Bill McFarland

June 3, 2007


Shel Silverstein (in his little book, The Giving Tree,) tells the story of a tree which loved a little boy.  He would come and gather her leaves to make play crowns, climb her trunk and swing from her branches, eat the apples she produced, and rest in her shade.  He enjoyed it so much, and the tree was very happy.

But the boy grew and didn’t come around the tree as much.  When he did he wasn’t interested in swinging or playing or resting.  He thought it would take money to buy things to make him happy.  So, the tree gave him apples to sell, and the tree was happy.

After a long time, the boy (who was now a busy young man) came back to the tree.  This time he was thinking he would be happy if he could just put up a house in which to bring up a family.  The tree gave him all her branches, and she was happy.

Years later, the boy (now ready to retire) came back, and the tree was so glad.  But he didn’t want to climb or play; he wanted a boat so he could sail away and to be happy.  The tree told him to cut down her trunk to make the boat, and he did.  Off he sailed.

A long time after that, the boy (by this time an old man) came back again.  The tree said she had nothing left to give; she was just an old stump.  But the boy, so tired from his long pursuit of happiness, said all he needed was a place to sit. So, the tree offered him the stump.  The boy sat down—and the tree was happy.  

That is a way of saying something the Bible has always taught.  It states for us the principle of the Blessing Tree.  It is that we find what we most need out of life by realizing that we have been blessed and then by seeking to be a blessing.  That lesson is one that we miss sometimes as we are busy going here and there to try to find happiness.  The tree might teach us a lesson.  The principle I am talking about is illustrated in many places in scripture, but among them are the first two verses in 2 Timothy 2.  Here, Paul writing to Timothy toward the end of Paul’s days, said, “You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus,  and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.”  We will say something in a few weeks about what it is that we have heard that needs to be passed along.  But for now, please just consider the point.  The Blessing Tree says to us, “You have received something precious.  Your purpose now is to entrust it to others who will then be able to pass along to still more people that blessing, and that is where you will find your purpose and your satisfaction in life – when you function like the blessing tree. 

The Cross As A Blessing Tree

If you stop and think about it, you will realize that this principle is illustrated in some rather important ways in the New Testament, some of them in ways that get at the heart of the whole Bible.  For example, Jesus turned even the rugged cross into a blessing tree.  Remember that I Peter 2:24 tells us that he himself bore our sins in his own body on the tree.  We studied in my class this morning from Galatians 3 how Jesus, by being hanged on the tree, became the curse for us so that we might have the blessing that God wanted for us.  You think about what this is saying to us.  Here is a blessing extended to us with which we then can be a blessing to other people. 

It is not just that Jesus went to the tree to bear our sins there.  It is the spirit in which he did it which is so amazing.  The Lord had perfect sense of who he was.  He did not regard himself as a worm or as a nothing.  He knew that he was God’s Son.  He knew what lay ahead of him, yet he was willing for the sake of us to face it – not just the cross but with the spirit of the cross.  My favorite illustration of this is John 13, the night before the Lord will be crucified.  It says, “Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. (Notice carefully – he knew that his hour had come.) During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, to betray him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands (there is the second thing he knew), and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist.  Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him.” (John 13:1-5) (Here he is now knowing that his hour had come, knowing that all things had given into his hand, and also knowing the difficulty his disciples were having and that one of them had already determined to betray him, and he got up and did the function of a servant.)  At verses 12 and following, Jesus explains this. “"Do you understand what I have done to you?  You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am.  If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet.  For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.  Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.  If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.” (John 13:12-17)  You may realize that one of the implications of that word “blessed” is to have the approval of God, but the other implication is that you will find your own happiness or joy in this.  In other words, Jesus was showing the spirit of the cross the night before he endured the cross.  And it was to get up and to be a blessing and it was to his disciples, “You will be blessed if you behave yourself in this way, if you serve just because there is a need to be met.” 

In Ephesians 3:14-19, this is the aspect of the cross that Paul praises and that he reminds the people of Christ about.  It says, “For this reason I bow my knees before the Father,  from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being,  so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”   The ancient commentators took Paul’s prayer and suggested that when he mentioned in this prayer the breadth, and the length and the height and the depth, that he was actually making a reference to the cross of Christ and to the love displayed there.  Jesus took the tree which represented a curse and made it an example of or a statement of the fact that God has blessed us with the most precious that he had and that he wants us then to be a blessing to the people around us. 

A Congregation To Be A Blessing Tree

Not only did Jesus make the cross a blessing tree, but the New Testament reveals that a congregation of the Lord’s people is meant to be a Blessing Tree, that we are to see ourselves as a part of a tree which God has blessed and which finds its meaning by trying to be a blessing. 

