It had an innocent start, offering participants a way to beat the summer heat. People issued and accepted challenges. Some charities benefited, as some people were afraid to go through the icy adventure. The water challenge was cool. If it were a song, I’d compare to Will Smith’s classic jam, Summertime, forever embedded in my mind.
From Water to Fire
I’ve always despised remixing classics. There are just some things too sacred for a remix. As the summer wore on, people remixed the water challenge. The gospel challenge brought Sunday Best to Facebook. Nothing wrong with that, right? But things got worse. Young people entered the game and the stakes rose.
Donations to charities went out the door, replaced by a hope for social media shares and stardom. The pass out challenge was next. We watched in horror as young people held their breath, applied pressure to their still developing chest cavities, and passed out from the lack of oxygen. No way it could get any worse than that. But it did.
Water wasn’t enough. Fire was better. Combining a flame accelerant, lighter, and an awkward bathroom shower video, young people across our nation began accepting the fire challenge. They set themselves on fire just for fun. Others watched and reposted these videos. Comments ranged from “SMH” to “turnt up”. We’d taken something originally intended for good and appropriated it for a cheap thrill.
Our Own Inclination
We’re good at that, aren’t we? Taking something intended for good and appropriating it for a cheap thrill. It’s human nature. Paul’s words are informative here. No good dwells in [us], that is in [our] flesh.
But that wasn’t always so. There was a time when good dwelt in us. In fact, there was a time when good wasn’t enough. God was so satisfied after creating human beings his vocabulary changed from good to very good. Rebellion changed all that. Eternal communion with God was replaced by a fleeting moment of pleasure.
That one act still echoes through eternity, the imprint of rebellion and sin enfleshed in pass out challenges and fire challenges. No good thing dwells in us.
What’s At Stake
So what’s at stake? There are at least three questions the fire challenges should prompt us to ask.
1. Do we pray for people we don’t know?
People created in God’s image made these videos. They matter. The fire challenges grieves God more than it grieves us. After speaking at a conference last week, I returned to Chicago late on a Saturday night. I had the bright idea of avoiding traffic and driving through the Chicago neighborhoods. I found myself driving some of the most dangerous neighborhoods in the Chicagoland area. Two freight trains held me up in one neighborhood, further exacerbating things. I prayed fervently.
I got home safely. But it felt like the longest half hour ride in my life. Then the Holy Spirit gently nudged me. What you dealt with for a half hour, kids in those neighborhoods deal with their entire lives. Where are the urgent prayers for them?
Wow. My selfish, sinful nature revealed yet again. I went picked up this copy of the Chicago Neighborhood Prayer Guide and started to intentionally pray for my city. What about you? Think about your last prayer. Did you pray for someone you didn’t know? Neighborhoods in your city?
2. Do we accomplish any good sharing this content?
Could our “SMH” reposts be veiled attempts at social media relevance? Sometimes we are more inclined to be a sharer, not a prayer. We need to check our hearts when we share things that disturb us. How might sharing content make matters worse?
Sure there’s a greater temptation with Facebook’s auto-play feature for timeline videos—which can be disabled by the way—but maybe our first reaction to disturbing content should be praying not sharing.
3. Do we keep the reality of hell before us?
According to Paul, apart from Christ’s redeeming work, we’re dead in trespasses and sin. Because of humankind’s rebellion and sin, we are deserving of God’s wrath. We should expect nothing less from a just God. Hell is real, but our culture has reduced it to an indelicate, imaginary fairy tale. For many, the prospect of an eternity apart from God is as much a reality as Alice’s Wonderland. So kids light themselves on fire, making light of an eternal reality.
Will we ever grow tired? To offer families assurance, some attempt to preach people into heaven, eulogizing them based on their good works apart from the goodness of Christ’s redemptive work. But no good dwells in us. Trusting in Christ’s redemptive work on the cross gives us the assurance we need. It’s not some form of fire insurance or a way to avoid hell, but a beautiful exchange–our sins for his righteousness. Doing so, restores our very good-ness and our communion with our Creator.
The stakes are high, but the cross is even higher–exalted above our depravity and trivial challenges. My prayer is that we internalize that truth and present the gospel in ways that move others toward Jesus and his sovereign grace.