I had a silly dream the other night–the kind you wake up from shaking your head at the preposterous suspension of good sense and logic in dreams. Anybody knows you cannot sustain a cut tree by periodic submersion in water, and yet this was the challenge that beset me in my dream: how to keep this silly ornamental fig propped up in a bucket long enough to give it a drink. Weird. Upon waking the solution was obvious—a Christmas tree stand of course! That took me off on another tangent—how strange the tradition of propping up dying trees and dressing them all pretty to celebrate the birth of a Life-giving Savior. All the while the tree is dying, if not dead. The charade is prolonged as long as needles remain (or until the housewife cannot stand the quantity of needles on the rug, or her firefighter husband recognizes the fire hazard this no-longer-evergreen is presenting…)
But I assure you we still haul in Christmas trees year-by-year. They are a beloved tradition. Now we grow and cut our own, a readily renewable resource. They grow like weeds along the roadside here, readily transplantable and voila, in a few years time, your own Charlie Brown tree! With more patience and a little trimming, a more refined look. Still, once that tree is severed from its roots, it becomes unstable and as good as dead. There will be no more growth, only a delayed wilt if we dig out the Christmas tree stand and water it well… And it occurs to me that this is my life in Christ—
I am rooted and grounded in Love (Eph.3:17). As I come to comprehend the extent of this perfect Love it will be to me a stabilizing, energizing, sufficient supply for life. Apart from it I am vulnerable to wilt. I reel from harsh words. I cringe when misunderstood. I slump and drop needles… But rooted and grounded in Love I can be like the tree planted by a stream “and shall not see when heat cometh, but her leaf shall be green; and shall not be careful in the year of drought, neither shall cease from yielding fruit” Jer.17:8. I’m thinking on these things this week–this love beyond measure, this love that extends forgiveness and acceptance.
I guess I am still reeling from a wound unwittingly delivered—I didn’t see it coming. It hurt. It still hurts. Yet I am forgiven so that I may extend forgiveness. It is the overflow of Love. Love that bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things…this love that is not easily provoked and refuses to assume the worst…(I Cor.13) This is the Love I have been shown. This is the Love that I can extend because I am rooted and grounded in Love.
Forgiveness is a much hashed-over topic. Is there anything new to say? I thought I understood it pretty well. But it never becomes quite so clear as when it is required of you… A friend pointed me to this clarification of the nature of true forgiveness written years ago by George MacDonald. He suggests there are forms of ‘forgiveness’ which do not truly ‘send away’ the offence but only refrain from revenge. We say we ‘can’t forget’ when what we are doing is holding onto the memory in case we need to substantiate our claim to having been wronged. We hang onto the evidence, just in case… It bolsters our ego to be the one in the right. We hold hostage the wrongdoer to serve our pride. Is this true forgiveness? Is it the sort we have been shown?
God instead sends our sins as far away as the East is from the West. He removes all that would prevent our fellowship with Him. Restoration is the aim of forgiveness, not merely a refusal to retain resentment or take revenge. Is this my ideal? Or does my smug ‘I forgive you’ backhandedly imply ‘but I’m not forgetting what you’ve done!’
George MacDonald explains the ideal forgiveness as one that hates the sin, not because it hurt me, but because it has broken fellowship with my brother…
One more will say: “He has wronged me grievously. It is a dreadful thing to me, and more dreadful still to him, that he should have done it. He has hurt me, but he has nearly killed himself. He shall have no more injury from it that I can save him. I cannot feel the same towards him yet; but I will try to make him acknowledge the wrong he has done me, and so put it away from him. Then, perhaps, I shall be able to feel towards him as I used to feel. For this end I will show him all the kindness I can, not forcing it upon him, but seizing every fit opportunity; not, I hope, from a wish to make myself great through bounty to him, but because I love him so much that I want to love him more in reconciling him to his true self. I would destroy this evil deed that has come between us. I send it away. And I would have him destroy it from between us too, by abjuring it utterly.” [Unspoken Sermons I, “It shall not be forgiven”]
And here I am brought back to consider the poor fig tree. The truth is, there is more to its need to be rooted and grounded in love than merely allowing it to extend love and forgiveness to others who are in the wrong! This smacks of the noble-sounding sentiments of the Pharisee gone down to the temple to pray: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men…’ Lk.18:11 No, the greater reason for needing such grounding is that I need to be forgiven, continuously. I have been the one to do the hurting. It has done costly damage. Perhaps these wounds I reel from are nothing compared to the ones I have myself inflicted. Could it be I have unwittingly offended, worse yet stabbed, ones who had not seen it coming? Could it be they are reeling from my callous thoughtlessness? Yes, I know this to be true. And for this reason, I need more than a temporary dip in water to reinvigorate my leafy tips. This will take more than a Christmas tree stand. I must be rooted and grounded in love. There is no other hope for this old fig tree. I have been forgiven and continue to need forgiveness at least as much as anyone I perceive as having wronged me. I’m so glad a Savior has been born to us—One who took the initiative to seek and to save that which was lost before they had even come to their senses. (Lk.15)
We, without Him are feeble trees, parched and quaking, Charlie Brown trees, if you will. We carry about in these bodies the death of Jesus “so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies…in our mortal flesh”. II Cor.4:10 But rooted and grounded in a living supply of water, there is life, forgiveness, grace! This is why I need this living supply of water.
There was once another tree, cut and formed into a Cross. For this, Jesus was born. “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree.” Why? “that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.” I Pet.2:24 Yes! I can string the lights and celebrate! I am rooted and grounded in love. Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift! II Cor.9:15
‘It was right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found.’ Lk.15:32
“…but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Rom.5:8
Blessed [is] the man that trusteth in the LORD, and whose hope the LORD is. Jer.17:7
He hath not dealt with us after our sins; nor rewarded us according to our iniquities. For as the heaven is high above the earth, [so] great is his mercy toward them that fear him. As far as the east is from the west, [so] far hath he removed our transgressions from us. Ps.103:10-12
“…according to the riches of his glory [may He] grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.Eph.3:15-19
Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. Eph.3:20-21
This beautiful song sums it all up:
How deep the Father’s love for us,
How vast beyond all measure
That He should give His only Son
To make a wretch His treasure