“Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit”

November, 2011.  That’s the last time I posted to this “blog.”  Six months of quiet inactivity.  Six months of silence.  Six months of sitting on my spiritual gifts, and finding reasons to do just about anything else but be with God in His word.

Six months of letting the Enemy win.  Of getting beat up, and beating myself up, and just generally slipping further and further away from were I should be. 

It stops today.  Today, I take up my cross, anew.  I will stumble, I will succeed and I will fail. I will do it imperfectly.  But, by the grace of God, I WILL DO IT. 

Looking at the book of John, Chapter 15, we see a pretty clear and unequivocal declaration that it is not enough to just “get saved.”  Claiming to be a Christian is not enough. Professing the name of Christ is not enough.  Sitting in a church once a week is not enough.

It’s about your HEART.  It’s about following after God, hungering after His word, and wanting what HE wants more than what WE want.  About transforming what He wants INTO what we want.  It’s about fighting that fight every day.  Not waiting for tomorrow, or the next day, or the next week.

Or six months.

Jesus warns us that those “vines” which do not abide in Him, those which bear no fruit, will be cast away, destroyed in the fire, while those that DO bear fruit will be pruned and shaped to produce even more.  And this fruit, the fruit of the Spirit, is how we will be known as followers of Christ.

“My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples.”  John 15:8

And so, I find myself asking, how much fruit am I bearing? Am I a lush, growing tree, bearing fruit, bringing shade and comfort and sustenance, or am I a dry, withered scrub bush with brittle branches and thorny brambles?

Am I trying to do things in my own strength and failing, or, abiding in Him, seeking after His will, and then shaping my efforts accordingly?  Honestly? Lately, it’s been a lot more of the former, rather than the latter.  So today, that changes.

There’s an old, favorite Sunday School song, which declares, “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine…”  Well, with God’s help, guidance, and equipping, I hope to let my light shine a whole lot brighter than it has been of late. 

Sometimes the hardest thing about doing God’s work is just showing up at the job site.

Well, I’m done taking sick days.

~ Steve

A Fierce and Dangerous Faith

Some think Faith foolish,
To boldly tread where there is no bridge or path.
They consider it the height of prudence,
To require each step laid out in advance.

Others find Faith too awful,
A fearful and trembling place of danger.
Without first knowing the script, the plot, the final scene,
They step not upon the stage.

Some find Faith as a soothing balm,
A warm cup of tea that comforts a dark night.
It abides in the quiet moments of trust,
Strength for the simple task of facing each day.

Then there is the Faith with wild, unkempt hair,
Locusts and honey, facing giants with a stone.
It calls us to step across a river, into a land unknown,
And instead of fear, we know only fierce anticipation!

This is the Faith which moves mountains,
Which calls to the fiery tempest in our souls,
It is the burning bush, the pillar of fire,
The restless call upon our hearts to follow God’s call.

Today I want to trade my timid Faith,
For one more unsettled and unbound,
I want to feel the rush of God’s wind through my hair,
Feel the heat of His furnace upon my face.

For in those wild, incautious moments,
When I abandon rational hope and empirical surety,
To step instead along the path God has set before me,
That is where Life truly begins!

Lord, today give me the strength,
To step out of the boat, and meet you amongst the waves.
Let the wild winds blow, and tempest waters broil,
And I will cry out, not in fear, but in exultation.

Lord, in Faith, take me to the unsafe places,
The rugged, ragged edges of life where others fear to tread.
Renew in me a heart eager for adventure,
With the dusty sandals and calloused hands that say…

TODAY, I SERVED THE LORD!

Just One Little Thing

Wow, March 9th, 2010 was the last time I posted anything here.  One might suspect I wasn’t taking this web ministry seriously.  And I haven’t been.  I’ve let far too many things get in the way.  There’s always something, one little this or that which gets in the way.   I’m always too busy doing other things, letting other things come between me and God.   Turns out, I’m not the first one to have this problem.I ‘m sure we’ve all heard and read the story:

As He was setting out on a journey, a man ran up to Him and knelt before Him, and asked Him, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”  And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone.  “You know the commandments, ‘DO NOT MURDER, DO NOT COMMIT ADULTERY, DO NOT STEAL, DO NOT BEAR FALSE WITNESS, Do not defraud, HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER.’

