The Purpose and Function of Roots, Part 2

Bloom where planted

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If we are going to put down healthy roots, whether in a team setting or in a solo campaign, we must understand the environment in which we find ourselves. Disease, mold, too little water, too much water, and other conditions can lead to the destruction of the root base and the eventual failure of the structure of the tree.

Take some time to look at where you are at. What are the struggles that you face? Do you struggle to have quiet time with God? Do you struggle reading your bible? Do you have personal integrity issues that keep creeping into your life? Do you have glaring weaknesses in your personal leadership development? Answering yes to any of these questions shows a weakness in root development. You need to get to the root of the problem and begin to take the steps to shore up these areas.

Daily quiet time

Each of us needs a quiet place. A place where the world slows down and we have a moment to think. Psalms 46:10 invites us to “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”(NIV) Each day God wants us to slow our minds and purposely turn our attentions to who he is. When we exalt something we bring it into perspective. God is already high above us in every way. Our worship and attention to him does not elevate him, but it puts his splendor in perspective. It lowers us to a proper place, which allows our faith to remember that he is the one carrying us. He is the one that is guiding our lives. He is the one that is great, and deserving to be praised.

We must make this time in our lives a priority. Be it five minutes or fifty minutes, this small course correction keeps us on track. This is our daily time to align our personal moral compass back to true north. It keeps us grounded and moving in the right direction. God desires to lead our lives, but for Him to lead, we must be following. I look at it this way: God guides our lives through gentle nudges more than drastic shoves. He whispers more than he yells. So if we are daily walking, quietly with Him, then His spirit is able to come along side of us and nudge us in the direction he is going. He draws close to us and helps give just that minor course correction that puts us right in the middle of the path. He whispers in those quiet moments and restores our souls.

Daily Bible reading

God has spoken to us through is His Word. So many times we go through seasons where the whispers seem quiet and the nudges are so subtle they go unnoticed. We long to hear a word from God. That is why he gave us his written word. The Bible is his life giving words to us. It is our glimpse into the lives of others and the journey that they had with God. It shares the voice of Jesus, God’s son. It gives us the practical guidance from God’s servants, the prophets and disciples.

I don’t think that I can overstate the importance of reading God’s word every day. It is the nutrients that are added to the soil of our lives that we need. You will not see fruits in your life unless you are bringing in the nourishment of God’s Word, daily. Daily time in God’s Word is essential for proper root development in our lives.

Personal Integrity

As leaders, and people, we are only as good as our word. In a world that has moved to moral relativism, we have seen the decline of personal integrity. Do you lie? How about not tell all of the truth? Steal? Cheat?

Today’s leaders need to develop strong personal habits that will keep them grounded during the storms of life. A great place to start is with the 10 commandments. Since they have been removed from so many places in our culture, maybe you need a reminder of what they are. Here is the full list, as found in Exodus 20:

  1. “You must not have any other god but me.
  2. “You must not make for yourself an idol of any kind or an image of anything in the heavens or on the earth or in the sea. You must not bow down to them or worship them, for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God who will not tolerate your affection for any other gods. I lay the sins of the parents upon their children; the entire family is affected—even children in the third and fourth generations of those who reject me. But I lavish unfailing love for a thousand generations on those[b] who love me and obey my commands.
  3. “You must not misuse the name of the Lord your God. The Lord will not let you go unpunished if you misuse his name.
  4. “Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. You have six days each week for your ordinary work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath day of rest dedicated to the Lord your God. On that day no one in your household may do any work. This includes you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, your livestock, and any foreigners living among you. 11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens, the earth, the sea, and everything in them; but on the seventh day he rested. That is why the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and set it apart as holy.
  5. “Honor your father and mother. Then you will live a long, full life in the land the Lord your God is giving you.
  6. “You must not murder.
  7. “You must not commit adultery.
  8. “You must not steal.
  9. “You must not testify falsely against your neighbor.
  10. “You must not covet your neighbor’s house. You must not covet your neighbor’s wife, male or female servant, ox or donkey, or anything else that belongs to your neighbor.”

It is not just enough to know this list, but to begin to develop these traits in our lives. As leaders, we need for the people that we are working with and leading to be able to trust us. They need to trust the environment we created for them to work in. They need to trust in our word and in our actions. They need to have faith that they can thrive in a working environment that is not going to be toxic or one that is unsafe.

Our own personal integrity says a lot about our faith in God. For example, when we covet someone else’s things, we are saying that we don’t believe that our God loves us as much as them and that what He has blessed us with is not as good as the blessing he is giving others. It is more about our selfishness and lack of trust in God than our desire to have our neighbor’s things. When we steal, we are saying to God that we don’t trust in him enough to provide for our daily needs. When we lie, we tell God that we don’t trust the truth to set us free.

Our personal integrity development is directly linked to our crucifying of our flesh. The stronger our selfishness and selfish desires, the more our self-preservation will win over our personal convictions. We need to take an honest assessment of where we are weak. In a team context, we can use peer review, 360 review, customer feedback, and other tools to find our weak and blind spots. In a solo leadership role, you need to find people that you can give permission to be honest with you to help you see the places where you may need to grow. It can be hard to hear about our personal blind spots and weak areas, but if we are willing to listen, we just may begin to put down the strong roots that will make us stable and deep.

