Saturday, February 13, 2010

Chop, Chop... Ouch!

For the sake of avoiding to sound overdramatic, I won't describe my rising this morning as if the Lord pulled me out of bed. I won't describe Him as compelling me to my Bible instead of following my normal routine of turning on the television. I mean if I did, if I described the start of this morning like that, I might give the impression that there is more to my life than meets the eye. I wouldn't want to imply that my life is rich with meaning, that there is a underlying story unfolding that only reveals itself at crucial turns. It would be a crime to think of thickening plots, character development, scene changes. After all, is that not what literature is for? I'm sorry, reading is fading in importance and significance; is that not what film and television is for, to quicken our hearts for fantasy and drama and meaning? I mean, we all know that such things don't really exist in the real world? That's why we are so obsessed with entertainment, glued to our TV sets and soda-sticky theatre floors. I can almost hear the crutch of the popcorn kernel and feel the resistance of the sole as I retract my shoe from its solid footing. The remote, nearly an extension of my arm.

Nonetheless, my story must go on. It is my life, and I deem it significant even if it is not. Thus, I write. I record this moment of rising and sitting down to my Bible, which was opened to the Gospel of John. A little editing is required, for I first finished up chapter 14; heaven forbid you know what I learned from it. After all, it is entirely out of context for why I write this morning. You don't need to learn that Jesus disclosed information about the Spirit of God, how He is given to Jesus' disciples upon return his return to the Father. You need not know that how Jesus describes his connection with the Father, and with his disciples, all said in the same breathe as introducing the Spirit; it is irrelevant that you understand that those of this world will not receive the Spirit of God and cannot comprehend even His existence for they know not God nor see Him. No, it is pointless to tell how upon receiving the Spirit, those who love God will be loved by Christ and the Father and that they both will make their abode in the adopted child, no longer an orphan, for They came to them.

You need not know either that because the ruler of the world approached, and Jesus felt compelled to obey His Father's will, that they left that place where they talked, and the scene changed. After all, that was chapter 14; I write to speak of chapter 15. So let us just cut all that out. It is not relevant.

I write to describe my experience upon reading the first portion of the chapter, the metaphor of a grape vine. You see, Jesus described a Vinedresser as the Father, tending to the crop. The thick vine, the plant's trunk being the source of all life to the plant provides nourishment to the rest of the plant, the branches. Jesus described himself as that vine, professing Christians as his branches. The first striking detail from this metaphor that I encountered was the destruction of some of the branches coming off of the Jesus vine, those not bearing fruit are taken off from its life source and burned. That's not pleasant, so we'll just ignore that aspect. The second thing I noticed was the pruning of those branches that did bear fruit.

My bought basil seeds last summer. I planted about a dozen seeds, then. It is the following winter; just about a half a year has past. I think it is fitting that only two seedlings survived. I transferred them both into a makeshift pot from an old lemonade container, and they sit on my bedroom window sill now. One was so tiny. It still is, even though I planted it about 6 months ago. The other shot straight up. It's tall and its stems grew past the stage of having softer green flesh. Woody stems developed, and it took deep roots. The problem was that it wasn't producing many leaves. I wondered what the deal was, then I realized what I had to do. Chop, chop. I pruned the little guy, chopping off long sections of stem right after the budding of green that sprouted out at points lower down. The thing looked pitiful. Bald, brown branches with just a speckle of green at its tips. I wondered if I had to scrap my little project of having fresh basil around.

Then something wonderful happened. The green multiplied! I was getting double and quadruple shoots off the one, where I severed. So I did the same with his tiny basil brother plant, chopping half of the three inch guy off. In time, the little guy, too, grew exponentially, but only in leaves, not in size. The bugger is still tiny. My hope is not in him. I harvest from my pride and joy. Right now, I pruned again, and he looks pretty pathetic. But I trust more growth will come, and where once only two or three branches shot off from the trunk, I trust more will branch off and flourish.

Why tell of my basil growing? When I read that the Father intends to prune those branches that bear fruit, I realized that meant me. I have been following Jesus for just over 13 years. Why in the hell am I still pursuing this... fantasy? illusion? delusion? You would think that after a couple years, maybe during college when you learn of alternative lifestyles, that I would become wise to the Christian farce and abandon it. I almost did. I've told the story before, that I was at a place where Christianity seemed explainable. The feeling of singing worship songs to a thing invisible, actually feeling euphoria, can be seen as the brain receiving auditory stimulation resulting in the production of alpha waves... Just a chemical reaction in the brain, the release of neurotransmitters and firing of neurons. Christianity fulfilled some deep social needs as an adolescent, where I felt accepted and protected from negative alternatives, like escaping in drugs or joining a gang (ha! can you imagine me in a gang?!). Finding one's identity and community is a normal psychological and sociological phenomena. I just happened to choose the Christian variety. Others are entitled to their own. There is nothing special about the Christian take.

