Growing up in a small, rural-Kansas town, I don’t remember a time when my dad wasn’t a part of the volunteer fire department. In fact I have very few memories prior to him being the Chief. Even though the department was all volunteer, the fire station, and the men and women who served there, are integral parts of my formative years. After college, my brother moved back to the small town and also joined the fire department, taking his turn as Chief after my dad retired (finally!).
One of my most cherished family memories is standing as a family, with my parents and my brother, two nights before my brother’s wedding, as we watched an abandoned house that had been struck by lightening burn to the ground. There was something strangely poignant about this season of “just the four of us” ending in the midst of a fire. The fact that the house was abandoned and no one’s life or property was in danger took the fear and urgency out of the night. So we stood there, just the four of us, amidst the chaos of fire fighters doing what they do, and watched in awe the power of fire.
The thing about a raging fire, like the one that consumed that abandoned house the night before my brother’s wedding, is that it usually starts with just a spark. The smallest spark has the power to become an all-consuming inferno. And when a fire that strong burns one of two things will happen, it will destroy or it will cleanse.
The danger of a spark is that when it ignites it has the potential for immense force and too often it leaves destruction in its path. There was another house fire I remember from my childhood. This one started literally from the smallest spark thrown by an ember buried under the ash of a fireplace fire long burned out. In the deep recesses of the night, the spark landed on the carpet outside of the fireplace. The carpet ignited, the fire alarms did not go off, and only three of the five people inside made it out alive. It was a tragic night in our small town. There is no doubt that fire can destroy.
A strange thing can happen when your daddy is the fire chief. You start to LOVE the smell of fire! Not just the smell of a bonfire on a fall evening, but that charred, burned smell that to most people brings a memory of pain, fear and loss. To me, that smell conjures up memories of my dad, memories of safety, strength and protection. It was the smell of my dad’s truck the day after he ran into a fire protecting our neighbors and their property from harm. It was the smell of my hero and it represented his courage, his strength, and his protection. To this day, I (perhaps inappropriately) LOVE the smell of fire, especially the smell of a burned field in early fall.
The power of a spark is that it can also, ultimately, be cleansing. My favorite time to head back home is during the fall, after the harvest, when the farmers in central Kansas burn their fields. They do this for a couple of reasons. One, to clear it of the old stubble and two, to destroy any remaining weed seeds. Essentially, to cleanse the ground for the new planting. The same power that makes the spark so dangerously destructive, is what makes it so purifying. Only when the old waste and bad seed have been destroyed can the new harvest be planted and have room to grow.
The thing is, not all sparks will destroy and not all sparks will cleanse. Not all sparks become a raging fire. All sparks have the potential to be an inferno, but not all sparks do become an inferno. In order for a fire to happen, a spark must be stoked, flamed, encouraged.
You can find this “spark” or “fire” terminology throughout the Bible, often signifying the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit came down on the early church in flaming tongues! Paul urges believers to fan the flames of their faith! Christian songs sing of turning the spark from the Holy Spirit into a flame we can’t control!
Each of us, deep inside, have sparks. We have sparks of rebellion that lead to destruction, leaving behind them loss and pain and charred remains of what we once had. And we all have sparks from the Holy Spirit that can purify and cleanse us of all the waste and bad seed in our life, leaving fresh soil for a new harvest. The question is which spark will you fan into a fire? Both have the potential to change your life. Both have the potential to become an inferno that you cannot control. You, my friend, have to choose which spark you will let burn.