April 2012


Analogies and illustrations are good to help us get a handle on the things we don’t fully understand. When trying to explain the things of God, most of our analogies break down–many sooner rather than later. For instance, I (along with a host of other preachers) have tried to use a variety of word pictures to help us and our friends understand the concept of the Trinity. I’ve heard the Triune God explained by referencing the roles that a man might have in life (father, son, husband, brother), but that is inadequate because the persons of the Trinity are not aspects, but persons, of the Trinity. So, then we turn to nature–and the egg. In trying to explain God’s nature we say that an egg has three parts–yolk, whites, and shell–and we know God in three ways: Father, Son, and Spirit. Problem: the eggs are parts of a whole, the persons are all of the all that is God–all the time unique, all the time one, and all the time One God.

I throw this at you, not to confuse you before we get to the point, but to remind myself as much as anything that the following is an attempt at creating an analogy that will help illustrate a difficult concept–namely fully trusting in Christ.

Here is what Jesus said: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. 2Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. 3Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. 4Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15.1-5, ESV)

I have a friend who likes to grow plants–flowering plants, edibles, just anything in the garden. Personally, I find that my expertise in growing plants was rendered void when I was born. So, this friend was a pretty good gardener to begin with, but then he discovered a wonder product: Miracle-Gro(r). He always produces larger, tastier vegetables, and beautiful more vibrant flowers regardless of what he plants. What is his secret? If you ask him, he’ll look at you with all sincerity and reply, “Miracle Growth It!”

Consider this, the only way to grow a proper Christian life is to remain connected to Christ (from whom we get our name Christian). Turn if you would to another of his parables (read it in Mark 4.1-20). In this example, Jesus even tells the disciples that the word of God is the seed, and the focus is on the different types of soil that receive the seed. It is interesting to note that several of the varieties of soil show some signs of growth, but the only soil that bears fruit is the “good soil.” Is it good by itself? Actually, I would suggest that it has been prepared.

Living in farming country, I’ve noticed that when the farmers want to get the best return for their planting season, they treat the ground–using one kind of treatment for corn and another for soybeans, and yet another for wheat. I think that for us to be good soil, we also need to be prepared. And the only preparation that will make us good soil for the word of God to produce fruit from is Jesus. Look back at our focus from John’s gospel. The way to bear fruit is to be saturated in Jesus Christ (“abide in the vine”). The only way for our soil to be fruitful soil is to have the proper additive (Jesus Christ). He is our Miracle-Gro.

It almost sounds simplistic, but we often find it more difficult to achieve than we would like to think. We say, “I prayed a prayer, I received Christ.” But we neglect to admit that we think that we can do it (as my five-year-old says) by ourselves! The reality is that we cannot do it all by ourselves. Salvation only comes through Jesus Christ. And living the Christian life is not something that we try/strive to do and hope we get it right. That is yet another thing that we can only do when Christ saturates our lives. So let’s take a moment to “Miracle Growth” our lives. Saturate yourself with Jesus and let the fruit grow–bigger and better than ever!

Thought I’d take a short break to share with you that I’m celebrating National Poetry Month over at the Loom & Wheel blog. There you will find some original works (some very early and oh so bad) as well as favorite verses (including a few hymns) of mine. Hit the link daily to find a new poem during the month of April.

As a follow-up to yesterday’s deep thoughts (and because I promised more on this) I thought I’d post about dandelions today. Let’s start with a reminder from Steven Curtis Chapman:

God is God and I am not
I can only see a part of the picture He’s painting
God is God and I am man
So I’ll never understand it all
For only God is God (from “God Is God” on 2001 Declaration)

Without a deeper understanding of our standing in the presence of a Living, Loving, and Active God we begin to consider that He exists for our pleasure and not that we exist to please Him. In turning the truth upside down like this, we misinterpret how important we are and how magnificent what we have to offer is.

