Saturday, January 23, 2010

From stumps to trees

Regeneration (Webster's definition): (a)a being renewed, reformed, or reconstituted (b)a spiritual rebirth (c)the renewal or replacement of any hurt or lost part.

As I write this, I'm thinking about Haiti. I'm thinking about close friends of mine. I'm thinking about family members. And I'm thinking about some names and faces I barely know who have recently touched my life. The message of regeneration is good news for all who have been broken. A broken body, a broken dream, a broken marriage or relationship, a broken economy, a broken city, a broken country, the brokenness of death. For all who find or have found themselves as a tree that, once thriving, has been cut down, this passage in the book of Job offers hope:

"For there is hope for a tree, if it is cut down, that it will sprout again, and that its tender shoots will not cease. Though its root may grow old in the earth, and its stump may die in the ground, yet at the scent of water it will bud and bring forth branches like a plant" (Job 14:7-9, NKJV).

I've found that much brokenness, we really don't understand. Something or someone dear to us was "cut down" in our lives. Like a healthy tree being chopped down for no good reason that we can conceive. Other times, the someone or something "cut down" in our lives may, with time, be for us like being freed from a decaying root. Still painful, but in the long run, vital. I've experienced both types of brokenness, and in both cases I am coming to see the faithful regeneration of life that Job speaks of in faith. The masterful, creative, untiring redemptiveness of God, the Master artist, our Creator. When all we see before us - perhaps in the mirror or on the news or in our home - is a chopped down tree. A rotting stump. Hopes deferred. Loved ones lost. Relationships failed. Devastation of a nation. Bodies in need of healing. The list goes on, but the point is, it looks bleak. It looks hopeless. So we have a funeral for that dream or that marriage or that loved one, and then we do our best to move on. But we still may feel like that stump of a tree.

And then... God stretches open His hand, and the rain drops begin to fall from His fingertips. The rain may take all kinds of forms, for God has limitless resources, but we know the rain when it hits us. It refreshes us, and we feel the buds opening again: "Yet at the scent of water it will bud and bring forth branches like a plant." A stump, bringing forth branches? This is not just empty encouragement; it's in the very heart of God...

"To comfort all who mourn,
To console those who mourn in Zion,
To give them beauty for ashes,
The oil of joy for mourning,
The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness;
That they may be called trees of righteousness,
The planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified."
~ Isaiah 61:2-3, NKJV

Jesus is speaking to the nation of Israel here, but timelessly, He is also speaking to us, for He has included us in the heart of His mission. Out of the ashes of devastation, He draws out beauty and life. That's who He is. Out of mere stumps, He brings forth trees of righteousness, planted firmly in His grace, that He may receive the glory. We must never settle for stumps, regardless of how things seem or how we feel. Jesus is in the business of bringing stumps to life with just the scent of His Spirit. He does this for us, and then He plants us as those trees of righteouness, to embody His message of regeneration in our world.

Jesus, give us eyes of faith to see beauty rise from the ashes. Give us strength and courage and hope to be part of Your redemptive, regenerative work in the earth. For the whole creation - ourselves, all the peoples, and the very earth itself - groan for this redemption (2 Cor. 5:1-4). It may not happen overnight, but regeneration will come.

"O Israel, hope in the Lord;
For with the Lord there is mercy,
And with Him is abundant redemption."
~ Psalm 130:7, NKJV

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