Genesis 2:9; Psalm 1:1-3; John 4:1-15; Colossians 2:6-7
I love trees! I especially love very old trees.
I have three favorite trees in North Carolina. From the coast to the mountains, there is one favorite tree in each region. Moving from the coast to the mountains: in South Port, North Carolina there is an ancient oak tree called the bent oak. It is bent because of countless storms blowing up the Cape Fear River from the sea. The winds from the storms have caused the old tree to grow in a bent posture, away from the river and sea. For almost a thousand years, the old tree has survived the storms, bent but not broken.
In the Piedmont, on the grounds of Tanglewood Park in Clemmons, North Carolina; on the front yard of the Manor House, to the right as you face the Yadkin River, there stands a magnificent oak tree dated to be over three hundred years old. It amazes me that it has survived all these years, and you and I are blessed if we live into our 80’s and 90’s. I think about such things when I stop and ponder the ancient oaks on the peoperty of this church.
My third favorite tree is also an ancient oak tree that stands on the front yard of the Oak Grove United Methodist Church in Rutherford County, at the foot of the Appalachian Mountains. In the history records of that church, founded in 1791, the old tree is mentioned as being on the property when the first church building was erected. Think of the history that that three hundred year old oak tree has seen! How it has survived is beyond me. It stands only four feet off a busy highway and has been struck by cars numerous times. There have been lightening strikes and ice storms, but the old tree lives on, scars and all; standing guard over a five acre cemetary where rests the body of a best friend. I will always have a mental picture of my sons, Les and Jonathan standing under that old tree waiting for the school bus, its broad limbs sheltering them from the rain during the leafy seasons.
Psalm 1 describes righteous people as those who follow the ways of God. They are like trees planted by living water. As my three favorite trees demonstrate, trees have the habit of staying right where they are planted—come what may.
Even in great storms, I have witnessed the trees stripped of their bark, limbs broken, but are able to take great punishment and remain right where they are planted.
Isn’t that also true of churches? Isn’t that true of this church? How many storms of human concoction has she survived, not counting acts of nature—the lighten strike in 1952?
Those who put their confidence in God are also putting their confidence in the principles God has laid down in the Bible for us to live by. Read the Bible! Living by these principles is what makes one follow the paths of righteousness and become like a tree planted by living water.
These principles we are to follow are often called laws, particularly in the Old Testament. But we often make the mistake of seeing the Law as something heartless and cold. One of the possible interpretations of the Hebrew word translated law is a revealed teaching. This teaching, from God, is not intended to hurt but to preserve and save.
It is important to plant ourselves deeply into the ground of our biblical principles. There, by the living water, which is our personal and living relationship with God, through God’s son Jesus, we grow strong and safe.
When the storms of life come, it is too late for the tree to grow roots if it has none. At the time of our testing is not the time to try to figure out what we believe about God. Only if our roots are deep and strong, only if we are regularly drinking from the living water of Jesus Christ, can we withstand the storms of life.
We build our life together. We are Christians, members of Bethlehem UMC. We sink our roots deep into the eternal laws of God. We do not say thou shalt not steal ... ordinarily. Thou shalt not commit adultery...ordinarily. We do not say thou shalt love thy neighbor...except for the ones we don’t like. We hold to the principles firmly and then when the storms of life come, we can see the rationalizations for what they are.
Our problem often comes when we try to depend upon our own understanding. Hear the words of Jeremiah: Cursedare those who trust in mere mortals and make flesh their strength....they shall be like a shrub in the desert....they shall live in the parched places of the wilderness. (Jer. 17:5-10). Compare that to trees planted by living waters. Do you want to be a shrub in the dessert, or a tree by living waters?
Time and time again in the Bible when God’s judgement was about to fall, we read the words: And everyone did that whichwas right in their own eyes. This is where I fail the most in my walk with the Lord. I am a Situational Ethicist. In other words I let the situation dictate my response. Everyone is different and every situation is different. What applies in one situation may not apply in another situation with the same dynamics.
I am uncomfortable with the popular phrase: What would Jesus do? What would Jesus do in this situation? I’m not Jesus. I will never be Jesus. I probably can’t do in every situation what Jesus would do. So I like to turn that popular phrase: What would Jesus do? into what would Jesus have me do in thissituation? Now, how can I know what Jesus would have me do unless I know Jesus?! Therefore, like the writer of Colossians says in that great Living Bible paraphrase: And now, just as you trusted Christ to save you, trust him too for each day’s problems. Let your roots grow down deep into him and draw up nourishmentfrom him... . And I will remind you that in the Gospel according to John, Jesus said I am the vine, you are the branches.
We are connected to Jesus (spiritually speaking) like the roots of a tree are connected to, and draw nourishment from, the good earth. You can’t see the Spirit but you know it’s there. Just like you can’t see the roots of a tree underground drawing nourishment from the good earth, but you know they are there.
Who do you follow? If you follow that which seems good to you with no thought of asking Jesus about it; then you see your god in the mirror each morning, and you watch as your god ages and fades and dies. If you follow God, through the Son, Jesus the Christ, there is no fading or falling away, or death that is not conqured by eternal life. For as the writer of the N.T. book of Hebrews says: God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. O thou who changest not, abide with me.