As we enter the fall season in the western hemisphere, numerous resources are being poured into Texas, Puerto Rico, and other areas effected by three major hurricanes. The devastation is overwhelming. The economic, environmental and personal impact of these disasters is ongoing.
But another kind of disaster spent the summer raging across the western United States: wildfires. These fires have already cost $2.4 billion (the most expensive year on record in the United States) and 28,000 personnel to combat. While these costs may pale in comparison to those of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, there is one significant difference between hurricanes and wildfires. Hurricanes are completely out of mankind’s control. Yet, according to the National Park Service, up to 90% of wildfires are caused by humans. Cigarettes and campfires have a long history of setting entire forests ablaze.
Imagine the guilt you would feel if your irresponsible behavior destroyed a forest. That would be terrible. It’s a good thing that you have never been guilty of that. Or have you?
The book of James (our fall small group study) states, “Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell” (3:5-6). James then continues, “no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be” (3:8-11).
There is a lot to think through in these verses, but for the moment let’s keep it simple. The words we speak are like fire that can bring warmth and give light or that can burn and destroy. Every time we open our mouth to speak, we have an opportunity to build up or tear down. With an increase in communication technology has come an increase in words and in the opportunity to build up and tear down. How can we insure that our words are constructive rather than destructive?
James offers us help here too, “My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires” (1:19-20). When we speak our words in anger, even though there is such a thing as righteous anger, we exponentially increase the odds that our words will cause devastating damage. On the other hand, if we start by listening (quick to listen) and are careful to consider our words (slow to speak) we exponentially decrease the likelihood that we will speak out of anger and exponentially increase the chance that our words will build up or even restore.
I imagine that many of you share this problem with me: it is easier to be slow to listen, quick to speak, and quick to become angry. Our nation’s current state of affairs has only made it worse. Would you join me in asking God to make us different? To make us a people who listen first, speak second, and remain calm in the face of disagreement? After all, only He can give us control over the fire in our mouths.
If you have questions or comments email Youth Pastor Leo Barnes