Friends! May I ask you a couple of questions? When was the last time you sat under a tree simply to rest and reflect or, perhaps to take a nap?
Have you ever bought a tree purely because of a favorite memory?
Have you ever bought a tree to commemorate or celebrate a life?
In a group of almost 20 friends yesterday, they answered these questions in the affirmative on all levels. I was right there with them.
There was a huge weeping willow on UK’s Campus when John and I were students there. We loved sitting under it in between classes. Time stood still while hearts hovered over our heads.
Fast forward to our current home. A few years ago, we purchased and planted a lovely weeping willow for our front yard. It greets us every time we pull in the driveway. It, accompanied by now blooming dogwoods, are quite the tranquil sight to see.
I’m blessed to call author Dr. Matthew Sleeth and his lovely wife, Nancy, dear friends and mentors. They popped into our lives thanks to my friend, Sherry Leavell’s daughter, Laura, who used to work for them. God was beyond gracious when He crossed our paths.
Matthew has just birthed a fascinating book that’s already a best-seller on Amazon, he’s being interviewed on places like NPR, Fox News, has written an article for Christianity Today and The Washington Post, just to name a few. News of his book is spreading FAST.
One of Matthew’s many endorsers, Karen Swallow Prior, author of On Reading Well: Finding the Good Life Through Great Books and Fierce Convictions: The Extraordinary Life of Hannah Moore: Poet, Reformer, Abolitionist, says of Matthew’s book, “I never knew until reading Reforesting Faith how bountiful and significant trees are in God’s story of the creation, the Fall, and redemption. This book has deepened my love for God’s Word and His world even more.”
Matthew begins by sharing his early love of trees with us. I suspect many of us resonate with him.
He poses an interesting question: “What can trees teach us? Specifically, what can trees teach us about the nature of God and His love for us?”
Matthew takes us on a journey via thirteen chapters of his book, showing us how “every important character in the Bible and every major event in the Bible has a tree marking the spot.” I’d never made this connection before. You will drop your jaw as you see time and time again where God meets your favorite characters by a tree of sorts.
You will also laugh your head off in every chapter. Matthew’s transparency and wit bless you on this journey.
His medical background enhances our understanding of the Gospel as revealed in the Bible, giving us visuals we can understand. Same can be said for his background in carpentry. Don’t miss chapter twelve. Funniest story I can recall.
It’s not just a book of humor, however. The fascinating facts about trees and how they correlate to the Gospel, and ultimately to us as believers, are nothing short of beautiful. To see our God in action, in minute details, will blow you away.
Let me give you a couple of the numerous examples we readers receive:
“In the Old Testament,
Noah received the olive leaf (Genesis 8:11)
Abraham sat under ‘the Oaks of Mamre’ (Genesis 18:1)
Moses stood barefoot in front of the burning bush (Exodus 3:2-5)
Joseph simply is a tree! (Genesis 49:22)”
Now let’s look at the New Testament:
“Think of Zacheus climbing the sycamore fig (Luke 19:1-4)
The blind man seeing people as if they were trees walking (Mark 8:24),
The disciples gathering on the Mount of Olives (Luke 22:39).
Paul asserted if we have gone for a walk in the woods, we are without excuse for knowing God.” (Romans 1:20),
And, my absolute favorite illustration from Scripture:
Yes, Lord, may it be so.
Something happened in Matthew’s life which also happened in one of my dear friend’s life, which I suspect if you reflect back over your own life, you can pinpoint the same.
Let me explain. Before you came to faith, if you’re a believer, you may have heard Scripture, or a song, or read something about the Lord but it went in one ear and out the other. You had “spiritual blinders” on. And yet you can pinpoint the exact moment when you had an “aha” moment, when the light bulb blasted on and your eyes were opened. Think of Saul-turned-Paul on the Road to Damascus in the Bible. (See Acts 9,)
This happened to Matthew the summer before he started med school. He was doing some carpentry work in the home of a psychiatrist who had a fabulous stereo system. The doctor played an album for him which stopped Matthew in his tracks.
