home > Pastor’s Desk > 2021 > February > NO BONZAI CHRISTIANITY

NO BONZAI CHRISTIANITY

For a good many years, my life revolved around plants. I grew up with a fondness and deep fascination for using plants to make well-planned and kept gardens. Back in the days before the internet, there used to be these things called ‘magazines’ and I didn’t know of any other kid my age who relished reading through garden-design magazines. I dreamt of the day when I would have my own home to build my own garden. As time went on I began a full-time job in a nursery where I sold plants and garden supplies. It was during this time that I first encountered bonzai plants. Bonzai gardening is one of the most fascinating horticultural art-forms I can think of. It was a technique developed by Japanese gardeners who experimented with how to reduce an ordinarily very large tree to be a full-sized extremely small tree. Thinking about bonzai trees it is striking to me just how many parallels there are for our spiritual development.

I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.
First Corinthians 3:6-7

TALL TREES BECOME SMALL TREES

Bonzai trees are amazing. The Japanese discovered that they could trick a big tree into thinking it was always meant to be a very, very, small tree. They would take a cutting of a maple or oak tree and coax it to form its own roots and then plant it into a very shallow glazed earthenware pot. Each time it developed a shoot they would prune it back appropriately. Once the root system was developed, they would upheave it out of the pot and trim its roots back before repotting it back into its shallow pot. They would then repeat this process over and over and over until the miniature tree resembled its fully mature huge relative — except in miniature form. At some point the bonzai tree becomes convinced that it was always meant to be a miniature tree. Again, I think there is a spiritual parallel to draw from this process of bonzai tree making.

They are planted in the house of the LORD;
they flourish in the courts of our God.
They still bear fruit in old age;
they are ever full of sap and green
Psalm 92:13-14

OUR SPIRITUAL DEVELOPMENT IS LIKENED TO A GROWING TREE

Consider how the bonzai gardener tends their bonzai trees. They must continually keep cutting it down to size and uproot it repeatedly to cut its roots back. I wonder whether this hurts the little tree to be continually uprooted and cut? I know it hurts a person when it happens to them. I also know that the result to both a little tree and a person is the same. Both are stunted in their growth to some degree. While I marvel at the artistry of the bonzai gardener, I can’t help but feel somewhat sorry for the bonzai tree. (I also feel sorry for those people who get treated—or worse still, treat themselves—like a bonzai tree.) 

¶ But I am like a green olive tree
in the house of God.
I trust in the steadfast love of God
forever and ever.
Psalm 52:8

SPIRITUAL GARDENING

The Scriptures describe God as a Gardener who plants people (note Jer. 11:17). The Psalmist describes the blessed person being like a tree planted by streams of water that grows and bears bountiful fruit (Psalm 1:3). But the Scriptures also indicate that we are gardeners of our own soul. And while it is not a horticultural metaphor, the same point is made by the apostle Peter when he wrote that every new Christian should desire to nurture their soul just like a newborn baby who desires to drink milk in order to grow, but as a Christian, Peter says, there should be a desire for spiritual milk in order to grow into their salvation (1Pet. 2:2).

Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation—if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.
First Peter 2:2-3

Sometime later, the apostle Peter wrote what would be his last epistle. This time, in the very last verse of his last epistle he doesn’t just exhort new Christians to actively take steps to grow in Christ, he now exhorts all believers to grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ so that God is glorified.

But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.
Second Peter 3:18

It is God’s will for each of His children to grow tall, strong, and mature. That is, it is God’s will for you to grow into the man or woman of God He has always designed for you to become. This can only happen if you are spiritually planted, spiritually well-watered, and able to spiritually grow without allowing hurt to hold you back. Or, another way of putting it is, God hasn’t called you to be a bonzai Christian!   

Your pastor,

Andrew

Let me know what you think below in the comment section and feel free to share this someone who might benefit from this Pastor’s Desk.

6 Comments

  1. Melissa Lubke

    Great analogy Andrew.

    Reply
  2. Mike Sladden

    Thanks Pastor Andrew. Makes me even more determined to pray for my boys, for them to grow up to be ‘oak tree’ Christians. Blessings, Brother Mike

    Reply
  3. Gladys Parry

    The parallel between bonsai and human growth is a wonderful comparison. Thank you.

    Reply
  4. Therese Stepanovic

    What a great comparison Ps Andrew, I really enjoyed reading that! Thank you.

    Reply
  5. John Sands

    Also bonsai’s require very delicate care and treatment and Dir if not fussed over and not nourished. Almost impossible to go on a holiday.

    This is as distinct from a mature tree which is rugged and can put up with a lot and thrive.

    Reply
  6. Karen Dickson

    Thank you Andrew

    Reply

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SUPER NATURAL CHRISTIANITY

The early Christians were sensitive to the voice of God. Ananias, who prayed for the newly converted Saul of Tarsus, was told by the Spirit where to find Saul, what to say to him, and why it was important for him to do so (Acts 9:10-18). Sometimes followers of Christ are misled to believe that they need to “learn” how to hear the voice of God. There is no example of this need anywhere in Scripture. But there are, however, injunctions to seek the Lord (Deut. 4:29; 1Chron. 16:11; Ps. 34:10; 105:3-4; Isa. 51:1; 55:6; Matt. 6:33; 7:7). 

