We just returned from a trip to see our family in Oregon and saw first-hand the sad scene in the Columbia Gorge in the Cascade Locks/Multnomah Falls area (from Hood River to Troutdale). This summer was extremely hot and dry with a record number of 90-degree or above days and had the most recorded consecutive days without measurable precipitation. The fire danger was extremely high by mid-August and a stage-two fire restriction was ordered, meaning, among other things, no outdoor fires of any kind. On Sept. 2 teenagers were playing with fireworks at Eagle Creek by Multnomah Falls, and in spite of a warning, tossed them down into the gully where they burst into flames. As of Sept. 28, the fire had consumed 48,573 acres, caused the evacuation of more than 400 residences and the closing of I-84 for several weeks, forcing travelers and truckers to cross the Columbia River and use the highway on the Washington side.
When the fire started 153 hikers were trapped between the Eagle Creek fire and the Indian Creek fire and had to be rescued. The fish hatchery at Cascade Locks had to release 600,000 fish 6 months ahead of schedule. Hundreds of firefighters have been risking their lives to contain the fire in the rugged terrain of the Gorge. Sawyers have been busy felling hundreds of trees near the freeway so the dead trees will not endanger the travelers. They also estimate that it will take the next two years to get the miles of trails in the area safe for hiking again. All of this is at the cost of millions of dollars to taxpayers. On Sept. 6, the Eagle Creek fire combined with the Indian Creek fire, making it even more difficult to contain. The smoke created caused breathing problems in the area for the next several weeks–until the rains finally came a little more than a week ago (they got 6” of rain in the Gorge in a matter of three days. Praise the Lord!).
When one considers the damage to landscape, disruption of lives, endangering of buildings, risk to firefighters, sawyers, etc, and millions of dollars of cost and then think that it all begin with some fireworks in the hands of a careless teenage, wow, it is mind boggling. But, it is a vivid illustration of what James spoke of regarding the “power of the tongue.” He wrote: “So also the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet boasts of great things. Behold, how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell. For every species of beasts and birds, of reptiles and creatures of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by the human race. But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father; and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way” (James 3:5-10).
Earlier in his epistle, James indicated that our tongue (i.e., our speech) is really a test of our faith and its genuineness. He wrote: “If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless” (1:26). And James is not the only Bible writer who spoke of the power of the tongue. Our speech is the subject of numerous passages in Scripture. Even Jesus spoke of the religious Pharisees who “honor me with their lips, but their heart is far away from Me” (Mt. 15: 8). The Apostle Paul wrote: “Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned, as it were with salt, so that you may know how you should respond to each person” (Col. 4:16). “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment; that it may give grace to those who hear” (Eph. 4:29). What good advice! Think of how often our words have hurt someone or cause tension in a relationship. And once you utter them, they are gone, and no matter what you say in follow up, you can’t “unsay” what has been said. “Thou art master of the unspoken word, but the spoken word is master of you” (author unknown). In other words, once you have said it, it is beyond your control.
David and Solomon spoke much about the tongue in the Psalms and Proverbs. They spoke of those who use their tongue to praise God and those who use it to slander and curse mankind. The old proverb, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me” is definitely not true. We can heal from physical injury but often words cut so deeply that the effects last a lifetime. Solomon, in his great wisdom, wrote: “He who restrains his words has knowledge…Even a fool, when he keeps silent, is considered wise; When he closes his lips, he is counted prudent…Death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Pr. 17:27,28; 18:21). How true!
Keep in mind that your tongue is in a very slippery place! Someone very aptly wrote: “If your lips would keep from slips, five things to observe with care: to whom you speak, of whom you speak, and how and when and where.” Good, biblical advice, I’d say. Probably the most dangerous thing in the world is the tongue. J. Vernon McGee wrote: “The church is more harmed by termites within than by the woodpeckers on the outside!” We need to be careful that our words help to build up and not tear down. Weigh your words carefully; they are heavier than you think! Holy Spirit, we need Your help. Guard our hearts and minds today. Help us control our thoughts and words so that we might lift others up and show them who You are and what You’ve done in us. Amen!