Because Terri was home recovering from surgery, I had gone to the church to meet my friend, Pastor Ed Litton. Ed was in town to speak at Sherwood Christian Academy’s graduation that night. I walked out of my study and next door to the Strauss House, a guest house our church maintains for speakers who come in, and met Ed. We walked across the street together.
For the hour before that, I had been on the phone. I had to call Terri and break the news to her because I was headed to the graduation. I talked to the rental company, to a person who had been on the scene, to Tom Elliff who also lost a house in a fire, and to Ken Jenkins who lives just up the road from us in Gatlinburg. It was a whirlwind of trying to figure out “what now” and when I could get up there to see what’s happened.
God knew I needed Ed with me at that moment. I wouldn’t see Terri for several hours. My thoughts were spinning. When I saw Ed I was reminded that four years ago, I was in Texas and got a phone call that Ed’s wife Tammy had been tragically killed in an automobile accident. I took a look from Mount Perspective and thought, “Here’s a man who has suffered more than I can possibly imagine, and I’ve seen God all over him in his darkest hours. How could I do anything but trust God in this moment?”
That thought immediately gave me an eternal perspective. What I have lost will one day be gone anyway. What Ed lost on that tragic day was a life, a love, a wife, and a mom to his kids. Looking at Ed I realized, what I lost was stuff. My “loss” was insignificant.
Ironically, (God has to have a sense of humor) our oldest daughter Erin is in Knoxville for six weeks filming a movie. She had called us earlier that day to ask us to pray because she was shooting a scene where she is trapped in a burning building and a wall collapses behind her. We sent text messages to folks and asked them to pray, and God answered that prayer. The shooting of the scene went off smoothly. Two fires in one day—one made for a scene in a movie, the other one not planned or expected.
Just to give us something to laugh about, while Erin was getting ready to film the scene, all the firemen who were there had seen Erin in Fireproof. She had pictures and signed autographs before they shot the scene. I think we laughed to keep from crying.
We don’t know what’s next. We don’t know how bad things are. We do know the damage was extensive, if not complete. I’ll know more next week. I’m sure a range of emotions will hit me when I see it next week. I’m hoping beyond hope that some of our heirlooms survived. We had some old wrought iron tools that belonged to my grandparents on a wall in that house. We had the rocking chair that Terri rocked our girls in when they were babies.
I’m hoping that some of my signed books by Warren Wiersbe, Vance Havner, and others that I kept there survived. I’m hoping my signed mementos by people like Arnold Palmer survived, but I know better. I’m hoping my Ken Jenkins’ pictures weren’t damaged, but I know better. Smoke and water have a way of destroying things once treasured.
Here’s what I do know for sure. God is still on the throne. My family is safe. God knew this was going to happen. He allowed us to enjoy that house and those “things” for a number of years. The first thing Terri said after she got over the shock was, “The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away.”
Blessed be the name of the Lord. Are we sad? Of course. Do we have a clue what’s next? No. What I do know is that God is in the storm. He is the God who causes well-being and creates calamity. He is in the darkness and the light.
We don’t know “why,” but sometimes God works in unexpected ways. We look for Him in a still small voice, and He shouts to us in a mighty rushing wind. We think He will come in on a white horse and deliver us, and He shows up as a baby in the manger. God’s ways are not our ways.
I know this is going to sound trite, but it is true. This world is not our home, we are just passing through. I do know that every treasure I’ve laid up in heaven is going to be there for all eternity. The money I’ve given in tithes and offerings has gone before me, invested by the Lord Jesus who owns it all anyway. The things eternal are not shaken today. Things temporal are always one moment away from being shaken. I’m reminded today to put my trust in the Lord, not in things.
The reality is that there is so much of life we can’t control. It’s beyond us. That’s why living by faith is the only sane thing to do. Not faith in my ability to guard the gates and nail everything down, but faith in God’s ability to see me through when things aren’t going well.
God will see us through and will give us wisdom on what to do next. We ask the wrong questions when we ask, “Why?” “Why me?” “Why us?” “Why now?” Ron Dunn was right. The question is really, “What now?” Lord, in light of this, what is it you want us to do?
