Our neighborhood is full of new construction. It seems like there’s a new house popping up every few weeks. The most dramatic day to me is when long trucks deliver the landscaping: tall palm trees, medium-sized shrubs, flowers, and usually on a truck of its own, the sod. In one day, a new house goes from having a dirt lot to an actual yard! The squares of sod are laid down nice and snug next to each other, and with the sprinklers on, they take root and thrive. It’s truly a fascinating process!
Yesterday morning, our pastor used sod to illustrate part of what he was teaching. He told a story about a neighbor of his whose grass was totally brown, with no green spots. Of course, the neighbor received letters from his homeowners’ association, asking him to please take action immediately! At first, the man tried to place new, green squares of sod on top of his dead yard. For a while, it would look better, but it was not a lasting solution. He knew what he had to do: he had to pull up all the old grass first, before planting new sod. This probably seems obvious to anyone who has worked in a yard or garden.
Our pastor linked this story back to his sermon: just as his friend couldn’t grow new grass on top of old, dead grass, we can’t expect to grow new attitudes, thoughts, actions, and words as followers of Christ, until we first remove the old, “dead” ones. A key verse in my life has been from the apostle Paul’s letter to the Ephesians (ch. 2, v. 1): “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins…”. This is a bold statement, for Paul tells his readers that they weren’t just “bad” or “misdirected” or “confused”, but dead. God created each of us for specific purposes, namely to receive love from Him and respond to that love in all parts of our lives–of course, the little details like jobs, families, and location are different for each of us! When we are not acknowledging our “dead grass”, we can’t be close to God. God is perfect. We are not. Being a Christian doesn’t mean slapping on some pretty, fresh grass on top of the dead yard. Being a Christian means going to God humbly, telling Him we see our deadness, and asking Him to change it. We can’t even do it ourselves.
Looking back over my life, there was a definite moment in time when I can say, “that’s when I truly began to realize how much God loves me.” However, my whole life leading up to that moment was a progression of learning about God and His great love, thanks to my parents, friends, and church. Since that moment, it has also been a progression. Our pastor went further with his illustration, and said that he noticed the same neighbor’s back yard starting to look as green and vibrant as his newly-sod front yard. He was curious about whether the neighbor had gone all out and had the backyard re-sodded, too. No, he hadn’t: the lush “grass” back there was actually all weeds. From afar, it had the appearance of something healthy and right. Up close, it told the true story. How about in my life? I might have a “shiny” appearance at first, but am I the same person out and about that I am at home, and vice versa? If the answer is no, our pastor encouraged us to truly look at our hearts and examine them for transformation from God. If God has brought us away from our deadness of heart, then our lives should reflect that. It is easy to call ourselves “Christians”, but true Christians should have the mark of Jesus all over our lives, meaning that our lives should look different “before” and “after” meeting him in our hearts. Once that major overhaul of the heart and mind and life has taken place, we need to guard against the “weeds” that try to pop up and strangle out the new life. They’re different for each of us, but they will come, for sure! I’ll have to write about some of my troublesome weeds in another post.
Paul, the apostle, in another letter to the Galatians, lists the “fruit of the Spirit” that should be evident in the life of someone who has been transformed by Jesus: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (Gal. 5:22-23) Again, we can’t grow these on our own. We need to constantly turn our hearts over to God and let Him be the cultivator. Just as He breathed physical life, and then spiritual life into us, He also sustains, maintains, and grows us when we give our lives into His hands. Are these things evident in my life? Can those around me see that God is at work in me? I think of my short temper. I think of negative thoughts I have about myself. I think of greed, selfishness, laziness, envy, impatience…and yet I also know that I am not without hope. You see, if I remained oblivious to these things, there would be a problem. Because of God’s love for me, I feel a pain in my heart every time I venture away from being “fruitful”. Guilt can be a healthy thing, when it turns us back towards God. Our desires change when we experience His love. I’ve heard this pointed out in more than one sermon, that two of the most powerful words in the Bible are “But God…”, because they describe His great love for us. “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions–it is by grace you have been saved.” (Ephesians 2:4-5) Where are those two words in your life? I am overwhelmed by gratitude, awe, humility, excitement, joy, and love when I consider the “but God” moments in my life, knowing there are many more yet to come!
It is helpful to have illustrations like the one our pastor used, to think of spiritual matters in terms of tangible things. I’ve used the analogy of our hearts as gardens with our son before, especially when he was very interested in planting seeds, tending to them, and watching them grow. I love how in the Bible, Jesus taught the crowds using metaphors they would understand. The illustration of sod helped to remind me of the transformation in my heart, and what it really means to be a Christian. I’m going to just let those words echo for a while: “But God…”