Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Trouble with Family

In case you think I'm going to bash sweet Auntie Em or crazy Grandpappy Earl on this here blog today, you'll have to look somewhere else.  Because neither of them have done anything heinous to me.  And, besides, they are fictional characters.  SO.

Actually, as promised, I'm expounding on another person's God messages.  So, I guess this could be part two of a mini-series on epiphanies that I didn't have, but I get to write on.  Freakin' cool, huh? 

In case you hadn't already had the chance to look at the first "revelation", this is the link.  Take a few minutes and read it, before you tackle this writing.

It's OK.  I'll wait.  And work on that patience issue that keeps cropping up.

(Insert elevator music here.  Non-irritating elevator music.)

Here's the thing:  families are a part of the larger church.  And the head of the church is Christ.  In John 15, He also refers to himself as a "vine" in the story of the vine and the branches.  Christ is the vine, off of which the branches (in my case, the Huber and Nowell family members*) grow.

God is the gardener of the vine.  When he finds a branch (a Huber or a Nowell) that is bearing no fruit, God cuts him/her off from the larger vine.  He prunes any branch (person) that IS bearing fruit so that it (s/he) will become even more fruitful (verse 1).

For those pruned branches, Christ commands we "remain in me, as I also remain in you."  He also explains that "No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me." (entire paragraph:  verse 4)

So, allow me a little latitude here with the analogy.  We are used to our families being part of a tree, so think of the tree as a vine.  Instead of the branches being wood, they are simply plant (vine) branches.

And here is the crux of the trouble within families today:  we have become a society where our family trees (vines) consist of broken branches.  In many, the branches have been completely cut away from the original trunk.  In others, the vine consists of so few branches that those left standing are barely able to maintain the original health of the larger tree.

This is the case for many reasons, a few of which came to mind...
some people attend church but have never really accepted Christ as their own.
some people hate God because of a perceived offense, a hurt which they blame on Him.
some people refuse to go to church and be surrounded by other believers because they (the other believers) are "hypocritical" or the service is too contemporary/too long/too liturgical.

The list of reasons why certain branches of our family are cut off from the larger tree is longer than a 100-year-old oak is tall.  But, regardless of the reason, when even one of our family is cut off from Christ, a part of our heritage is missing from our eternal family tree and from the church as a whole.  That leaves a huge gap in God's plan for his people.

So, God keeps on trying to call each of our family members back, often to no avail.  Because, if the branch refuses to be part of the vine, there is absolutely nothing being completed for the larger vine;  no fruit is being borne.  Christ makes this message apparent (again)* in verse 5:  "If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing."

The saddest part is what happens to the branches that refuse the vine (ie:  they are cut off): "If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned." (verse 6)

But, here is where hope plays into this:  if you've ever learned a little about caring for plants, you know that, done properly, pruning off one part causes either a new flower or fruit to grow.  There must be something about the process of a branch being pruned that causes the vine to regenerate in new, healthy ways.

I found the following article about pruning while writing this post.  I've emphasized some points by italicizing them, as they apply to what God does when He prunes those who are producing fruit for His kingdom:

"While there may be as many reasons to prune a tree as there are trees, the important factor is that there is a reason to prune and trimEach cut has the potential of changing the growth habit, character, and health of a tree.  Your arborist** can determine the type of pruning needed to establish and maintain the health of your trees, and is an expert at pruning each species of tree to develop and maintain its unique aesthetic form.

Young trees are pruned to develop a structure that will meet the need of the tree and the purpose it serves in a landscape. Pruning cuts are made with an eye to the future.  The pruning of a mature tree is driven by practices that are known to maintain health."***


And that is often what happens through family:  when one of us grows, we enthusiastically speak to those who have been cut off.  And we plant little seedlings along the way, which God uses to call those who've turned from Him.  And, when the entire family works together, a healthy tree is created.

Sadly, too many families are caught in age-old, petty disagreements and pointless arguments about things that don't truly matter.  This type of illness creates weak, diseased, broken trees.



We can start the process of calling our family tree back to health by earnest prayer.  For Christ says "If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you." (verse 7)  We can ask God to show us how to communicate our desire for those who have been cut off to find their way back.  We can pray for salvation for the lost.  We can show love, even where it is unwarranted and, possibly, unwelcome.  We can begin the change we seek for our family. 

I believe, in doing these things, we answer Christ's desire, from verse 8:  "This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples."

If I could share anything with you right now, it would be the song "City on Our Knees" by Christian artist Toby Mac.  But, since I can't find a good link to the song, I'll leave you with the lyrics.****  They speak volumes about what can happen when we all come together for a common cause:

If you gotta start somewhere why not here
If you gotta start sometime why not now
If we gotta start somewhere I say here
If we gotta start sometime I say now
Through the fog there is hope in the distance
From cathedrals to third world missions
Love will fall to the earth like a crashing wave

Tonight’s the night
For the sinners and the saints
Two worlds collide in a beautiful display
It’s all love tonight
When we step across the line
We can sail across the sea
To a city with one king
A city on our knees
A city on our knees
Oh-oh-oh-oh-oh

If you gotta start somewhere why not here
If you gotta start sometime why not now
If we gotta start somewhere I say here
If we gotta start sometime I say now
Through the fog there is hope in the distance
From cathedrals to third world missions
Love will fall to the earth like a crashing wave

Tonight’s the night
For the sinners and the saints
Two worlds collide in a beautiful display
It’s all love tonight
When we step across the line
We can sail across the sea
To a city with one king
A city on our knees
A city on our knees
Oh-oh-oh

Tonight could last forever
We are one choice from together
Tonight could last forever
Ooh
Tonight could last forever
We are one choice from together
As family
We’re family
Oh Tonight could last forever
We are one choice from together
You and me
Ya, you and me
Tonight’s the night
For the sinners and the saints
Two worlds collide
In a glorious display
'Cause its all love tonight
When we step across the line
We can sail across the sea
To a city with one king
A city on our knees
A city on our knees
Oh oh oh
A city on our knees
A city on our knees
Oh oh oh
If we gotta start somewhere why not here
If we gotta start sometime why not now
Now, go.  Create a family tree that will survive eternally.


*To help this make sense, I'm going to use the Huber/Nowell family names as an example.  I am speaking of my family of five, my/Mike's sibling, our parents, aunts/uncles and their families, and our grandparents.  These are the family of people who are still living that I am related to by adoption and marriage.  We are a hearty group of around 101 folks, at best count.

**I love thinking of God as the arborist of my life.  I don't fear the pruning process.  Instead, I look forward to it, knowing that the growth I will experience through the change will produce an amazing new flower or fruit in my life.  What a glorious Christ we serve!

***Young (immature Christians) are pruned for the tree (vine) as a whole.  Pruning, as a process, is focused on the future of the tree.  Mature trees (mature Christians) are pruned to keep the health of the whole tree intact.  An amazing analogy between the work of modern arborists and the work of God.

****From : http://www.elyrics.net/read/t/tobymac-lyrics/city-on-our-knees-lyrics.html

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