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I am a 1967 graduate of The Citadel (Distinguished Military Student, member of the Economic Honor Society, Dean's List), a 1975 graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (M.Div., magna cum laude, member of the Phi Alpha Chi academic honor society); I attended the Free University of Amsterdam and completed my History of Dogma there and then received a full scholarship from the Dutch government to transfer to the sister school in Kampen, Holland. In 1979 I graduated from the Theological Seminary of the Reformed Churches of Holland (Drs. with honors in Ethics). My New Testament minor was completed with Herman Ridderbos. I am also a 2001 Ph.D. graduate of Westminster Theological Seminary (Systematic Theology) in Philly with a dissertation on the "unio mystica" in the theology of Dr. Herman Bavinck (1854-1921). I am a former tank commander, and instructor in the US Army Armor School at Ft. Knox, KY. I have been happily married to my childhood sweetheart and best friend, Sally, for 43 years. We have 6 children, one of whom is with the Lord, and 14 wonderful grandchildren.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Southern California Wildfires

For the last week we have been following the horrific wildfires that have swept across Southern California. In the thirteen years that we’ve lived out here, these are the worst fires we’ve experienced. There are a number of factors that contributed to the damage and destruction caused by these fires, not least of which is the fact that we have only had approximately two inches of rain this year. Everything was dry and a veritable tender box. All that was needed was one spark with a little wind and the damage would have been done. What we received, rather, were lots of “sparks,” some set by arsonists, and a lot of hurricane force Santa Ana winds. That was a recipe for catastrophe. When you couple those conditions with high, high temperatures and near single-digit humidity you’re in trouble.
To date, over 315,000 acres have burned and nearly 1,000,000 people had to evacuate their homes. As of Thursday 25, 2007 there are still six fires burning in San Diego County and at least 1,500 homes and businesses have been destroyed. In the Lake Arrowhead area there are still two fires burning, 300 homes destroyed, 10,000 homes threatened, and 6, 000 acres burned. In Orange County, at least 9 homes and buildings were destroyed, 43.000 residents were evacuated, and 22,000 acres burned. Some are just returning to those homes today or to what used to be their home, but what is now merely charred ashes. It will take a long time to clean up the mess, but there are opportunities for us both within the household of faith as well as outside of it. President Bush was in California today and took a helicopter reconnaissance of the worst hit areas. He promised government aid, for which we can be thankful.
When the dust, smoke, and “smaze” clear, however, the Lord will provide us with many opportunities to be of aid—once matters start getting sorted out. I know of at least one PCA family in San Diego that lost their home and there could well be others. Our Presbytery emailed back and forth during the worst part of the fires to try to perform a kind of “collective check” on each other. I was also able to communicate with PCA headquarters in Atlanta as well as with Dominic Aquila, who is the editor of PCA News.
We received an email from Pastor Ken Han at Grace Presbyterian Church (Fallbrook) and there was concern about members’ houses as well as for the church building. To date, I haven’t had a follow-up report from him, but I have heard that the building where they meet was spared. It also appears that none of the PCA churches in San Diego were endangered, although Westminster Theological Seminary in Escondido had to evacuate, then got an all clear, and then had to evacuate again. Apparently, there was roof damage to a house literally across the street, but WTS remained unscathed. The last I heard they have electricity and are waiting for permission to get back to the campus. There were a few professors whose houses were threatened, but to date I don’t have any confirmation.
Today (10.25) I received an email that a representative from PCA Disaster Relief will be arriving in Southern California soon to access the damages and begin relief efforts. This is the same organization that orchestrated the Katrina relief efforts and they did an exemplary job.
Without minimizing the loss that many of our fellow Californians have experienced I wonder if there isn’t a larger, more spiritual angle to these fires. For anyone with a spiritual conscience it does seem that the Lord has been trying to get America’s attention for a while. Across the “fruited plain” we’ve had reports of tornados, Katrina, the I-35 bridge collapse, and a severe drought in the South (In a phone conservation recently one of my friend and colleagues in South Carolina told me that his city has enough water left for 49 days!).
Now we’ve had the fires. Is there a message to our country from God? Have we even stopped to ponder that question? I don’t expect the (neo)-pagans to, but it would certainly behoove the Christian Church to reflect upon the spiritual side of this natural disaster. Few will reflect upon Amos 3:6 (Does disaster come to a city, unless the Lord has done it?) For the longest time Christianity has been mocked and that by those who call themselves ministers of the Word. For the longest time people have accumulated possession and wealth; they lived the “good life;” and they trusted in their social status and affluence. Perhaps it’s time for them and us to perform some spiritual inventory. This has been a momentous and chilling week in Southern California.The headline on the front page of The Orange County Register Thursday the 25th read: Lives in Shambles. For the Christian, that headline can never be true. They can face a number of great difficulties and trials, but because of Christ our lives are never in shambles. Truly, they were before the Savior made us his own, but there is a lot more of a devastating character in life than losing a house; what if you accumulate all the “stuff” but your soul is not saved? In addition to the Amos text, I’m also reminded of Romans 8:28. That text might anger many today, but it should be our greatest comfort in this time of need.



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