The Parable of the Trumpet Vine
For many years I had wanted a trumpet vine like the one at the house where I grew up. Lush and green, it spilled over an old iron gate that stood between my parent’s yard and the sheep pasture beyond. There was just something about that vine, the bright sunshine-orange blossoms of summer, and its curly arms visible in the winter, winding round and round, strong and sure, beautiful even in its barrenness. Neither my mom or dad had planted it; some random bird had dropped the seed and brought the loveliness to us.
It was that particular vine I had in mind as I perused the lawn and garden section at our local grocery store one early spring. Hoping to bring back a bit of my childhood, I approached the counter and smiled at the clerk, sharing my vine aspirations, describing to her my plan.
“You know, don’t you, you need to plant this some place where you want it forever!” she pronounced.
“What do you mean?” I questioned her.
“Well, these things are nearly impossible to pull out and get rid of once they take root; you would need a bull dozer! I hope you know what you are doing!” she said, shaking her head.
Nodding, I took my vine home and planted it next to my own garden gate, wondering if I had made a wise choice!
Perhaps the writer of Hebrews understood the nature of trumpet vines and thought of them as he wrote:
“ Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord: looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up to cause trouble, and by this many become defiled.” (12:14-15)
Bitterness, once it takes root, is nearly impossible to remove and almost always causes us to fall short of God’s grace in one way or another!
Over the years I have heard the lament of many parents who are struggling with broken relationships with their adult children. I have also witnessed the grief of children who long for the grown-up, peer interaction with their parents they are meant to enjoy. I believe this passage in Hebrews gives us the warnings and admonitions we need to heed if there is to be healing within these relationships, if we are to prevent bitterness from taking root and destroying our lives:
We are told to “pursue peace with all people.” The word used for “peace” in this passage comes from the root word which literally means “the wholeness that you experience when all the essential parts are tied together!” It conveys the completeness of a relationship, the joining together of separate parts. We are to actively work toward bringing about this type of harmony.
However, this pursuit must go hand in hand with holiness. In other words, while this is to be our goal, peace is not to be practiced at all costs; declaring that there are no problems for the sake of a worldly type of unity is really no peace at all. Psalm 85:8-10 tells us that in God’s restoration process, “mercy and truth have met together….righteousness and peace will kiss.” Holiness and righteousness require truthfulness in discerning the problems that caused the broken relationship in the first place. It means we must agree with God as to what sin actually is.
I once knew a young man who had been raised in a Christian home but chose to move in with his girlfriend. Though hurt and greatly disappointed, his parents determined to not allow their relationship with him to break down and at the same time knew they needed to stand firm in their convictions that sex outside of marriage is wrong. Rather than refuse to go to the son’s home and share a meal, they always accepted any invitations they received. But every time, at some point during the evening, that dad would take the young man aside and firmly say “You know your mom and I love you, so I must remind you that living with this woman in this way is sin in God’s eyes and we expect you two to get married.”
These parents wisely recognized that cutting off the relationship would have prevented them from sharing the truth in love and from being able to remind their son of both God’s law and His grace. As they purposed to not burn bridges with him, they were able to demonstrate their hope that he would do the right thing. Thankfully, they did marry and now these parents are able to have fellowship and influence not only with the son and his wife, but also with their grandchildren!
On the other hand, I often hear of parents breaking off all communication with their grown children who have chosen sinful lifestyles. Others will even take this stand because their children have gone down paths that are not necessarily sinful but ones with which they don’t agree: some of these children have decided to date rather than court, others have chosen professions their parents don’t like, and some are skeptics who are trying to sort through their own beliefs and convictions.
A while back I met two young ladies who wanted to get jobs and attend college. Because the parents’ paradigm taught that girls were to be trained solely to be wives and daughters, when they left home while in their early twenties, they were not only shunned by family but excommunicated from their church that held to the same teachings.
In which of these situations do you see mercy and truth meeting while peace and righteousness kiss?
Because adversarial parenting methods have been the standard for so long, pride often makes it impossible for moms and dads to place themselves in the position of repenting to their children but I believe it is the single most important “first thing” we can do. I don’t think we can underestimate how powerful it is for our children to hear us say “I was wrong and sinned against you when I_____.”
A few months ago I spoke at a conference on the topic of practicing the one anothers of Scripture in our homes and was amazed at the response. Around the room, tears flowed as I heard moms and dads talk about how they had failed to apply these commands to their children and one young man shared how his own parents’ willingness to seek his forgiveness had been the catalyst for the restoration they were now experiencing! Pride can also make it difficult for young adult children to repent but by maintaining a clear conscience toward one another, children and parents can not only open the door to healing but can also avoid “making shipwreck of their (own) faith.” (1Timothy 1:1)
Holiness and righteousness also require genuine, godly forgiveness. 1 John 1:9 assures us that “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” and Ephesians 4:32 admonishes us to “forgive one another just as God, in Christ has forgiven you.” Forgiveness must be complete and requires that we do not hold any confessed sin against someone. We are to put his sin away “as far as the east is from the west!” (Psalm 103:12)
Forgiveness also is not limited to one time. When Jesus was asked if we are supposed to forgive even seven times, his response was staggering: “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.” ( Matthew 18:21-22) And unwillingness to forgive is, in itself, a sin that has dire consequences: “But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.” (Matthew 6:15)
Finally, the writer of Hebrews also tells us that the root of bitterness, will result in many being defiled! It paints the picture of dirtiness and pollution, of stains that are nearly impossible to remove. Bitterness can lead to choices in life that determine not only how we live but also how those we know and love respond.
In the 1941 Academy Award winning film Citizen Kane, the story is told of the rise and fall of a millionaire newspaper magnate named Charles Foster Kane whose last word on his death bed was “rosebud.” The whole plot of the story unfolds through a series of flashbacks as the audience tries to determine the meaning of the word. In the process, we discover that, though Kane appeared to have everything life could offer, true happiness remained elusive to him because bitterness had taken root and had affected every relationship he had ever had. Brokenness and regret, sorrow and discouragement, suffering and longing, all of these are the fruits produced by such a root.
So what do we do when we have confessed our sins but there has been no genuine forgiveness? How do we deal with bitterness that has already taken root? Two things: 1) Remember that we may not be able to make things better but we could make them worse. Pray for wisdom and discernment. 2) Remember God’s grace is sufficient, it is the “merciful kindness by which God, exerting His holy influence upon souls, turns them to Christ, keeps, strengthens, increases them in Christian faith, knowledge, affection, and kindles them to the exercise of the Christian virtues.” (Strongs Concordance)