We were home just a short bit when wildfires broke out in our area. It is amazing how fast things can get heavy and crazy and throw life upside down, especially when you throw a wildfire into the mix.
Not long after we returned from Europe, Mercedes opened a window one morning and said, "I think I smell smoke." We found out that a fire had broken out in our general region; however, when we checked for some news on it, it seemed small enough and far enough away-miles up a canyon at the other end of the 76 Highway corridor-that it was probably not something to be concerned about. It didn't hit me until later that if we smell smoke this far away then the Santa Ana winds are moving exceedingly fast and are very strong.
The fire, which began small enough, soon mushroomed and doubled in size. Then as the day went on, it continued to multiply in size and came in our direction much, much faster than we expected. In fact, in just a few hours that day, it traveled a distance of about 12 miles and consumed over 4100 acres.
Patrick and I were out, having gone to take care of a few errands, and were driving on the highway when a local radio station began stressing how serious the fire situation had become in our area.
We cut things short, turned around, and headed back towards home to find out that you could see the flames raging into the sky right from a ridge a few blocks from our home. A little further down in the neighborhood from another viewpoint you could see that it was moving right in our direction. It was almost into a regional park filled with enormous amounts of dry brush and which is right down below from where we live. The newscasters were warning that being up a hill is no defense with these winds as the fire actually accelerates as it climbs upwards-heat rises! That regional park was a potential tinder box if the fire got into it. It could rage through it and send embers and flames right into the neighborhoods adjacent to it where we live.
We got home, turned on the news and the newscaster was showing a graphic map-it was what I had just been looking at and thinking about moments before while staring at the flames: the path of the fire, if the wind kept up and the firefighters couldn't stop it, is headed straight towards us and will shortly explode with embers in that park, flying into the adjacent neighborhoods. I thought to myself, Trying to stop the onward march of the flames with these 50 mph Santa Ana winds is like trying to stand on railroad tracks and stop a rushing locomotive with a trash can lid! It can only be stopped by divine intervention, not by might or human power…
As I thought about that we got a call right then from the Sheriff's department saying: "This is an evacuation warning: wildfire is headed in your direction. Prepare to evacuate!" Of course, seeing: 1. the flames headed in our direction, 2.the graphic map on the news, 3. the phone call from the Sheriff's department, we were getting quite concerned to put it mildly.
We immediately took time to pray and then afterwards began to get packed up and ready to go. What do we take and what do we leave behind? I thought. Just the stress of immediately having to decide what to pack up and what to leave behind is overwhelming. While contemplating which things do I leave behind to possibly burn to a cinder, thoughts of a former experience like this raced into my mind from the past...
Reflections from the Past
We were living in Corona Del Mar (CDM) the south end of Newport Beach, some years back, when hard blowing Santa Ana winds came up and fire broke out nearby. I had ridden my bike that day earlier into the Newport Coast area, a stretch of coast to the south of CDM with some open land and lots of dry brush. Fire was raging in the area and I watched as the surrounding brush became a torch to light up multimillion dollar homes in the Emerald Bay and Laguna Beach area.
These places had all the defensible space and things supposed to protect them, but the fire just ripped right into them. Mobile homes adjacent to Emerald Bay in El Moro Park went up like matchboxes while their propane tanks-which are designed to withstand high heat-blew up like bombs. I could hardly believe the devastation I was seeing with my own eyes. I thought, This stuff is like a steamroller, when that wind and fire get going, it just flattens whatever is in its path.
The wind switched while looking on and chatting with a reporter from a local news station, and all of a sudden, a telephone pole caught fire and crashed down right next to us with live wires sparking and making noise. We looked at each other and he said what we both knew: "Time to get out of here before the whole place goes up."
The wind and fire were now headed north. I entered Corona Del Mar on my bike into a bizarre scene: the sun had gone down and an eerie orange glow lit up the sky while people frantically ran down the streets in panic as an evacuation warning had just been given. Mercedes had already packed some things up and put them in the car when I got back, and we waited on pins and needles for further news while contemplating what else to take. Nothing was forthcoming, so I called a friend about midnight who lived in Cameo Shores at the south end of town and closest to the fire. He informed me that thankfully the wind had just subsided and the firefighters were able to keep the fire from getting out of Newport Coast and into Corona Del Mar. We thanked God and were able to get a bit of fitful sleep.
That past experience, watching those places go up in Laguna Beach and El Moro, made me think of our present situation, how crazy this could get if things don't calm down.
Back in the Present Situation
Remembering how heavy it all can get, we continued to pray seriously for the winds to die down and intermittently headed back to a viewpoint to check on what was happening. The situation was concerning, with each check the fire seemed to be getting bigger and coming closer.
