My wife and I enjoyed an early morning cup of steaming hot and freshly ground Pike Place coffee together on this late summer day. And then it happened. I walked through my garden and discovered, in spite of a valiant effort by my wife in recent days to control the infestation in our yard of every breed of weed, yet more weeds! I hate them! My visceral response to weeds can sometimes go embarrassingly public, like when the True Green fertilizer man comes around and leaves me a piece of paper that says, “Yard looks good, but you should take care of some of those weeds.” “What?” I cry to my wife who vicariously bears the brunt of my indignation. “I thought that was supposed to be what he took care of! I hate weeds!” She nods as I, Hank-like (as in Hank on King of the Hill) rage against the mere indecencies of suburban life. Well, what I hate mostly about weeds is not just that they grow randomly, but that they grow, the devils, right next to good, healthy plants.
I had planted a nice row of azaleas, the Southern beauties, six white ones, on the side of our drive way, under two dogwoods and two magnolias. As I surveyed my front lawn, my would-be-arboretum, my eyes fell upon the dastardly villains. Though I had just cleared the area, by hand, of several different varieties of weeds, there they were. I repeat: they do not grow indiscriminately, but intentionally next to that which is good. They seek to find that which is healthy and growing, that which is green and filled with life, with potential for greater glory, and with inherent beauty. And they live like a lousy leech off of them. I pull the weeds, but they come back.
Before I continue further, let me say that my son has recently caught me in my apparently delirious, perhaps even maniacal, state of mind, actually speaking curses (in a pastoral way, mind you) against these weeds as I bent over (with my bad back, mind you) and pulled the weeds away from my bushes. “Dad, why are you talking to the weeds?” he asks, as if he is witnessing the the final mental breakdown of his father. “Because, Son, the weeds are a sign of the devil!” I seethe and spit as I speak, not even looking at him, still pulling a deep-rooted weed that won’t come up. He observes me for a few seconds before asking, “Dad, are you OK?” “No!” I respond, throwing down the trowel and rising half-way up with my hand on my back. “No I am not OK! I hate weeds! They are signs of the fall, attacking my roses and my azaleas and my dogwoods and my Crepe Myrtles and my vegetables!” “Why can’t they grow out in a field somewhere?” he asks! I tell my son:”These things are like sin itself that grabs on to human beings at the prime of their lives and sucks away life and potential and beauty. I am a pastor, Son. I see these things every day when I see broken marriages due to selfish desires attached to an otherwise godly man, or a ‘root of bitterness’ for a husband attached to a woman who is also capable of extraordinary acts of kindness to strangers. I see it, Son, every day. I am, indeed, fearful of the weeds in my own life. I look at your life and I know that the weeds will attack you in the prime of your life! They will come upon you unaware and unless you are vigilant in tending the garden of your soul, the weeds of hell, growing up from the world, the devil or your old sin nature, will begin to slowly but purposively wrap its ugly tentacles around your life. I have seen what weeds do to azaleas and I have seen what sin does to good men and women who have such potential for greatness.” By this time, well into my sermonic response, I can actually stand up straight, the kinks and pain in my lower back finally surrendering to my movements. I look my son in the eye: “That, my boy, is why I hate weeds! And that is why I shall toil for so said the Bard:
“O, my lord, You said that idle weeds are fast in growth…”
The sixteen-year-old son looks at me. “Gotcha Dad.” He turns, pauses, looks away into the sky as if to ask God to help his poor, suffering father, and walks down the pathway to the front door. I watch him, praying that our family devotions, our times of prayer, and, hopefully, the sincerity of his mother and father in private and public worship will help keep the weeds away. My racing heart slows as I see him pause, look down, and then bend over to grab a weed. He looks back at me. I am still standing and watching him. I smile.
Yes, I hate weeds. I see them not only in my pastoral work, but I read of them in our culture today. For instance, this morning, I was confronted with a news item that has been on my mind in recent days. Anne Rice, the extraordinarily gifted authoress, resident of my native New Orleans, who publicly announced her fidelity to her childhood Catholic faith has now renounced it. The renouncing of faith is fodder for news, even more so than the acceptance of Christ. And sure enough the papers are running with it repeatedly. Yet the story does not shock those of us who have seen this happen in our own congregations, and sadly among our own friends and family. We know that there are complications of the human soul due to the weeds of sin, that can smother potential, strangle away good intentions, and kill human desire to do good. We also know the passage from 1 John:
They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us (1 John 2.19 ESV).
If Anne Rice has left the faith then you can be sure that she was never in the faith. She may have been in a visible church, but her heart had never surrendered to the Prince of Peace. If this were the case, she was never a member of the invisible Church known to God. Her soul had never undergone a genuine, supernatural conversion. This sort of genuine, radical transformation of her very nature would have had nothing to do with her desires and everything to do with the sovereign grace of a gloriously untamable Spirit. He roams across the lives of our generation, calling out transgressors to confess their sin and look up to their Savior, Jesus Christ. These repentant ones looked to Jesus Christ, not as the leader of a great tradition, but they looked to Him as dying Israelites in the desert looked at the brazen serpent on the pole to be healed of the original sin that was killing them over and over again. Such people look to Jesus the righteous, Jesus the Atoning One, and Jesus the “friend of sinners.”
