July 13, 2023
As I sat on my back porch talking on the phone to a friend, I looked at the large hollies growing on the property line for over thirty years. Something different about one of them caught my eye. I look at these trees every day from several angles and never noticed something growing from underneath the holly and up through the branches. I went out to see with a pruner in hand, and sure enough, there was a walnut tree growing up through the branches. I couldn't believe my eyes. Why had I not seen it before? I found the base of the tree and cut it, and when I measured it, it measured over six feet tall. I guess a squirrel had buried a walnut under the tree years ago for a winter treat and forgot where it was buried. I think I am an observant person, after all, I am on the morning glory seek-and-destroy mission every day. Why had I not seen something as big as a tree growing in an unwelcome place? You would have thought the yellowing leaves in the fall would have given up the intruder. Why had I not seen this tree before? Maybe because I wasn't looking for it, I was not expecting it, it blended nicely with what was growing there, and perhaps I thought I was too observant to let something like this take root.
This little gardening pie-on-my-face moment got me thinking. What else am I missing? Are there opportunities God has put in front of me that I am not seeing? Are there people I am not paying attention to that may need someone to listen to them or need comfort? Are there sins that I have let go unnoticed and are growing? Are there things I could cut out of my life that are of no benefit,(except sweets, of course)? Maybe it is time to consider this question with deliberation, an open mind, and a sharp spiritual pruner. No worries, this is not a tell-all devotion, but the questions are worthy for all of us to consider. We tend to get comfortable in our lives and maybe miss things going on around us. Lest we think that our sins aren't so bad, let's review this verse from Romans 3:23, "for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God."
We know how easy it is to point out others' sins, but it is more difficult to spot our own. Jesus knew this when he said, "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye' when all along there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye."Matthew 7:3-5
"Surely my sins aren't so bad", we may say to ourselves, we haven't murdered anyone or robbed a bank at gunpoint. Galatians 5: 19-21 The Message states the sorry state of humankind and some of the sins that take over lives. "It is obvious what kind of life develops out of trying to get your own way all the time; repetitive, loveless, cheap sex; a stinking accumulation of mental and emotional garbage; frenzied and joyless grabs for happiness; trinket gods; magic-show religion; paranoid loneliness; cutthroat competition; all-consuming-yet-never-satisfied wants; a brutal temper; an impotence to love or be loved; divided homes and divided lives; small-minded and lopsided pursuits; the vicious habit of depersonalizing everyone into a rival; uncontrolled and uncontrollable addictions; ugly parodies of community. I could go on." Ouch! In Proverbs 11:2 we are told, "When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom." In Luke 12:15, "Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions." The list could go on, but you get the meaning.
There is a lot to unpack in those verses but it comes down to this: anything that takes us away from God is a sin. It takes strength to break away from seemingly little things that keep us from living our lives to the fullest. Sin makes us a slave, but to know God sets us free as we are reminded in the verse from Romans 6:23, "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord."
This is a good time to get out in the garden and do some pruning before plants get overgrown and out-of-control and anytime is a good time to take the pruners to those things keeping us from God. No one ever said that cutting those things away would be easy or pain-free but they are necessary to live a life that reflects the kindness and love of our Lord.