Deep Roots

The Oak Tree

by Johnny Ray Ryder, Jr.

A mighty wind blew night and day.

It stole the Oak Tree’s leaves away.

Then snapped its boughs

and pulled its bark

until the Oak was tired and stark.

But still the Oak Tree held its ground

while other trees fell all around.

The weary wind gave up and spoke,

“How can you still be standing Oak?”

The Oak Tree said, I know that you

can break each branch of mine

in two,

carry every leaf away,

shake my limbs and make me sway.

But I have roots stretched in the earth,

growing stronger since my birth.

You’ll never touch them,

for you see they are

the deepest part of me.

Until today, I wasn’t sure

of just how much I could endure.

But now I’ve found

with thanks to you,

I’m stronger than I ever knew.

What gave the oak tree those deep roots? The strong wind is something we are feeling right now. We are in a time of adversity. It is hard and we have never navigated it before. COVID has impacted us in a lot of different ways. I wanted to take a few moments and just acknowledge the troubles we are all facing. The changes, the way the wind is hitting us. The way this storm keeps on giving, though we all thought it would come and go.

People feel like they are being held hostage by COVID. A friend of mine lost her dad this month in the nursing home. He had gone on a hunger strike because of being so lonely. Children and adults in group homes cannot leave and feel trapped. Suicide rates and substance use issues are going through the roof. It’s incredibly sad to see what is happening because of the virus.

Yesterday at the post office I noticed how people were desperate for connection, the line was longer than I’d ever seen. An old friend and I caught up while the stranger behind us joined our conversation. Before we knew it people around us were joining with their body language and eyebrows. All of us wanted to share about how COVID had impacted us.

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    because he has anointed me
        to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
    and recovery of sight to the blind,
        to let the oppressed go free…”

Luke 4:18

In Jesus, there is freedom. Jesus sets the prisoner free. In Him we have good news, release, recovery, freedom! Jesus brings good news to us, He allows us to see the truth!

Those who are with God are described as oak trees. If you look out my back windows the tallest trees you can see are the oaks. What I love about them is that they  keep their leaves the longest. They’re beautiful. If you ever try to dig up a little one to move, you will discover that though it’s only a foot tall, its roots go deep down about two feet. And it will be quite a challenge to move it, because it is so firmly rooted.

The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
    because the Lord has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
    to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
    and release to the prisoners;
 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,
    and the day of vengeance of our God;
    to comfort all who mourn;
to provide for those who mourn in Zion—
    to give them a garland instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
    the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
    the planting of the Lord, to display his glory.
They shall build up the ancient ruins,
    they shall raise up the former devastations;
they shall repair the ruined cities,
    the devastations of many generations.

Isaiah 61:1-4

While we are in the midst of this COVID storm, or any storm for that matter, what can we do? How can we make it through it? We have to recognize that we have an enemy that is prowling around trying to get us worked up, worried, and wandering around. If we do not keep our focus on Jesus, our roots could lose their grip. “They will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, to display His glory.” We are a part of His kingdom, and therefore the ones who display His glory, even in the storm!

In the storm we have to remember who is in control. It may look like we are about to perish, that everything is about to be lost, but Jesus is able to use the storm to demonstrate His strength. This helps us trust Him rather than ourselves.

On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

Mark 4:35-41

According to preservationists, Eagles do something really neat when it rains. They are the only bird that flies above the clouds rather than finding shelter and waiting it out (Rockland at Eagle Rest Sanctuary).

We have work to do, while we face our storms. We cannot just go and hide in the bushes.

Check out this scene from Forrest Gum. “I Gotta Find Bubba”

People are dropping like flies around us, never being rescued, never finding the Truth. We have got be on a mission like Forrest, going back at all costs to save them. Fearless, full of faith, in the mission.

Think back for a moment, what attracted you to the Kingdom in the first place? What people did God use to bring you to His Son? What attracts us now to the body of Christ, to the Church? What does that look like in scripture? Let’s look at the early Church…

Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?” Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.” And he testified with many other arguments and exhorted them, saying, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles.  All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.  Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

Acts 2:37-47

Keep reading in the book of Acts, look at Acts 4:32-6:16, the Early Church was so attractional because all people had all in common, no one had need and great wonders were being done among them. Think of a time where you met other Christians that so greatly looked out for each other that none were in need! If one’s car was broken down, another fixed it, if a single mom needed help with daycare, another family watched the kids. The Early Church had this right, they were generous and giving to each other, always caring in practical ways.

If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.  Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.  Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,

who, though he was in the form of God,
    did not regard equality with God
    as something to be exploited,

but emptied himself,
    taking the form of a slave,
    being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
 he humbled himself
    and became obedient to the point of death—
    even death on a cross.

Philippians 2:1-8

We are to be of one mind, without self-ambition, humble, regarding others as better than ourselves. This is a tall order, isn’t it? Yet, this is what attracts us to the Kingdom. I want to be with people who do not think they are better than me, I want to be with people who love me. Jesus was so humble, so obedient to the love He had for His Father that He willingly laid down His life on the cross. What a beautiful example He gave us, so that we would know how to love others.

“So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.”

John 13:14-15

Jesus demonstrated a life of servanthood, so that we too would live lives of servanthood. So that the world would look at the Church and see calm in the midst of the storm, love in the face of hatred, light in the darkness.

As we enter into life’s storms, remember how the eagle sores above, it continues its flight even in the midst of a storm. Remember how Jesus was in control of whatever happened to the disciples in the boat that day. Remember that Jesus laid down His life for us, and like the might oak trees, our roots are planted in Him, firm and deep, so that we cannot be moved.  If you are in the midst of a mighty storm right now, maybe It’s COVID complications, or maybe it is just the rough parts of life, remember that King Jesus prayed for you, He is with you always. Remember that is in the storm where we see His greatest strength. I will leave you with that prayer from John 17:  

After Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.  I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed.

“I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word.  Now they know that everything you have given me is from you;  for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost, so that the scripture might be fulfilled. But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves. I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world.  Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.

“I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word,  that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.  Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.

“Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.

John 17

*All Scriptures are taken from the NRSV.

*All Scripture references are taken from the NRSV.

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