This article was originally published by Mennonite World Review

Putting out fires

It was a normal Sunday afternoon… well, normal for me… running a few errands around town for my wife as we were preparing to host some guests. And then I saw the smoke.

It was a breezy afternoon, so the smoke was swirling around above a pile of leaves in a local parking lot. But below the plumes of white, danger flashed out in bright orange and red, accented by large patches of white-ash-frosted black char. OK, so I waxed poetic there, but how else to convey the image that flashed itself in my brain?

Fire. There is an open fire in town. And everyone else is just driving past it. What do I do?

I could have done what everyone else was doing. “Just keep moving, not my problem, someone else will take care of it. Hey, that’s what we have fire departments for, right? I’m in too much of a hurry and too busy, gotta keep moving. The wife is waiting for me. Call 911 and just move on.”

But it’s a small leaf fire… not even 2 feet in diameter. Call out the whole fire company for something so small? But what if it spreads? There are people who live there. What lives may be damaged, hurt, lost? The agony of decision….

…So, I pulled into the parking lot, jumped out of my car, ran to the fire and did a little tap dance to try and kill the flames. Surrounded by smoke, I realized the futility of this action and so quickly ran to a local business, “borrowed” a gallon of water, rushed back and poured out the gallon. That helped but then there were a couple of smoldering spots. I stomped and kicked and scattered until I thought it was out. Hopped back in my car, did my errand, came back around… still burning. Smaller, but still burning.

Lather, rinse, repeat… twice. This time, two more gallons of water, a LOT of stomping, checking for hot spots, more water, etc. Finally, it’s out. I drove back home, called the police department and told them to check on it, and then went about my day.

So, why the heck am I telling you all this? Because, in truth, we human beings drive by little fires like this every single day of our lives. When you walk past the harried mother in the grocery store with the screaming toddler, when you move to the far side of the sidewalk when walking past the panhandler, when you overhear racist comments in the company lunch room and keep your mouth shut, you just drove past a fire, and, specifically, one that you can actually do something about…

As a Jesus follower, I can’t help but think about the many times when, walking through a town, Jesus stopped to touch a life. His “plan” was interrupted so many times by grieving mothers, panicked fathers, resigned centurions, etc. There were more “important” things for him to do, certainly. But he took the time to do what needed to be done, what was within his immediate ability to do, and didn’t even bat an eye.

These little things won’t turn society upside down. Most likely, they won’t make a national broadcast nor will they garner the attention of elected officials (or people who wish to become elected officials). But they change lives in the small sense. Every little fire you put out is one fewer fire that will grow into an inferno. Every small life you touch is one more life that will experience the amazing compassion and mercy of Jesus.

And don’t wait for the “system” to work — do something about it now because you are in that place at that time. I cannot speak to whether or not God put me in the right place for that fire. All I know is that I was there, I had the ability, I had the time (barely); therefore I had to act. There are fire companies, yes, that can do something. But you don’t call in child welfare services for a toddler who simply needs a rest. Nor do you call the cops on your racist co-worker. I didn’t call the fire company for something no bigger than a campfire. This does not negate those systems. It simply says that we, as individuals, as members of our community, can make a difference in the little things.

What if… what if… what if everyone took care of the “little things” that come to their attention? Would we EVER have a big thing ever again? Small fires grow bigger. If you catch it when it’s small, will there ever be a big fire?

It doesn’t take a big event, a big organization, a large system, an “official channel” to be a Jesus follower. Jesus himself had great praise for the little things:

“And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.” (Matthew 10:41 NIV)

If you’ll excuse me now, I need to go figure out how to get that burnt leaf smell off my shoes…

Robert Martin blogs thoughts, reflections and stories regarding theology and the Christian walk at The Abnormal Anabaptist, where a version of this post originally appeared.

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