Cigarette-maker Philip Morris USA has sold the eighteen-thousand-acre Montana ranch where the company for two decades hosted loyal customers on all-expense-paid trips.
The getaway was formally known as Crazy Mountain Ranch. According to the Wall Street Journal, it was a real-life incarnation of the cigarette maker’s Marlboro Man marketing campaigns featuring gruff cowboys riding horses amid snowy Western peaks.
The article calls it “Disneyland for smokers.” Guests could stay in a faux ghost town with a mining office, bank, sheriff’s office, and saloon. Philip Morris held sweepstakes for adults twenty-one years and older to win a trip to the ranch and sometimes sent surprise invitations to adults registered on its website. It provided guests with plane tickets, spending money, and even luggage for the trip.
The company sold the Marlboro Ranch because, as the article notes, “as cigarette smoking declines, so does its trappings.” One woman won a trip to the ranch in 2019 and had been waiting to go. She says she was so heartbroken when she heard about the sale that she quit smoking.
Sinners and divine sovereignty
My mother died of cancer that was a direct result of cigarette smoking. As a result, I hate cigarettes with a passion. Anything that causes more people to quit is a good thing, in my estimation.
There’s a larger principle at work here, however: God can use anything and anyone to accomplish his larger purposes.
The Lord reminded his people, “Long ago, your fathers lived beyond the Euphrates, Terah, the father of Abraham and of Nahor; and they served other gods” (Joshua 24:2). Such idolatry was a clear violation of the First Commandment (Exodus 20:3) and God’s desire that we worship him alone (Deuteronomy 6:4–5).
And yet, the Lord continues, “I took your father Abraham from beyond the River and led him through all the land of Canaan, and made his offspring many. I gave him Isaac” (Joshua 24:3). God used the son of an idolater to begin the Jewish nation.
For four centuries, the descendants of Esau lived in “the hill country of Seir” while “Jacob and his children went down to Egypt” (v. 4), where they were enslaved. But the present does not necessarily predict the future: “I sent Moses and Aaron, and I plagued Egypt with what I did in the midst of it, and afterward I brought you out” (v. 5).
Clearly, God’s providence is not limited to our limitations. He uses sinners for his sovereign purposes and “hits straight licks with crooked sticks” all across human history.
A pastor’s wise advice
This does not mean, however, that sin is not sin and that its consequences are not deadly. To the contrary, “The soul who sins shall die” (Ezekiel 18:20).
As a result, we must warn others of the consequences of sin as Jeremiah did: “Then Jeremiah came from Topheth, where the Lord had sent him to prophesy, and he stood in the court of the Lord‘s house and said to all the people, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, behold, I am bringing upon this city and upon all its towns all the disaster that I have pronounced against it, because they have stiffened their neck, refusing to hear my words'” (Jeremiah 19:14–15).
However, we must do this with humility and grief for those we are called to serve. A wise pastor once counseled, “Beware the person who preaches on hell without a tear in his eye.”
And we must look inward as well as outward, remembering that there is no sin we cannot commit. Br. Nicholas Bartoli of the Society of St. John the Evangelist in Boston: “Teresa of Avila once wrote that if we feel the need to change something in someone else, the first thing to do is consider what might need to change in us.”
Does anything need to change in you today?