Wood For the Fire
By: Pastor Keith Turman
When the fall air made its sharp turn and began calling for the snow, my dad would pick up the phone and call Virgil. Virgil had the chainsaw and pickup truck. My dad had the ax and sons who owned work boots and red flannel shirts. We’d get up early on a Saturday and go to Virgil’s house, because Virgil also had the trees. My brother Cary and I waited on the tailgate with a thermos of black coffee and peanut butter crackers while the chainsaw experts did their thing. We took pride in our ability to swing the ax, and constantly battled to claim bragging rights as most accurate and powerful log splitter. We were good.
One year, a giant tree fell on the property behind the parsonage. Someone cut it up and just left the logs, so Cary and I ran for the ax like it was Christmas morning. Those logs were tough though—at least three feet in diameter and full of knots. We were completely defeated in less than thirty minutes, not a single log conquered. The sweat was still rolling down my face when I saw them coming—two ancient Cherokee men with hammers and wedges. They didn’t say a word—just walked up to the now mutilated tree and looked for a place to begin. They actually resembled the tree—all knotted up and about a hundred years old. My brother and I had beaten that tree with all of our strength. There was no chance in heaven these old guys were going to get it. We sat quietly and watched as they moved gently and methodically. The air was filled with the sounds of their trade, and in no time at all, of wood splitting into pieces. Sometimes it takes a village to have wood for the fire.
One cold, snowy night, an old preacher knocked on the door of a parishioner who had stopped participating in the life of the church. The man welcomed him inside without a word, and motioned to the chairs beside the fireplace. For the longest time, they just sat in silence and watched the firewood burn. Finally, the preacher got up from his chair and moved to the fire. He took the iron and poked one of the red-hot coals out onto the hearth. He sat back down and the two men watched as the burning coal slowly lost its heat, turning from red to grey to black. After a while, the preacher moved back to the fire and returned the dying coal, which immediately burst into flames. Without saying a word, he retrieved his hat and his coat and walked out into the night.
The writer of the letter to the Hebrews actually put words to it: “And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (10:24-25)