Florida is facing the strongest storm ever recorded over the Atlantic Ocean. Hurricane Irma has broken the record for the longest sustained period of wind over 185 miles per hour at 37 hours. This hurricane has already devastated the small island of Barbuda, destroying 90% of its homes. After that, it wreaked havoc on several other islands. Now, this monster is headed right toward us. Hundreds of thousands are evacuating. Others are looking for shelter locally. Many of us in Florida are taking careful steps to ensure our homes survive. There is certainly a risk of the loss of life for the unwise who remain in the mandatory evacuation zones on the barrier islands that surround our state. However, all of us who own homes are at risk of flying debris breaking our windows. If the winds are strong enough, they can pull off the roofs and even tear down walls.
This risk can be especially painful in a place like Florida with such stunning natural beauty, breathtaking sunsets, many of the world’s best beaches, and great weather. Millions choose to move to Florida to build their dream homes. Even President Trump chose to purchase a home in Palm Beach several decades ago. A drive on State Highway A1A from Miami Beach to Amelia Island shows more spectacular multi-million dollar houses than any place on the planet.
Home ownership has been a key part the American Dream. Whether one’s house is a spectacular mansion or a comfortable cottage, we can easily tie our identities to our homes. Flooding like we saw recently in Hurricane Harvey or the unimaginable wind of Hurricane Irma can utterly destroy the dwellings that often hold the bulk of our net worth and so much more of our emotions.
On a day like today it is easy to be overcome with fear that we will lose our greatest possessions. Yet, for people of faith, this is not a risk.
I have been leading a mid-week study in the Epistle to the Hebrews at the church I am serving as interim pastor. Wednesday night’s study was ironically in Chapter 11 – well-known as the “Faith Hall of Fame.” After urging his readers to not shrink back from following Christ, but rather to draw near and hold fast in faith, the writer presents many Old Testament examples of lived faith to help the readers know what faith means and how it works in life. One of the premier characters of faith is Abraham.
The writer of Hebrews describes a real contrast between Abraham’s promise and his experience: “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. 9 By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise.” (Hebrews 11:8-9, ESV) He was promised a country as an inheritance, yet he lived in tents. This is not the American Dream. However, this passage is a summary restatement of Genesis 12:1-3 and 7-8. Even though the land was promised to him, Abraham never built a permanent dwelling there.
If you ever doubt the significance of this promise, travel to Israel sometime and notice the number of times you see and hear the words Ha Aretz (The Land) or Aretz Israel (Land of Israel). This promise of the Promised Land still has incredible power today. Yet, Hebrews reminds us that our lands and our houses are not the greatest of promises. “For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.” (Hebrews 11:10)
If we trust in Christ, we know that better things await us, no matter what storms in life come our way.
You may not be facing a hurricane right now, but wildfires are raging in many places. Blizzards, floods, landslides, earthquakes, and other disasters beyond our control can bring fear of the loss of our homes and even our lives. However, we can join Abraham and the other heroes of Hebrews 11 and stand in faith even in the midst of the storm.
These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city. (Hebrews 11:13-16, ESV)
Yes, my wife and I bought plywood to protect our windows. We have water, food, and batteries to be ready for the physical effects of the storm. We certainly do not want to see this house destroyed, but it is only temporary. Our faith will stay strong when the storm hits, because we are looking forward to that better country. God is preparing a city for us. We can all stand strong in faith.