Faith Roots: Roots & Wings week 3

Deuteronomy 6 : 1-14, 20-24 and Philippians 4: 1-9

There is a poem by Denis Waitley about Roots and Wings:

If I had two wishes, I know what they would be I'd wish for Roots to cling to, and Wings to set me free; Roots of inner values, like rings within a tree; and Wings of independence to seek my destiny. Roots to hold forever to keep me safe and strong, To let me know you love me, when I've done something wrong; To show me by example, and helps me learn to choose, To take those actions every day to win instead of lose. Just be there when I need you, to tell me it's all right, To face my fear of falling when I test my wings in flight; Don't make my life too easy, it's better if I try, And fail and get back up myself, so I can learn to fly. If I had two wishes, and two were all I had, And they could just be granted, by my Mom and Dad; I wouldn't ask for money or any store-bought things. The greatest gifts I'd ask for are simply Roots and Wings. -By Denis Waitley

There are two lasting gifts we can give our children –

One is roots, the other is wings. We are talking about roots again this week. Last week we focused on the roots of family, including our faith family or church. This week we are specifically talking about our faith roots. This is important because the roots we have, and their strength, determine in large part how we are able to withstand the storms of life. If we live long enough, we learn that it is a guarantee that bad stuff happens. When we are young, we think we are immortal, invincible…and that bad things won’t happen to us. We’re smarter and stronger and can determine our own destiny. If we LIVE long enough we learn that isn’t true. Life throws us curves no matter how diligent, virtuous and hardworking we are. And we need something stronger and more ultimate than ourselves to hold on to when those things happen.

The scriptures promise life with God. Abundant, full life with living water feeding us. Lots of images for life with God – fertile vineyards with bumper crops of graps, trees that yield fruit in season, trees planted by streams of living water…abundant life, full of good things.

Our Deuteronomy text is a promise with a warning – God has carried Israel through the wilderness and God will be with them in the land of promise. Here’s the warning: Do not forget the Lord your God when peace and prosperity come – or you will mess things up. At the setting of this text, the people were entering the Land of Caanan, the land of promise after years of wandering in the desert. The WRITING of this text was after the fall of Israel and the exile to Babylon – as if to explain what happened by the failure of the people to remember God in the good times.

The Deuteronomist explains: we honor God because God is the DELIVERER, the one who has LIBERATED the people from slavery. God is the giver of life and possibilities, including this new place of plenty after years of existing in the desert. God has BLESSED this people and brought them through adversity into a good place. We might think of the words for Psalm 16, verse 6: The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.

But we don’t always feel so blessed and abundant. There are times in our lives, frequent times for most of us, when we feel worn out, dried up, a bit shy of the abundant life promised by Jesus to his followers. We feel like we are more like a desert than a lush and growing field, more like a dried up tree than one full and green and bearing fruit. We feel like the demands of live have drained the LIFE out of us. Dry, dusty ourselves, and travelling through wilderness landscapes where we are searching for signs of life. What happens to us to make us feel so dry and lifeless?

CHRIS. It’s life. Married right after high school because there was a baby on the way – and he was too responsible not to be responsible. His mother was his strongest supporter – but she had some serious health issues. She died too soon, and his relationship with his father had never been good. But after his mother’s death, his father’s health deteriorated, and before three years had passed, he had died too. Divorced twice with five kids from three marriages– life has been hard. He struggles with anger management and alcohol use – and he grew up in a family that attended church. He was active in youth and went on mission trips for six years. But he would tell his – his faith never really went deep. It hasn’t held him in the midst of the troubles he has faced. But he is going back to church, trying to build some roots for himself and for his kids. He knows that he needs a greater strength than his own. And so do his children.

Abundant life doesn’t come without strong roots, rooted and grounded in God. Trees are stronger with extensive root systems. Psalm 1 describes what is needed: Blessed is the one who delights in the law of the Lord – who is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and it’s leaf does not wither. The others are not so, but like chaff that the wind drives away – tumbleweeds or rooted trees drawing from living water. Wild Fig Tree roots go 400 feet deep by a Wild Fig tree at Echo Caves, near Ohrigstad, Mpumalanga, South Africa. The root system can be traced through the caves below. These deep roots allow fig trees to gather water even in deserts. Their roots go deep.

Abundant life – life in God. It seems elusive sometimes, but it is one of of the most repeated promises of the Bible.

Where is our ultimate resource for life? It matters what it is. With all of the authorities, or those claiming to be authorities, in the world today – where we put our trust matters. In case you wondered how you know where your trust really lies – this is what you take most seriously and consult most regularly. For example, if you read the horoscope daily, but not your Bible…if your mate decides all of the big questions in your life…if there is a certain news source from which you get all of your opinions….if there this an advice guru or talk show host that you quote regularly and who becomes your view of life…or a community group that is the basis of your social opinions…

Where would you turn if you received some life-shattering news? Perhaps the sudden and unexpected death of a loved one. A financial crisis, such as the additional 800,000 families are facing in our nation right now because of the government shut-down -- on top of those who were already struggling. When your spouse comes home to tell you that they aren’t happy, maybe there’s someone else, or they don’t want to be married anymore. Where do we turn?

  • Some try to escape the problem. Alcoholism and drug use go up in times of national crisis, and probably for those in personal crisis too. So does suicide.

