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!

 

Supernatural Prayer!

-Lot’s Of Goofy Ideas About Prayer!

The world— and, even the church— has some pretty goofy ideas about prayer! For some, prayer is like magic! If your faith is strong enough, YOU can pray the sick back to health! YOU can pray the dead back to life! I’ve heard prayers— by some who claimed to be believers— that sounded more like witchcraft or New Age spirituality, where, prayer is like “The Force”; and, the battle against the dark side! And, if God is going to win, YOU have to support Him with your payers! In other words, the fate of the world; and, even of GOD, is in YOUR hands; or, in your prayers!

-Blasphemous Prayer!

Then, there is the blasphemous “Word of Faith” teaching on prayer; or, the “Prosperity Gospel” that makes God out to be little more than your personal “Jeannie In A Bottle.” You want health, wealth & prosperity? Just name it and claim it! God is helpless against the power of YOUR words if you claim it in Jesus’ name! He has to give it to you! That’s a perversion of what Jesus taught His disciples to pray! It’s a perversion of what prayer looks like in the New Testament.

-Why Is Real Prayer Supernatural?

Prayer, in the New Testament, was SUPERNATURAL! I mean, by that, that prayer was an absolute reliance & dependence on God. These perversions of prayer are humanistic in nature. The power is INSIDE us! Biblical prayer, instead, depends on the power of God that is OUTSIDE us! We’re admitting to our WEAKNESS; and, to our inability to affect change! We’re trusting in a SUPERNATURAL God to do what we cannot do! Biblical prayer is expressed helplessness & a dependence on God’s power! Let me put it another way:  whatever we don’t pray about, we’re basically telling God, “I got this,” right? Don’t need you for this one, God! Let me get personal! How many of you get up early enough Sunday mornings to pray that God would move powerfully in your Worship service? How many of you prayed specifically for a certain person that needs to be saved? Whatever ministry you might be part of in your church, do you pray regularly over it? For people that are part of it? I doubt that most of you really believe you can do God’s work without His SUPERNATURAL help! But, if you’re not praying over it regularly it kind of casts doubt!

-What Are Your Expectations?

We need the Holy Spirit’s conviction that if we’re not spending significant time appealing to God, in passionate prayer, that we shouldn’t expect him to do any supernatural work in our midst, in our lives,  or, in our church! By our failure to pray, we’re telling God, “I got this! Don’t need your help!” Listen, the Holy Spirit doesn’t need our self-centered know how! He doesn’t need us at all! But, it seems to be God’s M.O. to engage His people in deep, passionate, humble, helpless & desperate prayer BEFORE He does His great,  SUPERNATURAL work! He includes us; and, He uses our prayer to grow, in us, a deeper dependence on HIS power, rather, than our own! Will you repent of your false views of prayer; or, your prayerlessness? God help us!

 

Prayer Is Not Counseling God!

-We Don’t Know What’s Best!

I’m afraid that many people treat prayer as their opportunity to counsel God on certain matters! We ought never pray like we’re trying to convince God that we know what’s best— As if the eternal all-wise God, who knows the end from the beginning & everything in between, needs our advice for anything! His eternal plans, for creation, were already laid out before the world began! The writer, of Acts, reminds us that  “The God who made the world and everything in it—He is Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in shrines made by hands. Neither is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives everyone life and breath and all things” Acts 17:24-27.

-God Doesn’t Need Our Counsel!

When it comes to prayer, let’s get one thing straight:  GOD DOESN’T NEED ANYTHING… INCLUDING OUR COUNSEL! He didn’t create us because of some deficiency, hoping that we could fix Him! There’s a clear, underlying message in Jesus’ response to His disciples question, “Lord, teach us to pray!” God doesn’t need us! We need Him! According to Jesus’ response, in Matthew 6, prayer is to be “GOD-CENTERED.” “Pray like this,” He says; and, He begins with the “Father.” Not with us! By the way He didn’t tell them to memorize it & repeat it mindlessly— “Our Father, who art in heaven…blah, blah, blah.” But, “…pray LIKE THIS…” He said. This is “how” we’re supposed to pray! It’s Jesus’ model prayer!

-Don’t Try Twisting God’s Arm!

Rather than making prayer our attempt to twist God’s arm over something we want Him to do, prayer should begin with a focus on God, the Father! Start your conversation, with the Creator of the universe, by honoring Him for His character! Praise Him for who He is! Don’t rush into His presence like your schedule is what matters— “Here’s my grocery list of needs, God! Will You go shopping for me?” Show Him reverence when you pray! You’re entering the throne room of Heaven! God transcends so far above anything on your agenda! There’s an order here! You’re kingdom 1st, Father! Our greatest desire should be that God’s name is hallowed, admired & cherished! And, He’s “our” Father too, Jesus says. Never get over that great Doctrine of Adoption— that God has birthed us into His family!

