How are Your Figs?

The other day, God challenged me from his parable of the fig tree in Luke 13. “What fruit have you borne me,” He asked me. I feel the need to quote the parable.

Fig Tree Fertilizer » Top Feeding TipsHe also spoke this parable: “A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. Then he said to the keeper of his vineyard, ‘Look, for three years I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree and find none. Cut it down; why does it use up the ground?’ But he answered and said to him, ‘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.’”

His question caught me completely off guard. I’ve spent so much of my time and energy working on being faithful to the obligations before me that I haven’t paid attention to the fruit of my faithfulness. I’ve been working hard in my garden. I’ve been planning and planting and watering and planting some more, and tilling and weeding, and planting some more. It never occurred to me to see if there were any veggies for me to pick.

What kind of a gardener never picks his veggies, never looks to see if he has veggies to pick? A fair answer might be “a stupid one.”

God describes Himself as a gardener, and He makes it abundantly clear that He’s looking for fruit. Remember the other fig tree? When Jesus was coming into the city, He was looking for figs, and He was pretty upset when He couldn’t find any. He took out the fig tree. He killed the tree because it wasn’t producing any fruit.

Now I already know that most commentators talk about how that other fig tree was a prophetic picture of how Israel had lost its place of fruitfulness to the new work that was “coming into the city”: the church. Yada yada yada. My point is that He’s looking for fruit. He’s expecting fruit.

I’m raising some spectacular kids, but they’re bringing some remarkably ugly philosophy home from the public schools. One of the worst is this: “You don’t have to be concerned if you can’t do it, you just need to try your best.”

Yes, there’s some room for grace when we’re dealing with little kids. But we hang onto that mentality: It doesn’t matter if I succeed or not, as long as I’m doing my best. (This is best when said with an indulgent smile, almost a sneer.)

That attitude makes good garden fertilizer.

What employee among us would keep our job if we continually said to our boss, “I gave it my best, boss, but I just couldn’t do it.” What coach would keep us on the team if we continually made excuses for why we weren’t keeping the other guy from outscoring us?

And yet we say that to God all the time. And unlike the boss – who will fire us – or the coach – who will kick us off the team, we expect God to not only keep us on His team (which He will) but to give us His best blessings! Fortunately, our relationship with the Creator and Redeemer of All Humanity is not based even a little bit on what we can produce.

How to Grow Fig Trees in the Pacific Northwest | eHowOn the other hand, a relationship grown in grace doesn’t give me permission to not produce fruit. The excuse of “I gave it my best” doesn’t work with Him. He doesn’t want my best anyway. He didn’t pour the resources of Heaven into my person so that I could ignore the Power of the Almighty and use my pitiful little muscles, my pitiful little will? (Someone has said, “Do you believe that my being stronger or faster has anything to do with my muscles in this place? Do you think that's air you're breathing now?”)

I can hear the boss now: “Son, why isn’t that foundation prepared by now/” “Well, Sir, I just couldn’t dig that well. The soil is so hard, and my hands hurt. I tried my best!” “Son, why aren’t you using my backhoe for that? And I’ve already assigned Fred and his bulldozer to help you. Why are you not making use of him?” I’m guessing that I wouldn’t keep that job too long if I held that mindset.

And He doesn’t seem to care if we think He’s being fair about it. The fig tree that He killed because it had no fruit: it wasn’t the fig season, and yet He seemed to think He could expect figs. In the parable of the talents, He says this about Himself: “… I reap where I have not sown, and gather where I have not scattered seed.” 

So God is challenging me about fruit. If I am not producing fruit, it is because I am either using my muscles, or I am not doing the work for which He has called me, or I am not paying attention to what’s growing on the vine where I am working, perhaps.

So what’s the consequence of not bearing fruit? “So take the talent from him, and give it to him who has ten talents. ‘For to everyone who has, more will be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Yikes. If I am not bearing fruit, then the things that God has given me, the seed (to return to the metaphor of the garden) will be taken from me and given to someone who actually produces fruit. I’m afraid to look too closely into that “weeping and gnashing of teeth” phrase, but I can tell you that I don’t want to see it first hand!

Fortunately, fruit-bearing is not a case where the final exam is 100% of the final grade. In the Luke 13 passage, the Master comes looking for figs – for the third year in a row- and finds no figs, no fruit. Since this is the third year of fruitlessness, he’s upset because the tree is using up the ground and giving nothing in return. He issues orders to cut the tree down, but the Gardner, Jesus, interrupts Him and says, “Hang on, let me till around it and see if I can get some fruitfulness out of it this year. Otherwise, let’s cut it down next year if it’s still fruitless.”
So I have a chance: if my garden shows lots of activity, but not much fruit, then I have opportunity to clean some things up and take another run at fruitfulness. If I haven’t brought much into the storehouse yet, if Father hasn’t been pleased with the fruit He finds on me, I can submit to Jesus’ digging around my roots and filling it with crap (which He calls fertilizer) and I can grow some fruit. I can pull my talents out of the ground and find someplace to invest them. I can begin looking at my garden for fruit, not just work to do.


