Maple—The maple tree is a common species, numbering about 120 varieties. Maples grow almost exclusively in the Northern Hemisphere. In fact, you would be hard pressed to find a maple in the “bottom” half of our planet. Locating a bottle of maple syrup would be easier, since it is part of a multi-million dollar industry.
Most maple species are found in China. But, for those of us familiar with the sugar, red, silver, and bigleaf (you’re welcome, Lynden), the uses are no surprise. Maples are an important source of lumber. Furniture makers like the wood of the red maple. The wood of the sugar maple is the sturdiest, and its unusual grain and fine, polished look make it suitable for everything from violins to bowling alleys. The most fascinating thing about maples might be the most annoying as well. Ask anyone with an old maple in the front yard. Maple seeds are all over the place! Sometimes called “keys” in reference to their shape, these seeds are more commonly known as “helicopters” for the way they whirl and float to the ground in their spiraling descent. Keys litter the ground by the thousands. A soft breeze might carry them into an eaves trough or open car window. An unstoppable force!
A lesson in mercy can be derived from the maple tree. Your own acts of mercy should be as abundant and unstoppable as the winged maple seed. In church life, you should not be able to move without encountering love and mercy from a brother or sister. Mercy should be spilled all over the church body, like helicopters on a grassy lawn. Show that you have a deep concern for Christ’s sake. Do this all the time, all over the place.
Elm—Widespread in North America, the elm family is a treasured resource. The common American elm reaches as high as 80 to 100 feet. With gray bark and saw-toothed leaves, this beautiful tree is valued for its lumber and its shade.
Elm wood is resilient and hardy. Since it does not split easily, it is good for fence posts which have to brave the elements of weather. In addition to its reputation as a sturdy hardwood, the elms caramel color adds a nice touch to furniture.
Good wood or not, the elm will always be a shade tree. Branching out from the trunk, its far-reaching limbs provide shelter for creatures below. Can you hang a rope from its branches and dangle on a makeshift swing? Yes. Can you take a cool afternoon break underneath an elm on a sticky summer day? Yes. Can you do these activities on any one of the millions of elm trees scattered across North America? Of course, you can.
You can also take a valuable lesson from the elm. Besides the fact that its presence has inspired a street name in many communities, the elm makes a powerful statement in the Christian life. You need to provide shade for your friends. The day is hot. The battle is long. Kind, friendly words provide shade from the trials in life. In times of affliction, mercy is cool and soothing like a restful nap under an elms shady boughs. Be merciful. Be shade for somebody.
Red Pine—Another Northern Hemisphere family is the pine. These are the evergreen trees that bear seeds in cones and have needle-like leaves. Although these tall, straight trees are listed as the world’s greatest lumber source, you will find pine products ranging from paint to paper.
One particular pine found in the Great Lakes region, New England, and southeastern Canada has a distinct, reddish-brown bark. The red pine is not as large as its elegant cousin, the eastern white pine, but it is a handsome tree nevertheless. Its needles are long and sharp. Bunched in pairs, these clusters of needles are part of the red pines charm.
When a needle cluster filters down to the forest floor, its glory is gone. No longer is it part of a majestic standing timber. No longer is it green and lush. The cluster is reduced to the thankless job of being a floor mat. You might have felt this way before. When no one is looking, you go ahead and perform the duty assigned to you. When no reward is offered, you give up your own precious time. Perhaps you feel it would only be right to visit an elderly, sick person. Maybe you need to confront a friend in mercy for something he did. You don’t want to. You know you have to. So, you go. There are no open rewards for these good deeds and they are seldom “fun.” But, God is merciful, and when He gives you the strength to act in mercy, He rewards you with unbelievable heavenly blessings for being the thankless floor mat.
Try it. Be the soft cushion of pine needles for a friend. Be merciful all the time, not just when fame and glory are on the line.
Chestnut—From North America, Asia, Africa, and Europe hails the mighty chestnut. Make that the once mighty chestnut. The most important forest tree at one time, the chestnut (beech family) was prized for its decay-resistant wood. Then around 1905, a savage killing spree began. For 35 years, a fungal disease consumed most of the North American chestnuts. Chestnut blight, as it was called, decimated a huge population of that great tree with the spreading branches and the starchy nuts.
Such a contagious disease is scary. But what if a good thing was just as infectious? What if acts of mercy were so rampant that their spread in the church was unavoidable? Cool, huh?
Maybe that is an exaggeration, but it is true that if you treat anyone with care and mercy, they are more likely, by God’s grace, to treat you in the same manner. If you are merciful to 10 friends, and each of them is merciful to 10 other friends, and each of those 100 are merciful to 10 friends…
…The point is pretty obvious. You need to make mercy as contagious as the chestnut blight. You can’t get too much of this good thing.
Yew—The name “yew” refers to a group of evergreen trees and shrubs. With a deep, enchanting color, yew wood is nearly as splendid as mahogany. However, the yews beauty is deceiving. Besides kitchen cabinets or coffee tables, uses of the yew include more formidable tools. Back in 1415, this was painfully evident to the French hotshots at Agincourt (ah- zhin – coor).
Preparing for yet another round of the One Hundred Years War, the French knights were quite snazzy with their expensive gear and well-groomed horses. The English soldiers had no horses, only longbows made of yew wood. Knights against foot soldiers. Armor versus arrows. Suffice it to say that the English were the underdogs.
The result of the battle was not as the French had hoped. History records a blowout in favor of the visitors. The knights were defeated by the now-famous English archers and their longbows.
You can use the longbow, too. Let mercy “fight” your battles. Rather than employing the heavy artillery of harsh words and verbal darts, all you need is the longbow of mercy. What is mercy? See Matthew 5:7 or James 2 The Word of God insists that mercy is compassion that causes one to help the weak and afflicted- a cardinal Christian virtue. From the “tree” perspective, it may be difficult to carefully define an act of mercy. Don’t worry. Simply think about yourself today. Did you exhibit Christian compassion or were you more into injury, disturbance, and violence? Remember the song from grade school?
“I have roots growing down to the water.
I have leaves growing up to the sunshine,
And the fruit that I bear is a sign
Of the life in me.
I am shade from the hot summer sundown.
I am nest for the birds of the heaven.
I’m becoming what the Lord of trees
Has meant me to be—
A strong, young tree.” ❖
Tom is a member of Hudsonville Protestant Reformed Church in Hudsonville, Michigan.