Monday, July 10, 2006

The Juniper Tree
...learning to treasure Christ in the hard places

-Treasuring the Lord in triumph and trial.

A while back, I was listening to a very inspiring message by John Piper—arguably one of the finest pastor/theologians in the world today. John has an amazing ability of taking great theological truths and teaching them out of the Scriptures in a pastoral and practical way that anyone—and I mean anyone—can really understand deeply the lofty things about our Lord.

He was teaching on “treasuring Christ.” He said, “we have taught people to submit to Christ and we have taught them the truth about Christ, but have we taught them to treasure Christ?” (paraphrased). Those words jolted me; impacted me; broke me. I started thinking about my songwriting, teaching, articles, etc. in ministry the past twenty-six years caused people to treasure Christ. As I began the process of my jaded, yet heartfelt, evaluation of my life and ministry I began by asking, "had my CD's, writings, concerts and such called people to submit to the Lord?" I would humbly submit, yes they had. I probed further, "had my ministry faithfully called people to the truth of the Word of God?" By God's grace, and in spite of my own limitations and frailties, I would humbly submit, yes it had. But, then I got to the bedrock of it all--the hard truth, I asked of myself "had all my labor in song and word, concerts, interviews, conferences and festivals, etc. encouraged people (and more importantly) engaged people, to treasure the Lord? Sadly, left in the dust of my appraisal the answer was "only a meager portion of the time."

How could I have missed this simple yet profound truth for so long; how could I have missed the balance in my ministry, in my family, in my daily devotions with my children, in my walk with the Lord, in my own local church, in my worship on Sunday morning? It is more than just having our theological "t's" crossed and "i's" dotted; it is more than preaching stirring sermons or singing sacred songs of praise; it is more than just truth constantly downloaded; the goal in it all is to know Him; glorify Him, love Him, worship Him, adore Him, desire Him; simply put... to treasure Him. I was deeply convicted today; and by God's grace, this ministry nor I will never be the same again.

Love the Lord
Listen to the profound words of Jesus Christ our Lord: “And he answered, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind..." –Luke 10:27a. This is the first and greatest of all the commandments. In it the entirety of the Law and the Prophets find their meaning and merit. It is to love Him—to treasure Him!

It was no different in the O.T. beloved. Listen to these treasured words of Moses and Joshua:

1. Deuteronomy 6:5
You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.

2. Deuteronomy 11:1
"You shall therefore love the LORD your God and keep his charge, his statutes, his rules, and his commandments always.

3. Deuteronomy 11:13
"And if you will indeed obey my commandments that I command you today, to love the LORD your God, and to serve him with all your
heart and with all your soul,

4. Deuteronomy 13:3
you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams. For the LORD your God is testing you, to know whether you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul.

5. Deuteronomy 30:6
And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.

6. Joshua 22:5
Only be very careful to observe the commandment and the law that Moses the servant of the LORD commanded you, to love the LORD your God, and to walk in all his ways and to keep his commandments and to cling to him and to serve him with all your heart and with all
your soul."

7. Joshua 23:11
Be very careful, therefore, to love the LORD your God.

According to these verses, loving the Lord our God bears the fruit of obeying His commands, walking in His ways, being loyal to Him, clinging to Him, serving Him and being very careful to…love Him. This is God’s gracious and kind work of sanctification in our lives. "Love Him"—it should eclipse all other desires in our life shouldn't it beloved? --so that He is our First Love in every impulse of our hearts. This is the joy we should know and celebrate of Christmas; the gentle reminder and symbolism of the Christmas tree… celebrating—treasuring God's "unspeakable gift" to us in Christ Jesus the Lord.

The Juniper Tree
As I was listening to John I kept thinking that this is not only a special time of the year for celebration, giving, worship, birth, life, incarnation; but it is ironically for many a saddening time marked by loneliness, desperation, depression, hopelessness, and tragically for some... suicide. This is the heartbreaking picture of the Juniper Tree. Do you recall this tree in Scripture? It was the tree that the great prophet Elijah sat under, reduced to fear by the threatening of Jezebel after conquering fearlessly the prophets of Baal. Here is his story: “Now Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, "So may the gods do to me and even more, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by tomorrow about this time." And he was afraid and arose and ran for his life and came to Beersheba, which belongs to Judah, and left his servant there. But he himself went a day's journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a juniper tree; and he requested for himself that he might die, and said, "It is enough; now, O LORD, take my life, for I am not better than my fathers." –1 Kings 19:1-5.