Still today, my five-year-old daughter will enter the house from an excursion of play and joy outdoors with a handful of half-wilted yellow offerings to give to her mother or to me. “I picked these pretty flowers for you,” she beams. And we graciously smile our thank yous back to her all the while trying to figure out how to discreetly dispose of the unwanted and useless weeds. What she doesn’t see and what her mother and I both know is that these “pretty flowers” are really lawn-destroying weeds–pests to be obliterated all the way to the root–not precious gifts that bring joy.

For the uneducated in such matters, dandelions are small, broad-leaf plants with a bright yellow bloom that quickly, almost magically, and seemingly overnight (sometimes not even taking that long) shifts to puffy white seed tops that when slightly agitated scatter themselves. These seeds are spread by getting caught in animal fur, on clothing, or by a stray wisp of breeze. They are then deposited willy-nilly wherever they fall and produce a better crop than any grass seed ever wished to do. Once one of these plants takes root and bears fruit it is not only nigh-impossible to remove, but it multiplies faster than rabbits in springtime. No lawn mower is powerful enough to wrest it from its base of operation, and with an immediacy that rivals lightning flashes on a stormy night, carpets a well-tended lawn with thousands of its brethren.

And so, like a five-year-old with grubby hands, we bring to the throne of glory our offering–which we esteem great and beautiful–to present to God with the expectation that he is grateful (and well ought he to be) because we gave him a second glance. Perhaps it would be worth our while to remember that God was not created for our benefit although so many times that is how we view him–as our golden-clad maidservant to come running at our beck and call. Instead we are created by him and for his good pleasure. Certainly he is not a petulant toddler stamping his foot when his way is not followed. Instead he is holy God, totally worthy of nothing less than our best (which our dandelion gifts bestowed as afterthoughts are not).

The challenge of today is to stop strewing dandelions and move toward a total surrender of what Christ desires–the flower that is our complete existence. He then can prune away that which is unhealthy and tend us into true and beautiful growth.

As you pick your jaw up off the floor, take a minute to read this. Last June, my Blushing Bride had surgery to correct a recurring issue. The surgery was complete (and normally reserved for women fifteen years her senior). Consequently, we began talking about the possibility of growing our family anyway.

Today, I got the e-mail saying that we are past hurdle number one, and so (just like a first-time father seeing the very first sonogram which brings him to the thought, “this is real; we’re going to have a bay-bee!”) it is becoming real. Just wanted to let you, my faithful reader(s) know so you can pray us through the adoptive process.

Finally getting around to reading Francis Chan’s Crazy Love, and I don’t want to jump the gun (because I don’t know for sure where he’s headed) so this is not (repeat not a review). I must admit that I’m thinking–which is why I read and why people tell me to read Chan and Chandler and Piper and Dever and Driscoll and on and on and on–and having to re-reassess my belief system. I don’t expect to go down a primrose path after reading this and a couple of other Chan books that have hit my Nook. However, I am already expecting a challenge to my traditional mindset to be replaced (yet again) with a biblical one. So let me throw a couple of thoughts at you that have surfaced in the midst of the first three chapters of the book.

All of what’s been lurking the last few days in the recesses of my mind hinges on one’s (particularly my) view of God. I don’t think that I’ve gotten it wrong all these years about who God is and how he is Creator and Righteous and Powerful and etc. What’s troubling to me about my own approach (and that of the majority of what has come to the front of the class as the modern church) to God is that while I know about him and what I know about him can be written down. What I mean is that while I know that he is all-powerful, I treat him as though he is all-ignoble; understanding that he is perfect, I project my imperfection onto him. Chan addresses it this way:

When I am consumed by my problems–stressed out by my life, my family, and my job–I actually convey the belief that I think the circumstances are more important than God’s command to always rejoice [Philippians 4:4].  In other words, that I have a “right” to disobey God because of the magnitude of my responsibilities. . .

Basically, these two behaviors [worry and stress] communicate that  it’s okay to sin and not trust God because the stuff in my life is somehow exceptional. (p. 28)

So, I begin to make God smaller than he is (and sadly, myself bigger than I will ever be).

