Lone Pine Island

by Holly DeKorte

You might have had someone in your life say to you, “I’m a Christian, but I don’t go to church.”  What is your response to that statement? Do you want to throw Bible verses in the person’s face, do you want to shrug and let it go, or do you want to engage with the person and have a meaningful conversation? For years, I have struggled with my response. My face would show skepticism, disbelief, and sometimes even anger. My words would take on a Hermione Granger like tone and my volume would rise. My arms would cross and I perhaps would even take a physical step back. Or, perhaps more dangerously, I would lean too far to the other side and respond with a “That’s cool.” Now, however, I am equipped with a story that shows a better, more loving response.

About a month ago, Mr. Smith came to dinner. He is a man well into his nineties and has been a close family friend since my mother was a child. The Smiths befriended my grandparents when the two couples moved to Los Angeles in the 1950s and attended the same church. My grandparents transplanted themselves in sunny California, leaving their eastern ties behind, and the Smiths were uprooted from snowy Canada. Mrs. Smith recently passed away and my mother has made sure that Mr. Smith is still a part of our family. During dinner, Mr. Smith launched into a story about a tree, a lake, and the logging industry.

The Smiths have a cottage on White Lake in Ontario, Canada. Once, many years ago, a logging company rerouted the lake and by doing so, flooded a piece of land close to the shore. An island was created, cut off from the mainland and the pine forest. One pine tree survived and lived its life alone on the island. This isolated tree became stunted even as neighboring trees on the mainland thrived. It never grew very tall, because without the protection of larger trees, it was prone to attracting bolts of lightning. The other pine trees dropped needles and cones, self-fertilizing the soil. The birds made homes in the forest and also provided nutrients to the trees. Winds would sweep across the lake and the little tree was left to brace itself while the pines in the forest protected each other. Without shelter and nutrients, the lone pine pressed on, standing by itself for years until it finally succumbed to a violent storm and fell. Mr. Smith, being of curious mind, rowed out to the island and counted the rings of the small, secluded tree. It was well over 100 years old, but tragically, it never lived up to its full potential. 

While Mr. Smith told this story, I realized he was giving me a response to those who call themselves Christians, but who don’t attend a church and involve themselves in a community of believers. Was the pine tree still a tree even outside the forest? Yes! Is a Christian a Christian even if the person doesn’t attend church? Sure. However, is it healthy to be a Christian and not attend church or to insert yourself into community? No. We speak of “the storms of life” sometimes flippantly, yet anyone who has lived a decade or more certainly knows that no one is safe from a squall. The Holy Spirit certainly is our Helper and sees us through life’s storms, but He uses His people to help in His work.   

One of the purposes of church is for nourishment. Every Sunday, we hear the Word of God preached from the pulpit. As our understanding of scripture grows, God changes our hearts. The Holy Spirit, through our pastors, shapes our thoughts, feelings, and actions as we feast on the Word. Think of sermons as fertilizer for your soul. We also feast at the Lord’s Supper. The physical act of receiving communion is supposed to be done in community as we, together, remember Jesus’s death and resurrection. As a high school student, my father would take me with him on shut-in communion visits. We would visit the elderly and the sick members of our church to pray, talk, and take communion together. Sometimes, the church comes to you.

Another reason that a Christian attends church is community. Thinking about Lone Pine Island and the tree isolated from the forest is rather depressing. We are not meant to be that tree, struggling alone to fend off lightning, wind, rain, and snow. Ultimately, God shoulders our burdens, but He has given us the church family to assist. Do you ever visit the deacons in the back for prayer? Do you ever share your burdens in a Gospel Community? If so, you know that your brothers and sisters are joining you in your grief and helping to carry your burdens. Paul instructs the Corinthians to “Greet each other with a holy kiss.” 2 Cor 13:12. In our cultural context, that would be a hug or, perhaps, a handshake. Some people go an entire week without physical contact and might depend on their brothers and sisters at church for it. 

Mr. Smith kept a bit of wood from the lone pine’s stump. One day, my father will make something beautiful out of it. Perhaps, you have been hurt by the church. Guess what? I would venture to say that most of us feels the scars from a church experience. We are a supernatural family, being made holy so that we become more like Jesus, but in the meantime, we hurt each other. Remember, God redeems all things, even the pain, and that ultimately, the church will be perfect. The writer of Hebrews reminds us of what it means to be a church, and who is our High Priest:  

“Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”   Hebrews 10:19-25 

Maybe you feel like a lone pine.  Jesus, by His sacrifice for our sins, has made it possible for us to approach the throne of God.  He has made us clean and given us a spiritual family.  We, at Element Christian Church, would love to come alongside you, to love and encourage you.  Find your forest and grow in it!  Your presence matters. For those of you who are planted in church, look for the lone pines in your life. Invite them in to community and offer them your friendship. God uses us all in the process of growth!