Woodshed Wisdom

By Freeman Martin

I always enjoy watching the opening ceremonies of the Olympics. Especially the part where the torch arrives at the stadium. There are usually several people who carry the torch for short distances around the arena and then hand it off to the next person. All of them have either played a significant role in organizing the games. Or they’re natives of the host country and have brought honor and recognition to their homeland through their achievements in some sport.

And it’s always supposed to be a big surprise who the person is that has the privilege of carrying the torch the final steps before touching it to the huge cauldron. And the firepot holding the actual flame that burns constantly during the games usually sits on top of some kind of elaborate structure. With one touch of the torch, the whole structure seems to instantly burst into flames that travel upward from all directions before reaching the firepot.

Some of these ceremonies are quite impressive, very elaborate, and showy. I remember well (surprise!) the opening ceremonies of the Atlanta Olympic Games in the summer of 1996. In fact, many people had a hand in carrying the torch as it passed through our area on its way to Atlanta. As it got close to downtown and the Olympic Stadium, there was a lot of speculation and suspense about the person who would have the honor of touching the torch to the flame.

Some wondered if it would be the former President of the United States from Plains, Georgia. But peanut farming wasn’t recognized as an official sport of the Olympics. So it was with great pomp and circumstance that Cassius Clay, aka Muhammad Ali, stepped into the spotlight holding the torch to light the Olympic Flame. And, of course, with the current games being played in Canada, it wasn’t much of a surprise that hockey great Wayne Gretzky would light the flame.

But it was the flame-lighting ceremony in Atlanta, Georgia that sparked mental images that re-occur whenever I watch any Olympic games. You see, it was while growing up on the farm at Route 4, Seneca, South Carolina, just over a hundred miles north of Atlanta, Georgia, that we were constantly warned that if you play with fire, you’ll get burned. And most times, it was the seat of our britches that got heated up at the woodshed when we disregarded those warnings.

The culprit in most every case was that box of strike-anywhere kitchen matches. A country boy walking around with a couple of them in the back pocket of his overall britches was an accident looking for a place to happen! Just ask brother Wade whose backside found a flint rock as he was slidin’ into third base.

Or the time we almost burned down Daddy’s tobacco curing house trying to keep our homemade cigar lit. It was as big as a baseball bat and we had dipped it in sugar water to hold it together while we passed it around for a choking puff. The ashes from that thing would fill up a wheelbarrow. And burn whatever they touched! Drawing buckets full of water from the well to put out a fire while you feel like throwing up from smoking a cigar is an experience that burns an eternal image into your memory.

But while fire can definitely be dangerous to your health, it also can be a source of much comfort. The only heat in our old farmhouse came from that big double fireplace that kept us from freezin’ to death on those cold winter nights. And the promising aroma of parched peanuts from Mother’s wood-burning cook stove provided incentive for finishing our homework by the time the peanuts were done.

Another comforting aspect of fire is the light that it provides. When the light arrives, it drives the darkness away. That’s exactly what the prophet Isaiah predicted about 700 years before Jesus was born. In Isaiah 9:1-2, he said there won’t be anymore gloom (after the true Light comes) because the people walking in darkness (will) have seen a great light that will shine on everyone living in darkness.

Only a few people will ever have the pleasure of lighting the Olympic flame. And, even so, that flame will be extinguished at the end of the games. However, you and I, as Christians, have the honor and privilege every day of carrying the eternal Torch of Jesus Christ to light the flame that can change hearts and lives forever. As it is written, In Him was (is) life, and that life was (is) the light of men (John 1:4).

Our very talented Minister of Music at Rock Springs Baptist Church sings a song that blesses me all the way down to my socks. It’s called ‘The All-Time, Undisputed Champion of Love.’  The life of Christ is the Gold Medal standard by which we are to model our own behavior. He’s already won the race. And all that our Savior asks is that we grab the torch that He’s given us and pass it on to our fellow runners. And in doing so, we use His light to drive away the dark. An old saying goes like this, ‘you can’t light the way for someone else without shining the light on your own path.’

I can’t ski downhill, run a marathon, or even stand up with ice skates on my feet. But one thing I can do. I can carry the torch that lights the flame.

Is your torch lit?