Today my family got out our Christmas decorations for the year, and we were pretty disappointed to find that almost all the lights on our “Pre-Lit” Christmas tree were dead. Our tree included 700 lights, and there were maybe 100 working, so we had to make an important decision…
NEW TREE OR NEW LIGHTS?
We bought this tree in 2008, the year our first son was born, and it has served us well as the centerpiece of our living space every Christmas season for 5 years. 2013 would be this tree’s 6th Christmas, 5th house, 4th city and 3rd state. We love the tree, but here is the predicament… Since it was a “pre-lit” Christmas tree, that means the strands of lights were attached to the tree in a variety of different ways: zip-ties, small wire clips, and cords tied in knots around branches. The 500+ lights that no longer lit were not fixable either. We tried replacing the fuses to no avail. The only options were to buy a new tree, or to keep this tree and remove 700 lights that were very, obnoxiously attached to the tree.
Since our Saturday plans were already messed up, we would have loved to just go to the store and buy a new tree as quickly as possible, but our bank account told us that was not a viable option right now. We did not want to waste money on a cheap tree that would not last, but it is not in our budget right now to spend $200+ on a good tree. That made our decision easy, although we were not looking forward to removing all those lights.
LIGHTS THAT NO LONGER PROVIDE LIGHT = BRANCHES THAT DO NOT PRODUCE FRUIT
Because of our travel calendars the next two weeks, today was THE DAY to put up our Christmas tree, so my wife Jennifer and I spent 3 hours cutting off the old, broken Christmas lights. This was no simple task. We could not just unwrap and remove the light strands, but we had to cut every strand into dozens of pieces to get the lights unattached from the tree branches.
As we set about cutting apart the strands of lights attached to the branches of our Christmas tree, I thought of this parable from John 15, in which Jesus tells of the vine and the branches. Here are verses 1-4 (© 2011 NIV Bible).
I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.
I remembered all the joy we have had with this Christmas tree and all the beautiful pictures we have taken over the years with these lights providing a beautiful backdrop. Unfortunately, lights that no longer provide light are just like branches that no longer bear fruit. What used to be a vital part of our tree had now become dead-weight, actually serving as a major hindrance to the decorating process, nearly causing us to trash the whole tree.
In the same way, if we attach ourselves to Christ, but then act as dead-weight to the work God is doing in this world, God has no choice but to cut us off, as we are not bearing fruit. However, if you are a Christian who bears fruit for God’s kingdom, God will do a little pruning to help you get rid of the things that are hindrances in your life and allow the good fruit to grow even more.
MY TREE BRANCHES NEEDED TO BE PRUNED, NOT CUT OFF
As it turns out, with a little hard work, our tree could be salvaged. The branches were still in good shape after all these years, so while the bad Christmas lights had to go, the branches just needed a little TLC. Once the tedious work of cutting off the dead weight was done, our tree had new life! We spent $20 on new lights, instead of $200+ on a new tree, and the new lights are brighter and more colorful than the old lights.
THEY HAVE SO MUCH POTENTIAL, IF ONLY THEY WOULD…
We have all said it about others. I say it all the time about talented athletes who throw away pro-careers (and millions of $$) with off-the-field troubles. As a minister, I often look at people and think it, even if I do not say it. I look around the church and see so many people who could do amazing things for God, if only they would fill in the blank. What is more difficult is looking in the mirror and saying, “I could be doing ministry better, if only I would submit to God more completely.”
ONLY ONE WAY TO BEAR FRUIT
We all have sins and obstacles that can block our spiritual growth, and those who do not know God have things preventing them from knowing God. Jesus says it plainly here, “No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.” In other words, the ONLY way to bear good fruit is by being (and remaining) in Jesus. If you are not bearing fruit (like the Christmas lights that do not produce light), then put Jesus first in your life and watch the fruit grow! If you are like my Christmas tree branches who just need the bad lights pruned off, then be honest with yourself and with God, allowing him to shed the things that are hindrances to you producing even more and better fruit in your spiritual journey.