Author's note: This node is the culmination of some personal studies of mine so far, placed here at the request of some people I've spoken with on the subject. It is documentation of what I've found, and if by no means an attempt to proselytize.

It's the middle of the summer, 1998 ... another hot Texas day, and most of my family's staying at our smallish house for the time being. Mom was single at the time, so Grandma lived with us in order to help out with the bills. Uncle Terry had just left the Navy after 14 years of devoted service as a meteorologist, so we gave him a place at our house until he could get back on his feet. On top of that, my twin sister and I were living there, and three of our cousins were in town for the weekend. Needless to say, it was a packed house day in and day out.
Some idle Sunday, much like many others, we all woke up early and headed out to church. As usual, that day some of the college class came home with us to have some of Grandma's good cooking, so the house was even more packed... There was a small class going on at church that night, something about running sound systems. I call up my friend Jeff, and we headed out. (Hey, it beat sitting in a crowded room and watching TV all day...)
Jeff and I got to the class, listened to the gentleman drone on about the advantages of low versus high impedance microphones or somesuch. Nice old man: short, stout, graying on top, but still on top of things. Jeff's pager went off, seemed it was his mother. We politely excused ourselves, found the phone and called. Jeff spoke with his mother for a bit, looked me straight in the eyes, and said with a silly grin:
"Don't panic, but ... your house is on fire."
We didn't even say goodbye to the others in the class. We ran to Jeff's car, a little green Eagle Talon, and raced home, doing 60 in a 40. (Ironically, "Burning Down the House" by the Talking Heads came on the radio...)
As we approached the house, the Police had the area blocked off. I told the officer that I lived there, and that Jeff was my friend. He assured me everything was under control, everyone was safe, and nobody was hurt. I approached my family, all standing on the other side of the house, gazing at the ashes. Half of the house was still standing, and the fire was mostly out, but all the people who were inside were in a sort of daze. ... A million thoughts were racing through my head: I had 10 computers in my bedroom, was that what started it? Is my grandma safe? Good Heavens, Where's half of my house?!?! Turns out, had the fire department not reacted so quickly, my grandma would probably not be with us anymore... but that's for another story. (And no, my computers didn't start the fire. It started outside the garage... the Fire department spent 4 weeks tracking it, but couldn't figure out what caused it.)

That night, we were all split up. Mom, Danica, and Grandma stayed at one house, I stayed at Jeff's, Grandma, Terry, and the kids stayed somewhere else, and all the possessions we could salvage were in the garages of caring friends and neighbors. Eventually, they put us in a hotel, then an apartment for 6 months. While there, we worked out the details about how to rebuild. ... I sold my laptop to pay for repairs to my sisters car, Grandma sold crafts to pay for the carpet that the insurance wouldn't cover. We all made sacrifices, but we made it through. The best part of the whole experience, though, was my mother, meeting the man she would eventually marry.

"'For I know the plans I have for you', declares the Lord, 'plans to prosper you, and not to fail you, to give you a future and a hope'"
-- Jeremiah 1
"Your kingdom come, Your will be done, On earth as it is in Heaven"
-- Jesus

Simply stated, the job of a Christian is to follow the will of God (Luke 22:42). However, even when they know full well what the will of God is, sometimes they turn around and do the exact opposite (see here, here, here, and here, among many others)2. Oftentimes God plainly tells Christians what to do, and how to do it. Sometimes he speaks through scripture, sometimes through other sources (That's another node entirely). The problem lies in that Christians have two natures: that of sin and that of grace. The conflict between these two can prove enlightening at times, devastating at others (Romans 7: 14-25). In the previous example, I had two choices:

  • Second-guess God's will in bringing fire to my house (similar to Job), or
  • Admit that it's all in his plan and continue living, grateful that everyone's ok.
One of the biggest things I learned out of that ordeal was not to second-guess God's plan. We may not understand it now, but in the end all things work together for good for those who love the Lord. (Romans 8:28)

This is where the distinction between God's will and plan comes into play. Abraham once spoke with God at length about his will concerning the city of Sodom, and God allows His will to be altered by Abraham's ... it was in his plan all along (Genesis 18: 22-33).

  • If God's will was always his plan, and our wills meant nothing, there would be no point in prayer. What would be the end result of asking forgiveness for when we fail, for asking our ailing mother be healed, for asking to meet the man/woman of our dreams, ... if we were offered only a deaf ear? In the end, it would be fruitless.
  • If God's will always prevailed, leaving out the notion of his plan, then who knows what would have happened... We could have been wiped out, as a race, many thousands of years ago.
  • However, since God allows our will to influence his, and formed his plan from his will (before time began), we have a concept of prayer ... a method of connection between us and our creator.