-We Become His Children!

Though we were born children of wrath, because of our sin, He adopts us into His family in Christ! We’re FAMILY! Depend on Him like He’s family because HE IS! We’re brothers, sisters, and joint-heirs with Jesus Himself! And, then, Jesus models prayer by moving from the Father’s  character to His “KINGDOM”— “YOUR kingdom come. YOUR will be done on EARTH as it is in HEAVEN” Matthew 6:10. So, pray like this, Jesus says— Pray for the Father’s KINGDOM & for His WILL!  If we’re praying like Jesus taught us to pray, our primary concern will be for the Father’s Glory! For the advancement of His kingdom! Our prayers will be “GOD-CENTERED.”  Take note of the things you pray for! Are your prayers motivated by your dreams & goals; or, by God’s eternal kingdom & His will & plans?  Mature believers pray for God’s will above their own!

 

Is Your God Too Small?

-Are You Too Big?

40 some years ago, J.B. Phillips wrote, what turned into a Christian classic, Your God Is Too Small. It’s a great book! I highly recommend it! Phillips does a great job of capturing the struggle, that we humans have, of seeing how big God really is! We tend to see God as much smaller & less awesome than He is; and, we see ourselves as much bigger & more significant than we really are!

-Superman Don’t Need No Airplane!

I love the story about former heavy weight boxing champ, Muhammad Ali, who loved to boast, in jest, about being the greatest! It was part of his shtick & show! Once, while flying on a commercial flight, the stewardess told him to fasten his seatbelt just before takeoff. “Superman don’t need no seatbelt,” Ali replied; and, the stewardess shot back, “Superman don’t need no airplane, either.” That pretty much epitomizes the attitude the “health, wealth & prosperity FALSE gospel” has spawned here in the western church! The image of God has been distorted!

-He’s No “Genie In A Bottle”!

Much, of the Church, has turned God into a wimpy “Genie in the bottle” kind of God who grants OUR wishes; and, somehow NEEDS us to feel significant! Rather, than the self-sufficient, self-sustaining Sovereign God, that He is, who needs nothing & is the KING of kings & LORD of lords! I love how Paul addresses this subject in his letter to the Roman believers:  “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and the knowledge of God! How unsearchable His judgments and untraceable His ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been His counselor? Or who has ever first given to Him, and has to be repaid? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever.  Amen” Romans 11:33-36.

-Glory In God’s Wisdom!

That’s another one of those rich texts, of Scripture, that magnifies & lifts up our Awesome God! Paul is like caught up in the wonder & the mystery of who He is! He seems to be promoting the underlying thought that good or bad, big or small, whatever comes our way, let us give God Glory for everything that happens in life! Notice, he challenges the church to give God Glory for His “…wisdom and knowledge…” Whatever comes, give God Glory because of His wisdom & knowledge. He knows what He’s doing!

-Is God Foolish?

There’s another great verse that Paul included, in his letter, to the Church of Corinth: “God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength” 1 Cor 1:25. Don’t you just love that? Mind you, Paul is NOT saying that God has a foolish side to Him. On the contrary, He’s pointing out how foolish we are when we think we’re really wise & smart. IF God had a foolish side—and, He DOESN’T—He would still be wiser than you and me! He’s “omniscient.” That means He knows everything! Anything that’s knowable, He already knows it; and, He’s known it for all eternity! He knows everything you & I have forgotten; but, He still knows it! And, He knows everything that you & I will never know! Only God knows why He allows the wickedness, in the world, to enjoy temporary victories! Trust His wisdom!

 

How Do We Bring God Glory?

-Here’s What It Looks Like!

We often talk about living a life that glorifies God! But, what does that look like? How do we flesh that out? According to the Apostle Peter, we bring God glory, in our lives, as we yield to His Spirit’s work to transform us into Christ’s likeness. He says:  “Based on the gift each one has received, use it to serve others, as good managers of the varied grace of God.  If anyone speaks, it should be as one who speaks God’s words; if anyone serves, it should be from the strength God provides, so that God may be glorified through Jesus Christ in everything. To Him belong the glory and the power forever and ever” 1 Peter 4:10-11.

-3 Points About Bringing God Glory!

