The Giant Sequoia, Cicada, and Me

Several years ago, an experience and a news story prompted me to start thinking.  First, the experience.  This was an incredible trip out West where my husband and I had the opportunity to visit the Yosemite National Park, Giant Sequoia National Park and King’s Canyon.

Kings canyon sign 100_3502
Kings Canyon National Park.

The scenery was jaw‐dropping.

Yosemite 2011 WRM 086
We walked 1/2 mile to an overlook and emerged out from the wooded mountainside to see this incredible vista.

For this story though, the majesty of the scenery takes a back seat to the Giant Sequoia Trees.  These trees are beautiful and to say they are tall would be an insult … they are huge … no, they are gargantuan!

Yosemite 2011 WRM 016
Giant Sequoia Trees in the Mariposa Grove, Yosemite National Park. So tall that their branches begin at a height the other trees can only begin to reach.

While no one really knows how old the trees are, the National Park Service says that it is estimated that the Giant Sequoia Trees are between 1800 and 2700 years old.  Some of the trees have even been given names of states, presidents and influential people in our country’s history.

In 2002 the National Park Service measured the trees and found, for example, that the tree named General Sherman is 274 feet in height and 102 feet in circumference.  The tree named General Grant is 268 feet tall and 107 feet in circumference.  The tree named Washington was 254 feet high and 101 feet in circumference.

Now to the news story. The headline was something like “17 years in the making” [not an exact quote].  The article discussed the upcoming, expected cicada invasion.

Cicada
Cicada

Now, if you don’t know what a periodical cicada is, you might not think this is a big deal, but the word “invasion” might tip you off to the significance of this event.  Those of us who have experienced these bugs in person know that they are hard to ignore.  [How do you miss tens of millions of grasshopper‐looking, flying, chirping insects whose collective sounds, magnified by the sheer incredible number of them, sounds like a very loud hum?  That’s not really a question that needs an answer!]

I know that as a species, the cicadas have been around for millennia.  While I do not do this (yuck), many people in our world eat cicadas as a source of protein and calcium (I shiver as I write this!).  Further, records show that they were eaten in Ancient Greece, China, Malaysia, Burma, and Latin America.  (By the way, female cicadas are considered to be meatier than their male counterparts! Who knew?) And cicada shells are not uncommonly used in Chinese traditional medicines. (Shiver!)

The periodical cicada’s life can be summarized by the statement that it lives underground sucking on tree roots for 17 years, emerges and mates for 4 to 6 weeks and then dies … all of the cicadas doing this at essentially the same time.  The female lays her eggs in tree limbs from which, after hatching, the future cicada drops to the ground, and burrows into the dirt where, during the next 17 years it matures and then emerges to do this ritual all over again.

What do the cicadas have to do with me, other than that I can’t stand the sight, sound or thought of gazillions of cicadas dive‐bombing me when I am outside?   In short, they don’t have much to do with me at all, personally.  They are outside and I am inside when they are around!

But, when I considered the comparative difference between the giant sequoia trees and the cicadas, I was prompted to think about all of God’s creation, including me.  Although the species has survived for millennia, why are these insects so short‐lived while the Giant Sequoia Trees have grown and survived for over 15 centuries — and where do I fit in?

God created all of us, you and me as well as the sequoia and cicadas and we each have our own specific God‐given role in this world.  I am much more like the cicada than the sequoia in terms of life‐span.  If I survive to 100 it will be a miracle, but the sequoia tree is not even out of its proverbial diapers at that point in time; whereas the cicada will have had almost 6 generations when I reach 100 years of age.

In the book of Genesis, we read:

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”  So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.  And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

Genesis 1:26-28.

On the basis of creation’s history in Genesis, I can affirmatively assert that I am different, unique, separate, from the sequoia and cicada because God said so.  Mankind is viewed by God as being the paramount creature in the creation story — we were created in God’s image, something that does not apply to any other creature.  And, God said that we are to have dominion over all the rest of creation, because that is how God ordained it to be.

