Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Woodman's Parable

For many years, my favorite parable has been Jesus's story of The Sower, found in Matthew 13. It describes how not all seeds that are planted become productive. The birds eat some, some fall on rocky places or poor soil, some wither from shallow roots, and others are choked by thorns. The analogy is to the response of men when they hear of the kingdom of God.

Jesus typically used parables about things familiar to his listeners: planting, fishing, or sheep. I've sometimes wondered why He told no parables of wood, since His earthly father, Joseph, was a carpenter, and Jesus may have been taught the skills of that trade. I believe it was because carpentry was less familiar to his audience and might be less instructive to them.

For me, however, the Lord has had much to say through wood. I described much of it in my previous blog. Today, I would like to share more things He has revealed to me over the years, and especially in recent weeks, as I've toiled in the woods and by the woodpile.

A year or so ago, I came across a box of wood samples at a yard sale. It contained 18 varieties of wood, each with its distinctive character, grain, and attributes. Wood can be selected for fine furniture, construction, flooring, fuel, or pulp, according to its suitability.

At the woodpile, I am constantly confronted with the marked differences among the wood I split and stack. There are red oak, white oak, hickory, dogwood, sourwood, cedar, pine, blackgum, wild cherry, poplar, and numerous others. I mainly think in terms of what kind of heat the wood provides. In the pile below, the woods seem indistinguishable at a glance. But a closer examination reveals the unique quality of each.

Of the nearly 8 billion people inhabiting earth, it's easy to say we're all basically the same. Even when we try to discuss subgroups, we tend to generalize (i.e., Australians, eskimos, Europeans). No matter how much alike we may appear on the outside, God looks on the heart and knows us as the individuals we are.

When I split a piece of wood right down the middle, it often displays a perfect symmetry.

When God created us, He had in mind a perfect symmetry as well, that our life would reflect Christ, our Savior.

God knew also, even before Adam and Eve's fall from grace, that sin would be the barrier that prevented us from truly reflecting all the attributes of God, even though we would be created in His image.
The piece of wood below represents the unyielding heart of some men. The most powerful woodsplitter could not transform this stubborn log into two symmetrical pieces. What would famous railsplitter Abe Lincoln say about this one?!
This wood is caught up in itself, unwilling to let go. It can still be used for firewood, but for higher purposes it is unfit-- unprofitable, as the Bible would say. That is disappointing in a log of firewood, tragic in the life of a man.
These two oak logs could not be split by a hydraulic splitter. The splitter has an automatic shutoff that shuts down the motor when two much resistance is encountered. Much as the Holy Spirit can withdraw when its wooing is rejected time and again. Paul warns us not to grieve the Holy Spirit, nor to quench it. Again, the consequences are a human tragedy.

Know that it's not that God can't break our stubborn hearts. He will not force His love on us, but desires us to desire Him. But just as I proceeded to split those stubborn oaks with a few swings of my ax-maul (which didn't have a shut-off switch), one day we will all appear before God, and every knee shall bow, every tongue confess, that Jesus Christ is Lord (Philippians 2: 10-11).
The sin problem inherent in man is aptly portrayed through other flaws in wood. Though these flaws don't necessarily kill the tree, they may divert it from its purpose and render it less useful. This wood, when split, shows that it is rotten through and through. Known any people like that? Isn't God merciful? But His patience has an end.

This wood's grain is blackened by some mold, eating away at the tree from the inside out. Much as man's heart is sin-stained, though sometimes visible only to God.

This oak wood has been riddled with beetles, which damage the inner core of the tree, and eventually bring about its downfall (literally, sometimes). I have often collected beetles to take to my school class during my woodsplitting season. It seems that being relentlessly gnawed by the teeth and pincers of these insects is the ultimate fate of any oak tree, no matter how tall, strong, and stately it may once have been. The image is similar to that invoked in Isaiah 66:24 and stated by Jesus in Mark 9: 48. We are told that for those whose eternal punishment will be in hell, "their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched." Worms, fire, or beetles. None of it is very appealing to me. God has a better plan for us.

As in the parable of the sower, many people today hear the Word of God, and it remains with them for a time. There is a "head knowledge" but there is no transformation of the heart, no rebirth, no salvation. This young oak with shallow roots was easily toppled. As in the parable of the sower (Luke 13: 20-21): The one who received the seed that fell on rocky places is the man who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away.

