Driving south on I-69 through central Indiana this afternoon, my wife and I were surprised to encounter a large cloud of blue smoke. A grass fire had ignited in the median and a brisk breeze fanned it toward us.

“What do you suppose caused this?” Judy asked.

“Hard to tell. Maybe a cigarette butt that someone tossed out.”

At any rate, I dialed 911 on my cell phone to report the wildfire, and the dispatcher soon said that emergency vehicles were en route. By that time, we were a half-mile away from the blaze, but the roiling plume of smoke spread across the horizon in our rear-view mirror.

The epistle of James says, “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, and sets the whole course of his life on fire…” (James 3:5-6). Just as a word of praise or encouragement can have lasting effects upon someone’s life, a word of gossip or criticism can cause incredible harm, like a carelessly discarded cigarette.

So the New Testament describes two kinds of fiery tongues: those that illuminate and inspire (Acts 2), and those that consume and destroy (James 5). As Pastor Randy Spleth pointed out recently,  we would do well to remember that Pentecost coincides with wildfire season. The results depend on what we decide to do with “this little light of mine.”