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Bald Cypress horizontal

The sheltering bald cypress tree.

My parents have a large bald cypress tree in their front yard. Its branches extend to the street and over the house. The bird feeder under the tree is popular place for robins, sparrows, cardinals, blue birds, and many others. Rabbits and squirrels come around eat the seed that falls from the feeder.

Stepping away from my everyday life, I recently went back home to northeast Missouri and spent a few days with my parents where the room I sleep in is next to the tree. Early in the morning I would awaken to the sounds of the birds singing happily as they gathered under the tree for their morning meal.

Buddy the squirrel

Buddy eats a piece of bread.

Later in the morning, I’d take time to relax on the front porch and watch not only the birds, but the rabbits and squirrels that would come to the tree. My mother regularly feeds them, and has even named the regulars. There’s Buddy, a squirrel who was very thin and appeared to have some kind of back injury when he first came to the tree, but has been fattened up with Sunbeam bread and now bears little trace of his injury. He’s been joined by Big Nose Kate (Doc Holiday’s girlfriend in Tombstone), Spot (named for the white spot on his chest), Roddy (the Rodent), and a few other squirrels. My family jokes that Buddy has invited his friends and family to come eat at the “best restaurant in town.”

My mother calls the tree a “happy place.” And it is. Sitting there, watching these small creatures take refuge under the shelter of the tree as they enjoy the available provisions, reminded me to slow down and take time to marvel at God’s creation. I could not help but bring to mind Matthew 6:25-26, “For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they?” How much I could learn from these little creatures.

Watching them as they moved about without a care in the world caused me to think how complicated I have a habit of making things, and about the lesson the little birds and squirrels were teaching me.

One day, a storm came through town in the early morning hours and several limbs were blown from trees blocking roads and causing power outages. But the bald cypress remained strong and provided shelter in its branches. When the storm had passed, everyone was back under the tree’s sheltering shade. Oh, how God is so much more to us than that tree!

As David wrote long ago in Psalm 91:1-2, “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the Lord, ‘My refuge and my fortress, My God, in whom I trust!’” The entire chapter is a reminder of the peace and security only God provides.

The tree is my mother’s thinking place, a respite from the stress of life. It was the same for me in my time there. A place to slow down and delight in God’s goodness.

– LMS

HEARTLAND | This morning, read Psalm 68. Then think on these 25 attributes of God seen in the psalm, outlined by David Platt in a sermon at the Southern Baptist Pastors’ Conference in Baltimore.

God is awesome.
God is active.

He subdues all who rebel against Him.
He satisfies all who trust in Him.

He is the One True God.
He is the covenant-keeping Lord.

God is father of the fatherless.
He is protector of the widow.
God loves the lonely.
He rescues the captive.
He provides for the needy.

God is sovereign over all nature.
He is sovereign over nations.

God is powerful above us.
God is present with us.

He commands a heavenly army.
He conquers an earthly victory.

God daily bears our burdens.
He ultimately saves our souls.
He is my God and King.
He is our God and King.

He draws peoples to Himself.
He deserves praise throughout the earth.
He is the divine warrior.

God speaks a dependable word.

For us, there are two implications, Platt said. Give glory to this God. And give your life to His mission.

Layout 1“Father, … I commit my spirit!”
Read Luke 23:46-49, John 19:31-42

Here are some signs that Jesus’ work really worked: The earth shakes, as God’s own creation trembles at the mighty act just finished on a barren hill outside the city. The massive temple curtain separating the place of God’s holy presence from sinful people is ripped from top to bottom, signifying the Creator’s invitation to humanity to enter into restoration. And on the cross, Jesus makes his own great declaration of faith in the Father’s plan: I trust You.

How could Jesus say this?

No prisoner in solitary confinement was ever more alone than our Christ on the cross. It had to be that way.

faithOnly Jesus could serve as the sacrifice for our sins. Only Jesus could be our spotless lamb. Only Jesus could be the human qualified to pay the penalty for sin. Because he was sinless. And in this he was unique in all of the universe. In this he was alone.

All he had to hold to was the Father’s promise of life on the other side of the grave. Soon he would rest, his salvation work complete. Soon all heaven would celebrate.

PRAY Lord, because of Your great love and completed work on the Cross, into Your hands I, too, commit my Spirit.