Or is there? You see, I did not walk away from Jesus in college because I asked He prove that He cared for me and wanted me a part of His team by showing up and doing something I could not explain. He did. Ask me about it some time; I'd love to tell you. Needless to say, I stayed, and I see now more clearly that God was doing some pruning on me, or at least on what image I conjured of who He was that was false and destructive.

Pruning is not pleasant! That's what struck me this morning and what I want to share with you this morning. Our culture has an aversion to pain. We think happiness is found in what is pleasurable: sex, food, entertainment like TV and film, etc. Life has meaning now in our pursuit to fill ourselves with satisfaction. Life used to mean more. People used to find meaning in work. Now, work is the means to provide for the entertainment. What drama we find in life seems meaningless, because it hurts and compromises the bottom-line of obtaining our pleasure fixes. Instead, we covet the drama as depicted on screen, for it is removed and safe. We live vicariously through make-believe characters; if they are derived from real life, we further dramatize the story. Nonetheless, we feel the meaning of those characters' lives and feel connected to something greater than our own miserable lives. Have you ever stopped to wonder why you feel a need to be a part of something bigger than yourself? Why do we make everything on screen according to this model of a higher calling (save maybe Seinfeld, a show about nothing, the epitome of our depraved society)? Is it not because it is the very design of our lives? The thing that gives meaning to our existence?

I know some who may read this buy into the naturalist model that says this universe happened by chance, that human life happened because a single-celled organism just happened to "come together" in just the right way to spawn, and millions (maybe billions) of years later we have homo sapien. Ot holds that there is not meaning to all of this, save what we determine, so why not have fun? I ask, why do you model your primary source of fun (i.e. stories with rich drama, where a greater purpose more important than yourselves is pursued) after something that contradicts your understanding of reality? Is there a design engraved in our souls (that inner life we perceive)? Do recognize that your worldview is a newer phenomena, for all other cultures derived meaning to life from some understanding of a higher being, whether multiple gods or the One who actually intervened on the earth hundreds of times throughout history (read a book called The Holy Bible if you're not familiar with these true stories). You may have verifiable, measurable knowledge to guide your conclusions; but there is other knowledge that exists cannot be measured, but comes by authority. If you think hard enough, even your foundation is based on things that cannot be measured, but you take them by faith.

The postmodern perspective fares no better. Truth does not exist and if it does, there is no way of determining it, so let's just choose camps and what works for you guys is fine, but we'll choose to believe these things; your truth is yours and ours is ours... If there is one truth, an absolute Truth, and those positions that contradict the real truth are held, and the real truth discloses the reality of judgement upon unbelief and disobedience, is it not foolish, nay reckless, to assume holding unfolded beliefs is okay? This is no more than intellectual vegetation! Cognitive apathy. You willfully plug yourselves into the Matrix to live in fantasy. You see, you who deny the Christian claims to truth are like my little basil plant, one plant altogether different from the plant of significance, competing for nourishment from the ground, not taking root, for Christ owns the ground. Your sun is blocked by the greatness of Christ's Kingdom, which has overtaken the garden. You Christians that buy into these other thoughts, are branches that stray away from Christ and dwell in the shadows. You are confused on where you belong and will be severed lest you return.

Pruning. It is going to happen. In fact, Jesus told his disciples that the reason He shared this metaphor of the vine was so that His joy may be in them and that their joy may be made full (15:11). The disciple of Christ will be cut apart. The old will be severed. This is to make room for fruit to bear. There is no more meaning for a plant than to bear fruit. There is no more meaning for the Christian than to bear the fruit of good works, those accomplishments in the world that make others wonder at whether the God they proclaim is legit. God the Father is in the business of pruning. He does it to those who belong to him. Others... tossed aside and judged already (John 3:18). The great news of the gospel is that still now, and until Christ returns in glory, there is opportunity to repent and believe (2 Peter 3:9). From eternity's vantage, all is decided. But our timeline ticks on, so hope remains. Receive the good news, I beg you. Be willing to go before the Vinedresser and receive the discipline of pruning off those things that destroy who you are. I reluctantly go for I know it will hurt, and am confident that I will turn back often in fear... but it is done for joy, for the abundant life. Though we feel the pain and question, the Lord is patient, however, and merciful to his children and will show them in time the great worth of becoming who they are intended to be. Something much more glorious will sprout up than what once was. Will you display your God-given glory with me?

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