Of course, we know that Adam sinned and we are not in the same state of grace that applied at the time of creation.  But the sin of humankind does not reduce or eliminate the sovereignty of God.

The Psalmist says that we are to measure our days because they are numbered by God.  (Psalm 39:4‐5) God’s sovereignty even extends to His knowledge of how long each of us will live.  Each of us has a specific purpose that God has ordained, and we will only find our true happiness, comfort and peace in God when we fulfill that purpose.

We are told in Scripture that He has given His Son’s life as an atoning sacrifice for us … not for the cicadas or sequoia.   We can be assured that we are of infinitely more value to God than either the Giant Sequoia Tree or the cicada because, as a result of His grace and Christ’s death and resurrection, God has made a way for believers in Christ to be with Him for eternity!

Praise Him.  And may I use the days that He has granted to me for His glory.

Father, I praise You for the gift of salvation through Jesus Christ, your Son and my Savior.  I praise You for the gift of life and for your sustaining presence, grace and mercy towards us.  I pray that You would conform me to the image of your Son so that I would glorify You.

GIANT SEQUOIA TREES ILLUSTRATE PERSEVERANCE.

After going to the Maricopa Grove of Giant Sequoias in Yosemite National Park, I have a tremendous amount of respect for these gentle giants of the forest.  Their size can only be described as gargantuan and their age makes Methuselah sound like a teenager!

But one of the characteristics I note with particular interest is what I would call “perseverance”.  Now, I know that the trees have no awareness or sense that they have persevered through difficult times.  But, the fact remains, that there is evidence on many of these old creatures of significant trial, especially by fire.

Giant Sequoia fire scar with seedlings nearby.
Giant Sequoia fire scar with seedlings nearby.

 

These are two of the Giant Sequoia Trees which show the fire scars as evidence of the trees’ perseverance through ferocious wildfires through the centuries they have lived.

Fire scar completely through the base of Giant Sequoia Tree
Fire scar completely through the base of Giant Sequoia Tree

God, in His ultimate wisdom, created these trees knowing that they would be around for a long time and that, in the natural order of things, fire would destroy some of the forest ground cover as is necessary for a healthy forest environment.  So, God gave the Giant Sequoias the ability to survive severe fire damage, this being, according to the National Park Service, “a remarkable characteristic of the Sequoia.” I spoke of this characteristic in a prior post, “Difficulties Can Produce Beautiful Fruit” posted August 19, 2015.

The focus here, is not so much the physical fact of their survival, but the concept of perseverance … or, as is applicable to Believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, perseverance of the saints.

I realize that the trees can’t just pick up and move when the going gets hot.  They are “stuck” there, so to speak.  Notwithstanding this truth, consider what is visible from the trees pictured below — above the top of the fire scar there is green growth and abundant branches.  The trees are not just alive; they are healthy, surviving and flourishing.  They endure the flames and then survive and keep on prospering, right where they are.

Yosemite Sequoia Tree tops showing growth despite the fire scar.
Yosemite Sequoia Tree tops showing growth despite the fire scar.

God knows me, too.  He knows that trials will come and the heat may be intense.  He also knows that I cannot face it alone.  In His grace He has not left me alone – He has provided a way for me to survive, not through a layer of cambium but through Jesus Christ as my Savior, the Holy Spirit as my Companion, and the Body of Christ, the Church.

Canterbury Cathedral where there have been worship services for over 1400 years!
Canterbury Cathedral where there have been worship services for over 1400 years!

Whether grandiose and ancient as seen in the 1,400 year old Canterbury Cathedral, or small and rustic such as the historic Cades Cove Church in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, the church building is the meeting place for the Body of Christ.

Church in Cades Cove, Smoky Mountain National Park, Tennessee
Church in Cades Cove, Smoky Mountain National Park, Tennessee

Believers, themselves, are the Body of Christ when they work together for the spreading of the Gospel of Christ and in support of each other as the family of Christ and children of the Living God.

