Until just last month, the world’s largest potted plant was a cedar of Lebanon located in the heart of the Highgate Cemetery in London, England. The tree itself predated the cemetery, but when St. Michael’s Church was being established, architects opted to leave the tree untouched. Instead, they formed the vaults and tombs circularly around the base of the large cedar of Lebanon. In August 2019, the staff discovered significant tree rot which necessitated the tree’s removal.
Here’s the thing about cedars of Lebanon: they were never meant to be a potted plant. No matter the size of a container, it is always going to ultimately restrict any plant’s size. The walls of the container restrict the roots, prohibiting them from establishing themselves deeply. Potted plants are more prone to drying out, more vulnerable to heat and wind. Ultimately, when a potted plant struggles to survive, it needs to be transplanted back into the natural landscape, where it can flourish once again.
Cedars of Lebanon are meant to flourish and grow—not to be restricted, confined, or enclosed. After all, these are the trees that King Solomon used to build the Temple. These are the trees the Phoenicians used to build their ships and become the world’s first sea-trading civilization. They have served as symbols of resilience and elevation and serve as the Lebanese national symbol. Even the Bible, by one count, references their strength and fortitude some 100 different times. We find one of those references in the heart of Psalm 92:
The righteous flourish like the palm tree and grow like a cedar in Lebanon. They are planted in the house of the Lord; they flourish in the courts of our God. They still bear fruit in old age; they are ever full of sap and green, to declare that the Lord is upright; he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him.Psalm 92:12-15, ESV
You are like a cedar of Lebanon, and like a cedar of Lebanon, you are not meant to live your life as a potted plant. You are meant to be firmly planted and rooted deeply in the landscape to which God has called you. Unfortunately, the church is full of potted plants, limited in their growth and survival because they refuse to plant themselves in that landscape. We have become too comfortable in our containers. Pastors are observing that those who once attended church each week are now attending just a few times a month. Those who attended once a month are now content with a few times each year. Studies are revealing that fewer people feel guilty about missing church or even feel compelled to gather with other Christians at all or seem to even miss being in the church when they cannot attend.
And, hear me out on this: I’m not saying that we just need to start going to church more. Jesus didn’t come to call us to a destination; He has come to call us to transformation. He has come not just so we could go to church but so that we could become more and more like Him. But, it’s time we stop pretending like we were destined to be potted plants, comfortable and content in our containers. Content to survive in the condition of our own soil. Content with shallow connection, easily moving from place to place without any deep network. You are called to be cedars who flourish, who grow deep in the things of God. And, going to church is not the same thing as being planted in the church. Let’s retire the vernacular, “I have to go to church,” and celebrate the fact we get to be the church.
Let’s retire the vernacular, “I have to go to church,” and celebrate the fact we get to be the church.
We are called to be planted in the house of God. We are called together to be the church. There’s a Greek word in the New Testament, ekklesia, that we translate as church. It really can be defined in two words: gathering or assembly. It’s really a joining of two root Greek words that translate as “out of, together.” It’s like we have been called out of our own little worlds and into unity with Christ together. We are called out of ourselves and to the gathering of the assembly of believers.
This means the people who say, “I love Jesus, but I don’t need the church,” have it dead wrong. This means a podcast or video sermon will not suffice. Don’t get me wrong: I love podcasts as much as the next person. In fact, I encourage you to listen and watch sermons and messages that strengthen and inspire your faith throughout the week. But, listening to a podcast is not the same as being planted in the house of God. These resources must be supplemental, not substitutional. The author of Hebrews warned us of this dangerous trend, when he wrote,
[Let us not neglect] to meet together, as is the habit of some, but [encourage] one another…Hebrews 10:25, ESV
Friends, Sunday mornings cannot be the culmination of our spirituality; they must serve as a catalyst. If we are convinced we’re Christians simply because we go to church, we have woefully missed the mark. Listen: we are the church. We are cedars. But, we need to break out of our containers and become firmly and deeply planted where God has called us.
Sunday mornings cannot be the culmination of our spirituality; they must serve as a catalyst.
There’s a choice for you to make, though. See, before we are ever to become a cedar, we are a seed. Your life is a seed, and a seed is a beautiful representation of potential. Within a seed is all the potential to grow and to flourish, to become strong and something bigger than itself. Within a seed is the potential to become immovable like a giant tree and to provide nourishment or rest or shelter to others. Within the seed is the ability to multiply and produce more seeds that make more plants that make more seeds that make more plants and so on.
But, also within the seed is the potential to remain small. Within the seed is also the potential to only ever be what it currently is—to be nothing more. It can remain dormant and irrelevant. It might be appetizing to some, but it provides little nourishment.
A seed has potential to grow beyond our expectations or to remain small. And, the only way for a seed to realize its potential for growth is to be planted, and so it is with you. Something transformational occurs when we plant ourselves. When we plant ourselves within the community God has called us, we are able to be real, not fake. We are able to give, not take. We are able to connect, not flake.
Real, not fake.
In his first letter to the Thessalonians, Paul wrote,
We were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.1 Thessalonians 2:7-8
Now, I have to be honest. I would never personally describe myself like a nursing mother. It’s just not an image that I personally relate to, but Paul makes his point abundantly clear. This Christian community that we are in is not only designed to be a place to share the gospel but to share ourselves—our real selves. Planting ourselves where God has called us allows us to be authentic and real. We don’t have to put up a front to others and settle for a superficial representation of ourselves. Staying put in a place for a long period of time allows people to actually get to know you.
Give, not take.
Planting ourselves where God has called us allows us to give and not just take. When we gather as a church, we must put aside our personal preferences to embrace His eternal purposes. Look, for those in Christ, church doesn’t exist for us; we are the church, and we exist for the world.
We must lay aside our spiritual consumerism and become spiritual contributors. Friends, you’re needed in your church. I hope you know that. When you refuse to plant yourself where God has called you, you not only harm yourself. You are harming others. The church cannot be what it could be until you are fully engaged and fully involved, available and willing to use the time, talents, and resources God has given you for the purpose of growing His kingdom.
Connect, not flake.
Finally, planting ourselves where God has called us allows us to connect and not flake. Every time we meet together—every week, every day—we must work to know each other more and more deeply. Don’t be afraid to share your hearts and your lives with one another. Pray for each other. Ask each other questions and bear each other’s burdens.
When we leave the church building, we walk into the “real world” with our “real problems,” and we just want to know that someone is willing to walk through them with us. Not just for an hour during the week. Not just within the context of a Bible study. We want to know that there will be someone there to walk through life with us.
But, a potted plant won’t come to know that sort of connection. A potted plant, an individual who refuses to plant themselves, will find it easier to be fake, easier to take, and easier to flake. That is not the flourishing life God has called you toward. Let’s stop playing church. Let’s stop settling for going to church. Let’s bust our containers, and plant ourselves in the landscape of the community God has placed us in. Let us not come to the end of all this and realize that we never found out our full potential in Christ. You are a cedar of Lebanon; let’s live like it.