As you can see, we can draw the metaphor that "the Juniper tree" was Elijah's place of sorrow, suffering, defeat, depression, fear, and the plea before God for his life to end. We mustn't casually "theologize" this encounter to dismiss the reality of the struggle here. This is a real prophet, a real man, overcome by the guilt and fear of failure before the Lord coupled with the shameful tremblings of cowardice before a wicked Jezebel. Elijah cried out to God for his life to end. Do you embrace that shocking condition? Do you understand it? Have you experienced it yourself? This is the cry of a righteous man before a holy God; this is the prayer of a weary, spent, hopeless servant...

From the Crucible of Grace—Sharing A Chapter of My Story
Have you ever been there my friend; one minute doing great things and accomplishing much for the Lord and then with frightened abandon asking the Lord for your life to end?

I’ve been there. Crying out in the middle of the night with no one to hear except the Lord; pleading for answers, for some light, for some hope. Not understanding the plight I was in and how I was going to make it through to serve Him yet another day. My Juniper tree was the tragedy of divorce—something I thought would never touch my home. So many troubling thoughts haunt your mind: “will I be accepted by my peers; still respected by my mentors; embraced by my friends; loved by my church; cherished by my family? Can I still be used of the Lord in service to Him? Is my ministry over?

I found myself prostrate before Him left with nothing more than the aching of a shattered broken heart. It was the hardest thing I have ever had to endure—harder than even the death of my father or younger brother. For you see divorce is the slow living death that never seems to die; where closure comes gradually and questions seldom get answered. Shortly after my wife had left, my friend John MacArthur had called to pray and encourage me. In the midst of sharing with him some of the struggles of that day, I asked him, “John what do I do?” He replied, “I feel like one of Job’s counselors to you right now…I don’t really know what to say-but I can pray with you.” His response was very meaningful to me. You see I wasn’t looking for a pat answer-a quick fix, but for genuine fellowship in the struggle. I am so grateful to the Lord that my friend had not forgotten about me and cared enough to walk with me through those difficult days.

The Faithfulness of God
Divorce should hurt, beloved; it should be painful. God hates it. It is the ripping of the flesh—making two out of what was one. It's terrible. It was and is a difficult journey; a long winter season of the soul in my vaporous life. Disappointingly, reconciliation never came to my home. But, I am so grateful for His unfailing love and sustaining mercy that He has daily extended to the children and I in this crucible of grace. I am so grateful for my peers, my friends, my mentors, my church, my children, and my family. For the wonderful times at Starbucks sharing a cup of coffee and studying God's Word together; or being on the phone in the late night hours weeping, praying, talking and not talking; for watching for the 100th time "What About Bob" (better than any therapy); and for just being there. The faithfulness of God and the fellowship of His people-it doesn't get much sweeter than that.

Rick Holland, one of the pastors at Grace, told me something that I trust will be encouraging to you. He said, "Steve, no matter how hard this trial is for you, you will never have to face the wrath to come." That was so timely to hear. Isn't that wonderful? This earth will be the only heaven some will ever know; but for all eternity they will suffer in an everlasting hell for rejecting Christ and His gospel. And conversely, this world will be the only hell we as Christians will ever know; but for all eternity we will worship and praise our Lord Jesus Christ forever. Amen?

We are still picking up the pieces of those tragic and sorrowful days and probably will be for years to come. Like most who have gone through the pain of divorce and the "starting over process" in their lives, I empathize and share in the struggles too: the daily financial pressures of debt and duty; slowly resolving back taxes; the tensions of getting two homes on one page for the kids sake; the day in and day out grind and joy of living; raising the children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord; finding a consistent youth group for them that meets with both parents approval, etc. And then on top of all that, "dating" at age 51 is very strange, very confusing, uneasy, uncertain, always awkward, weird, and embarrassing. You single parents and/or divorcees know exactly what I am talking about...

