- What benefit does understanding provide to my ability to obey? I find that my understanding is limited by my capacity to understand, which is – as hard as this is to believe – noticeably less than God’s capacity to understand. He can see the relationship between my obedience and my sister’s salvation whether I can or not.
- When I ask for understanding, have I already chosen to obey and even begun to obey, or is my decision to obey going to come after I understand, if I understand?
- What do I do if God has a different plan for my life than I do? What if “success” in God’s mind is the thing that we call “failure”? Jonah will work as an example here. He wanted to live the comfortable and well-regarded life of a prophet in
. God had other plans: “Go to Israel !” Later, Jonah reveals his agenda. “You’re doing exactly what I didn’t want; that’s why I went the other way! Go ahead: kill me now!” (Paraphrased from Jonah 4:1-3.) Nineveh
Like so many things in the Kingdom of God, we have a paradox here. Yes, our walk of faith is a process; there is tremendous value in the steps along the way: the relationships with each other and with the Lord, the lessons learned in trials and victories, they joy of worship and of being part of the move of God in a region or in an individual: these are priceless treasures, and clear indications of the value of the journey, apart from the goal at the end. In no way do I intend to devalue that truth in what I am about to say.
But ultimately, we really are working towards a goal. There will come an end to the process – regardless of how valuable that process has been – and our effectiveness at accomplishing the goal will be measured. The goal can be quoted a number of different ways:
Make disciples. (Matthew 28:19)
Produce fruit of the Kingdom (Matthew 13:23)
Preach the gospel (Mark 16:15)
Be witnesses to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8)
Bring forgiveness to the world (John 20:21-23)
Ultimately, they can all be summarized by a passage in the middle of the Lord’s Prayer. It is our job to make this happen:
Some whom I trust would argue that this is not our task to do, but this is our prayer to pray; to them I would answer: do you not expect your prayers to be answered? If you are praying for the expansion of the Kingdom of God on earth, then we should see that the Kingdom expanded on your watch, in your area of influence.
Others would argue that this responsibility is ours not just to pray about, but to work towards as well, but the same standards apply if they’re right: we should see that the Kingdom expanded on your watch, in your area of influence.
My point is this: There will come a day when we will stand before our Heavenly King, and He will judge us. This is not about heaven or hell: we who believe in
I have the privilege (and I consider it a privilege, an honor) of talking with thousands of people from thousands of churches. One of the things that I hear as I talk with them is the value for the weekly events of the church. I hear the value of “business as usual.”
It seems that there are an awful lot of local congregations that have the “church as a process” value down well: they gather Sunday mornings, talk over coffee afterwards. Midweek, they have the same event that they did last year. Their Easter and Christmas are a little different this year than last, but functionally, they do the same thing week after week, month after month, year after year, decade after decade.
Please don’t get me wrong. This is not the waste of time and energy that some of the more radical voices among us might imply. These congregations are doing a good job of “shepherding the flock of God” which is not, as the evangelists among us might imply, ignoring the command of God. They are very effective at the “process” part of the paradox.
But many churches, perhaps tens of thousands of them, are succeeding at the process but are not succeeding at the goal. They’re enjoying the fellowship at this week’s coffee hour and this month’s potluck supper, but the kingdom of God is not expanding in their area of responsibility.
Sure, a few more people are attending the church this year, but their community is not more representative of the Kingdom of God this year than it was last year; there are not increasing numbers of people pressing back darkness or similar numbers pressing darkness back more effectively; the dead are not raised, the sick are not healed, and nobody is grieving about it because the fellowship is good, the mortgage on the building is paid, and we’re enjoying the journey.
I’m thankful that we the church have finally begun to learn about the process of the Christian life. Now I’m praying that we’d reach the prize effectively as well.
Let’s go change the world; let's really change it!
1. All they do is identify car’s owner, and they do that poorly: “I’m an ineffective communicator trying to get a message across without actually relating to anyone!” or “I’m a member of the Christian Country Club!”
2. Bumper stickers are a violation of the great commission: we substitute “I’m a Christian” instead of “The Kingdom of God is among you!” We don’t preach the gospel; all we do is show a sticker on our car, and we generally stop there.
3. It replaces dialog with our culture or government with a vinyl proclamation of “I’m better than you, and here’s why!” No wonder the world doesn't like us!
4. They’re excuses: instead of living a Christ-filled life, we slap a sticker on our car. We substitute appearance for a life of obedience.
5. Many bumper stickers are written in in “Christianese”: Christian culture vocabulary – which the world doesn’t understand. Why would we want to parade our irrelevancy on our car?
6. Many of them are a false witnesses. The State Patrol in my area talk about “Flying Fish”: cars with fish stickers who drive like hell. Rude drivers with Jesus stickers are only giving evidence for the assumed hypocrisy of the church. If you can’t live up to the standard, don’t put the sticker on the car!
7. They’re an exercise in futility: Who ever heard of someone’s life – anyone’s life – being changed for the better by a bumper sticker, regardless of how witty it is?
False Advertising: the enemy is pretty good at slipping lies in among the food. And if we’re honest, we're not so bad at it ourselves, telling little lies to keep from dealing with the real issues that face us. These gotta go!
