At first I assumed that “champion” referred to age. Online I found a list of the world’s oldest trees. The oldest tree in Florida is a Pond Cypress called “The Senator,” reputed to be the seventh oldest in the country at 3500 years. Evidently there is a method of determining age besides cutting it down and counting the rings. The Senator lives in Seminole County and also holds the record for the largest tree in the state, measuring 425 inches in circumference (that’s a trunk over 35 feet around), a 57 foot crown spread, and a height of 118 feet.
Finding the distinction between oldest and largest eventually led me to another discovery. Trees are labeled champions because of their size, not their age, and there is a champion for every species. There are state champions and national champions, and Florida has more national champions than any other state. The Senator is, in fact, a national champion. Even my own Union county, the smallest in the state, has a Florida Champion, a Blue Beech Hornbeam, standing 37 feet tall, with a 40 inch circumference and a 36 foot crown spread. Obviously a Blue Beech Hornbeam is a smaller tree than a Pond Cypress, so its champion is smaller as well.
That may be my most important point this morning—God does not judge us by comparing us to others, but according to our own circumstances and abilities. Just look at the parable of the money (Matt 25). Each man received a different number of coins (opportunities) based on the ability the Master (God) knew he had. The servant was not allowed to decide his abilities—if he had the ability the opportunity was given, and if he didn’t it wasn’t. By turning away from the opportunity (burying his coin), the one coin servant was not only unfaithful, but disobedient and presumptuous as well.
Yet I see other points also. We often make champions of our own using the wrong standards. Appearance has nothing to do with God’s champions. That Atlantic White Cedar in the panhandle park is gnarly and weather-beaten, with a splintery gray bark studded with the stubs of broken off limbs. But isn’t that what you would expect from a tree that has withstood more than a century’s worth of floods, winds, and hurricanes?
What makes these trees champions is the fact that they survive longer than others of their species. And ultimately, isn’t that what makes one a champion of faith? When a person survives trial after trial with his faith intact, God labels him a champion.
A tree will continue to grow as long as it survives, so there is yet another element of championship—not only does your faith survive, but it becomes stronger.
Early on, Abraham, even after receiving a promise involving his “descendants,” of which he as yet had none, felt compelled to save his own life with a lie instead of trusting God to do so in Genesis 12 and 20, and actually laughed at God’s promises in Genesis 17. Yet by Genesis 22 he could offer his son as a sacrifice “accounting that God is able to raise up, even from the dead” that same son and fulfill his promises, Heb 11:19. God had seen something in this man and patiently led him as his faith grew. It took well over fifty years from the first promise to the ultimate test Abraham finally passed. His steady growth made him the champion of the Jewish race and “a friend of God.”
Who are your champions? How do you choose them? You probably have more to choose from than you think when you use the right standards, people standing around you within arm’s length. Fame and fortune, even relative fame and fortune in the brotherhood, has nothing to do with it! Choose carefully, using God’s standards, and finally, one day, become someone else’s champion, having survived the worse Satan has to throw at you, and coming out stronger on the other side.
But the LORD said to Samuel, "Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart." 1 Sam 16:7.