Christianity 201

October 13, 2017

Achieving Results on Human Strength Alone

Numbers 20:11 Then Moses raised his hand and struck the rock twice with the staff, and water gushed out. So the entire community and their livestock drank their fill.

Today we have an excerpt from a brand new book by Skye Jethani, Immeasurable: Reflections on the Soul of Ministry in the Age of Church, Inc.; published by Moody Press.  Although the book is written for pastors and church leaders, there are principles here that I believe have a much broader application for the mature Christ-follower.

Effectiveness

…In Numbers 20, Moses has just led the people of God out of Egypt and into the wilderness.  There they begin to complain about not having any water. They’re ready to riot against Moses.  So he falls on his face before the Lord in the tabernacle and prays for a solution.  God says to him, “Speak to the rock and it will bring forth water for the people and their animals.” (see Num. 20:8).

Something happened to Moses after leaving the presence of God, however, and rather than speaking to the rock as he had been commanded, Moses struck it twice with his staff.  Incredibly, a miracle happened anyway. Water flowed abundantly.  The people were saved. Moses was a hero.

Now consider the scene from a human point of view, or from the perspective of the Idol of Effectiveness.  Was Moses’ ministry effective? Absolutely! By any human standard, Moses was an effective leader. Was his ministry powerful? Yes, a miracle occurred! Was Moses’ ministry relevant? Clearly. It’s difficult to be more relevant than giving water to thirsty people in a desert. Was his ministry strategic? Without a doubt. He equipped the people with what they needed to reach their goal, the Promised Land. If Moses were here today, he’d be selling books on 3 Steps to Drawing Water from Rocks.  He’d be speaking on the ministry conference circuit and hosting webinars for dehydrated churches. From a human perspective, Moses was outrageously effective.

But what about from the Lord’s perspective? Not so much. God was far less impressed.  In fact, Moses was punished severely for his disobedience. He was forbidden from entering the Promised Land. Instead, the Lord determined he would die within sight of it. Why? Because God does not judge our effectiveness. He judges our faithfulness. It’s clear in Numbers 20 that God decided to perform a miracle in spite of Moses, not because of him.

So, when we focus on effectiveness, we are focusing on the wrong fruit. We assume that if people are coming to faith, if the church is growing, if the world is changing, then we must be right with God. But in fact God may be working in spite of us, not because of us. And here’s the real truth we don’t like to admit — every time God works, it is in spite of us. He does not need us to accomplish His work. If He did, He wouldn’t be a God worthy of our worship. There is an important truth that ministers need to hear as much as, if not more than, everyone else: God does not need you.  He wants you.  He did not sent His Son to recruit you to change the world. He sent His Son to reconcile you to Himself. Your value to God is not in your effectiveness, but in your presence…

pp25-26

 

June 13, 2014

Attacking Others Comes from the Sinful Nature

Matthew 7:17 Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.

The portion in chapter 7 of Matthew’s precis of the teaching we know as “The Sermon on the Mount” begins with a section on judging and later leads to the above verses about the relationship between the goodness of the tree and the goodness of the fruit. The fruit is seen here as a viable indicator of the nature of the life on the vine, on the branch, or even at the root.

This week someone attempted to post a comment to an older article here which consisted of a copy-and-paste rant about things and people in the modern church that this person sees as evil.  Some people take this as a calling. I normally spot these a mile away and delete them, but for some reason decided to engage this one. Honestly, I’m not sure why, and there usually is not much to gain.

I’m not sure if the people who travel from website to website posting such things feel they are somehow serving God or helping God’s cause by serving as his arbiter of all truth (like the Pharisees of old) or if deep down they are fully aware that their motivation stems from a much darker place inside and that they are merely trying to cause trouble.

The targets are always the same: Modern worship music, Bible translations, megachurches, the Emergent Church movement, the Church Growth movement, Rick Warren, Bill Hybels, Pope Francis, Billy Graham, churches that allow children to take communion, churches that don’t permit children to take communion, topical preaching, pastors who dress casual, pastors who wear robes, and of course, Rob Bell.

The fruit of such ‘ministry’ is anger and division.

The reality is that many such rants — including a few of my own — really have their origin in the flesh, not the Spirit.

The idea of ‘fruit’ is part of a much larger agricultural motif found in scripture; another element would be the principle of sowing and reaping.

Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.

The part of Paul’s letter to the Galatians that we call chapter six also — like the Matthew 7 portion — leads off with a section about judging, and each phrase is instructive.

  • Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. — in other words, restoration should be done graciously
  • But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. — the person trying to offer correction may easily fall into the same arena of error or failure
  • Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. — the picture is of helping others, not attacking them
  • If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves. — there is an obvious potential toward spiritual pride
  • Each one should test their own actions — this is key; personal responsibility before criticizing others
  • ..without comparing themselves to someone else, — our motives in comparison are often just to try to make ourselves look better
  • for each one should carry their own load — this is so important: you weren’t made to spend all your time and energy engaged in correcting everybody else
  • Nevertheless, the one who receives instruction in the word should share all good things with their instructor. — Peterson translates this that those who correct and those who are the correct-ers should “enter into a generous common life” that correction is both given and received with appreciation and gratitude.

Going back to Matthew 7, Jesus says,

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?

Believe me, no matter who you are, myself included, the plank is there. If you’re married, just ask your spouse. If you’re a student, just ask your best friend or your parents. If you’re single, just ask the people you work with. We all have faults and we need to recognize that before we attempt to ‘fix’ everyone else.

To my commenter, I wrote this:

…[T]he problem is not that some churches are seeker-sensitive, the problem is that MOST churches are seeker-hostile. The problem is not that some churches are emergent, the problem is that MANY churches are stagnant. The problem is not that some churches are led by false teachers, the problem is that SOME churches are so busy bashing other churches that they really don’t teach anything. The problem is not that some churches have grown to become mega-churches, the problem is that TOO MANY churches are dying, and can’t see the reason why.

Addressing potential solutions is far better than decrying our personal assessment of the problems. It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.


Related:
Scripture Leads us Back to the Right Path
The Righteous Judge is Non-Judgmental

 

April 13, 2014

Mental Images End Sermon on the Mount

Today our pastor wrapped up an extended series of messages on the Sermon on the Mount, reading the last half of the last chapter, Matthew 7: 13-27.  We normally put scriptures here in green, because scripture has life. But because every word below is from Jesus — we’ll remove the NLT subheadings — we’ll follow the common convention of putting the entire text in red.

13 “You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell[*] is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way. 14 But the gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it.

15 “Beware of false prophets who come disguised as harmless sheep but are really vicious wolves. 16 You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act. Can you pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 A good tree produces good fruit, and a bad tree produces bad fruit. 18 A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit. 19 So every tree that does not produce good fruit is chopped down and thrown into the fire. 20 Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions.

21 “Not everyone who calls out to me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter. 22 On judgment day many will say to me, ‘Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.’ 23 But I will reply, ‘I never knew you. Get away from me, you who break God’s laws.’

24 “Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock. 25 Though the rain comes in torrents and the floodwaters rise and the winds beat against that house, it won’t collapse because it is built on bedrock. 26 But anyone who hears my teaching and doesn’t obey it is foolish, like a person who builds a house on sand. 27 When the rains and floods come and the winds beat against that house, it will collapse with a mighty crash.”


*or road that leads to destruction

There are three primary images in this section:

  • a gate
  • a fruit tree
  • a house (or if you prefer, a foundation)

However, there are five actual word pictures created in this text.

The Gate

There are many entry points that lead to destruction. You’ve heard people say, “there are many roads that lead to God,” but it’s more accurate to say, “there are many roads that don’t lead to God.” (Tweet that!) Our pastor took this one step beyond the text, but I believe you would agree that this works. He drew a funnel and pointed out that if your entry point is the broad one, as you dig down, that life becomes increasingly constricting. Then he drew an upside-down funnel and pointed out that the entry point is narrow, but as you move down, there is increasing freedom. Extra-Biblical visual, but true. Do I correct people when they say, “all roads lead to God,” or do I let the comment pass unchallenged?

Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing

This only appears in one verse, and the NLT subtitles consider it part of the fruit tree analogy. Still, it’s an excellent bridge from the section before to what follows and the visual image would be quite laughable were it not taking place all around us. There are many false teachers out there seeing who they can deceive by dressing up false doctrine to look authentic. Is my discernment meter on so I can identify false teachers? Have I ever through carelessness said something that might lead someone astray?

The Fruit Tree

Most tree trunks look the same to me, and since I’m not an expert on leaves — nor can you see distinguishing detail from a distance — it’s ultimately the fruit that makes you say, “apple orchard” at one scene and “orange grove” looking at another. Our lives will be marked by fruit — love, and eight other fruit of the spirit — and marked by an attitude of humility. Our testimony will be, “I once was lost, but now am found.” The source of our joy will be what Christ has done for us. And yes, spiritual fruit can also be interpreted to represent those we lead to faith; spiritual children. When people look at me, do they see a trunk and leaves that make me hard to distinguish from anyone else, or is spiritual fruit evident in my life?