In the intermittent time of being left hanging again without further word from the Sheriff, I came across a book I felt led to open and read. It was one of sermons by Martin Luther. The Lord began to speak out of it to me. Luther talked about how the Holy Spirit doesn't make Christians into some super saints who don't experience difficulty, or feel stress, or worry, but rather the Holy Spirit comforts us, ministers to us, and helps us when we feel stress, anxiety, and worry. Whatever we might feel in the heart or go through in life, He is there to minister to us. We do not need to act religious or pretend that we don't feel these things sometimes in life, but rather we need to fall into the arms of Christ who helps us and holds us up by the Holy Spirit in times of trial.
As I read a bit from this book we let God minister to us, we needed His strength in this situation. I then headed out to the viewpoint for another situation update. Thank God the wind finally had subsided a bit about 3:00 AM and things calmed down some too. I came back and fell asleep on a chair, exhausted from all the stressful activity, getting just a couple of hours of fitful sleep.
Early in the morning I headed out for another check and situation update, remembering how just a few years ago in San Diego the wind and fires looked like they died down during the night, only to explode again in the early morning, with harsh winds kicking back up and the raging inferno raging on. Thankfully, back then we had been further away from the flames.
As I looked out over the ridge I thanked God the wind had stayed calmer, it was blowing some, but not raging. I was also glad as I saw the Marine's helicopters dumping water and greatly helping fight the still-burning fire.
The most immediate threat for us had subsided, but we were by no means out of the woods, as wind and burning fire kept going for days afterward. Over 1000 firefighters kept on the front lines of just this, the Lilac Fire, for days, knowing a shift back to the hard winds could change everything in a moment.
A lot of stress hits you in these times and normal life takes a back seat for a while. Having seen what kind of destruction these things can bring with my own eyes in the past, I was all too aware of how much more damage it could have done, which just adds to the overall stress of the situation.
In the middle of all this anxiety however, the Lord is there to help us. We should always remember that as God's children the Holy Spirit is there to comfort, minister to us, and strengthen us, no matter what situation or trial we may face in life. He is always there to help us, we just need to open our hearts to Him and let Him minister to us. "God works everything together for good for those who love him and are called according to his purpose." Romans 8:28
The Lord also used Luther's words on the Holy Spirit to minister to another bit of stress: having just returned from a three-month mission trip and living on the road and regularly experiencing adventure and divine appointments and miracles is exciting…coming home to: taking out the trash, cleaning out weeds that invaded the yard, trying to fix a car where rats had climbed into the engine area and made a nest in and ate its wires, not so exciting. Missiologists have defined this stress of returning from a mission trip, regardless if it is a short or long trip, as a real thing! It has a specific name: Mission re-entry shock.
It hits people coming back from mission trips without them even realizing it. That's because it is physical: real stuff like jet lag makes you doze off at 6:00 pm and wake up at 2:00am, as well as the body needing to recover from being cramped in a tin can with 300 of your favorite friends in a miserable bus-in-the-sky for hours upon hours on end! We had over 30 hours of straight travel just getting home when you count all the connections and everything else on this return trip!
But it is more than just physical: we wrestle not against flesh and blood only, but against spiritual forces of darkness in heavenly realms. We can't forget that satanic forces attack those the Lord uses to get others saved, filled, healed, and delivered.
You do experience and feel more warfare hitting you the more people get saved, filled, healed, and delivered. It is important to remember to keep on the full armor of God lest the mood of Elijah at Horeb try and overtake us! (That is where Elijah got hit by darkness, heaviness, and spiritual warfare.)
Our old friend Lonnie Frisbee used to give us missionary advice and say: "When you're tired, hungry, worn out, upset, or exhausted, then realize you need to watch out! Because that is when the enemy will come at you hard! I tell you guys: guard your heart: I didn't, and it cost me dearly!, he explained.
The rest of his advice was to lean into Jesus and let the Holy Spirit minister to us fully-exactly what we watched Lonnie exemplify those last few years of his life, and also what Luther was talking about in the book I read during the fire!
The Lord used the wildfire to begin a process and do deeper stuff with the Holy Spirit within us. In fact, the fire just got the process going again once we were home from the trip, and we are rolling with the Holy Ghost now in the renewing process He's taking us through, something he actually began in us years ago, and is in fact, continuing to carry forth, something we all need in the Body of Christ.
After all, Jesus began His ministry with the words from the book of Isaiah about how He came to: heal the brokenhearted, set at liberty those that are bruised, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor-which means He came to proclaim grace. Stress bruises the mind and the soul and we all got to let the Lord heal us up as we live in a stress-filled world!
I heard Reinhard Bonnke say one time: "We should be people whom the Holy Spirit can minister to easily." Right on, I say to that! I encourage the same for you who have read this, as we all carry stress at times that we don't need to. We just got to give it to the Lord and let the Holy Ghost come in and minister to us and He'll lift it off, and He will even do much more glorious work if we let Him! Hallelujah!
How about this for a New Year's resolution: let Christ carry your burdens, and let the Holy Spirit fill you with His presence, all the time! Amen!