Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Earthquakes and Fires

Dear Friends,

At 4:30 am on January 17,1994, it felt like a huge giant beneath our house was slamming his fist against the floor. We were being tossed up out of bed towards the ceiling! When the Northridge Earthquake stopped, we found our house almost literally turned upside down. The only pieces of furniture left upright were the beds and the living room piano that had been against the wall but was now eight feet away and in the middle of the room. Months later we were attending a new church and making friends with the worship leader and his wife. When she found out how much damage our house had, she told us that their house had no damage because they pray for God’s protection and then she quoted Proverbs 3:33 “The Lord’s curse is on the house of the wicked but He blesses the dwelling of the righteous.” Okay..Thanks Patty! Now I understand why we had so much damage! (We never became close friends..)

She was a fervent Pentecostal who believed and taught in their home Bible study what is known as “Positive Confession Theology” that some call “name it and claim it.” She had commanded God to place a legion of angels around her home and proudly told us that was why they had sustained no serious earthquake damage. Maybe she was correct and she and her husband were the righteous ones while my wife and I were the wicked ones. Or maybe she and her husband lived about 40 miles from Northridge while we lived in Sylmar and almost directly on top of the shallow end of the Earthquake fault that broke. The closer to the surface, the more violent the shaking and the strongest vertical forces in the Valley were measured right across the street from us. That’s the “natural” explanation but the “supernatural” explanation is that God does not play favorites. Romans 2:11“He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” Matthew 5:45 And I was again reminded yesterday that not only the rains but also the fires of nature can sweep away the homes of the righteous and the unrighteous alike. Homes of the most devout Christians are destroyed in the Santa Ana-fed fiery holocausts along with the homes of the most wicked of sinners. 

Last Thursday night, the Saddleridge Fire started just over a mile West of my house. Heavy Santa Ana winds were blowing toward the West. If they had been blowing East, our neighborhood, right across the street from the hills on fire, would have been quickly engulfed in the flames. At one point, the burning embers were traveling over a mile in the winds and igniting spot fires. In just three hours the fire had exploded to 4,700 acres, the fire was now miles away with many homes lost and the fire resources were deployed to the housing developments in the northern part of the valley. With a minimum of firefighters left in Sylmar, the East Side of the fire in the hills was steadily burning unchecked all night long and directly toward us. By morning, it was right across the street. 

My neighbor and I remembered well the 2008 Sayre Fire that burned houses on each side of us in these same foothills. We knew that when the fire burned past us, the now South blowing winds would blast the embers directly toward our houses and onto our properties. The winds had filled our one acre properties with dried leaves and it takes only one ember to burn down a house. My three 100 foot hoses were stretched out and ready to go. We watched and waited. Then thanks be to God, at 8:35 am, two DC-10 air tankers, each carrying 12,000 gallons of fire retardant, showed up.

Taken from my backyard. 10/11/19 @ 8:35 am
As they dropped their load on the Eastern flank of the fire directly across the street from us, my neighbor and I both stood there praising and thanking God. We watched the blazing fire race up to the retardant and smolder to a stop. It was done and over for us. I unpacked things like the files, computer and guitar from the car while Rhianna put away the cat carriers. But it’s hard to celebrate your blessings when you know that 35 families lost their homes, pets and possessions. Many more had homes partially destroyed in the fires. Where were their DC-10's... 

We thank God for His grace as we pray for those who suffered. And when we are suffering, we can only hope that those who received His grace will remember to pray for us. Life happens to all of us. “The same destiny ultimately awaits everyone, whether righteous or wicked, good or bad, ceremonially clean or unclean, religious or irreligious. Good people receive the same treatment as sinners, and people who make promises to God are treated like people who don’t.” Ecclesiastes 9:2 NLT It can be easy for us Christians to become spiritually prideful and feel “special” and entitled to God’s favor. I’m sorry to say that the religious arrogance of the worship leader’s wife is not uncommon among us good, church-goin’ Christians. But the truth is that “The wise sometimes go hungry, and the skillful are not necessarily wealthy. And those who are educated don’t always lead successful lives. It is all decided by chance, by being in the right place at the right time. Ecclesiastes 9:11 NLT 

I sit down at my desk the morning after the fire to write this AMEN Corner. My cat Cody is curled up between the keyboard and the monitor and he’s purring in his sleep. I’m surrounded by my treasured books and the material things that God has gifted me with over my lifetime. I have these things because I live a mile or so East of the fire’s point of origin. If I lived a mile West, I could very well be homeless today. I was not living in the “right place at the right time” during the Northridge Earthquake but I was last Thursday night. God did not send a DC-10 loaded with fire retardant to stop the fire across the street because I’ve always been His favorite. Both the hellish flames and the retardant that quenches the fire, fall on the righteous and the unrighteous alike. God loves my neighbors and me no more and no less than those who lost their homes and are today grieving one of life’s worst personal tragedies. That’s why we can’t ever thank Him for what He has given us without praying for the needs others.
Heavenly Father, You are the compassionate Lord who loves each one of Your children. We pray for those who have been devastated by these wildfires and hold in our hearts the families forever changed by grief and loss. Bring them consolation and comfort. Help them heal from the anxiety and fears they experienced that night. Surround them with Your strength and peace as You heal their memories of this trauma and devastation. May the Holy Spirit be with them and give them the courage to face the long road of rebuilding not just their homes but their broken lives.
We ask Your blessing on the firefighters and emergency personnel who put their own life on the line to help others, and pray that they would be surrounded with Your protection. May their work be guided by the grace and strength that comes from You alone. In the name of Jesus Christ who lives and reigns with You and Holy Spirit both now and ever. AMEN.

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