Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Blasphemy in a Firestorm

For two days, I literally ran back and forth between three brush fires. Three significant fires displaced thousands of people in my community (most are back in their homes, now), destroyed dozens of home, and consumed more than 100,000 acres of land, costing millions of taxpayer dollars, through the expenditure of first responder resources. Fortunately, and entirely by God’s sovereign grace, there has only been one life lost in our area as a result of the fires. (One is still too many. Pray for the family of the deceased.)

Everywhere we went, people lined the roads. Some were taking pictures and video. Some just watched the flames with their mouths agape and glazed looks in their eyes. Some people were just satisfying their curiosity. Others were too frightened to do anything else. Still others went about their lives—jogging, power-walking, cycling while wearing face masks to filter the dense smoke out of the air, all the while seeming to ignore the raging inferno and the very real danger all around them.

Critical incidents, such as wildfires, do not always bring out the best in people; but such incidents have a tendency to reveal the true nature of people’s hearts. I’ve seen and heard a lot during the last twenty years of service as a deputy sheriff and chaplain. But on Sunday night I heard something so defiantly blasphemous that it even took me by surprise.

My partner and I were at the Incident Command Post. We had just returned from assisting with evacuations in the Canyon Country area—an area where, tragically, a number of homes were consumed by the flames. Only minutes after we arrived at the CP, a deputy’s voice came over the radio. To the trained ear, you could hear the stress in his voice.

CP, fire department says the fire is going to enter Hasley Canyon. We may have less than thirty minutes to evacuate the area. I need units ‘Code-3’ to Hasley Canyon!”

My partner and I jumped in our patrol car and rushed toward the fire. As we entered Hasley Canyon, my partner asked (half serious; half tongue-in-cheek), “Tony, do you think this is a good time to pray?”

I prayed.

As we made our way deeper into the canyon, what is otherwise a very dark canyon at night was as a bright as baseball stadium along the far rim of the canyon. But it wasn’t fluorescent bulbs lighting the darkness. It was flame. Flames leaping 100-200’ feet in the air illuminated the edges of massive, rising clouds of black smoke. The imagery was surreal and, at the same time, a stirring reminder of how terrible hell will be for those who spend eternity there.

We contacted other deputies and supervisors at a staging area, about halfway into the canyon. There, we were given our evacuation assignments. The first person we met was a young woman desperately trying to get her four horses out of harm’s way. She was cooperative and appreciative.

Hundreds of feet above us, atop a hill, we saw a huge mansion. We asked the young woman if she knew whether or not the people in that home had left the area. She said, “No. They are still up there.”

As we made our way up the long, winding, brick wall-lined, private driveway, I commented to my partner that it cost more to build the driveway then it cost to build my home. He agreed. When we reached the top, we found the homeowner standing at the edge of the hill, looking toward the burning canyon walls. From that vantage point, it appeared that the fire was following the ridge of the canyon and burning very quickly toward the man’s home.

“Sir, there is a mandatory evacuation of this area. You’re going to have to leave.” I said.

“No. I’m not leaving!” He barked.

“Sir, I know you can see the same fire we see. You do see how it is burning in this direction, don’t you? You need to leave.”

“No. I’m going to make sure those firemen do their job!” (As if he could do or say anything to make the brave firefighters do their job any better than they were already doing it. Yes, even to cops, firefighters are heroes.)

“They are going to do everything they can to protect your property. There’s nothing you can do to make them do their job better.”

“Well, I’m not leaving! I’m NOT leaving my home in the hands of God, tonight!”

“Sir, His hands are the hands you should trust, tonight!”

He mumbled something under his breath.

My partner and I made our way back down the driveway. “Wow!” My partner remarked.

He was as stunned by the man’s blasphemous comment as I was. Had there been time (and there wasn’t), I would have loved to take that man through the Law and the Gospel, while watching the fire burn closer to his home, his treasure, his god.

Once we checked for and advised residents in our assigned area, we were assigned to travel as far back into the canyon as possible. (That’s right—toward the fire.) Our job was to provide intelligence about the fire’s movement for the other deputy’s who were still making evacuation notices.