And he said to Him, “Teacher, I have kept all these things from my youth up.” Looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him and said to him, “One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” But at these words he was saddened, and he went away grieving, for he was one who owned much property.  And Jesus, looking around, said to His disciples, “How hard it will be for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God!” (Mark 10:18)

This story is almost universally used as a warning and admonition against greed, excessive wealth, and coveting possessions rather than seeking after God.  And sure, there may be a piece of that here; but I think such a narrow interpretation actually misses the broader point Jesus was trying to make.  Jesus wasn’t so much warning against the dangers of money or wealth specifically, but rather, he had narrowed in on the one thing that was coming between this man and his relationship with God.  While in this case it happened to be money, it could be anything, really.  This rich, young man came to Jesus with what seemed to be a genuine desire to serve…but also a strongly-developed sense of his own piety. In his mind, in the finest Pharisaical tradition, he had faithfully kept all of the Commandments; and perhaps he had…all except for one:

“Thou shall have no other Gods before me.”

I think that Jesus saw both the man’s genuine faith (given the gentle way in which He spoke to him), as well as the man’s rather self-sufficient pride.   Jesus could tell that, despite his profession of conscientious obedience to the Law, this young man still wanted to be able to keep a hold of This One Thing…in this case, his money.   The Bible tells us that God is a jealous God who wants to be first in our life.  He wants it all, everything about us: our hopes, our dreams, our desires.  He wants to be first in all of this, and yet, so many of us try to work out a deal.  We bargain with God, trying to hold back just This One Thing that we don’t want to give up.   It might be our daily office gossip, or a root of bitterness at an ex, an addiction to alcohol, pornography, crude jokes or anything else outside the nature of God that we try to hold onto. We hold back on that one “little secret” that we figure maybe God will let us have.  After all, we’ve been so faithful in so many other areas, right?  We tithe, we go to church, we don’t cheat on our wives or steal or lie.  We “DO” all the right things, so we figure we can probably hold on to this one, little indulgence, and God won’t really mind.  Right?

Wrong.

The message in this passage is not just about money, but about WHATEVER it is we are letting come between us and true faithfulness to God’s calling in our life.   Hebrews 4:12 tells us:

For the word of God is living and active.  Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. (Heb 4:12)

Jesus looked into this man’s heart, his soul, and saw what his “One Thing” was: his wealth.   So Jesus zeroed in on that, and basically told him to put his money where his mouth is; be faithful not just with your words, but with your wealth.  Again, for some of us it might be the magazines we shouldn’t be reading, the TV shows we shouldn’t be watching, the websites we shouldn’t be visiting.  It doesn’t even have to be anything overtly “sinful,” but simply anything that we covet or obsess over, anything that takes the place of a fuller relationship with God in our heart. It could be the football games on Sunday that won’t “let” us go to Church.  The favorite TV drama that only comes on the same night as the small group Bible study we’ve been meaning to attend, but…

This passage emphasizes what we should already know:  that Jesus can see into the deepest, most hidden corners of our heart.  We aren’t hiding anything from Him; we aren’t fooling God. There’s no drawer, closet, cupboard or box we can hide our “This One Thing” in that God won’t find it.  Maybe you think you’re hiding it from everyone else…but HE KNOWS.  He’s always known.

Moreover, I think it’s important to note where Jesus says, “hard is it for them that trust in riches to enter into the kingdom of God.” Trust.  Trusting in something else besides God as the source for our strength, for our security, for our guidance and our hope can also be that “one thing.”  Do we listen to the words of Oprah or Dr. Phil more than those of Jesus?  Do we rely more on Stephen Covey or Rick Warren to find our purpose than we do on God? Do we want to do it our way, throwing in a prayer every now and then to keep God updated on how it’s going, maybe ask for a little help in what we’re doing, not even questioning if that’s what God really wants for our life, for fear that the answer might turn out to be “no?”

“For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?” (Mark 8:36)

Even as I’m writing this, I’m thinking of all those “one little things” that might be coming between me and my Lord.  Considering that there shouldn’t be anything on that list at all, it’s rather disturbing.  And humbling.

I also find it interesting that upon hearing Jesus’ response, when the man turned and walked away in sadness, Jesus didn’t chase him down, back-pedal on his answer, or try to find a little more “seeker friendly” message.  Jesus simply preached the Truth.  What the man chose to do with that information was up to him.  The man chose to reject the message; and Jesus let him walk away.  Jesus didn’t water down his message, didn’t soft-coat it or dance around the hard facts.  Communicating the Truth was more important to Jesus than meeting this man’s “felt needs.”

