Is God Pruning You?

-Pruning Produces More Fruit!

My parents used to grow grapes; and, there were times when they had to cut away the dead branches that produced no grapes! But, they also cut back “living” branches; so, the vine would use it’s resources to produce more “fruit”—GRAPES! In the timeline, of John 15, Jesus is preparing His disciples for life after His death, resurrection & ascension. He begins with these words: “I am the true vine, and My Father is the Vinedresser. Every 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” (vs. 1-2).

-Things To Come!

As you move, through the rest of the chapter, Jesus tells them that 2 things will come after his departure. First, He says there will be defections from inside the faith; or, inside the church body! People, who claimed to be followers of Jesus, will walk away from “the Faith.” They’ll quit! It’s not for them! And, second, Jesus tells them there will be persecution from the outside! Bogus faith inside the church & suffering from the outside! And, He uses the metaphor of a vine, a branch; and, the fruit produced, to illustrate the difference between a true disciple of Jesus and a fraud! Jesus is the Vine! The Father is the Vinedresser! And, there are 2 different kinds of branches here—ONE that bears NO FRUIT! And, the Father REMOVES it! And, the other—that produces FRUIT! And, the Father prunes it so that it produces more fruit!

-Responding To God’s Pruning!

So, here’s the bottom line—It is our RESPONSE to God’s pruning that proves what kind of branch we are! Are you a dead branch that produces no fruit? Or, a living, healthy branch that responds to the painful process, of pruning, by producing more fruit? Let’s talk about some of the points that Jesus makes, about fruitfulness, through His use of the metaphor of the Vine & the branches! First, He clearly indicates that fruitfulness is expected from every genuine disciple of Jesus. In the first 3 verses, of John 15, He says that if you don’t bear fruit, it’s because you’re “not abiding” in the Vine! In other words, you’re NOT “IN CHRIST.” So, what kind of fruit should we expect to see growing in the life of a follower of Jesus? While several passages answer that question; perhaps, none better than Galatians 5.

-The Fruit Of The Spirit!

The Apostle Paul, inspired by God’s Holy Spirit, wrote the Church of Galatia to tell them that the indwelling Spirit will produce fruit in their life that looks like this: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit” (vs. 22-24). That’s some of the low hanging fruit that’s produced by those who belong to Jesus! The Spirit produces it! If you’re a believer, Jesus invested His life in you! And, He expects a “return”— or, FRUIT— from His investment! We’ll come back to this next week!

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The Fruit God Produces In You!

-The Evidence Is The Fruit!

Everyone that is “in Christ” will evidence the fruit of that relationship. Jesus is the vine and we are the branches! So, if you don’t bear fruit it’s because you’re “not abiding in the vine,” He said. So, let’s take some time to consider what kind of fruit is expected to be growing, in our life, if we belong to Him. Besides Galatians 5, which speaks to fruit the indwelling Holy Spirit produces in us, there is also an expectation that our lives would produce the fruit of winning others to Jesus.

-The Fruit Of Disciple-Making!

In John 4, Jesus said: “Do not say, ‘There are yet four months and then comes the harvest. I tell you lift up your eyes and see how the fields are already white for harvest. He who reaps receives wages and gathers fruit for eternal life so that sower and reaper may rejoice together.” Does your life reveal the fruit of disciple making? Jesus also said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” John 14:15.  So, we would expect to see the fruit of obedience in the life of someone who claims to be a follower of Jesus Christ.

-The Fruit Of Obedience!

