July 2012

‘More than a fire’ in Colorado flames

July 5 2012 by Bob Bender, Baptist Press

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – The Sunday before the most destructive fire in Colorado history, I preached on suffering.* One must not preach on such a subject unless he is willing to live it. The Waldo Canyon fire would soon become a community and state tragedy as well as national and international news. It would consume almost 18,000 acres, cost more than $12 million to fight, destroy 346 homes and damage many more, and require more than 1,500 firefighters from around our nation to fight it. Its plume could be seen from space.

Worse, it would snatch up two of our neighbors’ lives.

On Saturday, June 23, as we enjoyed a family reunion at home and celebrated my mother’s 85th birthday, we were alarmed to see a thin billow of smoke waft above our neighborhood from three miles away. Coloradans dread that sight.

All was under control until three days later when the perfect storm trifecta of extremely dry conditions, 100-degree temperatures (rare for our city) and 60 mph winds quickly pushed the fire into and over Queens Canyon, topping the ridge above our home and entering Colorado Springs four houses up the street.

The fire quickly moved down the mountainside like lava. We had less than 30 minutes to evacuate.

Photo by Beverly Bender

The Waldo Canyon fire enters the Colorado City street where Baptist pastor Bob Bender and his wife Beverly have lived.

As we left with our essentials (the evacuees’ “Ps” – people, pets, prescriptions, pictures and papers), my wife Beverly and I evacuated to her parents’ house five miles away, unpacked and headed for bed – only to be suddenly re-evacuated from their home. Our two adult children and their families also were evacuated from the west side of town, totaling 14 from our family along with 32,000 other souls.

Right before we left our home, Beverly quickly paused in the front yard and gathered our two young grandsons to her side and said, “I want you to look at this fire and remember how God took care of us.” This will be a moment they will never forget.

Later, Fire Chief Rich Brown told me this was “a fire of epic proportions and looked like something out of a Spielberg movie. I have not seen anything like it in my entire career and probably never will again.” Another fireman told me that the fire storm burned thousands of feet into the air and that 4-inch grass sent flames 30 feet high because of the intense heat. I would not be surprised if the damage to our national forest and Colorado Springs tops a half-billion dollars.

Now we face the danger of bears forced from their natural habitats into our neighborhoods seeking food. Sadly, we also face looters caring nothing for people already suffering.
Ironically, while we were praying for rain for obvious reasons, now we are praying against thunderstorms because of potential flash flooding due to our compromised landscape.

A next-door neighbor told us later in the day as she saw the fire sweep through our neighborhood that from her vantage point it appeared our homes were lost. We were prepared to accept that reality, but amazingly the next day we received word that our house had been spared – even as we heard on a police scanner that firefighters were battling a blaze behind our property. “It is because of the Lord’s lovingkindness that we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Thy faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:22-23).

As our family was evacuating, it dawned on me that 32 of our church families in the area also were being evacuated. I struggled with my commitment to my family and the church family. Unable to get across town to attend a staff meeting, the ministerial staff met and developed a strategy for ministry, then led the way in contacting all 32 families through our wonderful deacons. Within 24 hours all the families were accounted for. Thus, I have learned that family does not come before Jesus, but family does come before ministry.

On Sunday, July 1, we were allowed back into our neighborhood for a brief period. The sight was sobering. The national forest next to our neighborhood is balding with burned sticks high in the air where beautiful thick tall ponderosa pines and blue spruces once stood. Portions of our neighborhood look like Hiroshima. The heat was so intense that it melted and bent steel beams that once supported multilevel homes. Whole streets were leveled by flames so intense that firefighters had to retreat at one time. It will be weeks before we are allowed to move back into our homes due to infrastructural utility damages, especially gas.

Photo by Jessica Thompson

Baptist pastor Bob Bender and his wife Beverly thank firefighters in front of their house which was spared in Colorado Springs’ Waldo Canyon fire.

Our home reeked of smoke, but damage was minimal. The fire had miraculously stopped at the lot line around our house. Days later as I prayed with our ministerial staff, my associate Matt Crowe prayed, “Lord, we know this is more than a fire; help us to learn the lessons You have for us.” This insightful prayer reminded me that this whole horrific ordeal was indeed more than a fire. It is about faith. It is about my view of God. It is about the testing of my heart. It is about priorities and possessions.

We have always attempted to hold our possessions with an open hand; this value is now being tested. Peter Lord has often said, “How we live is what we really believe; all the rest is just religious talk.” We were prepared and resigned to lose everything, knowing we had each other and our memories – a few on paper and in pictures with us.

Someone has said, “Any religion will do in times of prosperity; only Jesus will do in times of adversity.” We found this adage to be true as we trusted in Jesus.

What kind of faith are we talking about? Years ago when my wife was fighting life-threatening cancer, a dear friend Ron Merrill reminded me of a different kind of faith – the faith of the three Hebrew children in Daniel 3. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego told King Nebuchadnezzar, “Our God is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us, But even if He does not, let it be known to you....”