I don’t know the answer. I do know the one who has the answer. If He chooses to show it to me, I’ll be grateful. If He doesn’t, I won’t complain. He’s been too good for too long for me to complain now. For those of you who don’t know me, I’m not a sadist or a fatalist. I’m a realist who knows that God is in control and I’m not. I’m a Christ follower who understands that His ways are not my ways. I know He will work this for our good and His glory.
Others have gone through much worse. We have friends who have lost everything in a fire. We have friends who have lost a spouse or a child. We have friends who are battling cancer right now. I have a longtime friend whose oldest daughter just had a mastectomy and is facing chemotherapy. I know people who can’t find a job. I know church members who have loved ones in hospice care right now.
From Mt. Perspective, I don’t have a fatalistic view. Not at all. I’m not going to stare at this dot on the canvas of our lives for long. I’ll back up, take a panoramic view of the life God has given us, and I’ll thank Him. It doesn’t mean I’m not hurting. I’m not unrealistic. God knows the frailty of our hearts.
When Ed Litton talked to our students tonight he said, “Tornadoes reveal the foundation.” Tornadoes strip away everything and reveal foundations. Storms do that. Tonight, I’m grateful to say, our life is built on the solid rock, not sinking sand. My foundation is firm, even if the foundation of our house in the mountains may or may not be firm any longer.
From the mountain you learn there are valleys ahead. It’s in the valley that we encounter life on real terms. As Andrae Crouch wrote, “Through it all, through it all, I’ve learned to trust in Jesus, I’ve learned to trust in God…I’ve learned to depend upon His Word.” So, we’ll trust Him and take one step at a time. We’ll trust Him and seek to be sensitive to what He wants for us and from us. I do know this is one Friday the 13th I’ll never forget.
As one wise sage once said, “Get ready. You are either in a storm, coming out of a storm, or headed into a storm.” Storms are inevitable in life. No one is immune, regardless of what the “joy boys” on TV tell you. I love Jesus, I give faithfully of my time, talents and tithe, but that doesn’t give me a pass from adversity.
The prince of the power of the air may think he won today. What foolishness! My father owns the cattle on a thousand hills. That house sat on the side of a mountain my father formed before the first man ever breathed his first breath. My Father gave us that house. He owned the deed to it (regardless of what my mortgage company might say to me on Monday).
Do you want a view from Mt. Perspective? You’ll have to endure a few falls. The view will allow you to look into the valley of pain and suffering caused by the fall. You’ll see a creation groaning. You’ll be reminded that every day people are being martyred for their faith. You’ll see problems in the valley that can only be addressed by prayer and fasting. You’ll discover someone who has far greater problems than you (which always makes one stop whining). You’ll see, with God’s perspective, how blessed you’ve really been and how you did nothing to deserve it.
Over the course of these last few years, I’ve watched my Father roll like thunder across that valley and over those mountains. Sometimes, the power has been frightening. I’ve sat in that home and watched everything from a seventy-mile-an-hour wind bending the trees outside to a gentle snowfall on a windless day in January.
The last time we were in the mountains, just prior to our annual ReFRESH® conference, we drove by a house that was engulfed in flames. Lightning struck, and it was swallowed up in a matter of minutes. We felt sorry for the owners. But, the reality is, we drove on to our place and laid our heads on our pillow and went to sleep. We observed, but we weren’t affected by it. This time, it was our place. Rather, I might say, it was HIS place. We were just allowed to be the stewards of it for these last several years.
Everything we’ve lost was man made. Everything we have in Christ is eternal.
(copyright, Michael Catt)
Michael served as the President of the Large Church Roundtable, the Southern Baptist Convention as an IMB Trustee, President of the Georgia Baptist Convention’s Preaching Conference, Vice President of the Georgia Baptist Convention, and President of the 2008 Southern Baptist Convention Pastors’ Conference. He has spoken at conferences, colleges, seminaries, rallies, camps, NBA and college chapel services, well as The Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove. Michael is the recipient of The Martin Luther King Award, The MLK Unity Award, and a Georgia Senate Resolution in recognition of his work in the community and in racial reconciliation.
Michael and his wife, Terri, have two grown daughters, Erin and Hayley.