Like a Tree

I have spent most of today watching a parade of utility trucks lined up down the street. It all started last night. I went to bed to the sound of rain starting to fall and a little wind. No weather alerts, no strikes of lightning, just a mild summer storm. The first warning that something was amiss was a cracking sound, followed by the ominous click of the power going out. Then, there was a flash of sparks and all fell silent. I tried to look out my window, but rain had blurred the screens and darkness had settled on the entire neighborhood, no street lights.

I dialed the power company outage number, and they confirmed my power was out, something I was well aware of by then. I submitted the notification of my address and lay down to sleep since there was nothing more to do. The sound of beeping utility trucks and floodlights woke me up. I called the number again for an update to find out a tree had fallen on power lines. They estimated a couple of hours. The last truck left at 3 p.m. the next day. They had underestimated the damage and the time it would take to repair it.

I have pondered on and off all day how such a slight storm could cause so much damage. The answer is that the roots of the tree were not strong enough to withstand the storm. This year we have had a lot of rain and multiple storms. The tree had apparently found the final straw as the old saying goes. It couldn’t take anymore, so it gave way. In the process it took out quite a bit of collateral damage with it.

The incident reminded me of Jesus telling the parable of the seeds in Matthew 13. The seed that fell on stony places reminded me of the tree down the street:

Some fell upon stony places, where they had not much earth: and forthwith they sprung up, because they had no deepness of earth: And when the sun was up, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away… 20 But he that received the seed into stony places, the same is he that heareth the word, and anon with joy receiveth it; 21 Yet hath he not root in himself, but dureth for a while: for when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, by and by he is offended. (Matthew 13: 5-6, 20-21)

Because the tree did not have good roots, it had no staying power, just like seeds planted in stony ground. After a few storms or a little heat, they give up. They fall down.  However, Psalms 1:3 says:

“And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.”

When you nurture a plant or tree with the right nutrients, it grows strong and can withstand the storms. For Christians to stand strong, we need the Word of God, prayer, and fellowship with other strong believers so that we can be rooted in Christ and abound (Colossians 2:6-7). If you want to withstand the storms, you have to stay rooted in faith. Then, like the song says, you shall not be moved.

Share with Care

The old saying “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” is not true. As a writer, I know words are powerful. Words have the power to hurt, but they also have the power to heal. I can still remember mean things people have said when I was in elementary school, but I can also remember the encouragement I received from teachers. Words are weapons that should be handled with care, which is why the Bible warns us that the tongue is dangerous:

“Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth! And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell. For every kind of beasts, and of birds, and of serpents, and of things in the sea, is tamed, and hath been tamed of mankind: But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God.10 Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be.” (James 3:5-10)

The tongue can set fires and spew poison, but it can also heal and bring people together. Proverbs 15:1says, “A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger.” When we respond with the truth in love, we can defuse a situation, or we can act rashly and throw another log on the fire. When we take a moment to think before we click, maybe we can find a better way to say something, or in some cases say nothing at all. Proverbs 25:11says. “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver.” Silence can be golden.

There is a time and a place to speak and stand up for the truth, but it should be led by the Holy Spirit not an angry spirit. The enemy will use anything to create dissension. This is no truer than on social media where fake news, photo shopped pictures, bait ads, and conspiracy theories abound. The enemy wants to distract Christians and get their eyes off the goal of spreading the good news by getting us to chase rabbits. Philippians 4:8 gives us some guidelines to follow to help keep us on track:

“Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.”

So, before you are tempted to share an article, photo or post ask yourself the following:

  1. Is it true, just, pure, and lovely?
  2. Is it of good report (fact check)?
  3. Is there any virtue in sharing it?
  4. Is this going to give God praise?

If not, one advantage keyboards have over tongues is the delete key.

Joy > Happiness

The catch phrase in writing these days is “do the work,” which is good advice, but I think I like Ray Bradbury’s take on it better. He was giving a speech in 2001 and said write what gives you joy and then it will never be work. While that is true, I must also point out that just because you have joy doesn’t mean you will always be happy or that it will always be easy. It just means there is something greater than the temporary trials and frustrations of everyday work. Joy is greater than happiness.

Psalms 30:1-5 says:

“ I will extol thee, O Lord; for thou hast lifted me up, and hast not made my foes to rejoice over me.

