Sunday, January 24, 2016

I Resolve to...Be Like a Tree

Last month, most of us were focused on the birth of Christ. We sang carols and attended services, staged nativities and read devotionals. All of it was to set our hearts on God's greatest gift: the arrival of the long-awaited Messiah into our midst. We sought to make room for Him in the inns of our hearts and remember "the reason for the season."

And then came New Year's. Most of us did a 180, swiftly swinging from focusing on the Lord to focusing on ourselves. We resolved to eat less and exercise more, start new hobbies and stop bad habits. It's easy to do. After all, December is filled with products and activities and messages that facilitate adoration for Jesus, while January is filled with products and memberships and messages for self-improvement.

I'm not saying that goal-setting is bad. It's actually very good. The problem is that after a long season of rejoicing in the arrival of our rescuing Redeemer, we immediately take on a white-knuckled, teeth-gritted mindset of "You've got this." We resolve to create a better version of ourself. Social medial is overflowing with it: #becomeabetteryou #getskinnythisyear #loseyourwrinkles and #eatmorekalein2016

But I've got news for you: You don't got this. Not on your own. That's why most people abandon their New Year's resolutions by this very week. So what's a person to do as we run headlong into a new year? What are we to do with #ivealreadyfailedmyresolutions and #illtryagainin2017 ?

The answer is to take a cue from the next holiday on the calendar. No, not Valentine's Day. It's Tu B'Shevat, silly. The Jewish New Year for Trees. Didn't know there was such a thing? Well, the purpose of Tu B'Shevat is right there in the middle of the most dog-eared book of your Bible: Leviticus 19.1

Tu B'Shevat [literally the "15th of (the month of) Shevat"] has been described as the fiscal year for trees. It's the date on which the age of a tree is calculated for tithing purposes. There are lots of details we could explore about what this means for the tithe, personal consumption and selling the fruit.

But the question for us today - the actual eve of Tu B'Shevat - is: "How can the Old Testament 'New Year for Trees' help me let go of my bootstraps and reach back up to God?

Ask any rabbi, and he'll direct you to Deuteronomy 20:19
"...for the tree of the field is man's life." KJV
Or Jeremiah 17:7-8
"Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, and whose confidence is in the LORD. For he will be as a tree planted by the waters..." WEB Messianic
Or Numbers 24:6
"You are like tall aloe trees that the Lord has planted, or like cedars growing near water." CEV

So, since we are likened to trees throughout Scripture, what truths can we glean from this New Year festival? What perspectives can we harvest in order to grow new resolutions that have spiritual and eternal nourishment?

Here are four things I encourage you to consider, my fellow tree:

  1. What kind of tree are you? There are about 100,000 kinds of trees in the world, each with its own unique characteristics. Each one is then further shaped by its unique environment - the soil, elevation, shade, rainfall, etc. So consider what makes you unique. What are your gifts? What is your personal story? Please don't try to be like another tree! Be the tree God made you - in the womb and through your circumstances. And then grow to produce the fruit that only you can!
  2. What kind of nourishment are you receiving? "Trees grow to a height that reflect the nutrients and water immediately available."2 From where do trees receive this nourishment? At the root (water and nutrients from the soil) and through the air (carbon dioxide). So, too, must we receive water that is God's Word,3 and breath that is the Holy Spirit.4 Consider your nourishment. Are you just spritzing your leaves with external, superficial nutrition (like praise from others)?  Or, even worse, drinking and breathing polluted rain and air that comes from temporary fixes the world offers? These things - no matter how good - will only sustain you so long; ultimately you will wilt, stop producing fruit, and rot from the inside out unless you are nourished from the Giver of life himself. Just like the trees, our lives will grow to a point that reflects the spiritual nourishment we take in.
  3. Are you living in community? In nature, trees don't typically grow alone. They grow in clusters, groves, forests. Why is that? The seeds of one generation develop the next. At any given time, there are aging trees growing alongside saplings - as well as every stage in between. And usually there are different kinds of trees growing amongst one another. So, if we are to be like trees, we should resolve to live in community. To allow others' fruit to grow us, and to produce fruit that in turn grows others. To enjoy shade and provide shade. To live together with all kinds and all ages.
  4. Give your best to God. The biblical purpose for Tu B'Shevat was to determine the tithe - the ten percent the grower would give back to God each year. As the tree was just beginning to bud, those first fruits were marked. In the same way, as we begin this new year, let us determine to give God the very best - our freshest time of the day, our best efforts, our most focused thoughts - so that, just like the ancient tithe - these gifts will be redistributed to bless others around us.

So yes, go ahead and strive to #beabetteryouin2016 , but not with your own strength for superficial goals, but with God's guidance for the blessing of others. Happy (Tree) New Year to you and yours - let's all make like a tree and branch out...!

1. The official date for Tu B'Shevat is found in the Talmud; it was established at the onset of the Second Temple period.
2. Abrams, K. (2014). 10 Reasons Why You Feel So Good in Nature. EcoWatch. Accessed January 9, 2016
3. Ephesians 5:26
4. John 3:8