In this interaction, Jesus acknowledged to his disciples that many will hear the Truth, will fully understand the implications of His message…and still choose to hold onto the world instead.  Choosing to rationalize and justify, to hem, and haw, choosing to hold onto what they want instead of reaching out for what God has in store for them.  Compare and contrast the response of the rich man here, with another famous rich man.   A certain Zaccheus who, upon hearing the word of the Lord, couldn’t wait to get right with both God AND those he had wronged, doing so with a joyous heart.

And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.”  (Luke 19:8 ESV)

In response, Jesus says, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham.” (Luke 19:9 NASB) I think this shows that it’s not the condition of your wallet or your bank account, but the condition of your heart that matters.

“…for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matt 6:21)

So when we think we are being righteous, and faithful, all the while stubbornly holding on to just This One Thing,  we need to remember:

It only takes one.

You’re NOT The Boss Of ME!

As God is taking his wire brush to my innards, breaking loose a lot of the accumulated crud and gunk clogging up the works, I’m actually starting to realize a few things.  One, he’s got a lot of work to do in there.  It’s like the barbecue grill you forgot to clean after the last big cookout of the season last Fall, and so it’s just been sitting there all winter.  Now when you crack open the lid for the first big cookout of this Spring…ewwwwww.  Lot’s of mouldering gyeck and rust and spiderwebs and who knows what else that dripped down onto those little fake briquets on the bottom, congealing into something resembling a twisted science experiment that escaped from an evil scientist’s lab.

Yep, that pretty much sums up my soul right now.

Secondly, perhaps the single most illuminating (and disturbing) thing that I’ve realized is that I am resenting God.  Wha..?   Yup.  I am deep in the throes of a full-blown, resentful, pouty-lipped, widdle foot-stomping spiritual temper tantrum.  Probably have been for quite some time.

I’m pretty sure this isn’t what Jesus meant when He said we should become like little children in order to enter His Kingdom.

I find that I am resentful of Him forcing me to give up all my worldly pleasures and distractions.  I resent being told "No."  I resent not getting to do things my way, when I want, how I want.  I resent being forced to stay and work on my marriage rather than being allowed to follow the path of so many today and harry off on some mid-life crisis to "find myself" and pretend I’m some carefree 20-something with nothing to worry about but ME, ME, MEEE! 

I’m like some petulant teenager who just can’t understaaaaaand why she can’t go to the Nine Inch Nails concert with her 23 year old "friend."  But I WANT to!

And figure that should be enough, right? 

Sometimes, to be honest, I feel like stomping up the stairs, screaming "I HATE YOU!!!" at the top of my lungs, and slam my bedroom door with all the fury contained in my martyred and misunderstood little arms.

Forgetting, of course, that I stomped up the stairs of the home my parents have provided for me, to slam the door of the room they filled with furniture, and throw myself on my bed and listen to the Ipod they bought me, as I bemoan how they just never let me do anything, and they don’t really love me, or they’d let me do what I WANT."

Sound familiar, at all?  How like children we must be in God’s eyes!

We are like those oh-so-worldly teenagers that we all know, and many have raised, those wizened old philosophers and sages who have the world figured out at 17, and with much rolling of eyes and dramatic sighs we wish our geeky, clueless parents would just get out of our way and let us do what we KNOW is right.  Or at least what feels good.  Or what our friends tell us is "cool."  Or any combination of the three.

Only to discover, some ten years later, as we watch our own little crumb snatchers get all demanding and pissy when they can’t have what they want, when they want, and that would be RIGHT N-O-W!! just how much smarter our parents have suddenly become.

God is revealing to me one of the fundamental flaws of my character, and I am struggling to face all of the potential ramifications of it.  Despite a lifetime of faith, despite years of devout worship, study, and what I felt to be "devotion," I’m still really just as much of a drama queen in many ways as anyone else in the world.

Despite "knowing" what God wants, I "kick against the goads," fighting against God’s sovereignty, rationalizing, justifying, cajoling and bargaining in order to keep on doing this or that "one little thing."  Problem is, God wants it all.  Heart, mind and soul.

It’s time to grow up, man up, and stop demanding that God see it MY way.

Because, despite of all I may want to convince myself, or however much I may try to hide from it, the simple reality is…yeah, He really IS the boss of me. 

He formed me in the womb, knew me before I was born, and created me for a purpose.  He is infinite in His wisdom, and like that wise and worldy parent, knows the dangers of rock concerts with over-age boyfriends and the many other dangers facing us out there in the world, dangers of which we are undoubtedly blissfully unaware.  We need, I need to trust Him, to know that He has a perfect plan for my life, and that the more I fight it, the only person I’m really making it hard on is myself.

I think this poster sums it up nicely: