In season

Read: Deuteronomy 1-2, Mark 11:1-19

Did anyone else grow up thinking that the story of Jesus cursing the fig tree was a little harsh? I mean, the Bible even says that it wasn’t even fig season, and here’s Jesus all mad that there was no fruit behind those big, beautiful leaves. So he curses the tree and it withers up and dies. I’ve always felt bad for the tree.

Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. Then he said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard him say it.

Mark 11:13-14 (NIV)

Now, I’ve seen fig trees in leaf without fruit. If you like figs, it’s a little disappointing when there’s nothing there to sample. But when you know it’s not the right season, you shrug and walk away and hope you can come back when there is fruit. Jesus just couldn’t shake it off, though.

Why is that? Paul explained it to Timothy.

Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.

1 Timothy 4:2 (NIV)

I don’t think Jesus’ disappointment was so much with the fig tree, but with the Jews. Here he was, the fulfillment of centuries of promise, standing in front of them and they were far more concerned with pretty leaves—religious tradition—than fruit—the spiritual enlightenment he brought.

Let’s break this down to a very simple, personal level. Let’s say that one of your best friends isn’t a believer. You know that, and your friend knows that you are a believer. You don’t hide your faith, but at their request, you don’t talk much about it. Then one day, your friend starts asking you deeper questions about your faith. But, since you didn’t really talk about it much, your friend doesn’t know that you haven’t been going to church much and your Bible is sitting dusty on a shelf. You’re not in a fruitful season. And because of that lack of fruit, you are unable to truly share with your friend even though they’re finally ready to hear the Gospel.

According to John 15:1, God is the gardener. If God is the gardener, then the local church sort of acts like a greenhouse. Since Roman times, gardeners have worked to coax fruit from plants even when the season isn’t right. Greenhouses bring light and heat where there otherwise would be cold and dark. These two elements help plants to grow out of their natural habitat and through what would normally be a dormant season.

Do you see what I’m getting at? The gathering of the saints, regular fellowship with other Christians, helps to keep us warm and full of light. As a result, we can be more fruitful in  more seasons. Just because we may be going through a rough time, doesn’t mean that we can’t still bear fruit. If a hothouse can grow tomatoes through a Canadian winter, surely the strength of a church community can both help you through your trial and even cause a little fruit to grow.

Looking pretty doesn’t matter. I’m sure Jesus would have rather seen a scraggly tree, heavy with ripened fruit than the leafy, fruitless wonder he did find.

The trick to staying in season? First, stay connected to the vine—Jesus. Second, stay connected with the gardener—God. And third, stay in the greenhouse—the church.

Weed the worry

Read: Numbers 5-6, Mark 4:1-20

Most of us have heard or read the parable of the sower more times than we can count. From Sunday school through to Sunday sermons, if you grew up in church, you’ve been aware of this story of Jesus’ for most of you life. If we had to place ourselves in a portion of the story, the majority of us would be tempted to claim the good ground. But if we’re telling the truth, we’ve probably all had more experience in the other kinds of soil than we’d like to publicly admit. Today, let’s talk about the thorns.

Mark 4-18-19.jpg

First, what is worry?

WORRY: To tease; to trouble; to harass with importunity (pressing solicitation; urgent request, application for a claim or favor, which is urged with troublesome frequency or pertinacity), or with care and anxiety.

Whom of us can claim that we have never worried and will never worry again? None. Zip. Zilch. Nada. If we’re alive, we’re bound to worry about something. Parents worry about their children. Some worry about how to pay the bills or where to find the next meal. Some worry about succeeding, others failure. Some worry about grades. Others still, worry about being alone while some worry about staying together.

We may not be able to stop the worry altogether, but we do have the ability to control it when it comes.

Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?

Luke 12:25-26 (NIV)

Jesus compared worry to thorns. Weeds. Unwanted growth.

Say you plant a garden. You pick a spot with plenty of sun. It is close to a water source, yet it drains well. You’ve added soil and done all that you can to ensure a fruitful garden. You pick your seeds and plan your plots. Once the seeds are in the ground, you are careful to water, but not too much. You shoo away birds that would snatch the seeds or cats that would disturb your neat rows. Before too long, your little seeds start to sprout. Row by row little bright green leaves peek through the dark soil. But wait! That one isn’t in line! It doesn’t look like a cucumber or carrot. It’s a weed. What are you going to do about it?

Most of us accept worry as a part of life. It just is. It can’t be helped. But if it can’t be helped, why would Jesus tell us not to do it?

Like your carefully planned garden, worry, like a weed, can be uprooted. It can be removed and tossed away to die. No one wanting the largest harvest possible will stand for weeds sucking up all the nutrients from the soil and choking out the productive plants. Those weeds need to go. So does worry.

Even the best-prepared soil can sprout weeds. But the diligent gardener will remove them before any damage is done.

