For two decades, my wife and I led the weekly Young Adult Class (14-19) at our church. The first weekend in February, we would have a retreat at an inviting resort. We always had a guest leader who would journey with us to enjoy a weekend full of activities — both physical and spiritual.
On one beautiful, snowy weekend, one hundred of us travelled to a resort in Muskoka in northern Ontario, Canada. On Friday evening and all day Saturday, we had many sports activities, challenging discussions, and lots and lots of laughs. By the time Sunday morning arrived (with less sleep for two nights than most required), we were all ready to hear our guest speaker share helpful spiritual thoughts.
There were exactly one hundred of us there, and the leaders had placed one hundred silver birch branches beside the fireplace. The speaker shared how we all develop at a difference pace and in a different way. The illustration used was the different branches, most of which were small and smooth, but some of which were less beautiful or even gnarled and ugly. The speaker explained how each of us, though shaped differently by life's circumstances, could be changed. We simply had to surrender to Jesus and allow Him to burn away all our sins.
At the end of the talk, we were all invited to come and take a branch and place it on the fire. It was a time of very sombre introspection. Those of us responsible wondered what would happen.
We didn't have to wait long. Almost immediately, one of the supporting staff, Gerry, rushed to the front and grabbed the gnarled and ugly branch, placed it on the fire, and watched it be consumed in the blaze. He later told us that he felt that that ugly piece of wood most described his life. He wanted to get it before anyone else did.
One by one, young people came, picked out a particular branch and prayerfully placed it on the consuming fire. It was a beautiful sight as the fire blazed, and we realized that many young lives were changed that Sunday morning.
That morning, two great truths were clearly set out by the leader and were indelibly etched in my memory:
Firstly, as the fire turned the branches to burning embers, there was no difference between the relatively smooth branches and the ugly ones. All were the same after passing through the refining fire.
Ephesians 2:8 – For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God. (ESV)
Secondly, regardless of age and prior experiences, all met the same point of decision when our branch met the deciding flame: the point of judgment.
2 Corinthians 5:10 – For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. (ESV)
John Gowans penned these words:
- Burning, burning, brightly burning,
Brightly burning Fire divine,
Satisfy my spirit's yearning.
Fill this empty soul of mine.
Burning, burning, always burning,
Holy Spirit, stay with me;
To Your will my will is turning,
What You will I want to be.
Prayer: Heavenly Father, help us to accept our own inadequacies and to seek to reconcile ourselves with You through faith in Jesus Christ. Amen.