The news continues to roll out of Gatlinburg. Stories of families searching for missing members only to find out they’re a part of the growing number of fatalities. Over 1,000 structures were damaged in the fire, one of which was the Gatlinburg church of Christ. Several members lost their homes as well. Thankfully, we haven’t heard of any lives lost among the brethren in Tennessee, but there are many in the area who cannot say the same.
For those who have visited the Smoky Mountains — particularly the Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge area — the beauty and majesty of the surrounding landscape is something that one rarely forgets. Seeing the images of fire ravaging the hillsides, entire cliffs glowing orange in the night, and the ashy aftermath is beyond words. “How could God allow this to happen to such a beautiful area,” a woman asked on one of the news reports I watched. The irony in her question is that God designed the forest ecosystem to benefit from fire. In fact, forests are made stronger and flourish in the aftermath of a fire. Through prayer and support from their community, businesses and families will heal as well. The emotional healing will likely take the longest.
A small gallery of images from around the Gatlinburg area as fires raged, killing 13, injuring more than 100 and destroying more than 1,000 structures (at the time of this writing) and several acres of forest.
A person with experience in forestry and forest firefighting said that in 2-5 years, it will be hard for the untrained eye to tell the Gatlinburg area experienced such a blaze. It’s how the ecology works, apparently. According to the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, fires are essential to the survival of such a large forest. “In the 1970s scientists started to notice that keeping the Great Smoky Mountains National Park completely fire free was having some unintended consequences. There are at least 12 native species of plants and animals in the Smokies that benefit from routine fires. For instance, the Table Mountain pine depends on the powerful heat of ground fires to open its sealed cones, which is how the tree spreads its seeds. Without periodic fires, the Table Mountain pine and other species would disappear from the park.”
Hearing that, I’m reminded of James 1:2-4 which reads, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” Just like the forest fires, the trials and temptations we meet in life may be devastating at the time. They may cause our faith to be stretched. The true test comes in whether one allows the trial or temptation to stretch their faith to make it stronger, or allow it to break their faith.
Nature has God ruling over it, allowing and orchestrating the regrowth and build up after a fire. Man requires assistance to not allow their faith to be completely broken. That’s where the church comes in. As we’ll cover in our final lesson of the “Scripture Salad” sermon series this morning, our assembling together serves to encourage and stir up one another to love and good works (Heb. 10:24). God’s perfect design for nature allows for regrowth and a thriving ecosystem after the “trial/temptation” of a fire. Christ’s perfect design for His church allows for the body to support and edify one another so the body can continue working together in perfect harmony (Eph. 4:16).
A Christian needs that encouragement and edification in order to mature spiritually. It cannot be done alone. Just like the Table Mountain pine relies on fires to flourish, the Christian needs to rely on the church and proper, biblical teaching to be the light they’re called to be in this dark world.
As always, if you have any questions about this, or if you’d like to learn more about how to become a Christian, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.