When we moved into our house several years ago the backyard was a mess. The previous owners had large dogs, which had torn up whatever grass had survived from the late 50’s, when the neighborhood was built. And there was that ugly wall separating us from the folks next door. One of the first outdoor projects involved building trellises next to this wall and planting vines that would, according to our plan, climb up and hide that eyesore. For those of you who are landscape challenged, a trellis is a framework of light wood or metal bars used mainly as a support for climbing plants.
Well, it’s been 20 years since I built those trellises, and I hadn’t given them much thought – until about a year ago. Wandering through Rolane’s delightful collection of flowers and plants, I noticed that one section of my handiwork was rotting and falling apart. But the vine was doing well. In fact, it was now holding up the trellis! That made me think about the nature of the trellis, and how it reflects the realities of what we do in ministry. Let me elaborate.
Trellises provide strength and support. The flimsy little vines we planted so long ago were at first not able to stand on their own. We tied fragile limbs to the latticework, which provided them safety as they grew thick and strong. In the same way parents are a trellis to their children and pastoral leaders to the saints. As we struggle to establish our families and ministries, we need the steadfast support of others stronger than ourselves. When the children of Israel were in the earliest days of the exodus, their sojourn would have been short-lived without the strong hand of Moses, whose true strength, of course, came from the Lord. Years after the powerful events of that journey, the Psalmist would praise God for his greatness and provision by concluding, “You led your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron.” [Psalm 77:20 NIV] As an infant nation, Israel was blessed through the strength and support of faithful servants as they journeyed to the Promised Land. Which brings us to another truth regarding trellises:
Trellises guide and direct growth. Vines will go everywhere and nowhere if not given a route to follow. We wanted ours to go up several feet and then meander across the top of the wall. So the trellises were built tall and the vines were tied to the wood frames as they lengthened and matured. When we look at our children, or at the people God has given us in our ministries, where do we want them to go? What is the goal we seek for them? In a way, we serve as their trellis by the things we say and live for. I think of Paul’s letter to the Philippians were he writes, “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” [Phil. 3:10-14 NIV]
Christian leaders aspire to all kinds of things today – innovative ministries, large crowds, top-notch facilities. Such goals can be God’s blessing, but our ultimate goal must always be Christ, and him alone. Our lives should point those around us in his direction. What others see in us as we follow Christ daily will provide yet another benefit, as do all good trellises.
Trellises supply a pattern for growth. The effect we were looking for in our back yard included the vines following a particular arrangement that would hide various breaches in our neighbor’s wall. Our goal for those vines was ‘up’, but we were also concerned about ‘shape’. As we watch our grown children raise their children, we wonder what kind of people our grandkids will become. What will they look like when grown? What kind of character will they possess? It’s sobering to realize that we have a part to play as do their parents. Paul was able to say to the Philippians, “Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you.” [3:17] And again, to the Corinthians he wrote, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ. [1 Cor. 11:1]
Paul was not asking his beloved brethren to be clones. They were all uniquely made and gifted, just as he was. No, he desired that they exhibit the fruit of the Spirit through lives of daily obedience in keeping with their position as saints of the Lord. The vine that follows the trellis’ pattern does not look exactly like the host, but does reflect it’s general form. Like it or not, we are providing a template upon which others measure their life of faith. We should want that pattern to be reflective of Jesus Christ.
Before I stop my musings, I have to share one last observation.
Trellises eventually disintegrate. As I mentioned earlier, what brought my attention to our trellises was their current condition. Even though they were well built out of good materials, the ravages of time and weather have left many of them significantly compromised. They are falling apart. Yet the beautiful thing is the vines have matured and are now covering that ugly wall, providing us with a beautiful tapestry of fragrant flowers. Even though the ability of the trellises to support, guide and shape them has been compromised by age and deterioration, the living plants are bringing joy and blessing to all who linger in our backyard.
Bluntly put, we’re all falling apart. Our days on this earth are limited. As God’s trellises, we have choices to make. Will we, as we depend on the Lord, provide strength and support to those around us? Will we point others to Jesus Christ? And will we live our lives so that others can follow our pattern of obedience and faithfulness to God?
Some years ago I discovered that my great grandfather was among the first to colonize northwest Iowa. He was described by one historian as ‘a true son of David’, referring not only to his long Nazarite beard, but also his kind and gentle spirit. I saw that in my dad, too – less the beard. I hope my kids and grandkids will think of me that way and see it in themselves and their children. May we all seek to be faithful as God’s trellises, and leave behind a beautiful tapestry of his handiwork in the lives of others.