It was John Calvin who wrote in his commentary on Ephesians that the reasons believers today do not experience the divinely supernatural, as it seems the early Christians did, was the lack of desire. This is what I now want to both remind you of and encourage you to do: seek God. Seek Him. Be open to Him. Pray that you might pray effectively. Ask God to confirm His Word in the hearts of those who need a supernatural encounter with God that might lead to their conversion. And then, be still (Ps. 46:10).

DEEPER SPIRITUALITY

I don’t normally share like this so please excuse me for being a bit more personal than I am normally in these Pastor’s Desks. Last Sunday morning I awoke with a strong sense that I needed to incorporate the vision of Ezekiel’s Temple as a framework for us to think about our year ahead in my sermon for that day. I had to re-jig my presentation (which as you might be aware involves a bit more work than they way most other preachers do their slides). This is why I arrived at church a little later than I normally comfortable in doing. I was particularly gripped by this divine vision given to Ezekiel of the Holy Spirit’s outpouring in the New Covenant with Christ Himself being the Temple-Source (John 2:19-21). While I was preaching to our church community (in-person and online) I was also preaching to myself. As a result, Kim and I continued  in prayer and fasting for the rest of our Sunday. I now want to invite you to consider again Ezekiel’s picture of the Spirit-filled Christian life as the map for going deeper with God.

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WHAT CHILD IS THIS?

The grace and the truth expressed in the classic Christmas Carols brings great joy to this preacher who strives to produce biblically and theologically informed followers of Christ. It’s one the reasons why this preacher also serves as a gate-keeper over the songs that use at Legana because I know that most of my sermons are long forgotten soon after they are preached yet what we sing on a Sunday rings in our hearts for years to come. This is no doubt why singing, music, hymns, has always been integral to Christian worship (Eph. 5:19). The consolation that us forgettable preachers have though is that most good song-writers were, and are, biblically/theologically informed by faithful preachers. May the magnitude of what we sing this Advent grip our hearts, enlighten our souls and fill us each with joy inexpressible. Merry Christmas.

THE ART OF COMFORT

Pastors come in different varieties which is why the term pastoral conjures different ideas in the minds of different people. A pastor is like the hand that is placed in the glove of a ministry position which then leads to that glove taking a certain shape of the pastor’s strengths, abilities, and spiritual gifts. Over time, if the partnership between a pastor and a congregation endures, that pastor will also be shaped by the needs and demands of those whom God has called them to shepherd. And if both that pastor and that congregation are particularly blessed by God, the breadth of the needs and demands of a growing congregation will be attended to by pastors rather than the unrealistic expectation of them being met be a pastor. But there are times when a pastor is called upon by the broader community to care for that broader community in those times of severe adversity resulting from some tragedy. Floods, bush-fires, transport disasters (air/sea/road), military incidents, famine, are just some broader community demands for pastoring that come to mind as examples. More often than not, the type of person that God equips to enter these tragedies is one who has been shaped by God through having to deal with their own tragedies. In these instances the pastoral glove takes the shape of a chaplain. A chaplain’s principal function is comfort. In writing to the Corinthians after a particularly painful series of events, the tragedy-seasoned apostle Paul was able to comfort those he was ministering to because he himself had been the beneficiary of comfort from God through others.

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WHAT FILLS YOUR HEART, MIND, AND SOUL?

God has made humans to engage their hearts, minds, and souls with music. Bach discovered this; but, Cobain did not. It is why music has played a central role in Christianity — in its discipleship of believers, and in its facility to bring God’s people together in worship each Lord’s Day. Musical songs teach biblical truth and theologically educate believers about the God. Sacred music stirs and lifts the soul and not just for the fleeting moment, but in a way that actually nourishes the soul by filling it with a lingering sense of God’s presence. This is why bring, joyful, upbeat Christian worship songs are so important for the discipleship and sustenance of the believer. As a preacher I am deeply appreciative of the complementary role that our musical worship plays in promoting the truth of God’s Word, and I hope you are too. 

It’s Complicated

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LESSONS FROM THE LIFE OF DANIEL
¶ But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the king’s food, or with the wine that he drank. Therefore he asked the chief of the eunuchs to allow him not to defile himself.  And God gave Daniel favour and compassion in the sight of the chief of the eunuchs
Daniel 1:8-9
Daniel’s world had been turned upside down. As a young well-to-do Jewish boy who grew up in a highly regarded family with parents who took their devotion to Yahweh seriously, he too would have expected that all of his training would have led him to follow in his father’s and Grandfather’s footsteps in the service of the King’s royal court. Even as a young man in his early teenage years he would have expected to one day take a wife and pass the baton of his knowledge and privilege to his son too. But then his world began to be shaken. The early stages of the disruption began when he was not yet a teen and a very upset and tearful young man from Anathoth, not too much older than himself, stood on the temple steps and denounced the wickedness of the King of Judah. Daniel would have remembered hearing this teenage prophet call the King and the people of Judah to repentance before the Lord’s wrath came upon them. This virgin prophet warned of the destruction of the temple and the invasion of the world’s most vile people — the Babylonians. The disruptions from this highly emotional priest-prophet continued until he was barred from entering the city, but undaunted, he wrote his prophecies out and his secretary, Baruch, deliver them in his stead. Despite the scorn, mocking, and eventual imprisonment, Daniel witnessed the tenacity of the one who came to be known as “ the Weeping Prophet” and some seventy years after Jerusalem was indeed destroyed by Babylonian forces (just as the prophet had foretold), Daniel referred to his copy of the now late prophet’s words and turned them into a …