Leadership development

Just as an oak tree that grows alone in a field develops differently than a tree in a forest, a leader that is primarily working alone will have to develop their leadership skills in a different way than one who has a team. Team building exercises work great when you have a team, but when you are the lone leader they are difficult. A lone leader may feel that since they have no one to work alongside, they don’t need to work on developing their leadership style and skills. A team leader may hear the praises from his teammates and feel the synergy of their collective efforts and may neglect further leadership development because they feel they have arrived or are doing well enough to get by. Every leader should be a growing leader.

I remember when I was first starting out in ministry. I was at a small church in a small town and there was just me and the lead pastor on staff. We were two lone oaks growing in the foot hills of middle Tennessee. It was a beautiful place to be and a great season of ministry. However, I quickly learned that even though I was not leading a group of leaders, I needed to invest in myself. I needed to grow. If I wanted to be a better leader, I had to develop my skills. This became apparent to me mainly on Sunday mornings. There was a season where I felt like I was so busy doing church that I was not growing and being ministered to myself. My pastor would preach, but the words did not reach my roots so that I could grow. In those moments I had to find other leaders, other voices, which were able to feed my soul. I started getting sermons from friends, mentors, and others that helped me grow. I made sure to share them with my wife so that we both were being fed and growing. I wanted to make sure that I was not just maintaining myself for that day, but that I was preparing my leadership roots for the days that were to come. I may not have had a team then, but I wanted to prepare for when we would.

I have always been in ministry situations where I have been kind of a lone ranger. I have never, in twenty years, had my own secretary. Because of that, I know that one of my weaknesses in leadership is knowing how to delegate; I find it hard to trust people to do things when I feel like I can do them. Now that I find myself serving with a team, I value the days that I let my roots grow deep so that my leadership style is well defined; however, there is always room to grow. These days I find that I need to not just grow in depth, but in my reach as my roots intertwine with others around me. I have to trust enough to allow for the combination of our root structures to provide the synergy that we need to move our team ahead at warp speed.

No matter where a leader finds himself, as a part of a team or a lone ranger, we all need to be developing our leadership styles. Leaders are readers – we need to expand our knowledge. Leaders are networkers – we need to expand our relationships and connections. Leaders need to constantly be developing themselves, the team they currently serve with, and the team that they will one day be a part of.

If we are going to bloom where we are planted, we must make sure that the unseen world of our root system is vibrant and growing. Our daily prayer time and daily time in the Word cannot be neglected. Our personal integrity and our leadership development must be areas of our life that we are passionate about growing. The only way to stand strong in any leadership position is to grow strong enough roots to endure the storms and challenges that will come. If we are faithful in the unseen things, no one may ever see our roots, but they will be able to see it in the fruits that grow.

The Purpose and Function of Roots – Part 1

The Purpose and Function of Rootsgreen-304706_1280

There have been times in my life when I have been called upon to do some landscape work. One of the biggest projects I ever worked on was transforming the front lawn of my in-laws house into a series of paths and raised planter gardens. While they were planning this project, they wanted to highlight a tree that was located in front of the house; that tree would be in the center of one of the raised beds. We would spend days digging around that tree, trying to navigate the root system to make sure the path we were putting down and the retaining wall we were constructing would be level. Because this was a large tree, the root system was enormous. It was hard work.

My first encounter with roots was as a young child. My mother would have us go into the driveway and pull the weeds. We would get a penny per weed. The only catch was we could not just pull the leaves off the weed. The root system must be removed as well to get the full price. I never thought it was a big deal to leave roots behind. That was until the next time I had to go pull weeds again, and that weed had grown back, seemingly stronger this time. I have spent many a morning pulling dandelion weeds from the gravel driveway of that small house.

Just like those weeds, a strong root system is needed if we are going to have longevity. I have heard it said that our public life must not grow bigger than our private life. The branches of our lives that everyone sees cannot grow bigger than the ability for the root structures of our lives to provide the strength and nourishment that we need. The root ball must be able to support the branch reach. This principle is true; whether we are talking about oak trees or people. Let’s take a moment to really examine what a healthy root system looks like and then we will look at its functionality.

Support and nourishment

There are two basic types of roots. One type, the feeder roots are very thin, hair-like strands that reach into the soil around the tree to gather nutrients from the soil. These roots are very fine and fragile. Another type of root is thicker and woodier in structure. These roots are useful for anchoring the tree to the ground and also providing a method of transfer for the nutrients gathered by the feeder roots to the core of the tree and eventually to the leaves, where photosynthesis takes place.

The overall health of the tree is directly related to the health of the root system. If the feeder roots have disease, too much water, or too rich a soil, the tree will suffer. If the supporting root structure is damaged, then the nutrients will not be able to flow up to the core of the tree and the tree itself becomes unstable. Though this part of the tree is completely unseen, it is essential to the life of the tree. The larger the tree, the deeper and stronger the supporting roots need to reach. Also the larger the tree, the farther out the feeder roots must go to provide the large amounts of water and nutrients the tree needs.

The tree must grow with a certain balance. There have to be enough feeder roots to gather the water and nutrients, but at the same time there has to be enough supporting roots to have a stable and healthy tree.

