Hi Friends, this blog post is a bit longer than usual. I’ve included quite a bit of scripture in the text because I felt that some of you would want to use this article as a sort of handbook to put some of these things into practice. I don’t mean this to be “preachy”! I hope you find it helpful! Grace and Peace, Jim
In October 1997 Jean and I moved from Leytonstone (London E11) into a house in Chingford (London E4), northeast London. One of the reasons we chose to rent the new place was the large back garden. We love gardening and this place offered great possibilities. The garden had been badly neglected for some time, but we’re experienced gardeners and we knew we could handle it. (Note: In England, in terraced housing, the term “back garden” is inclusive of everything out the back door of the house between the fences of the neighboring houses on either side. The back garden is exactly the width of the house itself, and includes any lawn, shrubs, trees, flower beds, walkways, and possibly a small green house or garden shed.)
We pictured ourselves sitting in the back garden on the patio on warm summer evenings with a glass of iced tea and a nice meal. We saw BBQ’s in the summer with friends over for the afternoon and evening. And we could already see the beauty of roses, petunias, peonies, chrysanthemums, snap-dragons, fuchsias, and all the other stuff we like to grow and enjoy.
So I went to the local garden center and bought some rose bushes. On the morning of rose planting day we walked up and down the garden with coffee cups in our hands, looking and planning and we found just the right places for the four rose plants. But in one of those places was a very thorny bush-tree called a pyrocanthus. In another of the chosen places was a dead shrub-tree of indeterminate type and origin. Both had to be removed to plant the roses.
The pyrocanthus, or firethorn, is incredibly thorny! And to get at the roots to dig it out, I first had to cut off about 1000 thorny branches that poke and jab and very effectively defend itself against pruning and removal! It is a very painful process to prune and remove a pyrocanthus!
The dead shrub was entangled in the most incredible network of ivy vines and runners, coming over the fence from the neighbor’s garden. The ivy had not only taken over the fence, and killed every plant and shrub it could get hold of, but it hindered me from removing the shrub which was already dead! And besides that, the whole matted mess of ivy was full of spiders. I hate spiders!
I hacked and clipped and sawed and chopped for hours: Thorns in one place and ivy vines in another. I was beginning to despair and I wanted to quit when I saw how little progress I was making and how everything I tried to do simply led to another thing that must be done first. But I persevered and hacked and chopped. When I finally got the pyrocanthus chopped back and dug out by the roots, and when I finally got the ivy hacked and chopped back (don’t forget this is my neighbor’s ivy, not mine!), and when I had finally dug out the dead bush by its roots, I stepped back to look at what I’d done. The entire garden (or so it seemed) was piled with thorny, clingy branches, vines and dead stuff that somehow had to be disposed of. And I still hadn’t even begun to plant the roses!
Jean came and helped me and we began to bag the stuff. I clipped and chopped it into smaller bits and she began to pack it into big black bin bags. The bin bag count was growing and the piles of branches and vines seemed not to be shrinking, but we kept on and then finally it was the last bag and it was done. Nine big bags full. And now what on earth are we going to do with all this? I began to consider the options: Try to burn it? (not permitted)!; Find a dump and haul it two bags at a time in the car?; Put one bag per week in the wheelie bin for the next two months?; Move away and leave it?
Then I remembered something I had seen come through the letter-box from the local council about rubbish pick-up dates. It seemed there was something about a special rubbish pickup for “garden waste.” I found the leaflet in the file and sure enough, the council will pick up as many as ten bags of “light garden waste.” I had nine bags. I phoned the council and discovered they would pick it up and haul it away for free within five working days. I only had to put it in the front garden and leave it and they would come for it. Grace!
So for up to five days it’s going to sit out in front of the house and everyone who passes by can see my trash! Never mind, it’s on its way out! Someone will come and take away all this rubbish I generated in the process of beginning to clear out my garden so we can enjoy it this summer. Now I can begin to plant some things that are useful and beautiful. Our garden can actually become the fruitful and enjoyable place we want it to be!
And I thought, “How like my life is this experience with the garden.” I’ve got a pretty good idea of what my life could be and should be from the teaching and examples in the Bible and from the lives of other mature Christians. I want my life to be like that. I’ve got a desire and a passion for that. The question is: Am I willing to work at it to get it that way. And can I actually do it? And how do I actually do it?
