Sunday, November 17, 2013

Taking Root, Bearing Fruit

"And the remnant that is escaped of the house of Judah 
shall yet again take root downward, and bear fruit upward."
2 Kings 19:30

Ever feel like you are barely hanging on?
Like everything within you wants to keep going, 
but most of you is broken and jaded and out of touch?
Like there is just a shred of "you" left....
and that shred is hanging on by a mere thread?

Today, we went on a nature walk/scavenger hunt with some homeschool friends.
The morning autumn air was crisp and invigorating as we walked along
 looking for different types of leaves,
animal prints, 
and the sorts of things you would hope to find in a forest.

As we walked, a homeschool Dad pointed out the strangest looking "tree" to the rest of us....
well, at least what is left of the tree.

Can you see it?

This is it.
Up close and personal.

You can see how big the diameter of the tree used to be.
And you can see that all that is left is a hollow trunk,
and the rest of it is missing, except this one little "sprig" of a tree
that continues to grow and thrive and even bear leaves.

If you move your eyes up to the top area of the "sprig",
you will see the green leaves that continue to be produced.

None of us had ever seen anything like it.

How did this little part of the tree trunk manage to survive and hang on?
What happened to the rest of the tree?
How can there still be life left in a stump this hollow and this...well, dead?
How does it still thrive, in spite of the rest of the tree being cut off?
What gives this tiny portion of what used to be a big tree
the courage to keep fighting for life....
to keep refusing to give up?

As I pondered our little phenomenon,
I thought about a lot of things.

I thought of Joseph and how the odds were so incredibly stacked against him,
but in spite of all that was thrown at him,
he kept climbing to the top and being blessed by God's favor.
How he was ruthlessly sold like a common slave to Midianite foreigners 
by his own consumed-with-jealousy, double-crossing brothers.
How the foreigners sold him to Potiphar, the Egyptian captain of Pharaoh's guard,
who was so impressed with him, he promoted him to a high-ranking position.
How he was falsely accused of making advances towards his boss's wife
and how he was thrown into a dank prison cell, when in reality, he was nobly innocent.
How he found favor in prison and was again promoted and shown respect.
For years, he suffered, missing his family and longing for home.
But, in the midst of it all, he prospered.
Everything he touched thrived and blossomed into something good.
Towards the end of his trials, he said,
"God hath caused me to be fruitful in the land of my affliction."
Genesis 41:52
No matter how the enemy tried to destroy him and cast him down,
Joseph advanced, increased, and progressed....
right in the midst of overwhelming disadvantage.
He held tight to his lifeline and his faith in God.
He persevered and pressed through his trials...
refusing to ever give up...or give in.

I thought of the story of the mule who fell into the well and how his owners decided 
he wasn't worth the time, effort, and energy it would take to pull him out, 
so they decided to leave him in there and bury him alive.
They began shoveling dirt into the well, on top of the mule.
But, much to their surprise, the mule would not be buried.
Each time a shovelful of dirt fell into the well, 
the mule determinedly and stubbornly stomped it beneath his feet, packing the dirt beneath him,
using it to propel him upward, until finally, 
he walked right out of that well...alive and unharmed.

I thought of Daniel and how he was kidnapped and removed from his home and all that was familiar, 
taken to a foreign land,
and commanded to conform to foreign customs...
including heathen worship.
He continued to turn his face towards home and prayed to the God of Heaven...three times a day...
defying the pressure to conform and at the risk of facing severe repercussions.
God blessed him, giving him favor with the upper crust,
right in the land of his oppression.
His enemies were determined to form a plot against him 
and ended up convincing the king to legislate a law that would eventually entrap 
Daniel and cause him to be thrown into a den of hungry lions.
Even then, he held on to his faith and refused to relent or recant.
God delivered him and spared his life, in spite of all that came against him.

We could all think of several more Bible heroes of the faith 
who stood firm and prospered right in the very midst of severe opposition, 
overcoming monumental odds to thrive and grow and produce sweet, rich spiritual fruit.