Growing our roots

Like trees, we need to have ways for our spiritual roots to grow. Without them, we become weak and unstable. Our feeder roots are those habits that we form that go out and bring back nourishment for our souls. That is why a daily time of reading God’s word and spending time in prayer are so important. These become our direct source of life. These moments feed our souls. We also need to have other sources of nutrients. Weekly sermons, books, good conversations with friends of like faith all feed our souls. They can be great sources of the love, joy and peace that we need. These roots are tender and in need of constant supervision. These are the habits in our lives that when we ignore them too much, they will quickly go away. Because they are tender, they need constant care.

We also need habits in our private lives that anchor our souls. We need to have a good transfer system to take the nutrients that are coming into our lives and make sure they soak all the way into our heart and mind. Quiet contemplation and mediating on God’s Word are great habits to form. They allow for God’s Word to work its way off of the pages and into our hearts. Some people get weirded out by the word mediation. Meditation on God’s Word is not a process of trying to empty your mind of thought. God does not use empty minds. He wants you to fill you mind with His word and then slow your thinking process down so that those words can be soaked into your life. Meditation on the God’s Word is a hard concept to for us to learn in our quick paced, noise infused culture. However, quiet contemplation can become a great habit if you take the time to build it.

We should be taking five minutes after we read God’s word to review it to ourselves. Ask yourself questions like: 1) What did I just read? 2) What was the context of the passage (who was the audience, where did they live, when did they live)? 3) How can I apply this verse or verses to my present situation? As we mediate on God’s word, we allow for the principles of his word to work their way into our hearts and minds. They become a part of who we are. They become our support and our strength. Then when the storms of life threaten to blow us over, we will have a deep strength that reaches past the core of who we are and into the rich soil of who God is.

The prophet, Jeremiah uses a tree to illustrate the strength of building our root system. In Jeremiah 17:8 it reads, “He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.” (ESV) We need to make sure and take care to develop our root system so that we can make sure to stand in the day of testing and drought.

Fields and Forests

When you apply this analogy of root development to the areas of leadership in our lives there is another point to consider. Let’s look at the root system of two different oak trees. We have already discussed how mighty oak trees can grow both in the field alone and in a forest of trees. The root system of these two trees would look vastly different, as they need different types of root systems to survive.

An oak tree that grows alone in the field will not have to worry about competition from other trees stealing its resources of water and nutrients. It will have to worry about the effects of high winds and weather. So it is important for a tree growing alone to develop deep roots that anchor it to the soil. It must send out both a deep and broad reach to maximize its support structure. Since water and nutrients are in abundant supply, the tree will not need to rely on as many feeder roots.

For a solo leader, they also must have a strong support system in place. They cannot rely on the strength of the team around them, so they must make sure that their personal integrity and personal character development runs deep. In times of testing, they will not be able to rely on the accountability of others. They must pull from a great inner strength that comes from deeply held convictions and firm resolve. The need for feeder roots, that personal prayer time and study, is still important, but for the solo leader it can be easier because the time they would be investing on team building, they can reinvest in their own personal self. It is said that leaders are readers. Solo leaders must make sure they are not just reading the Bible and praying, but they are systematically growing in their leadership style development, education, and growing in areas of ethics and integrity. They need to grow deep, not just wide. They need for their leadership roots to reach deep into the earth so that when the high winds and pressures of leadership come, they will remain.

An oak tree that grows in a forest is in direct competition with the trees and underbrush surrounding it for water and nutrients. The need for feeder roots is increased due to the limited resources. Their roots may go deep and wide, but with less development on the structural roots and more on the feeders. Their strength and support come not from deep structural roots, but from intertwining with the roots of other trees. Community gives the tree the structural support that it lacks. The intertwining of feeder roots creates a community of strength. Plus, the added shielding of the canopy of the limbs and leaves of the other trees allows for the trees to primarily focus on the gathering of nutrients. Feeder roots are more important in a forest.

For the leader that is growing in a team environment, their personal time is at a premium. Their support comes from the team members around them. Because their combined strengths give them support and stability, they don’t need to grow the deep structural support system that the solo leader needs. Not to say that those areas of leadership, personal character and integrity are not important, but because of the higher levels of accessibility and accountability, the team leader can draw strength from the team. What is of premium importance is the development of personal prayer times and personal growth. Because of the demands on their time, always filling the tanks of other people, they must make sure they have a way to draw in the nutrients and life giving water that fills their lives back up. They must be regimented and jealously guard their personal prayer time and daily bible reading. They must take the moments to build up their feeder system. If they fail and become weak, the fall of a leader will damage the whole team.

The life we live below the surface is of vital importance, whether we are on a team of leaders or are a solo leader. Those roots will be the system at which we stay healthy and upright.