Matthew said, “I heard trees and people singing together, and it was perfect. Maples were prominent among the trees represented. But spruce, ebony, willow, boxwood, and rosewood trees sang along too, and none tried to eclipse the others.”
Asking the doctor why it sounded so good, the doctor answered, “I think, among other things, it’s because they are using a dozen Stradivarius, Guarneri, and Amati instruments and they’re performing it the way it was originally played.”
We readers discover they were listening to Handel’s Messiah. The version they were listening to was one “by the late Christopher Hogwood and the Academy of Ancient Music.” Matthew adds, “and if you think the trees can’t sing, give it a listen.”
Matthew listened to this over and over, never considering the lyrics for thirty years, “until the hour I believed. Then I cried. I sobbed. I wailed. I grinned in delight. And I cried again.”
When I read this, I about fell out of my chair. You see, my dear friend, Nancy Aguiar, had an identical experience. I can’t remember milk at the grocery store these days, but stories rarely leave me. Check this out:
When Nancy was in the 12th grade, she attended Frankfurt International School in Oberursel, Germany. (1970) In choir, she and her fellow students had months of preparation for this magnificent piece known as Handel’s Messiah.
Every day, day after day, they sang the glorious lyrics of Handel’s masterpiece, making certain they were all singing in their correct parts of harmony.
Nancy said, “It is a beautifully written score, it was a beautiful experience with a passionate doctor leading us (Dr. Morgenstern), with hands flailing, voices reaching way past the highest rafters, hearts beating rapidly…and yet I had no capacity to embrace what it was we were singing! Just words to me! No concept!”
She continued, “And NOW? Every single time I hear that amazing work, I sing my part (quietly) and cry! How deeply I love that song after I met Jesus in 1979. Makes all the difference in the world! What an anointed piece of work!” Nancy also grasped a handle on Handel.
Might you have a story like this?
Sidebar: A children’s book comes to mind that was given to us by our cousin Russ, when our boys were little. It would be a fun way to educate your children or grandchildren on George Frederic Handel. Check out Handel: Who Knew What He Liked by M.T. Anderson and Kevin Hawkes. Beautiful illustrations! Don’t miss the details from the book of Isaiah and Handel’s lyrics for The Messiah coming straight from it. (See chapter 10 in Matthew’s book.)
Let’s return to Reforesting Faith. So as not to spoil the many discoveries awaiting you, allow me to share just one more pearl. Speaking of pearls, did you know Jesus only referred to one gem in the Bible and it is a pearl?
Matthew teaches, “It’s no accident this gem is made naturally of both inorganic and organic material..we’re told the gates to heaven are made of this hybrid material.”
We then learn that in the same way, a fig “is the only fruit that’s made of both plant and animal.” It, too, is an “odd hybrid.”
When we see in Scripture the lion and the lamb lying down together (Isaiah 11:6 and Revelation 21:1-6) or Moses’ burning bush, there’s yet one more combo’ Matthew reminds us of, that of “dead wood and lamb’s blood.”
He says, “In the hybrid world, nothing is as powerful as this combination. When the two were combined on a doorway at Passover, the lambs’ blood sealed the door shut. The angel of death could not get through such a door, and the people inside were ‘passed over’ and saved.” This, in chapter twelve, is the beginning of yet another crescendo of facts and explanations that keep building until you finish the last page in chapter thirteen. I can hardly wait to fill our family in on this!
Matthew also shares about a wonderful ministry called Plant with Purpose. (Website: www.plantwithpurpose.org) It aims to equip farming families around the to world to increase farm yields, heal damaged ecosystems, improve nutrition, and. Increase household savings and opportunities. This integrated approach solves two major issues facing the world today: environmental degradation and rural poverty.
Reforesting Faith is an eye-opening read. Whether you’re a tree lover or not, you’ll become one and further your appreciation for God’s Word, His details and why He wants us to be like a fruitful tree. Matthew ends with, “Grow, make the world better, and bear fruit.” May it be so.
And now you know what I’m going to say: Run, don’t walk to your nearest bookstore and buy this book!
‘Til next time!