The Apostle Paul writes to young Christians about this stuff. He says: 1 Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand. 2 Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth. 3 For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 And when Christ, who is your life, is revealed to the whole world, you will share in all his glory. 5 So put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you. Have nothing to do with sexual immorality, impurity, lust, and evil desires. Don’t be greedy, for a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world. 6 Because of these sins, the anger of God is coming. 7 You used to do these things when your life was still part of this world. 8 But now is the time to get rid of anger, rage, malicious behavior, slander, and dirty language. 9 Don’t lie to each other, for you have stripped off your old sinful nature and all its wicked deeds. 10 Put on your new nature, and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like him. 11 In this new life, it doesn’t matter if you are a Jew or a Gentile, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbaric, uncivilized, slave, or free. Christ is all that matters, and he lives in all of us. 12 Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. 13 Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. 14 Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful. 16 Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives. Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom he gives. Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts. 17 And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father. (Colossians 3:1-17 NLT)
Paul goes on to say in Romans 7:15-25: 15 I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate. 16 But if I know that what I am doing is wrong, this shows that I agree that the law is good. 17 So I am not the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it. 18 And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t. 19 I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. 20 But if I do what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it. 21 I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. 22 I love God’s law with all my heart. 23 But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. 24 Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? 25 Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. So you see how it is: In my mind I really want to obey God’s law, but because of my sinful nature I am a slave to sin. (Romans 7:15-25 NLT)
As I process this stuff, I begin to realize that here’s a man who was an Apostle, who was powerful in faith, who wrote most of the New Testament, and he understands how I feel. He is dealing with the same stuff I’m dealing with. Like my gardening experience, some things in my life are like thorny pyrocanthus bushes, defending themselves against my efforts to remove them. Other things are like clingy ivy vines, entangled with other things in my life until it seems impossible to get rid of them.
You know, I think sometimes we avoid getting close to God and to other believers because we know we’ll have to face and deal with some thorny issues and we’re not sure we can actually do it. Sometimes it’s easier to just stay out of the garden and sit on the couch scrolling through social media than to begin to plan and do the gardening. Sometimes we begin and it just becomes overwhelming. We think, “What have I gotten myself into?” We just want to quit. So how does the Bible tell me to deal with it? How do we actually do this?
1. Get focused on what we want to be, to become. Get a picture of the person we are destined to be. We look to the Bible to set standards and give hope. We fellowship with God to keep our spirits sensitive and strong. We fellowship with mature believers to learn from their example and receive their practical insights.
Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand. 2 Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth. (Colossians 3:1-2 NLT)
2 We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. 3 Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give up. (Hebrews 12:2-3 NLT)
25 And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near. (Hebrews 10:25 NLT)
2. Begin to get rid of the things in our lives that don’t fit the picture: things that hinder or entangle us, things that pull us in the wrong direction. Take decisive action. Face it. Deal with it.
5 So put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you. Have nothing to do with sexual immorality, impurity, lust, and evil desires. Don’t be greedy, for a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world. (Colossians 3:5 NLT)
8 But now is the time to get rid of anger, rage, malicious behavior, slander, and dirty language. 9 Don’t lie to each other, for you have stripped off your old sinful nature and all its wicked deeds. 10 Put on your new nature, and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like him. (Colossians 3:8-10 NLT)
1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. (Hebrews 12:1 NLT)
3. Identify and own the specific things that entangle us. Everyone has particular sins that entangle. These are not necessarily the same for each of us. But they are there. They must be identified and “thrown off.” The process of getting rid of these things is: 1. Repent (Turn around) 2. Confess (Face it honestly, take responsibility) 3. Rid yourself of it (Take some decisive action to renounce or forsake it) 4. Call the Grace truck to come and get the rubbish and cart it away.
8 If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. 9 But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. (1 John 1:8-9 NLT)
4. Begin to clothe ourselves with righteousness. We accept full responsibility to begin to act like the person we expect to become. The Bible teaches us what is right. The examples of others can show how it’s done. This may take lots of practice, it may involve trial and error. Don’t quit just because you didn’t get it right the first or even the fifth time. Once you identify the behaviors and qualities that you need to put on, you just begin to do them. Not perfectly, not getting it right every time, but “doing the stuff.”
12 Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. 13 Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. 14 Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful. (Colossians 3:12-15 NLT)
5. Accept discipline from the Lord. God’s discipline proves that we are truly His children and that He truly loves us. God’s discipline is essential to maturity and fruitfulness.
5 And have you forgotten the encouraging words God spoke to you as his children? He said, “My child, don’t make light of the LORD’s discipline, and don’t give up when he corrects you. 6 For the LORD disciplines those he loves, and he punishes each one he accepts as his child.” 7 As you endure this divine discipline, remember that God is treating you as his own children. Who ever heard of a child who is never disciplined by its father? (Hebrews 12:5-7, 11 NLT)
1 “I am the true grapevine, and my Father is the gardener. 2 He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more. 3 You have already been pruned and purified by the message I have given you. 4 Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me. 5 “Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing. 6 Anyone who does not remain in me is thrown away like a useless branch and withers. Such branches are gathered into a pile to be burned. 7 But if you remain in me and my words remain in you, you may ask for anything you want, and it will be granted! 8 When you produce much fruit, you are my true disciples. This brings great glory to my Father… 16 You didn’t choose me. I chose you. I appointed you to go and produce lasting fruit, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask for, using my name. (John 15:1-8, 16 NLT)
Dear friends, we can do this thing! We can be men and women of God. We can grow, mature, clean up our act. We can be fruitful for God. Let’s allow God’s grace to work in our lives and let’s determine we will never give up!
1 So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. 2 And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death. (Romans 8:1-2 NLT)
As always, I’d love to hear from you and I welcome your comments and questions. If you’re reading on the blog, leave a comment below. If you’re reading from the email, click “Reply” and tell me what you’re thinking.