I Prayed for a Tree Today

No, I’m not a tree hugger!  But I do have somewhat of a special relationship with a tree near my house.  It’s not because it’s a beautiful shade tree or a rare fruit tree.  There’s nothing majestic about this tree.  As a matter of fact, it’s quite pitiful looking.  

A couple of years ago, the road leading to our neighborhood was repaved and spruced up.  They widened part of the narrow road and added some median areas where they did some landscaping.  They planted some small trees about 10 feet tall in the middle of these medians.  Occasionally, one of these little trees will fall prey to a spring storm, a clumsy panel truck passing by or a drunk teenager.  A few months ago I noticed one of the trees was leaning out into the lane of traffic.  Apparently the trunk had split, leaving the top of the tree leaning precariously to one side.  I passed this tree for months, wondering if anyone would ever try and fix it, or replace it with a new tree. 

Finally, I had had enough.  One Saturday afternoon, I grabbed my duct tape from the garage and made my way to the ailing sapling.  My idea was to upright the top of the tree and tape it back to the trunk so it could heal and begin growing straight.  To my surprise, the tree was not very willing to cooperate.  I tugged and squeezed and pushed and grunted, all the while dodging the cars as they sped by.  I managed to straighten it enough with one hand as I applied the duct tape with the other.  I wrapped several yards of tape, hoping to secure the struggling tree.  When I finished, I crossed the road and looked back to get a better view.  It looked more like a bow and arrow than it did a tree, but I felt like I managed to give it one last chance for survival. 

Spring arrived shortly after and, low and behold, leaves began to bud.  For the past few months I’ve driven or walked past that tree and thought “I saved that tree!”  When my kids are in town, I drive them past my tree and remind them that I saved that tree. 

This past week I noticed a road crew traveling up and down the road, pulling out the dead trees and replacing them with new healthy trees.  I wondered what would happen to my tree. 

This morning as I prayer walked down the road, I realized that my tree made the cut.  It was still standing, bowed in the middle, but none-the-less, it was still there.  And that’s when it hit me.  I’m just like that tree!  I’m a tree planted in the middle of the road.  Sometimes I feel stuck while everyone is passing me by.  I feel neglected and ignored.  I get wounded by careless people around me.  And then someone comes along and seeks to restore me.  Yet, I’m not always willing to straighten back up.  I’ve become complacent in my wounds.  I don’t care that I’m in a very dangerous spot and could be wiped out at any moment.  It hurts to stand tall again.  But finally I give into my Healer and allow him to wrap me with His healing bandages. 

If you were to step back and take a look at me, you would see that I’m not completely whole.  I’m bent and bowed and disfigured.  I’m bandaged and I don’t look like all the beautiful trees around me.  But I’m standing and I’m healing.  All I needed was for someone who cared enough to help me back up.

Hebrew 3:12-14 says “See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God.  But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.  We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first.”  Let’s be encouragers to one another, helping each of us who are wounded to keep living out our faith in spite of our difficult circumstances. 

Someday, if we persevere, if we delight in the law of the Lord, living lives of faith and obedience, we will find we are no longer trees in the middle of the road.  Instead we will be like the tree in Psalm 1:3, “He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither.  Whatever he does prospers.”

Flight of the Gecko

Let’s play a little word association.  When I say “Cambodia,” you say the first word to come to your mind.  Ok, go… “Sweat,” “Heat,” “Trash,” “Flood,” “Dirty,” “Unusual smells” (I know, that’s two words!), “River,” “Genocide,” “Temples,” “Traffic,” “Needy,” “Tuktuks,” “Motorscooters,” “Rice,” “Skinny cows” (I know…two words, again!), “People,” “Beauty,” “Love.”

My wife, Sally, and I returned last night from 10 days in Cambodia.  We were on a mission trip with Sally’s cousin, Anna K. who lives there, and a group from FBC of North Kansas City.  My sleep deprived, jet-lagged mind is having a hard time wrapping around all the incredible things we experienced.  But I’ll try and share a few stories.