When Daniel’s three friends, Shadrack, Meshack and Abednego, stood up to King Nebuchadnezzar and refused to bow down to him, they told the king that they would only worship their God.  In rage, the king threw the three men into the fiery furnace, but when king looked into the furnace, he saw four men in the fire.  Shadrack, Meshack and Abednego were retrieved from the furnace and they were not burned or singed and they did not even smell of fire.  See Daniel 6:23-27.  God walked with them in the fire, and they were unharmed because they persevered in their faith and in reliance upon God.

I have the same God who went into the fire with His children as recounted in Daniel chapter 6.  He is the Great Healer, my Companion and my Guide. He has given me His Word (the Holy Bible) and He has ordained that the Body of Christ, the visible church on earth, be available to me as a believer in Christ for support, prayer, strength, encouragement, and help in time of need.  This does not mean that struggles will not come, or even that I am guaranteed that the struggle will not be stronger than I am — but it does mean that nothing, absolutely nothing, can separate me from the love of God that I have through Christ Jesus.  Read Romans 8:35-39.

God's roadmap for our lives, steering us directly to Him -- the Holy Bible.
God’s roadmap for our lives, steering us directly to Him — the Holy Bible.

In short, He has provided the way and the strength to persevere through the trial so that, at the last day, I will be able to stand before Him, clothed in the righteousness of His Son and be accepted by Him as His child.  My obligation is to joyfully take advantage of the strength He has provided when difficult times come.

James writes in his letter that we should “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.  Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”  James 1:2-4.

I don’t know about you, but I normally do not consider it “pure joy” when a trial comes my way.  No one wants hard times – but hard times do not play favorites. Jesus promised that there would be hard times for the Christian … it is not a matter of IF there is a trial; it is simply a matter of WHEN the trial will arrive.  Perseverance in our Christian walk comes as a result of enduring the testing of our faith, and the result of perseverance is maturity in Christ.

The Giant Sequoia tree reminds me that perseverance is possible.  The Lord has provided these trees with protection and healing after a fire.  He has provided me with the Comforter who is with me not only for healing after the fire has passed but the Comforter is with me even during the trial, giving strength, encouragement and, yes, comfort.   And He has provided the Body of Christ, the Church, for my support, encouragement and aid.

Thank you, Father, for sending Jesus Christ into this world as the atonement for my sin.  Thank you also for providing means of grace so that I can persevere when difficult times assail, thank you for the Holy Spirit present within and the Church present without for strength and encouragement, prayer and praise, help and aid during times of testing. Help me to be of encouragement to your children through your Spirit and the Word.  Rather than fighting the test, Father, help me to embrace it and persevere through it so that I will be mature in my faith.  Thank you for being with me, even in the furnace of testing.  I praise your name and glorify you in all things.

OUR CREATOR GOD — THE HOLY ONE.

Scripture tells us at the very beginning of Genesis that “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” Genesis 1:1. The six days of creation are all itemized in Chapter 1 of Genesis.

Light — and the light was good.

Dry land and the seas– and God saw that it was good.

Colorado mountains, where earth and sky collide.
Colorado mountains, where earth and sky collide.
Oregon ocean waves and beach.
Oregon ocean waves and beach.

Vegetation, plants and trees – and God saw that it was good.

Yosemite Giant Sequoia Trees
Yosemite Giant Sequoia Trees

Lights in the heavens – and God saw that it was good.

Super Moon in Mississippi.
Super Moon in Mississippi.

All creatures that move, in the sea and in the air – and God saw that it was good.

Hummingbird getting a drink for nourishment.
Hummingbird getting a drink for nourishment.
Florida Spiny Lobster seen in aquarium along Florida's coastline.
Florida Spiny Lobster seen in aquarium along Florida’s coastline.

All beasts of the earth and all that creep on the ground – and God saw that it was good.

Caribou with large rack in Denali National Park, Alaska.
Caribou with large rack in Denali National Park, Alaska.
Pet pooches are under His care too!
Pet pooches are under His care too!

