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Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Palm trees and cedars

We often use other things to describe something we really don't have any better words to describe.  We do this with the word "like" - she was like, it was like, etc.  When our thoughts can picture an image of something which fully describes the characteristic of what we are trying to describe, we use these images to portray our thoughts.  When I experience a new dish for the first time, perhaps a cuisine I have not tried before, I often ask another who has experienced it what the things on the menu are.  They often describe them as "like" something I might already be familiar with.  They might tell me the humus is like a dip or spread you put on a pita.  Or perhaps they explain the Thai dishes are like the hottest Mexican food I might have consumed!  Either way, they are using one thing to describe another - giving me an example I can wrap my brain around.  It is not uncommon to find the same thing done in scripture - because God wants to give us examples we can "wrap our brains" around.

Good people will prosper like palm trees, and they will grow strong like the cedars of Lebanon. They will take root in your house, Lord God, and they will do well. They will be like trees that stay healthy and fruitful, even when they are old. And they will say about you, “The Lord always does right! God is our mighty rock.” (Psalm 92:12-15 CEV)

Why might God compare us to palm trees and the cedars of Lebanon?  Well, let's explore:
  • Palm trees don't tolerate cold - they grow in warm, sunny areas.  They need the sunshine in order to thrive.  I daresay we need the light of Jesus in our lives to help us to thrive, as well.  Frost actually weakens the immune system of the palm tree. Consider for a moment what coldness of heart, a lack of passion, does for us in our walk.  When the palm tree's immune system is weakened, disease and rot is capable of setting in - something those who stay closer to the SON will recognize as improving their own "immune" system!
  • Palm trees thrive in barely moist to extremely dry conditions.  This is one of the reasons they do so well in the sunnier areas.  They can tolerate drought - making them hardier than other varieties of trees.  For a moment, stop to consider how we thrive in times of dryness - isn't it common to see a growing believer still standing strong when the tougher seasons come their way?  In fact, palm trees survive some pretty brutal conditions - torrential rains, hurricane force winds, and even long periods of drought. There is a "tolerance" factor believers seem to possess - something which comes from their ability to find even the smallest amount of "living water" in the times of the hottest and driest seasons!
  • Palm trees are often very straight trees, growing upward and strong.  Their growth is characterized by not only this "straightness", but their strength with such expanse.  If you have ever observed a palm tree in the strong winds, you might see those equally spaced fanned leaves moving to and fro, but the strength of this upwardly growing long "stem" of the tree is barely moved.  I think this is because of the root system - it goes deep and gives it strong anchor - something we believers need in our lives, as well.
Cedars come in a lot of varieties, but the ones referred to most frequently in scripture are those which grow in Lebanon.  This tree was prized for the lumber which could be used in the buildings of ancient times.  It was often found in boat construction and was imported into far-reaching countries simply because of the characteristics of this wood.  You might have formed some belief these were huge trees, growing to vast heights, but you would be only partially right in your belief.  In fact, these trees were coveted by nobles, sought simply because of the "value" of their wood, but also were quite majestic and beautiful to the sight.
  • Cedars of Lebanon grew to heights reaching 120 feet tall and sometimes about 9 feet in diameter.  What made it so impressive was the large "crown" of branches which fanned outward in almost an umbrella-like fashion.  It was this huge crown of branches, with leaves inclined upward which often gave them this awe-inspiring appearance envied by many.  Simply put, they could bear the weight of heavy winter snows and ice way beyond their capacity just because of this branch formation and upward pointing leaves.  For a moment, stop to consider how it is we "bear up" under the weight of what this world sends our way - this will give you insight into why God might just compare his people to these cedars.  Branches close together, leaves turned upward, one branch covering the other, in a "parasol" of beauty, they held up.  God's people, tightly fashioned together, with eyes focused clearly on the one who gives them all strength, hold up under pressures way beyond their capacity alone!
  • Cedars of Lebanon have a beautiful, richly grained wood.  Their fragrance is magnificent, and their wood is so strong it is resistant to bugs, humidity, and temperature fluctuations.  The bark is grey in color, but the balsam gum it exudes is what gives it the pleasant fragrance enjoyed by many.  As believers, we exude a fragrance which draws many into the enjoyment of the "groves" of God's presence. Our lives are known for their beauty.
  • Cedars of Lebanon bear cones (some might call them "pods" or "seeds").  Did you know it takes about three years for one cone to come to a place of full maturity, capable of reproducing life when it falls to the earth?  For the believer, maturity is accomplished not in separation from the "tree", but in remaining firmly attached until the time comes for the growth to produce new growth.
These are but a few reasons we might just be compared to these majestic trees in scripture. Grow strong, straight, and with deep roots.  Stretch upward, stay Christ-focused, and deeply connected.  You never know what God may bring from the beauty of a life well "anchored" in his grace and love.  Just sayin!