Which is the greater faith – the faith that moves mountains or the faith that still rests in God when the mountains are not moved? Our faith is rooted in the character of God, not in some desired outcome. Though we hoped that our house would be saved, we trusted in Him for whatever He deemed good for us.

I can truly say that if our home had not survived, we still would trust in God and praise Him. “Though He slay me, I will hope in Him. Nevertheless I will argue my ways before Him” (Job 13:15).

Someone who heard our house was spared said, “The Lord sure protects the righteous.” Well, I am not that righteous, and people more righteous than me lost their homes to the same fire. With Job I say, “Therefore I have declared that which I did not understand, things too wonderful for me which I did not know” (42:3). With Moses I confess, “The secret things belong to the Lord our God” (Deuteronomy 29:29). I trust God’s sovereign hand.

We have made Isaiah 61:3 our verse – “To grant those who mourn in Zion, giving them a garland instead of ashes, so they will be called the oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He may be gloried.” We pray that each new pine and aspen planted will be a reminder that we are planted by the Lord in such a time and place as this to glorify our Lord – giving an accurate assessment of who He is. He is our sovereign, loving Heavenly Father. After all, this was more than a fire.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Colorado Springs pastor Bob Bender, who was evacuated from his home by the Waldo Canyon fire, recounts the spiritual challenge he sees stemming from the tragedy that claimed two lives and 346 homes. Bender is pastor of First Baptist Church of Black Forest in Colorado Springs, Colo. *Bender’s July 17 sermon preceding the Waldo Canyon fire can be accessed at http://www.fbcbf.org/the-whys-of-suffering.)

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7/5/2012 3:19:48 PM by Bob Bender, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

A stunning reminder: the darkness lives in me

July 3 2012 by Dave Miller, Baptist Press

SIOUX CITY, Iowa – I had a shocking conversation with an old friend recently. He told me that his wife, whom I had known as a vibrant, passionate, committed Christian, had abandoned her family, her faith and embraced a life of sin with wild abandon. I would have never believed that it was possible. I’d preached to her, talked with her about deep spiritual matters, and watched her grow. What happened?

As I pondered that chilling event, my mind cast back to a pastors’ conference I attended nearly 20 years ago. The prominent pastor who hosted the conference was discussing the ongoing problem of moral failure among pastors. And then he said something that shocked me: “That is never going to happen to me. It is not in me to cheat on my wife, to commit adultery. I just do not have that in me.”

To my knowledge, this pastor has remained faithful to his wife. But that doesn’t change the fact that I think his confidence was foolish. I am a redeemed sinner, indwelled by the Holy Spirit and in the process of transformation to become like Jesus. One day I will be free from sin, from temptation and from any chance that I would ever fall into sin.

This is not that day. Whenever I hear of a Christian brother (or sister) who falls into sin, I am reminded that the darkness that brought their fall lives in me.

I have never cheated on my wife, not before marriage or since. I do not think I ever will. But I’ve talked to more than one person, looking up from the floor, who said, “I never thought it would happen to me.” I don’t plan to fall. I really don’t. But it would be foolish of me to believe that I cannot.

I had a long conversation in my office several years ago with a Christian leader who was trying to hold his marriage together after he fell headlong into adultery. He was nearing his retirement years, had been a respected leader, one of those guys who no one would ever believe could fall. He did. I asked him to tell me how it all happened. It hit him like a storm – unexpected and powerful. He had no idea what happened.

But perhaps the root of his problem was his failure to understand what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 10:12: “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.”

Overconfidence, especially confidence in my own character and ability, is a serious problem. As long as I live in this world, as long as I still await the consummation of my salvation, the darkness lives in me. I need to fight it. I need to walk in Christ’s power and make wise choices and draw near to God and resist the devil and be filled with the Spirit and ... well, you know what I’m getting at.

I make an assumption every time a command is given to believers in God’s Word:

1) In the power of Christ, I can obey the command. The light of Christ is in me!

2) In the power of the flesh, I can fail. The darkness of sin is not gone from me.

I wish I could give you three or four devastatingly pithy secrets to resisting temptation. I would if it were that easy. Every saint who falls into sin has this in common – they never thought they would. So, keep your marriage strong. Stoke your passion for Christ. Don’t do stupid things (like hanging out alone with a woman to whom you aren’t married). I’m sure there are others who can give better advice on this than I can.

But I write this to remind myself (and you) of the truth – the darkness is in me. Though Christ has made it possible for me to resist temptation, I must never forget that the darkness that has consumed other committed Christians is never fully banished as long as I draw breath.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – This column first appeared at SBCVoices.com. Dave Miller is pastor of Southern Hills Baptist Church in Sioux City, Iowa, editor of SBCVoices.com, and second vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention.)
7/3/2012 1:16:12 PM by Dave Miller, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

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