Monday, April 20, 2009

Maintaining a Bonsai Tree

Do you know anything about Bonsai Trees? I don't know a whole lot because my first experience with a Bonsai Tree was watching the classic movie "The Karate Kid." There was also this really strange kid at my Junior High named Cody that like trimming up Bonsai Trees. I didn't really talk with him more than I had to because he kind of weirded me out. That's probably how you get into the landscaping business...just kidding Tim Oliver. Anyways, I have never really heard of anyone planting one. Typically people just buy them already grown, right? Maybe I am assuming too much about a subject far outside my expertise, but that's my foundation for this thought. The only bonsai trees I have seen are already fully grown, and the buyer or caretaker's job is to water it and trim it up as it is needed.

It a funny concept. Seems that it's easier to tweek things than grow them from start to finish. I have been rethinking my Christian faith quite heavily lately, and I have been monitoring the faiths of others in my community. To be completely honest, I have noticed something very disturbing. This is going to sound judgemental and I don't mean it rudely, but this same concept seems to have infested our churches. Tons of people coming to church with a faith grown by mom or dad or someone else. It's not just teens, but many adults. The faith they profess is not something they have been apart of from the beginning but rather the work of another follower way off in the past. These "followers" are coming to church sustaining their faith like a Bonsai Tree. They tweak and do behavior modification instead of true submission and transformation. When I say "they"...that's me too. At least, that was me. My parents and spiritual mentors were there to plant the seeds of Discipleship in my life. They were not there to give me a faith that I preserve until I give it to my children.

I think this may be the cause of so many leaving the church and, more importantly, leaving Jesus. We have been teaching a fundamental lie in our Christian gatherings. We, leaders like myself, have been teaching others how to retain faith instead of teaching them how to be soil. Remember the Parable of the Soils? The basis for the entire parable is that we are the soil and not the seed. My perception is that we have somehow gotten mixed up in our identity. We think we're the plant that needs pruning when we are really the soil. There is a significant misunderstanding of Scripture, Discipleship, and Body Life going on here.

Behavior modification is not the way of a Disciple. Death, Rebirth, and continual Transformation are the pillars of Jesus-followers. Christ came to kill me and raise me anew in his likeness and will. Jesus, our Messiah, knew he couldn't just chop off a branch here or there. He understood that the entire tree needed to come down because the tree wasn't his focus. The tree was only the product of the worthless soil that was me. Christ came to transform the soil into something that would produce beautiful fruits of the Spirit.

So here is the ultimate question...does your walk with God look more like someone pruning a Bonsai Tree or the soil yeilding God's beauty? I truly believe that the Disciple lives the journey of "good soil." We are remade by Jesus, we then bear fruits of the Spirit, we are often tilled up for another use in God's will, and we then bear more fruit looking like our Lord. It's a recurring process but a method that validates purpose and faith in this life.


  1. Good point Josh! I think that we as Christians become complacent with the faith that our parents and youth ministers grow for us. It is not a bad faith, but stagnant nonetheless. I really like Rob Bell's book "Velvet Elvis", it challenges us to continually probe and re-examine our faith. He talks about asking ourselves why we believe what we believe, tilling the soil to follow your analogy. It is definitely easy enough to just keep our little bonzai tree and be happy with that, but we need to be humble enough to let God into our hearts and turn our garden upside down if he needs to.

  2. Friar Haynes, Amen. Just now read your post. I had a really great week last week that relates to what you are saying. I spent my week with the owner of one of the manufacturers my firm represents. I think he is in his early 60's. He has never mentioned anything to me about God or religion before, but this week as we were driving around and talking he told me that there was a book I needed to read. I thought for certain it was going to be a book on sales. But it wasn't. It was "The Shack". I had never read the book. He began telling me all about the book and how the representation of the Trinity and God's Love for man had really revitalized his relationship with God. He was raised Lutheran and in a church that used guilt and eternal punishment to try to prune the bonsai (modify behavior). It was really uplifting to hear how this book made him realize that God is Love, Spirit, and wants to transform him spiritually instead of beating him down to lead some robotic life in order to please God. He would tell me about something the book had made him realize and I could point him to the teaching of Christ that backed up the book. You know how I like to flap my gums. He told me that he had lived most of his life with the guilt that began when he was a young man and couldn't find the joy he was supposed to be finding by modifying his behavior. This caused him to go away from God but he never lost the guilt until he read that book.

  3. Glad to see you in the blogging world.

    I am going to put you in my Google Reader to keep up.

    I always wanted a Bonsai tree...but they are kind of expensive for such a small plant...