Lesson from the Linden Tree

When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long.
For all day and night your hand was heavy upon me;
my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.”
(Psalm 32:3-4 (ESV)

A couple of summers ago we lost one of the really nice Linden trees in our front yard as a tornado blew through town.  I kind of suspected that we’d lose the tree, ants had pretty thoroughly eaten at the base of the tree, and the leaves look sickly.  Sure enough; one strong wind put the tree down on the roof of our front porch.  One tree down, one to go.

Over the last month, I have noticed that the other Linden tree, which stands 40 to 50 feet high, was starting to lose its leaves.  Let me correct that, it wasn’t actually losing the leaves, it’s just that the leaves were all turning brown and shriveling up.  A front moved through last week with some strong winds, and the next morning I found a large, leafless branch laying in the front yard.  And then this week, while watering the yard, I realized that almost all of the leaves of the tree were brown – from all outward appearances, the tree is dead.

Because the tree is on the easement  – that space between the curb and the sidewalk – the city is responsible for removing any dead or dying trees.  When I called the city office they sent someone over to take a look at the tree for us.  Sure enough, he said it was dead as well.  But the city man was stumped (sorry for the pun), he just couldn’t understand why it had died, and why it went so quickly.  He was sure that though the summer has been hot and very, dry Linden trees were drought resistant, and this shouldn’t have happened.  After assuring me that the city would remove the tree (hopefully before it too falls on the house), he drove away, shaking his head in amazement.

Curious, I did a little research (consulted Google).  Come to find out, Linden are very resilient trees, but in extreme drought, they are susceptible to something called Verticillium Wilt.  Verticillium is a fungus that can exist in the ground for 10 years, and while a Linden tree is resistant to the fungus, extreme cases of drought can stress the tree and allow the fungus to enter the roots, spreading toxins which disease and eventually kill the tree.  Our Linden tree may not have Verticillium, but the picture on the information at the ISU Extension website looks exactly like our tree did about a month ago.

So if this is Verticillium, our tree is as good as dead.  The fungus had lived around the tree for years, waiting for the right opportunity to enter the roots – an opportunity that came when the rain stopped and the drought came.  With no rain to feed the roots, the tree began to open itself up to anything and everything it could find for nourishment.  Enter the disease.  The toxin entered the tree, dried the flowers, browned the leaves, and turned the strong and supple branches of the tree brittle and weak.  One summer of drought revealed the nature of the soil and the tree – and now the tree must go.

Have you ever found that the droughts in your life reveal the health and the strength of your faith?  Like a tree planted by the river, our faith and trust in God grows and flourishes, bringing cover and shelter to every aspect of our lives.  Because of our faith we can face the challenges this world presents us.  We know that God has delivered us in the past, that God has secured his promises for us in Christ Jesus, and so we can look on tomorrow that God will be faithful still.  When we stand by the stream, fed by the Word of God through regular study, worship, fellowship, sin is kept at bay and tremendous growth is seen.

But what about when that stream dries up.  What happens to our faith when we go through times of drought and famine in spirit?  Sometimes the drought comes from the Lord, but usually it is self-imposed.  For whatever reason we turn away from the reading of God’s Word, going to Worship and spending time with other believers takes a back-seat to “more important things,” prayer becomes a quiet, tedious, and unproductive thing.  The sin that permeates the world around us, that was repelled by the nourishment from God’s stream, creeps back into our lives.

Absence from the Word of God, from regular worship, study, and fellowship, does not make the heart grow stronger.  No, it invites the sins that would destroy us back into our lives so that our faith is choked out by the cares, worries, and passions of the world.  Spiritual drought reveals the nature of our faith, and until we return to the Lord, the only one who had feed and nourish our souls, we will wilt and wither on the branch.

Jesus said, “Abide in me, and I in you.  As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.  I am the vine; you are the branches.  Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.  If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers…” (John 15:4-6).  There is no spiritual health, no nourishment, no life apart from Christ.  Does your spirit long for the water of life?  Has the poison of sin seeped into your life?  Then come to the fountain.  Come to Christ.  “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.  Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’ (John 7:37-38).

Friends, end the drought, come to Jesus.  Let him nourish your soul with the water of life.  Abide in him, drink him in, and he will become in you a “spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:14).


Preparing for Worship

Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing,
but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
(Hebrews 10:25 (NIV)

Last Sunday it finally hit me about half way through the Prayer of Confession during our morning worship service – that feeling, that awareness – “I am here to worship.”  That’s right, it took me a good twenty minutes before I was really present and accounted for in the worship service.