A few years ago, I wrote this little parable in our bulletin to try to illustrate what I mean by this point.  “A certain community enjoyed the presence of a wonderful treasure chest.  For years, various members of the community placed things precious to themselves in it.  Some invested time, energy and devotion.  Others gave their deepest concern, unselfish service and unceasing prayers.  Still others placed within that box gifts of love including their talent, money and friendship.  In fact, it was the sacrifice of their great hearts that made it a ‘treasure chest.’  And through the years, nearly everyone was blessed by riches from that chest.  When they needed love and support in trying times, it was there for them.  It helped provide training and fellowship for their young.  People turned to it in times of joy as well as times of sorrow.  Precious treasures of compassion and moral fiber and truth flowed into the community through that treasure chest.  But as time went by, something began to happen to the people’s thinking.  Fewer people saw that chest as something in which to place treasure and more came to see it as only a source for themselves.  Many just assumed it was supposed to be there to meet their needs.  No one put works of faith or labors of love into it anymore.  Before long, the treasure chest was only an empty box.  It could no longer offer the community life or salt, love or hope.  Those who had put themselves into it were too few.  Those who had wanted only to take from it were too many.”  Maybe you can see that we are saying is that it takes the self-giving involvement of all of us to build a congregation which is strong enough to bless any of us. 

In Colossians 1, the apostle Paul mentions in the last part of verse 5, verse 6 and 9-10 this principle of the fruitful congregation.  He says, “because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel, which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and growing—as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth, (the gospel bearing fruit in us, in other words)…. And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.

Matthew 7:17 mentions that every healthy tree bears good fruit.  Jesus made that point only under the figure of a vine and branches in John 15.  He says here, again the night before he was crucified, “I am the true vine and my father is the vine dresser.  Every branch of mine that does not bear fruit he takes away and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes that it may bear more fruit.  Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you.  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.”  That statement is saying that we don’t bear fruit by just trying harder.  We bear fruit by abiding in Christ and realizing that we are dependent on him and taking joy in that fact.  In verse 8 Jesus says, “By this my father is glorified if you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.” 

To be a healthy congregation, a healthy tree, we have to respect what we have received and to be seeking to bless others with it.  A congregation has to have an outlet for its love.  It has to be fulfilling its mission in order for it to be the blessing the Lord wants it to be.

A Christian Becomes A Blessing Tree

And of course, this leads to the third one of these thoughts – not just that Jesus made the cross the blessing tree or that a whole congregation is meant to be a blessing tree, but that every individual Christian can become a Blessing Tree.  Each one of us needs to see ourselves in this light that our purpose and our meaning and our joy is found in passing along the blessings God has granted to us. 

In Jeremiah 17, the great prophet makes the contrast between two trees.  One is a shrub and the other is an amazing fruit tree.  Look at this: “Thus says the Lord: ‘Cursed is the man who trusts in man  and makes flesh his strength, whose heart turns away from the Lord.  He is like a shrub in the desert, and shall not see any good come.  He shall dwell in the parched places of the wilderness, in an uninhabited salt land.”  I want you to notice this is not something that God makes happen to that tree.  It is the way life works.  Man who tries to depend on himself instead of on the Lord will not have the resources to grow past shrubhood.  Notice that he says in verse 7, “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream,    and does not fear when heat comes,  for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit."   Isn’t that a great statement?  You can be a tree that has the resources to bear fruit. 

Jesus said in Luke 6:54-45 something about the two possibilities in our lives.  “For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit, for each tree is known by its own fruit. For figs are not gathered from thornbushes, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush.  The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.”  Have you ever thought about how true it is that what we really care about comes from our hearts?  I was interested in reading the other day about Bob Feller.  He was one of the greatest pitchers, certainly one of the best fast ball pitchers, ever.  Had it not been for his service in the war days, who knows how many records he might have set.  When Bob Feller was nine years old in school his teacher asked him to write an essay about an oak tree.  Here are the key ideas in his essay.  “An oak tree can be cut down and sawed into boards.  You can make baseball bats out of them.  You can also make home plates out of the boards.  You can make bleachers out of the boards so people can watch baseball games.”  I wonder how this guy became a great pitcher!  What we put into our hearts is going to come out in one way or another and one of the first steps to becoming a Blessing Tree is to decide to put blessings there.

In 1 Peter 3:9, Peter pointed out that it is our task to bless.  He says, “for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.”   Notice in this case we have gone from having been blessed in order to be a blessing to be a blessing because you have been called to obtain a blessing. 

There are the three pictures of the Blessing Tree – the Cross, the congregation and the Christian.  I want to finish this study with a story I read somewhere.  I would give the author credit if I knew who it was.  You and I will find ourselves here somewhere.

