This past month, the state of California got rocked by dual fires blazing across the north and south. This eclipsed a recent shooting in Thousand Oaks which came right on the heels of another shooting in a synagogue in Pittsburg, PA. What is going on?! This seems to be a natural question in such times. Here are my thoughts on these recent events.
We Are Not Promised a Life of Comfort
Any serious student of the Word of God can come to no other conclusion than to see that this world is full of trouble and perils. (John 16:33) Apostle Peter also reminds us that judgment begins with the house of God. Often in Western culture we are blinded by our own comforts and a false sense of security. Having traveled the world, I can say that America is indeed an exceptional nation, but this does not mean we are beyond the reach of danger, peril or calamity. God can and does put a hedge of protection around those who fear Him. (Ps. 91, Job 1) But when a nation continues to sin against God, do we honestly expect to abide under his hand of protection?
In Jesus’ time, Pilate had murdered some of the Galileans in a ritual sacrifice. There was also a group that died unexpectedly when the Tower of Siloam fell upon them. Jesus speaks to the people and tells them that unless they repent, they too will perish. (Luke 13:1-5) Often we have this idea that people are all innocent. But in God’s eyes, none of us is innocent. None of us is immune from judgment. We tend to look at tragedy and have a sense that an injustice has happened. Could it be that we all deserve this type of punishment and it’s actually the mercy of God that 99.9% of us do not experience this? Jesus uses these moments to remind us of a far weightier and eternal truth. Life is short. We are not promised a journey of ease that is free from suffering or unexpected calamity. It begs the question to all of us, “Where am I storing up my treasures?”
I believe that this tragedy was a prophetic sign to the state. Interestingly, the winds blew the smoke from the fires directly over Sacramento and the Bay Area until they were covered in blackness. These are the two power centers of Northern California. The air quality was among the worst in the whole world. In my entire life, I have not seen people walking around with masks on. It’s like the Lord was revealing the true spiritual climate over these regions. We think we are safe and okay but our culture has become demonic and toxic with sin… we just don’t see it. Also, the fact that Paradise burned to the ground is not coincidental. God is saying that unless you repent of your wickedness California, the paradise in which you trust will be leveled to the ground!
To Tear Down and Root Out
The Lord speaks to the prophet Jeremiah and tells him:
“See this day I have set you over the nations and over the kingdoms, to root out and to pull down, to destroy and to throw down, to build and to plant.” Jer. 1:10
The Psalmist writes,
“Before I was afflicted, I went astray. But now I keep your word.” Ps. 119:67
The author of Hebrews reminds us that,
“Though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things he suffered.” Heb. 5:8
The least popular aspect of discipleship is suffering. But this cannot be ignored. No man or woman will reach maturity without it. Sadly, many Christians have become lukewarm and falsely believe they can have idols and God on the throne of their lives. I have seen in my ministry that those who come to God do so because they believe they need him. Comfort is the enemy of Christlikeness. Jesus tells us that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of Heaven. I remember a story my Mom told me about a pastor of their former church. A woman came up to this pastor and said, “I want you to pray for my husband that he will be saved!” The pastor then asked, “Well tell me a little bit about him.” She replied, “He is a successful business man.” The pastor then began to pray, “Oh God, I pray that his business will fail!” WHAT?! The woman was in shock… “That is not what I told you to pray for!” The pastor then replied, “Well, what do you think it’s going to take to humble him and cause him to cry out to God?”
God must tear down and root out before he can build and plant. So many people worship money, success, their own talents, their own abilities, their own individualism. These are all idols and they war against a life surrendered to God! What shall it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? Saints, we must embrace the judgments of God. In his great wisdom and mercy, he smashes every idol and tears down every barrier between us and him. Until we can sing with one voice, “On Christ the solid rock I stand; all other ground is sinking sand!”
With Us in the Fire
Three Hebrew captives defied King Nebuchadnezzar and wound up in a furnace that was so hot that the guards were killed throwing them in. As the king looked inside, he saw a fourth person walking around with them who looked like the son of God! (Dan. 3)
When I was in Chico, CA this month, I met a woman named Patti. She and her driver Susan were sitting in gridlocked traffic frantically trying to get out during the wildfires. There came a point where the flames were on both sides of the car and it was so hot inside the car that it felt like an oven. She began to cry out to God and said, “Jesus, we need a miracle. I don’t want to die. Only you can save us.” She described that immediately a cool began to fill the car and she knew that everything was going to be fine. And it was! After they returned and got out of their car, the side of their car was literally melted by the flames but they were not harmed! Hallelujah what a mighty God!
The prophet Isaiah tells us that the Spirit of the Lord has anointed Jesus to preach good news to the poor, to bind up the broken hearted, to set at liberty the captives, and to release the prisoners from darkness. He will bestow upon them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, and the garment of praise instead of the spirit of despair. (Is. 61)
Every tragedy is an opportunity for God to show himself strong on behalf of those who trust in him. Though there has been destruction and death, a great wave of healing has begun to take place. I spoke with about a dozen people in Chico recently and almost none of them was complaining or moping about what happened. They were all happy to be alive. This fire reminded them of what is truly important in life. And it became an opportunity for God to bring beauty for ashes… through the church! Even non believers told me that the outpouring of love and help from the community had touched their hearts and helped to soothe the traumas they just experienced.
Let’s believe for God to use this to the eyes of many fully back onto him across the state of California and the world. He is with us in the fire.
“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you. And through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned. Nor shall the flame scorch you.” Is. 43:2