  • Some resort to cynicism, spiral down into depression or withdraw from the world.

  • Some find one person who will tell them exactly what to do – confident that they have all of the answers.

Obviously, these are not really answers. They are the go-tos for those with insufficient root systems.

The more complex answer is really to have the roots for our lives in a relationship with God. Not even just the Bible – because the Bible often points to God, but it takes a bit of work on our part. It isn’t a UNIVERSAL BOOK OF ANSWERS in itself. (The crisis of a sudden death of a spouse is not answered by a Levirite marriage in our time, nor is ethnic cleansing the way to get people back to worship of God.) It is if we don’t know God that miss the source of connection and strength. It is a connection with God, a relationship, that will help prevent our view of God being distorted or narrow.

Roots in God offer us:

  • shape our moral and ethical values

  • provide us resources of strength in times of pain, hardship, and loss (“Where do I go when I need a shelter?” – “back on my knees again.”)

  • help us resist temptation (Mantra of a recovering alcoholic: God has a plan for me – this isn’t it.)

  • provide direction for our lives (to be a Kingdom or kindom people)

  • nurture us in the ways that lead to life all of our days (“Following Jesus is the best thing I ever did.”)

  • provide assurance when we are facing death (JW: “Best of all, God is with us!”)

A Matter of meaning -- Where we find life’s meaning.

World’s answers: Friedrich Nietzsche: second half of the 19th century – “God is dead.” His philosophy may not be known or read much in our time – but the God-deniers are still alive and well. Of course, they go about their denials differently in our time. They most often point to business, profit, sometimes the law – but whatever their argument, they seek to push God to the margins. Care for the vulnerable is not a moral imperative, and power and influence outweigh responsibility for the care of neighbor. God is displaced from the political sphere or economic sphere – as though piety only has to do with personal values and not social ones. And the Bible is used to quote ancient purity codes that are only selectively followed while the Sermon on the Mount is ignored as out-of-date ethics along with feeding the hungry and seeking justice for the oppressed. Conventional religiosity seems surface deep over a wide area – but passionate faith is relegated to saints and fanatics and not given voice. (i)

Martin Buber’s understanding stands in opposition: Faith is not a feeling in the soul, but an entrance into reality, an entrance into the whole reality without reduction or curtailment.” NOT a segmented understanding with limited application to life and ethics as might be more convenient. BUT it is only THIS way of understanding our roots in God that will give us the resources we need to help when we can’t face life, can’t even move, on our own.

The Psalmist’s answer: “The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; you are my lot.” Psalm 16: 5.

To be a tree planted by a river, where there is constant access to living water, our lives must be PLANTED in grace. Our roots must go deep and be connected to LIVING WATER. Trees planted by a riverbank thrive. The Psalmist might challenge us to dig deep. Certainly St Paul would. How much room in our thoughts is there for God? How much time might we allow for God in our day, or over the course of the week? We can schedule some time to read the Bible. We can take the time to pray instead of checking our newsfeed in the morning. If we took time for coffee with a close faith friend, consider what the major goals or directions are for your life. Are you really growing in your love of God and relationship with God as the days, weeks, months, years slip by? Consider the activities that fill your schedule – do they help you follow Jesus and show his love to others? If not – what is in the way of your doing that? Consider what would need to change in your live in order to make this your focus. This focus will help nurture deep roots in your life, strong connections to the one who is the SOURCE of life. (ii)

  • Prayer. Waters our spirit. A two-way process, nurtures a relationship.

  • Then we produce. The secret to good fruit is connection to GOD – to soaking up living water.

Someone asked a Hindu master how he managed to maintain his serenity and peace in the course of the demands of the day. He answered that he began the day with 30 minutes of meditation. “I never leave my place of meditation,” he said.

30 Day prayer challenge: Get up earlier and take the first 30 minutes for prayer – speaking and listening for God. OR the first 30 after you get the family out the door.

Let me tell you why: I bear testimony that Jesus the Christ is the living presence of God. He is the one who salvages our souls from the darkness that creeps over them. There is a life when lived with him that is beyond description. And if we take the time every morning to sink deep spiritual roots in the love of God shown in Jesus, then we will have the strength and capacity to face life in those moments when it throws its worst at us. With roots deep in the love of God, the storms of life have much less impact on us.

Dr. KING. This weekend we celebrate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King….

I Can't Face It Alone
Lord, I am here taking a stand for what I believe is right. But now I am afraid. The people are looking to me for leadership, and if I stand before them without strength and courage, they too will falter. I am at the end of my powers. I have nothing left. I’ve come to the point where I can’t face it alone.
Excerpted from,"Thou, Dear God”: Prayers that Open Hearts and Minds,ed. Lewis Baldwin. (iii)

We cry out, “I can’t face it alone,” and God replies, “You don’t have to. I have called you by name and you are mine.”

Our lives can be rooted deep in God’s love for us. We can be like trees planted by a river with constant access to living water. Water that gives life.

(i) Influenced and prompted by a Will Herberg sermon called “The Strangeness of Faith, printed in Sermons to Intellectuals.

(ii) Influenced by Chuck Swindoll in _______________________91-102.

(iii) Thou, Dear God": Prayers That Open Hearts and Spirits (King Legacy) Paperback – February 4, 2014.

by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (Author), Lewis V. Baldwin

Photo by Kyle Ellefson on Unsplash