Disciples in the state of Florida are so grateful for your faithful and fervent prayers for us!
We are still trying to assess the damage of the storm, but so far, the report is good. With all thirteen of our churches checked in, it looks like all brothers and sisters are safe, though some have had damage to their homes and most are without power.
The hardest hit was Naples, a city on the Southwestern tip of Florida, which got a direct hit at category 3 strength and is dealing with severe flooding, stranding many in their homes without any way to contact the outside world since their power is out and phones are dead. Please keep their church leaders, Matt and Deanna Newburg, and the 160-member Southwest Church of Christ in your prayers.
But it could have been worse – much worse.
What was called "the storm of the century", "a monster", and "the largest hurricane to come out of the Atlantic Ocean" lost steam as it headed up the Florida peninsula, hitting Tampa and Orlando as category 1 storms and then exiting the state as a tropical storm.
How big a deal is that? Category 1 storms down power lines. Category 5 storms down houses. You clean up after category 1, you mourn after category 5.
Weather Channel senior hurricane specialist Bryan Norcross said of this hurricane a few days before it hit: "The effect of Irma on the state of Florida is going to be much greater than Andrew's effect (referring to the costliest hurricane in U.S. history at the time, with damages of 26.5 billion dollars – about $50 billion in current dollars – and killing 65 people). We're dealing with an entirely different level of phenomenon. There is no storm to compare with this, unless you go way back to 1926."
So why did this super storm so suddenly weaken and spare the lives of so many Floridians?
When asked how the city of Tampa was spared catastrophe, here's what the Mayor of Tampa said in an interview on Monday according to the New York Times, "Because we live good lives, because we only get drunk once in a while?' Mr. Buckhorn joked. 'No, I don't have an answer for that."
Joking or not, isn't that what so many people think? When we are spared from such disasters it is because we're basically good people who didn't deserve to be hit. So, Houston deserved to be hit by Hurricane Harvey and Florida just deserved a slap on the wrist? I don't think so.
Whether attributing this miracle to our inherent goodness or to good luck, both miss the point completely. We are sinners who deserve both physical and spiritual death, and the only reason we are saved is because of the unmerited grace, kindness and mercy of our sovereign God, the father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who does as he pleases. "All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back his hand or say to him, 'What have you done?'" -- Daniel 4:35 (NIV)
You'd be so proud of your brothers and sisters in Florida. As "the storm of the century" approached we were constantly sending each other texts, emails, and social media posts encouraging each other to pray to the one who could save us and our loved ones from death and destruction. We reminded each other that fear and faith are both contagious. We were determined to spread faith. We reminded each other that God could change the direction of the storm and lessen it if he chose to – and that God is sovereign and we must submit and surrender to whatever happens, trusting that he is accomplishing his providential purposes in ways we can never understand.
Was their fear and anxiety? Yes. But I believe prayer, faith and surrender won the day. We asked for God's mercy in both coordinated and individual prayer. We believed God would intervene in the storm. And we surrendered to his sovereign will, trusting that he knows best and would accomplish his purposes through this event.
So, on behalf of the churches in Florida, we want to say four things to you:
- Thank you for joining us in faithful and fervent prayer these last few days! Your faith and love made a difference! And don't forget to continue praying for Naples, as well as the aftermath and clean-up efforts in both Florida and Texas.
- Be sure to go back and thank God for his undeserved mercy (Luke 17, story of the ten lepers).
- Let's show God to people by serving our neighbors in Texas, Florida, the Southeast and around the world where these disasters are occurring. Click here for a HOPEww Global Disaster Report.
- Let's glorify God by spreading the word, in individual conversations and through social media, that monster Hurricane Irma was tamed. Not because anyone deserved it, or because of blind luck. But because our sovereign God, who always answers prayer, chose to have mercy on us! Let's give God the glory!