If our faith is genuine, the indwelling Holy Spirit will be at work in us—pointing out all the areas of our lives we still need to line up, in obedience, to the Word of God. In John 15, Jesus refers to The Father as the Vinedresser (v.1); and, He added that God will remove you, from the vine, if there’s no life in you. In v.6 He says you’ll be thrown into the FIRE! Jesus taught the same truth in His parable about the wheat & the tares in Matthew 13. The “tares” LOOKED like wheat; but, they were frauds! They were weeds & at the harvest they’ll be separated from the genuine wheat and burned up. That pictures judgment for everyone who claims to be Jesus’ disciple; but, have no fruit to evidence that claim! Just as the owner, of a vineyard, expects fruit; so, God expects every one of us— who genuinely abide in Christ— to produce fruit! He saved us on account of His great Name & for His great purpose— that He might gather a people, to Himself for all eternity, that belong to Him! Jesus Christ “invested” His life in you; and, He expects a “return” on that investment! Consider what Jesus said!

-Jesus Chose Us!

You did not choose me,” Jesus said, “but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide” John 15:16.  It’s fruitfulness, He says, that evidences real faith! If your life is absent, of fruit, you’d do well to examine yourself against the Scriptures to see if you’re faith is the real thing! Please consider Jesus’ words carefully, with all sobriety! This is “life or death” because fruitfulness is always the result of “abiding in Christ.” If there is NO FRUIT of the Spirit; if there is NO FRUIT or passion to “MAKE DISCIPLES”; If there is NO FRUIT of obedience—it may be because you do not abide in Jesus! Nor does He abide in you! The church, here in the west, has made a distinction between a “believer” & a “disciple.” A distinction that’s not endorsed by Scripture! We’ll get into that in next week’s post!

 

God’s Glory Is A Big Deal!

-He Alone Deserves The Glory!

God deserves all glory because He alone has designed everything & His Name is ON everything! It’s His Name that adds value to humanity & to the rest of creation! So, when we speak about God’s Glory we define it as, “the essence & beauty of His Spirit.” We’re not referring to His material or aesthetic beauty—like we typically define human beauty—but, to the beauty of His Character—to all that He IS! John Piper defines God’s Glory as, “the manifest beauty of His Holiness.” Holiness points to His absolute “uniqueness.”

-One-Of-A-Kind God!

He is ONE-OF-A-KIND! He is in a totally separate “class” all by Himself! There is no other God like Him! “O nations of the world, recognize the Lord, recognize that the Lord is glorious and strong. Give to the Lord the glory he deserves! Bring your offering and come into his presence. Worship the Lord in all his holy splendor” 1 Chronicles 16:28-29 NLT. God’s Glory is a really big deal to God; and, it’s a big deal in the Holy Scriptures! The GOAL of ALL things is God’s Glory! And, I’m not overstating that one iota! Let’s not forget that there is GOD & there is “everything He created!” That’s it! There is nothing else! And, in the original creation—before SIN—God declared that all of creation was GOOD! Why? Because ALL of creation reflected God’s beauty;  so, it ALL brought Him… GLORY!

-Redirecting All Praise!

In similar fashion we say that an artist’s painting is a reflection of the artist & the artist’s work brings him a certain “glory”! God has blessed humanity with certain creative abilities; but, they’re all SMALL “c—creative” because ALL mankind’s creative abilities were received from the CAPITAL “C—CREATOR” God. So, every “artist”—who is a true disciple of Jesus—will redirect all praise received to CREATOR God! In part, that is one way that we bring God Glory—by redirecting all praise & compliments received to God who created us with those abilities! We acknowledge that whatever TALENT or ABILITY we have is ON LOAN from God! It ultimately belongs to Him! Our greatest preoccupation must be with God’s Glory because that’s our reason & purpose for existence!

-Mandated To Give God Glory!

Here’s an observation from the 1st Chronicles 16 text—“the writer, King David, was inspired by God’s Spirit to offer this MANDATE regarding God’s Glory.”  This is an imperative or a command to “…declare God’s Glory…” v.28.  When David became king, he determined to make worship a priority again in Israel! And, one of his 1st acts was to return the Ark of the Covenant, which had been neglected under King Saul, back to Jerusalem! And, in the process, David preaches this great message that is included as the inspired Word of God. That means it’s AUTHORITATIVE—NOT because David said it; but, because God INSPIRED him to say it! So, “…DECLARE God’s glory,” he says! Don’t just study it and keep it to yourself! We’re commanded to declare it; and, that’s a general statement that means to declare it EVERYWHERE to everyone!