Then, in Genesis 1:26-27, and 31, God said:

“Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’   So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. … And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.”

Everything that He had made was very good. Simply put, God’s creation is good and it gives glory to its Creator.

Looking at the creation of God, it is clear that beauty is an attribute of the Creator God. David speaks of it like this:

One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in his temple.

Psalm 27:4 [ESV]

God’s desire for beauty is also expressed in Exodus 28:2 where God is telling Moses what garments the priests were to wear when conducting worship before Him even in the wilderness tabernacle.

And you shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother, for glory and for beauty. [ESV] (The emphasis is mine)

A review of the construction of the tabernacle is way beyond the scope of this post, but it was clearly a pinnacle of beauty, shining with gold, bronze, silver, precious jewels for the objects to be used in worship, and even for the thread used to create the curtains. The directions were explicit and detailed, and they were dictated by God. Beauty is an attribute of our Creator. Read Exodus Chapters 25 through 40 and see the incredible detail God directed for the construction of His tabernacle.  Then remember where it was built — in the wilderness.  Clearly, this was not the most beautiful of places, but His tabernacle was to be beautiful because it was to reflect our God and one of His attributes, beauty.

Beautiful music and singing are also part of God’s creation and an expression of His beauty.   Way back when David was king, we read that he appointed the priests to sing a song of thanksgiving to God. Read 1 Chronicles 16 aloud, to yourself or anyone else who would listen, and your spirit will be lifted as you, through David’s words so long ago, praise the Lord for His wondrous works. Verse 10 of this chapter directs that we are to “Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice.”

This past Monday evening, we were blessed to attend a concert sponsored by Ligonier Ministries for the performance of sacred music entitled “Glory to the Holy One.”  The concert was held in Nashville, Tennessee.

Downtown Nashville at night.
Downtown Nashville at night.

The venue was the Schermerhorn Symphony Center, a beautiful building that is dedicated to the symphony.

The Schermerhorn Symphony Center, Nashville, Tennessee
The Schermerhorn Symphony Center, Nashville, Tennessee

The building was beautiful with marvelous craftsmanship evident throughout.

Schermerhorn Symphony Center, Nashville, Tennessee
Inside the Schermerhorn Symphony Center, Nashville, Tennessee
The symphony platform was ready.
The symphony platform was ready.

Of course, the acoustics were incredible. The choir was extraordinary and the symphony was wonderful. But the music touched your soul, heart and mind.

The choir and symphony ready for the music to begin.
The choir and symphony getting ready for the music to begin.

Our seats were much closer to the musicians than I anticipated … we were IN the music, not just listening to it! This picture was taken while we were sitting in our chairs.

Superlatives are inadequate to describe the event. The words to the hymns were written by Dr. R.C. Sproul and the music was composed and conducted by Jeff Lippencott. Tears streamed more than once as God’s glory was extolled in music and singing. The words to the hymns were beautiful and poignant, detailing the journey of faith and culminating when we see Jesus face to face.  Here is one of the hymns entitled The Secret Place, the words are below the link for your reference.

Excerpt from music on soundtrack of GLORY TO THE HOLY ONE

Who dwells within His most secret place

Is never far from His blessed grace

‘Neath His great shadow all will be well

No better place now for us to dwell

 

Refrain

The secret place of God Most High

The shadow of our mighty King

The dwelling place where angels cry

Is where our praise will forever ring

 

Fear not the terror that comes at night

Nor flaming arrows by morning light

His truth is always our sword and shield

Against His power, all foes must yield

 

Refrain

 

A thousand fall now at ev’ry side

Ten thousand more may have yet to die

Yet plague and sword can

Ne’er kill the soul

His angels guard us now safe and whole

 

Refrain

 

Refuge and fortress for all who trust

No safer pasture for men of dust

‘Neath wings and feathers of Holy Lord

No great comfort can He afford

 

Refrain

 

I pray that these words and the music will be a blessing to you this day.