First, have you ever seen a gecko fly?  I have.  I was sitting in the lobby of the Golden Gate Hotel in Phnom Penh waiting on some of the rest of the mission team to join us.  We were getting ready to travel to a village up the Tonle Sap river to do a medical clinic.  Anyway, I was sitting there minding my own business when I looked up and saw a gecko fly across the lobby and hit the front door.  After a moment of reflection, he seemed to shake himself off and then escaped into a crevice in the baseboard.  Apparently he had taken it upon himself to make his way on to the hand of one of the ladies in our group.  She felt something on her hand and noticed it was a gecko.  In a quick reflex, she waved her hand and hurled the poor guy clear across the room.  It was funny, but I suppose you had to be there.

Another story.  Saturday night we met some expatriates from the International Church in Singapore for dinner.  The restaurant was gracious enough to allow us to reserve a private dining room upstairs.  In the dining room was a huge round table with a lazy susan in the middle.  As we settled into our seats, one of the waiters moved a rolling cart away from the wall and apparently woke Ratatoullie’s Cambodian Cousin, Ngyeng (pronounced “win”).  Ngyeng was a cute black rat with a long gray tail.  He quickly made his way under the table to get away from the waiter with the size 10 shoes.  This caused the guests at the table to do kind of a new squeal-ly version of the wave.  It was quite fun to watch.  After two trips under the table, Ngyeng had had enough of our foolishness and made his way out the dining room and back into the kitchen where he belonged.

Ok, final story.  Houng and Menh are married.  Houng, the wife, came to know the Lord in 2002.  She couldn’t read, so she asked her husband, Menh, to read the Bible to her.  Interestly enough, Menh became a believer a year later.  Menh, at his own admission, had been an abusive husband.  But God changed all that.  Houng and Menh have a great marriage now.  In gratitude to God, they have opened their humble home to 15 to 20 grade school, second generation Vietnamese children in order to teach them how to read and write their native tongue.  They use the Bible as their textbook.  This sweet couple have given up their garden to build an additional room to their two-room house for a classroom.  They are saving money now to hopefully beable to eventually put in a concrete floor.  In the meantime, these precious “at risk” children come everyday to learn the Bible.  They are able to quote several scripture passages, including the Lord’s Prayer and the 10 Commandments.  They also sing hymns and choruses.  Anna told us the children began calling Menh, “Uncle Seven Jesus” (Seven has something to do with birth order) but Menh was not comfortable with them calling him Jesus so now they call him, “Uncle Seven Good News.”  Good news, indeed.

Up the Down Escalator

I’m reading a great book by Francis Chan, “Crazy Love.”  Everyone needs to read this book!  I’m not kidding.  In it, Chan challenges the reader to love God and love people with a “crazy love.”  He challenges us to get out of our comfort zone and serve other people. 

Chan compares the Christian life to walking up a down escalator.  Have you ever tried to do that?  It’s really a great workout.  You really have to sprint to make it to the top.  Everything in you wants to give up and stop.  But when you do, you realize you are going down and losing ground.  Life has a way of doing that to us.  When we tire of persevering, we find ourselves going with the flow.  Everyone else around us is going down the escalator, wouldn’t it be better if we just relaxed and went down with them?  Think about the looks you get when you are sprinting up a down escalator; everyone is looking at you like you’re an idiot.  Isn’t that how you feel sometimes when you’re living for Christ?

This is a real challenge for me.  I’m such a people pleaser.  I don’t want to make people uncomfortable.  I don’t like it when people are annoyed with me.  I just want to get lost in the flow of mainstream.  The problem is, the mainstream is pulling me away from my goal of higher ground.

Don’t get me wrong, the Christian life is not based upon works or striving in our own power.  The Bible says that God’s grace is a free gift.  But upon receiving such an incredible gift, shouldn’t we live a life of obedience and good works as a way of thanking Him for eternal life?

The Bible talks about perseverance and faith.  It talks about obedience and trust.  Surrender is also a common theme in the Christian life.  These are not easy concepts to put into practice.  But when we think about our lives here on earth, in comparison to eternity, we realize that our lives are but a vapor.  Let’s take the short time we have and live for God’s glory.  After all, it’s all about Him anyway.  Soli Deo Gloria!  (To God alone be the glory.)