Burning Timber

For decades, a beautiful white pine has stood guard next to our home. It has withstood storms, snow, wind, and even a tornado. This summer however, we noticed a strange sound emerging from within its trunk and limbs. The distinct sounds of chewing could be heard from yards away, yet as closely as we looked, we could see no creatures eating it. Two friends who are knowledgeable about wood and trees mentioned that the culprit was most likely pine beetles.

Because our family has had a busy autumn, we put off dealing with the issue. As weeks passed, large swaths of the tree turned from green to brown. In quiet moments, we could still hear the gentle and persistent chewing. My husband spoke to his father about helping him chop it down whenever he had a free weekend.

One afternoon, a couple of weeks ago, I heard a chainsaw rev up. When I looked out of the window, there was my father-in-law, carefully sawing down the tree. My husband came out to help, and within the hour, I felt (more than heard) a mighty crash. Timber! The mighty tree had fallen.

The tree was almost as wide as I am tall!

This however, was only the first step, as the giant of a tree still needed to be destroyed. Because it was infested with pine beetles, it was necessary to burn each and every part of the tree, to prevent the insects from spreading to surrounding healthy trees.

Beginning with the trunk, we began burning. My husband worked for hours, sawing and throwing limb after limb into the fire. After the first day, only a fraction of the tree was destroyed. So far, we have burned for 3 days, have a bonfire scheduled next week, and still there is tree left to destroy. It will be a lengthy process.

As I watched the blaze last Saturday, the phrase “our God is a consuming fire,” came to my mind. I realized that a spiritual analogy can be found in our white pine. When sin, like pine beetles, infests our lives, the contamination is gradual. Days, months, or years can pass before the damage is evident. Still, the result is the same: disease and death. Like my father-in-law, the Lord comes and, in one fell move, chops the tree down to its roots. We are saved!

Even though salvation is immediate, the process of removing sin from our lives is life-long. When the Lord saves us, the Holy Spirit takes months, years, or decades to do the slow work of purifying our hearts. Piece by piece, branch by branch, he burns and purifies the rotting, parasite-filled parts of our lives.

The process of refinement is not always easy. Discipline and purification can be painful, but how thankful I am that the Lord takes His time. He is a consuming fire but has all of the patience He needs to carry out His purposes with mercy, day by day.

Pause: Find a quiet moment, and read Hebrews 12. What about this passage stands out to you?

Renew: Take a moment and reflect on your own journey with the Lord. Can you think of ways that you’ve seen the Lord slowly transform your life? What was that process like for you? If you have not yet given your life to Christ, take the plunge and watch what He will do!

Next: Be mindful this week, reflecting on how the Lord has been refining your mind, your relationships, and your behavior. Remember that transformation is slow and is not always a linear process.

May we be filled with gratitude for how our God is faithful to consume the sin that seeks to destroy us.

Pause, Renew, Next!

My Insidious Garden Foe

I have a general affinity for plant life.  However, there are two plants that I absolutely cannot stand. One is poison ivy, for obvious reasons, and the other is Bermuda grass.

In case you have never had to battle Bermuda grass, let me regale you with my struggles.  The grass is incredibly tenacious, grows anywhere the sun shines and at a rate that must rival bamboo.  Once Bermuda has taken root, it is nearly impossible to ever be rid of it.  Its growth is almost vine like, and it doesn’t just grow on the surface level of the earth.  For good measure, it grows under the surface too.  In fact, it can grow several feet below the surface.  Don’t try to smother it with mulch or pine straw: that will help it grow even faster.  It has crept into our sand box and has even slithered between boulders and into my flower beds.  Most obnoxiously, we have to battle it all summer long to grow our vegetable garden.

A beautiful garden under attack from all sides by Bermuda grass.

Don’t get me wrong.  My husband and I have put up a good fight. We’ve pulled, we’ve weeded, and we’ve even sprayed.  For the last two years, we have covered our garden with a tarp for throughout the winter to starve the remaining Bermuda grass from receiving any light. Still, when we uncover it in the spring, tiny yellow tendrils are already popping out of the dirt.   We’ve battled it throughout the summer – weeding, hoeing, and tilling to save our garden from its grasp.

A few years ago, I heard John Piper preach a sermon on sin.  He likened sin to Bermuda grass.  After the above description, I’m sure you can understand why this is a fitting analogy.  Like sin, plucking Bermuda grass at the surface level seems effective in the short term.  Over time, however, you find that the grass, like sin,  has grown deep shoots, much deeper and hardier than you ever realized.

The longer I walk with Jesus, the more aware I become of my deep need for Him.  There are layers to my sin.  Sure, there are the surface sins that everyone sees. Then, there are the ones that are a little further buried: not as obvious, but just as insidious.  In fact, some of the sins that grow the deepest roots may be ones that have been growing unseen for a very long time.

Paul writes:

The sins of some people are conspicuous, going before them to judgment, but the sins of others appear later.   I Timothy 5:24

I think about this analogy in the summer when I’m indignantly pulling Bermuda grass out of my flower beds and garden.  While fighting to yank it out by the roots, I think,  “Take that sin!  Go back to where you came from!”   It’s really great for anger management!

As hard as I try to pull my sin out by the roots, it is nigh to impossible on my own.  No self-help strategy can get it done.  Only Jesus’ blood can overcome it. Only by God’s grace are we able to flee temptation and not give in again to yokes of slavery from which Jesus has set us free.  Sanctification is a long and painful journey, full of sinful weed pulling to make room for the good fruit that Jesus will grow in its place.

Pause:  Spend a few moments thanking Jesus for the sin that He has forgiven in your life and for the ways that He is making you a new creation.

Renew:  Take some time evaluating the sin in your life (the bad habits, faulty thinking, or ways that you hurt others).  What are those surface sins that seem most obvious?  Which sins are lurking further under the surface?  If you have not already done so, confess these sins to the Lord.

Next:  If there is a particular sin that the Lord has convicted you of, and that you are having a hard time mastering, consider finding accountability in that area – someone who has previously struggled with the same thing, a mentor, or a wise person in your life that will lovingly hold you accountable and pray with you as you do some uprooting.

May the Lord open your eyes to the depths of your own sin and the vastness of His righteousness and saving grace.

Pause, Renew, Next!