Getting a Fast Start

I’ve been looking at how Jesus talks about fasting. It’s interesting: it doesn’t seem to have much in common with some of the traditional teaching I’ve been subjected to. I grew up in a Presbyterian church, and they never even acknowledged that fasting existed. I finally met Jesus in a Pentecostal church in the Jesus People days, and they maintained an assumption that fasting equaled holiness, or was at least required for it. We couldn’t talk about it of course, but everybody seemed to know when someone was fasting, and how much they were Suffering for Jesus.

Both perspectives always seemed weird to me. In Matthew 9, Jesus talks about fasting; there’s more teaching in both the New Testament and the Old about fasting, but this is the part I’m looking at today.

First of all, Jesus seems to equate fasting with mourning. So fasting is apparently an appropriate response when we’re in mourning, when we’re grieving. Maybe we’re grieved that Things Aren’t The Way They Should Be. Or maybe we have this great promise from God and our experience isn’t even close. It could be that someone we know and love is going through hell and high water. These sound like mourning experiences, and it sounds like Jesus thinks that fasting is an appropriate response to them.

But then Jesus says that the attendants of the Bridegroom can’t really fast when the Bridegroom is with them. That’s us, of course, but the term is literally 'sons of the wedding hall,' and it denotes both wedding guests and [in American parlance] the groomsmen, the bridegroom’s friends. I figure I fit in one of those categories, though I will quickly admit that my aspiration is to be a friend of the Bridegroom: I want to be Jesus’ friend.

The real point here, however, is that when He’s with us, we don’t fast. By implication, that means that we do fast when we’re not sensing His presence, and we want to. If I want to know His presence better, then depriving my flesh may be a wise move, and in this context, He says “…then they will fast.”

Then Jesus turns left and gets weird again. He seems to be a champion at twisting the subject of discussion, and he does it here. After He says the Bridegroom thing, He immediately talks about patching garments and launches into the classic “new wine” passage. Except that I don’t think this is a new subject. I think He’s still on the same subject, but I am just not making the turn with Him yet.

“Nor do they put new wine into old wineskins, or else the wineskins break, the wine is spilled, and the wineskins are ruined. But they put new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.” –Matthew 9:17

Every time this concept of new wine comes up in the gospels, it’s always in this context: this is Jesus’ primary lesson about fasting in the gospels, and it’s always accompanied by the discussion of new wineskins. It almost seems like in Jesus’ mind, one of the places that we need new wineskins the most is in the area of fasting. We need (heck, I need) to bet past the old religious mindsets, and fasting is one of them.

In fact, it seems to me that there are two subjects where we get the most religious: food and money. These are bigger subjects that I want to get into here, but they certainly describe places where I need to get rid of old wineskins and begin to look at them both in the new light of the Kingdom. Yes, fasting is a part of the Kingdom, it isn’t just part of the Old Testament legalism, but it’s part of my new life as a Friend of the Bridegroom, but it’s for a different reason, and it’s following a different model.


Jesus’ Healing Ministry

I read about Jairus and the woman who bleeds and I’m impressed with their audacity. Like so many people I know, they have a need, and these guys do something right and something weird. The “something right” is that they bring their need to Jesus. The “something weird” is that they tell God how they want Him to meet their need. Jairus doesn’t even ask: “Come lay your hands on her and she will live.” The bleeding woman is just as specific: “If I can just touch the hem of his garment, I’ll be well.”

    What? If He touches you first, you won’t be healed?

I don’t understand this mentality. It looks like these people are desperate for a miracle, but by no means broken. They still maintain their own level of control over the situation, and apparently over God. “I want a miracle and I want it on my own terms, thank you very much!”

That has always struck me as the height of self-centeredness, telling God how to do the business of miracles. It seems more appropriate to bring the need to Him and to invite Him to meet the need His own way, not to insist He do it a certain way.

The blind guys of v27 – 31 behave like that, the way that I always figure is the more appropriate method for approaching God. Their blindness is self-evident, and they simply cry out “Have mercy on us, Son of David!” What a good model, I tell myself: they bring their need to God and let Him decide the method. The blind guys in Matthew 20:30 ask in exactly the same way. What is it about groups of blind guys that they get it? Good job guys! Let Him do the miracle His own way!

But Jesus is nonplussed. In this passage, He has to ask them “Do you believe I am able to do this?” The next group of blind guys in chapter 20 He has to ask, “What do you want me to do for you?” Come on, Jesus, their need is obvious!

But their faith isn’t obvious, and that may be the point. Jesus clarifies for this group: “It shall be done to you according to your faith.” You could paraphrase: “What you expect is what you get,” or even, “God will bless you in the way that you have faith for.” It’s like God (in this case, through Jesus) is so stinking eager to bless people that He’ll find a way to bring that blessing when they come to Him, even if they limit His means.
And it looks – from this series of stories anyway – like He really wants to bring that blessing in response to asking with some level of faith: He appears to not care how much faith, as long as there’s something there to work with.

They blind guys were – as I so often am – so concerned with not getting in God’s way that they exercised no faith at all, they just shouted their need. It seems that God isn’t nearly as offended by people with specific expectations of how He work their miracle as I am.

Hebrews 11:6 “But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. “