There is a tree in the middle of the redwood forest. And this tree gets a lot of attention. You can be driving through these beautiful woods surrounded by trees you could move your whole family into, but for some reason there is this one tree that everyone is drawn to. And maybe that is because there is this sign. And it highlights this tree. It points to it, specifically, as if this is the one tree in this giant forest that you should see.
And it says: Big tree, point one mile. So, in the midst of all these big trees, there is THEE BIG TREE. So, what does everyone do? They pull their RV’s, family vans and El Caminos over. They park and walk to this one tree, whose sign beckons them to come.
We too, were like the rest of them. We pulled our car over and excitedly couldn’t wait to see this big deal tree. The mother tree. (Said in an excited, manly sports announcer voice.)The tree whose autograph we hope for. The tree who will awaken awe within us. Our kids climbed over stumps, through logs and along a dusty path surrounded by trees covered in moss older than your great grandma. There were gorgeous ferns that told stories we will never know and trees that had been uprooted, had fallen over and now had great fun with children walking over them as though they were bridges to places yet unknown. But none of those things got much attention because everyone you traveled on the path with was headed to one place, the biggest of the biggest trees.
My kids were distracted on the trail and I was enjoying using my legs after the hundreds of miles they had just sat. So I came to the Big Deal tree, first. It was huge. To be exact, here were it’s dimensions. Because things that are a big deal need signs with bragging rights.
There were people gawking at it. There was a line of people getting their pictures under it. There was a newlywed couple taking a selfie of their blissful love in front of this ginormous monument. There was a family capturing their kids who could not even span this tree’s width.
As I stood there, I have to say that I was unimpressed. Maybe I was being sassy. I have been known to be so. Maybe I was being a critic. I too can go there. But really, I started feeling sorry for the other trees. I walked around and looked for the smallest tree. This little guy got absolutely no attention. No one was taking selfies and instagramming it. No one was posting about her beauty on Facebook. Kids weren’t measuring it’s greatness with their outstretched arms. And I got to thinking’….(Cause sometimes God shows up and speaks in the most ordinary and extraordinary of places…)
This is how our world is. We are all looking for the big tree. We all want to see the big tree, be in it’s presence and if we are really honest, we want to be the big tree. No one cares about the little tree, no one notices it and we certainly aren’t hoping to become one.
And it’s this very chase that, I think, makes all of us crazy. We try to be the big tree. We try to be the big tree in our careers. I mean, who shoots to be the janitor? Since when do we say “Hey when I graduate from college, I am going to go and try and get an entry level position and keep it because I want to be at the bottom of the ladder.”
Since when do we bow out from elevating ourselves socially and letting other people shine while we sit in the background unnoticed? We don’t . We try to be the big tree with lots of other trees in our forest, who we hope, think we are majestic.
How often do we go about our day looking for the little unnoticed tree? Do you go to work or school and look for those that no one else notices? Or do you plan your day and your schedule around who you care about, who you think is a big deal, and who you want to be with? When you walk into a party do you look for the person in the corner who is by themselves or do you look for your friends? When you make friday night plans do you always invite the cool people in your life over or do you invite people who might be alone and needing some company?
And another important question to ask is, are you impressed with the big trees in your world? Do you get on paths with signs that point to the big guy? If you are impressed by people who are a big deal, you are impressed by size and that might just find you constantly tempted to walk a path that leads you to wonder and gawk at the kind of size that might matter little in life.
Look, I don’t like these questions either. And maybe it will take me being honest so you can be too. This big tree- little tree world we live in is often the greatest distraction to me living the purpose for which I am called. And it is the very thing that not only keeps me from living out the spiritual, meaningful life I want to live, it also often measures me. It often tells me I am just a mediocre tree in a forest full of other bigger trees that people gawk over… But me, I am just a plain ol’ redwood that everyone else passes by to get to that guy. Maybe you sometimes feel this way too…
We are all in a forest of trees. And what makes it a forest is that it is full of trees. It is not a forest if there is only one tree. It has trees that tower so high that you can barely see their end. It has trees that are yellow in hue and some that are dark green. Some trees house owls and others bring shade for the elk. And some are used for the purpose of entertaining whole families by challenging dad’s driving skills.
News flash: Jesus doesn’t actually call us to be the big tree. I am sorry to disappoint you. If that is what you are shooting for or impressed by, you are headed in a direction that Jesus is not going. And that is scary news for those of us who say we are “followers of Christ.” Because if you are on the path to be the big tree, you aren’t on the path following Christ.
What does Christ say? In the middle of the redwood forest, on our family road trip, I heard God whisper in my ear the words I need to become apart of my DNA.
Philippians 2:1-8 Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature[b] of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!
If you are on a dusty trail traveling somewhere and you are hoping it’s a path that is one that Jesus shares, let me remind you what that path will look like. Jesus will not be calling you to be a big deal. You will know you are on the right path when this is your aim:
These words are coming from the One who didn’t just talk the talk, but walked the walk. This is the One who said, “You wanna be great, be last. You wanna gain your life? Lose your life.” Jesus was always challenging size. It’s like Jesus says, “You think being great looks like being big. Make yourself small. It is then that you will be big.”
So, maybe size matters.
I asked my daughter last night why she thinks Jesus would tell us to make ourselves nothing. I asked her, “Why would Jesus tell us to be the small tree?” She said, “So we won’t be selfish.” But then she said something pretty profound… She said, “The good thing, Mom, is that Jesus told everyone this. He didn’t just pick a few of us and say ‘You be a little tree because you aren’t good enough to be a big one.’” Bella went on with great nine year old wisdom saying, “Jesus said it to all of us, so it doesn’t mean we aren’t special.” I got what she meant.
She meant, God doesn’t call a few of us to be humble, make ourselves nothing and make other’s interests a bigger deal than our own because somehow some of us can’t ever be anything else. God called all of us to this way of living because He knew, that then and only then, would we all grow to be the most gorgeous redwoods in the land. Each tree bending for the other. Each tree providing shade for the other. Each tree pointing to the beauty of the other. Each tree unconcerned and unimpressed with pride and place, but instead loving and thinking of the other. Now, that’s the kind of forest I want to vacation too.
I was driving somewhere years ago and I had just left a place where my identity had been very secure and found great confidence in the place I had been. And here all of a sudden I didn’t have that confidence and identity any longer and I didn’t like it. In my car, Jesus said gently to me, “Make yourself nothing. That’s what I did.” Out loud while driving 10 and 2, I said to Him in tantrum style, “I don’t want to be nothing.” He said, “I know.”
And that’s just it. If you want to actually follow Jesus instead of drag Him wherever you are going, You need to be ready to humble yourself like that of the God of the Universe who is the Biggest, most Powerful, Majestic, Supernatural, Divine being there is and yet He humbled Himself, became nothing, took on the nature of a slave and moved into the hood with a bunch of small dysfunctional saplings and He actually died on a tree so that we would know how loved we are by this God!
If your goals, passions, pursuits, plans and dreams see you at the end of a path with a sign on it that says “Big Deal”, you might want to have a come to Jesus meeting like I did in the Redwoods, where you truly decide right here and now, whether you are going to follow Him or your own way.
Because on Jesus’ path, size matters. You are called to make yourself small in pride, priority, status and standing and big in virtue, love, humility, and service toward others. That’s taking up His cross, and when you do, you become the greatest tree that ever lived.