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 for decades reminded Americans that just a tiny spark from a campfire or match is all it takes to destroy majestic woodlands and kill innocent wildlife. Smokey's familiar catch-phrase says it all: "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 1950, a carelessly discarded cigarette helped cause an inferno that 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 probably had no idea of the death and destruction its spark would eventually cause. After all, they tell themselves, 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 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 permissive entertainment like MTV's popular reality series Teen Mom and hit movies like Juno. And if there's any question about a real-life cause and effect, the media reported recently that 17 high school-age girls had 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). Similar irresponsible behavior extends to the world of professional sports, where many high-profile athletes have fathered numerous children with multiple women across the nation.
Smokey Bear was scarred for life by the inferno started by a single 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, as Smokey Bear says, humans really can prevent forest fires. But the truth is that men and women are helpless to conquer the rapidly spreading flames of sexual sin. So how should we address this crisis? The first step is for us to recognize the problem and admit to God that we've broken His laws. Then we 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 unlimited hope for us when we accept Jesus' encouraging reminder in faith: All things are possible with God.