This morning I felt led to read Matthew 7:19. When I got there, this is what it said: "Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire."
We live in what the locals call the Ozark Mountains. Coming from Eastern Oregon where there are huge rocky peaks that are rarely completely clear of snow, all I see around here are little bumps. But they're beautiful bumps full of gorgeous trees that turn a million shades of amazing in the Fall and then quickly become bare sticks as winter approaches. I never tell people I live in the mountains---I say I live in the forest. There's definitely no shortage of trees in my heavily forested neighborhood.
So when I read this verse in Matthew, I immediately thought about our neighborhood after a storm. In the winter and early spring months, it's easy to see into the forest the changes that happen to the "bad" trees. One storm might loosen them enough to begin leaning on others, another causes them to press their weight even more against the trees around them--- sometimes causing those to begin to lean as well. As time goes on, their own weight pulls those bad trees down, down, down further and further until finally the ground gives way and they tip all the way over. Sometimes they've loosened the trees around them so that, in the future, those will also come down. Sometimes they're fully unrooted but have been packed so densely in an area that they lean for season after season, totally dead but being upheld by the strong trees around them. The more weight they put on others, the more the entire area is stressed.
But what happens when those bad trees are cut down and cleared out?
Suddenly the weight is lifted from those other standing trees. They're no longer being crowded by the ones that are not flourishing. The encroaching burden is lifted. On the ground, a smooth path is made. There is space to expand and grow. A better view is opened up so one can see a path through---it allows the light to shine in.
“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them." --Matthew 7:15-20
I used to read this as being about other people who would act as a false prophet to me---that I needed to be careful to watch out for false prophets. Today, I'm seeing it more as a warning to myself--that I should be careful not to be a false prophet and to be sure I am bearing the fruit that pleases the Father.
But even more than that, this morning I believe I'm seeing this pruning through the eyes of the Father. Some would say that God loves everyone and since He does, no one will face eternal separation from Him. They can't bring themselves to see how a good and loving God could pick favorites from His children like that. However, this passage and many others tell us that God does, indeed, separate the wheat from the chaff.
"His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather His wheat into the barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” --Matthew 3:12
These are not the random acts of a flippant God. No, these are acts of preservation. Yes, all life matters to Him. However, He has made a commitment to those who will obey His commands and devote their lives to Him.
“But you, Israel, are My servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, the descendants of Abraham My friend. You whom I have taken from the ends of the earth, and called from its farthest regions, and said to you, ‘You are My servant, I have chosen you and have not cast you away: Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, yes, I will help you,
I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.'" --Isaiah 41:8-10
Anyone who would call the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob their God and keep His commandments, they are Israel---whether by birth or by being grafted in, like many reading this have been. He has made a commitment to those who honor Him that we have His help and that He is upholding us.
In order to do this, He must clear out the "bad trees" around us. Often we sense this happening when we find certain relationships are subtly becoming more and more distant over time. Sometimes we are moved out of a job or ministry situation unexpectedly. Other times the activity we were involved in no longer seems to fit and we lose interest. Sometimes He moves us and other times He moves them but, what I have found to be true, is that the more I move toward Him, the more excess people, situations, and stuff seem to gently fall off.
It's not that God wants us to hermit away somewhere with no relationships or hobbies---it's just that He wants to refine what we devote our time and, more importantly, our emotions to. He wants to make a healthier path for us to dig in our roots a little deeper, let the light shine in a little clearer. He wants to lift the heaviness off and release us from some of the deadness leaning on us that will eventually pull us down when it gives way and falls completely.
"...that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all…" -- 1 Timothy 2:2-6
All this dividing and refining and singling out and setting apart---these are not acts of a God who chooses favorites at random. He desires that everyone should come to Him. Although we see the separations happening more and more as we approach the time of His final judgement, we must remember that we are not yet at that day. Therefore, we need to be careful that we are allowing Him to do the separating when it comes to the people around us. Of course we need to be wise and not allow bad influences to corrupt good character, but we must be very careful when we are deciding who to "cut off". We must pray for wisdom and allow God to direct us because it may be that the person we think is too bad to save is the very one God would use us to help bring into wholeness in Him.