Inside out

The sirens began wailing a little after 8pm, warning the community that conditions were ripe for tornadoes. It was a first for me. It made me a bit nervous. The house was already trembling from high winds, rain was blowing sideways, and it was full dark outside. Then the lights went out.

The weather alerts mentioned tornado sightings nearby but not right on top of us, so we waited it out, hoping, listening intently to the roaring winds and the creaking house until the storm finally passed.

A total of four tornadoes were sighted but no one was injured. Many trees were down, including two huge oaks that had fallen across the highway just behind the house we were vacationing in. Soon, police were rerouting traffic and crews were at work with chainsaws and tractors to clear the road of debris.

We took turns going out to see what we could see, only to realize that we couldn’t easily get out the back door. A huge walnut tree had fallen into the yard beside the house and the topmost branches were blocking the way. A tangled mess of green was draped over our car in the driveway.

A tree felled by a storm

We hadn’t heard a thing.

No harm to house or car, as it turned out. A neighbor with a chainsaw cut away the debris the next day and I hauled the limbs to the curb. It was a fortunate miss. If the tree had been a bit taller or had fallen just a few degrees to the left, the house would have suffered serious damage.

It had been a big tree, a beautiful tree. The trunk was about two feet in diameter and the crown had to be more than fifty feet tall. It had been growing in that spot for 80 years or more. In its current state, we could see that a section of the crown had been struck by lightning in the distant past, killing and charring one side. The roots were much too shallow and the lower portion of the trunk had been hollowed out with rot. It was still producing copious walnuts and new branches, but unbeknownst to any of us it had been dying from the inside. The strong winds were too much; it fell and shattered and died.

Which reminded me of one of the not-so-kind things Jesus once said.

“You’re hopeless, you religion scholars and Pharisees! Frauds! You’re like manicured grave plots, grass clipped and the flowers bright, but six feet down it’s all rotting bones and worm-eaten flesh.” — Matthew 23:27 (The Message)

How much time and effort do we put into making a good outward impression in order to hide whatever nastiness is going on below the surface, in our minds, in our hearts, in secret, or perhaps just out of the public eye?

Over and over again Jesus taught about a religion that is embedded in the heart, meaning that it motivates our actions and attitudes, it serves as a guide — sometimes a brake — on our thoughts and behavior.

Over and over again Christianity talks about a transformative process in which the Holy Spirit makes us new from the inside out. Faith in Jesus isn’t about slapping a fresh coat of paint on our chipped and flaking lives, but bringing in a general contractor to do major demolition and rebuilding.

I’ve experienced that inside-out renovation, but I’ve also resisted it. There’s still rot in my life, rot that no one sees and that I haven’t yet released to God’s healing power. Sometimes I’m just satisfied to look good from the outside.

May God give me, and you, the humility and willingness to be transformed and renewed from the inside out.

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