Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Seeing the Forest AND the Trees

… that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.  1 Cor 12:25-26

The phrase, “You can’t see the forest for the trees!” warns us against focusing so much on the specifics of a situation that we lose our awareness of the larger picture.  How important that is.  There is no forest without the individual trees.  Yet, while the forest needs each tree, each tree depends on the forest as well.  This dual truth holds in the church, as it does in the great outdoors. Life, health, and growth require both “one for all” and “all for one.” 
According to Richard Innes, giant Sequoia trees, also known as redwoods, often reach heights of 300 feet and diameters of 30 feet.  They can range in age from 2,000 to 3,000 years; some of them were living when Jesus walked the shores of Galilee. The largest specimen, the General Sherman Tree in Sequoia National Park, is 275 feet tall, has a diameter of 36.4 feet at the base, and has been estimated to weigh 2500 metric tons.
These majestic trees make it through raging fires, violent storms, and fierce winds.  They also have a comparatively shallow root system which makes their survival even more amazing. How do they do it?  They live in groves with their root systems entangled with numerous other trees. In other words they support each other. They couldn't survive alone.
Violent storms in Alabama and elsewhere have driven home a powerful point.  Why does a tree fall, even one that seems strong, tall, stable, and healthy?  It’s true, of course, that trees often fall because they were diseased, or their roots were weak, or the soil around them was saturated with water.  Perhaps the wind and other elements were just unusually forceful, beyond what those trees could bear.  There are inward elements, outward elements, or both.
However, sometimes a tree falls because the strong tree that was next to it fell first.  Exposed directly to elements it never faced before, it topples.
I have seen this happen in families.  The spiritual giant, a parent or grandparent perhaps, passes away.  Then other members, who are not prepared to face life’s crises head-on, without that shield of protection, flounder and fail.  Their prayer life at home, their family Bible reading and discussion, and eventually their church involvement fade and fall. No one picks up the mantle of leadership.  No one reaches out to intertwine the family’s roots. Before long, without even a “Timber!” another family drops out.
This is true of church leadership.  The individual tree needs the forest to survive, and vice versa.  In an eldership I know elsewhere, there was a humble, compassionate, mission-minded, exemplary man.  The other good men enjoyed the shade that his leadership provided.  When he died they faced, without him, the strong winds he had helped to resist.  Their mission work, emphasis on mature biblical preaching, and compassion as a group suffered.  No one to my knowledge has stepped up to say, “I will be the tree that stands where that brother stood.”  As a result the entire forest is not quite the same.
The point?  First, enjoy the protection of faithful leaders!   Love them, support them, and follow them.  Second, prepare yourself for the time when that sheltering shade may be gone.  Intertwine your roots before that loss comes.  Make sure that your family, and your local congregation, will not fail or fall when that time comes. 
And you – yes, you! – become the tall, strong tree that others need you to be! 

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