Lessons on Preparedness, from the California Wildfires December 08 2017

(Part of BCF’S blog series: “Society, Selflessness, and the Scriptures")

Just a couple of months ago, the BCF blog was about “The Summer of Disasters.”  It was about a biblical perspective on life-and-death situations and how we saw people risking their lives to save others. One of those disasters involved wildfires in the area of Santa Rosa, a city north of San Francisco, which was devastated by 44 fatalities and some 5000 structures lost when high winds whipped small flames into a major conflagration.  Emergency responders were knocking on doors in the middle of the night, telling people to leave immediately.   Residents were very quickly put in the position of having to make life and death choices and to figure out what, if anything, they should or could take with them.  A couple originally from the Santa Rosa area was telling me about what their family members who still lived there were going through in the aftermath.  Six sets of family members lost houses, and the scale of the devastation was difficult to describe. It will be a very long road to recovery.

The same thing is happening now in Southern California, with winds upwards of 80 mph stoking multiple fires.  None are near where we live, but there is extensive news coverage at both the local and national level.  Cal Fire Division Chief Nick Schuler said Thursday night that “Residents should be ready to evacuate even if they don't live in areas immediately affected by flames. They need to prepare as if they will be impacted. Where are they gonna go? What are their escape routes? What is their plan for communication to their families?"

The fires have triggered many questions in my mind about how I would respond in that situation. How prepared are we?  How attached would I be to our worldly possessions? Where would we go? And of course, there is “how good is our insurance?”  There is no way to describe what it must be like to go back to your house and see nothing but ashes. But this is also where the Christian faith provides so much hope.  Our peace and joy need not depend on our earthly possessions.  The Apostle Paul had personal experience with this, as he stated in Philippians 4:10-13:

Not that I speak from want; for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am.  I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need.  I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.

The “I can do all things” in verse 13 is sometimes used to imply acts of bravery, but in context, it is really about being content across the full spectrum of circumstances we face in life – the easy times as well as the hard ones.  This is a great passage to memorize as a reminder when tragedies occur.

This is not to trivialize how difficult it is to see your house burned to the ground.  Losing essentially all your earthly goods has to be an extremely difficult experience.  But even here, the believer in Christ can have hope because we realize that our citizenship is actually in heaven (Philippians 3:20), and we are stewards of what God has allowed us to manage on earth.  It’s easy to say “Amen” to this when we hear it in church services; it’s another thing to live through it and have that truth tested in a personal way, like many people are right now.  In this or any other tragedy, we need to lift our brethren up in prayer.  It can be dismaying, and certainly not easy to go through this.

These experiences are where the things we learn in our study of the Scriptures are translated to real life.  It is where we find out how well we paid attention to the biblical truths.  This is what I would call “spiritual preparedness,” and it’s amazing to think back through the Scriptures about how much of what we learn has to do with preparing us for the challenges ahead.  In fact, much of Jesus’ ministry was about preparing His disciples for what was to come.  In the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew chapters 5-7), He was preparing them for real life: how to deal with insults, persecution, lust, worry, relationships with others, and a host of other things.  At the Last Supper, He demonstrated to the disciples (and us) what it meant to serve (John 13).  He explained that He was not going to be with the disciples much longer and that the Father was providing the Holy Spirit to “guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come” (John 16:13).

When He was challenged by the Jewish leaders to give them a sign, Jesus said “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”  This made no sense, even to the disciples.  But John 2:22 tells us that “When therefore He was raised from the dead, His disciples remembered that He said this; and they believed the Scripture, and the word which Jesus had spoken.”  He had been speaking of the temple of His body, not the literal temple.  In the same way, God can use difficulties in a way that turns on the spiritual “light bulb” that reminds us “Oh now I remember.  Now I understand why we had that teaching on stewardship, or contentment, or sacrificial love, or having God’s peace even when suffering.  I didn’t really understand the depth of it then, but I do now.”

These times are also a reminder to me not to become too attached to my earthly possessions.  God says in I John 2:15,  “Do not love the world nor the things in the world.” It is interesting that the Greek word for love here is “agapao,” (verb form of agape) the same word as used for the sacrificial, selfless love of God and others.  In other words, do not love the world system so much that you end up sacrificing yourself.  We are to be good stewards of what God has given us, but our walk with Jesus should not be dependent on whether we have these material things.

But there is also “physical preparedness,” which we should pay attention to as well.  Physical preparedness is part of being a steward.  So I looked up what fire officials say about evacuations and emergency preparedness.  Cal Fire has an extensive set of recommendations on their website to prepare people who live in wildfire areas at  http://www.readyforwildfire.org/Prepare-For-Wildfire/, everything from evacuation checklists to fire prevention. Many of these recommendations apply to other kinds of emergency preparedness as well.

It is also during these times when we learn to appreciate more deeply the men and women in emergency services, and perhaps listen a little more closely to people like the Cal Fire division chief.  Some of us, myself included, have some homework to do.

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Steve Smith