Friday, April 24, 2009
“But blessed is the man who trusts me, God, the woman who sticks with God. They’re like trees replanted in Eden, putting down roots near the rivers— Never a worry through the hottest of summers, never dropping a leaf, Serene and calm through droughts, bearing fresh fruit every season.”
There were these giant Willow Oak trees in my yard back home when I was growing up. They were huge, especially the ones in the back yard by the stream that ran on the left side of and behind the yard by the neighbor’s fence. One of these trees was rooted right by the stream at the back of our property. This tree forked into two huge trunks at about eight feet off the ground. I loved this tree. It was enormous. It was so big and impressive, that I decided one day to build a tree house in it. There were no plans or designs; I just started building, taking the wood from a contractor’s garage, which was left over from our home’s construction. I didn’t stop building until I had a mini palace built into the trunks of this huge Willow Oak Tree. This was no ordinary tree house and was very impressive for an eleven year old. It is even impressive for this 35 year old man, as I reflect back on it.
One would think that the spikes that I nailed to this tree to hold up my 30 square foot tree fort, complete with roof, door, window, furniture, and a look-out tower would have killed this mammoth tree, but no it stood there strong as ever, even years after I had to dismantle my 18 foot high tree kingdom. This tree even withstood the fire bombs we built beneath it, the years that wore it down and Hurricane Hugo back in 1989. This old tree seemed timeless and indestructible. I felt connected to it and it was very much a part of my adolescence.
The other trees that have had significance in my life were the old Loblolly Pine and Cypress Trees in the Congaree National Swamp, ten miles outside the city of Columbia. The state champion loblolly pine, found along the park's lower boardwalk, which goes through the swamp, is about 155 feet tall and is slightly over 15 feet in circumference. Best estimates for the age of this tree are around 200 to 250 years old. Some of the Cypress trees are old-growth bald cypress varying from 16 to 26 feet in circumference, and sometimes reach up to 132 feet tall and they can be up to 1000 years old. These trees are magical, kind of like my Willow Oak Tree in my back yard growing up.
What makes all these trees so enormous and beautiful and what makes them endure time, weather, and natural disaster is their strength that is from their nutrient rich soil and the access of their root systems to an abundance of water. Without the nutrients and the abundance of water, these trees would not stand as tall, they would not endure, and they would not be so magnificent.
I remember the day when my tree finally fell. It was a few short years after the little stream behind our home was piped in by the Highway Department in order to divert rain water more effectively out of our neighborhood. My old friend did not stand a chance. The source of his drink had been tapped and he was left out to dry. For decades this tree had enjoyed an abundance of life giving water, and just like that, it was over.
I found out years later that the neighborhood popular masses had been requesting that these streams be piped and diverted for aesthetics and property value, and so this was the fate of the Old Oak. Its years of strength, and the timeless character that had endured Hurricanes, were snuffed out by some business-minded housewives, brokers, wheelers and dealers, and the South Carolina Department of Transportation in what amounted to about a week and a half’s worth of time. I stood and watched them place the pipe, and I watched as they covered them over. Then, years later, I witnessed the tree’s fall, and I split the wood to be burned in the winter’s fires.
The Loblolly and the cypress, well, they still stand out in the swamp’s nutrient rich water filled bottom land out by the Congaree River, just as grand as they have always been.
These trees haunt me and so does the scripture from Jeremiah 17:7-8: “But blessed is the man who trusts me, God, the woman who sticks with God. They’re like trees replanted in Eden, putting down roots near the rivers— never a worry through the hottest of summers, never dropping a leaf, Serene and calm through droughts, bearing fresh fruit every season.”
I cannot help but to think of the times that I did not trust God and how I still struggle to trust Him even now. I cannot help but think of the times where I wither like my Willow Oak Tree because I have diverted Jesus’ living waters by refusing it, or thinking I don’t need it, or because I just want to go my own way, or do my own thing. At times I have chosen aesthetics and things of worldly value over Him. There are times I have been about my own business and not the business of His kingdom. I have taken dry and barren back yards over rich, lush, Eden like, water flowing soils of swampy bottom lands down by the river. I have diverted the stream, piped it up, and covered it over.
Jesus says in John 4: 13-14, “Everyone who drinks this water will get thirsty again and again. Anyone who drinks the water I give will never thirst—not ever. The water I give will be an artesian spring within, gushing fountains of endless life.” Jesus goes on to say in John 7:37-38, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Rivers of living water will brim and spill out of the depths of anyone who believes in me this way.”
May we not divert His stream. May we come to Jesus and drink. Would we be like the tree in Jeremiah that is planted by the river in Eden. Drinking from this water, may we not worry, and never drop a leaf, but experience a serene calm and produce fruit bountifully, and beautifully, like the giant Cypress Trees and the Loblolly Pines.
