The Nature of Fruit

15 “I amB)’> and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit,D)’> he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.F)’> No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. 

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit;H)’> If you remain in meJ)’> This is to my Father’s glory,L)’>

We tend to think that “fruit bearing” is a sign of a “really special” Christian. That’s not what Jesus said. Fruit bearing is a sign that  you are a Christian. The health of your fruit is directly proportional to the strength of  your relationship with Christ. A fruitless branch is useless.

So what is the nature of this fruit? We know about the fruit of the spirit: love, joy,  peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. It is certainly great to have these traits, but they have a greater purpose. Like fruit in nature, the fruit we produce is meant to feed and sustain  others. Fruit attracts folks to the vine. Fruit eventually produces new growth. 

It’s clear that the status of our fruit is a measure of our health.  We should keep a close eye on the condition of our fruit. When we begin to exhibit less love, when our joy begins to fade, when peace turns to fear, when kindess gives way to rudeness, when we become rough with others and out of control, it’s time to cling harder to the vine and prepare for pruning.

Be fruitful and be blessed.

Nick

Going All In

Forty percent of Americans say they attend church regularly, but only twenty percent actually do.  A healthy percentage of the twenty percent show up with a “wow me” attitude. Even fewer participate in church beyond worship and only a tiny percent are willing to lead others. In the summer months approaching, attendance is so bad that many pastors shut down or greatly reduce activities so as not to waste resources. 
 If we are ever going to make a difference, we need to change our attitude about our faith and start going all in. 
At the beginning of each Kairos weekend, we tell the participants the following story: A farmer was walking down the road carrying a bag of wheat. The King came along and greeted him. He asked the farmer for some of his wheat. The farmer reached into his sack and pulled out a single grain, hoping the King would find that sufficient. The King took the grain then pulled out a sack of gold coins and gave the farmer one gold coin. The King went on his way leaving the farmer wondering what would have happened if he had given the King the whole sack.
We all know that we get proportionately to what we put in. (This might not be true about taxes but that’s another story.) Isn’t it time we start going all in? Here are some ideas about how to increase your participation in the Christian adventure.
1. Attend more than just Sunday worship. Every church provides more opportunities to participate than just on Sunday. Dive in.
2. Come to church on Sunday filled up rather than empty. Read the word during the week. Reach out to others. Talk about Jesus. Stop thinking about church as simply a place to get refreshed and start thinking about doing some refreshing. 
3. Pray for your church staff and for church services. By lifting up your churches staff and the services that are held, these things become more important to you and a greater focus of your life. Plus prayer works.
4.  Bring a friend. If the church service you attend isn’t something you would want to share with a friend, then you need to change churches. If the church service and the people you worship are a blessing to you, why are you being so selfish and keeping all that blessing to yourself. 
Don’t just be a cultural or private or professing christian, be active and be blessed.
Nick

The Draft

You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed youB)’>—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. John 15:16

Last night was one of the most exciting of the year for football fans. Yet no game was played. It was the first night of the NFL draft. We all know the basics of how this works from when we were kids. When it was time to play a team sport a couple of captains were chosen and they took turns picking team members. I wasn’t good at any sport so these were embarrassing times as I was usually picked last. Once I was picked I was usually told not to touch the ball and to try not to mess the others up.

The draft is exciting for the players because it means big money and the chance to continue to play a game they love. For the fans it’s exciting as they see where their favorite college players will go and whom their favorite NFL teams will select. The worst teams generally get to go first and the best players generally are picked first. But historically, it doesn’t always work out that way. Often the guys picked early turn out to be busts and “gambles” from the later rounds turn out to be stars. Not all the picks bear fruit.

Like most things, there are life lessons for us. As Christians we often act as if we chose Jesus. He chose us. We also forget that we were chosen for a purpose: to bear lasting fruit. 

When we struggle with the place where we worship, we need to remember that Jesus calls us to a place, not for our comfort, but to bear fruit. If we begin to feel uncomfortable in our environment, something needs to change. Maybe we need to change environment, or maybe we need to  change. 

Winter is over. Spring is here. The time for fruit bearing is upon us. Is there fruit in your life? When a plant isn’t bearing fruit there is a reason. There is a chance it is planted in the wrong place, but uprooting and replanting is a drastic measure. More likely it needs more watering, or food or sun light. 

Before you decide it’s time to be transplanted make sure that your are getting plenty of food (scripture), plenty of sun (the Son), and plenty of water (the Spirit). Before you get uprooted and replanted, make sure the new soil is richer and brighter with a better water supply than where you are now.

The guys who got drafted last night are thrilled. They don’t much care where they will play. They are just glad they were picked. 

I sure am glad He picked me. I pray He’s happy with His choice. 

Be blessed.

Nick

Seasons

There is a timeB)’>
    a time to killD)’> and a time to speak,
    a time to love and a time to hate,
    a time for war and a time for peace. Ecclesiastes 3

Yesterday I attended our last Wednesday Morning Men’s meeting. We have decided that it’s time to shut our traditional meeting down, at least for a while. For much of the time we were meeting, it was a high point in my week. I looked forward to the meetings and my relationships with the attendees and with God were enhanced. Now it’s season has passed. Things change.

