A Poignant Parable of Progressive Purification

English: Firewood Español: Leños Français : Bo...A Poignant Parable of Progressive Purification

  James R. Aist

Introduction

A parable is usually understood to be made up of two parts: 1) a simple, down-to-earth story; and 2) a spiritual, moral or religious lesson derived from it. Undoubtedly, the most famous parables in the Christian world were those told by Jesus, who routinely and intentionally taught in parables. The personal revelations that I receive occasionally from God more often come in the form of a vision that conveys some kind of spiritual message or revelation, but many years ago one came to me by way of a real-life, real-time parable. It was about how God, through the working of the Holy Spirit within born-again Christians, goes about the process that we usually refer to as “sanctification”. I hope this story will bless you as much as I was blessed as God showed me this parable when I was smack dab in the middle of it.

The Setting

We were living in Ithaca, NY, at the time. Our home was located “in the country” on Snyder Hill Road, just three miles from the campus of Cornell University. I had the house built to my specifications so as to be inexpensive to heat during the much-too-long and hard upstate New York winters. Besides, we were going to heat the new house with wood, and I didn’t want to stack and fetch any more firewood than necessary during the frigid, blustery heating season. As it turns out, we only needed about one and one-half full cords of wood each winter, which is an amazingly small amount for that region. Nonetheless, every time I had a dump truck deliver a load of cut and split firewood and dump it in a huge pile about 30 feet from my garage, I had a big job ahead of me. The firewood had to be stacked in a neat row, roughly four feet high and as long as there was firewood left to stack.  It took me about three sessions of about one and a half to two hours each to finish the job, and it was hard, physical work, to which I was definitely not accustomed!

The Simple, Down-to-earth Part

Well, I had, for many, many years, stacked the pile of firewood into a neat and straight row and cleaned up the mess of firewood “trash” that remains on the lawn, and nothing out of the ordinary had ever happened. True to form, I had developed a routine for the tedious, but necessary, task of cleaning up the “trash” after the firewood was stacked. I would begin with the largest pieces, those that were too small to stack with the normal firewood but very easy to spot and gather into a box to use as kindling whenever I needed to build a fire in my wood stove. With those larger pieces removed, I could then more easily spot fragments of a smaller size and gather them into the box. And so on and so forth, until there was nothing left but tiny bits and slivers that I was not even aware of until all of the larger pieces had been removed. I would then rake together as many of these minuscule remnants as possible and deposit them into the trash. Finally — applying the concept of “good enough” — I would declare the project finished, even though, if I looked closely enough, there were still left even tinier fragments that I had not noticed before. Oh well.

The Spiritual Lesson Part

So, one crisp, spring day I was busy cleaning up the trash after stacking the firewood for the next winter. First the larger pieces, those that were easiest to see, then the next-largest pieces that were now, themselves, the easiest to see, and then the still-smaller pieces which had seemingly appeared out of nowhere when all of the just-larger pieces had been removed. Then, I paused briefly to rest and catch my breath. I was standing there, looking out over the “debris field” and thinking about how I could see the next-smaller pieces only after the just-larger pieces had been removed, when it hit me.  This is exactly how God cleans the sins out of our lives after we are born again! He begins by showing us the most conspicuous sins. These are the ones we are probably already painfully aware of, but have not yet dealt with for some reason. When these sins have been taken care of, it’s easier for Him to show us the less conspicuous sins, and we set about, together, to deal with those. And with those sins now out of the way too, it’s possible for us to see sins that we didn’t even know were there, and so on. Wow! I thought I was just was cleaning up the trash in my lawn, but God was showing me how He was cleaning up the trash in my life!

The After Word

Who would have ever imagined that such a simple task as cleaning up the trash left by a pile of firewood could produce a spiritual lesson of such magnitude?! But isn’t it just like God to teach us through the routine things of life, if we will just pause and meditate now and then?