(Joni Eareckson Tada has an excellent article on overcoming loneliness. I would encourage you to read it.) READ JONI'S ARTICLE

God's Grace is Greater...
As I have studied some of the great men of God throughout church history and in the Scriptures, it was not uncommon to discover that most had their own Juniper tree. I know that some of today’s famous pastors do not mention their failings or shortcomings for fear of losing their platforms, their congregations, or place of influence in our lives. I wish they knew how being vulnerable would deepen their “voice” and ministry in each of our lives. (We already know that they are very human and that they are also just earthen jars of clay...they just need to admit it and share it.) This is one of the many reasons that I am utterly convinced that only God could have written the Bible; for we are much too proud of creatures to tell the whole story for all to read. I am grateful that the Lord left in the eternal canon of His Word David's adultery; Job's sufferings; Adam's fall; Peter's denial; Judas's betrayal; Paul's depression; Jeremiah's tears; Isaiah's filthiness; Thomas's doubting; Stephen’s stoning; Epaphras’s trials, Noah’s drunkenness, Jonah’s cowardice, Hosea’s unfaithful wife, and yes, Elijah’s desperateness. Aren't you glad that Scripture is not this sterilized, plastic, veneer coated spiritual account of untouchable artificial prepackaged people? But thanks be to the Lord that the Scriptures are real stories of flawed individuals like you and me. It contains accounts of the sinfulness and waywardness of man, the self-revelation of the character of God, and His merciful redemption of lost people for the praise of the riches of His grace and glory. I thank the Lord for communicating to us about Elijah's struggle; for through it He can bring hope and comfort in our lives too.

Immanuel, God with us
Life is hard and the weight of just making it until tomorrow can be crushing. It can leave one spiritually paralyzed and crushed in their spirit. If you are under the Juniper tree today may I encourage you to come to the Lord and treasure Him. Here is the grace to endure: treasure Him in your hurt, treasure Him in your pain, treasure Him in your sorrow, treasure Him in your failed expectations, treasure Him in your broken home, treasure Him in your vacant heart, treasure Him in your amputated spirit, treasure Him in your weakened condition, treasure Him in your desperate situation, and treasure Him though you are under the Juniper tree. He will strengthen you dear friend--call on the Lord for He is where your help comes from.

Here is our hope: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners of whom I am chief.” He can take you from out under the Juniper Tree and bring you back to the Tree of His grace, the Tree of His suffering, the Tree of our redemption, the Tree where God was satisfied and glorified by the once for all sacrifice of Christ Jesus on the cross—-the Tree of Calvary.

Knowing You Jesus... There is no Greater Thing
Here is a portion of a lyric from one of my songs written by my friend Graham Kendrick. This beautiful encouraging song, taken from the third chapter of Philippians, sums up the longing of all the hearts of His children to know and love Him; for our lives to be lived daily in treasuring Him:

“All I once held dear, built my life upon
all this world reveres, and wars to own
All I once thought gain I have counted loss
Vain and worthless now, compared to this…

Knowing You Jesus, knowing You
There is no greater thing
You’re my all, You’re my rest,
You’re my joy, my righteousness
And I love You Lord…
How I love You Lord…”

His Unworthy Servant in His Unfailing Love,
Hebrews 2:14-18


4given said...

I wish I could see the keyboard... tears make it hard to type, you know. Thank you for sharing your heart in this pilgrim journey.

There have been times I have found myself being too prideful and I began to plead for the Lord to break me. Scary but necessary prayer. But the Lord is so good. For in that breaking, He always does it perfectly.

Holiness is what I long for and need. I have far to go. But I rest in the promise of His preservation so that I can persevere and progressively be sanctified for His glory.

I am going to have to beg to differ with you in one point, my (decade older:-) brother. God has used you as an instrument of causing my heart to treasure Him more and more.

littlegal_66 said...

Well, my discerning friend, you appear to have done it again. I ran across this jewel in the a1m archives a long time ago, before COT, and went back to it just two weeks ago when I found myself suddenly in view of my own personal juniper tree........(which had appeared without warning to loom on the horizon). So even though I'm aware that this is an older article, your posting it here is oh-so-timely.

