Interstate 85 is a major transportation artery that currently covers over 660 miles from Montgomery, Alabama to Petersburg, Virginia. As it winds thru the American south, it passes thru several major cities and dozens of smaller towns providing a quick and reliable conduit for materials and goods as well as commuters and travelers.
But a week ago all this activity came to an abrupt halt due to a cataclysmic fire in Atlanta beneath one of the many bridges along this vital roadway that, by the time it was extinguished, caused the total collapse of one section of the northbound lanes and damaged 5 other adjacent portions, requiring the demolition and replacement of over 700 feet of elevated concrete. (See video here.)
Officials quickly determined that the fuel which burned with such intensity was thousands of feet of rolled conduit used with the directional boring operations that we see along so many roadways that are bringing high-speed internet and fiber optic communications to many of our communities. As it turns out, the surplus tubing from a project that had been cancelled long ago had been warehoused under the overpass for over 10 years.
Even more surprising than the scope of the damage was how quickly the police made an arrest! Apparently a homeless man who had been trespassing on the land started the blaze that ended up damaging so much property and caused what will surely be many months of disruption to businesses in the area, delay to travelers and freight, longer commutes to work, and expenditure of public funds could have been spent elsewhere.
Some are quick to point a finger at the vagrant who had reportedly been there too use illegal drugs or to assign blame to the government agency that chose to store the material there in the first place. But rather than focusing on this specific event, I want to simply stand back in awe of the incredibly destructive force that is fire.
Fire is the most potent force in the natural world… so powerful that its intensity literally destroys matter to such a level that it reverts to its original component elements. When our Creator decided to wipe the world clean the first time, He chose water, but Peter tells us that at the end of this age, God will choose fire to lay bare everything on the earth. (2 Peter 3:10)
Keep that image in mind as we flip back several pages in the Bible to the book of James. In his very forthright manner, the apostle draws a harsh parallel between the destructive force of the tongue and that of a rampaging forest fire. Unchecked, the ruinous power of the tongue “corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire.” (James 3:6)
It’s been said that words are the containers of thought and are therefore inherently influential, so just like the spread of the fire and resulting damage on I-85 couldn’t have been foreseen, the things we say to -and about- others sometimes have far reaching effects that cannot be anticipated. How many people are years later still sweeping up the emotional rubble from the careless comments of a parent, teacher or friends? How much continuing damage is felt by successive generations from those who struggle to repair a fractured self-image that came as a result of the thoughtless words of people who were supposed to speak love and didn’t?
As believers, most of us know the warnings against grumbling, complaining, gossiping, arguing, and meddling, however, we continue to give little thought to the direction of our conversations and continue to say things that are far from edifying. Paul warns believers to be careful about the words we use and identifies unkind and foolish talk as being at odds with a life of faith. (Eph 5:1-13) So as followers of Christ, begin to take careful inventory of the things you say, and commit to replace any unholy speech with words that bring thanksgiving and praise to the Lord.
Let your light shine before others,
that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.