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A bright cross and pruning

I was angry? Why angry?

I was attending an evening class at a retreat center along with other church leaders. The speaker was teaching how churches approach the basics of what a church offers to the community through teaching, ministry, missions, and programming. His goal was to compare two common church attitudes.

One attitude focused first on a Godly connection through prayer, Bible study and worship.

Another emphasized consumer based, cafeteria-style, pick and choose programming.

What I interpreted from the speaker, was the first attitude was desirable while the other was considered undesirable. That is when I became angry.

I stood and forcefully argued that today’s church really needed both attitudes. “Yes,” said the speaker who remained placid and calm despite my demeanor, “that may be true, but on which attitude do you place your priorities?” His point was to urge churches to prayerfully seek an ongoing relationship with God first before becoming bogged down with too many ministries and programs. He even suggested cutting a few programs in order to better focus on strengthening our relationship with Jesus Christ.

He was right and I knew it, so why was I so upset?

After the class, I took a walk to clear my head. It was cold, but I was too preoccupied to notice. I looked up toward the top of the mountain and saw a bright light in the shape of a cross. It took a few minutes of climbing and walking to get there, but finally I stood below a brightly lit cross that could be seen for miles. Despite the temperature, I somehow felt warm and secure beneath this shining beacon of light. It was as if Jesus himself was offering me comfort and reassurance.

After a few minutes of standing quietly, I began to understand the reason for my anger. It was not about church attitudes or programs. It wasn’t the speaker causing my anger. The problem was within me. Underneath the glow of the cross, the words of the speaker became a divine warning aimed directly at me. I was the one focusing on creative programming ideas while neglecting my own relationship with God. My priorities were focused on people rather than God, programs rather than relationships. It was so simple, yet I almost missed it.

In the Gospel of John, Jesus is preparing his disciples to face his upcoming crucifixion. While gathered at the table eating their Passover meal. Jesus says, “I am the true grapevine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more. You have already been pruned and purified by the message I have given you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me.” (John 15:1-4)

Farmers and gardeners understand this principle. To help a plant reach full potential, the gardener removes weaker branches to allow healthier branches to become more productive. The process is called pruning. At times, God will cut branches not producing fruit so those that do will produce even more. The lesson? In our growing relationship with God there is going to be some pruning.

I am a Disciple of Christ, a grapevine, but God is in control, He is the gardener.

At times, God removes branches that do not produce fruit so others can produce more.

I have been pruned and I will likely be pruned more by God’s message.

What is critically important is for me to remain in my relationship with God.

If I do not maintain that relationship I will not be as fruitful as I am meant to be.

What about you? As a Christian, at times we will be hit with a few broken branches that obviously need pruning. At times, the choice is not so clear when we are encouraged to give up something good to pursue something far greater and potentially life changing – hard choices, branches removed.

On a cold dark night beneath a brightly lit cross, I received a divine warning and a priceless lesson. At the same time, I felt the love and comfort only a loving Christ can give. I walked away from that cross with a new bounce in my step and renewed fire in my heart. The years following that encounter deepened my relationship with God and prepared me for a more fruitful future.

May God guide us to make the best possible choices for a future full of God’s fruit.

REV. LARRY E. DAVIES can be reached at larrydavies@vaumc.org.