An Oak – Growth

How a tree grows
I am not sure how long it has been since you have sat in a classroom designed for an elementary student. Each room is filled with handmade pictures and crafts, posters on the wall of letters and numbers. There is usually an area that talks of the environment: the solar system, different eco systems, and plants and animals. It is early on that we learn simple lessons about how things grow and work.
I must admit that elementary school was a long time ago, so I needed a refresher course on how trees grow. Basically, tree growth takes place in three different areas – the roots, the branches, and the trunk or core. Each of these areas use the same basic elements of water, light and warmth to cause growth. Green plants create their own food source through photosynthesis. Photosynthesis is the process by which a green plant turns water and carbon dioxide into food when the plant is exposed to light. So trees take carbon dioxide and light and create their own food by creating chlorophyll, which is a combination of the sun’s energy, water, nutrients and carbon dioxide. The tree combines these ingredients to create sugar and oxygen. The oxygen is expelled back into the air and the sugars are used to create growth.
Trees growth is confined to three different areas: root growth, truck growth, and branches. Each of these areas of growth are different and provide different functions for the tree.
Roots
Root growth happens underground and is the basic source of water for the tree. Most roots of a tree grow just below the surface and serve as the main source of water absorption. There are other roots that grow more downward and serve as an anchor and stability for the tree. A strong root system is essential for proper water absorption and for the ability for the tree to actually stand. The stronger the root base, the better able the tree is to stand in the midst of a storm. Trees that grow alone in a field must have deep root structures to stand; Trees that grow in a forest will intertwine their roots for strength and stability.
Trunk
The core of the tree, the trunk, is the connector of the two food sources. The trunk connects the roots and the leaves and provides the strength and protection for the tree. When oak trees are cut down you can see the rings of the tree. The rings represent the periods of growth, from one growing season to another. The outer bark of the tree must be hard enough to protect the trees soft inner parts from hungry insects and the elements. However, it also must be soft and pliable enough to enable future growth and expansion. The core is made of different parts. The phloem is the inner bark that carries food from the leaves to the branches, trunk, and roots. The outer bark is the part that protects it from injury. Xylem carries water and nutrients up from the roots to the leaves. There are two types of xylem – active xylem is called sapwood and inactive xylem forms the heartwood of the tree. There is a small layer of cambium found between the phloem and the xylem where the new xylem and phloem cells are produced.
The Branches
The height of a tree happens with the growth of the branches. Small twigs grow longer and stronger as the tree cells are produced. Oak trees put out new leaves each year to collect the light from the sun. This is the growth that is the most visible and measurable. The larger the branches and the farther the reach of the branches, the more light energy can be collected and used. Trees that grow alone in field will many times have broad limbs that reach out wide and full. Trees that grow in a forest will have limbs that grow tall and high to reach above the others to capture their light.
Each area of a tree’s growth is essential to the overall health of a tree. If one of these areas is not developing in proportion with the other, the tree will not be healthy. If the roots are underdeveloped, the foundation of the tree will not be able to grow very tall or wide. If the trunk does not provide the proper protection and strength, the tree will suffer from the elements or be eaten up by pests. If the limbs grow too big and tall for the roots or trunk to support, then the tree is in danger of being blown over by strong winds or uprooted by a storm. Each area of growth must be in harmony with one another. Tree growth takes place at the same time. A tree cannot grow its roots in winter, its leaves in spring and its core in the summer. Each of the growth areas must work in harmony with each other for the health of the tree.
Only a small part of the tree is alive, around only one percent of a tree is active live material. The root ends, the leaves and the thin cambium are the only active living parts of the tree. So much of the trees health is managed in just the one percent.
Public life, private life and core
Just like a tree, people have three areas of growth in our lives. Our private life serves as the roots to our soul. This is the place where we grow deep. These are the areas of our lives where we mine through wisdom and knowledge to gain the nutrients that help us to grow. Our core is our trunk. It must provide the protection from the elements that may harm us and protection from invaders that would destroy us. However, it must stay flexible so that we can insure future growth and stability. Our public life is the part that everyone sees and measures. Here is the place where our lives have the most reach. We can reach both wide and high. Our influences and reach is directly related to the health and growth of our public life.
Each of these areas must grow and work in harmony. We must focus our energies, not just on the growth of one area, but on all three. I know for me, this balance is very difficult. All of my adult life I have struggled to keep in balance doing my daily bible reading, daily prayer time, and daily exercise. It seems that I have just enough personal disciplines to keep two of these going at the same time, but always at the cost of the other. I go through seasons of my life where I read the Bible and pray each morning, but then do not exercise. Other seasons, exercise is an area of strength, but now prayer or bible reading will fall off. Very few times have I ever mastered the spinning of all three of these plates; yet it is in those seasons that my life has the most balance and strength.
If we are going to be the well-rounded and balanced leaders that we desire to be, we must find a way to develop our roots, grow our core and expand our reach. If we are going to be strong oaks that can stand the storms of life, we must find a way for each of these three areas to grow in harmony, together.

An Oak

Road trips and mountain hikes

I grew up in the age of the great American road trip. Gas was cheap and the open road was calling. I can recall many summers of my life where we would travel to different states to go camping. Most of those trips were with my dad and other men from our church and our boys group. I could sit and recite great stories and memories from the open road. However, today is about just one of those memories.

As we would drive along, I can often remember seeing a large open area, land that had been cleared for cattle or horses to graze and run. I always remember how clean-cut these fields seemed to be. Each of the branches of the trees would be trimmed to the same height by the roaming herd. There was always a distinct line where the tree or fence ran and where the field began. And in almost every field, right in the middle, there it was: a great majestic oak tree. A large trunk supporting a vast canopy of branches and, in the summer, leaves. I often wondered why there was this random tree in the middle of this field. Why was it there? How had it survived the clearing? Was it planted or wild? How was it able to grow so tall without the protection against the wind and elements?