False Disciples

This is really the core of the teaching, but it does produce a visual image. Our pastor used lips. The passage describes people who do not possess what they profess. This should arrest us in our tracks. Am I giving lip service to a faith that is not real inside me?

The House / The Foundations

The houses in this section are actually identical, but one stands because its foundation is sure, while the other caves in because it’s foundation is shaky. This challenges me because you really don’t know what your response will be until you are in the middle of the situation. Jeremiah 12:5 (GW) asks, “If you have raced against others on foot, and they have tired you out, how can you compete with horses? If you stumble in open country, how can you live in the jungle along the Jordan River?” We need to not only have a solid foundation, but we need to watch for cracks in that foundation. When the rain and winds beat down is my foundation Christ, or am I trusting in some other external, or my own abilities?

 

 

August 6, 2013

Keeping Joined in Relationship

Today we’re sharing an article from the blog of Chip Ingram, noted author and host of Living on the Edge, a daily Christian radio show. You can read this and other articles at Chip’s blog; to read this one on its original page, click on this title: It’s All About Relationship.

I’ll never forget the time when I was a very young and very ambitious Christian in graduate school. I was teaching a class, leading a campus ministry, and even doing some basketball coaching on the side. All the while, my emotional and spiritual “batteries” were getting lower and lower.

Soon after I graduated, a friend and I began leading a Bible study at another college campus and it rapidly grew to over 150 students. Then one night, I was getting ready to teach and I realized that I had nothing to say. It was only an hour and a half before the students were going to show up and I was terrified! I had no idea what I was going to do.

I remember crawling into a small closet with only a tiny light and my Bible, and just crying out to God. At some point, I desperately said, “God, something about my life isn’t right. Please, help me!” Then I opened up my Bible and my eyes landed on John 15. I read this passage out loud:

I am the true vine. My Father is the gardener.  He cuts off every branch joined to me that does not bear fruit. He trims every branch that does bear fruit. Then it will bear even more fruit. Remain joined to me, and I will remain joined to you. No branch can bear fruit by itself. It must remain joined to the vine. In the same way, you can’t bear fruit unless you remain joined to me.” (vv. 1-2, 4)

In this passage, Jesus is talking to His disciples right before His death. He uses an allegory of a vineyard to illustrate the goal of our lives as believers and how we can have the most rewarding life that He intended for us. As I read the passage, I realized the reason I was so exhausted and I didn’t have anything to say to the group was because I was not connected to the vine, which is Jesus.

So, maybe you’re wondering, how could I not be connected to Jesus if I was a Christian? It’s true I was a Christian, and I was even reading my Bible and praying! But it was at superficial level. I was so busy that I never had time to really take in God’s word and pray deeply. I was too busy to be still and know that He is God.

The truth was, I had gotten to the point where I was literally, physically, and emotionally burned out. I was serving God in many ways, but I didn’t really have a close relationship with Him. I wasn’t joined to Him.

What I discovered is that God’s goal for our lives is not about our busyness or the activity we do for Him. Our goal is to bear “fruit” for the purpose of glorifying God and building His Kingdom. And the way we bear this fruit is only through cultivating a close relationship with Jesus.

So what is “fruit”? Galatians 5:22-23 says,

“…The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”

I am the vine - You are the branchesRemember, since this fruit is the “fruit of the Spirit”, by its nature we can’t produce it on our own strength, by trying harder or by being more religious. The only way we can bear this fruit – and fruit that lasts – is when our relationship with Jesus becomes our first priority and we remain joined with Jesus.

The greatest thing you’ll ever do for you and for your relationship with God is to remain joined to Jesus. Remaining joined means hearing and reading God’s Word for the purpose of putting it into practice. It also means responding to the Spirit’s prompting and being obedient. Then the Holy Spirit supernaturally produces “fruit” through us. We just have to take the time to cultivate our relationship with Him.

This week* we’re starting the series, Authentic: How to Be a Christian Without Being Religious. In it, we will explore how to live a life of faith, how to portray Christ’s love and character in our everyday activities, how to know if we are growing spiritually, and how to develop a dynamic and close relationship with Jesus Christ. It’s my hope and prayer that through this series, we’ll learn how to have a deeper, more intimate relationship with the living God.

Keep Pressin’ Ahead,

Chip Ingram, Teaching Pastor
Living on the Edge

*this appeared July 28th

January 23, 2012

A Vine Example

Today’s thoughts — and diagram — are from the devotional blog of professional writer Steven Sawyer, where he punned it as Grape Expectations.