It all has to do with our root system 
and how deeply-grounded we are in God.
If we are merely a "surface" Christian, doing what we do for outward show only,
we won't be able to withstand the storms of life and hold on.

I love today's verse.
Especially the last part about "taking root downward
and bearing fruit upward."

It was speaking of "a remnant" of what used to be a larger "whole"
being able to still live and remain steadfast...
even after the rest had broken or fallen off.

The word remnant in this verse literally means,
"to remain, to be left over,
the rest,
to be left from."

Paul prophesied in 2 Thessalonians 2:3,
"Let no man deceive you by any means: 
for that day shall not come
except there come a falling away first..."

We are surely nearing "that day".
That day when this world will be called into judgment,
and we will stand before a just and holy God.
It won't come, "except there come a falling away first."
There will be a falling away.
Can't we sense that it is now happening?
Can't we see it?
With our own spiritual eyes?
As plainly as our physical eyes can see the blatancy of the missing part of the tree?

I would love to be able to see the root system of this "partial" tree.
Somehow, the "remnant" is still connected, and it is still hanging on for dear life,
in spite of the rest of the tree being gone.

The deeper our root system, the less likely we will be to fall away,
even if the rest of the spiritual unit with which we associate ourselves withers and dies off.

Some of the trees in that forest have such powerful root systems,
their roots have managed to force bumps and ridges into the asphalt that paves the walking trail.
Some spots are so pronounced, you really have to watch your step to keep from tripping on them.
Every now and then one of the children would say,
"Tripping alert!  Tripping alert!"
to warn the rest of us when they came across a bumpy spot.

How deep and how strong are our roots?
Will we be part of the "falling away",
or part of the "remnant"?

The time to take root is now.
We can't change the past, 
can't go back and undo past failures,
or redo choices we have made in our Christian walk.

We can only make the conscious choice and effort it will take to 
"yet again take root downward, and bear fruit upward."

The deeper you and I dare to go in the things of God will not only make us less likely to fall away,
but it will increase the amount of spiritual fruit we are capable of bearing.

It is impossible to draw nigh to God without outward evidence of 
what is taking place on the inside piercing through and becoming apparent on the outside.
It will make manifest in our daily life,
our walk and talk,
and our Christian testimony.
The fruit will bear upward...
automatically and without being forced.

Jesus said,
"I am the vine, ye are the branches: 
he that abideth in Me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: 
for without Me ye can do nothing.
If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; 
and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned."
John 15:6,7

We must remain attached to the vine.
We must abide in Him...the Source of our spiritual life.
Without remaining rooted in Him, we will become hollow, like the dead part of the tree,
wither, stop bearing fruit, and fall away.

Joseph, Daniel, and so many others had developed a deep, unshakable root system...
far before they encountered the powerful, overwhelming storms of their lives.
Had they not entered the storms with a steadfast, firm grip on God,
they would have caved to the pressure and oppression.

Joseph's father was Jacob, the man who wrestled with the angel, remember?
His mother was Rachel, who was infertile until God miraculously opened her womb.
His grandparents were Isaac and Rebekah, his great-grandparents, Abraham and Sarah. 
Joseph's spiritual root system wound and penetrated through generations. 
His ancestors were patriarchs and matriarchs of faith in the reality of who God is.
That faith, imparted to him at home, pulled him through the darkest of times....
gave him strength and stamina to stand firm and not give up.

We don't know much about the individual participants in Daniel's lineage.
We aren't given the names of his biological parents, 
nor do we know much about his pre-kidnapped life.
All we really know is that he was in the midst of,
"certain of the children of Israel, and of the king's seed, and of the princes;
children in whom was no blemish, but well favoured, 
and skilful in all wisdom, 
and cunning in knowledge, 
and understanding science, 
and such as had ability in them to stand in the king's palace, 
and whom they might teach the learning and the tongue of the Chaldeans."
Daniel 1:3,4

We may not know his parents', grandparents', and great-grandparents' names, 
but I have a strong hunch that somewhere in the mix there were those who
loved and worshiped God with all their hearts...
those who instilled a deep faith in the heart of Daniel....
those who taught him to pray and seek the Lord in times of distress....
those who believed there is only one God to Whom we should pray....
those whose example imparted a deep and unmovable root system of faith in that one, true God.

