This past weekend, my husband and I spent a beautiful evening at the foot of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park where we enjoyed dinner at the Dancing Bear Appalachian Bistro in Townsend, Tennessee, with our children and their spouses as we celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary.
Then we spent the night at the Dancing Bear Lodge, all compliments of the children. Yesterday we left the lodge rested, thanking the children for their thoughtful gift, and praising the Lord for the beauty of the mountains surrounding us.
As we drove back home, we saw the smoke from the forest fires that have been plaguing our area for the past several weeks. We are in the midst of a severe drought and the mountain woods are dry creating the perfect setting for forest fires. We stopped at a little store in the area and spoke with a police officer about the status of the fires. He said that there were a couple of small spots still burning uncontrolled on the other side of the mountain but he did not know of any real concern at this point.
We continued on our 45 minute trip home and brought our things in from the car. In the afternoon, we turned on the television to learn the upcoming weather and heard about a cold front that was coming and that would bring strong winds and rain.
We were aware that the wind had kicked up significantly because we experienced this as we were driving home. The reality was that the wind was blowing in excess of 80 miles per hour in the high mountains. One result of that strong wind was that embers were picked up and blown a long way, some over a mile from the fire source, where they landed on dry leaves and a whole new fire started. A second result was that trees were blown over and when they hit power poles the fallen power lines fell on dry leaves and burst into flames.
In short, in just 15 minutes, there were multiple new fires all burning out of control and all headed toward the resort towns of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, two vacation tourist areas adjacent to the Great Smoky Mountain National Park.
The fires were all-consuming. This morning, the report is that well over 100 structures have been destroyed, including resorts, free-standing restaurants, and multi-story hotels. The firefighters have not been able to get up into the mountains to check on how many homes have been destroyed, but there were over 1,000 people staying in shelters after mandatory evacuation orders were given for their protection.
Watching the videos taken from cars as they were driving down the mountain roads with fires on both sides of the street reminded me of the Scripture describing God as a “consuming fire”.
In Deuteronomy 4:23-24 we read this warning:
Take care, lest you forget the covenant of the LORD your God, which he made with you, and make a carved image, the form of anything that the LORD your God has forbidden you. For the LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.
We think of God as our Father, and for the believer He certainly is that because of the salvation we have through Jesus Christ our Lord. He loves His people and has done everything that He can do to protect us and bring us to eternal life with Him.
But we often don’t remember that He is a jealous God. He wants us to worship Him alone. We are not to worship idols that replace His rightful place in our life. Those idols are insidious, they interject themselves into our lives in what is seemingly innocuous ways. For example:
- Family – we love our families and we take care of them, indeed, Scripture tells us to do so. The family is a gift from God. But when our family pushes God out of the picture, the family is now a forbidden idol.
- Money – we are told in Scripture to work so that we can take care of ourselves and our family and so that we can donate funds to help others. Money is good. But, when money becomes our god so that we hoard it, we strive to get more and more, we look to it for our security and happiness, when we take pride in how much we have accumulated without recognition that all things come from God, money has now become a forbidden idol.
- Fame – we want to be well known so that we can spread the gospel to others, something that Scripture tells us to do. But, when we seek fame for our own glory, when we believe that we have accomplished these things on our own without acknowledging God’s role in our success, we have made fame a forbidden idol.
The list could go on and on, but the point is that God will not tolerate idols in our lives.
In Hebrews 12:28-29, the writer tells us this:
Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.
We are to “offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.”
A series of natural events collided in East Tennessee causing devastation and loss by fire — extreme drought and dry conditions, strong winds whipping embers to new locations, downed trees cutting power lines thereby igniting leaves below. I pray that we would search our own lives to see if there are any activities or conditions that would collide with our love for God — effectively pushing God out of our lives or diminishing our trust and devotion to Him.
I pray that
- our worship is acceptable to God and that we come to Him in reverence and awe of His majesty, power, glory and honor.
- we come to Him with contrite hearts, asking for forgiveness for our sin and seeking His power to live lives that are acceptable to Him.
- we would worship and seek His face when we interact with others to spread the gospel.
- we would seek His mighty hand to stop the raging forest fires and that He would comfort and strengthen those who have suffered such significant injury and loss.
Father, please put out Your hand and stop the devastating forest fires now raging in East Tennessee. I thank You and there have been only a few injuries and no fatalities at this point, and I pray that You would protect those who are in harm’s way as well as those who are fighting these fires. I pray that You would give guidance to those who are directing the rescue efforts and that You would sustain the workers with Your Spirit’s energy, love, compassion and strength. I also ask that You would encourage, comfort and strengthen those who have suffered loss during these fires. Finally, I pray that You would bless these words and that those who read them would be encouraged and/or convicted by Your Spirit so that blessings will come this day.