Wednesday, August 12, 2009
The Parable of the Fallen Tree
It was time for another Church business meeting. Although everything seemed routine, this was a very important meeting. On this night the church was to decide, perhaps unknowingly, its future and its usefulness to God. It was about to stumble into a clash of visions. In fact this would be a referendum on their obedience to God, or to some other influence.
There were two Committees scheduled to make reports on this night. One was a committee driven by several influential ladies in the community. This committee was chaired by a distinguished deacon who had a proven record in the business world. The other committee was made up of some younger folks with less import in the town, and led by a very old deacon, who had been in the church as a boy when the church was built. Both committees had worked hard on their presentations, and were relieved that this night had finally come.
After the minutes had been read and other minor formalities had been observed, the church treasurer stood up and gave the monthly financial report. He reported that miscalculations in employee withholding taxes for a whole year had left the bank account with far less than had been projected. The treasurer humbly apologized and offered to resign if anyone thought that would be appropriate. But this was a forgiving church and everyone demonstrated complete support for the treasurer. There was a look of concern amongst both committees however.
This shortfall left each committee wondering if all of their work had been for nothing. The old deacon’s committee had made a proposal to spend $15,000 to freshen up the church fellowship hall. New carpet, fresh paint, and even some nice light fixtures would brighten up the church’s “living space”. The old deacon saw this as a final contribution that he could make to a church that he had grown up in. He had offered to pay a third of the costs of refurbishing. But now the other two-thirds was not available.
The other committee had not told anyone, but their recommendation to sell the old church bus and buy a new one had a little snag. The old bus was worth almost nothing and would allow for little trade-in value. Now they wondered if their busing ministry would even continue.
Both committee chairmen presented their reports with timely input from their fellow committeepersons. Both withdrew from making any recommendations until the church finances had recovered. Then a remarkable series of events unfolded during the meeting.
To everyone’s surprise a middle-aged visitor from the back of the church came forward and asked to speak. The deacon moderator shrugged his shoulders and nodded permission. The man turned to the congregation and with a warm smile, explained that his father had started the church many, many years ago. He had always kept apprised of the church’s affairs and had come to offer significant financial support for the growth that he had seen.
“On my way here tonight, I thought how pleased my father would be about your growth and his resources being used to help it into the next generation. But on the way here I picked up a Hispanic man walking on the edge of town. He needed a ride to the drive-in grocery where he could call his pastor of the Spanish church where he belonged. He had to tell the pastor that during the night a large tree had fallen and crushed the tiny church. My heart went out to him and his little church. They have no money to even remove the tree. Frankly I am in a dilemma. I have here with me $50,000.00, that I intended to present to you tonight. But my heart tells me that… you folks could use the money, but my heart convicts me that the little Spanish church needs it more, and that God used your church to bring me here to meet them”.
Everyone was speechless. What an ironic turn of events! But this is the way God works. Then the stranger spoke again.
“I’m going to obey my first call, and that was to give you this money, and I’m going to trust God that he will use you to do what’s best.”
He handed the check to the deacon moderator and left nearly in tears.
Everyone sat silent. For that one night at least they were of one mind and one spirit. The new bus, the renewed fellowship hall, and the Spanish church seemed to loom over them as they mulled it over. The pastor suggested that the two committees meet that night and see if they could sort out priorities and possibly choose to put one project on the back burner and go meet the Spanish church and see what help that they might need. Then the old deacon spoke.
“$50.000.00 is a lot of money. This is a miracle, this whole thing. The man’s gift has reminded me why we are here. God doesn’t care about how fresh our fellowship hall is. We do. I was willing to pay to make it a nice place. I’m still willing to, but now I’m confused. I thought this would be a good idea, but I never considered that God had an even more important use of my money. I don’t even know any of those Mexicans, but somehow I can’t get that tree out of my mind. Whenever I get confused about things like this, I ask myself, what would my Savior do? If Jesus walked in here right now, I think he would shame us all. He would shame us for buying a bus instead of bringing people to church with us, so that they would feel loved and ministered to. I can’t see Jesus telling us to go ahead and refurbish the fellowship hall knowing full well about that fallen tree .”
The folks from the Bus committee shuffled in their seats. Their chairman stood up.
“I agree with my fellow deacon about this. I think we have all began to think of ways to spend the church’s money…God’s money, in terms of, well, this money is here for us to spend on our needs and …we don’t seek God’s perspective. Right now He sees that tree on that little church as a pretty big priority.”
Some of the prominent citizens looked around to see who would get things back on track, for it was obvious that the two deacons had been strangely affected by the stranger and his sad story. The old deacon walked down to his pew and turned back and faced the committees.
“You’ve just seen a miracle, and a test. A test of wills. That’s all I’ve got to say.”
The pastor, sensing a restless and unhappy group of influential people, stepped in to moderate, like pastors often feel compelled to do…
“I would remind our flock that we don’t have to decide this issue tonight. We need time to think and pray about it…”
Then out of the back of the church came a little man in a white work shirt and khaki pants. He introduced himself as the man who had met the stranger
and been given a ride to the store. In broken English he addressed the congregation.
“I been listening to you tonight. You want many things. You have many plans. You have this nice church, and your committees do many things. I am a deacon at the First Hispanic Baptist Mission down in the river bottom. We have nothing but our lives and the grace of God. But tomorrow we will start to remove that giant tree one limb at a time. And every limb that is removed will please God. My church can smile up to God, because we will know that for a long time, every thing we do is a part of his plan. I came tonight to offer you the same pleasure. I was told that you have the money we need and that we have the purpose that you need. Can we be partners and please God as we repair my church? Please do not be offended if I say that while you are thinking and praying, my people will be restoring
our place of worship. Do not hide behind prayers, go with them. Gracias.”
The little man disappeared out the side door, and the church was left to decide. No matter what else they learned that night, they learned that they did not have what the little Spanish church had, even if they had the money they needed and all of the good intentions in the world. They did not have the privilege of knowing that every thing they were doing was part of God’s plan. And their oneness of spirit was fading quickly…
I’d like to tell you that the church voted to take immediate action to assist the Hispanic church, and that many eternal friendships were made and some lives changed. And that the church ultimately voted to spend all of the money to repair and enlarge the little Spanish Church.
But they probably formed a committee to seek a consensus and form a compromise between the Bus and Freshen-up groups and offered a perfunctory care package to the Hispanic church. $50,000.00 is a lot of money….
But this story is just a fable. It never happened to my knowledge. It merely illustrates the important choices we make every time we aspire to do His bidding. Godly perspective is a hard thing to cultivate and impossible to explain to worldly minds. Unfortunately that stranger doesn’t visit upon church business meetings, dispensing money and reality checks all in one breath. Unfortunately, the little Mexican man would never inter into your church and plead his case, or offer a chance to conform to God’s will. We have to do this within our own body, we have to create our own reality check. Even though the story is just a story, I would like to meet that old deacon that was willing to let go of his own agenda and reach for God’s.
What would your Savior do? Would he rejoice as you spend his money on cosmetic improvements or creature comforts, while a thousand trees are out there falling on a thousand souls and crushing their lives while we pray for direction? It would be nice if He would make a visit, perhaps posing as a middle-aged donor, and show us that He doesn’t need our money. All He wants is our love and obedience. Then He would leave us to stew over our willfulness and shallowness. Our Savior would probably not opt to even spend the time to check on us, but would go right to the fallen tree, to “the least of these”. If we are seeking His will, that too is where we must go.