Roots and Refreshment

"I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing."
Jesus, in John 15:5

It's been wet and now it's hot in Boulder County, Colorado. Everything's green and the roses out front, despite my brown thumb, are flourishing. We have the mini ones: a burst of more than a dozen in a small handful. I pruned off a spray and put it in a vase on the kitchen table more than a week ago. It's still remarkably well. But as you and I know, it won't be much longer. In fact, it'll wither, grow dry and brown, and the water will turn foul and brackish. That's the way it is with cut flowers. Nice for a short while, then dead and fit only for the garbage can.

How different from their cousins out front, who remain rooted in the front yard! Each morning the sprinklers come on and when one branch of flowers withers, another quickly takes its place. There's renewal and refreshment from their rootedness in soil and sprinklers. It's true: even these roses won't last but a season. But the rose bush itself, rooted deeply in the ground, will survive the winter and return in full flower next summer. That's the way it is with growing things.

And that's the way it is with us. Too often we expect to flourish long after we've removed ourselves from the Source of life and renewal. We live "cut-flower lives"--vital for a season, but subject to withering effects that dry us out and drain us of life. We need to rediscover life in the soil, with roots sunk deep into the rhythms of God. This means rest and refreshment through adequate sleep, exercise, play, and vacation. It means a life-giving, on-going personal relationship with God in Jesus Christ, the "Vine", as he called himself. As he said, we are his branches. Rooted in him, we find vitality, wholeness, hope, and help. We flourish.

But let's be clear: it's not instantaneous. Growing things don't work that way. It takes a while for the life to saturate the branch, for the nutrients to flow into the extremities. There are seasons, too--of flowering and withering, of verdant green and moribund brown. But rooted in the soil, the Life remains--and will triumph over the seasons of time and adversity. Thanks to Jesus Christ, dead but now alive, we too, rooted in him, will die and live again. It's life on the vine. And the great thing is that it's never too late to be grafted back in!

How is it with you? Is it life in the vase or life on the vine? Are you sunk in the soil or sunk in your situation? Let this summer--and the ample illustrations all around us--lead you to Life.

"Suffer the Little Children"

Recently, my wife and I watched "The King's Speech." In case you haven't seen it, it's a tremendous movie about King George VI's rise to the monarchy despite a debilitating speech impediment. It’s a malady he struggles to overcome with the help of his speech therapist, an Australian commoner. While I thoroughly enjoyed the movie, one scene struck me as pivotal: as the speech therapist gently tries to uncover the roots of his stuttering, the then Prince Albert mentions his closeness to his governess and how he and his siblings as children were "presented" to his parents once a day. Presumably, they were washed, groomed, dressed, told to bow and curtsy as they were reviewed by the current King and Queen. Presumably, whatever was deemed unacceptable in the royal presence was hidden from view, denied, discouraged, or dismissed. The tension between his formal relationship with his parents and his inner sense of inadequacy "leaked" out in the stammering of "B-b-b-Bertie" as he was cruelly nicknamed.

Lest we think this was merely the monarch's fate, may I remind us of that unfortunate phrase commonly heard a generation or two ago: "Children are to be seen and not heard." In many of our cultures and backgrounds this applied, even if informally. Children, in their spontaneity and messiness, their lack of manners and polish, their rampant "id" or instinctive urges, were seen as disruptive to the adult world. Many children learned, as a result, to stuff and hide their less acceptable selves. They began to focus on externals: how they looked and spoke, how they performed, what they achieved. But beneath these little adults were children who needed to be loved and accepted for who and what they genuinely were--without the polish and the pretense.

Enter religion. If ever there was an apt analogy, this is it! Like stammering Bertie, how many of us in the church can come to THE King, attempting to present our polished perfect selves for review, doing our best to hide what we fear is unacceptable beneath the veneer. Unsure of the King's reception, we do our best to clean up our language, our behavior, our lives--hoping that we'll be accepted and approved.

Here's where Jesus comes in. To correct our projections of "The King" onto God, God must come down to us and reveal his love in flesh and blood. We see Jesus embrace the outcast, touch the leper, welcome the sinful woman, and then…and then...invite the children to come to him.

"People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, 'Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.' And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them." --Mark 10:13-16 NRSV

Little children, especially when they are heard and seen, can be messy, unruly, and out of control. Like the disciples, we can speak sternly to them and discourage them from these behaviors, especially in the church, “the King's place”. Like unfortunate Bertie, our little children, at least in the past, were often encouraged to become little adults to in order to gain entry to parental love and acceptance. Jesus, who reveals God more accurately to us, is indignant: no need to clean up your act in order to get to him! No need to have it all together to experience his love! Come--come to him as you are, in all the messiness of your inner child. Bring your true self to him, because that is the one he wants. No pretending! In fact, only this true self can be loved and healed and brought into the kingdom of God. It's this self, in all its messiness, failure and fault, that Jesus takes up into his arms, lays his hands upon, and blesses.

In some respects, we all stutter, stammer, limp, posture and pretend. None of us were raised perfectly (and none of us raise our children perfectly). The good news is that our Father accepts us in Christ just the way we are. And then, in Christ, God takes us on a lifelong journey of transformation, helping us grow into our belovedness, into the family image--from the inside out.

Together we're on this journey, daring to trust in the Father's love. It's a dynamic, ongoing process: bravely acknowledging new levels of our brokenness and need and bringing these into the love and light of Christ--daring to trust in God's gracious acceptance which will never let us go.