I can also remember many childhood hikes. From the state parks of Tennessee to the Smokey Mountains, I have traveled and hiked many trails. There is something about being out in the forest, following a path, not sure where you are going but knowing the destination would be well worth the journey. I have hiked in rain, fog, snow and beautiful sunshine. Again, I can remember walking through the forests, seeing the full canopy of trees and there in the midst of a great number of trees would be this massive trunk of an oak tree. I can remember questioning, how can such a great tree grow in the overcrowding of the forest? How does this forest oak compare to the single oak in a field? It is easy to see in the forest that the acorn of an oak tree would fall to the ground and grow. But how did it get enough light, enough nutrients?

How is it that these great trees can thrive in both forest and open fields? It would seem that a tree would be the product of its environment. Yet it seems that oak trees are not shaped by the place they are planted but that they come to dominate the area, whether forest or field. Their greatness, their longevity, and their strength seem to defy the environment that they are planted.

I have had a great many men invest in my life over the years. Many of them were like these great oak trees. Some were lone rangers, standing strong in the midst of the open fields; lone leaders weathering the storms of life without a group of men to support them. I marveled at their ability to have such a strong and stable life. Other men were a part of a team, a forest of leaders. However, they were the strong leaders that influenced and shaped those other men. Two different styles and approaches to leadership: one superman and one a part of a great team. You would think that these two leaders would be different, yet at their core, they were just like those two oak trees. They were the same type of leader just in different environments. They did not let their environments dominate their lives, but they were able to grow above the fields and forest and grow into mighty men. Strong men whose roots were deep, core was strong, and branches of influence far-reaching. They were exactly the type of leader that I desire to be.

Tombstones and Epitaphs

Several years ago I was able to be a part of a mentoring group. One of the activities of that group was a field trip to a cemetery. Now you have to know that I love to walk amongst the tombstones and grave markers in a cemetery and the older the better. This cemetery was in the heart of a large southern city and was pretty old. We were challenged to think about our lives and what people would say about us when we where gone. How would we be remembered? We were giving the challenge to walk amongst the markers and to try to write out our epitaph.

I will have to say that being in my early thirties, I had not really thought much about my death or how this world would remember my short time here. I had thought about the legacy I would leave behind, but not really how people would put that legacy into words. How would people from future generations know anything of my life unless I did something of note? If you were to walk in the cemetery that my body would one day be laid, would I have a great grave marker or just a simple stone?

As I walked through the cemetery that day I was fascinated by the different markers. Some had just names and dates while others were statues, engravings, and even towers. Each one seemed to be different, just as the lives that they were charged to memorialize were different. I found many that were toppled by time, some upheaved by the root of a strong, old tree, and others that were covered with moss and time. Most had a few words. I wondered, how would my epitaph fit on such a small space? It would have to be so short and concise. Then I stumbled upon one of the most unique headstones. It was not very tall and it was shaped like a traditional old marker, tall and slender with a domed top. However, the entire face of the marker was covered in words. Carefully engraved was a detailed statement about the life of the one it was charged to watch over.

I remember sitting at that marker for a long period of time. I remember that I sat in the shade of a large oak tree. It was spring and the acorns of last season were cracked and broken on the ground. The leaves of this new season were young and tender and a pale green. The sun was warm but there was a cool breeze that blew through the shade of that tree. It was in that moment that I penned these words:

“All great oaks grow in the shadow of former great trees. All great men grow in the shadow of other great men. May this shadow be long enough, wide enough, deep enough. His core was strong, roots ran deep and limbs stretched wide to cast a shadow for generations to see the path from earth to heaven.”

I sat there reading and rereading these works. I know it is too long to put on a headstone and yet no other words could so distinctly describe the desire of my heart for the impact that I long for my life to have. It was in the shadows of great men that my life was forged. It is my hope that in my shadow there will rise a future generation of leaders; men and women that will impact the world. It is my hope that my life would be strong enough for them to climb to reach their new heights. It is my hope that my roots will be deep enough to support the reach of my branches, and that those branches will point the way to the only way that matters. I want to know that people in and under the influence of my life were able to not only thrive and grow into the men and women God wants them to be but also to arrive at the destination, an eternity with the One. I want to be an oak.

Over the next several posts I want to look at what it takes for a man’s life to be counted as an oak. We hear today about people’s private lives not being able to support their public ministry. So I want to look at root development, trunk development, and finally branch growth. Before we can ever expand our reach we must make sure there is stability and growth in our lives to support that reach. How is that done? Then I want to take the time to look at how environment can affect our development. Overcrowded forests can affect the growth of a young tree. Though they provide protection, the root structure is entangled with others. However, the tree that goes it alone in the field can reach its roots deep, yet it also must learn how to withstand the wind and elements that would be lessened in the forest. Lastly I want to examine our reach, how the branches, leaves, and acorns of our lives will be the launching place of a future generation. I hope you will join my along the journey, a road trip if you will. The car is running, the windows down, and the radio is up. Come along for the ride as we see how our lives can be an oak.