Drinking from His fountain,
Peterson, Eugene H.: The Message : The Bible in Contemporary Language. Colorado Springs, Colo. : NavPress, 2002, S. Je 17:7-8
Peterson, Eugene H.: The Message : The Bible in Contemporary Language. Colorado Springs, Colo. : NavPress, 2002, S. Jn 4:13-14
Peterson, Eugene H.: The Message : The Bible in Contemporary Language. Colorado Springs, Colo. : NavPress, 2002, S. Jn 7:37-38
Tuesday, April 14, 2009
“Do you suppose that these Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, do you think that they were worse sinners than all other men who dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.”
I can’t begin to tell you how dangerous creek crossings can be in the backcountry in the beginning of April. The risk of hypothermia is great if you fall into a creek, stream, or river. In the fall, winter, or early spring it is very difficult to dry out your gear if it gets wet. The cold doesn’t help either. If you cannot get dry because all of your clothes and your sleeping bag are wet from a plunge in the river, you can find yourself in grave danger.
We were backpacking in the Shenandoah’s backcountry in April on a trail called Jeremy’s Run. This trail crosses Jeremy’s Run Creek upwards of 17 or so times. Getting your feet wet is unavoidable, especially in the spring thaw. The river was flooded on our expedition and new creeks, that are normally not there, were gushing from the mountainside contributing to the flow and the amount of crossings. The instructions were clear, “Unbuckle your backpack belts and safely, cautiously, and slowly cross the creek at a shallow, calm, and clear crossing. Do not try to attempt to keep your feet from getting wet by rock hopping or crossing logs, because you might just fall completely in, just cross at the trail.”
Earlier in the trip we had an incident where one of our group members had taken a fall into Jeremy’s Run Creek. Luckily he had packed his gear correctly. His sleeping bag was at the top of his pack and all of his clothes were in water resistant bags, so he was able to get dry and warm and the incident was not life threatening. This incident caused us all to cross the creek more carefully and our level of respect for the day's challenge grew. We adjusted our vigilance and no further incident occurred that day.
On our last stretch the next day it was the group’s turn to lead us out of the backcountry to our next expedition and the rock climbing portion of our trip. They were to lead themselves out without the leaders help and make their own decisions based on what they had learned. We had safely, all but the one incident, crossed all the creek crossings, except for about five, on Jeremy’s Run. The group began their leading without the help of the trip leader. At the fist creek crossing of their day everything fell apart. Two people in the group crossed the run safely, one of which was the gentleman who fell in the day before. The other two, who were “the more experienced,” we will call them Jamal and Danny to protect the guilty, attempted to trail-blaze up the creek and cross over on some rocks and some debris. They almost fell in several times, still ended up wet, and barely kept their packs out of the water. The risks were great: sprained ankles, hypothermia, if they fell in, and they could have gotten separated from the group by going their own way, not to mention they were contributing to erosion by going off trail by the stream, and were breaking the rules by not following the instructions.
These two guys were attempting to keep their feet dry on the last stretch of trail. They put themselves and the whole group at risk. It also took about 25 minutes to accomplish this chaos, it should have only taken about 5 minutes, and this put us way behind schedule. It wasn’t just at the first crossing that they attempted this. They tried it at the second crossing of the day as well, even after a debriefing about how what they had done was dangerous and unwise. Jamal and Danny were not repentant.
Repentance would have been the two gentlemen learning from their mistakes, and the mistake of their teammate earlier, the young man who fell in the day before. This gentleman had learned from what had happened and crossed extra cautiously after his incident. He followed the instructions. This is what repentance is. It is turning from your old way of doing things and not doing them again. It is learning from your mistakes and obeying. Repentance is going the right way and resisting going your own way. The Strong’s Concordance defines repentance this way: “to change one’s mind, i.e. to repent. Repentance is to change one’s mind for the better, to heartily amend with abhorrence of one’s past sins (or wrong doing).” Repentance is when a person knows that they have done the wrong thing and they can see clearly to turn and do the right thing.
This repentance is what God desires of us all. None of us are free from sin and wrong doing. We are all guilty and need to turn from going our own way in life. For some of us it is small things, for others, it is something major. Jesus did not come for the perfect. He came for the sinner and He calls the sinner to repentance. This is all of us. Jesus says this best in this story from Matthew 9:10-13: “Now it happened, as Jesus sat at the table in the house, that behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat down with Him and His disciples. And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to His disciples, “Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” When Jesus heard that, He said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’ For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.””
May we cross over to the other side of the creek of repentance successfully by His Grace.
Turning from my own selfish ways to Jesus, by His grace, mercy, and power,
Strong, James: The Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible : Showing Every Word of the Text of the Common English Version of the Canonical Books, and Every Occurrence of Each Word in Regular Order. electronic ed. Ontario : Woodside Bible Fellowship., 1996, S. G3340
The New King James Version. Nashville : Thomas Nelson, 1982, S. Mt 9:10-13
The New King James Version. Nashville : Thomas Nelson, 1982, S. Lk 13:2-5