Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Tree of Life: Leaves and Branches

Here is another illustration Jesus used: “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed planted in a field. 32 It is the smallest of all seeds, but it becomes the largest of garden plants; it grows into a tree, and birds come and make nests in its branches.” Matthew 13:32

We have been exploring the Tree of Life this year. We’ve spent time developing the soil of our inner lives and what it means to live as part of God’s family; the trunk that surrounds us in protection and love.

But, no tree is complete without branches and leaves. Otherwise, it’s just a topless trunk. There are some trees in Sammamish, where I live, that they cut off the tops because they were dying. Some creative artists have developed socks for the trees to wear! Although they are fun to look at, they definitely don’t carry the beauty of a tree that is full of buds and leaves that reflect the glory of God’s creation!

In the same way, we can have deep roots with the Lord and our soil can be really healthy, and our trunk strong, but if we don’t have any branches and leaves for the birds to come and make nests in, we are missing the point of the purpose of the tree.

Trees are significant in creation. The Lord made trees the focus of the Garden for Adam and Eve. They were told to eat from the Tree of Life daily because in eating its fruit, they would live the abundant, eternal life that God created them to enjoy. They were also instructed to stay away from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil because in even touching it, they would die. Knowledge of evil brings death to our very lives because it takes us away from God’s goodness.

So, we have to ask ourselves the question, “What does it look like to have branches that attract birds that will build nests?”

First, we know that the branches need to be connected to the tree. Jesus tells us in John 15 that a branch cannot bear fruit if it is severed from the tree (vine). Fist, the branches will wither and die. Eventually, branches that are severed are thrown into the fire and burned.

Jesus also tells us that when we are connected to him, our branches will grow fruit.

That fruit will go on to create more fruit, eventually bringing forth a harvest. There’s a process, however, that has to take place to bring forth the healthiest fruit. It’s called pruning.

Jesus tells us that he cuts off every branch that doesn’t produce fruit. That makes sense. No use having ugly brown branches that lie bare on the tree. But, he also prunes the fruitful branches. Why? Because pruning helps to bring forth the best fruit!

This is a pattern that I have observed in my life and in other’s lives: we are enjoying a season where things are going along really well; we feel productive and are seeing good results from the things that we are doing. But, something happens and we feel pushed back and even attacked. We wonder what we are doing wrong. We begin to question what we are doing; and get confused.
The reality, however, it is the Lord with his sharp pruning shears, taking a bit of the branch off here and there to bring it to greater fruitfulness. Eventually, we come to a place where we recognize the sense of being pruned and begin to celebrate it because we know, in faith, that the process will bring greater meaning and outflow to our lives.

So, now that we understand that we either stay connected to Jesus or face the withering of our branches, what do the birds and nests represent?

They represent the Kingdom of God!

When our roots go down deep into fertile soil, our trunk surrounds and protects us, we can move forth and partner with the Lord, to bring his kingdom purposes and atmosphere to earth!
We were meant to do this. In Genesis 1:28, God blessed Adam and Eve and said, “Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and govern it. Reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, and all the animals that scurry along the ground.”

Notice that God includes all of the universe: the sky, the waters and the ground. What does he say to do? Yes, we repeat be fruitful and multiply often, but I don’t always hear the rest of the command: Govern and Reign.

What does it mean to “govern and reign?” It means to bring God’s kingdom to earth.

To participate with Jesus and what he died to restore: the entire earth back to God’s original intent. We often pray for salvation of souls, but how often do we think that God wants to bring his earth back into right creation too?

When we think about what will serve God in the best way, we often think that it is through “going into the ministry.” However, I believe that as we discover our uniqueness, the area of our lives in which God made us special, and move in those directions, we are bringing Kingdom to the earth.

Imagine seeing our children become scientists who will help discover solutions for diseases and global warming, become professors who will teach at secular universities and bring a godly worldview into the classroom, become marketplace leaders who will help multiply kingdom capital, become parents who understand their role to help their children develop a kingdom mindset, even IT Developers who will help to bring creative solutions to the internet that will advance God’s kingdom.

The possibilities are endless; we just need to begin to think more creatively about the options! As we begin to dream, we also must be careful not to let that which we cannot see, stop our dreams. The Scriptures tell us in Hebrews 11 that “faith is being certain of what we cannot see.”
If God created us to bring our unique kingdom role into the world, won’t he also provide for what we need to live it out?

Faith and Courage are required for days such as these. But, we also need creative imaginations and time to dream. As we make space to dream, we come to God’s dream for us, and we are allowing our branches to become filled with beautiful kingdom fruit!

Photo from Sammamish Review

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