Saturday had kind of gotten away from me.  It began with a nice long run (preparation for a marathon), then a funeral, followed by a birthday party for a young church member, topped off with pizza and a movie with the boys that evening.  When Sunday morning came around I found myself totally unprepared for worship – and I’m the Preacher.  Sure, I had put together the bulletin, planed the scripture readings and prayers, the sermon was all ready to go, but my heart was about a mile away.  Not good, not good at all.

In thinking about this, I realize that I’m probably not the only one who’s ever felt this way.  Hoping to help myself as much as I help you, here are a few things to consider to help you prepare your hearts and minds for worship.

  1. Worship through the week.  As mentioned a couple of weeks ago in church, when the church gathers for worship it ought to be merely the continuation of what the church had been doing already when scattered.  Your home is a micro-church.  Deuteronomy tells us that we are to be teaching our faith to our children “when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up” (Deut 6:7).  No children?  Then teach and share the Word of God with your spouse.  No spouse?  Then commit yourself to the daily study of the word of God and coming before Him in prayer and devotion.  Nothing nurtures the spirit of corporate worship than when members of the body are thriving in daily worship.  If worship seems dry and boring to you, ask yourself, “What is the state of my private devotion?”  I would bet the two are intimately connected.
  2. Get a good night’s sleep the night before church.  I know this sounds simple and pedantic – and it is.  But seriously, plan ahead.  If you desire to truly enjoy the close communion of God that is offered in worship each Sunday morning, you can’t expect to find it when you’re operating on only a couple hours of sleep.  I know that many work late on Saturday night and can’t help their schedule.  I know that some suffer from sleep conditions that prevent them from getting a good night’s rest.  But closing down the party on Saturday night doesn’t put your heart, mind, or body, in the right condition for worship on Sunday morning.  Plan ahead; lay out the kid’s clothes, make sure you know where your Bible is, get a good night’s sleep, and wake up early enough on Sunday morning so that you’re not rushing to church.
  3. Read the scripture lesson before coming to church.  Each week in this Midweek Message there is a section called, “Scripture for Sunday.”  There you will find the Scripture that will be read in Worship.  We give you this with the hopeful expectation that you will read it before coming to worship and begin to meditate upon the text yourself.  Other churches might use the Lectionary, and those calendars are available in numerous places, including online, so you can read ahead and be prepared.  Back in school, when you were given a reading assignment and wanted to have an informed part of the discussion, you read and prepared.  Why should worship be any different?  Read ahead.  Turn to a commentary or even the cross-reference notes in your Bible.  Start asking questions of the text; what’s being said, what does it mean, how does it shape me?  In doing these small steps, you will find that the sermons will take on much more meaning and significance for you.
  4. Come with a prayerful expectation of meeting God in worship.  What is your general attitude when coming to church?  Are you already dreading having to wrestle the kids in that small pew for an hour?  Worried that you might have to shake hands with that guy who really upset you last week?  Or do you come hoping for, and expecting, to have an encounter with the living and loving God?  If you were to take a snapshot of most people in worship on a Sunday morning, the best way to describe them would be: bored.  That doesn’t mean that we need to make worship more entertaining – worship is the service of God at the pleasure of God for the benefit of all men, entertainment is the service man at the pleasure of men for the benefit of the entertainer.  The answer to our attitude toward worship is not to change our worship, but to radically alter our expectations of worship.  When you gather on a Sunday morning, you are coming to meet the Living Christ.  You are in the presence of His life-giving Spirit, coming in His heart-searching Word.  You are worshiping God the Father Almighty.  Are you ready to meet your God?
  5. Actively participate in worship, singing, praying, and listening.  Worship is not a spectator sport.  You don’t get to sit back and watch it all happen.  It involved active participation.  You are invited to sing, and even if you don’t sing, you can thoughtfully read through the words of the hymns, hymns which teach our faith and instill hope and assurance in the promises of God.  You are invited to pray, through responsive prayers, and even as the Pastor is praying for the people, you can offer your own prayers, or even echo the prayer being said.  You are invited to meditate upon the Word.  When the scripture lesson has been read, don’t shut your Bible, but actively listen to the sermon, pray through the sermon, take notes on the sermon, and keep coming back to your open Bible and ask that the Spirit will continue to teach and guide you.
    Richard Baxter, in his “Directions for Profitably Hearing the Word Preached,” wrote:
    “Cast not all upon the minister, as those that will go no further than they are carried as by force… You have work to do as well as the preacher, and should all the time be as busy as he… you must open your mouths, and digest it, for another cannot digest it for you… therefore be all the while at work, and abhor an idle heart in hearing, as well as an idle minister.”

This list is by no means exhaustive, but it is a start.  If you have other suggestions for preparing for our corporate worship, I’d love to hear them.

Until we gather again in worship, Grace and Peace be with you,