Don’t entertain worry. There is no benefit in it. Worry takes our focus away from those things which have already been promised to us. And not only that, but it implies that our trust in God is not implicit.

Worry generally stems from a fear of lack, not having enough or not being enough. So when that little thorny sprout shows up, you remind it who’s the boss. Pull it up and cast it away with this promise:

And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:19 (NIV)

Be brave

Read: Genesis 23-24, Matthew 8

How many times in your life have you packed up and walked away from everything to start something completely new without knowing all of the details? Probably never. The vast majority of us will never really step too far out of our comfort zone. We do what we know and avoid what we don’t. But what if we’re missing out?

God made a big promise to Abraham. He knew and trusted that God would make it come to pass. His wife, though well beyond her child-bearing years, gave birth to a son. Through that son, God promised that Abraham would become the father of many nations. Now, that son needed a wife in order to fulfill this promise.

After swearing an oath to his master, Abraham’s servant went in search of a wife for Isaac. He had very specific instructions and probably doubted the point in making the trip altogether. But his master trusted the Lord, so he would also trust the Lord. All that trust paid off and the servant found the girl he was looking for on the first try. He proposed by proxy and the girl accepted.

So they called Rebekah and asked her, “Will you go with this man?”

“I will go,” she said.

Genesis 24:58 (NIV)

Many may think that only the truly desperate would accept such an offer. The servant made it known that the family she’d marry into was very wealthy. But Rebekah’s family was wealthy in their own right. She was also a very beautiful woman, so it’s not like she wouldn’t have had suitors. Instead of staying at home and marrying the boy next door, Rebekah, in a matter of hours, made the choice to leave behind all that she knew and tie herself to the unknown. Aside from the lure of wealthy in-laws she had no way of knowing what her life would become.

It can be a scary place to be, this unknown. Rebekah seemed to take it in stride. But how prepared are we to go? When a man told Jesus he wanted to join up with him, but he had to bury his father first, Jesus told him to let the dead bury the dead (Matthew 8:22). There truly is no time like the present.

Had Rebekah remained where she was, I’m sure she would have found a nice man to marry. She could have stayed comfortable and wealthy among her own people. She could have had a good life. But, when she accepted the proposal from the servant, what she didn’t know was that she had also become part of a far greater promise.

I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you. I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you.

Genesis 17:6-7 (NIV)

Rebekah, by trusting in the servant’s word, brought herself under the covenant God made with her father-in-law. She, through her husband Isaac, would become the mother of many nations, part of an everlasting covenant.

Most of us want to know the end before we even begin. We need all the details so we can make a list and weigh the pros and cons. That’s not how this works. God asks that we trust Him. And if we truly trust Him, we don’t need to know the end because He is the end.

Revelation 22:13

When we refuse to move before we have all the information, we rob ourselves of the blessing God has in store for us. Like Rebekah, we need to be brave, take the first step, and trust that our God knows what He’s doing.

Fruit hurts

I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more.

John 15:1-2 (NLT)

I think most everyone could agree (or at least hope) that if you a bearing good fruit, pain should be the furthest thing from your mind. Many of us are under the impression that by living a good Christian life, we should be free from trouble, worry, and pain.

What if I told you that pain is good?

So long as you’re connected with Jesus—the true vine—you shouldn’t have to worry about being cut off. But that doesn’t mean you’re free and clear from some difficulty. God loves us so much that He’s willing to cause a little pain so that we can see even more fruit.

I’m not a parent, but I’ve heard that many parents have a difficult time disciplining their children. It’s not that they want their kids to continue misbehaving, it’s because they love them that they don’t want to be the cause of pain and tears. I’m quite certain God feels the same—and even more so—about us. He loves us enough to take things away, cut things off, and redirect our paths.

The resulting pain of God’s pruning isn’t bad news. In fact, it’s great news! It means that you have fruit to start with. And it means that God wants you to produce even more fruit.

There’s an orchard near my house that looks as though it was overtaken with blight several years back. Since then, the keeper has done absolutely nothing with it. The trees are all but dead and intruding vines are taking over what is left of the branches. The owner doesn’t even care enough to have it all removed. It’s gone to waste and is being overtaken by invasive plants. In order to bring back a fruitful orchard, even more work will be required than if the keeper of the trees had just cut it all down when the blight first attacked.

God isn’t going to allow blight or invasive brambles to overtake His orchard. He is going to attack anything and everything that doesn’t belong there because He wants the greatest harvest possible.

So don’t get upset when the things that prevent fruit in your life are taken away. Rejoice because you know that God truly does care and is watching out for your best interests.

I have told you this so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow!

John 15:11 (NLT)

Bearing fruit hurts. There may be a little pain now, but the payoff is more fruit in the future. The next time you feel you’re being pruned. Rejoice. God is working on you and He is working for you.

