Clean the Fence

It’s been a busy season. This morning, our yard was evidence of that. It had begun to look like remnants of Halloween decorations were hanging on by a thread. Except we did not decorate. This was all natural. Our garden was embarrassingly overgrown, our store room had suffered from “just throw it in there until we can figure out where to put it”, and our chain link fence was covered in weedy vines. But, I can proudly write all of those things in the past tense. We worked hard. My fingers are sore, I have various nicks and bruises, and oh, the dirt.

I’ve struggled with thinking of things to write about. God has definitely planted a few seeds of ideas, but I haven’t taken time to sit down and write. However, I had a spark this morning. I love that God continues to speak to me through gardening, even though I’m still not any good at it. God is definitely bigger than anything we can do. Ephesians 3:20 says, “Glory to God, who is able to do far beyond all that we could ask or imagine by His power at work within us” (CEB). Imagine using something I’m terrible at to speak to me for His glory.

This morning I had the task of pulling the vines from the fence, and I had a lot of time to ponder. Our back yard is adjacent to the local middle school; we share a chain link fence, but other than the fact that the school put it up, we solely maintain it. Over the past year or so, some weeds began to climb it, and it was looking a little disheveled. I figured I would pull them right off and be back to a clean-looking fence in no time.

Unfortunately, a lot of these vines had woven themselves through the fence and had become terribly strong and thick. Some vines could be pulled completely out in one fell swoop, but others required me to break them out, piece by piece. Still, some were so strong, I needed the hedge clippers to cut them out.

I was thinking about the metaphor God gives us of Jesus being the true vine, and we are the branches. He helps us produce good fruit, if we remain in Him (see John 15). These vines on my fence were not of the true vine. They were imposters. They were weeds, aiming to choke out the good. You see, I already had a bone to pick with the weeds. They overtook our garden this year, and I believe our final tally for produce was about three zucchinis, a squash, and a cucumber. Our high hopes for peppermint, jalapeños, corn, tomatoes, peppers, and the like were over. No, these vines were not my friends. They were my bitter enemy. The fact that they made my yard look disgusting was the last straw. I pulled, I broke, I cut, I unwound. They felt the wrath of Maddie.

These vines are like our sin. Their name suggests good. Good things come from true vines. They are lifelines to grapes, tomatoes, and watermelons. We can be so deceived if we aren’t careful. Satan likes to sneak in like that. He knows how damaging he can be when we aren’t paying attention. Like I said, some of these vines had gone unnoticed and grown strong. They not only disguised themselves as good vines, they disguised themselves as the fence. They blended in so well, I didn’t notice all of them right away. Isn’t that just like sin? We allow ourselves “little” sins. We say “as long as I’m not doing this, I’ll be okay”. And we may feel good about our decision for a while, but eventually the Holy Spirit asks more of us. Eventually, those little sins grow, and they look pretty ugly. They may not always turn into something outrageous, but they add up. As we spend more time with God, we see the eyesore for what it is, and we can’t help but pull out the hedge trimmers. Cut. It. Out.

So, the more brambly weeds at the top were slightly thorny. They didn’t want to be pulled. They did everything they could to stay. Most of these came off pretty easily, though. They looked like they might have been some of the prettier weeds at one point. Today, they were dried up and ugly. These are like the sins that we stop doing, but we don’t let go of them. Sometimes God convicts us of our sin, so we stop, but we are resentful. We hold on to the idea that maybe we can go back to doing them someday. Maybe if we do a lot of service projects or we give money to the church, we can ease up on the convictions a little. Isn’t it a give/take relationship? As we grow closer to God, though, we want to get rid of our old ways. Our hearts change, and the sin just doesn’t seem as glamorous. Praise God.

I really did have to work at this task today. Just when I thought I was done I’d find another. Sometimes it would be a little, sneaky vine, other times, it would be this massive branch. How in the world did I miss that? If we relate these vines to sin, once again, God rarely asks us to get rid of all of our sins at one time. He slowly trims, sculpts, molds us into His image. I cleared away what I saw. I moved on to another section, and came back. When I finally cleared away all the vines, you know what I saw? Pine needles. A completely different beast. But they came off with very little effort. Once I had tackled the winding warriors, the pine needles were a piece of cake. When we weed out the sin in our lives, it becomes easier to recognize. It becomes easier to let go. We want our hearts (and our fences) to be clean. We see how unbecoming the rubbish is.

I’m not gonna lie, I fought those vines today. I hacked away with those hedge trimmers. I pulled with all my might, and I ripped those nasty little things to shreds. We have to hate our sin. We have to fight it with everything in us, and when we realize that’s not enough, we have to ask God for strength.

Ephesians 4:17-32 is a bit lengthy, but it biblically sums up what I’m trying to say with all this:

So I’m telling you this, and I insist on it in the Lord: you shouldn’t live your life like the Gentiles anymore. They base their lives on pointless thinking, 18 and they are in the dark in their reasoning. They are disconnected from God’s life because of their ignorance and their closed hearts. 19 They are people who lack all sense of right and wrong, and who have turned themselves over to doing whatever feels good and to practicing every sort of corruption along with greed.

20 But you didn’t learn that sort of thing from Christ. 21 Since you really listened to him and you were taught how the truth is in Jesus, 22 change the former way of life that was part of the person you once were, corrupted by deceitful desires. 23 Instead, renew the thinking in your mind by the Spirit 24 and clothe yourself with the new person created according to God’s image in justice and true holiness.

25 Therefore, after you have gotten rid of lying, Each of you must tell the truth to your neighbor[b] because we are parts of each other in the same body. 26 Be angry without sinning.[c] Don’t let the sun set on your anger. 27 Don’t provide an opportunity for the devil. 28 Thieves should no longer steal. Instead, they should go to work, using their hands to do good so that they will have something to share with whoever is in need.

29 Don’t let any foul words come out of your mouth. Only say what is helpful when it is needed for building up the community so that it benefits those who hear what you say.30 Don’t make the Holy Spirit of God unhappy—you were sealed by him for the day of redemption. 31 Put aside all bitterness, losing your temper, anger, shouting, and slander, along with every other evil. 32 Be kind, compassionate, and forgiving to each other, in the same way God forgave you in Christ. (CEB)

If you have nasty vines that need to be cut out, it’s time. It’s time to clean your fence, and start looking like the person God has created you to be. It’s not cute, it’s not attractive, and eventually, it will take over. I didn’t work alone today. I had my husband and my kids around to help when I needed it. Whether it was helping me find a tool, or bringing weeds to the burn pile, they jumped in when I needed a hand. Don’t try to rid yourself of sin by yourself. Find a friend who can be an accountability partner and a prayer partner. Continue to pray heartily that God will help you eliminate the displeasing behaviors. He won’t deny you that.

Don’t put it off any longer. Clean out those weeds. You will be glad you did.

I’m praying for all who read today.