The Tongue and Sparks

“Silence is golden” is a phrase that was often uttered by my dad when I was growing up.  It was used because, as a child, I talked a lot and I probably embarrassed my parents – especially the time that I asked our neighbor  if he was my dad because he had red hair like I did.   My parents always said that I was the milkman’s because of my hair color  and he was our milkman!  So, wasn’t the question obvious? How many other times I embarrassed them, I do not know, but I’m sure I did.

As children we need to be taught about our words, how many we speak and what we speak  so when we grow to adulthood, we understand the power within our words and how our words can be used by the enemy.  Unfortunately, I was not taught the wisdom of the Scriptures by my parents and the lesson has been hard-learned.  Though silence is golden, everyone talks and wisdom needs to be taught.

When I read James 3:4-6 I can almost see Yeshua working, doing whatever it was that he did while his little brother James either sat next to him or worked next to him.  I can imagine that James had either spoken something without wisdom or someone maybe had spoken without wisdom to James.  Perhaps someone spoke unwisely about Yeshua to James.  Whatever it was, Yeshua’s words stayed with James and are part of our Scriptures.

“And think of a ship – although it is huge and is driven by strong winds, yet the pilot can steer it wherever he wants with just a small rudder.  So too the tongue is a tiny part of the body, yet it boasts great things. See how a little fire sets a whole forest ablaze!  Yes, the tongue is a fire, a world of wickedness. The tongue is so placed in our body that it defiles every part of it, setting ablaze the whole of our life; and it is set on fire by Gei-Hinnom itself” (James 3:4-6).

As I read this Scripture this morning, for the first time I was given the vision of a forest fire – not the burning itself, but the aftermath.  Having lived in the Colorado mountains, forest fires were always a possibility.  Escape routes were planned for the ‘fire storms’ that might start and take only several minutes to go one or two miles.  Though I am grateful to never have experienced one, a house that my husband and I built with love, sweat and tears did.  Nearly a year after the fire, we returned to our dream log home in the Boulder foothills and witnessed the devastation.

The contrast was evident. Under a blue sky with beautiful clouds, everything was blackened and lifeless.  Though  there were small shoots of green trying to push their way through the charcoaled ground, the landscape was black, black, black.  What was left of the forest around our house was black dirt and black stick trees.  The smell, nearly a year afterwards, was still that of ash – wet ash as the winter snows had melted.    Sticky wet soot from a dream stuck to the bottom of our shoes as we wandered around the property.

The man who owned the house was the only person in the area who had not cleaned up the remnants from the fire.  Bits and pieces of items we  had bought and put into the home were lying around.  We recognized the iron wood stove, parts of the furnace, a portion of the dishwasher, the chimney cap, and a bathtub.  We tried to scrape some of the compounded  ash layers from near where a door had been in the basement to see the markings of our children’s hands. Though the foundation still existed, it was difficult to dig through the debris and we gave up.

Everywhere landowners were collecting hay bales to put on the ground around where their homes had been.  Without trees, grass, and underbrush to protect it from the coming rains, mudslides were feared.   Landowners braced for a second wave of destruction from floods that would wash down the empty hillsides taking whatever was left with it.  Though the actual forest fire was a memory, the results continued to bring daily trials.

Twelve to fourteen families had homes on our mountain road.  No one  lives up there at this time because there are no homes remaining.   Some families sold their property and made the decision never to return; others considered the odds and are in the process of getting permits to rebuild; still others remain in limbo not sure whether to rebuild, sell, or just allow their property to sit as empty forest land.

This is the vision I had when I read James.  I saw the blackened forest and residue of what was once our home; the place where we brought our newborns.  The place where they grew and thrived and enjoyed the mountain’s fresh air.  It was no longer an inviting place.  It was a void. Dead. Black. Lifeless.

As I considered James’ words, I realized how the tongue can quickly destroy people and relationships.  In a moment they can go up in smoke from a blazing wicked tongue.  Before, when I read this passage, I only thought of the tongue being the fire and how we needed to guard our tongues, but I never considered the devastation the forest fire would leave behind and how difficult it would be to dig through the debris on the foundation so that rebuilding might have a chance to occur.

I turned from James to Proverbs. With a new vision of the result of a forest fire, I began to consider the some Proverbs differently.

“When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise” (Proverbs 10:19).