“Once upon a mountaintop, three little trees stood and dreamed of what they wanted to become when they grew up.  The first little tree looked up at the stars twinkling like diamonds above him.  ‘I want to hold treasure,’ he said.  ‘I want to be covered with gold and filled with precious stones.  I will be the most beautiful treasure chest in the world!’

The second little tree looked out at the small stream trickling by on its way to the ocean.  ‘I want to be a strong sailing ship,’ he said.  ‘I want to travel mighty waters and carry powerful kings.  I will be the strongest ship in the world!’

The third little tree looked down into the valley below where busy men and busy women worked in a busy town.  ‘I don’t want to leave this mountaintop at all,’ she said.  ‘I want to grow so tall that when people stop to look at me they will raise their eyes to heaven and think of the Lord.  I will be the tallest tree in the world!’

Years passed.  The rains came, the sun shone, and the little trees grew tall.  One day three woodcutters climbed the mountain.  The first woodcutter looked at the first tree and said, ‘This tree is beautiful.  It is perfect for me.’  With a swoop of his shining axe, the first tree fell.  ‘Now I shall be made into a beautiful chest,’ thought the first tree.  ‘I shall hold wonderful treasure.’

The second woodcutter looked at the second tree and said, ‘This tree is strong.  It is perfect for me.’  With a swoop of his shining axe, the second tree fell. ‘Now I shall sail mighty waters,’ thought the second tree.  ‘I shall be a strong ship fit for kings!’

The third tree felt her heart sink when the last woodcutter looked her way.  She stood straight and tall and pointed bravely to heaven.  But the woodcutter never even looked up.  ‘Any kind of tree will do for me.’ He muttered.  With a swoop of his shining axe, the third tree fell.

The first tree rejoiced when the woodcutter brought him to a carpenter’s shop, but the busy carpenter was not thinking about treasure chests.  Instead his work-worn hands fashioned the tree into a feed box for animals.  The once-beautiful tree was not covered with gold or filled with treasure.  He was coated with sawdust and filled with hay for hungry farm animals.

The second tree smiled when the woodcutter took him to a shipyard, but no mighty sailing ships were being made that day.  Instead the once-strong tree was hammered and sawed into a simple fishing boat.  Too small and too weak to sail an ocean or even a river, he was taken to a little lake.  Every day he brought in loads of dead, smelly fish.

The third tree was confused when the woodcutter cut her into strong beams and left her in a lumberyard.  ‘What happened?’ the once-tall tree wondered.  ‘All I ever wanted to do was stay on the mountaintop and point to God.’

Many, many days and nights passed.  The three trees nearly forgot their dreams.  But one night golden starlight poured over the first tree as a young woman placed her newborn baby in a feed box.  ‘I wish I could make a cradle for him,’ her husband whispered.  The mother squeezed his hand and smiled as the starlight shone on the smooth and sturdy wood.  ‘This manger is beautiful,’ she said.  And suddenly the first tree knew he was holding the greatest treasure in the world.

One evening a tired traveler and his friends crowded into the old fishing boat.  The traveler fell asleep as the second tree quietly sailed out in the lake.  Soon a thrashing storm arose.  The little tree shuddered.  He knew he did not have the strength to carry so many passengers safely through the wind and rain.  The tired man awakened.  He stood up, stretched out his hand, and said, ‘Peace.’  The storm stopped as quickly as it had begun.  And suddenly the second tree knew he was carrying the King of heaven and earth.

One Friday morning, the third tree was startled when her beams were yanked from the forgotten woodpile.  She flinched as she was carried through an angry, scornful crowd.  She shuddered when soldiers nailed a man’s hands to her.  She felt ugly and harsh and cruel.

But on Sunday morning, when the sun rose and the earth trembled with joy beneath her, the third tree knew that God’s love had changed everything.  The tree witnessed the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  And every time people focused on the tree or the cross, they would think of the Lord.”

If you and I are going to be a Blessing Tree, that little story has to get our attention.  We may serve in different ways, but we have the capacity to carry a blessing to the world around us.  In John 12, as the cross drew near, Jesus said, “Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out.  And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.  He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die.” (John 12:31-33)  He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die.  Lifted up on the cross, he draws us to him.  If we will lift the cross up, people will still be drawn to him. Perhaps it will be you today.  Maybe you are ready to confess your faith and be baptized into Christ.  Maybe as a Christian, you need it to be made known that you want to be a part of a congregation to help make it a Blessing Tree.  Maybe somehow you need the prayers of your brothers and sisters in Christ today.  If so and if we can help, won’t you let it be known while we stand and sing together?