Jesus’ last lesson for His disciples was about grapes.

Jesus had high expectations that His disciples would understand their responsibility to continue His ministry. On His way to the Garden of Gethsemane He explained how they could succeed in the mission He had given them by teaching them about grapes.

Use your imagination with me for a minute.  Let’s put ourselves right in the crowd with Jesus and His disciples on their last night together.

They ate the Passover meal together in an upper room. During the meal Jesus comforted them by giving them His peace and assuring them that everything would be all right. Look at the last verse of John, 14:31 …”but so that the world may know that I love the Father, I do exactly as the Father commanded me. Get up let us go from here.”

“Get up let’s go from here.” — The very next verse: John 15:1, Jesus said, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine dresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes so that it may bear more fruit.” Then in verse 4-5 Jesus says, “Abide in Me and I in you. As the branch can not bear fruit on itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me bears must fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.”

I can imagine that between John 14:31 and 15:1 they have left the upper room and are heading towards the Garden of Gethsemane together. Somewhere along the line Jesus stops at a grape vine, picks up a cluster of grapes and teach His disciples their last (and maybe most important) lesson while He’s still with them.  “I am the vine, you are the branches.”

We are branches. We produce nothing. We do nothing. All Jesus asked us to do is abide. Abide in Him. His life (the life in the vine) flows through us. He is our life. He doesn’t ask us to do anything but abide.  If we abide in Him (and He in us), we’re going to bear baskets full of fruit season after season.

But He said “apart from me (if you try to do things for His glory on your own, relying on your resources and your plans and your brains and efforts) all your hard work to be good for God will be in vain. We can do nothing. Nothing we do on our own will bear fruit or bring glory to God. Only what Jesus produces in us, through us and as us.

All He asks us to do is abide.  Just abide. Remain in Him. Trust Him. Depend on Him. Surrender to Him. Day by day. Moment by moment. And our fruit baskets will fill and overflow.

March 21, 2011

Andrew Murray’s Concept of “The Branch Life”

Today’s devotional is from Jeff Honnold’s blog, The Water’s Edge, where this first appeared under the title Living the Branch Life.

Two weeks ago I began a Thursday morning study with four other guys that has already been challenging me in ways I’m not sure I’ve been challenged before – and I am loving it.

We are currently working through John 15 one verse at a time.  Now, I’ve done Bible studies before but never to this depth – spending this much focused time on a single verse at a time. This week we are looking at verse 2:

He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.

– John 15:2 (NIV)

As we do this study we are reading Andrew Murray’s book, “The True Vine” that helps us to dig into this.  My reading today was looking just at the word “fruit”.  Here’s what Murray writes with regards to the purpose of the existence of a vine  is to bear fruit for it’s owner:

It is because Christians do not understand or accept this truth that they so fail in their efforts and prayers to live the branch life.  They often desire it earnestly; they read and meditate and pray, and yet they fail, and the wonder why.  The reason is very simple:  They do not know that fruitbearing is the one thing they have been saved for. (emphasis Murray)

I just keep re-reading this section.  As I read that I look at my own life and I keep asking myself, “Am I truly living the branch life”?

As if that weren’t enough to chew on he then goes on to say this:

The one object God had in making you a branch is the Christ may through you bring life to men.  Your personal salvation, your business and care for your family, are entirely subordinate to this. (emphasis Murray)

Wow.  Put those two together and I keep asking myself how much time to I spend trying to care for myself as the branch and not worry or even think about the fruit.

How about you?  Does this hit anyone else hard?

~Jeff Honnold

February 18, 2011

Pruning

When you see a lovely orchard
With its trees so trim and neat
And the branches heavy loaded
With delicious food to eat;
Don’t just take it all fort granted
That this happened just to be,
For there’s always lots of labor
Long before the fruit you see.

Trees have gotta be well planted
And their tender roots are fed,
Then the water and the spraying
And the sun from overhead;
Then the prunin’ of the branches
Till at last for all to see,
Ready for the time of harvest
Yielding fruit abundantly.

Somehow people are like orchards
When they’re saved by grace divine;
And whose only one ambition
That their lives for Christ may shine.
First they must be firmly planted
With their roots deep in the Word
And to grow in grace and knowledge
Of the Savior and the Lord.

After this then comes the prunin’
This is where so many fall;
For the saint this operation
Seems the hardest of them all.
Yet like all those lovely orchards
That can stand without dispute,
You and I need times of prunin’
If we’re gonna bear good fruit.

~Walt Huntley

from Homesput Gospel: The Poetry of Walt Huntley (1981)