Cultivating the Soul:
 Cutting Away the Brush
 (Hebrews 12:1-4)

Now that summer, for all practical purposes has come to a close, our thoughts return to our "normal" fall routine. School has started, band competitions are beginning, fall sports have kicked-off, dance, art, and music classes are underway. But as we return to our "normal" routine have we considered our spiritual life?

God calls us to take the necessary time to take care of ourselves and our family, both spiritually and physically. It's been proven time and time again that those who routinely tend to their spiritual life are better equipped to handle the pressures of this world. So as we begin our "normal" fall routine I encourage all of us to include the necessary time to tend to our personal and family's spiritual life. And to help us, beginning today, I will be preaching a three-week sermon series entitled "Cultivating the Soul."

Today we begin by considering how we "cut away the brush in our life."

How many of you here have ever started new gardens? For me starting a garden sounds great, until I begin the work. I think it's because when I visualize a new garden I visualize the end product, not all the toil and sweat that leads up to the end product.

We do this as Christians too. We see what some people call the end, I prefer to call it the next step, but we tend to see the glorious victory in Jesus Christ and dwelling in heaven forever. And some view heaven as analogist to a beautiful garden.

But what we don't focus on is the work between accepting Christ, and going to be with the Lord. We tend to look over this part, just like we tend look over the work required to turn an overgrown piece of ground into a beautiful garden.

In the spring Susan and I decided to take a part of our backyard and turn it into an English border garden. And as Susan was explaining to me her vision for the kidney shaped garden across the entire back yard, with lilies and butterfly bushes, it sounded kind of nice.

But what I didn't see was all the work that would be required to transform this vision into reality.

As we approached the project it quickly became clear that before we could prepare the soil properly for planting, we had to cut away some old brush. If we ignored this step we would have had a mess when we went to prepare the soil and plant the new bushes and plants.

And if we didn't cut away and dig up the unwanted brush it would grow back and likely would eventually take over the garden, leaving our new plants struggling to grow.

Now I have to say this wasn't an easy task, it was hard work, and it took several weeks before we had everything cleared out and ready to go. We were back in the garden hacking and whacking, digging and pulling. We ran into some deep roots that required a whole lot of attention. And we found plenty of rocks that always seem to be right where Susan had envisioned a plant going.

And I have to say that more than once I stopped and said is this really worth it, even the thorn bush began to look great right where it was. I even got to the point where I was justifying why we ought to keep it, just so I wouldn't have to dig it up.

But as we've now learned the time spent clearing away the junk was one of the most important steps for preparing the transformation of our backyard.

The writer of Hebrews writes, "get rid of anything that hinders us and the sin that so easily entangles so that we can run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus; the author and perfecter of our faith."

The writer of Hebrews is telling us that in order to prepare the soil of our hearts for living as saints; we too need to cut away the brush in our lives. All the junk that impedes our growth, all the distractions that turn our eyes away from Jesus, all the activities that claim our time and keep us busy, and take priority over God.

Now we all have our junk, we all have our brush to cut away, and we could spend days talking about all the things that take our eyes off Jesus. But today I want to focus on the brush called busy-ness, and specifically busy-ness as it relates to our children and our roles as parents and grandparents.

As many of you have, I've had the opportunity to spend time interacting with many parents over the years. Between marching band, sports, chorus, and my role as pastor, I've seen parents in the best of times and the worst of times. And I include myself in these experiences.

For some reason we feel in our society that in order for us to be a good parent or grandparent we have to be superman or wonder woman. We have to be everything to everybody.

We allow our children to be involved in every activity he or she wants to be involved in, we constantly give of ourselves like there is goodness in being a parent martyr, or we're afraid of what other parents, who have no clue of what our situation is, might say. Or even still, some parents use activities simply as a baby sitting opportunity so they don't have to be the parent.

Do you know what I'm talking about, or am I alone here? Have you seen this, or tried to be superman or wonder woman yourselves?

Well friends, even superman and wonder woman spent most of their time as Clark Kent and Diana Prince respectively. They weren't superheroes twenty-four hours a day. Being a super dad and a wonder mom 24 hours a day is impossible and is not what God envisions for us.

We've fallen into this trap that as parents and grandparents we are required to keep our kids busy all the time, and that we're to provide constant entertainment for them when they get bored. We've taken the idea of spoiled to a new level, and extreme level.

We've lost a critical word in our English language, and we've stopped using and enforcing it. The word is, NO!

We don't say NO anymore, we're allowing our kids to be the parents. We're allowing our kids to make the rules. We're allowing our kids to just do what they want. The word "No" has become "whatever." Or if we do say NO, how long is it before we give in because we get tired of hearing the complaining, or the puppy dog eyes and quivering lower lip gets to us.

Is it any wonder we have the problems we have today in our schools, at home, and at work? We're so busy staying busy; we're too exhausted to be the parent.

Many come home from work, and kids seeing how tired and vulnerable their parents are will ask for something. They sense a possible weak moment. And kids are good at knowing when the right time is aren't they?

They know just what button to push, when. I used to pride myself on knowing when I could push the right button with my parents, and I have to tell you I was pretty good. But so were my parents, and they didn't usually give in. So I know it happens, and my kids try it with me. After a long day it's not uncommon for a parent to be so exhausted they eventually just say yes, so the child will let them rest. This happens all the time, doesn't it?

Is it any wonder some of our kids grow up disrespectful, uncompassionate, feeling entitled, greedy, and self-focused. All because we don't show and model for them a better way, a way that spends time cultivating the soul, a way that doesn't require us to be busy every waking moment of our lives.

This type of brush is full of thorns and has deep roots, and it's why I wanted to mention it this morning. This brush in our lives is becoming the brush in our children's and grandchildren's lives, and we're cultivating it. This sense of busy-ness, and un-Christian-like behavior is a source of great concern. Let me also say to our teens and young adults here this morning, you also have to say NO. Don't let the internet, video games and the phone rule your life. Say NO to doing things that you know to be unchristian or things that will take your eyes off Jesus. The decisions you make today will impact the rest of your lives.

We need to cut away this brush if we are to grow and mature spiritually into the disciples God wants us to be.

Is it easy, no. Is it necessary, yes. There may be a lot of hacking and whacking that needs to take place, and there may be some deep roots that have to be dug up and pulled. It will take time, but the time is well spent.

And saying NO also goes beyond raising our children. We can't say yes to everything we're asked to do. This includes, at home, at work, and yes at church.

We have to learn to say NO, and prioritize what is most important, and say yes to those things. This is also a great way to model for our children that it's not about being busy all the time. It's about setting priorities, committing to those priorities, and following through.

With Rusty and Bobby in high school now Susan and I have been asked to take part in the band boosters and the athletic boosters. We couldn't do both with all our other responsibilities, so we said yes to the band and no to the athletic boosters. Doing both would have taken too much time and would have taken away from other responsibilities we feel are a priority, such as Bible Study and choir.

We've also had to say no to some things the boys wanted to get involved in because they would be too busy and overwhelmed, again taking away from other activities that are a priority like homework, youth group and youth choir. We're they happy about it, no. Was it the right thing to do, yes.

We also can't say yes to everything we're asked to do at church. Doing more for the church doesn't get you a better place in heaven. There is no super saint suite in God's heavenly mansion.

This is why it's important to say yes to some things and no to others, and follow-through to the best of your ability with what you say yes to. This is also why it's important to have all of us engaged in Christ's ministry and not just a few. None of us can do it all; we can't be everything to everybody. We may have the best of intentions, but we still can't do it all.

The Christian life involves hard work. It requires us to cut away anything that endangers our relationship with God. To live effectively we must cut away the brush of sin, temptation, distraction, and busy-ness so that we can remain fixed on Jesus.

When we face hardship and discouragement, it's easy to get caught up in the brush of our lives and lose focus. Sure we will trip over a root or fall from time to time, especially if we look away, but God will always help us get back on track.

Our task is to identify the brush we have allowed to grow. Name it, acknowledge that it is brush, deep roots and all, and then go at it with the help of God to get rid of it.

Perhaps we've been too permissive with our children and grandchildren. Perhaps we've taken our eyes off Jesus, preferring a bottle, syringe, or pill. Perhaps we've become so busy with day-to-day stuff our Christian vision has become blurred.

Whatever the case, know that it's not too late to make a change. Spend the necessary time cultivating your soul; spend the necessary time tending to the garden of your spiritual life, by first cutting away the brush that keeps you from properly preparing your soul for growth in Jesus Christ.


Read other messages by Pastor Wade