On the cross, God pulled up the first deep-rooted weed of original sin and destroyed all weeds in His garden by crucifying His only begotten Son on our behalf. If Anne Rice had seen her own condition and looked upon Jesus as her only life, her only hope, her eternal security, you can be sure that while she might fall away for a season, she would never, could never, depart fully from this Savior. She could not renounce Jesus. It is impossible to do so and even continue to live. Thus, it may be that Anne Rice was not converted. Maybe she was and this is but a momentary stumble in her longer journey of faith. But the weeds of hell found a most choice plant in this gifted woman with this announcement. I do pray, if she reads this, that she might realize that she, like all of us, is in desperate need of soul-healing through Jesus Christ. I pray that she recognizes, through the power of the Holy Spirit, that she is entangled in weeds that are sucking away the life and purpose for living that God would have for her, if only she would turn to Him in truth. She has departed either for a season, if she is a true believer, or she has departed because she was never an authentic, God-drawn, disciple of Jesus.
William Lobdell’s article in the paper, this morning, is revealing. This former religion writer for the Los Angeles Times has written a book that is gaining some attention, particularly with the Rice announcement. The title of his book is Losing my Religion: How I Lost My Faith Reporting on Religion in America—and Found Unexpected Peace. It all sounds rather nice and assuring to those who believe that we can live in a world without weeds. Lobdell asserts that, like Ann Rice, having shed the remnants of religion he has found a new peace. He demonstrates how America, too, is losing her faith. He says this almost with hopefulness. While he calls America a Christian nation, still, he quotes George Barna to prove what we all see: that many who talk the talk are not walking the walk. He writes,
“American Christianity is not well and there is evidence that its condition is more critical than most realize or at least want to admit.” Pollsters most notably evangelical George Barna have reported repeatedly that they can find little measurable difference between the moral behavior of church goers and the rest of American society.”
There is not one genuine believer in Jesus who would argue with his premise that America is sick, “sin-sick,” we would say. But we would deny that the answer is that America should just walk away from Christ. Some may need to walk away from tradition, from religion that is apart from the radical, Spirit-born faith that is preached by the Prophets, by St. Paul, St. Peter, and all of the New Testament writers, and by Jesus Christ Himself. You may need to renounce that. But the way to “peace” will not be through denial of Jesus. For the weeds will come. They will creep unannounced into your life. They will, for Anne Rice and William Lobdell (for whom I dedicate this article with ardent prayer for their souls’ true conversion to the Lord Jesus Christ) and for all of us, come and seek to strangle life and potential and hope. In sorrow, and finally in death, they and all of us will be like the death of a fine oak, that at length, and after great struggle for life, gives way to the weeds of this world.
Just the other day I shared the news of sin, but also the glory of grace through Jesus Christ, as my wife and I stood in a Starbucks and prayed for the salvation of a lawyer from Lincoln in Banff, the great Canadian National Park. He was on vacation like we were. But God led us together in a “divine appointment” that yielded to a time of conversation and possibly conversion. So while many turn from religion, many are turning to Christ. The backdrop of the weedy condition in America is also providing a clear demarkation between those who follow Jesus Christ as Lord and those who have followed an idea about Him, but not truly left all to embrace the Lord of life.
I read the article, thought about my experiences with the weeds, but also about our recent experience of praying with a vacationing lawyer for new faith in Jesus Christ, and then strolled past my roses. They are in a stone surrounded, raised bed, right in front of our porch, where I can enjoy them in the early mornings and late evenings. Just a few weeks ago, deadly, sinister Japanese beetles (the arch enemy of every American rose) had buried themselves, diabolically, in every single bud. The beetles from Eden-lost seemed to be killing our lovely, deep red “Mr. Lincoln” roses and our cheerful scarlet “Let Freedom Ring” bushes and our fragrant “John Paul II” specimens. But this morning, after doing great battle through the summer to save them, the wretched beetles are gone. Our rose plants are now radiant and are putting on a great end-of-the-summer speculator show! My favorite rose is “Barbara Bush.” This morning, “Mrs. Bush” is in full glory! She is displaying the most delightful pink petals set against the perfect backdrop of her deep green foliage. I beheld the glorious sight, and with hope rising like a new season, I told my wife, “Heaven is on its way.”
Anne Rice renounces her faith. William Lobdell finds peace away from religion. And yet a lawyer from Lincoln prays to receive Christ in Banff, and “Mrs. Bush” blooms in all of her glory. There are weeds. There are pests aplenty. But there is a movement of the Holy Spirit that is calling out to men and women, boys and girls, lawyers and students and writers to come and follow, not religion or tradition, but the life-giving, weed-killing Christ of the Scriptures.
Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears My word and believes Him who sent Me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life (John 5:24 ESV).
© 2010 Michael A. Milton, Ph.D.
 York at III, I in William Shakespeare and John Jowett, The Tragedy of King Richard III, The Oxford Shakespeare. (Oxford [England] ; New York: Oxford University Press, 2000).
 William Lobdell, Losing My Religion : How I Lost My Faith Reporting on Religion in America–and Found Unexpected Peace, 1st ed. (New York, NY: Collins, 2009).Charlotte Observer, August 11, 2010, 13A.