Daily Bible reading: 2 Chronicles 17-19, John 15

The Law of Love

Do you ever read through the Old Testament and wonder at all the laws, rules, and regulations? Those people had a lot to live up to. And then we think, man, am I glad we don’t have to live like that. But do you every wonder why the Israelites had to live up to such high standards?

Let’s take out all the sacrifices—we know that Jesus came and was the sacrifice to end all sacrifices. What about everything else? Why did God give so many instructions on how to live life?

You’ll note that much of it was practical—don’t do your business among the tents, go away from everyone, dig a hole, and bury it. Makes sense. This kept disease from spreading. The same goes for people with skin rashes and mildew in homes. They were quarantined until considered clean and then there was a process for reintroduction back into society.

God not only set Israel apart to be holy, but He called them apart to be clean—in the literal sense. Canaan, after all, was a land filled with people who had defiled themselves in all manner of ways. Not only were they dirty, they were diseased.

God even gave instructions regarding the crops—Israel wouldn’t be allowed to eat the fruit of the trees they planted until the fifth year. There are several reasons for this, the first being that a new tree will not produce good fruit in its first years. If it is cut back and pruned early on, it will be more productive later. Second, God was deserving of the first fruits—the reason why the fruit of the fourth year belonged to Him. By year five, if the Israelites had followed God’s commands, the fruit would be plentiful and sweet.

God doesn’t give us rules to watch us squirm under the weight of them. He gave the law out of love. All the instructions He gave to Israel were for their own good. For their health. For their prosperity. For their pleasure.

We can have more freedom and be more fruitful within the boundaries God has given to us than we can outside of His love.

Daily Bible reading: Leviticus 18-19, Matthew 27:32-66

Proper fruit

Say you’re house sitting for your best friend and your friend asks that you keep an eye on the house and take care of the plants in the greenhouse.You are given a list of instructions on how to mind the greenery. Your friend leaves and, for a few days, you are diligent in heading over to the house, keeping an eye on things and tending to the plants. But as the days stretch into a week and into the next, you’re less interested in taking care of the plants. They’re just house plants after all. Don’t they pretty much take care of themselves? Why bother with this long list of things to do? By the time your friend is set to return from a bit of an extended vacation, you’ve forgotten about the plants. You go through the house to check on things one last time and notice the state of the vegetation. It’s not too bad, but it’s not all that good. You swipe up the dried petals that had fallen off, toss them in the trash, and cover the evidence so you friend believes you’ve taken good care of the “kids”. The friend returns and all is well. So you think.

Several days later your friend approaches you and asks if the plants bloomed. You sheepishly  nod and are forced to explain your lapse in care. While embarrassed about the situation, you don’t see what the big deal is.

As it turns out, your friend was eager to see the first harvest of fruit from the trees. Had you followed through with the care instructions, you’d have opened the greenhouse at the right time to allow bees and hummingbirds in to pollinate the buds. But you failed to followed the directive. The greenhouse remained shut up, the buds dropped off never having been pollinated. There will be no harvest.

The next time your friend goes out of town, you’re the last person on the list to watch the greenhouse.

In neglecting to follow your friend’s instructions, you’ve not only let yourself down, but you’ve lost your chance of being able to enjoy a harvest with one of the people you care for most. Did your friend stop being your friend over the whole debacle? No. But some faith and trust in you has been lost and the opportunity will not be offered to you again.

What I mean is that the Kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation what will produce the proper fruit.

Matthew 21:43 (NLT)

While, in this scripture, Jesus was talking to the Jewish leaders, it can apply to us all here and now. If you’re one of the ones who fails to produce good fruit, there will be someone else who can come up with good fruit. If you’re not bringing in a harvest where God has planted you, He will plant someone else.

I once heard a pastor of a large, successful church in a very un-churched area say that he wasn’t by any means the first person God called to the area. He was just the first person to say yes and not quit. 20 years later, they have one of the largest congregations in the city. Where others had failed to be fruitful, he was faithful to the calling and was able to produce fruit where others said it couldn’t be done.

Are you content with leafy trees or are you willing to be patient and tend to the buds in order to produce a fruitful harvest?

Daily Bible reading: Exodus 27-28, Matthew 21:23-46

Die

What a morbid thought for a Wednesday morning. Die.

Why should death matter while we’re alive?

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.

John 12:24 (ESV)

Do you ever wonder why Christians have such a hard time bearing fruit (fruit being the fruit of the spirit: love, joy, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control – Galatians 5:22-23)? Perhaps it is because we haven’t died yet.

Further on in John 12, we see that there were leaders in the synagogue who believed in Jesus as the Son of God yet failed to make it known.

For they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God.

John 12:43 (ESV)

When we love the glory of God more than the glory of man, we die to self and live for Christ.  Paul said in Philippians 1:21, “To me the only important thing about living is Christ…” (NCV) It is only when we view our role in the Kingdom of God as greater than our role on earth that we become spiritually fruitful.

We need to die to truly live.

Daily Bible reading: 2 Chronicles 4-6; John 12:20-50