 

The Glory Due His Name!

-But We Are Self-Focused!

Why do “resolutions” at the start of a new year rarely work? I recently did a GOOGLE search for “New Year’s Resolutions” and came up with 18,600,000 hits in 0.54 seconds. There are more than 18 million articles, blogs, posts, sites, and news stories dedicated to the subject of New Year Resolutions! What does that mean? Well, I’d say, among other things, it means that people are always longing for change! They’re looking for strategies and formulas to help them eat less, exercise more, quit smoking…yada, yada, yada! Can I make an observation? Full disclosure here—I am NOT against “New Years Resolutions”! I am not against “Self Improvement”! But, I’ve come to believe that the reason “New Years Resolutions” and other methods for “Self Improvement” aren’t very successful is because they’re all “SELF” focused!

-We Need A Savior!

And, as a Bible believer and disciple, of Jesus Christ, I agree with the doctrine of man’s fallenness! I see the depravity and brokenness in my own life! I’ve learned I can’t trust my fallen nature; so, I’m not surprised by my inability to keep promises & resolutions to myself! I need help! I need a Savior! Here’s what I’ve seen in my life and the lives of countless others through the years—when I quit focusing on myself; and, I focus my heart, my thoughts & my energy on Jesus Christ, CHANGE begins to happen! Personal change happens when I quit being all absorbed in myself & look at Jesus over and over again—MEDITATE on Him! MEMORIZE His words!

-Preoccupied With God!

For change to take place, our greatest preoccupation must be with God & His Glory! We exist for His Glory! So, if we don’t live our lives for His Glory we miss our purpose; or, our very reason for existence! We live a wasted life! I don’t like the sound of that; and, I’m sure you don’t either! Preaching on the doctrine of “God’s Glory” is difficult because it’s as deep as God’s character, which is eternal, inexhaustible and indefinable! It’s also difficult because it’s easily misunderstood—“Why is God so concerned about His Glory? He must be some kind of GLORY HOG!” And, then, it’s difficult to understand the part we play in bringing God glory! All of which means that we don’t really know how to define it adequately, do we?

-A Working Definition Of “Glory”!

Let me try and illustrate “glory” for you. While stopping at a store, in Hollywood, Christian music artist, LeCrae, pulled a very ordinary, plain, cotton T-shirt off a rack to check it’s price. Thinking it had to be mismarked, he pulled another one only to find the same price on the tag. Incredulous, he approached the sales clerk to question the exorbitant price of $640. He was told that was the “special” sales price! When he asked what could possibly make it so special, the clerk said, “It’s the designer’s name on it that adds value to it.” Get the illustration? The reason God alone deserves all glory is because He’s the DESIGNER of everything! His NAME is on everything! And, it’s His Name that adds value to it! So, when we speak about God’s Glory we define it as “the ESSENCE & BEAUTY of His Spirit”; or, the beauty of His Character!

 

Worshipers Remember God’s Work!

-Don’t Forget What He’s Done!

Have you ever considered that a proper worship of God includes your “memories”? It’s not proper worship to be disengaged with our minds! King David tells Israel to worship God by remembering all that’s He’s done for them:  “Remember the wonderful works He has done, His wonders, and the judgments He has pronounced” 1 Chronicles 16:12.  In other words, give testimony to the work that God is doing; and, has done in your life! “Let the redeemed of the LORD proclaim that He has redeemed them from the hand of the foe” Psalm 107:2. We worship God when we stand, before our church faith community, and testify to the way God is working in our lives! The NIV actually translates Psalm 107:2 like this:  “Let the redeemed of the LORD tell their story…”

-God’s Working In You!

