In 1941 the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbour in Hawaii. In the spring of the following year a Japanese submarine surfaced off the coast of California and lobbed a number of shells into an oil field near Santa Barbara and immediately adjacent to the Los Padres national forest. Very shortly thereafter, on the back of public concern for the integrity of their forests and national fervour in the wake of that attack upon their homeland, there began a public service advertising campaign promoting fire safety in wilderness areas. Walt Disney studios loaned the new cartoon character “Bambi” and the campaign took off. This loan arrangement however was for only one year, so the promoters had to find a new mascot. They settled on a black bear, and named him “Smokey”. This was in 1944, and the series still runs today. Smokey Bear is so ingrained into the American psyche, 95% of people can recite the motto “Only you can prevent forest fires” with very little prompting.
Run in conjunction with this campaign was a United States Forest Service (USFS) policy which detailed how the forest service would use whatever resources, technology and manpower available to extinguish any and all wild-fires as quickly and as efficiently as possible. This was the ‘green’ version of zero tolerance on crime. Worldwide interest in the last several decades on all matters ecological and the determination to conserve resources and potentially ‘save the planet’, ensured that the American Federal government along with the state governments provide all resources, money, support and backing that was required to implement that policy. The result of all this was that the USFS became very very good at putting out fires. Prior to the year 2000 95% of all wild-fires were extinguished before they had affected 300 acres. 4% of the remainder were dealt with within certain allowable limits and deemed acceptable. The USFS had became a highly skilled and professional organisation. However, what appeared on the surface to be an excellent statistical record in the year 2000, the remaining 1% developed into a major problem.
From the year 2000 on there were a number of major fires throughout the United States and the expression ‘mega-fire’ became a household term even in my own country, New Zealand. Permit me to provide some numbers.
- 2000 Arizona 47,650 acres. May 5-25
- Montana/Idaho 950,000 /1.3 million acres June-October
- 2002 Colorado 137,760 acres June 8-July 18
- New Mexico 92,522 acres June 2-June 19
- Arizona 468,638 acres June 18-July 2
- Oregon 499,965 acres July 13-Sept. 5
- California 150,969 acres July 21- Aug 28
- 2003 California 739,596 acres Oct. 21-Nov 10
- 2004 Alaska 6,300,000 acres June-November
Those fires in 2002 were of special interest to me as they were headline news in our country for months. Note that all those fires were raging at the same time, and affecting a total of over a million acres. Smaller fires however were also sprouting at that time all over the country, from Florida all across the Midwest and beyond, as well as those places mentioned above. TV news showed black barren landscapes and exhausted fire-fighters covered in black ash, many injured and burnt. Because fire-fighters from the Pacific NW had travelled to the more southern mid-west states to assist, when the full extent of the fires in Oregon and Nth. California became known, everyone realised they were desperately short of manpower, and Australia, Canada and New Zealand sent contingents of our own forest service personnel to assist.
When rain finally accomplished what man could not, questions were being asked of the USFS as to why and how such a catastrophe could take place despite all the precautions and resources that had been delegated to avoid that very thing from happening. In an interview on TV news here, a reporter asked that very question, and a FS spokesman gave a very honest and succinct answer, which being an ex forest service employee myself, I immediately understood. The answer was: “Because we’ve been too good at putting fires out in the past.”
You see, previously fires were so quickly extinguished by the ever vigilant FS the unburnt fuel built up on the forest floor to such an extent and over such a long period of time that it had become so exceedingly dangerous to the point where these mega fires were inevitable. Allowing so-called ‘cold’ fires to clear away the debris within controlled confines would have given nature the opportunity it needed to look after itself. But suppressing even the smallest fires at whatever cost simply reserved the fuel for much greater so called ‘hot’ fires later.
Natural fire in afforested areas is natures way of clearing the forest of rubbish thus preserving the health and enhancing the quality and life of the forest.
Psalm 1: 1 -3¶ Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night. And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.
Psalm 92: 12-15 The righteous shall flourish like the palm tree: he shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon. Those that be planted in the house of the LORD shall flourish in the courts of our God. They shall still bring forth fruit in old age; they shall be fat and flourishing; To shew that the LORD is upright: he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him.