The Path of Holiness: Love

20141014_123655Love

The Path of Holiness is a journey. It starts with the selfishness of sin and it ends with a new view of the world around you. As your faith has grown, you begin to understand that you were made for more than just selfish ambitions. Our lives were not just meant to rotate around our selfish needs and wants. We were made for more. We were made for love.

God does not need us. He is complete; Acts 17:24-25 reads, “He is the God who made the world and everything in it. Since he is Lord of heaven and earth, he doesn’t live in man-made temples, and human hands can’t serve his needs—for he has no needs. He himself gives life and breath to everything, and he satisfies every need.”(NLT) He created us out of his love. We were not created to fill some void in God’s life. We were created because he loves us.

Because He loves us, God longs for us to love him back. Again, this longing is not based upon filling a need in his life, but because he wants to have a relationship with us. So since he formed us in our mother’s womb, he has been crafting us and leading us to the day when we would choose to love him. So at the beginning, our act of faith to receive God’s forgiveness was the first step of our love for him beginning to grow. However, our love is based out of our selfish need for forgiveness. Even at the beginning, our love looks nothing like God’s love. He does not need our love, yet he offers his. His love is unselfish.

The Path of Holiness is to draw us closer to God; to help us understand His nature, His actions and His love. He is teaching us that to truly love is to learn how to love like him: unselfishly. So the whole work of the Path of Holiness is to get us to the place where our lives are motivated out of love and not out of selfishness. If we are to truly live a holy life, a life that is set apart, then we must always be aware of how God would respond and act in every situation. Only when we begin to respond out of a heart of love will we ever reach the end of the path. Only then will we be on our way to becoming more like God.

Jesus encountered a young man who was interested in growing closer to God. He asked Jesus the question, “Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?” Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. ‘The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:36-40, NLT) Jesus summed up that our greatest commandment is to learn to love like God loves. We need to learn to love Him first and best. Then we need to learn how to see others the way that he sees them.

Let’s go back to our Path to Holiness found in 2 Peter 1:5-7, “In view of all this, make every effort to respond to God’s promises. Supplement your faith with a generous provision of moral excellence, and moral excellence with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with patient endurance, and patient endurance with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love for everyone.” (NLT) The last step along the path is to add love for everyone to our brotherly affection. We learned that growing in brotherly affection is to move away from our selfish ambitions and begin to see others in a different light. We have to begin to ask ourselves the questions: “What are their needs?” and “How can I meet their needs?” We need to begin to look at the world through the lens of brotherly affection because it will lead us towards having a heart for them that is motivated by love. When we are motivated by love, we begin to see the world the way that God does. We begin to see how we can meet the needs of others.

If we are to complete the path of holiness, then we need to begin to add love to everything that we do. This is not ‘head in the clouds love’ or ‘puppy love’ or even romantic love. This is a concern for others that is motivated from deep within that would cause us to set aside our hopes, dreams and wants to meet their needs. It is learning to love others as God has loved us. It is learning to love others, not because it makes you feel good, fulfilled or meets any of your needs.

Many find this last step to be the most difficult. As we have learned, showing brotherly affection can be hard work, as it goes against most of our selfish nature. We tend to see our misfortune and our needs before we see the needs of others. As we learn to be others oriented, we may feel that we are truly loving them. However, truly loving someone has more to do with our motivations than it does our actions. Are you truly loving them as you love yourself? Is it as natural to think of their needs as it is your own? For many of us, this last step along the Path of Holiness is the hardest because this one demands our all. Remember, Jesus said that the first commandment was to love God with ALL. He said that we are to love God with all of our hearts, all of our souls, and all of our minds.

The Path of Holiness does not lead to a destination. It is a circular journey. Each time we cycle through it, we move to a higher understanding of who God is and how he wants us to see the world. Every time through the cycle, we grow deeper in our relationship and thus learn more about ourselves. We learn more about where we are in relationship to where God wants us to be. So when we arrive at the step of love, we now turn again to faith. Faith that there is more. Faith that we can move deeper in our relationship with God and closer to who He is and who he wants us to be. Faith to believe that we have not arrived and can still grow. So to that faith we add goodness, the goodness to be even better than we have been. The goodness to continue to grow and be more.

The Path of Holiness is a lifelong commitment to becoming holy and set apart. Though we know when we start that we will never arrive at the final destination, we continue on because we know that we want to become more like God. We want to love like him. We also know that the closer that we get to God, the more of Him there is to discover. God gets bigger as we get closer.

Make the commitment today to begin this incredible journey. It is long, but along the way you will discover God and who he created you to be. You will discover your place in this world and how you can make a difference each day. You can begin to invest your life into the lives of others. You can give yourself away. Jesus said that when we begin the process of giving ourselves away, that is when we truly find ourselves.

The Path of Holiness: Brotherly Kindness

Brotherly Kindness
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The Path of Holiness is a journey from the inside out. We start with a faith that rises out of our hearts with a hope that one day we can be better than we currently are. The calling to a righteous and holy life causes us to take the leap of faith and believe that a Savior came to truly change our lives and help us to head in a new direction. Through repentance, we reorient our lives to head towards goodness. We begin to try to think differently. Goodness arises from our motivation, not just in our actions. We must retrain ourselves to think good thoughts before we can have good actions. So to our goodness we add the knowledge of what God expects from us. We begin to learn how to live our lives. Again, this takes place internally. As we internalize the Word of God, the knowledge of God begins to grow in our hearts and minds.