If you’re truly seeking after God, in your life, He will show you how busy He is in your life! Your life will be intentional and purposeful! You’ll have “stories” to tell of the wonderful ways that God is at work. Notice that David follows that up by telling Israel to worship God by remembering His covenants! I’m thinking we don’t do this enough—at least not in my church! We don’t remember enough & rehearse enough that God is a covenant-keeping God:  “Remember His covenant forever—the promise He ordained for a thousand generations, the covenant He made with Abraham, swore to Isaac, and confirmed to Jacob as a decree, and to Israel as an everlasting covenant” 1 Chronicles 16:14-22.

-Remember The New Covenant!

At the “Last Supper”—on the night that He was betrayed—Jesus took the cup and said, “This cup is the new covenant established by My blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” REMEMBER the New Covenant, He says! Here’s why we can be secure in our salvation—because God has made a covenant to save us when we put our faith in Christ’s work on the cross; and, He keeps us saved & seals us through that covenant confirmed by Jesus’ shed blood! And, then David turns his attention to the nations—”Sing to the Lord, all the earth. Proclaim His salvation from day to day. Declare His glory among the nations, His wonderful works among all peoples” 1 Chronicles 16:23.  Making disciples, of Christ, is worship!

-We Worship By Making Disciples!

The making of disciples is NOT just a New Testament “thing”!  It was never God’s plan, for Israel, to keep His salvation to themselves! David continues, “…all the gods of the peoples are idols, but the Lord made the heavens…”; “Ascribe to the Lord, families of the peoples, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength” 1 Chronicles 16: 26,28. Israel, like the Church, was to be a peculiar people and a priesthood, of believers, to the world! It is the destiny, of future history, that one day, “…every TRIBE, every NATION & every PEOPLE GROUP will be gathered around the throne of God to WORSHIP Him…” Revelation 7:9.   Have you ever considered that it’s an act of worship when we make disciples? It honors Jesus’ commission! REMEMBER THAT!

 

Do You Have Financial Pride?

-This Is A Real Problem!

When the Apostle Paul instructs Timothy, about his finances, he does so in a way that a disciple-maker might teach his disciple; or, a leader, in a church, might preach to his people.  “Instruct those who are rich in the present age,” Paul begins, in 1 Timothy 6:17-19, “not to be arrogant…” People, who are blessed with money, tend to struggle with pride. So, “…instruct them,” Paul tells him, “NOT to be consumed with financial pride.” Let me stop there, for a moment, and, address those of you who don’t think Paul’s words apply to you because you don’t think you’re “rich.” YES! He is talking to you! And, YES, you are rich!

-Yes! He’s Talking To You!

Half the world’s population lives on less than $2.50 a day! If you live on more than that you’re in the upper half of the world’s wealthy! If you’re household income is $37K or more you’re in the TOP 4% of the world’s wealthy! If you make $45K or more, you’re in the TOP 1%! YES! The Apostle Paul is talking to you; and, he says, “Don’t be consumed with financial pride.” How do you know if you have financial pride? Have you ever said, or thought, something similar to this: “If they worked as hard as I do; or, if they used their brain like I do, they wouldn’t be poor.” That’s PRIDE! That’s saying, “I’M the reason I’m wealthy! I worked hard for it! I used my brain & I deserve it.” To the Church of Corinth, Paul reminded, “…what do you have that you did not receive? But if you did receive it, why do you BOAST as if you had not received it?” (1 Corinthians 4:7)

-All Things Come From God!

God has given us our brains, our opportunities, and, our resources! He’s given us EVERYTHING we have! How can we boast about it? And, as if to emphasize that point, Paul adds this: “…don’t set your hope on the uncertainty of wealth…” Don’t be consumed by financial DEPENDENCE! Don’t DEPEND on it! Wealth, Paul says, is uncertain! It can’t be trusted! The wisdom, from the book of Proverbs, puts it like this: “Cast but a glance at riches, and they are gone, for they will surely sprout wings and fly off to the sky like an eagle” Proverbs 23:5.  In other words, just look at money and it’ll fly away! Avoid living an insignificant life! Don’t waste your life! The sin of “consumerism” draws it’s strength from financial pride and financial dependence!

