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Trees of Faith

'Is not this real?' Alma 32:35

We need trees. Monuments to the past and guardians of our future. Tall and proud, their history is tangible and visible. Grandeur of beauty, colour and design, signalling seasons, renewing earth, reaching upward and terribly useful. The world is saved by grown trees and groaning from cut trees.

According to National Geographic since 1990 over half a million square miles of forest have been cut or destroyed. Almost half of the trees across the world that existed before humans began cutting forests have gone. Forests affect rainfall and water cycles. They are home to 80% of world animal species. As we produce carbon, trees absorb it, maintaining the fine balance of how much the sun's rays are trapped in our atmosphere.

The affect of deforestation is well known and efforts are being made to curb it. It was a principle theme at the 2016 Rio Olympics opening and closing ceremonies. Turkey has planted over 11 million trees, proclaimed a reforestation day on 11 November and even broken a record by planting 303,150 trees in one hour, in one location. Tragically their agriculture and forestry union has reported 90% of young trees inspected have died.

The cost and risks are high. The Bonn Challenge, instigated by the German government, aims to restore 350 million hectares of the world's deforested and degraded land by 2030. Conservation International reports the cost of this between US$4.9 and 12 trillion with high risk and low biodiversity plantation as the primary method of regeneration. It argues for more assisted natural regeneration strategies to restore degraded land and forests. Areas identified as likely to regenerate naturally are fenced or protected by suitable land use policy. With monitoring, weed control and soil enrichment these secondary forests are more likely to survive, cost much less than plantation methods and restore a diversity of wildlife.

'If ye neglect the tree, and take no thought for its nourishment, behold it will not get any root; and when the heat of the sun cometh and scorcheth it, because it hath no root it withers away, and ye pluck it up and cast it out. Now, this is not because the seed was not good, neither is it because the fruit thereof would not be desirable; but it is because your ground is barren, and ye will not nourish the tree, therefore ye cannot have the fruit thereof. And thus, if ye will not nourish the word, looking forward with an eye of faith to the fruit thereof, ye can never pluck of the fruit of the tree of life' Alma 32:38

An equally rampant deforestation is the neglect of truth as a bulwark to meaningful life - trees of faith. Truth or the 'word' is like a seed. By open investigation and desire we uncover principles and act upon them. True or good seeds flourish into certainties by which we can make choices leading to happiness and love. Jesus is the greatest truth, the Word sent from heaven. As we learn of Him, His doctrine is planted in our heart and there can grow a tree of life with exquisite fruit 'most sweet, above all'. 1 Nephi 8:11

Yet before trees of faith are much more than a sapling they can die from lack of living water, neglect and distraction. Lives are governed less by truth and more by appetite. There has never been so much information, but abundance and addiction surround trees of faith with chaff, weeds and shrinking violets. Heavenly Father is providing all we need, but oh how we want what we do not need. 'For that which I do I allow [Greek understand] not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I.' Romans 7:15. The consequence is we are blown around like blossoms in the wind.

Trees of faith - lives built on truth - stand firm in every circumstance. So much peace and happiness comes from living in this way. I have found the Book of Mormon the most convincing and powerful way of knowing Jesus. As a tangible investigable book it resolutely positions Christ as the ultimate truth upon which we can build our lives. 'Remember, remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall.' Helaman 5:12

It is easy to see the need for humanity to base choices and lives upon proven truth, over and above whims, politics, fashion, tradition and peer pressure. Every conflict I can think of was promulgated by deceit. How then can we cultivate a truth mindset and desire for it? There are striking similarities between this and how we best grow our forests. Defend and protect free speech, cultivate a ground of welcome diversity and ideas, avoid planting, encourage natural growth - don't force the issue ('do as you're told!') and nourish with great care. 'O then, is not this real? I say unto you, Yea, because it is light; and whatsoever is light, is good, because it is discernible, therefore ye must know that it is good; and now behold, after ye have tasted this light is your knowledge perfect? Behold I say unto you, Nay; neither must ye lay aside your faith, for ye have only exercised your faith to plant the seed that ye might try the experiment to know if the seed was good. And behold, as the tree beginneth to grow, ye will say: Let us nourish it with great care, that it may get root, that it may grow up, and bring forth fruit unto us. And now behold, if ye nourish it with much care it will get root, and grow up, and bring forth fruit.' Alma 32:35-37

The experiences of my close and wonderful friend Lothian are a remarkable example of how faithfully clinging to what is true, against every adversity ultimately brings beauty and happiness. When I first met Lothian, he had arrived in the UK as a student, but his college was shut down and had run off with all the fees he had paid. What could he choose from this position? His story is incredible.

'If ye will nourish the word, yea, nourish the tree as it beginneth to grow, by your faith with great diligence, and with patience, looking forward to the fruit thereof, it shall take root; and behold it shall be a tree springing up unto everlasting life. And because of your diligence and your faith and your patience with the word in nourishing it, that it may take root in you, behold, by and by ye shall pluck the fruit thereof, which is most precious, which is sweet above all that is sweet, and which is white above all that is white, yea, and pure above all that is pure; and ye shall feast upon this fruit even until ye are filled, that ye hunger not, neither shall ye thirst. shall reap the rewards of your faith, and your diligence, and patience, and long-suffering, waiting for the tree to bring forth fruit unto you.' Alma 32:41-43

Trees of faith help in so many ways. Belief in our marriage when it is rocky. Seeing the good. Confidence in our children. Genuine encouragement for students to persevere. Vision. Patience. Returning good for evil. Recognising personal limitations and short perspectives. Realism. Empathy. Being yourself. Meaningful prayer.

Finding forgiveness. Recognising needs above our own, seeing ways to help. Understanding. Self worth, self confidence. Courage. Creativity. Acceptance. Willingness to give. Knowledge He goes before and that coincidences are thoughtfully placed signposts from a loving Father in Heaven.

Finally, I wondered what type of tree I would like my faith to be. Spruce for me. This is commonly used as the soundboard for pianos. It is strong but flexible so great at reflecting the sound of the strings. As much as my tree of faith helps me, I hope it is a reflection of the light, joy and love I feel from above. Growing our tree of faith is easiest when we love the Gardener. This decision to love Heavenly Father and Jesus is probably the only one we need to make.

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