Now let me tell you a little about Frank. He and my natural father used to be best friends, back before the divorce. I was close friends with Frank's son, Matthew (as a matter of fact, when we had a big brother / big sister program at church, Matthew was assigned to be my little brother, we got along great), and as a whole our two families fit together well. The dynamic was different than most "couple-friendships" I've seen, in that Mom and Frank were alot alike, and Dad and Karen seemed to get along great. The former two even joked about it off and on, but ... It wasn't until Frank and Karen got divorced in 1997 that things got to any semblance of serious.

Frank works as a home remodelling contractor. Mom knew this, and right after the housefire, she called Gary (another friend of ours from church, and our insurance agent), and asked if Frank could fix it. Gary OK'd it on the spot, and very soon thereafter, Mom and Frank started dating. The housefire was the perfect opportunity for Mom and Frank to spend lots of time together, getting close with one another all over again. They're absolutely perfect for one another... One year later, They got married on the front porch of his smallish lake-house in Granbury, Texas. Matthew was the best man, Danica the bridesmaid, myself the minister, Mom the bride, Frank the groom, the family dog the company, and a photographer the only guest.
Indirectly, the fire also helped foster the floundering relationship between my father and I. After the wedding, it was obvious that the house wasn't going to be big enough for all 6 of us, so I moved to a church in Arlington, on campus at the school I was attending at the time. I lived there for a year and a half, and when someone came along who needed the space more than I, I decided to move out. The only space available, though, was at my father's house.
My father and I never really had a close relationship. He works for IBM, and was always on the road. He'd be gone for weeks, sometimes months on business trips. Once, he was in Scotland for a couple of months, and my sister and I forgot what he looked like. After the divorce in 1994, It was my Twin sister, my Mother, my Grandmother, and I, and that was about it.
In 1998, my Father decided to take us on vacation. He'd happily remarried, and was trying to rebuild the relationships that'd been torn by many years of neglect on both our parts... It was an interesting 3 weeks: We'd not spent any considerable amount of time together for ages, but suddenly we were thrust into close quarters, like it or not. I enjoyed it immensely, as did Dad and Danica, but we still didn't really mesh as a family.
It wasn't until 3 months ago that I stopped calling him "father" and started with "dad". The change that I've seen in him since I moved in here is more than just our relationship... He physically looks better, acts nicer, we both make efforts to foster the "us" we never had... He's happy to have his son back, I'm happy to have my father back. Had it not been for the fire, I would probably never have moved in here of my own free will.

Now for a more personal note4
One implication this has had on my personal theology is this:
Instead of asking God's permission, concentrate on asking God's will...

If I relentlessly ask God if it's ok for me to do something, I often find that, even if it's not in his will, he'll tell me it's ok. When I do this, I usually end up failing miserably, picking up, and starting again (James 1:2-4). This is the nature of free will, intertwined with foreknowledge.

Amazing Grace, eh? :-)

So, what's the moral of the story? I don't know why God brought fire to my house ... That's a part of his plan he hasn't chosen to share with me yet. I can't tell you why the house burned, it started outside the house, but there was no wood, no chemical residue, no electrical wiring nearby, nothing that could have started a fire. This whole experience taught me to "Consider it all Joy, ... knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance." (James 1:2-3) What I can tell, though, is how many good things have happened at direct consequence to it.

This is also my outlook on the events of September 11, 2001: Words can't begin to describe the devastation America suffered that day, and I'd hate to do it any injustice by trying to put mere words on it. I wasn't there. God, however, was. It is all in his plan somewhere, and if he's trying to bring us into another huge war, then veni, domine Jesu! (Revelation 22:20)

1 - Yes, I notice the irony :-) Paul says "All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness" (2 Timothy 3:16). When he said that, "Scripture" referred to the Old Testament (what we know as the "New Testament" was still just a bunch of letters to young churches). The histories, laws, poetry, and prophecy in the Old Testament are good for a number of things, but we're bound by a New Testament, that of Christ.

2 - Like ripples in water, Christians denying God's will have had cascading effects many times throughout history... One striking example: Had Abram not forsaken God's will and had Ishmael by Hagar (Genesis 16:1-15), there probably wouldn't be a nation of Islam today. It was all in God's plan, however (Yes, even the attacks on September 11, 20013) We may not understand it from our current vantage-point, but his plan is far more encompassing than can be imagined by men.

3 - I realize that it was only a few people hijacking an organized religion who attacked America... That point, however, is already covered well in many other nodes

4 - more personal?!?!? Relax... this is stuff that applies to personal theology, not more personal details of my life ;-) "that's all well and good, dann, but... what does this have to do with me?"

This node segues neatly into many others I've yet to write:
Predestination and foreknowledge aren't necessarily the same thing,
Often, Christians are the worst sinners of them all,
It's not our job to tell God how to do His,
Why do bad things happen to good people?,
God Bless America? He certainly has., and
Experiencing God.

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