We sat with another unit for about an hour. The wind was such that the fire seemed to be changing direction every minute. Finally, the fire was within a few hundred yards of our patrol car. We watched as large embers were carried in our direction, by the wind. The embers wafted over our radio car and landed in the hills on the opposite side of the canyon. We knew it wouldn’t be long before the fire jumped the road and, with plenty of available fuel, continued to burn in a westward direction.

As we made predictions to one another about the fire’s track (without losing sight of the fact that we are cops—not firemen), a nearby tree exploded in flames. Within seconds, the entire hillside was engulfed.

My partner and I looked at each other, smiled, and at the same time said, “It’s time to go!”

No sooner did we begin to head out of the canyon when one of our sergeant’s yelled on the radio, “You guys need to get out of there! There’s a firestorm in the canyon!”

We both chuckled a bit before my partner got on the radio and calmly said, “Copy that. Umm, we see it.”

Within minutes, the area in which we sat monitoring the fire’s progress was consumed by the roaring flames.

I've heard the blasphemous proclamation of the man with the mansion on hill many times in my head, since Sunday night. It angers and saddens me at the same time. It angers me when anyone blasphemes my Lord and my God and otherwise holds Him in contempt. And it saddens me to think that unless a person (like the man at the mansion) repents and believes the gospel, their eternal destiny and existence will make this week's firestorms seem like a backyard barbecue.

God's Word is clear. "You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain" (Exodus 20:7; see also Lev 19:12; Deut. 6:13).

If you have stumbled onto this blog and you do not already know Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior--meaning you have never truly repented of your sins against God and received Jesus Christ, by faith alone, as your Lord and Savior, then maybe the above statements sound harsh to you. Maybe you think ascribing hell to a person because they've broken just one of the commandments is judgmental. Listen to what the Word of God says. "For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all" (James 2:10).

Or maybe you would try to argue that you are not guilty of blasphemy, that you would never think of shaking your fist at God the way they man whose god was his possessions did. Good. But surely you would not assert that you are innocent of breaking any of God's Laws?

Have you ever lied? Have you ever stolen anything? Have you ever wanted something that didn't belong to you? Then, by your own admission, you are a lying, thieving, covetous person at heart. When you die, you will stand before Almighty God and He will judge you against His Law and according to His perfect, holy standard. He will find you guilty, and He will sentence you to eternity in hell, as the just punishment for your sins against Him.

The good news is that God doesn’t want to send you to hell. So, He sent His sinless Son, Jesus Christ—God in the flesh. He took upon himself the punishment you rightly deserve for your sins against God when He shed His innocent blood and died on the cross. Three days later, He defeated death when He rose from the grave. So, what must you do to be saved? Your only hope is to recognize that you cannot save yourself and escape God’s judgment. You must confess your sins against God, repent (turn away from your sins), and put your trust in Jesus Christ alone for your salvation.

Repent and place your faith in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, right now. You will pass from death into life and receive the free gift of eternal life. Please consider these things carefully.


Lora K. said...

We will be praying for the safety of you all as you battle these fires. Please keep us updated.

In Him,

Anonymous said...

Chaplain Tony,
Praying for all of ya'll.
In His grip,
Chaplain Lynn

Anonymous said...

In this lost and dying world, the man in the mansion has proven that too many people believe that everything they have is by the own hand. While this man told you that he was not "leaving it in the hand of God", he is actually denying the existence of God. Psalm 14:1 tells us "The fool has said in his heart, There is no God...". It is a shame that he did not know that Revelation 4:11 speaks to the sovereignty of God when it says, "You are worthy O Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power for you created all things and by Your will all things were created and have their being"

My prayers are with you and the other servants for God's grace to fall around you all. Thanks for being the the Christian soldier that you are.


Pastor Ralph said...

Hey Tony,

Thanks for sharing that. I'll be praying for you. Stay safe out there.


Anonymous said...

Tony, You and your brothers and sisters are in our prayers. Stay safe, brother!

Justine Jacobson

Shark Girl said...

What happened to the man in the mansion? Did he finally leave?

Tony Miano said...

The firefighters did a fantastic job and the Lord, by His power, grace, and mercy, spared all of the homes in Hasley Canyon--including the blasphemer.

This proves the truth of God's Word, where it says that He allows the rain to fall on the just and the unjust.

Sacchiel said...

You are in my prayers! Thanks