It strikes me that
Let’s think about our fruitfulness. If we aren’t fruitful,
Luke 13:8 “Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and fertilize it. And if it bears fruit, well. But if not, after that you can cut it down.”
I see three options here:
1) no fruit with fertilizer,
2) no fruit and cut down, and
Let’s look at each.
Option 1: The Stink of Fertilizer
If we aren’t producing fruit, we can expect a bunch of fertilizer dug in around us for an extended season. I have a vegetable garden, and my wife has several flower gardens. We fertilize those gardens fairly regularly. I don’t know of a single fertilizer that doesn’t smell bad, and some of them are really awful.
Let’s think about first century fertilizer for a minute. They don’t have Lilly Miller or DuPont to make chemical fertilizers. Fertilizer comes from the cows, the camels, and the donkeys. When
Think about the fruit of the Spirit.
Galatians 5:22-23 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.
Where do these grow best? Where, for example, does the fruit of the Spirit of longsuffering come from? Doesn’t it grow in places where we have to suffer long? Doesn’t peace grow in places where it’s real hard not to worry? That’s the same for all of the fruit of the Spirit: they grow in circumstances where
Because if we don’t develop fruitfulness during the season of crap, our fig tree is cut down and thrown away:
Option 2: Complete Destruction
If we continue not bearing fruit when we’ve had our season of fertilizer, then we get cut down.
I’ve learned something interesting about fig trees: cutting down a fig tree does not kill it. If you need to kill of a fig tree, and you take a chainsaw to it and burn if for firewood,, then next spring, you’ll have sprouts coming up. In fact, the experts say that the stump – even if you cut it down to ground level – will “sucker profusely,” and any one of those suckers can, if pruned carefully, grow into a new fig tree. Any of those suckers can be grown into a new tree, or they can be cut off and transplanted (carefully) to produce several more trees. The process is sometimes called “Rejuvenation pruning.” (“Rejuvenation” means “to be restored to a former state; made fresh or new again.”) This kind of “prune it to ground level” is very drastic, but sometimes the new growth is more fruitful than the old tree was.
If you really want to kill a fig tree, you have to do more than just cut it down. So when the Lord is threatening to cut down the fig tree that is me, He is not talking about killing me, or writing me off, or anything that smells like He’s giving up on me. (This is the guy that said, “I will never leave you or forsake you,” remember?) When
If I resist bearing fruit, even when
Option 3: Pruning the fruitful branches
As I read this parable, I thought to myself, “Well, I’d better be fruitful if I want to avoid all that nasty stuff.”
John 15:1,2: "I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.
Sorry. Not gonna happen. If I am fruitful, then I will be pruned. If the tree – or in other parables, the branch – that is me is bearing fruit, then
The goal of pruning a fruit-bearing tree is twofold: The first is to produce more fruit, and the second is to improve the quality of the fruit produced.
I live in
Fruit happens in seasons, in our lives, just like in the apple orchards or the fig tree in the garden. There are seasons where the only thing going on is deep inside, like fruit trees in winter. And there are seasons where it’s reasonable to expect fruit. The goal is not to be producing fruit every day, but as we make our way through the seasons of life, we have regular seasons where we’re producing fruit.
We could look at it this way: if I’m fruitless, I get His spade, digging His fertilizer (which I call “crap”) into my life. If I continue in fruitlessness, I get a chainsaw. And if I choose to be fruitful, I get Heaven’s pruning knife.
So make your choice: do you want a sharp knife working in your life, or a spade full of manure, or a chainsaw?
Personally, I’m beginning a season of fruitfulness right now. I like it; it’s certainly more fun than the dead of winter. But because I’m making fruit, I can look forward to a season of pruning, and I’m really looking forward to it. I feel like my life has way too much stuff in it, much of which takes energy away from the fruit of making disciples and the fruit of character. I’m looking forward to the
It would be easy enough to look at this as “something God’s doing to me in order to accomplish His plans for me” and feel backed into a corner. Most of us (the healthy ones among us, anyway) prefer to avoid pain when we can.
But think about it: who among us aspires to meaninglessness? Who wants to look back from the end of their life and boast, “I had absolutely no effect on anyone!”? If we were to look at fruitfulness as God’s issue for us, as His plan for our lives, that would be correct, but it would be correct only because it’s really our own heart’s desire. One of the most desperate searches of any human being, and that would include you and me, is the search for significance; God is – yet again – making plans to fulfill the deepest longings of our heart.
How Do I Avoid Troubles?
So given that we’re facing three painful options, how do we go about avoiding hurting in this process?
The short version: Give up. You can’t. Any way I live my life, I’m going to find that God is doing something toward the goal of making my life count for more than it does now. If I bear fruit, I get pruned to bear more. If I haven’t borne fruit for a while, I get manure dug into my life so that I can bear fruit. If that doesn’t work, he cuts me off at the ground and takes one of the branches that grows up from the roots in the spring to train into a new tree, and the process starts all over again.
It seems to me that the “pruning” of fruitfulness is a lot less troublesome than is “cut it off and start over” of fruitlessness. But that’s not really the main reason I want my life to be fruitful: I have a
Oh yeah, and His pruning knife hurts less than the chainsaw. That’s good too.