I have listened to "Knowing You (All I Once Held Dear)" probably a hundred times during the last two weeks....and on one particular day I'm certain that I played it at least 20 times. This is the stanza I cling to:
"Oh, to know the power of your risen life,
And to know You in Your sufferings,
To become like You in Your death, my Lord,
So with You to live and never die"

One other song is proving to be of great encouragement to me...I alternate between it and "Knowing You." If you'll indulge me, I'll post them:

"When your world has been shaken to the core,
And your faith is stretched to breaking;
And you can't take anymore,
Though the storm's a'raging-
Your heart is peaceful still;
If you've made your home in the center of the Father's will

So when those trials come a'knocking at your door,
Will you treat them as strangers,
Or visitors from the Lord?
We're broken earthen vessels,
That will never be fulfilled;
'Til we've made our home in the center of the Father's will

So carry on, weary traveler,
Carry on___to journey's end;
Knowing He's your constant companion,
And His grace will carry you, my pilgrim friend"

Lyrics from "The Center of the Father's Will" by sjc@mp.

Thank you, Campi.

Commenting from an imposing view of the Juniper Tree,

Bhedr said...

I've read this before, but missed really seeing this; why? because it hadn't happened yet.

>Have you ever been there my friend; one minute doing great things and accomplishing much for the Lord and then with frightened abandon asking the Lord for your life to end?<


You have ministered brother. Thanks. I sorry to have judged you in the past. Its hard to understand another until you go through something similar.

Don't feel bad about not teaching people to treasure Christ. That is in His power. He can use any and all of our feeble attempts. We're all just playing chopsticks really while he is the great pianist playing behind us. Have you ever heard that story about that Polish Concert Pianist and the little boy who snuck up on stage before the concert and clumsily picked out chopsticks or twinkle twinkle little star on the piano? If you ever hear it...tell it to Joni sometime. It seems like a story that she would love to hear and retell.

donsands said...

Thanks Steve for sharing. Such words from the heart truly help.

"He also brought me up out of a horrible pit,
Out of the miry clay" Psalm 40:2

Christopher Redman said...

What a great post! I have just started blogging and reading blogs. I must say, this is one of the better posts I've read anywhere.

This particular post has more ministry and more powerful, faith enriching messages than the all the other posts that simply debate points and positions.

(My own blog included)


scripturesearcher said...

Add MacArthur to Piper and who would dare argue about it?

These men are two of the finest pastor/teacher/theologians living in our world today.

Different men with different styles but with the same needed message of God's sovereign, saving, sustaining, strengthening, succumbing grace!

CR (Acts 20:24)

Mike Ratliff said...

Heart rending Steve! God's ordained suffering in our lives seems to be the only thing that will draw us into the proper persective. God's pruning actually cleanses us of our self-focused, self-gratifying lifestyles.

You mentioned that treasuring Christ is far more important that being doctrinally sound. I couldn't agree more. Doctrine is vital, but without treasuring Christ we are the one without love from each verse in 1 Corinthians 13. We are just being religious. Treasuring Christ must be the beginning. I fear that all we are if we don't is a clanging gong.

In Christ

Mike Ratliff

IN HIS NAME said...

I linked this Post to my Blog and posted this on my Blog.
I thank you from my HEART for this POST as well as Your Blog!
Praise the LORD.

THIS IS one of the best Posts I have seen on all the BLOGS,


Christopher Redman said...

Paige Patterson stated, "I see no biblical evidence for Irresistable Grace." Hugh?

Visit my blog for post.

God bless,


David said...

Steve, I appreciate your heart as put on display through this message. I've had a few juniper tree experiences, and even now am in somewhat of a low point in my spiritual growth, feeling afraid and useless before God. This very passage of scripture has haunted me for days now, isn't it amazing the way the Lord works!

Vicki said...

You have no idea how much this blesses me. Thank you for sharing your life, your music, your heart with all of us.

kandi said...