Father, thank you for the gift of music and for the talents of those who can create, compose, sing and perform such magnificent works to your glory and honor. I thank you too for the truth of the words of this hymn. No safer place can find us than when we are in your care, now and forevermore.

DIFFICULTIES CAN PRODUCE BEAUTIFUL FRUIT

I was in prayer this morning asking the Lord for comfort, strength, peace, healing and His presence for several of the people in our church who are going through very difficult times. I truly believe that prayer is the “best thing” that we can do for others, and as I was considering the various situations facing these brothers and sisters in the Lord, I was reminded of a video‐essay I saw about Yosemite National Park. This program captured my attention because my husband and I had been to Yosemite several years ago and we found it to be an awesome manifestation of our Lord’s creativity and beauty.

What really captured my attention was the discussion of the Park’s Giant Sequoias and the role that fire plays in their sustainability. The Narrator discussed fire in the Park as being a necessity for the forest, and I recognize this as a correct generalized proposition that is true of any forest woodland. Without fire, the underbrush would become so dense that seedlings would not be able to take root, etc.

Fire scar completely through the base of Giant Sequoia Tree

This is a picture that we took on our visit to the Park which shows a fire scar that is so severe that the inside of the tree has been burned out and the tree resembles an old‐time wooden clothespin, perhaps for Paul Bunyan’s laundry! The Narrator of the video-essay stated that the Giant Sequoia tree’s bark was extraordinarily thick and the cambium layer, just beneath the bark, has fire resistant properties to enable the trees to survive severe forest fires.  This statement is consistent with one of the plaques in the Park.

Giant Sequoia Tree plaque for the tree Tennessee Tree, with explanation about cambium layer beneath bark that enables trees to survive forest fires.
Giant Sequoia Tree plaque for the tree Tennessee Tree, with explanation about cambium layer beneath bark that enables trees to survive forest fires.

The Narrator continued to describe how the Giant Sequoias cannot survive without periodic fires. I thought I misunderstood what he said – why would these majestic trees require fire for their survival – they might successfully endure the wildfire, but to say that they require it is an entirely different proposition, and one which surely must be incorrect!

I was intrigued by this statement and, after doing some research, I found that one of the primary requirements for Giant Sequoia seedlings to grow is full sun. A glance at the forests in which these trees thrive reveals that, while the mature trees have full sun due to their towering height, there are multitudes of trees around them which, although dwarfed by the Giant Sequoias, are tall trees in their own right. The result of this, of course, is that the Giant Sequoia seedling is beneath the neighboring pines, oaks, and whatever – without the benefit of full sun.

In short, the Giant Sequoia Trees require periodic wildfires so that the underbrush and smaller tree vegetation can be cleared so as to provide the correct environment for successful germination of the sequoia seeds in full sun.

Giant Sequoia fire scar with seedlings nearby.
Giant Sequoia fire scar with seedlings nearby.

But, as the television marketer says, “Wait, there’s more!”  Not only does the wildfire provide the open nursery for the seedlings, the fire actually is required to release the seeds from the cone in the first place. It is no secret that extremely hot air accompanies a forest fire; for me, the surprise was that the hot air in the canopy of the massive trees dries and opens the trees’ seed cones causing the release of large numbers of seeds to the forest floor, which, because of the clearing accomplished by the fire, has been transformed into the optimal seedbed for the seeds to take root and grow into images of their ancestors.

Seedlings in Yosemite National Park
Seedlings in Yosemite National Park

Also, the Lord provided even more help for these seeds to grow to maturity. The post‐fire loose ground ash operates as a blanket to protect the seeds from ultraviolet radiation damage. [See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sequoiadendron_giganteum accessed 8/28/2013]

Besides being an interesting aspect of the Lord’s natural world and besides showing the care that He took to insure the sustainability of His creation, the soul‐searching began when I considered the illustration provided by the Giant Sequoia Trees in the connection between the fire and the resultant beauty.