These oak logs are not the prettiest wood you'll ever see. They, too, bear the scars of storms, damage from constant assault over many years. But these heavy, sturdy oaks have persevered. Their grain remains straight and true. Though as strong as any wood in the pile, they submit to the splitter ungrudgingly, aware of their purpose. They are willing and ready to yield to the hand of the woodman, who has need of them for fuel. Unlike inferior woods, they'll burn long and slow, with a steady, even, penetrating heat. Though their trials have been many, they are comparable to the seed that fell on good soil in Jesus's parable.

That seed represents the man who hears the word and understands it. He produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty, or thirty times what was sown. That crop speaks of a vast sea of humanity in need of a Savior. We are so precious to Him. Like the wood, we each have our distinctive character, "grain," and attributes. But the yielding to God's will is the crucial part. As Jesus repeatedly importuned, He who has ears, let him hear.

As my dear pastor is fond of saying, when we bow before God's throne in heaven, wouldn't we wish to say:

"In my hand no price I bring, simply to the cross I cling."

Friday, June 25, 2010

Unworthy, But Not Worthless

With another winter’s wood supply cut, split, and stacked, I’ve been reflecting throughout the entire months-long process just how incredible God’s providence is. Not just for me and Judy, but for you, too. It may not be a wood supply for you and your family. Maybe it’s finding the perfect babysitter or childcare just when you had given up. Finding the just-right used car when the old one gives up the ghost. There’s no end to the ways, both small and great, that God reminds us how much He cares.

I’m convinced He wants to keep that thought before us because it draws us into worship and time alone with Him. It sweetens our daily walk with the Lord. It inspires us to show and share our Savior with others. While that includes evangelizing the lost, we must not neglect to uplift and exhort our believing brothers and sisters in Christ. We all need encouragement and it’s a crucial component of God’s design that is often downplayed.

At the woodpile, I think of how impossible it seems that a city boy like me was led to take a risk on a wood stove 31 years ago and learn to run a chainsaw, primarily so me and Judy could fulfill our desire for her to stay home and be a MOM. In those days it took a miracle to do that on a teacher’s salary. But a miracle was ready and waiting.

From one season to the next, I never knew where the next year’s wood supply would come from. But it came. Folks clearing trees or vacant lots. People piling logs by the roadside for the taking. In all those years we've only bought a couple of loads, but much was given to us. I don’t recall ever worrying about not having firewood (even though we dismantled our ancient steam heating system). And we’re still not worried. Now that I’m retired, working with the firewood is my main exercise. And the Lord still has a lot to teach me through that wood.

As I stacked the last few split logs yesterday, a two foot black rat snake wriggled out and sought more permanent cover in a tangle of vines. That might have been a curse for some of my readers, but for me it was another gentle tease from God that He knows my simple pleasures. I smiled and laughed at the mild startle that snake gave me. I know a few field mice I’d like to introduce him to. Anyway, in thinking about God’s provision, I thought that not one thing God has done for me was because I deserved it. The Bible teaches that all our righteousness is like filthy rags before Him. We cannot boast of any achievement because God is the source of it all, and we enjoy what we have at His pleasure. We are most unworthy.

Unworthy, but not worthless. Both believers and non-believers can easily fall into the pit of feeling worthless. It certainly brings a wicked grin to Satan’s face when we’re defeated without even putting up a fight. But if we were truly worthless, would God have ever paid the high price of sacrificing His only begotten Son, Jesus? For the sins we were yet to commit. But He knew we would. We are of great value to our Father in heaven, because He created us in His own image, and He knows that with His Holy Spirit dwelling in us we can become all that He created us to be.
If you doubt your value to God, recall Jesus's parables of the Lost Sheep, the Lost Coin, and the Lost Son (the prodigal son) in Mark 15. Or recall how in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus assured us how our Father cares for every need of the lilies of the field and sparrows of the air. And how His love for us far exceeds that (Matthew 6: 25-34).
The creator of the universe does not really need our service. But our acknowledgment of His Lordship and our demonstrations of obedience, gratefulness, and love are what bring a smile to HIS face.

Know that you and I are loved with a love that passes all human understanding. Even as unlovely as we can sometimes be. And even as unworthy as we are.

Unworthy, but not worthless.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Brianna and Claire have BIG NEWS!

If you haven't been in touch with me recently or following Amanda or Jennifer's blogs (see links at left), you may not have heard the big news. I'll let Brianna tell you (since she's the oldest).