Out of brokenness the Lord is able to use us. The way you find out that Jesus is all you need, is when He is all you have! And He sustains you, Twila Paris sings that song to the Lord that she thanks Him for the thorn, may we thank God for the thorns in our life that draw us closer to Him!

2nd Corinthians 1:3 and 4: Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and comfort. who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.

Steve Sensenig said...


It is ironic that I saw this post today. Just recently, someone found my blog by searching for the phrase "Steve Camp divorce". Apparently, because I had linked to your blog, and also talked about divorce on my blog, they found my blog on that search.

Up until then, I had no idea that you had experienced this. And then, I came here to COT today, and saw this post.

My heart and prayers are with you, my brother. I, too, have experienced the heart-rending pain of divorce, and been on my knees in violent tears wondering if God would ever be able to use me again.

Praise the Lord for His grace, however! He can, and does still use those who turn to Him.

Thanks for sharing this personal information. I trust that God is sustaining you and encouraging you.

Under His Grace,
steve :)

Breuss Wane said...

This is a great, great post.

Piper relates this same thought in one of his latest DVD's "The Blazing Center". In it, he shows that this is the point of the parable of the "pearl of great price": Christ is to be treasured more than life itself.

What a refreshing way to end the day.

Linda said...

Even though it's been almost 10 years since my husband left me for another woman, the fallout from divorce never really goes away. The worst part, for me, is the loneliness. My ex-husband married the woman he had the affair with, but I have not had a single date or any interest since November 1998. I was blessed a four-year relationship with a kind, nice, good Christian man, but he told me from the start he was only interested in friendship. I thought maybe, somehow, as he got to know me better he'd change his mind. I spent several years hoping against hope that he was "the one," wanting to believe God brought him into my life not for 'just' friendship but that eventually we would marry, but I finally had to admit it would never be what I wanted it to be. However, the friendship he showed me healed a lot of the woundedness I'd endured in my marriage. I remember hearing God say to me, "this is a time of practice and preparation." Of course, I assumed (or wanted so desperately to believe) it was practice and preparation for marriage. But I realize now it was preparation for restoration and practice in allowing myself to receive love, kindness, generosity, thoughtfulness, and other blessings from a nice man.

The loneliness is definitely the worst part of my life. My youngest child is a sophomore in college, so I have "empty nest" syndrome. I stay busy and active with friends and involvement in my church, the local community of an international Christian organization, I work full-time and have the typical housework, chores, shopping, etc. I'm a very busy woman. But, at the end of the day, I go home to an empty house and talk to my cat.

The best part of my life is God's faithfulness, provision, teaching, and presence. I have been through some very difficult times in the past 10 years, but He has always always always brought me through. It's sad that I had to have everything stripped away before I finally fell face down before him and began to seek His face always, dig into His word, pray diligently and--finally--surrender my will to His. I feel as if He is cleaning out my "jar of clay", scraping out wrong thoughts, ideas, notions, and beliefs--anything that has kept me from fully knowing Him.

"Knowing You" is one of my absolute favorite songs. Its words (taken from Philippians 3) remind me that there IS no greater thing than knowing Him.

Thank you, Steve, for your ministry, your testimony, and your vulnerability.

rebekahscore said...

Thank you so much for your transparency. Oh that more leaders and believers would be open about their dark struggles!

It seems like I have built my home under the branches of the Juniper... and it was just striking me how sad it is that the very people I should be experiencing fellowship with, I find myself hiding from because I just know the condemnation that would come if I were to be totally honest with them.

My struggle brought me to pray the prayer that my life would not last much longer--just minutes before stumbling upon this blog.

You have no idea how much of a lifeline the reminder to TREASURE HIM is right now. And, as I bask in that treasure, I just might bring myself back to blogging again (after a season of 'hiding' because I've been so certain nobody wants to hear my groaning under the Juniper).

May God bless you!

Unknown said...

As a possible divorce looms over me, I’ve battled doubts and fears. I doubted God even cared about me anymore. I was ready for my life to be over. I tried talking to my wife, and she said it was unforgivable. I told her all things can be forgiven. It just takes time. Then, I sensed God’s presence. I’ll be ok whatever happens. God has this. Please pray for our marriage.

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