As Hurricane Ike roared across the island of Gilchrist, Texas, just off the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, a 14-foot wall of water washed away the homes, churches, and businesses that lay in its path. This little island community, which took the brunt of the storm, was completely leveled, with one exception: Sitting on 19-foot pilings, a new yellow-sided house stands intact. In fact, it was the last house standing on the Gulf Front. The owner said that the reason his house withstood the storm was because… "We bolted it together... strapped everything down ... and did whatever the engineers spelled out."
The engineers applied what they learned after Hurricane Rita to this newly constructed house. The pitch of the roof and the hurricane windows could withstand winds up to 130 miles per hour. Ike's wind speed was 110. This house is an example of proper building materials and the right engineering withstanding this powerful storm.
I had noted this news story because I had just gone through what I considered to be major hurricane season in my life, where it felt like everything that I had built was being stripped away. I felt battered and blown away, but when the final surge passed, I was surprised by what remained. The fact that anything stood at all was amazing.
The only things that remained were the friendships that Heather and I had built, which were bolted together with love. We came away with a deeper appreciation for the local church and for being a part of the living Body of Christ. We realized more than ever the need to stick together. If we didn’t have these people in our lives during this storm, perhaps we could have been blown out to sea and never seen again.
Secondly, I was strapped to the Cross, where I could receive love and forgiveness out of which I could extend these to those who were part of the storm. When we cannot see anything around us that is true or sane, we need to cling to the Old Rugged Cross. To me, it is not just an old hymn or an image of two pieces of wood, but it is these two deeds that were demonstrated by Jesus towards me: He showed me that He loved me and demonstrated His forgiveness. Neither budged during the storm. I found out that they were not conditional, sentimental feelings, or mere words. They were deeds demonstrated.
For me, the pitch of the roof represents a kind of humility that is not common to me, but one where you let things roll off; let those unkind words blow by, without resisting or resenting them. I did not start there, but that is where you end up, if you survive the storm.
I am grateful for the storm windows that God put in my life, which allowed me to receive the light and revelation I needed in the darkness. No matter how small, each ray of hope indicating that things would not always be this way, that the storm would pass, and that there would be life after death, sustained me. Words of encouragement flowed whenever I opened the Bible. Prophetic words given by others all indicated that He knew what I was going through and understood it by His own experience. All of these gave me the courage to stay the course.
The pilings under me played a major role in my ability to stand above the surge. By this I mean that my values kept me above the froth and debris. Not really my values, but His, which He had sunk deep into my life over time. They came primarily from watching Jesus in warfare; and from what He taught in Matthew 5,6, and 7. As long as I kept trying to do what He said, I felt secure.
The pilings also represent having a life built upon a number of things at the same time. I am so grateful that my whole life did not stand on one piling. If one’s life is all about their particular mission work or ministry and they lose it, then they are done for. I feel bad for those whose life and identity revolves around a certain ministry, personality, or movement. If anything happens to them, they are lost. If our identity is built upon largely around another person. When they fall or disappoint us, it is hard to recover. Who do you trust again after that?
These are perilous days today, with storms on every front: Within the church, in our society, in politics, and in finances… and my Bible says that it will get even stormier before Jesus returns. Jesus taught about how to build our lives upon the rock so that when the storms do come, we can still stand:
“Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock. “But everyone who hears these sayings of Mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fall.” (Matthew 7:24-27)
Jesus was talking like an engineer when He said in a matter of fact way, that storms will come to both the good and the bad, the righteous and the unrighteous, but the one who builds his house upon the rock will stand. When He described what this looked like in real terms, He talked about the difference between those who actually do what He taught and those who hear it, appreciate it, but do not do it. He was also saying that there is no way to “hurricane proof” our lives to prevent the storms from coming, but we can hurricane proof our lives in such a way that they do not destroy us.
It is amazing to watch what people do during hurricane season. Our true values and beliefs are revealed for what they are. Like the lone house standing on the beach in the photo above, not many actually do what Jesus taught. Not many actually follow the Engineer’s instructions. We need to draw closer to the scriptures so He can speak to us and seek only to do what He said to do. The reality is, you never know how well the house is built until the storm passes.
I don’t know about you, but it seems like there is always a new hurricane season brewing in my soul. Some are small and blow quickly out to sea, but you never know when it could turn into “the big one”. Remember: whatever is not bolted down, strapped down, or built on God’s word will be blown away.
For more studies about humility, get a copy of my book called The Meekness of God
(Ike was the first major storm to directly hit a major U.S. metro area since Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans in 2005. Ike devastated Grand Turk Island and went on to hit the Gulf Coast Sept. 14, 2008. The first part of this story was based upon an article that appeared on the ABC News website, by Mike Von Fremd and the photo is an Associated Press Pool photo.)