November 22, 2012

4 years ago, a fire destroyed my house

by Keith Smith

This is the four-year anniversary of the worst fire in Los Angeles history. It destroyed 500 homes, including mine.

Sylmar fire fog

It was 2008 when the Sylmar fire jumped from the foothills into the city. I was a college student, and was still living in my parents’ home. I was one of the worship leaders in the college ministry at my church (Grace Community Church), and I was completely comfortable in life.

I was out with friends, and received a phone call just before 11:00 PM from my sister. There was a fire approaching our home, and our family was evacuated. I raced the fire crews to my house, and had about 10 minutes to grab whatever I could. My family then stopped and prayed in our driveway. That would be the last time we would ever stand there—by morning everything we owned was burned to the ground. Firefighters said that the heat of the fire was so intense, our house had melted into its concrete foundation.

My family walked through this trial that many considered tragic. But as believers in Jesus Christ, we clearly see that He used this time to draw us closer to Him and to each other. It’s crazy to think that this fire would be used by God to bring us joy, but that’s exactly what happened. The God of this universe was watching over our tiny family!

First, we were amazed at how the body of Christ supported us. The love and generosity people of the church demonstrated to us was unbelievable. That very Sunday, our church took an offering to replace my guitars and music equipment so I could continue to lead worship. Our Bible study group collected money to buy us clothes. Others offered us a place to stay and meals to eat. Every need we ever had was met. I’ll never forget the love and generosity of those people and know they will be rewarded in heaven.

Sylmar fire distance

The Sylmar fire entering Los Angeles

We learned firsthand that riches are temporary. If you work for material possessions, they can all be taken away in an instant. This world will pass away, and we’re not entitled to anything while it remains. What my parents had often taught me, that all that matters in this life is what you do with Jesus, became crystal clear. The gospel itself became our joy through our trial.

What do I mean by that? I know that I fall short of God’s standard of perfection, and I know that ultimately I deserve to be punished for my sin in hell. But God is compassionate and full of mercy. He sent his Son to live that perfect life and to be our substitute on the cross. He conquered death when He rose from that grave and lives to be our King. He offers us life that will not end with Him in heaven. There’s unexplainable peace in that forgiveness! That is why I can be joyful in trials. That is why I have hope of eternal life in heaven. I experience joy through that trail because it made me value heaven more, and that is where my treasure is.

Life has returned to “normal” since then. My parents were able to purchase a new home a year later. I was able to find a place to live after a few months. Some of the sweetest times reading my bible came during the weeks and months that followed the fire. The song “Blessed Be Your Name” took on a whole new meaning. What I’m most thankful for is that God removed every distraction from me and showed me His character in a very real way. That’s where true joy is found. I know there are a lot of things that make people happy, and those aren’t bad things because they’re gifts from God to enjoy. But those things do not last, and they are often based on our circumstances. God’s character is not. He is the same yesterday, and today, and forever. The anniversary of the fire is just a reminder to be thankful today and every day for what God has done for me!

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”  Matthew 6:19-21

Keith Smith

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Keith is a worship leader in the college ministry at Grace Community Church, in Los Angeles, CA.
  • Pingback: Joy through and out of a fire! « Strengthened by Grace()

  • I hate that this happened to you, but so cool to see your faith through it. I had a similar (but less dramatic) experience right before my Junior year in college. Lightning hit the house that I was renting with other guys. Lost a lot (not everything). But through all the relationships that God brought (including “drifting” for a week or so — sleeping on friends couches and futons), I remember telling a friend later that year, “If I had to go back, I would almost want to intentionally set the fire myself.”