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Thursday, December 13, 2012

Papa's Garden

When my father-in-law and mother-in-law moved to Oregon one of the first things they did was begin a garden.  After a few years their garden covered a city lot and was wonderful.  There were perfectly spaced rows of just about any vegetable you could grow in southern Oregon.  They were growing healthy and weed free.  We lived about 200 miles away and came down three or four times a summer and I remember being in awe of Papa’s beautiful garden.  At some point in this part of our life I tried to grow a little 4’ by 12’ garden.  It was nearly a complete disaster; I couldn’t even get my tomatoes to turn red.  I think I was able to grow some zucchini, but you can almost do that accidently.  It did dawn on me later that while I was failing at gardening I was also raising a family and working full time.  Papa on the other hand was growing a garden. 

In Matthew 13, Mark 4, and Luke 8 Jesus speaks of another gardener and of his soil and the crop that did and did not come up.  This is a wonderful story and the applications to my life are many.  Papa’s garden was always well tilled and there was a pile of rocks off to one side and weeds were not permitted to grow there. 

Jesus told of seed that fell on the hard packed earth of the path. This seed was quickly eaten by birds.  .    Have you ever been in a meeting and heard something said that just didn’t make sense to you, but you knew the one speaking was a godly person who had great wisdom and a life that always demonstrated the love of Jesus.  This has happened to me and if I pursued what I had heard eventually it became clear to me that what was said was true.  Mostly the hard soil of my heart just needed to be broken up and made tender to hear and receive what God wanted me to learn and I needed to be ready to let God’s word find a place where it could grow into good fruit.  I suspect this also is a picture of those whose hearts are so hard that they will simply not see or hear the Gospel.  For these we must pray that God will find the way to soften the soil of their heart.  This is not a pleasant experience for the one having it but the end is glorious.  We must be a little hard hearted to pray this prayer.  We must have a heart for the things of God and not for the things of man. 

I mentioned the pile of rocks off to the side of Papa’s garden.  These were the rocks that had occupied the ground where Papa’s garden now was.  They had been carefully loaded into wheel barrows and piled to the side as the garden was developing over the years.  I have been to meetings where the word of God was tremendously powerful and I left with full determination to become what I had heard.  Then a few days later all was forgotten and I could only remember that it had been a good meeting.  Some of the rocks from Papa’s garden plot were pretty big and some only the size of a golf ball, but they all had to be removed because a seed could not send roots into those rocks.  There are rocks in the garden of my heart.  Some of these are firm ideas of how things ought to be or how they are.  They may be fears about what would happen if I step out in faith in a certain area.  They can be all sorts of things, but when I hear a word of God that is right and true and I want it to grow I need to search for these hard places that will not allow the seed of God’s word to take root.  Then pray for grace to remove them. 

I have never been able to make any kind of garden patch weed free.  I mentioned that Papa’s garden was large and weed free.  I also mentioned the secret.  I would spend a few minutes once or twice a week pulling weeds while Papa spent at least 4 hours a day constantly hoeing and pulling weeds.  Jesus said that the weeds were the cares of the world, the love of money and the lust for other things.  According to Jesus these things choke the word.  Weed seeds come from everywhere.  Some lie dormant in the soil for years undetectable then spring up without any warning.  Some will blow in on the wind.  This is a very clear picture of how the cares and lusts can come in and choke God’s word in my life and the only hope of success is constant vigilance and diligence to find them and pull them out without hesitation. 

The good soil is productive.  But the good soil is pure.  We can go to the garden store and purchase good soil for planting.  This has been carefully sifted and cooked to destroy any harmful seeds that remain.  Sometimes nutrients are added to promote the growth of the plants we choose to grow.  In the same way, the soil of my heart must be sifted and purified, sometimes by the extreme heat of fiery trials.  Only then is the word of God free to grow and produce 30, 60 or 100 fold. 

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Tree of Life

I see a vision of a garden, like the Garden of Eden.  But this garden is overgrown with weeds and even the good and useful plants have gone wild and only produce stunted bitter fruit. The garden is tangled, angry, confused and bitter; stinking of decay. 

The only path in the garden is muddy with broken rocks in odd places to trip anyone venturing into the garden.  The path if you will call it by that respectable name leads to the center of the garden.

Following this broken path with my eyes, there in the center of the garden is a tall healthy looking tree covered with beautiful flowers and luscious looking fruit. Drawing closer, the blossoms though beautiful, seem somehow melancholy and slightly sad.  Their color is somehow not quite true or bright and as you look at them their form is more harsh than beautiful.  They seem almost artificial, not quite well done.  There seems also to be the memory of a fragrance about them, at one time delightful, but now almost forgotten.

The fruit is full and seems firm, but taking it from the tree, it resists and holds tightly.  It is only removed with difficulty.  Biting into the fruit, it is very juicy and may have had a flavor, indeed very pleasant at one time.  Now the flesh, having released its juice is soft almost fatty.

From a distance, this tree seemed healthful and beautiful, but drawing near it becomes a disappointment.

Just to the side of this not quite grand tree is a small plant with just a few leaves, and small blossoms looking down, also some small berries.  This little shrub seems somehow fascinating.  Approaching, a sweet fragrance rises shyly from the sad blossoms and the small berries have a delicious flavor.  Its few leaves hold the promise of healing. 

Sadly I long for someone to come and care for the garden.  It was clearly intended to be beautiful and health giving.  Someone is standing beside me in the garden, and for a time stands, surveys and quietly weeps.  He tells me that he is the gardener and that he can help with my permission.  Somewhat confused, I gladly give him whatever permission he thinks he needs from me.  

