Norma Jean and I were recently in the Smoky Mountains for a short get-a-away. It’s been one of our favorite places through the years to visit and relax.
We were wondering how the Mountains would look since the fires last November burned over 17,000 acres of forest, destroyed or damaged more than 2000 homes and buildings and took the lives of 14 people, as well as injuring 145.
While you could definitely see the results of the fires, there was still plenty of natural beauty to enjoy, since the Smoky Mountains cover around 244,000 acres just in Tennessee alone.
A local resident told us the fires started when two boys, ages 15 and 17, were playing with matches in Chimney Tops. Before the fire could be extinguished the winds began to gust at 40 miles per hour and the flames quickly engulfed the area.
During some quiet time of reflecting on these events, several spiritual lessons came to my mind.
(1) The danger of reckless behavior.
The book of Proverbs warns against irresponsible and negligent actions. He reminds us that the “wise are cautious”, but a “fool is reckless and careless” (Prov. 14:6). A small spark of a hasty word, an improper relationship, or a silly prank, may inflict hurt and harm far beyond our wildest imagination.
(2) The consequence of sin has long lasting effects.
Actions have consequences. While it seems the boys playing with matches had no intention of committing arson, their reckless behavior still impacts that area and will for years to come. Think of the lives taken. The physical injuries. The property damaged. The homes destroyed. The businesses ruined. The income lost.
Sin is like that. Someone once opined that “Sin will take you farther than you want to go, keep you longer than you want to stay, and cost you more than you want to pay.”
Just ask King David. The folly of his sinful tryst with Bathsheba affected David, his family and the nation of Israel for the rest of his life. His Psalms of contrition testify to the mental, emotional and physical toll sin takes (Ps. 51, 32).
(3) Tragedy often brings out the best in people.
Thousands of people volunteered to help the residents and businesses of the Smoky Mountains. Public and private shelters were opened. Meals were donated. And Dolly Parton raised through the contributions of generous donors almost 9 million dollars to aid those who lost homes.
However, we don’t have to wait for a disaster to occur to do good. Daily we encounter others who are hurting and need help. It may be emotional, physical or financial. Let us look for opportunities “to do good to all people” (Gal. 6:10).
(4) Even in a sin-cursed world, there is much for people to enjoy.
Even though the effects of the fires are still seen throughout the Smoky Mountains there was wonderous beauty to behold. We didn’t go to see the ruins of burned down buildings or charred trees. We focused on the Fall foliage. Relaxed in peaceful surroundings. Breathed the cool morning air. Basked in the afternoon sunshine of Cades Cove. And enjoyed a picnic by a Mountain stream.
In life, we often see and find what we’re looking for. Sure, wickedness abounds. The ruined lives of sin are all around us. And the broken lives of Satan’s captives are sad to behold. But there are many good people. God’s people. Like Paul, I can thank God as I remember so many who’ve impacted my life for good and supported my ministry (Phil 1:3-8).
Indeed “the earth is full of the goodness of the Lord” (Ps 33:5). Just turn off the negative news and take a walk in the park. Or watch the sunset. Or gaze into a star-filled night. Or better yet, take a trip to the Smoky Mountains!
–Ken Weliever, The Preacherman