Peter seems to make 3 points, about bringing God glory. First, God’s purpose, for “gifting” us, is to bring glory to Himself. Second, our motive, as we use our gifts, should be to glorify God with them. And, finally, God’s method is to empower our gifts, by His Spirit, so He gets the ultimate glory as they are being used. So, it’s ultimately God’s purpose to bring glory to Himself as we use the gifts He has given us! Now, while the immediate interpretation, of the “gifts” here, is related to the “gifts of the Spirit”, in the broader context it could be argued that Peter means, for us, to include our talents & abilities & anything else that makes us uniquely “us.” God has given you EVERYTHING that makes you YOU—all your gifts, talents, abilities, personality, outward appearance, etc. And, what Peter seems to be saying is that He’s given you all that FOR HIM! For His Glory!

-Our Gifts Come From God, Not Ourselves!

None of these things, that are unique to us as individuals, are to be used selfishly; nor, do we have any reason to be arrogant or prideful about any of it, since, it’s all been given to us by our gracious God! Everyone has been gifted by God—some more; some less—“…according to the VARIED GRACE of God…” And, then he offers 2 examples—of “speaking” & “serving”—and, how these gifts are to be used only in such a way “…that God may be GLORIFIED… to Him belong the GLORY & the power…” (v.11).  God has purposely & intentionally given us all the “stuff”—that makes us WHO we ARE—so that we would bring Him Glory as we use them! Not for our own glory! Glory belongs to God alone, Peter says!

-We Are Tools In God’s Hand!

I’m not very much of a handy man; but I do have a great deal of appreciation for those men & women who are! And, I’ve found that most handy people have specialized “tools” for certain repairs. There’s a specific tool for everything! That’s how God purposes to use us! He’s made us all different with our own unique gifts, personalities & talents. We’re each a special tool in God’s tool chest; and, He intends to use us, in each specific instance, to bring Himself greater glory. But, God is only glorified as we use our gifts out of a motivation to see Him glorified—“…use it,” Peter says, “…as GOOD MANAGERS of the varied grace of God” (v.10).  There’s an expectation of intentionality! Don’t just float through life, living off all the good gifts God has blessed you with! MANAGE WELL! So as to bring God glory in every thing you do!

 

We’re Gifted For His Glory!

-But, How Do We Bring Him Glory?

I find that the subject of “God’s Glory” tends to provoke more questions than it does answers. How do WE bring glory to God?  And, WHY does God seek glory? Why is it OK for God to bring glory to Himself; but, it’s condemned, as pride, if we seek personal glory? The wrong answers to those questions could prove deadly! The life & death of a King, named Herod Agrippa, provides a shocking illustration for us. One day, as he was dressed in his royal robes & seated on his throne, he began to speak; and,  “The assembled people began to shout,  ‘It’s the voice of a god and not of a man!’ At once an angel of the Lord struck him because he did not give the glory to God, and he became infected with worms and died.” Herod Agrippa died, it says, “…because he DID NOT GIVE GOD the GLORY…” He did not REDIRECT the praise to GOD & it cost him his life!

-Why God Hates Pride!

God HATES pride because it’s man’s attempt to steal glory from HIM! Pride credits SELF for our accomplishments & DISCREDITS God who actually gave us everything we have, including our gifts & talents! Perhaps, like me, you were required to read Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales in school; or, at least parts of it! One story included a vain rooster, named Chanticleer, who prided himself on all his accomplishments. He was most proud of the fact that his crowing caused the sun to rise each morning—every morning he crowed; and, every morning the sun rose making him quite proud! One morning, however, Chanticleer overslept; and, when he awoke, he was shocked to find that the sun was already up & it happened without any help from him!

-What Are You Crowing About?

When he realized that he could no longer take credit for the rising of the sun, he declared that, “IF by my CROWING I cannot bring in the dawn, then by my CROWING I can celebrate it’s coming.” Which begs the question—“What accomplishments, in your life, have you been CROWING about?” The moral to Chanticleer’s story is that his pride-filled “crowing” wasn’t accomplishing what he thought it was. He had deceived himself! But, there’s a 2nd moral to the story—when faced with the truth, he humbled himself & celebrated the sunrise though he had nothing to do with it!

-We Take Too Much Credit!

There’s much we can learn from Chanticleer’s story, isn’t there? We’re tempted to take way too much credit or glory for our own accomplishments, aren’t we? But, it’s God who created us! It’s God who’s given us our intellect, our talents, and, our gifts! It’s God who gives us life & the ability to make decisions! It’s God who regenerates us & raises us up from our spiritual death & gives us life in Christ. We can share in the process! But, we’d better not crow about it like we’ve done the work! God brings glory to Himself for our spiritual growth—or, sanctification—because He’s the One who does it! “…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God who is working in you, enabling you both to desire and to work out His good purpose” Philippians 2:12. God does the work in us! He enables us! Give Him the Glory for it!