Summary: Those who are more than survivors stay alert to self-dimishint compromises
In the back of our lot is an old tree. I’ve been told by more than one person here how it was a playground for them as they grew up in these neighborhoods. For a couple of years I wasn’t sure what type of tree it was. In fact, it wasn’t we built a tree house, of sorts, that I found out it was in fact a plum tree. What made the difference wasn’t what in the tree but what came out because to build that place for the kids I had to cut out a lot of dead branches. There were a couple of big branches that were difficult to saw through. Much of the dead wood was twigs and small branches and the job of taking them out wasn’t had as much as it was tedious.
The way I understand it is that even though these branches, twigs and limbs were dead they taxed the tree so that it didn’t have enough food and nutrient to bear fruit. But once it was removed the tree became fruitful once more.
Awash with unbelievable opportunities and options in the course of one’s ordinary, daily life operating as Christ’s person runs the risk of being obscured and overwhelmed by these vary opportunities and options which become “dead wood” in our lives.
Daniel is our biblical example of how to “cut out dead wood” out of our life. Daniel and the other captives dilemma was whether or not he should eat the food and wine which King Nebuchadnezzar gave them. Daniel had every reason to eat what was set before him. He didn’t know for certain that the food was unclean or had been offered to idols. But even if it was he was a captive, a slave and there was little he could do considering where he was. He had seen Nebuchadnezzar’s cruelty first hand as his army stormed Jerusalem. If he didn’t see it he heard how Judah’s King’s had his eyes gouged out, but not till after the last thing he saw was his children killed. Daniel and the rest knew Nebuchadnezzar wasn’t someone to play around with. Besides they could have reasoned, if I play along I can gain the King’s ear and put in a good word for sending Israel and Judah back home.
We don’t know what all of these captives did but we discover in Daniel 1 that Daniel and three of the captives didn’t eat the food and wine. What Daniel realized was that the goal of their training and teaching; the purpose of the food and even their new names was a threat to their worship of God and their relationship with their Lord. The Babylonians were trying to change their thinking by giving them a Babylonian education, their loyalty by changing their names, and their life style by changing their diet.
They were to undergo an education which included Aramaic, astronomy, cuneiform writing and Babylonian court protocols. These four young men get new names as well. These new names reflect the gods of Babylon whereas their Hebrew names told of the power and attributes of YHWH. No wonder Daniel took exception and made a stand on God’s behalf.
Have you ever gotten a soda at a 7-11 or fast food place and have the dispenser be out of either the syrup or the carbonated water? What you get is either something so sweet and thick or something so watery that either way it’s undrinkable. Well that’s the type of situation that Daniel wanted to avoid when it came to his faith. He didn’t want it watered down. And we do well to follow his example.
One common denominator I’ve discovered in the lives of many people who complain about not feeling close to God or who have a difficult time letting God control their lives is that they live cluttered lives. What I mean is that their lives have a lot of dead wood that they aren’t able to or willing to cut out. When challenged the stock answer I get is usually, “That’s not it. The problem is that I’m too…” Too busy, too pressured, too worried, too overwhelmed, too involved, too much in love, too hurt, too different, or just too… Let me suggest that “too-ness” we all feel isn’t the problem but a symptom. The root of the problem is the dead wood, the tendrils of the world that have wrapped us up so tight that we can’t seem to escape.
At last month’s gathering of Confessing Churches in Atlanta one of the main speakers was Dr. Mark Achtemeier. His topic was about living holy lives. Let me read you a portion of what he wrote.
“Brothers and sisters, I am not going to sugar-coat or sentimentalize the situation we face today. As I look around the Presbyterian Church, I see a supposedly Christian institution where abominations litter the landscape. Everywhere we turn, there are open and flagrant violations of the clear teaching of both Old and New Testaments, flaunted before the church with a brazenness utterly devoid of any sense of repentance.