-Finding Your Significance!

Set your hope on God, Paul says—“Instruct those who are rich, not…to set their hope on the uncertainty of wealth, but on God, who richly provides us with all things to enjoy.” God is the giver of the gifts we enjoy! But, He never intended that we should enjoy the gifts more than the Giver! Our significance is wrapped up IN HIM; not, in the stuff he has lent to us! So, be consumed with Him! We overcome the consumerism bug by being consumed with God & with others! He continues, in v.18, “…do what is good, to be rich in good works” Be consumed with serving others with the gifts God has blessed us! And, “…be generous, willing to share…” Paul adds. There is really no worse testimony, about the sufficiency of Jesus, than a stingy, Scrooge-like Christian. Jesus said, “FREELY you have received, FREELY give!” Matthew 10:8

 

 

What Does Spiritual Growth Look Like?

-It’s Not Hobby Gardening!

My parents were not “hobby” gardeners! A lot of gardening today tends to be more “recreational” than essential to life, doesn’t it? That was not the way it was for me growing up! It really was “life or death” for us! If we didn’t grow our food, we wouldn’t have had anything to eat. We had 2 huge gardens & it seemed like we grew every kind of vegetable known to man. My mom canned everything; and, by the end of the harvest season the cellar was stacked full of canned food. But, let me tell you the most vivid memory I have, about my parents garden, growing up—it was the daily battle we waged against undesirable and troublesome plant life that grew profusely where it was not wanted…WEEDS! According to the dictionary, weeds are:  “a valueless plant growing wild, especially one that grows on cultivated ground to the exclusion or injury of the desired crop.”

-Kill Those Weeds!

Every summer my dad preached the same sermon to us—”We have to kill the weeds; or, the weeds will kill our crops.” So, every morning—early, before it got too hot—my sisters & I made our way to the garden, with garden hoe in hand, to kill the weeds before they killed our crops! The parallels to our spiritual life are obvious, aren’t’ they? Our sins are like weeds in the gardens of our lives; and, just like weeds harm & injure the desired garden crops we’re growing, so, the remaining sin, in us, will stunt our spiritual growth & development! Sin, like weeds, have to be rooted out of our lives and killed!

-We’ve Got To Kill Sin!

The old Puritan, John Owen, warned that, “We’ve got to be killing sin; or, sin will be killing us.” That is what Biblical, spiritual growth is all about! Paul taught the Church of Rome: “If you live according to the flesh, you are going to die. But if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live” Romans 8:13.  And, that’s what we call “SANCTIFICATION.” It should resonate with you that SANCTIFICATION = SPIRITUAL GROWTH! Just adding more Bible knowledge is NOT sanctification or spiritual growth if we’re still entertaining sin in our lives! The goal of our salvation is NOT HEAVEN! The goal of our salvation is JESUS! By faith, in Him, we are remade in His image!

-Here’s What Life Is All About!

It’s absolutely imperative that you understand what this life is all about! It’s NOT ultimately about your family, your job, or your retirement! It’s NOT about you or the “American Dream”!  It’s about your SANCTIFICATION! That’s why you’re still here! If you’re a genuine believer in Jesus Christ, a follower & disciple of His—then you were JUSTIFIED when you humbled yourself & accepted His payment, for your sin, on the cross! At the moment you believed, God JUSTIFIED you! He pardoned you; and, set you free from the penalty of your sin; which, is death! And, one day you will be GLORIFIED! You’ll be given a new GLORIFIED body like Jesus; and, you’ll be set free from the very presence of sin! Hallelujah!