Thinking of Daniel and Joseph and how important it was that they walked into their life-tests 
with deep roots already in place makes me ever so aware of 
Kevin's and my God-given charge and responsibility as Zachary's parents.
His soul, his life, his character has been placed in our hands and stewardship
by the omniscient wisdom of omnipotent, almighty God....
to raise, to train, to mold, to teach, 
to instill and impart an impenetrable root system. 

I thank God for my Christian upbringing and heritage.
I can say with the psalmist David,
"The lines are fallen unto me in pleasant places; yea, I have a goodly heritage."
Psalm 16:6

Mom and Dad had very little of this world's goods to leave behind when they left this world.
They didn't leave financial bounty or houses and land.
But, they left the most precious, valuable gift ever imparted to mankind.
They taught me about Jesus and how He died on the cross for my sins.
They instilled a deep, uncommon sense of faith in my heart from as far back as I can consciously remember.
They taught me to pray...
to seek God first....
to let Him pilot my matter how stormy the sea.
They taught me these things first....
before I ever left home and faced the challenges I have consistently encountered along the way.
They developed in me a reinforced, durable, secure, stalwart root system
that has continued to strengthen and increase and deepen over the course of my life.

Papaw and Mimmie instilled roots of deep faith in Mom,
she and Dad instilled them in me...
now what?

The torch has landed in my hand.
A beyond precious soul has been entrusted to my care.
Sweet, heaven-quality innocence to preserve....
a pliable, teachable soul that will live in eternity forever...somewhere.

More clearly than ever before I see his need for spiritual roots.
A strong downward root system that penetrates deep and thorough.

God help me, I don't know how to do what needs to be done.
I don't have the answers.
I feel the weight.
I grasp the necessity.
I am so inadequate...incapable.

How do you instill that into a child?
How do you equip him for the falling away that is now...inevitably happening all around him?
How do you insure that the roots of faith in the one, true God are deep enough?
How do you prepare him for the onslaught of infiltrated, permeated evil so present in the atmosphere?
How do you do really make this stick?

The only safe foundation on which to build is the life-breathing, root-inspiring Word of God.
If he learns nothing else in all of this teaching...on this homeschool journey,
"Dear Lord, let him learn Your words.
Let them sink deep into the fiber of his very soul.
Write them upon the tables of his sweet, precious heart.
Instill them so deep that they will be there when he needs them most.
Keep us faithful at our post of duty.
Help us waver not.
Make us strong in the power of Your might...not our own.
May he see the evidence of those roots in our lives.....
may they grow in him and stabilize his life.
As they grew in Papaw and Mimmie and Mom and Dad,
and as they have grown and continue to grow in Kevin...and me."

The falling away is happening, my friend.
The Bible said it would.
But, don't despair.
God still has a remnant.
It is still alive....taking root downward....bearing fruit upward.
He has always had one.
Always will.
It has slimmed down from time to time, 
but He has always had someone who would serve Him
and stand up for what is right.
He still does.
"God hath not cast away his people which he foreknew. 
Wot ye not what the scripture saith of Elijah? 
how he maketh intercession to God against Israel, saying,
Lord, they have killed thy prophets, and digged down thine altars; 
and I am left alone, and they seek my life.
But what saith the answer of God unto him? 
I have reserved to myself seven thousand men, who have not bowed the knee to the image of Baal.
Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant 
according to the election of grace."
Romans 11:2-5

It stands firm...still attached to the Vine...just like the lone sprig of the once big, thriving tree.

All is not lost.
Jesus will have a people for which to come back.
He will find faith when He comes.
May He find it in you....and in me...
firmly attached to the Vine, 
roots deep and solid, fruit fresh on the vine, 
clinging fast to His nail-scarred hand.

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