortly after recording 164-mile-per-hour winds, with wind gusts off the scale. The fierce winds that blasted the tip of Florida left thirty-three people dead, destroyed more than sixty-three thousand homes, left 1.3 million people without water or electricity, and did more than $30 billion in damage.
But it didn't stop there. Nineteen hours later Hurricane Andrew crossed the Gulf of Mexico and struck the coast of Louisiana, where it killed again, leaving fifty thousand people homeless and hundreds of thousands without water or electricity.
Ruth and I kept dialing our daughter, but for some time the phone lines were dead, and our concern (and prayers) increased. When we finally made contact, we learned that 100-mile-per-hour winds had battered her neighborhood, knocking down trees and light poles, causing further damage to homes. Thankfully her family survived unharmed, but they assured me they would never try to ride out another hurricane. They had learned their lesson and were grateful for a second chance-and God's protecting hand upon them.
Tragically, in Florida City, Herman Lucerne would never get another chance. He didn't survive Andrew. This time, the storm overcame his vast experience.
WINDS OF UNCERTAINTY
Hurricanes and other natural disasters aren't the only storms that batter our lives, however. As I write these words, the world is in the grip of another type of storm, the most devastating economic crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s. Millions have lost their jobs, and home foreclosures and business bankruptcies have soared to record levels. "Our economy is on life support," one economist said, referring to the massive amounts of money that governments across the world have injected into their financial systems. Not a single strata of society has been untouched, and many fear that soaring governmental debt could threaten the financial security of the world for generations to come. No one can predict the long-term outcome of these events, but fear and uncertainty about the stability of the world's financial foundations have become hallmarks of our age. Who among us knows what the future holds-for us, and for our children and grandchildren?
Risk is inevitable in financial markets, but what has brought us to the brink of financial ruin in recent times? Why have these things happened? The answers are many, but overshadowing them all are greed, self-indulgence, and financial irresponsibility-not just on the part of individual consumers, but government and industry as well. Today we read of nations with multi-trillion-dollar debts-a figure that is almost incomprehensible. On an individual level, citizens by the thousands walk away from their homes because they no longer can pay the mortgage, while millions face unemployment and the threat of personal bankruptcy.
The great flaw in the American economic system has finally been revealed: an unrealistic faith in the power of prosperity rather than in the ultimate power and benevolence of God. The American Dream became America's god; wealth and abundance have become the measure of America's success. But-as recent events have shown-we have been living an illusion. Journalist Robert J. Samuelson summarized this well in Newsweek magazine. He wrote:
Every age has its illusions. Ours has been this fervent belief in the power of prosperity. Our pillars of faith are now crashing about us. We are discovering that we cannot, as we had once supposed, create prosperity at will ... Worse, we are learning that even great amounts of prosperity won't solve all our social problems. Our Good Society is disfigured by huge blemishes: entrenched poverty, persistent racial tension, the breakdown of the family, and staggering budget deficits. We are being rudely disabused of our vision of the future. The result is a deep crisis of spirit that fuels Americans' growing self-doubts, cynicism with politics, and confusion about our global role.
This was not written in 2010. It was printed on March 2, 1992. The lesson is clear: instead of learning from the past, we have only repeated its mistakes.
We see America's disappointment and despair not just in the current financial crisis, but in other areas also. We were shocked by the violence and looting in Los Angeles sparked by the unpopular verdict in the Rodney King case more than a decade ago. Since then we have almost grown numb to protests and hostile confrontations over a host of crucial social issues, from environmental concerns to abortion. Moral and ethical standards that were once taken for granted have not only been called into question but cast overboard by millions. The mentality to "do your own thing" has had devastating effects. Instead of bringing us peace and stability, it has only caused confusion and disillusionment. The world asks, how can this happen in America? Unbridled selfishness can never bring peace to the human heart, much less to society.
Excerpted from STORM WARNING by BILLY GRAHAM Copyright © 2010 by Billy Graham. Excerpted by permission.
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