Layout 1“It is finished!”
Read John 19:30, Hebrews 1:1-3

When its payment is completed, a bill is customarily stamped “paid in full.” No more payment is expected. The cancelled paperwork is proof that the debt is no longer held against the debtor. In New Testament times, the word written across the final invoice was tetelestai. This Greek word means “it is finished.”

Tetelestai (pronounced “tuh-TELL-uh-sty”) appears only twice in Scripture, in John 19:28 and 19:30. In the first verse, “Scripture” is described as tetelestai. Often translated as fulfilled or completed, it is finished. Jesus did everything the prophets said he would do. He left no job undone, no stone unturned.

finishedOnly two verses later in John’s account, Jesus himself declares his mission accomplished. After six hours on the cross, painfully pulling his body up to swallow every breath, it is almost impossible for Jesus to seize enough air to shout this news.

But he does. And everyone is stunned.

Tetelestai!

PRAY Lord, I am amazed by all you did to save me. Thank you for completing my redemption. Your work is finished, and I am paid for in full.

Layout 1“I thirst.”
Read John 19:28-29, Psalm 69:21,
Zechariah 12:10

Several times the Gospel writers say the events of the crucifixion happened to fulfill Scripture. Jesus sipped the sour wine. His bones were not broken, which would have sped up the dying process. His side was sliced open, and the water separated from the blood that spilled out showed he had died. Why was it necessary to fulfill the Scriptures?

Doubters might say that Jesus, sweet but deluded, had sacrificed himself unnecessarily. They might say there was no divine plan from before creation to redeem humanity from sin and death. They might say it was all miserable happenstance, a bad turn of events.

fulfilledBut as the pivotal point in all history, the crucifixion was no accident. And to prove it, the Author of the plan had it written down hundreds, even more than 1,000 years before it happened. Bible scholars point to over 300 Old Testament prophecies of the birth, life, death, and resurrection of the Messiah.

And for it all to be proven true for those of us who stand on the A.D. side of time, Scripture was fulfilled. Down to the last sop of vinegar. Down to the last spear point.

PRAY Lord, thank you for the details of the crucifixion proving Jesus’ humanity, the reality of his death, and your divine plan over it all.

Layout 1“Why have you forsaken me?”
Read Matthew 27:45-49, Psalm 22

The crowd on Golgotha thinks Jesus is calling on Elijah for rescue, but he isn’t. He’s calling on Elohim. With the opening to Psalm 22, he invokes the entire prophetic psalm. It’s a word picture written a thousand years earlier showing the Messiah, abandoned to die.

How can someone who lives in constant contact with two others ever be alone? That has never happened before. The Trinity is the perfect picture of community: three persons enjoying complete unity, holy boon companions always in agreement.

forsakenBut for three hours Jesus feels nothing but the weight of our sin, and the one who knew no sin becomes sin for us. It’s so revolting that the Father who ordained it can have nothing to do with it. And Jesus, for the first time in all eternity, is alone.

Standing beneath the cross, disciple John and mother Mary witness in the skies what’s happening within Jesus Himself. The sky grows dark. The sun is blotted out. And rain falls on them all, the tears of heaven, as Jesus cries, Why have you left me?

PRAY Lord, when I feel alone, remind me that you know how it feels. And because You bore my sins, I need never be separated from God anymore.

Layout 1“Woman, behold your son.”
Read John 19:25-27

Jesus’ most tender word from the cross is to Mary; perhaps his most challenging is to John. Behold. To both of them he says “behold,” a command meaning to look, see, and understand.

“Behold your son…behold your mother.” Behold my provision; behold your responsibility.

To Mary, Jesus is affirming his love for her. As the eldest son in the family, it is Jesus’ duty to provide for his mother in his earthly father’s absence. He entrusts her care to his dearest friend on earth, his beloved follower John.

familyTo John, what an awesome responsibility this must be, that his friend, teacher, and Lord would give to him this duty as if Mary were his very own mother. If he never knew it before, John must realize it now: he really is one of the family. Jesus’ family.

Behold. Could there be any greater statement of the love of God than to be made part of the family?

PRAY Lord, when I behold you, help me to understand that you are the Son, and you have welcomed me into your family.