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Rotten to the Elbow  

Imagine a tree five-feet in diameter whose massive trunk stands poised to pummel the ground.  (I was actually there and took pictures!). The word, “thud,” doesn’t begin to describe what happened when the last of the chainsaw’s work was done.

Our kids spent a surprising amount of their summers under that massive Oak which was almost a family friend. For shade, beauty and protection (you could sit by your campfire under its thick boughs and scarcely feel a drop of rain) this tree was in a class of its own. 

So why did it have to be taken down?  I was told the tree became rotten.  Yet it still bore some green leaves I noted, a bit unconvinced, even skeptical.

This weekend, I stood on the stump of the grand old tree and observed a dark hole as wide as a hand span, a cavity of nothing but rot. The hole went down into the earth below the stump.  More evidence of rottenness.

While driving past the campground’s wood pile, I then found the overturned chunk of trunk that once connected to the stump. Get this—that same hole of rotten nothingness had eaten through this segment as well.  It was large enough that I could shove my entire arm inside—so I did! 

The rottenness went past my elbow—ran the full length of the section.  In other words, the tree exhibited some signs of life on the outside, but was thoroughly rotten inside.  I was shocked to study the tunneled void that bore no water, no nutrients at all to the limbs and branches.

It all got me to thinking.  I wonder how many of us who’ve claimed the name of Christ are in some measure like that rotten tree.  We look reasonably good to the world and—more critically—to our church family and Christian friends.  Our exterior conduct might hint at some minor problems, but hardly anybody knows that deep inside, there’s a deadly spiritual void where obedience and holiness ought to be.  We are rotten—”up to the elbow.” 

Personally, I'm amazed at the rot that creeps into my own life. There’s the rottenness of a critical spirit, a careless word, a haughty spirit. There’s the rottenness of chronic anxiety, prayerlessness, exaggerated speech and self-focus. 

The good news is that unlike the tree I’ve described, there’s hope for you and me.  God can actually restore years of rot. The bad news is if we continue in our self-deception, the spiritual rot will eventually kill us. In the end, whether we rot—or not—is ultimately a question of choice.  Let’s choose wisely!

“Put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”   —Ephesians 4:24



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Jon GaugerJon Gauger

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