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Vol.  9  No. 6 June 2007  Page 16
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Mike BensonHouse Fire

By Mike Benson

    I was on my way to Oak Hill Junior High to pick up my eldest daughter, Bethany, after school. It was windy and cold outside, and I didn’t want her to have to stand and wait for me in the frigid temperatures. As I made my way up the road, I suddenly noticed smoke coming from a house just off to my left. Yes, it was certainly cold enough to warrant a fire in the fireplace, but this smoke was oddly different. It was black and thick¾not the kind of smoke that typically comes from a few logs in the fireplace. I slowed down to study the dark plumage more closely. The smoke then turned a dark, yellow tone and three-foot flames began to shoot from the top of the chimney. This was no cozy residential fire in the hearth.

    My instant impulse was to reach for my cell phone and call 911. Then it hit me¾I had just placed the mobile on the battery charger back at home before leaving for school. I pulled my car into the nearest driveway, rushed to the adjacent house and began pounding on the back door. No one answered. I ran to the next house and tried again. This time an elderly gentleman met me at the door. I briefly explained the circumstances and urged him to call the fire department. He promised to do so.

    Following our exchange, I rushed back across the road toward the burning house. Another passerby had also spotted the flames and stood outside her car, talking on a cell phone. I overheard her say, “The house is on fire…” When I got up to the front of the house, I peered inside through the living room window to see if I could detect any flames. There was no evidence of a blaze that I could see, but the heavy smell of the smoke let me know that something other than, or perhaps¾in addition to, wood was burning. I frantically beat on the front door. No response. Another passerby met me at the door. She expressed concern that those in the house might be unconscious from the smoke and suggested I go to the back and try looking into the kitchen. The family’s two dogs met me at the gate and forced me up onto the ledge of the porch. They were relatively small animals, but I still didn’t want to be bitten, so I headed back out to the front yard. As I rounded the corner of the house, the lady I had just met caught my attention once again. She stood a few yards from the door, her left arm stretched toward the top of the house, and yelled, “Your house is on fire!” A young mother stood in the doorway. Panic stricken, she dashed back inside, but then immediately returned with a young daughter in her possession. The mother heaved the little girl into my arms and the four of us made our way out into the snow-covered driveway, away from the house.

    Within minutes, fireman began to arrive at the scene. The mother explained that she had been in the basement cleaning up after the holidays. She had been tossing old boxes and garbage into the fireplace and was unaware of the chimney fire that had ignited. Evidently, she had thrown something especially flammable into the hearth, and then had returned back downstairs to continue her work. She hadn’t smelled the smoke or heard anyone at the door.

    Our group huddled out on the driveway and talked briefly about what had transpired. We were thankful that nobody had been injured. As I headed back to my car, one of the two “Samaritan” (Luke 10:33-37) women came over to me. She was obviously shaken and wanted to talk. She said that when she spotted the smoke and flames, she also pulled her car on to the side of the road and started to make her way toward the house. Just then, a local mailman pulled in behind her, honked his horn and demanded, “Get your car out of the way lady!” She protested, “But sir, the house is on fire!” He hollered back, “I don’t care, ma’am, I have mail to deliver!”

    That really struck me. In fact, the mailman’s attitude bothered me more than the fire itself. He appeared to have been more concerned with his daily rounds than with the lives and safety of his fellow citizens. I couldn’t help but wonder if he would have stopped had it been his own house that had been burning. Don’t misunderstand me, I applaud a man who is devoted to his job (Ecclesiastes 9:10). Dedication is uncommon today. But compared to a house fire, delivering the mail is, at the very least, a secondary measure (Luke 10:41,42), especially when emergency authorities are still in transit to the scene.

    Perhaps what troubled me the most about the letter carrier was that his thinking served as something of an indictment. Often times those of us in the church are so engrossed in our own mundane pursuits that we overlook the “house fires” raging within our own communities. Millions need to be rescued from the flames of eternal torment, and yet we go about our daily affairs, seemingly unconcerned about their spiritual plight and the fact that they are lost in sin and error (cf. Romans 3:23; 2 Peter 2:4-6; 3:7).

    Delivering the mail was certainly important, but my guess is that most postal customers would have understood had the mailman been late for his rounds on this particular occasion. We all like to receive our correspondence on time, but not at the expense of precious human lives. Save lives first, and then deliver the mail. Right?

    “Rescue any who need to be saved, as you would rescue someone from a fire. Then with fear in your own hearts, have mercy on everyone who needs it…” (Jude 23 CEV.) “And save others, snatching them out of the fire; and have mercy on others with trembling…” (Jude 23 McCord.) “…He who wins souls is wise” (Proverbs 11:30b; cf. Romans 1:14-16).

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