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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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EVEN THOUGH IT’S UNFATHOMABLE, UNSEARCHABLE, AND UNCOMPREHENSIBLE, YOU STILL NEED IT!

Jesus Christ Himself was the ultimate personification of wisdom (1Cor. 1:24, 30), yet He Himself, when He became incarnate, had to ‘increase’ in wisdom. And chances are that if Jesus had to ‘increase in wisdom’ then so do we! In God’s unfathomable wisdom He permits us to learn how to increase in wisdom by learning from our mistake and failures. Yet, there are times when, as James the brother of Jesus wrote, that God gifts wisdom to His children. This may not be a ‘Matrix type’ of human-software update, but it could come to you in way you did not expect in response to your prayer for God’s wisdom where you have a “light-bulb moment”. And when you experience one of those rarer moments of ‘received’ wisdom (where God gives us wisdom), it might be time to implement some wisdom from the life of Daniel, who, when it happened to him, he gave God the glory for it.

SCARED, SCARRED, SACRED

The gospel offers hope and healing for those who have been violated — those who were once scared (for good reason), and who have been scarred by the hurt they have endured — have found redemption and a sanctuary in the sacred community of God’s redeemed.

ORDINARY AND NOBLE

Ambition can be good. Striving for continual improvement can be good. Wanting to be the best can also be good. But these all come at a cost—and often a too high cost. We can, however, strive to be the best that God has potentialled us to be. And if, along that journey we are kind to others, humble, caring, dependable and reliable, we may run the risk of having others think of us as ‘ordinary’ — a high compliment indeed — but in reality we will not just be ordinary, we will have attained the elusive honour of being ordinary and noble.

NO BONZAI CHRISTIANITY

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…

BODY BUILDING

It’s only in the last few years that we have felt the Lord lead us to adopt a theme for the year. Last year, before many of us went into lockdown in our homes, we had felt the Lord put on our hearts the theme, Welcome home. This year, we have felt the Lord lead us to focus on the theme, grow. The word grow conjures up different emotions in me. There was a time, quite early in my pastoral ministry, when it was recommended to me that I engage a ministry coach. It was my desire to do all I could to see our little church at Legana grow. The ministry coach agreed that this should be my focus. It just so happened that at this time I was in the throes of my doctoral studies. 

DECONVERTING FUTILITY

Over the past couple of years there has been several celebrity Christian leaders, including pastors and performing artists, who have walked away from Christ in what they call deconverting. They have offered various reasons for their deconversions, including – How could a good God allow evil and suffering in the world? The Bible cannot be inspired since science has disproven it. Why would God create people just to damn most of them to hell? Christianity is arrogant in claiming it is the only true religion! Sometimes these deconversions take years to come to the surface as these various doubts simmer and brew. Sometimes these deconversions are prompted by a tragedy. My guess is that being a ‘Christian celebrity’ also complicates things because the nature of celebrityness is often marked by social disconnection and loneliness where the opportunity to unburden a soul of its doubts isn’t freely available or welcome. This is why the stories of three Christian celebrities in particular is all the more remarkable.

But these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name.
John 20:31

DO NOT DESPISE PROPHECY DESPITE 2020

I believe in prophecy and I believe in prophets. But based on what I know from Scripture both are rarer than many would have us believe. I suspect though that there a lot of Christians who used to share my acceptance of the validity of prophecy and prophets — who no longer do due to the events of 2020. One of the many reasons I believe in prophecy and prophets is the teaching of Scripture. I will use one particular two-verse passage to bookend this week’s pastor’s desk to make my case.

Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good.
First Thessalonians 5:20-21

THE EASTWARD SPIRIT

THE EASTWARD SPIRIT

THE TRUTH AND LIES ABOUT YOU

Three events have provoked me to consider one of the greatest privileges that God has given each of us. The first was the movie, Wonder Woman 1984, the second The Tasmanian Law Reform Institute’s ‘Conversion Therapy Discussion Paper’, and the third, the rescue of Nigel Fox. 

THE SURPRISING CHARACTERISTICS OF SINLESSNESS

As we consider the marvel of the first Christmas, we consider that Jesus the Christ was born and lived as a sinless man. What we learn reveals to us that ‘normal’ human behaviour may not be sinful.