Broken Branches

Broken Branches

Last Friday was the seniors’ last day of classes.  The rest of us all have a couple more weeks.  Even though we’re returning next year, these last few weeks have provided a time of reflection during which I’ve been able to look at what we have done, what we’ve left undone, what we might be able to do next year, and even the things that I thought we could do here that will probably never happen.

As the seniors approached the end of their last day, their classroom just got a little louder by the minute.  Before the final bell rang, there were underclassmen lined up outside their door to congratulate them, and we teachers were just a little concerned about how exactly this was going to go.  The bell rang, and they came running out, then they promptly gathered together in the middle of the plaza… and prayed.  It was one of the coolest things I’ve seen all year.  Here they are, free to act as they please in the world without the threat of consequences from a school staff that has respectfully held them accountable for years, and what do they do?  They collectively, genuinely, and publicly exercise humility and offer thanks to the one who really brought them to where they are today.  Good stuff.

And God has brought our family through a great many things lately as well, including two more weeks of surgical brigades at the clinic, and a successful science fair at the school… both at the same time, no less.  Dr. Post, who headed up the brigade even acted as a guest judge for the science fair, which just happened to end up being scheduled for the brigade’s day off.  And we also had more help from some others that just happened to be in town, with the Poage family visiting the Slyker family (a missionary family living here in Gracias), and arriving just in time to be guest judges for us.  And Sam and Evie even got to participate, as the younger classes got a chance to visit older classes and watch some of their presentations.  As I got to watch Sam and his class watch 11th graders measuring the pH of different solutions by changing them all sorts of different colors, I was reminded of the way God weaves our stories together in ways we couldn’t anticipate or imagine.  This was really a small example of that, but it was a very fun day.

And this past Saturday, I did something even more incredible.  I went for a run.  Now, once you get a hundred yards or so from our house, you’re running in a national forest, so it’s really quite amazing.  It’s insanely steep, and I don’t always make it very far, but I think that’s ok.  I find God speaks to me through the trees, but perhaps it’s just that when I’m running, my mind is quiet, and when our minds are quiet, I think God can finally speak to us as he pleases… that is to say, we can hear him because we are finally listening.

So with respect to a year that is almost over, and another year to come, and an unknown future beyond that, and a great unknown glory even beyond that, I think God just wanted to tell me a few things through the trees.

“First, even though you will try to support all the branches growing from you, some, even many, may seem to break along the way.”

There was a skinny tree with a bunch of skinny branches growing out of it.  Some were long and healthy and produced a bunch of leaves up above.  Others were short, stunted, or even broken off.  No matter how hard I try, there will be students I can’t reach.  I’m not perfect.  I’m not God.  Thank goodness.

For many students, maybe I am reaching them, but I may never see the fruit that comes to bear.  And that’s ok… that’s great actually.  Our lives are not intended for our own glory… they’re intended for God’s glory.  Recognition should be fine, but it can misdirect glory in an unhealthy way at times.

“Second, you’re not the tree… I am.  Just don’t be a broken branch.”

There was a second tree, far thicker, fuller, and healthier than the first.  But it still had some broken branches.  A lot of people say that their biggest problem with Christianity is Christians, and in many cases, I can’t blame them.  Now I know enough Christians to know that the world is full of wonderful, Jesus-seeking humble spirits that encourage me, but that’s not always obvious to the outside world, and we need to be honest about that.

What does the world see when it looks at the body of Christ today?  Do they see pews full of hypocrites acting one way Sunday morning and living as they please every other moment?  Do they see a faction of people that has been reduced to an American political sub-unit, only to be appealed to for capturing votes at the next election or to avoid a boycott on a product they’re trying to sell them?  Man, I sure hope not, but it’s up to us.

It’s up to us to be a reflection of our creator.  It’s up to us to shine his light to the world.  He is there to help us, but it’s our decision whether or not his light will shine in our lives.  We are indeed broken branches… under our own power, we’re helplessly broken.  It’s only by accepting his power and love and joy that we will grow into the eternal living glowing beautiful creation he intended us to be.

“Third, when you look at me and all you see is broken branches, know that I am still faithful, and keep your trust in me.”

There was a third tree… old and huge, but probably actually dead.  All the branches were broken off, but it towered over others next to it.  What do we do when we look at the body of Christ and all we see are broken branches?  Do we blame the tree?  Yeah, we do.  Should we?  No.

In this is actually one of the most beautiful things about following Jesus… no one else matters.  Well, I mean, others matter a great deal, but none of their opinions determine your relationship with God.  We fall in love with him alone.  One of the most difficult things to explain to someone is how to hear the voice of God, but I have a theory.  It’s like falling in love.  If I explained to someone what it was like to fall in love with my wife, my goal would not be to have them fall in love with my wife.  My goal would be to explain to them the things that they can watch for as they seek out their own journey of falling in love with someone else.  Our God wants you to fall in love with him.  He wants to fall in love with you.  Others can help us on the journey, but the path is yours alone to walk.  God still would have created this entire glorious universe even if you were the only person in it.

So there it is.  God used my insecurity about my accomplishments and my worry about the future to draw me back to himself.  To bring me closer to his heart.  To remind me that he hears us and sees us and knows us and loves us… all the more in spite of ourselves.  Somehow, the more I get to know God, the more questions I have, and the more peace I experience at the same time.  His unknowable depth overwhelms me and his infinite love envelopes me.  This guy is all right.

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