August 17, 2010

Cut It Off but Let Me Keep It

I bought a new house in April and my lovely one-story ranch came with some very unlovely eight-foot shrubs across the fenceline in the backyard. These things are massive, mature, healthy and dark green with limbs pointing in every direction . . . . and there are 12 of them. They remind me of Sigmund and the Sea Monsters (anyone?).

So I have these huge beastlike shrubs/bushes/trees in my backyard which the neighbors said hadn't been trimmed in 14 years. I decided one day that I had had enough of Sigmund and his friends. I got out the ladder and the electric hedge clippers and got to work. It felt good hacking away at Sigmund. Not only did Sigmund need a haircut but he needed a diet too. I took about two feet off of the top and atleast a foot off of the front all the way down the perimeter of my backyard using a hand saw when the branches were too thick for the electric trimmer. When the day was done, I was pretty satisfied with myself. I had tackled a job only Edward Scissorhands could compete with and turned those sea monsters into well-behaved shrubs again.

I admired my work for several days and imagined how the undergrowth liked the sun exposure after so many years. "Any day now I'll see new growth sprouting out in its brilliant neon green," I thought as I watched. But that didn't happen. The previously dark green limbs grew browner and more brittle. What? Dying? Why would it die just because I trimmed it back? It shouldn't have contracted a virus just by getting trimmed. So, I went out to investigate.

Wouldn't you know, I hadn't done such good a job of shaking and raking all of my clippings out of the bushes. Loose leaves and cut branches were still clinging to the live tree giving the whole shrub the appearance that it was dying. It was pretty hard work trying to reach in and pull out all the dead branches. I still haven't gotten them all out. And it was a clear example for me of how we are as Christians in many ways. We want God to save us from the penalty of sin, but we want to remain in it.

"Cut if off, Lord, but leave me in it."

We want Him to slay the old self, but we want to drag its corpse along.

"Restore my credit, but I'll keep my spending habits."

"Clean up my criminal record, but I'll keep my social contacts."

"Restore my marriage, but I'll keep my wandering eye."

"Put an end to our family feud, but don't touch my attitude."

"Give me forgiveness, but I'll keep the guilt."

Can you see how partially surrendering to God is like trimming back a shrub but holding on to the dead branches? You still look dead and feel dead and all of the world believes that you're dead. You may have accepted Christ at some point, you may hold the key to eternal life and admittance into Heaven, and your roots may be alive, but you look and feel as dead as those who haven't because you look and act just like they do. You're clinging to the dead stuff.

It's just foolishness really. I would have to be stupid to think that my shrubs are gonna look great if I leave the debris intact. So, why would I apply that logic to the rest of my life? Why ask for salvation but resist transformation of my mind and habits? God doesn't preserve garbage, so why do we?

"Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and produces a crop useful to those for whom it is farmed receives the blessing of God. But land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless and is in danger of being cursed. In the end it will be burned. Even though we speak like this, dear friends, we are confident of better things in your case—things that accompany salvation." Hebrews 6:7-9

"Be not conformed to this world: but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is the good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God." Romans 12:2

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