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Posted: May 6, 2011 12:00 a.m.

About Faith: The battered oak

I remember a tree house that my older brother and his friends once built overlooking the creek near our elementary school.

Nowadays, they would never get away with it. The public school officials would not condone the climbing of trees, much less the building of a tree house on their property. Parents would faint dead away at the thought of a tree house being built in a tree that leaned out over a rocky creek. But we happily played in it, jumping from limb to branch, with no thought of brain damage or drowning or lawsuits.

What was truly remarkable was not the tree house, however, nor the apparent lack of supervision. It was the tree itself, and its history, that I recall.
The tree was a water oak, destined by the DNA in its acorn to become a majestic shade tree on the banks of Blossomwood Creek. It was well on its way to fulfilling its God-given potential when it was struck by lightning one stormy night. It would never be the same after that.

The wind nearly knocked the tree into the water, and almost half of the canopy broke off. A great black streak marked the path down its trunk where millions of volts of electricity found its way to the ground. The city maintenance workers slated the tree for removal, but since it was not endangering any power lines or obstructing any roadway, they never got around to it. People expected it would eventually die and fall into the water, and then tree removal would have to be done with waders as well as chainsaws.

But the tree did not die, and continued instead to grow at a slant, forming new wood around its gnarly scar. It thrived, in fact, leaning out over the creek where it did not have to compete with other trees for sunlight, and its roots found plenty of water below. New branches formed, but the oak never regained its stately symmetry. The curious angle of the trunk, its odd footholds along the scar, and the uneven distribution of limbs all made for a most interesting tree house.

People can be like that. We are born with the potential for glowing skin and straight teeth, and unwrinkled brow, but then lightning strikes. Or perhaps a tornado like the ones we have seen lately alters the landscape of our lives. Maybe the damage is done by human hands, even the hands that should have nurtured and protected us. We are scarred for life, but what does not kill us makes us stronger, right? It changes us anyway.

"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!" (2 Corinthians 5:17 NIV). God can fashion us into a new creation, but he uses the same old wood, scars and all. What is remarkable is that the scar becomes a thing of beauty which adds depth of character, and even delights the children. If God can transform the cross from an instrument of torture and oppression into a means for our salvation, imagine what he can do with flesh and bone yielding to his will.

Jesus began his ministry by reading from the Isaiah scroll: "The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted... to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor... to comfort all who mourn ... to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes..." It was a litany of comfort for those who had been struck by lightning. But he saved the best for last: "They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor."

May these words be fulfilled in your hearing.

Brian Dale is pastor of Allen Memorial Methodist Church in Oxford.

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