Jer. 17: 7,8. Blessed is the man that trusteth in the LORD, and whose hope the LORD is. For he shall be as a tree planted by the waters, and that spreadeth out her roots by the river, and shall not see when heat cometh, but her leaf shall be green; and shall not be careful in the year of drought, neither shall cease from yielding fruit.
John 15:1-6 1 ¶ I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman. Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit. Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing. If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.
Are you beginning to get the picture? The Lord likens us to trees…the church is His vineyard. He is the Head Gardner. Or in the case of a forest, the Head Ranger. And we, like the trees in any forest, need the fires of God’s chastening. And because we have been deliberately planted or cultivated, we also need pruning, and we need to be cleansed of all the rubbish and debris that litters our lives.
For the forest, and for the Christian, there are seven areas of benefit from being in good health as a result of cleansing.
- Fruit. Fruit is food for the benefit of others, essential ingredients for ministry. Fruit of the Spirit is not for our own selfish benefit or pleasure, but to draw others to Christ. Fruit is the evidence that we are genuine Christians. A bad tree cannot produce good fruit, nor can a good tree produce bad fruit. We are known by our fruit.
- Seed. Good fruit produces good seed. An unhealthy forest cannot regenerate. Rubbish and debris littering the forest floor inhibits regrowth. Hypocrisy, sin, worldliness and compromise in the church can never be in harmony with evangelism. Compromising churches are not churches with a strong mission focus, and the preaching of the gospel can never produce more trees if the original is compromised.
- Regeneration is greatly enhanced once the seed is sown with an open and fertile forest floor. The seeds can be dispersed over a wider area, and the ground can accommodate much greater growth. The young saplings can enjoy the filtered sunlight through the canopy and receive adequate rains without interference.
- Foliage. Healthy foliage in the mature trees allows just the right amount of light to penetrate without burning the young growth. The young in our churches also need spiritual food in the form of milk, not meat. Too much sun wilts and too much meat creates indigestion. Healthy foliage also allows for a greater potential for hospitality. As the birds nest in the branches seeking shelter so may the needy find solace within our church communities. The foliage can be likened to our educational institutions, our electronic and print media, our charity work, our hospitals, and support services through which our young and visitors alike find teaching, shelter, comfort, and fellowship.
- Strong roots. Strong roots are storm proof. Weak roots lead to falling trees which damage others in their path, and destroy the young saplings growing underneath .How many young people in our churches have been damaged by those whose foundations were weak, and who apostatised from the truth? Fallen trees that do not reach the ground are even more dangerous. They are called ‘hang-ups’. Hang-ups are dead trees or branches that are leaning on others and relying on other trees for their support. They have no roots but are still a part of the forest. Every church has its ‘hang-ups’. A Laodicean is a ‘hang-up.’ One who is lukewarm but unaware of it. One who is content with being mediocre. Very dangerous, particularly if allowed free reign in the church to influence others with their liberal and compromising standards and beliefs, particularly for those young who are not mature enough to discern the difference. A strongly rooted Christian does not fall over when the storms come, They may sway, but do not fall.
- Soil stability. Ephesians 3:14-21: 14 ¶ For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man; That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God. Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen.
A combination of good soil and strongly rooted trees is the perfect foil to erosion and landslides.
Revelation 12: 15,16: And the serpent cast out of his mouth water as a flood after the woman, that he might cause her to be carried away of the flood. And the earth helped the woman, and the earth opened her mouth, and swallowed up the flood which the dragon cast out of his mouth.
A church firmly grounded and firmly rooted in the truth can withstand the flood of Satan’s lies and deceptions. As the soil soaks up water, so the truth soaks up deception.
And the lesson from the USFS for us Christians is this. Do not be so ready to put out the little fires of God that are working in your life to sanctify and cleanse you from sin and all the habits that inhibit your growth. Far better to allow a small fire now to burn off the rubbish, than wait for that fire that can never be put out that will consume everything in its path until all is destroyed. It is the presence of God Himself that is a consuming fire; allow Him to enter into your life and do His work, the result is health in the immediate, and eternal life in the future.