Very soon he gets to work cleaning and clearing the path to the center and the two plants we have seen. Once the path is clear, wide and smooth, he begins working on the larger tree, pruning away many of the larger branches.  Sometimes as he cuts at a larger branch that needs to be cleared away to make room for light to shine in, I feel a pain in my chest. 

I ask him about this.  He smiles and gently tells me that the garden I am seeing is my very own heart, and when he cuts large branches from the tree in the center, those are the strong demands of my self-will.  So the pain is natural but perfectly safe, because he loves the garden and for a long time has longed for the invitation to restore it to the beauty that was intended when it was first conceived in the mind of the master gardener. 

I asked if I could help and he allowed me to help carry the removed branches outside the garden where we burned them.  They were a little difficult to get started but once burning they were very fragrant.  It was the same fragrance almost suggested by the flowers, only full and rich as the fire consumed the branches; leaf, blossom and fruit. 

After all was consumed we gathered the ashes and took them back to the center of the garden.  We cleared all the debris from the bases of the two plants, turned the soil and worked the ashes in. 

It was the end of a long day.  The large tree was about half its former self and although it looked sad, it some way it also seemed relieved to be carrying less weight.  As I stood looking at the larger though now much smaller tree, I noticed a sweet spicy fragrance that somehow seemed familiar.  Oh! Yes, it was something like the smaller plant.  I turned and looked and the little plant that had been shaded by the larger one was now getting plenty of sun light and the beautiful sad little blossoms had turned their faces up and were rejoicing with fragrant thankfulness. 

Looking around there was still much work to be done, but these two plants seemed very hopeful. 

The gardener brought bread and wine and we sat by the now smooth path, had our meal and spoke to one another about the garden and its uses.

He told me, “The garden you see is your heart.  Therein the center, the larger, unhealthful tree is your self, your will.  This tree should be healthful, strong and fragrant, with fruit to share and life giving leaves and bark.  But left to itself becomes tangled and choked by its own desires.  That is why the colors seemed false, the fragrance was corrupted and the promise of the fruit was a disappointment.”

“Now that pruning has begun it will begin to regain its health.  Actually you should see some real progress in just a few days.  In time the fruit will reappear and though smaller, will be sweet and healthful.”

“But I must caution you” he says, “That though it is you duty and privilege to care for this tree, pruning, feeding and providing plenty of water; you must never eat its fruit.”

I am confused, I don’t understand, please tell me more so I will know how this is to be.

He smiled and in the warmth of that smile colors became truer and a hundred fragrances happily attacked my senses.

“The tree that is yourself and your will bears fruit that is only for the master gardener and he will use it when it is fit for use to nourish and strengthen those who are in need.  But if you eat from it you will be consuming your self, and there will be no nourishment for you, but in time your desire will turn in and you will eat nothing else.  And so you will starve consuming only yourself. It is a narcotic!”

“Remember how the flowers had lost their fragrance and the color and shape was wrong though you couldn’t tell just why? Wasn’t it something like an old woman painting her face in an effort to retain lost youth, not having any confidence in the ageless beauty that a godly life produces? In the same way the fruit that appeared delicious was mostly water and the flesh weak and tasteless.”

“This is the result of your consuming this fruit.  In time you would have become sick and died.”

“But what may I eat?” I pleaded, “The garden is so undone?”

Again he smiled and in that smile I became warm and almost merry.“There are many healthful plants in your garden for your nourishment and that you may share freely, although most of them will require some care to restore their vigor so they can impart life to others.  In the meantime there is the small plant whose blossoms rejoiced when the sun was able to shine on them.  This is a tree of life, and its fruit though small and few for now is strong.  One or two berries will give you strength for a full day of hard work.  Water and feed it daily and be sure to keep the tree of self pruned so it no longer overshadows the now smaller tree.  It will give you fruit continually and the blossoms will flourish, smiling at the sun and singing with fragrant praise to the master of all hearts.”

“Never be afraid to share the fruit of this plant, because its roots go down to the very heart of the master gardener and his life supplies all you need and to spare.”

“What a wonderful plant, but you called it a tree and it is so small, barely a shrub.”

“It is small now because it lacked light and nourishment.  If you will be sure the tree of self and will never overshadows it, and give it nourishment and care for it, in time it will grow tall and strong; although the danger of being overshadowed will always be present.”

“How do I feed it? Should it be pruned? What is it called?”

The gardener chuckles merrily at my flood of questions. “Well, as to pruning, this is one of the very few plants that never needs pruning.  It will grow beautifully in shape, fruit and flower; with regular feeding.  As for its name and feeding, they are the same, at least nearly.  It is called the tree of thankfulness and it is fed when you offer thanks in all situations.”

“But I am always thankful for my blessings and the poor thing was almost dead!” I protested. 

“Yes,” he said, “and because you were thankful for the things you counted as blessings, it was not dead.  But were you thankful when, as I pruned the tree of your self and will and you received pain in your heart?”

“Well, no.”  I said, still not understanding.

“And yet,” he went on, “you now see a little of the good the pruning has done and how it has opened the way for more healing and life.”

I had to agree.

“The master gardener has only good intentions for each of his heart gardens, but often they become overgrown with self and will and the only help is a painful pruning.  Therefore, even in distress and painful times, you can boldly give thanks; confident that he can bring all things to glory in a heart where the tree of thankfulness is well cared for.”