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A Date with “Fate” at Eight

Rural ChurchA Date with “Fate” at Eight

James R. Aist

“I was found by those who did not seek me;
    I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me.” (Romans 10:20)

Introduction

I love to hear people tell the story of how God saved them. These stories all have some common ground, of course, but they are all different too, sometimes in interesting and amazing ways. Consider the range of salvation accounts recorded in the New Testament: an Ethiopian eunuch was saved through the one-on-one teaching of Philip (Acts 8:26-35); Simon the Sorcerer was saved through the public preaching of Philip (Acts 8:12); and Saul (later re-named Paul) was saved through the experience of a blinding light and piercing, convicting words from Jesus Himself while on the road to Damascus to persecute the Christians there (Acts 22:6-15). The details of the salvation experience in this day and age can also be far-ranging and fascinating. I know some who came to a gradual realization of the truth of the Gospel, which lead, ultimately, to an awareness that they believed in Jesus Christ, and others who had a sudden, miraculous experience that resulted in the immediate gift of saving faith. Now, regardless of how God brings you to the point of saving faith, you are just as saved as anyone else who gets to that point in life. My personal experience happens to be of the sudden, miraculous nature, and, if you will allow me to do so, I would like to share it with you now.

A Little Brown Church in the Vale…Well, Sort of

My family was Methodist, having moved from Maryland to Arkansas by way of Indiana. We lived on a working dairy farm in central Arkansas, and our house was located on a little dirt road off another dirt road, way “out in the sticks”. This very rural community was called “Cypress Valley”, because Cypress Creek ran through it. The houses were, generally speaking, at least a quarter-mile apart. Well, there was a little, wood-frame Methodist church located only about 75 yards from our front door, so that’s where we attended church, faithfully, every Sunday. Actually, the building itself was not really brown; it was more of a dull, gray color where the white paint was peeling off. Nor was it in a “wildwood”. But it was in a “vale” (which means “valley”). Well, that’s the venue, so on with the story!

An Old-timey Revival Is Coming to “Town”!

In the Summer of ‘53, the powers that be in the Cypress Valley Methodist Church decided it would be a good idea to invite an evangelist to come and preach a revival. Now, I was only eight years old at the time and had never heard of a “revival.” But I soon learned it meant that, during revival week, we would all be going to church not only on Sunday, but on the next three nights as well. That sounded to me like it would be the most excitement that we had seen in Cypress Valley since the dog came home from the creek bottom with swollen jowls from a snake bite! So, although I didn’t know what a “revival” was, I was looking forward to it, nonetheless.

A Date with “Fate”

Revival week came, and off to church we went. We would sing some hymns, have some prayer, listen to the evangelist preach, and then have an “altar call” for those who wanted to get saved. Up to that point, I knew nothing about being “saved” or that I even needed to be saved. Oh, I was aware that I had done some bad things – like lying and cussing and smarting off to my parents – but I was unaware that God would hold me responsible for my wrong doings, after my parents were done with me. I breezed through the first night of the revival, just taking it all in without thinking much about what was really going on. The second night, however, was different for some reason. When the evangelist began to preach, I found myself listening intently to what he was saying; it was as if he was talking to me, personally. He didn’t deliver a “hell fire and brimstone” message at all that night. Instead, he focused on how God loves me so much that he sent His only Son, Jesus, to sacrifice his life for my sins by dying on the cross for me. As he was explaining just how amazing such a love is, I had a “vision.” I first saw something like a dense fog or cloud that parted in the middle, then a soft and diffuse light appeared, and then I heard a voice speak into my mind and say something like, “What he is saying is true. You can depend on it. Believe it and do not depart from it, no matter what.” Then the vision went away, and I was so excited that I could hardly wait for the invitation to come forward and confirm what had just happened: God had saved me through a glorious vision and a message from heaven that validated to me – beyond any doubt — the evangelist’s message of God’s love that night! So, when the time came for the altar call, I was quick to go forward and let everyone there know that I had just believed in Jesus. We all rejoiced at the good news and went home. But I didn’t tell them the part about the vision and the voice; I was only eight years old, and I didn’t know what to make of it at the time.

But, now I realize just how perfectly my conversion experience exemplifies what the Bible says about salvation. “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” (Romans 10:17). “There are three that testify on earth: the Spirit, the water, and the blood…” (1 John 5:8); I heard the Spirit testify that night. And, I praise God that the word He sent out to me that night did not return to Him void, but accomplished His purpose (Isaiah 55:11).

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