This Is What I've Learned...From Matches

Complimentary Story
March 2024

   Do you remember the saying… “Never play with matches?” Well this is what I’ve learned about playing with matches throughout all the years of pastoring churches from the pulpit to the pew.

   Have you thought of how church folk can sometimes be like matches?

   Now, some seem to be like the kind of matches that you can strike anywhere. Others, like the kind you can only strike on the cover. The first kind, those you can strike anywhere, can be the most dangerous, because just about anything can set them off and they can start a fire in a hurry. The second kind, those you can only strike on the cover, burn just as fast, but you’ve got to have the right material to set them off like the little emery strip on the bottom of the cover. They’re pretty safe as long as you don’t leave the cover open or rub them the wrong way. A good rule of thumb is to always make sure you close the cover before striking or you might just set them all off…Pastors should always heed this warning!

   Now matches, or “fire,” as some folks say where I come from, can be a very useful tool.  My grandfather was a tobacco farmer in central Kentucky and every spring he’d set fire to a portion of a field. He called it “Burning his beds.” He’d take this old piece of wire fence, throw logs on it, set it on fire, dragging it behind his old Ford tractor  a few feet at a time, to burn off the weeds and such before planting his tobacco seeds. He used fire to purge the soil.

   I used to live in Wyoming, just down the road from Yellowstone National Park, and in the summer of 1988, the park suffered a great fire where thousands of acres were burned. Some called it a disaster, others said it was just part of the ecological cycle that occurs about every three hundred years or so, a burning back so to speak, naturally. Now the majority of the trees in Yellowstone Park are Lodgepole Pines and the way they regenerate is after the occurrence of a fire. The seeds within the pine cones open up after they’ve been burned, and the cycle of new life begins. The point is, whether it took — as some experts think — a combination of lightning and dry conditions, a smoldering campfire, or perhaps even a lit cigarette thrown from the window of a car to start the fires in Yellowstone, all of the fires started with just a spark. And once the fires got out of control, all the human hands and state of the art fire fighting equipment could not put the fire out. For in the end an “Act of God,” early September snows accomplished in a few days what one of the most massively organized and technical efforts of mankind couldn’t do…put out the fires.

   Now, as a pastor, you can look at people or let’s say matches in your church two ways…either as a good and useful tool or as a destructive force. It’s really all in how you choose to gaze at the fire. You see, some pastors are natural born fire fighters, their instinct is to put out the fire no matter how big or small it is before someone gets burned!  The only problem with this is, sometimes God starts the fire, and He is trying to burn off, “Purge the soil,” as I said earlier, to bring about new church life and growth. And if our instinct is to run and grab a bucket every time a fire breaks out, who are we truly fire fighting for?

   Sometimes God, our “Fire-Chief” says…. “let it burn!”

   Other pastors appear to be natural born arsonists. They love fire, and they know just how to set off the strike-anywhere matches in their churches, and if they can’t, they’ll purposely leave the cover wide open on the “matchbook folks” in their church until they’ve rubbed everyone the wrong way, setting the whole congregation on fire. Why? Just to watch it burn. Because these kinds of pastors love to be “heroes” who set fires just so they can sit back watching from a distance, then just at the right time come to the rescue! It’s a matter of ego over soul, an issue of who’s in control…either our True Shepard — Our Lord and Savior, or His under shepard, the local pastor. Fortunately, The Holy Spirit has convicted me of being both types of pastors from time to time, and I’ve confessed this as sin.

   Perhaps the key to dealing with matches or fire in our churches is found in learning prevention and containment. So I offer these suggestions…Don’t leave matches lying around so children can play with them. Never leave a fire unattended. Don’t bring kindling to a committee meeting. And absolutely, positively, under any circumstances, never ever throw gasoline on a fire from your pulpit.

   So why are so many of our churches, pastors and parishioners burned out these days? Could it be due to improper fire safety methods? Here are a few more fire safety tips from what I’ve learned…

Tip # 1
   If a door you’re about to open is hot to the touch, don’t open it — Stop, drop and pray!

Tip #2
   Where there’s smoke, there’s fire. Either you or someone around you may be internally combusting… So, stop, drop and pray!

Tip #3 
   Hold regular fire drills, knowing how to save lives by teaching your people to…Stop, drop and pray!

   And finally…

Tip #4
   “But when the Day of God’s Judgment does come, it will be unannounced, like a thief. The sky will collapse with a thunderous bang, everything disintegrating in a raging inferno, earth and all its works exposed to the scrutiny of Judgment. Since everything here today might well be gone tomorrow, do you see how essential it is to live a holy life? Daily expect the Day of God, eager for its arrival. The galaxies will burn up and the elements melt down that day, but we’ll hardly notice. We’ll be looking the other way, ready for the promised new heavens and the promised new earth, all landscaped with righteousness. So, my dear friends, since this is what you have to look forward to, do your very best to be found living at your best, in purity and peace.”  (2 Peter 3:10-14, MSG).

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