The biggest fire in Colorado history continues to burn out of control. Reports indicate that the fire could burn all summer. It has already cost more than 20 million dollars to fight, destroyed more than 100,000 acres and twenty-two homes.

In tracing the origin of this huge fire investigators not only discovered where the fire began: they also have discovered who started it. Terry Barton, a 38-year-old US Forest Service ranger built an illegal fire while she was on patrol to enforce a fire ban, in order to burn a letter from her estranged husband according to initial reports.

The sparks that started this fire didn't come from a match; they came from a relationship between people who once showed love to one another but eventually exchanged words strong enough to light a fire.

In his book, How to Argue and Win Every Time, Gerry Spence writes: "The old saw, 'Sticks and stones can break your bones but words will never harm you,' is patently false. Words kill and words maim. The death sentence handed down by a judge is composed merely of words. Words of reaction, words of betrayal, words of hatred, words of denial can destroy as surely as a dagger. Words cause war." (pp. 22-23)

Ironic isn't it, how people can be wooed into relationships with words? When people say what we want to hear, we are often attracted to them.

When politicians say what we want to hear, we vote for them. When employers say what we want them to hear, we work hard for them. It's crazy, but some people will even go to bed with other people just because they hear words they want to hear.

How gullible can we be? Whereas words are important, they can also be cheap.

Used inappropriately, they can be the fuel that builds a fire. The biblical writer James wrote: "The tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell." James 3:5-6 (NIV)

Words seem to hurt most when they come from the lips of those who used to sing our praises, from those who used to whisper sweet words in our ears, from those who used to tell us how nice we look and how wonderful we are. When words of hate begin to come from these same people, a deep anger is created which is often acted out in ways destructive to oneself and others.

As people see the smoke rising from the mountains of Colorado, I hope they are reminded that the forest is ablaze and homes are threatened because of the hurtful words exchanged between a husband and a wife. As this woman set fire to the written words of her husband, the blaze was already raging in their marriage and in their hearts. Left unattended, it spread.

We should never think that words which come from our lips are mere words. We should never think that what we say doesn't have lasting consequences. Our words should be measured. They can be firm. They can be loving. They can argue a point. They can encourage. They can even express anger. But they should always be used in a way that pleases God.

It pleases God when we do not use words to curse others. "Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water." James 3:9-12 (NIV)

As DNA contains the fingerprint of each cell, words are the clearest indicator of what is in people's hearts. If we are using words as a dagger while we proclaim to be God's people, we become like the woman in Colorado accused of setting the largest fire in Colorado history -- a woman who was supposed to be searching for illegal fires but instead started one herself and then lied about starting it.

So, "if anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is

worthless." James 1:26 (NIV)

The Rev. Michael Helms is pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Moultrie.

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