It made me consider how I respond to the fire circumstances in my own life? Am I able to look past the immediate pain and difficulty so as to see the beauty ahead? Do I endure the difficulty with anticipation for the good that our Lord will accomplish through it? Or, do I, like Jonah, run in the opposite direction so that I avoid the problem and pain? Do I even recognize that there is a cost for avoiding the trial … lost lessons learned and more agonizing trials ahead for which I could have been prepared, or perhaps which could have even been avoided, if I had paid attention to the initial difficulty?

Do I say what Joseph said to his brothers?

Then Joseph said to his brothers, “… And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you.… But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance.”

Genesis 45:4-7. Or, as my own paraphrase would render this passage, you may have meant to hurt me, but actually you were fulfilling God’s plan to provide a way to protect you and your families from the death that would surely have come during this severe famine.

When we are in the midst of the maelstrom, when we can’t see where things are going, through faith we can have confidence that God is sovereign and that He is working things out for His purposes and the Christian’s ultimate good. Even if scars remain, there will be beauty that will come.  The nail piercings in our Lord’s Hands reflect just some of the excruciating suffering He endured for us on the cross, but they are beautiful for those who believe in His Name for salvation.  But for what those scars represent, we would not have His righteousness to cover our sins and we could not call God “Abba Father”.  Mark 14:36; Romans 8:15 and Galatians 4:6.

God is sovereign in all things. He provided for the Giant Sequoia Trees, and He will provide for His children. See Luke 12:22-31.  Praise His Name as we trust in Him and in His unfailing grace, even as we go through the flames of trial that confronts us, by whatever name it is called.

As the Psalmist said: “Praise the LORD! O give thanks to the LORD for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!” Psalm 106:1.

Giant Sequoia Trees – Tall and Strong

Sequoia -Yosemite 6-2011 109My husband and I had the opportunity to go to the Giant Sequoia National Park in California and saw the incredible trees that just shout the majesty of God’s creation.  These gentle giants are REALLY tall.  For example, in 2002, the tree named General Sherman was measured to be 274 feet in height and 102 feet in circumference.   Other trees of normal height from a different forest would be considered very tall, but they are positively dwarfed by the height and size of the Giant Sequoia trees.

These trees are not only tall, they are strong.  They are old, not just several hundreds of years old, but REALLY old.  It is estimated that the Giant Sequoia trees are between 1800 and 2500 years old.  Just imagine what they have experienced.  They have survived longer than most civilizations.  And they have endured numerous, possibly thousands, of forest fires over the centuries, yet they still stand.  Sequoia side by side 100_3415

As I was looking at these trees, in awe and respect for their existence, I wondered if the same could be said for us ‐‐ for me?  I certainly am not going to survive longer than any civilization, but, for the time the Lord has granted to me on this earth, am I standing strong, am I enduring trials while still standing?

God instructed Joshua in Joshua 1:6‐9: “Be strong and courageous, for you shall cause this people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them.  Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you.  Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go. …  Have I not commanded you?  Be strong and courageous.  Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

God has instructed that those who go by His guidance should be strong and courageous.  They are to obey His commandments and, if they do so, they are to be strong and not terrified or discouraged as they go through life.

How can this be?  Verse 9 promises that “the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

Truly it is only by God’s grace that I can even come close to saying that I am standing, not always as straight and strong as I would pray, but through His grace, yes – I am still standing because of His strength and His presence.

But the question extends out from that initial focus.

Yosemite 2011 WRM 046Am I helping others to stand tall in the face of trial and adversity?  Am I assisting when there is no one else to stand in the gap?  Am I pointing to God and the salvation offered through Jesus Christ as The Way, The Truth and The Life?

In their silent witness to the strength of God’s creation, these Giant Sequoia trees declare praise for their Maker’s glory in an eloquence that mankind can only imagine.

And yet, God sent His Son to die for mankind, not the Giant Sequoia trees. We are the beloved creation of the Sovereign God.

Oh that I might be of courage and strength so that I will praise and glorify Him the length of my days.