The Fourth of July conjures up images of barbeque, picnics, watermelon, and, of course … fireworks.

The Fourth of July conjures up images of barbeque, picnics, watermelon, and, of course … fireworks.

When I was growing up, my parents were not really big on fireworks.  However, my brother and I loved them.  We would save our money all year just to be able to go to the fireworks stand and buy some firecrackers. 

We had to beg my dad to take us, and he usually waited until the last minute on Independence Day.  But we always came away with an enough of an arsenal to last for a few days.

My brother and I usually preferred firecrackers to everything else because, well, they gave us more “bang for the buck,” so to speak.  And we could do “creative” things with them too.

Like the time we drilled a hole in the two ends of a big watermelon.  We stuck four firecrackers in each hole and twisted the fuses together.  Then, on the count of “three,” we both lit our respective set of fuses.

Did I mention this watermelon was in the middle of the table at the church picnic?  I am pretty sure no one saw us do it because, although we were blamed for it, we never received the “just reward,” which would have surely amounted to a good thrashing.  We thought we got away with one.

But speaking of a “good thrashing,” that pretty much described what the table looked like after detonation of our W.E.D. (Watermelon Exploding Device).  I remember “Aunt Cora” picking pieces of watermelon out of her potato salad while remarking, “Lands sake, who would do such a thing!”  And the potato salad was not the only thing seasoned with watermelon either.  Actually, it goes pretty well with barbequed ribs.

One year, we decided to branch out a bit from just firecrackers, though.  We had often longed for those “fancy” fireworks, like Roman candles, bottle rockets, and tiger chasers.  The guy at the fireworks stand talked us into buying something new on the market.  I forget the name of it—something like “Whirley-Gig” or “Whizzy-Bang” or … something.  Anyway, the best way to describe it was that it looked like a huge, three inch long, inch-and-a-half around medicine capsule—with wings.  And a big green fuse sticking out the side.  The best thing of all, it had three, count them, three stages.

It was the annual church picnic again, and things had gotten rather boring.  So, my brother and I decided to liven things up.  We started small, with a few sparklers.  Then we elevated the show to some Roman candles, followed by several bottle rockets.

Then the “pièce de résistance ,” the “Whirley-Whizzy-Bang-a-ma-Gig!”  My brother laid it on the ground at what he believed to be a “safe distance,” lit the fuse, and backed away.  The fuse fizzled and sputtered.  Then … nothing. 

My brother approached it cautiously, tippy-toing one step at a time.  Then, just as he bent down to pick it up, the thing suddenly sputtered to life, spraying out sparks as it began spin around.  My brother was so startled that he jumped backwards and fell flat on his bottom. 

The thing spewed and sputtered, and it began to rise into the air, hissing and screaming and whistling, until it rose to a height of about thirty feet.  Then, all of a sudden it quit, and began to whirl toward the ground.  It looked as if it would fall right on top of my father who was gawking up at it.

Then, just as it was about to light on his head, the thing sputtered to life again, spaying sparks over my father's balding pate.  It rose to another height of thirty feet before sputtering quiet again.  This time, it descended right down over the picnic table.

Now, I fully expected the third stage to kick in about then, but it didn't exactly do that.  Rather, it landed in Aunt Cora's potato salad.  Only then did the third stage kick in, giving Aunt Cora's dish a rather muddled and “charred” look.

My father wasn't the one to give us our “just reward,” however.  Let me just say that Aunt Cora had a mightier arm than she appeared to have.  She gave both of our britches a good dusting.

Later when I was looking for some consolation from my mother, she said, “It was also you boys that blew up that watermelon last year, wasn't it?”  My silence was my admission.  “Well,” she continued, “like the Bible says, ‘your sin will find out.’” (Numbers 32: 23b KJV)

The Bible also tells us, “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3: 23 KJV).  Now, we all seem to believe that we can get by with our sins, and no one will ever know.  But we are just fooling ourselves. 

The Bible warns us that the “wages,” or the “just rewards” of sin is death.  There are consequences to our sins. 

Unlike the picnic story, things don’t have to end that way, though.  We are promised that the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.  We can choose life or death.  We can choose sin or God's grace.  It is our choice. 

But if we continue to play with fire, we will get burned.

 (The Rev. Al Henager is pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Heber Springs, Arkansas.  He can be contacted at