Vertical News September 2008

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Vertical News September 2008

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As I start writing this message, I am working by generator power. The electricity went out about eight hours ago, and I have been running my portable generator the last hour and a half to recharge my laptop battery and to make sure the freezer and the refrigerator keep our perishable food cold.

The power outage was not a surprise. In fact, I made preparations over the last couple of days as a massive storm system filled approximately 85 percent of the Gulf of Mexico. Based on the three- and five-day predictions of the National Hurricane Center Web site, I knew Hurricane Ike was likely to hit the Texas coast, then turn north and head up the east side of Texas before veering further east through Arkansas and Missouri and on to the eastern part of the Great Lakes in the United States. And that's exactly what Ike did.

About three hours after losing my electrical power, the center of the storm passed over my home in East Texas, and now, several hours later, the wind and rain are subsiding, leaving behind a lot of downed tree branches that caused the power outages to thousands of us. What amazes me is that a sizable number of people who live right in the projected landfall area along the coast of Texas—people who were ordered to evacuate—failed to leave.

As I complete this commentary two days later, I now have electrical power and Internet access. The Wall Street Journal reported that up to 40 percent of Galveston's 58,000 residents remained in their homes. Other articles reported that the mayor of Galveston urged people to observe the mandatory evacuation order and that the National Weather Service warned that people in smaller structures "may face certain death." Yet many defied the order and warning. Then there were reports that some who stayed called for emergency rescue just before the storm hit and rescuers went to get them.

The blogs are abuzz with ire about how much money it costs to rescue people who do this and how rescuers were forced to put their own lives at risk in order to save some people from their own irresponsible choices to stay. However, it seems that if millions evacuate and the storm turns in another direction, such as happened a few weeks earlier with New Orleans and Hurricane Gustav, people become complacent and think it will always work out that way. Sadly, these fortunate events just seem to encourage more people to ignore future warnings.

As I contemplate the evacuation warnings of government officials, I can't help but think of the parallel to God's warnings to us. Human forecasters cannot predict with absolute certainty, but God can. It makes sense to heed the warnings of humans when danger approaches. If they are wrong, the worst that happens is you have taken an unnecessary evacuation trip and can safely return. If the danger does indeed come to pass, you have moved to safety and can return when the danger has passed.

With God, the warning is much more certain and important. Ancient Israel refused to obey God's laws, and God sent prophet after prophet to warn them of their impending doom if they did not change.

He inspired Jeremiah to make that very statement in Jeremiah 25:4-7, saying He had sent His prophets "rising early" to warn Israel, but they would not listen. God was pleading with them through Jeremiah to repent and live up to the covenant they had made with Him. If only they would obey, He would not bring harm on them. Yet they refused to listen and eventually were taken into captivity.

Ezekiel was even more direct, saying, "'Cast away from you all the transgressions which you have committed, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit. For why should you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of one who dies,' says the Lord God. 'Therefore turn and live!'" (Ezekiel 18:31-32).

God's warnings show that He cares about us. He warns humans before sending punishment, as He says in Amos 3:7, but it is because He wants people to change—to leave behind their old ways of wrong living.

That same message is given in the New Testament through the words of Peter in Acts 3:19: "Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord." We are all told to heed God's warning to change, but for a positive reason—so God can forgive us and bring refreshing blessings.

How responsive are you to the warnings of safety officials? More importantly, how responsive are you to God's warnings? He warns for our ultimate good.