As I have pondered the recent crisis in the beloved Smoky Mountains of East Tennessee, I am greatly heartbroken and upset. Businesses damaged, homes destroyed, the mountains scorched and the smoke filling the air. Photos of the tragedy are disturbing and sobering. The night of the fires, the wind blew strong over our little house in the hills and now I can only imagine what some people witnessed: the fire being carried from ridge to ridge and engulfing buildings as people were evacuated and displaced. I don’t have family around there. I don’t have friends who live there. I have visited many times and it is an area I am familiar with and very much enjoy. I think of the Alamo, a restaurant that Julie and I spent a joyful evening of our honeymoon, totally gone. Many family trips to Dollywood, where the fire threatened but is safe and unharmed. Trips to the Aquarium, where it is good to hear the animals are safe.
I feel a particular burden about all of this. I think it is because I live in East Tennessee and consider it my home. And since I have lived here I have grown to love the history, the people, and culture. So, thinking about this fire and the devastation, I sit here crying as I type. Because, as in the words of Dolly Parton, “these are my people.”
I certainly think that this is a time to pray for those affected by the wildfires and to help practically in any way that we can. The practical love of Jesus being shared is vitally necessary for the church. It is a critical time when many are open to the gospel who would not otherwise be open, not to mention just the value in loving our fellow man.
With all this in mind, I am gripped to the heart that there is a specific message that God wants to send us with the fires. I came across a Facebook post shared by a friend of a friend who was helping with the House and Grounds Team at Dollywood Theme Park. It included a picture of two pages of the Bible, he had found under a bench soaked from the rain. It was a passage from Joel 1 and 2.
CLICK HERE for the more info about it.
For those who may not know what the book of Joel is about, it is a message to Israel in a great time of crisis. They were facing economic crisis in their day (new wine, oil, and grain were dried up) and they were facing the threat of an invasion by a foreign army.
The passages that were included on that paper found in Dollywood were. In the King James…
14 Sanctify ye a fast, call a solemn assembly, gather the elders and all the inhabitants of the land into the house of the Lord your God, and cry unto the Lord.
15 Alas for the day! for the day of the Lord is at hand, and as a destruction from the Almighty shall it come.
16 Is not the meat cut off before our eyes, yea, joy and gladness from the house of our God?
17 The seed is rotten under their clods, the garners are laid desolate, the barns are broken down; for the corn is withered.
18 How do the beasts groan! the herds of cattle are perplexed, because they have no pasture; yea, the flocks of sheep are made desolate.
19 O Lord, to thee will I cry: for the fire hath devoured the pastures of the wilderness, and the flame hath burned all the trees of the field.
20 The beasts of the field cry also unto thee: for the rivers of waters are dried up, and the fire hath devoured the pastures of the wilderness.
21 Blow ye the trumpet in Zion, and sound an alarm in my holy mountain: let all the inhabitants of the land tremble:
In verse 14 it sums up a prescription for what to do in a time of crisis. I believe it is a message that the Lord is speaking and continuing to speak to us. Joel 2:12-17 is very similar.
“Now, therefore,” says the Lord,
“Turn to Me with all your heart,
With fasting, with weeping, and with mourning.”
13 So rend your heart, and not your garments;
Return to the Lord your God,
For He is gracious and merciful,
Slow to anger, and of great kindness;
And He relents from doing harm.
14 Who knows if He will turn and relent,
And leave a blessing behind Him--
A grain offering and a drink offering
For the Lord your God?
15 Blow the trumpet in Zion,
Consecrate a fast,
Call a sacred assembly;
16 Gather the people,
Sanctify the congregation,
Assemble the elders,
Gather the children and nursing babes;
Let the bridegroom go out from his chamber,
And the bride from her dressing room.
17 Let the priests, who minister to the Lord,
Weep between the porch and the altar;
Let them say, “Spare Your people, O Lord,
And do not give Your heritage to reproach,
That the nations should rule over them.
Why should they say among the peoples,
‘Where is their God?’
How could these wildfires happen in our region? How could this be? Is it possible that God has lifted His protection because of our idolatry and sin? Because we have walked in disobedience and turned away from Him? Our region is soaked with innocent blood. Thousands of abortions have taken place in our region. We worship idols of self-pleasure, self-gratification, self-will. Immorality is rampant. And the truth is, it is not just the “heathen” or the unchurched. It is in the church of East Tennessee.
If we want to see a change, His protection again, even a great move of the Holy Spirit in our region, we must return to the Lord, with our whole heart. Will we heed the truth in the Scripture? What do we do in a time of crisis? Will we hear the trumpet of warning being blasted yet again to warn us to turn back to Him? Will we see His prophetic message in the edges of a burned Bible page in the middle of great destruction that contain words of warning and hope?
So thinking about the wildfires of the Great Smoky Mountains, I am burdened to pray and intercede for the victims and those working to help. I am burdened to help in practical ways, too. But I believe there is a greater, overarching message that we must hear and respond to.
There is a crisis. The prescription is clear. To gather. Fast. Pray. Humble ourselves. Cry out to Him.
It’s not just an event but a lifestyle change.
Matthew or Julie Wine