The Survivor Tree from Monday Mornings (a devotional email from Gardner-Webb University) 27 May 2013 by Dr. Tracy Jessup
"…but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us." --- Romans 5:3-5
I was out of town on Monday, May 20, the day when the devastating F-5 tornado hit Moore, Oklahoma just outside of Oklahoma City. My wife relayed the news over the phone as I was making the 2 ˝ hour drive home. My heart ached for the people of Oklahoma before I ever saw the horrific pictures or videos of the destruction. It wasn’t the first time my heart had ached for them and as I prayed for that community, I remembered a story of hope from the Oklahoma City Bombing told by Max Lucado in his book, Facing Your Giants. He writes,
The most-sacred symbol in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, is a tree: a sprawling, shade-bearing, 80-year-old American Elm. Tourists drive from miles around to see her. People pose for pictures beneath her. Arborists carefully protect her. She adorns posters and letterhead. Other trees grow larger, fuller-even greener. But not one is equally cherished. The city treasures the tree not because of her appearance, but her endurance.
She endured the Oklahoma City bombing. Timothy McVeigh parked his death-laden truck only yards from her. His malice killed 168 people, wounded 850, destroyed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, and buried the tree in rubble. No one expected it to survive. No one, in fact, gave any thought to the dusty, branch-stripped tree.
But then she began to bud. Sprouts pressed through damaged bark; green leaves pushed away gray soot. Life resurrected from an acre of death. People noticed. The tree modeled the resilience the victims desired. So they gave the elm a name: the Survivor Tree (p. 43-44).
According to the Oklahoma City National Memorial website, as a tribute to renewal and rebirth the inscription around the tree reads, “The spirit of this city and this nation will not be defeated; our deeply rooted faith sustains us.”
Unlike our hopes about the weather or our health, the Christian hope is certain. This is why the Apostle Paul says we rejoice not only in the hope of the glory of God, but also in our sufferings. Not that we find pleasure in pain. We don’t rejoice because we like pain, misery, or discomfort. We rejoice because we know from the experience of Christ whom we follow that suffering is the path to glory. Yes, in the end, suffering leads to glory, but in the meantime, suffering brings about perseverance, character, and hope. It is my prayer that in the midst of tremendous emotional, physical, and spiritual anguish, the people of Moore, Oklahoma somehow will find comfort in knowing the ultimate ground on which our hope stands is the steadfast love of God.
Weekly Prayer: Lord, I thank you that our hope will never let us down because your love never fails.
Josh Groban's "You Raise Me Up" set to scenes of "The Passion Of The Christ"
The characters - a young, pregnant Jewish girl and her new husband. The setting - a dingy stable. The scene - the smell of animals permeates the air as the Savior of the world is born and placed in a manger. When the prophet Isaiah foretold the coming of the Messiah, no one expected His arrival to be like this. God often uses the unlikely to fulfill His purposes. (Text by Presidential Prayer Team. Painting by Wanda Locke of Stone Mountain, GA)
Why Would He Do It?
"But He thought it not robbery to be equal with God ... "
That verse long seemed strange and incomprehensible to me. Only in recent years (and newer translations) has it come to make sense.
One thing that helped was a Christmas movie of a single-parent preacher who came with his daughter to a new pastorate at a church in downtown Washington, DC. There were whisperings from the first, and many misunderstandings about where his priorities were placed. Then everything came to a head when, as an act of compassion, he ended up spending Christmas Eve night sleeping on the street, sharing the cardboard box that was home to a homeless man.
Think of all the splendor you can imagine: of the most elaborate settings of the richest folks you've seen in the movies; of the fanciest houses you've ever seen - even places like Biltmore House. All of that, and much, much more pale into insignificance (like that cardboard box) in comparison with what Jesus had (and has) surrounding Him in Heaven. And why shouldn't He have it? He dreamed it all up. He created it. It is the fruit of His imagination and of His labor. So of course it is His. He has every right to it.
And yet He was willing to set it all aside - all the glory, all the majesty, all the splendor - to come to Earth. He traded all of glory for beds of straw and threadbare blankets. The prophets said that the train of His robe filled the Temple, yet He left it behind to live as a poor man with only one nice garment to His name. He is Master of everything, yet He identified with the poorest servant. And in the end this one, the Judge of the universe took on Himself the penalty for our rebellion, so that we could go free if we accepted His pardon.
Why? Why on Earth - no - Why in Heaven's name would He do it?
Because He loves us. "Greater love hath no man, but that he should lay down his life for a friend." He cares more deeply for us than we can possibly imagine. For you. For me.
Praise God for his indescribable gift. Merry Christmas.