Brianna: "Me and Claire are gonna be BIG SISTERS!"
Yep. You heard her right. What she didn't say is that both she and Claire are gonna have little brothers. I know. That's not typical for our family. In fact, in 1953, I was the last male Loyd born in our line. That's a long time to wait for more boys. Updates will follow in future blogs, you can count on that.

Now, back to the usual caption crazies.
Judy: "Now I lay me down to sleep, I . . . . Girls, you're not participating."

Brianna: "Who's got the biggest nose. I pick this one. Tee hee."

Claire: "No, this isn't The Very Hungry Caterpillar. It's the caterpillar with yummy blue vinyl antennae."

Brianna: "Sure, I can stand up by myself. Is that all I have to do to get more food?"

Claire: "Scuse me. I haven't got GPS. Can you tell me where I am?"

Claire: "One more second and I'll know what makes that little Adam's apple thingy move."
Brianna: "And we do this whenever we say 'Mercy sakes' or 'Heavens to Betsy.' Whoever she is."

Claire: "Somehow, life just seems more manageable in this shade of blue."

Brianna: "Okay, Grandma. Ready or not, here I come (she doesn't know I can smell banana on her-- I have to humor her)."

Brianna: "And when I have a little brother, I'm gonna squeeze him just like this. Or harder."

Claire: "Whose idea was it to have so many little toys with eyeballs in them? Uh, Grandpa?"

Brianna: "Cousin Claire, you keep distracting her. I've almost got the other earring."
Then there was the day that Claire was at our house without Brianna.
She brought her own caption: "My grandparents don't spoil me. They're just very accommodating.

Claire: "I believe in a careful balance between athletics and academics."

Claire: "I told you it was juicy gossip, Grandma!"

Claire: "When all else fails, I just do it myself."
From October to November the number of grandchildren will double. So will the fun, no doubt. Stick around for the latest shenanigans (of babies AND grandparents)!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Return to Carter Caves

Even Hollywood isn't brash enough to release a sequel in four days, but after our Monday night stay at Carter Caves (see preceding blog), we were set on spending another night there on the way home. So, just a couple of hours after departing from Charlie and Liz's, we wound our way back to the Lodge, restaurant, trails, and caverns that had captured our hearts.

We weren't going to have much time, but after a serendipitous conversation with a helpful ranger, we learned of some shortcuts to some of the park's highlights. In a park with some 7 mile and 10 mile hikes, we needed something we could squeeze before and after dinner. And I mean dinner in the restaurant, not on the trail!

First stop, Fern Bridge.

Even knowing the short cut there was a steep descent.

And yes, we would have to come back the same way.

Fern Bridge was a stunning display of God's power revealed in His creation.

A different perspective.

Fern Bridge from the other side.

Amazing how ancient rushing rivers could carve these twisting formations.

The man-made bridge wasn't as exciting as God's, but it was helpful. And yes, ferns were all over the place.

After a delicious supper at the lodge restaurant, we had enough daylight for a short hike on The Rockhouse Trail. The ranger had told us about more spectacular sights. This picture doesn't begin to portray the steep dropoff just a few steps off the trail. But Liz wasn't with us and Judy and I were extra cautious.

In this picture we're looking back at the cliff we were on top of in the previous photo. Whew!

This is a typical overhanging ledge we followed for quite a distance.

This is the formation called The Rockhouse which gives the trail its name.

A young tree is no match for a gargantuan boulder. So it takes a detour.

This wasn't as hard as it looks (the rock, I mean).

Now, this was a little harder (metamorphic, I believe).

Does this look like a secret door. Such as in The Hobbit?

Speaking of The Hobbit, I recall an early chapter when it was so dark Gandalf was afraid his thirteen dwarves and Bilbo would miss the hidden path to the enchanted valley of Rivendell.

Something similar almost happened to me and Judy. Darkness was descending rapidly as we hurriedly retraced our footsteps back to the lodge. Or so we thought. We were on a path, just not the right one. The clearly marked path had continued upward where we were supposed to turn left under a rock face. Even though all trails were coded with different colored markings, those don't do you a lot of good when it's too dark to see the markings! Fortunately, we discovered our error in time to backtrack and find the proper turn. We were back at the lodge in minutes.

If you're ever traveling through that part of Kentucky, no matter what your destination, we recommend you set aside a little time for this little park that has a little bit of everything. And that, my friends, concludes my four blog posts about Louisville. I hope you enjoyed your virtual tour.