A Single Match, A Small Fire and Destruction of the Smoky Mountains
Today I welcome Betsie Hughes to the back porch up on Rocky Top. Betsie has been married to Dan for twenty-four years. Together they have a beautiful blended family of five adult children and five grandchildren. Whether it is being a mortgage consultant (her “real” job) or sharing practical truths from the Word of God with women, Betsie’s love for Jesus flows genuinely from her heart. I am thrilled to share her words of wisdom with you.
A casual glace at the TV. Smoke was billowing from The Chimney Tops; it was enough to catch my attention but honestly it just didn’t look that menacing. Over the next few hours we were about to see how wrong I was as conditions aligned to create the perfect environment for a devastating fire to change lives forever.
We know now that two boys were responsible for starting that devastating fire in our Great Smoky Mountains.
I imagine two scenarios. The first is that this boys were hiking down the mountain with no idea what was happening behind them. Maybe they were far enough ahead of the smoldering mountain top that they really didn’t know what they left in their wake.
The second is that they saw the flames dancing through the dry leaves devouring the underbrush and seeking to climb the beautiful, majestic trees of our beloved Smoky Mountains and ran. Sick to their stomach and terrified at what was happening with no way to turn back time or stop the devastation. Fear gripped them as they ran faster and faster away from the flames.
The morning after the fires in Gatlinburg, TN the Lord led me to this verse.
“So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell” James 3:5-6
The fire started at The Chimney Tops miles away from Gatlinburg by probably a single match…..a small fire. Conditions were such that the fire quickly spread. I am sure as the residents of that mountain community watched the news – they were not imagining that their homes and lives were in imminent danger. While I watched from afar, the magnitude of what was about to happen was nowhere in my consciousness. It was unfathomable. What happened that night was both a string of events and combination of circumstances that may happen only once in a lifetime. It was however, also a perfect image of the power of a small fire to spread and destroy when we least expect it.
Our words can have that same impact on our relationships and communities where we live. A moment or lifetime of moments where we don’t control the words that spill out and hurt those around us. Sometimes we see the hurt and other times we are completely unaware of how our words have wounded someone.
The anger, selfishness, and un-forgiveness that we allow to creep into our hearts and minds will always spill over in our words and actions. It may be a tiny spark – just a moment, a word or comment. We innocently share a secret or unfounded thought or belief about a situation or a person and then……a fire is raging, devouring everything in its path. We lash out at our spouse or children in a heated moment of suspicion or anger and the fire begins smoldering. We fan the flame with every angry, selfish thought and harsh word.
We are unaware of the impending danger but it is as deadly and devastating to us and those around us as those fires in Gatlinburg were to the homes and lives of the residents.
Our tongue can set the entire course of our lives on fire and it takes years to recover. I have been on both the giving and receiving end of the hurtful flames. There are times I would give anything to be able to take back the words I’ve said in anger or when I have allowed bitterness to creep in and take root in my heart. I also see in relationships all around me where the tongue has emotionally created such pain that we begin to do things that we could never have comprehended would happen. Broken relationships, divorce, wayward children, ruined business dealings…..all left in the wake of that small flame of words that quickly overtook the relationship. The entire course of a life changed and broken without understanding of how it happened so quickly.
I imagine those were some of the same thoughts that morning after the fires. Those fires unimaginably changed the lives of the residents of this beautiful mountain community. There were families who lost homes, loved ones and possessions that held beautiful memories. They stood looking at the utter ruins of their homes that were totally destroyed. The impact reached so much farther than just that one night. While the fire was extinguished, the devastation for many will last a lifetime. So it is in our lives.
His living Word is the only water that will quench the fire of the tongue. John 7:39 says “whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’”
It’s a spiritual battle. Apart from the power of the Holy Spirit, we can’t control our tongue. However, every day we can protect our heart by soaking in God’s Word and then out of our hearts can flow living water that nurtures and protects instead of flames that devastate and destroy. The Lord must capture and rule my heart. Every moment. Every day. His living water must soak the soil of my heart to protect me and those I love from the flames that destroy.