This now relates to my personal walk with Christ and my place in the family of God. What am I to do? And the big question: What does it mean to be saved (church-ese for being part of the church)? becomes even more real to me as a person, to me as a Christian, and to me as a pastor. In an effort to share the good news of the Gospel with people outside my faith, I have learned to promise people all kinds of things–most significantly their place in heaven–in order to “close the deal.” What is most hazardous about this approach to evangelism is that it makes heaven the goal, and me the object. All of this when God was always meant to be the object and his glory the goal.

Realization 1: God is God. He is worthy of my worship–regardless of what happens to me. He is perfect–without regard to my own personal preference.

Realization 2: In order for me to be a “good Christian” I must be satisfied with God. He doesn’t have to do what I want in order for him to be good, righteous or just. He is not hampered by my limitations. I must ask myself these probing, burning, difficult questions in order to help me adjust to his desire:

  • Do I believe–REALLY believe–that God loves me?
  • Do I love God?
  • Why do I love God?
  • Would I love God even if I got no reward for it?

My answer to these questions will determine whether I really begin to grow or if I will stagnate in the pool of self-absorbed, self-righteous, self-aggrandizement. And it seems to  me if there is so much self going on, I can’t really be giving God glory. So, perhaps I ought to take a cue from three young men–Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah–who once told a very powerful ruler, “Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” (see Daniel chapter 3 for the whole story)

As I process all of this, I must conclude that when faced with the thought of “would I be a Christian even if I didn’t get anything for my trouble (i.e. Heaven)?” I must come to the place where I would say, “yes” for my Christianity to really mean anything–hard to say and harder to hold on to because we’ve been so taught that the purpose of Christianity is to allow God to do something special for us. And what I’m discovering is that the real purpose is so that we might get the rare and pleasant opportunity to toss our riches–which amount to little more than dandelions (I’ll address it on another day) at his feet.

Years ago (during seminary days) I went with a group of single adults from the church where I served as youth minister on a weekend trip to view the Passion Play in Eureka Springs, AR. It was  a thrilling experience. The play began just at dusk chronicling the last week of Jesus’ earthly ministry.

Actors and actresses, along with an entire menagerie of animal actors depicted the events beginning with the triumphal entry accompanied by “Hosanna! Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” We were witness to the Last Supper, to the mock trial before the Sanhedrin, to the audience before Pilate, and to the awful sight of the Crucifixion itself.

I must confess that throughout the beginning of the play I was filled with thoughts of, “That’s not how it happened,” and, “That’s not the way the Bible records it.” And then it dawned on me–these are just actors, trying to present an impossible story in a way that gets the message across while being as accurate as they can without the advantage of spectacular cinematic tricks (it was a “live” performance after all). With this thought, I began to enjoy their interpretation, and it was rather nice.

As they moved through the story to the request of Joseph from Arimethea and the burial of Jesus’ body I began having doubts again–“They’re going to leave him in the tomb, I just know they are.” But, you know, they didn’t. Not only did they tell the story of the Resurrection (which is what today is all about) but at the very climax of the event, Jesus began to ascend. I had seen the wires before the sun went down and they extended to the tops of the trees. As the illusion continued, he ascended above where I knew the treetops to be, and I was awestruck.

Here is the thought that came to mind in the midst of this spectacular production: “He is alive!”

The thought that has inspired believers from the day that inspired this Passion Play in the Ozarks: “He is alive!”

The truth that accompanies the events of this Holy Week is that in his Crucifixion Christ conquered sin and in his Resurrection Messiah put Death to death. And since HE IS ALIVE we can know: Death is dead. Life has come!

How must it feel to be one of the original disciples? On Saturday, their holy day. All was lost yesterday. Their answer to all of history’s questions was gone. Today–Saturday, the Sabbath–is filled with sadness, despair, and shouting silence.

God is not speaking, He has spoken and left us with emptiness where there should be whole.

In retrospect we say, “Wait for it. Wait . . . for. . . it . . .”

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