Friday Flora: Insidious

If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? 
But if you do not do what is right, 
sin is crouching at your door; 
it desires to have you, 
but you must rule over it."
(Genesis 4:7, NIV)

For the last couple of years, my husband has engaged in a fierce battle against a backyard invader.

Bamboo.

A bamboo shoot, looking innocent in the morning sun

This member of the grass family is actually rather impressive in it’s persistence. Over the last several years, it’s sent scouts into our yard from our neighbor, each one of which we diligently cut down.

Yet over time, one or two scouts became several. Then dozens. Before we knew it, our garden and an entire corner of our yard had been taken over by the quick-growing grass.

The bamboo’s remaining stronghold after a summer of intense warfare

To combat our enemy, it became necessary to remove our garden fence, the entire garden, dig a trench along the fencerow and install a barrier to halt it’s progress. Then came the real back-breaking work: using his own muscle and a shovel, my poor man set to digging, ripping out the menace by it’s well-established underground rhizomes.

An exposed rhizome

Bamboo shoots grow at an astonishing rate of speed. The massive stalks are anchored by node clusters often larger than a human head and a network of rhizomes interwoven into a dense, iron-hard system which seems to mock human removal efforts.

The 20-year-old bamboo forest next door has slowly but steadily encroached upon their yard, engulfing trees and bushes as it grows.

As I’ve offered my paltry help to my husband in bamboo removal, it’s really kept me mindful of a similar battle: my war against sin.

A new shoot tops six feet in mere days

Sin is the bamboo of my heart. In my younger days, I entertained it, fascinated by it’s apparent charm. Little did I know, the peaceful-seeming enchantment on the other side of the fence was already penetrating my heart with subtle but inexorable roots.

But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed 
by his own desire. 
Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, 
and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.
(James 1:14-15)

Before I knew it, shoots were sprouting up all around me, fencing me in. What had started as a momentary glance at someone else’s joy soon became a brief indulgence of the mind. A passing thought, a small jealousy, nothing more.

Until it became more. A tiny thought of “what if?” quickly became a central focus in my mind.

At the edge of a bamboo stand

Then with each negligence on my part to quash sinful thoughts, roots grew deeper. Sin became more entrenched. Before I knew it, I found myself beset on all sides, fenced in by thoughts growing out of control from roots I had allowed to become established.

My was bitterness. I allowed resentment over past hurts or even my own poor decisions to fester. One small fanciful daydream about how things could have been, if only… grew into a desire for things to be different now.

I succumbed to the sin of discontent and it sprouted ugly shoots, affecting my words, my mannerisms, my actions.

By the grace of God, when I confessed my sin, He did battle for me, digging out tremendous roots I lacked the strength to remove and cutting away the many-branched tendrils which had wound themselves throughout my desires, crowding out joy.

Praise be to God, I now feel His Light shining on my face again. He has hewn down the thick forest of sin I allowed to spring up around me, casting shadows over my heart.

At the edge of the bamboo stand

And my Lord is still at work excavating my heart for remnants of deeply buried rhizomes. This spiritual exhumation is agonizing and lifelong. But it’s worth it.

Though the work is still underway, a mighty clearing has already been accomplished. He’s broken up my fallow ground and sown His own seed upon it.

A pic from last summer: This was once all bamboo. Today you can see the fence in the back!

By His grace, may my life produce fruit for His Kingdom and glory now! May it no longer be filled with attractive but fruitless stands of growth, swaying in the breeze but crowding out the sun but instead bearing fruit that will last.

What is your sneaky sin? What crowds out the glory of God in your life? I pray today you will submit it to the Lord and ask Him to remove it. Then cooperate with His Spirit through the painful work of sanctification, assured you will experience the unbelievable joy of His presence in the end.

O LORD my God, I cried to you for help, and you have healed me. 
O LORD, you have brought up my soul from Sheol; 
you restored me to life from among those who go down to the pit. 
Sing praises to the LORD, O you his saints, 
and give thanks to his holy name. 
For his anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime. 
Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.
(Psalm 30:2-5)

Inglorious

But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.
(James 1:14-15)

If ever there was a flowering plant designed with the busy (or lazy) gardener in mind, the morning glory may well be it.

As a child, I always admired the perpetual presence of purple flowers adorning a remnant of fencing left between my grandparents’ property and that of their neighbors. When my children were small, I even bought a packets of morning glory and sunflower seeds after reading about a fun-sounding, natural “clubhouse” that could be planted – the sunflowers serving as the frame and morning glories filling in for walls and roof. Somehow, that year, I never actually got around to it, very possibly because my children were small…

So the first year I saw a morning glory growing near my vegetable garden, I did not MG008mind. The purple trumpets of flower and the cheerful, heart-shaped or deeply lobed leaves seemed a very attractive addition.

Little did I know how I would later rue the moment I let the thing grow.

One busy spring and summer, my family ended up traveling much more often than usual and so I had little time to devote to weeding. Upon returning from one of our trips, I walked out to check on the progress of my vegetables and was rather surprised to find that, in our absence, the tall and majestic rows of popcorn were festooned in green frocks of dense, heart-shaped segments embellished here and there with deceptively delicate-looking purple and blue blooms all nodding at me in mock friendliness as they effectively choked out the life of my plants, diminishing my harvest.

MG010

From that summer on, most of what little time I have for gardening has been spent stalking and uprooting morning glory sprouts. To my utter dismay, the plant reseeds itself with prolific, almost furious abundance.

MG006Every time I take the short hike from house to garden, I keep an eye open for the little seed leaves shaped like old-fashioned ladies’ bloomers that pop up by the zillions. Despite my best efforts to scour the area thoroughly, those treacherously innocuous-seeming hearts pop up apparently the moment my back is turned, sending out their coiling tendrils to snare and suffocate the very plants I try to nurture.

As I was ripping out fistfuls of the demonically attractive vines the other day, it occurred to me that most sin is a good deal like the morning glory.

MG007

Sin, too, appears attractive at the beginning. As it grows, it can also appear friendly-looking, even desirable. At times, we sow the seeds of sin with eager anticipation, looking forward to some pleasure or indulgence that seems benign, unlikely to harm anyone but ourselves.

At other times, sin grows from neglect. We see it sprouting up in our hearts, but either we are too apathetic or too busy to care. Perhaps, even, one tiny pair of cotelydons thrusting themselves up through the soil of our hearts seems to pose no threat. After all, it is a very small, even an insignificant thing.

 

 

MG009Yet, left to its own devices, sin also grows quickly to overwhelming proportions. It, too, sends dainty tendrils snaking through the landscape of our hearts and minds, catching hold of those things we have purposefully sown and choking them, diminishing the harvest of good and useful fruit. Fully grown, it mocks us with the very flower of what we once desired; the very thing we once thought beautiful now nodding at us scornfully from every corner and niche. And sin, too, is prolific in its reseeding.

Just as I wage war with the morning glories in my vegetable garden, I find that identifying and uprooting sin in my heart is a never-ending task. Yet I give thanks to my Lord because He has not left me to this battle blind and empty-handed.

Though I may be prone to overlook a shoot here or a shrub there, the Light of the World illuminates the shadowy places in my heart, exposing sin in various stages of growth.

And while my efforts at defeating the virulent growth fall short, the only good and perfect Gardener is able to do what I cannot – ripping out the twisted vines by their roots, killing even my desire for them, and pruning the sickly, undernourished plantings of righteousness that are left behind so that they may once again bear fruit for the glory of the King.

Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!
(Romans 7:24-25a)

Amen!