Sunday, August 14, 2011

Fighting Fire with Fire

Whoever is caught with the devoted things shall be destroyed by fire, along with all that belongs to him. He has violated the covenant of the LORD and has done an outrageous thing in Israel!

-- Joshua 7:15

One of the most recognized characters in the history of advertising, Smokey Bear has reminded the public for decades that just a tiny spark from a campfire or cigarette is all it takes to destroy majestic woodlands and kill innocent wildlife. 

Warns Smokey: “Only you can prevent forest fires.”

What distinguishes the gravelly-voiced bruin from other beloved media icons is that Smokey actually existed. The story goes that in May1950, a carelessly-discarded cigarette helped cause an inferno that eventually blackened 17,000 acres of forest and grasslands in the Lincoln National Forest near Capitan, New Mexico. A fire crew discovered a badly singed bear cub--soon called Hotfoot--clinging tightly to a burned pine tree. The cub was sent to a veterinary hospital in Santa Fe and eventually renamed Smokey after a game warden opened his own home for the animal’s recuperation.

Whoever discarded that lit cigarette butt probably had no idea of the death and destruction its spark would eventually inflict upon the pristine wilderness. After all, it was only a meaningless cigarette. Who doesn’t toss their used butts out the window when they’re finished with them? And besides, nobody will know and no one will get hurt.

In so many ways, that’s the same cavalier attitude that today spreads the inferno of sexual sin in our society. Behaviors that were never part of God’s wonderful plans for our lives are now promoted in the media as civil rights and embraced as hallmarks of individualism. Meanwhile, the entertainment industry glamorizes adultery, casual sex and out-of-wedlock births. Pornography is widely available on cable TV and the Internet. What’s more, Hollywood produces entertainment like MTV’s popular reality seriesTeen Mom and hit movies like Juno. And if there’s any question about a real life cause and effect, the teen pregnancy rate in one Memphis, Tennessee high school is between 15 and 25 percent. And recently in another high school, 17 girls made a so-called pregnancy pact because--at least in part--of peer pressure to have a baby as some sort of modern day status symbol (just like on TV). 

Meanwhile, it’s par for the course for professional athletes--the role models for millions of impressionable youths--to have multiple out-of-wedlock children with different women. But a casual check of our community’s vital statistics reveals that this matter-of-fact behavior isn’t confined to the NFL and the NBA.

Smokey Bear was scarred for life by the inferno started by one tiny spark. And an untold number of other animals died in the flames that destroyed thousands of acres of wilderness. Likewise, the victims of sexual sin--often innocent spouses and children--are just as emotionally scarred and callused. And that’s not even considering sin’s collateral damage of broken marriages, damaged relationships and even shattered careers and reputations.

Perhaps--like Smokey says--we really can prevent forest fires. But the truth is that we’re helpless to conquer the rapidly-spreading flames of sexual sin. The first step toward extinguishing the fire is for us to recognize the problem and admit to God that we’ve broken His laws. We then need to ask for the flames of the Holy Spirit to open our eyes and minds to the truth and consume what fuels sin’s deception. As any good forest manager will tell you, it’s all about fighting fire with fire.

Does this sound difficult? By our own strength, it’s futile. But there’s always unlimited hope when we accept Jesus’ encouraging reminder: All things are possible with God.

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