Next, as we journey down the path, we add self-control to our knowledge. Again, this is the internal restraints that we need to impose on our own will and desires to keep the old man from rising again. We are walking in a new direction and need to keep ourselves under the control of this new life. We must link our faith, goodness and knowledge to accomplish this. Perseverance is the key. Even on our best day, we will stumble and fail; so to our self-control we add perseverance. We must learn how to internally be patient with ourselves and how to motivate ourselves to get up, dust ourselves off, confess our failures to God, and begin to move on down the path.

Here is where we begin to take a turn. Up to now, all of the progress that we have been making has been mainly internal. Yes, there are glimpses of change that people will notice in our lives. Changes in behavior and actions are noticeable on the path. However, when we begin to add godliness to our perseverance, we are making a choice to show the world the changes that have been happening on the inside. As godliness is living like God or imitating God, we at this point should have radical differences in our lives when we look back at who we were before our life with Christ. Our lives should be seasoned now with right living, purity, and marks of holiness. We have not arrived but we are well on our way.

The next step on the path is another external sign. We are one turn away from reaching our destination. Now we are about to take the biggest step of all, because we are finally moving from the place where it is not all about ourselves any more. Now it is about how we interact with others. Let’s look again at our scripture from Peter – “In view of all this, make every effort to respond to God’s promises. Supplement your faith with a generous provision of moral excellence, and moral excellence with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with patient endurance, and patient endurance with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love for everyone.’ (2 Peter 1:5-7, NLT) If we are to continue on the path, we must now begin to address how we care about others.

Brotherly affection is how we respond to others around us. Before we came to Christ, most of our lives were lived in a selfish manner. We may have been kind to some people and even supported a charity or two when it did not inconvenience us too much. However, we may not have lost sleep about the situation that our neighbors were in. We may have never thought about the spiritual life or the eternal destiny of another person. However, when God begins to change our hearts and when we begin to become more like him, we must begin to see the world through his eyes. Before we can love our brothers, we have to begin to like them. We have to begin to actually see them and to perceive their needs, wants, hurts, pains, etc.

Remember when you were at the step of faith? You wanted a change. You had a need that was crying out to be met. Most likely someone who was farther along on the path than you were reached back to give you a hand and help you to begin your journey of faith. That someone was learning how to focus on the needs of others before they were concerned about their own. This next step on the path causes us to stop focusing on our own needs and begin to care about the needs of others. The only way that we will ever grow in our relationship with God is to become more like him. The only way that we can become more like him is to begin to see the people we interact with each day as more than neighbors. We must begin to see them as potential brothers and sisters. We must begin to see their spiritual emptiness and help them to begin to cultivate faith.

So many Christians stop on the path of holiness when we begin to see the fruit of godliness growing in our lives. We think we have arrived at the destination. The reason we began the journey was we needed life change. Now that our lives have changed, it is easy to think that we have arrived. Spiritual superiority and pride are the enemies that lurk around this part of the path. They long to derail us from moving forward. God never started us on the path because it was just about us. It was always about others. God saves us not just to change our lives, but because he knows that within all of us is the potential to reach into our circle of influence and produce change in others.

We must now strive to see others the way that God sees them. We must begin to turn our attention to the needs of others. We may not always love them, so we may need to just learn how to like them. Before we can love, we must allow the Spirit of God to teach us how to like others. We must let God teach us how to see the needs of others. We must learn how to meet those needs, through acts of compassion and service. As we serve, as we give, and as we show compassion, our hearts will begin to grow and affection will begin to arise. It may be years before we truly learn how to love everyone, but we must start to see them.

Our world is becoming more divided. Racial tension, political division, religious differences and family stresses cause us to want to withdraw into our safe circles and resist the impulse to affect change. I mean really, can one man change the world? Jesus taught us that we may not be able to change the whole world, but we can change the whole world for one person. While teaching one day, Jesus was asked what the most important commandment of God was. Jesus responded that we are to love the Lord our God with all of our hearts, souls and minds and that we are to love our neighbors as ourselves. A follow-up question came from the crowd, “who is my neighbor?”

Jesus replied with a story: “A Jewish man was traveling from Jerusalem down to Jericho, and he was attacked by bandits. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him up, and left him half dead beside the road. “By chance a priest came along. But when he saw the man lying there, he crossed to the other side of the road and passed him by. A Temple assistant walked over and looked at him lying there, but he also passed by on the other side. “Then a despised Samaritan came along, and when he saw the man, he felt compassion for him. Going over to him, the Samaritan soothed his wounds with olive oil and wine and bandaged them. Then he put the man on his own donkey and took him to an inn, where he took care of him. The next day he handed the innkeeper two silver coins, telling him, ‘Take care of this man. If his bill runs higher than this, I’ll pay you the next time I’m here.’ “Now which of these three would you say was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by bandits?” Jesus asked. The man replied, “The one who showed him mercy.” Then Jesus said, “Yes, now go and do the same.” Luke 10:30-37, NLT

Notice that Jesus never says that the Samaritan in the story loved the man who was beaten. He does not even say that he particularly like the man. He simply saw that a man was in need and he had the means and ability to affect change in the man’s current situation. He had compassion on him. He had more than just compassion; he put his compassion to action and showed true affection for his brother.

