Saturday, April 18, 2015

Oaks of Righteousness

Very early on Good Friday, an impressive storm blew through the Wichita area.  It flicked off the lights in our neighborhood for several hours.  Other homes in the area lost power for a few days.  It snapped rows of electrical poles, causing the lines to trail in the streets.  This storm also blew over a couple of tress.  When the kids and I examined these trees, we noticed they had very little roots.  Their trunks were tall and supported many branches, but their roots were small.  A little research quickly revealed root damage is a common cause of tree loss during a storm.1  All this tree imagery reminds me of something from my Bible.

In Luke 4:17-21 (NIV), Jesus goes to the temple of His home town, Nazareth.  He read a passage from Isaiah, telling His listeners that He is currently fulfilling the prophecy. 
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” 
Wow, what a precise statement of Christ’s ministry before the cross!  If you flip back to Isaiah 61 where our Master read, you can read the remainder of verse 2 and 3.  These verses describe the redemptive work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of the believer who repents of his (or her) sin and seeks to follow after Him.2  Notice how we are described at the end of verse 3, “They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.”  What a vision for our lives!  We distinctively display His righteousness (not our own) and in doing so reveal His splendor to all who pass by us. 

Oak trees have distinctive root systems.  Many people are familiar with the oak tree’s tap root.  It develops early in the sapling’s life to provide necessary water.  I liken the oak tree’s tap root to our personal connection with our Lord and Savior.  He is our Rock and Foundation.  Our source of strength when it seems like nothing is going our way.  Once we taste the living water, we desire more of Him just like an oak tree needs a continual supply of fresh water.  Often, I am so enthralled by the reality of fellowship with the Divine Creator that other people tend to fall into the background.  But the oak tree has more roots than just the tap root. 

Within the top 6-18 inches of soil, an oak tree sends out a vast network of roots that stretch horizontally.  This expanse of roots reaches 4-7 times the width of the crown of the tree.  I visualized the roots to look like an inverted version of the tree hanging underground with most of the roots traveling downward, but this simply isn’t true.  The tree develops a wide network of roots stretching laterally, like a wine glass (tree) resting on a plate (underground roots).3 In some tree varieties, including oak trees, these roots intertwine with the roots of other trees.  They can even grow together through a process called grafting.  Imagine the roots of the trees like people shaking or clasping hands.  Through grafted roots, the individual trees can pass nutrients to each other.4

God doesn’t call us to a purely vertical relationship with Himself.  Peppered throughout Old Testament Law and the teachings of Jesus is the idea that love for God overflows into a love for other people (Matthew 22:37, Deuteronomy 6:5, Leviticus 19:9-18).  The Apostles urge us to become part of a community of believers, not to exist as an individual tree standing against the storms of life alone (Hebrews 10:25, Galatians 6:2, Acts 2:42-43).  One tree sends nourishing sugars to another through their grafted roots.  We find this in the community of believers also.  Need an ounce of faith?  I might have some to spare.  If I’m low on joy, someone else may have an abundance to share with me.  Ultimately these spiritual nutrients come from God, but we can cultivate them and then share the abundance with each other. 

Let’s make this practical.  Trees can only exchange nutrients if they are connected.  I invite you to comment with specific ways that you connect with other believers in the body of Christ. 

Works Cited
1. Nix, Steve.  “Tree Storm Damage – Dealing with Stem and Limb Breakage.”  About Education. Web.  18 April, 2015.
2. Pfeiffer, Charles F. and Everett F. Harrison. The Wycliffe Bible Commentary.  Chicago: Moody Press, 1977.  P. 651.
3. Randall, Jesse.  “Roots In Depth.”  ISU Forestry Extension.  Iowa State University, 11 January, 2012.  Web. 18 April, 2015.
4. Waller, Sarah.  “Scientists Peek Into the Hidden World of Tree Roots.”  KUOW News and Information, May 30, 2013.  Web.  18 April, 2015.

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