The tragedy of thousands and thousands of houses burning in California causes us to want to reach out to the families who have lost so much so quickly. (See the recent Heartlight article listing possible ways to help!) I can't imagine gathering my family together to run for our lives. One report said that a million people have had to evacuate. A few of those families have already gone back only to find just a mound of ashes where they once lived. Dry brush and high winds have created a seemingly unimaginable catastrophe. Our hearts go out to those so terribly impacted by these fires.

There is, however, some measure of warning to take from this horrible disaster. Dan Cray wrote an article in Time Magazine on October 23rd entitled: "Why Californians Don't Leave." He writes:

In the wake of such natural disasters we are inclined to ask: Why do people choose to live in hazardous regions in the first place? As University of California Riverside fire ecologist Richard Minnich says, "Why are these people living in vegetation which at times behaves like gasoline? They should know better. Would you live in gasoline?"

Research indicates that if a threat hasn't happened in our own community, we tend to think it won't ever happen to us. Massive earthquakes literally happen every year but since they are often spaced decades apart in any given region, the vast majority of us disregard the threat. "People are terrified of the word nuclear, but the people who live next to a nuclear station are perfectly content with it. People become much less frightened when something hasn't blown up in several years." says Psychologist Daniel Kahneman, who has studied human judgment systems.

[Editor's Note: Please don't take this as blaming people who live in dangerous places for their own problems. There are very few places that don't have some kind of danger associated with living there — tornadoes, hurricanes, avalanches, floods, volcanoes, tsunamis, etc. The point is that we all become complacent to the dangers around us because we become accustomed to our environments and forget their dangers.]

We all tend to believe that the disaster could never happen to us.

I find the same thing to be true here in Rio de Janeiro where I live. Some people build houses on hillsides where, from time-to-time, rains cause mudslides that lead to tragedy. Other poor communities spring up beside canals and rivers ignoring the fact that when torrential summer rains come they might lose everything. Why do they put themselves at such risk? Lack of options and the hope that the disaster would never happen to them.

And isn't this the same feeling that we so often have in regard to our spiritual lives. Most of us know what could happen, but it is so easy to put off dealing with it because it will probably not happen in the immediate future — not too mention the fact that we too often think it will never happen to us.

Friends of ours who come from fine Christian homes and who both deeply love the Lord are getting a divorce. How could this happen? Where did they go wrong? I don't know, but there is a very good chance that somewhere along the line they stopped doing what they needed to do to maintain a good marriage. It should be obvious to all of us that having a good marriage requires an investment on our part. We could avoid so much pain and heartache if we would just stop and consider how important it is that we work at having a deeper relationship with our spouse. Neglect fosters an impending disaster. I know brothers and sisters in Christ who have suffered deeply due to problems with their children. They never dreamed that they might have to deal with such situations. Had they foreseen the danger they certainly would have acted sooner to prevent it. Our list could expand, but you get the point. The neglect seems minor and we believe the worst could never happen to us.

The apostle Paul reminded us to think differently! He said, "So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!" (1 Corinthians 10:12 TNIV). You and I would be foolish to say that we could never have a problem with arrogance, drinking, gambling, materialism, lust, bitterness, worry or any other sin. The devil is always looking for a foothold or a chink in our armor. And when these are allowed to take hold, even just a little bit, impending disaster lurks at the edges of our lives waiting to break loose like wildfire.

We would all be wise to do what Paul said:

Winds may be blowing the fires of destruction our way!
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize. (1 Corinthians 9:24-27)

Winds may be blowing the fires of destruction our way at this very moment. We mustn't think it can't happen to us. Let's take the necessary measures to safeguard ourselves and those we love right away, before we are left looking at the ashes. At the same time, let's also be compassionate to those who have lost so much because of their own disasters and work to reclaim them and help them rebuild their lives!

But you, dear friends, by building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life.

Be merciful to those who doubt; save others by snatching them from the fire; to others show mercy, mixed with fear—hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh.

To him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy — to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen. (Jude 1:20-24)