Jesus came to meet you at your point of need. He brought you exactly what you needed to be able to respond to his love. His love usually comes wrapped in the helping hands of others. We have come a long way on the path, but if we are going to be God’s hands and feet, then we have to allow His Spirit to build in us affection for our brothers. Only then will we be ready to take the final step on the path – Love.

The Path of Holiness: Godliness

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Up to this point, the Path of Holiness has been about us. It has been a journey by us, partnering with God so that we can move closer to him. Faith, goodness, knowledge, self-control, and perseverance are all disciplines that spring from within us. It is our faith that starts the journey with God. Even though we have very little goodness, it is our goodness that we add to our faith. From there we begin to expand our knowledge as we study God’s word. We add to that our self-control and perseverance. It is a continuing process of changes that is moving us away from the sinful life and more toward a holy life.

The next step in the Path of Holiness is where things begin to take a turn. We are commanded by Peter to add godliness to our perseverance (2 Peter 1:6). For the first time in the process of becoming holy, Peter has commanded us to add something to our lives that we don’t have. Godliness is defined as, “the quality or state of being spiritually pure or virtuous.” The Bible is fairly clear that we don’t have the spiritual purity or virtue in our lives apart from God. Paul tells the Romans that all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23). He also tells the Romans that no one is righteous (Romans 3:10). Isaiah tells us that our attempts at righteous acts are like filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6). So how can we add something to the path that we don’t have?

Godliness should be the outgrowth of the process working in our lives thus far. The godliness that Peter is asking for us to add to our lives is not ours, but the outcome of being on the path. When the path is allowed to work in our lives, godliness begins to be produced in our lives. At this point we should begin to think and act differently. The effects of a life of sin begin to fade and our thoughts turn to how we believe Jesus would respond in a situation rather than acting on our own impulses. We have begun to mature and out of that maturity have developed a purity of mind and heart; not a purity rooted in our nature, but a purity that is the side effect of walking next to the author of our purity. By just hanging out with God, he has begun to rub off on our lives.

James tells us about this process, “Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.” (James 1:2-4). When our patience is added to our faith, our patience is stretched and allowed to grow and develop endurance in our lives. Instead of acting out of our sinful impulse, we are patient to hear the guiding of God’s Spirit in our lives and it causes us to be able to respond more like he would. Godliness is learning how to respond to situations like Jesus would. Godliness is being more like God and less like ourselves.

Now, please don’t think that Peter is telling us that we have somehow spiritually arrived. He is not saying that we now will never have struggles with sin, never give into temptation, and always know how to respond to situations. We are still human. We are still walking the path. We will still stumble and fall. However, at this point, our stumbles should be less frequent. The voice of the Holy Spirit should be very loud in our minds when we begin to wander from the path.

Sadly, many Christians never venture this far along the path. They get stuck somewhere between developing self-control in their lives and having the patience and perseverance to continue on the path. They find themselves stuck in a cycle of sin and repentance and never come full circle to see the path begin to produce godliness in their lives. Others struggle with the concept that they can live a life that is changed. They have been stuck in a pattern of selfishness for so long that they struggle to trust this new way of living. We must again draw upon the faith that started the journey to believe that “God, who began a good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.” (Philippians 1:6, NLT)

It is good to remember that the source of the godliness that is growing in our lives is not a product of our own discipline, endurance, self-will, or patience. The godliness growing in us is founded in a person. Paul, in his instruction to Timothy writes, “Beyond all question, the mystery from which true godliness springs is great: He appeared in the flesh, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory.” (1 Timothy 3:16, NIV) Jesus is the source of the godliness that is being produced in our lives. Paul calls this a mystery because some may tend to think that they are the source, after all, they are the ones walking the path that God has marked out for them. We need to always remember that the only way we can walk the path of Holiness is because Jesus has already gone before us to mark out the way. He is able to guide us along the path because it was his life that created our way back to God. We have the ability to be like God, only because he became like us first and showed us the way.

The path of holiness has a way of insulating us from pride. When we understand that we don’t have any of the things we need to make it, it is easy for us to keep our eyes focused on Jesus. If we tried to walk this path alone, we would never have enough faith. We could never be good enough. We would never be able to develop the knowledge that it takes. We would not be able to add self-control or to develop the perseverance it takes to reach the point where godliness begins to flow in our lives. Only when we are partnered with Jesus, allowing him to grow in our lives, can we achieve anything along the path. If we are ever going to reach the end, we must be like John the Baptist who had everything in the proper perspective. John said in John 3:30, “He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less.”

That is was godliness is. It is the point in our lives where people begin to see our motives and actions based upon Jesus being a part of our lives. It is where our behavior is seen in the light of who Jesus is and how he has impacted our lives. It is the outcome of the path. So we continue to walk the path and grow closer to our goal. The path has changed us. It has begun to produce something in our lives that is not natural. A supernatural process has begun to produce a nature that is more like God and less like we used to be. As godliness grows in our hearts, so to will a compassion for our fellow-man, thus revealing the next step in the path of holiness: we are commanded to add Brotherly Kindness to our godliness.