O Lord my God, I cried unto thee, and thou hast healed me.

O Lord, thou hast brought up my soul from the grave: thou hast kept me alive, that I should not go down to the pit.

Sing unto the Lord, O ye saints of his, and give thanks at the remembrance of his holiness.

For his anger endureth but a moment; in his favour is life: weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.”

Most people only quote verse five about joy coming in the morning, but they don’t dwell on the four verses before that. Verse one mentions victory over foes, which means there were foes. Verse two says you have healed me, which means there was sickness. Verse three says you kept me alive, which means there was danger. Verse four talks about God’s holiness, but it is in relation to His anger, which means there was sin.

As humans in a fallen world, we deal with hard things on a daily basis. There are enemies, sickness, dangers, and sin. We do have to work, both for a living and at being more Christ-like, but we have a joy that comes from God which is greater than happiness. Happiness is totally dependent on our circumstances, but joy is a gift that comes every morning.

“It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness.”

(Lamentations 3:22-23)

The book of Lamentations is basically a funeral dirge after the fall of Jerusalem. Jeremiah is crying over the loss of the city and the temple, yet even here he points out that God is faithful because His mercies are being renewed each day. Therefore, we know that regardless of our circumstances God is faithful to give us joy each day. Like any gift, however, we must receive the gift in order to benefit from it. The present will be useless still wrapped in a bow in the hands of the Giver.

Once we receive the gift we can have joy even when times are hard. The best upgrade we can receive in life is to trade in happiness for joy. Then we can be grateful, not for the difficult circumstances, but for the presence of God even in the midst of difficult circumstances.

Thou wilt shew me the path of life: in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore.”

(Psalm 16:11)

So, take the upgrade and let joy rule your life instead of happiness because with it comes a peace that passes understanding (Philippians 4:7). It will fill your spirit even in the worst situations. We can have joy in the morning because these things are temporary and will pass, but the love of God is eternal. That you can count on.

The Next Step

I love maps, especially when I am going on a trip. I love to look at all the possible routes, and then highlight the way I want to go with a highlighter, old school or electronic. I like to decide where I am going to eat along the way or any stops I want to make. I am a planner at heart, and I like to plan way in advance. However, as Hemingway pointed out, “the best laid plans of mice and men oft go astray” (Of Mice and Men).

One year my sister, a friend, and I went on a tour of New England. My sister had plotted out places to eat based on a book of little known restaurants. Every place we had chosen was closed for repairs, closed for the season, or just closed. We then had to scramble for alternatives, which often turned out to be some of the highlights of our trip. Most of them we came upon almost by accident in the course of our journey. We could have missed some great experiences and great food if we had been looking too far ahead.

Currently, the world is in an uproar with the uproar topic changing on an almost hourly basis. People are trying to make long-term plans for the future, but circumstances make that almost impossible. This is unsettling, I admit, but God sees the big picture even when we can’t see a mile ahead. Maybe He has something special to show us that He doesn’t want us to miss.

“Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.”

(Psalm 119: 105)

Many people have memorized this verse. It was part of our pledge to the Bible that we said every year at Vacation Bible School. But have you thought about what it means? If you have ever used a lamp to walk in the woods at night, or a flashlight for that matter, how far can you see? Basically, you can see a few steps in front of you. The destination is usually shrouded in darkness and the stopping points ahead are in the shadows at best. You have to pay attention to where you are and take it one step at a time.

“A man’s heart deviseth his way: but the Lord directeth his steps.”

(Proverbs 16:9)

God wants us to trust Him to take care of the future and to lead us in the right paths along the journey. They are not always the paths we would have chosen, but they are always the best paths. Sometimes the path is full of ruts and potholes, and we wonder what in the world could be waiting at the end to make the journey worthwhile. Yet, when we look back, we often find that those are the paths to the greatest blessings.

So, what do we do when we can’t plan for the future? We take the next right step. God shines his light onto the path through His Word and the Holy Spirit to show us the next step. Once we move, the light will shine on the next step. While we are praying for God to show us the way to go and lamenting that we aren’t getting an answer, it may be that He has already shown us the next step and is merely waiting for us to move forward. Ask yourself: What is the next right step? Then take it and watch what God will do.