T. Pierce Brown

A few minutes ago I was out by the woodpile trying to split some knotty hickory sticks that were too big to go in my stove. Some of them were so hard I could not even get a splitting maul or an axe started in the center of the stick. I suddenly thought of what my father told me on more than one occasion, “There is more than one way to skin a cat.” My mother, being more sophisticated, had said, “There are other ways to choke a dog to death besides on buttermilk.” I had my doubts that either of them had done either, but what youth knows the ways of his elders or how they arrived at their philosophy of life? But like J. J. Starbuck, I can still remember and use some of the same philosophy they used to cope with some of the knotty problems of life.

Some of my early memories are of living in a two-room log cabin, chinked with mud, with no ceiling or insulation. It was really only one room, but we called it two, though there was no wall between them, because one of them had a floor. I remember being amazed and amused when my mother would sweep the dirt floor with her homemade broom. But she taught us to try to be clean, even if it was a dirt floor on which we lived and played! They had apparently learned that when problems of life are impossible to solve by ordinary means, you find extra-ordinary ones. All the other poor children I knew had to stay out of school to chop cotton, hoe tobacco, plow corn or pick strawberries. We did not. My father solved that problem by other means — such as cutting corn himself by a full moon, after walking 10 miles and cracking rocks with a sledge hammer for $1 a day. Having only a sixth grade education, he knew it was important for a child to go to school — so we went.

So, when I could not split the hickory wood the usual way, down the middle, I thought I might try splitting it off around the edges where the knots were not so hard. That worked. Then I found some that were so full of knots they would not split in any direction. It suddenly occurred to me that a stick does not have to be two feet long to go in a stove. So I took a chain saw and sawed them into about 4 inches long, so they would go in sideways as slabs instead of longways as sticks!

The first lesson is that one does not have to meet all his problems “head on.” There are ways and times when you can “cut around them” and get them down to the size where they will not really be problems. Every parent with teen-age children has either learned that, or has suffered unnecessary mental anguish. One does not have to be a “snake in the grass” to be “as wise as serpents and harmless as doves” (Matt.10:16). Although the spirit of compromise is abroad in the land and we deeply regret the growing tendency to compromise God’s Word, to compromise on the divinely authorized plan of worship, to compromise the demands of the gospel, to compromise God’s plan of church organization and autonomy, there are many areas of mere personal opinion that could be compromised if we would try.

Let me give a case in point. About 40 years ago a congregation had a member who believed everyone should drink the fruit of the vine from one container. (I always practice that. I never use more than one container when I take the Lord’s Supper.) The elders decided to use individual containers. Instead of simply meeting him “head on” with the dictum, “Shut up or get out,” they reasoned with him like this: “If we happen to make a mistake in judgment, but do not thereby force you to sin or compromise your convictions, can you tolerate that?” He said, “Yes.” They asked, “If you were drinking out of the one container we have been using, and one or more other brethren in the congregation failed to do God’s will in some respect, would that cause you to be lost?” He said, “No.” Then they said, “We will put the container you have been using in the center of the tray. You may use it, just as you have been, along with anyone else who chooses to. Others will choose the container of their choice.” He could not see how it could cause him to be lost to be in fellowship with someone who might be wrong on some point, but did not thereby corrupt the corporate worship or cause someone else to sin, so he agreed.

One may laugh at, or ridicule one for being so silly or unreasonable as not to be able to see the truth. But did God require you to withdraw from all who are sillier or more unreasonable than you about something? If this is not a fair example of Paul’s teaching in Romans 14, I am mistaken.

Second, my experience with splitting the stick shows that not every problem has to be solved in an orthodox or usual way in order to be solved right. In Mark 2:4, when they could not get to Jesus through the door, they took the roof off! It may be that one reason we are not getting more people to Jesus for healing is that we are unwilling or afraid to take the roof off! We should never fear being different, unless that difference conflicts with a principle or teaching of Jesus.

Of course I learned some other lessons, too, such as: A man of my age should probably try to split hickory sticks a few minutes every day instead of just once a month, or leave it to a son who can still run 8 to 16 miles a day! Maybe some problems just do not need to be solved anyway! I could have heated with a heat pump. Even that would have illustrated my point that there are different ways of solving problems, so we should never be so concerned with trying to solve it only in one way that we become worried, frustrated, or ineffective servants for Christ.

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