“A gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy man keeps a secret” (Proverbs 11:13).

“A perverse man stirs up dissension and a gossip separates close friends” (Proverbs 16:28).

Forest fires don’t happen when there is no spark to ignite the fire.  Period.  Some ‘thing’ has to start the fire.  When words are spoken, many without wisdom, they become sparks that have the potential to ignite an incredible fire.  The particular fire that burnt our former home was started with sparks from a small fire that was believed to have been put out the day before with several buckets of water!    However, it was determined that there had been one or two sparks hiding that ignited when the wind began to blow the next day.

When a confidence is betrayed or a secret exposed, the wind begins to blow.    The sparks get the oxygen they need and the fire begins.  Underbrush makes a fire burn hotter and allows them to spread quickly.  Anger, jealousy, bitterness, judgement are dangerous underbrush.    Soon, the fire is out of control and destruction follows its path.

Rebuilding is always an option, but so far the man who owns the house has made no obvious effort in that direction.  I can imagine how difficult it would be to rebuild after a forest fire.  There is so much loss and serious decisions have to be made.  It takes courage to move forward and rebuild when there is always the threat of the same thing happening again.

The FoundationThe house itself won’t be the same if it is rebuilt. Though the concrete foundation is still there, it is cracked.  It will need to be repaired or removed and made new.  The house will be a different design, a different layout, even made of different materials and filled with completely different woodstoves, furnaces, and bathtubs.   The view will have changed too.   The distant view of the  mountains will remain, but the trees that encompassed the house, the  wildflower vegetation will take years and years to return to  its former beauty.

Yet, as I walked around where my Columbine, Aspen trees and strawberry plants used to be, I realized that there was still beauty around me.  It was a different type of beauty – not as breathtaking as it was, but still and quiet.  I stood motionless, closed my eyes and inhaled deeply.  Underneath the smell of wet ash, I could detect the scent of pine and hear the distant chirping of birds.  Life continued to thrive in the changed environment giving a twinge of hope to the scarred landscape.

I had some concerns about returning to my old home after the fire.   I wasn’t sure what I would feel.  I had thoughts that I would feel incredible pain so I guarded my heart.   I had already gone through the shock of hearing about the fire, seeing clips of my home on the news, but I still wasn’t sure what I would feel when I personally saw what the fire had done.

I hoped the drive up the one-mile road would give me time to prepare.  It was void of any of any homes or neighbors.   Burnt trees left standing in the middle of charred ground cover could not really prepare me  for what would be around the last switchback –  the non-existent structure that used to beckon us home.   As we turned the corner, the vast emptiness overwhelmed me.  It was obvious – the house, the majestic house which stood so proudly on the hillside was gone, truly gone.  There would be no going back.  There would be no more leisurely drives up the mountain to show special friends our dream home or the beautiful mountain area where we once lived.  It was all in the past.

As we pulled in the driveway next to the gaping hole that I had watched being dug so many years before, I felt only a little nostalgia at what was and what could never be again. I got out of the car and stood on the edge of the foundation. I looked into the gaping hole and saw the remnants of a filing cabinet, charred books, and a shovel.   At that moment, I realized that not only had my dream house been destroyed, but also the home of someone I didn’t even know who had bought the house.   With a few seemingly harmless sparks, a fire storm destroyed homes and lives that were miles and miles away from where the sparks originated.   Families, friends and relationships of those near and far had been changed forever by the sparks of what was unwisely considered an extinguished fire.

My Father knew about those sparks.  He knew which were hot and with the right stimulus would ignite.   He knew about the wind that would blow them around.   He knew about the deep underbrush that would catch fire, spread and would quickly engulf my house.  He knew that the destruction would be great and the loss within my heart even greater.  He knew the inevitable end of that house long before the building process began.

James’ metaphor holds deep truths.   How many lives have been set on fire by careless words and fanned into flames by gossip?  How many relationships have been charred by the underbrush of anger, bitterness and jealousy? How many friendships have be seared by perverse people creating cracks in foundations that will either be patched or completely removed.   Yes, the tongue is a fire, a world of wickedness, defiling the Body and setting ablaze our very lives leaving behind a world of licorice-colored popsicle sticks in blackened meadows.    What a great forest that was set on fire by a small spark!

©2012 Tent Stake Ministries

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