“And now, just as you accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must continue to follow Him. Let your roots grow down into Him, and let your lives be built on Him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness.”Colossians chapter 2, verses 6 & 7; from the New Living Translation (NLT)
What is your favorite place to “get away from it all”? No, I’m not talking about that place where you have to save and save or max out a credit card to get there. I’m talking about that place that is just a short walk or drive away. My “fortress of solitude” (remember Superman?) is the woods. It doesn’t have to be an enormous National Forest; just a place where there are enough trees to keep the view of the real world at bay for a moment. It is there I take a deep breath to regain my composure, or seek insights into what I should preach (or write), or simply but powerfully reconnect with my Savior. Perhaps I am drawn to the woods and trees because The Savior–my Savior, your Savior, and the world’s Savior–BECAME that Savior by dying on a rugged wood cross.
Not long ago I went for a walk in a new stretch of woods. I was not seeking to resolve any issues or find something to write about. It was one of those mornings when I just wanted to take a walk with The Savior. At the moment, I needed nothing from His hand; just to hold His hand was all I wanted. I was walking up a slight hill and I came to a level place, so I stopped for a moment just to take it all in (which is another way of saying I needed a rest). It was then I noticed it.
There was this tree I had stopped beside. Oh, I know there were lots of others trees around, but this one caught my attention. At eye level, it looked as if it were dead. Its trunk that should have been straight was bent and twisted. Obviously this tree, at some point, had encountered a severe storm and that storm had changed its shape. I also noticed that about half of its trunk was missing from near its base upwards to about 4 feet. Insects and perhaps disease had moved in after the storm that changed its shape. From my viewpoint, looking straight ahead at eye level, this tree had died and would soon fall and eventually rot away. And I also knew that process was a part of the cycle of life. This dead, decaying tree would provide nutrients for new life.
It was at that precise moment that I looked upward. I do not know what made me look up; perhaps it was The Savior who knew I was looking at the wrong part of that tree took his hands and made me look up. And I am glad He did because it changed my perspective about this twisted, bent tree. Right over my head, exactly over my head, there it was: a limb growing upward with green leaves. I am not a horticulturist by trade and I have never taken a botany class, but I knew enough to know that dead trees cannot produce green leaves. That limb was growing upward toward the sun and this happened because the tree was still alive even though at eye level it looked dead.
I took this experience as something the Savior was trying to teach me. The very first thought that entered my mind was, “The roots of this tree are still alive, so this tree isn’t dead! It’s alive!” (I know, I know, it doesn’t take much to amuse me!) At eye level there was not a single sign of life but below the surface life abounded, the roots were still working and there was still a connection in that bent and diseased tree to those roots, sending that life giving substance upward to that limb that was reaching up to the sun and producing leaves, that sign which said, “I am still alive! I am bent and damaged, but I AM alive because I am still connected to my roots!”
And this casual “for no particular reason” stroll though the woods became a classroom where I discovered an important lesson straight from The Savior. I reflected on the many storms that had happened in my own life; things which threatened to destroy me which were not my fault. I also reflected on the things I had done which allowed the insects and diseases to come into my life and start to destroy me. By the way, these “insects and diseases” are better known as “SIN”! I looked back and I knew there had been times in my life when at “eye level” I must have looked dead, to myself and certainly to others. But The Savior had another view, and that was at the roots of my life. HE is where my roots grow that holds me tight and gives me nourishment. He does this faithfully, even when I may not even be aware of His gracious work. In that bent and damaged tree, I saw my life, and in that limb reaching up toward the sun, I remembered my roots.
Paul, in writing to the believers at Colosse, gives us words to live by and certainly words to give any and all of us hope. The life of a tree is not in how straight its trunk is, but in how deep and how strong its roots are. Paul told the Colossians, and us, to let our roots grow deep in The Savior. We do this by being faithful to our private devotion times, by being faithful to worship and service as the Body of Christ, we do this by a daily persistent prayer life, and so many other ways. Our roots grow deep in The Savior when we focus on Him, His love and grace for us. And nothing makes our roots grow deeper than when we spend time at the foot of The Cross, The Cross made from a large straight growing tree. The more time we spend kneeling at The Savior’s Cross allows our roots to be stronger and deeper.
Perhaps there have been times in your life when storms, by no fault of you, have come along and bent and twisted your life. The dreams you held have now vanished like the early morning fog. The urge to throw in the towel on those dreams may be strong. If this is you right now, then I want to say to you the same thing The Savior said to me in that early morning stroll, “Remember the roots.” The storms do not change God’s purposes for your life. If anything, the storms you weather adds purpose to your life. Just as that tree taught me a lesson, so your life can teach others life changing lessons about the power of relationship–the relationship with The Savior because your own roots are growing down in Him.
Perhaps the disease and insects of sin have invaded your tree. You look eye level at yourself and may sincerely think that you are finished. You may feel that you have lost your usefulness in the Kingdom. If this is you this morning, then I want to say to you the same thing The Savior said to me in that early morning stroll, “Remember the roots.” Allow your roots to grow down into The One who still speaks those same words to every broken sinner, “I will not condemn you. I will release you to go and have a new start.” Grace and mercy are always available when we admit our inability to save our self and we intentionally choose to grow the roots of our life in Him.
And I discovered another lesson that revealed something about me that I thought I had managed to conquer, and it just hit me. (See, learning is not over just because you leave the classroom.) You may be familiar with this expression: “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” Well, God taught me a new expression: “Don’t judge a tree by its trunk at eye level.” I hate to admit it, but I must, that from time to time (and even once is not acceptable to The Savior) I judge people at eye level. I allow a bad experience, a moment of mistreatment, that eye level experience, to continue to shape my opinion of that person. I cannot see their roots, so I have to look up toward the Son and remember that there is still hope when there is still a connection to the roots. And by the way, if you have not figured it out yet, there is no way I or you or anyone can see the roots. Father, forgive me for my judgments and thank you for reminding me (again) that you are the judge, not I.
Let us pray: Father, above everything else, I want my roots to grow deep in you. I need the life giving substance of Your Spirit. Help me engage my life in those practices and disciplines that will keep me alive in You. Thanks for keeping this bent and diseased tree alive with new growth. And Lord, help me to stop making eye level judgments, not about trees, but about people. Amen and Amen!