Tutwiler Hall - Part 2, the Chainsaw
My father and I have never taken a class in chainsaw operation. We never spent any time online learning how to hold them or start them or fix them. We don’t have any friends that showed us how to make good diagonal cuts in trees. We never read a book or a pamphlet on treating chainsaw inflicted wounds. But apparently that doesn’t really matter, because with a credit card you can buy a chainsaw from The Home Depot.
And that’s exactly what we did one bright morning in May. There were three tall, gangly trees on the side of our house that my dad had his eye on. Our neighbor had a professional tree company coming in a few days to remove a few from her yard and had volunteered to have ours removed for free. “No, no” said my dad, “I can handle those. I’ll cut those down.”
I think that he wanted to see real progress from something he had worked on. As a minister, most of his work was emotional and not as tangibly visible as say a 100-foot tree falling through the air after being cut down. So we bought the chainsaw and got to work.
The first tree wasn’t a problem, although the first tree is never really a problem. That’s the one that lulls you into thinking you know your way around a chainsaw. “Hey,” you think in your head, “that wasn’t so hard. What was my wife worried about” you say as you search your yard for bigger trees that will surely tremble beneath the might of your new chainsaw.
We were less successful with the second tree. My father wouldn’t let me use the chainsaw, so my job was to pull a rope tied to the top of the tree and try to direct it where we wanted it to land. Using the word “rope” is a tremendous compliment to the piece of finger thin twine we had tied to this tree. As my dad angled his cut into the bottom of the stump, the tree began to lean a little.
“Pull Jon,” my dad yelled. I looked up and saw the tree hungrily eying our next door neighbor’s roof. So I started pulling as hard as I could. But the tree just laughed at that twine, hundreds of pounds of wood and gravity giggling at my ridiculous efforts. With a thunderous crash, the tree shattered itself on the house next door to us, breaking through the attic dormer, dislodging a piece of their chimney and sending limbs everywhere.
My dad sprung into action. “We’ve got to get up on that roof and clean it off before they get home.” We were going to tell them what happened. That would be impossible not to do, but my father figured it would be an easier story to tell if the scene of the crime had been polished a little first.
Unfortunately this was a rather ambitious tree and had not only punched our neighbor’s house but had also fallen on our aluminum ladder completely warping every rung. All in all, it was a highly unsuccessful day with the chainsaw.
My father and I didn’t follow a sequence that would really lead to any degree of success. We didn’t prepare for the day with the chainsaw. We didn’t put in any research or hard work before we pulled the ignition cord. We didn’t get expert opinions or plan what we were going to do. We just did it and our complete lack of upfront discipline meant the neighbors got a new attic dormer, we got a new ladder and my dad got a new sermon illustration.
I used to view my sins like those trees. I saw them as something I needed to cut down myself before I could be close to God. As I mentioned in another post, “until” those trees were gone, I didn’t want to be near God. I thought more hard work would mean more love. I thought sin removal would show God I was serious. That I was committed and all in.
I assumed that my willpower would be the chainsaw with which I cut a swath through my sin on the way toward the Lord. But that’s the exact opposite of what God shouts in his word over and over again. From the simple example of the celebrate first attitude in the Prodigal Son story to the taskless forgiveness offered the thief dying on the cross next to Christ, we see that work is not a condition of salvation. If anything, it is a by product of it.
My favorite example of this is in Isaiah 30:18–22. In this passage, God lays out with poetic clarity the sequence he expects us to follow:
1. I fill you with love.
2. We remove the things in your life that have hurt you.
The verses elaborate of course. Verses 18 says, “the LORD longs to be gracious to you; he rises to show you compassion.” And when we take a step toward him, verse 19 promises, “you will weep no more. How gracious he will be when you cry for help! As soon as he hears, he will answer you.” And out of this experience, after we drink deep from his love, we are then able to remove the tall trees in our life. Verse 22 says, “Then you will defile your idols overlaid with silver and your images covered with gold; you will throw them away like a menstrual cloth and say to them, "Away with you!"
I love the word “then” in that passage because it marries points 1 and 2 together. They can’t be flipped. They can’t be switched. There is an order, a simple sequence we are to follow.
So today, put down the chainsaw. Quit worrying about the trees. Trust in the then.