At our church we have a new pastor and things are changing. Without judging the rightness or wrongness of the changes, it’s clear that things are different. As a result, some folks have left and others have joined up. Some are struggling with the decision to stay or go. 

I for one am not great with change; but it’s part of life. I think it’s wonderful that God designed our world to change every few weeks. It’s a constant reminder not only that things change, but that the changes are necessary for life. The changes in our personal lives are certainly not
predictable as the seasonal changes, but change is just as much a part of life as are the seasons.
Folks respond to change differently. I have a cousin who spends every winter in Louisiana and every summer in Montana. Most of us just adjust our wardrobes and our outdoor activities. Today I have to call our air conditioning guy just to make sure we stay cool in the months ahead. 
God makes changes and He can tell us how we should respond. I will certainly miss the Wednesday mornings, but I am looking forward to a new thing we are planning on Saturday mornings. We are looking at meeting about 9 a.m. at a breakfast buffet and making the meeting open to everyone, not just men. I look forward to what God will do with that. I could still show up on Wednesday mornings at McDonalds, but what would be the point?
Are you feeling the stress of some changes? God is good at shaking up our worlds. He doesn’t do it for His amusement. He’s just doing a new and better thing. He wants to move us forward. When the weather warms we have to decide whether it’s time to adapt or to move to Montana. Trying to make the cool weather stay past April, just won’t work.
Be blessed.
Nick

Just Jesus

“By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:35

I decided to start attending the church I attend these days after just one meeting. It wasn’t because of the sermon. No sermon was given at that meeting. It wasn’t the worship. No worship took place. It was a youth talent show. What attracted me was the love of Jesus that was present. It was more than just a friendly place to be. I saw the kind of agape love that can only exist in the presence of Jesus. Jesus told us this is the way folks would identify us as His.

We need to remember that we really have only one product, Just Jesus. The way we touch a diverse congregation on Sunday is to give them Jesus. I was a Pastor for a few years. I didn’t seek the position and had no training for it. I was intimidated and made many mistakes. One thing I did right was to buy a podium and the wooden letters “J E S U S.” I fastened the letters to the front of the podium. It was my thought that no matter how badly I handled the service, the people would see “Jesus” every Sunday. That podium now sits in front of the church I attend.

For the lost who come to a service, they need to hear, “You have a problem, sin, Jesus is the answer.” For those who seek to grow after coming to Christ, they need to be pointed to Jesus and told, “Follow Him.” For those who come tired, He gives rest. For those who come confused, He is the way. For those who have been lied to, He is the truth. For those the world has damaged, He is the Life. 

How do we present Jesus? We have our experience of Him. We have his word which is the story of Jesus from Genesis to Revelation. We can be honest and vulnerable and admit how we struggle and how He responds. We can give up thinking we have the answers or that we have it all together and turn with the people we love to Him, not once but continuously.

Go to church today. If you want to make sure Jesus is there, bring Him with you. Don’t be so focused on your needs but be Jesus for someone else and in that pouring out of yourself, you will find answers and solutions for what the world throws at you. 

Just Jesus is simple, but it’s not simplistic and it’s not easy. Satan’s game is to turn us to anything but Jesus. He drags us to distractions, to programs, to slogans, to fancy words and catchy songs. Put that podium in the front of you and the word on its face clearly in your mind; J E S U S.

Be blessed.

Nick

Untitled

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Matthew 28:19


Yesterday I discussed the tendency to over intellectualize Christianity. That’s not to say that teaching and learning are not important. In fact, “making disciples” is the greatest challenge facing the church. 

Consider the challenge. Church attendance is down in America. Fewer folks attend church on a regular basis. Of those who do attend, most attend only a worship service on Sunday. Only a handful attend midweek services, Sunday School or other gatherings of Christians. Lots of Christians get their “teaching” from books, websites or from TV preachers. Some are great. Some not so much. 

For these reasons, much of the focus of the local church is on the Sunday service. Consider those in attendance: long term members with varying degrees of maturity, new members, visitors. Those in attendance have innumerable concerns and distractions: raising children, paying bills, facing retirement, facing illness, facing death. On a Sunday morning a Pastor must attempt to somehow touch ever person and meet every need. Good luck. 

Most pastors recognize the impossibility of meeting every need in one to two hours on Sunday morning. Many churches provide training at other times aimed at the needs of people at various stages of life: youth, young married, aging, etc. These opportunities may take the form of classes or “connect” groups and/or “events.” As our society becomes more complex there are more folks who don’t fit into traditional categories: divorced, single moms, older singles, gays, etc. 

As a new Christian I attended Baptist churches and was impressed by their system of Sunday School classes, mid-week services, and “get together” events. I was particularly impressed in the high percentage of members who participated in these other-than-Sunday gatherings. I have not seen that success duplicated in most churches. Many Christians do not come from a tradition that puts emphasis on things like Sunday School or training. Most feel they are doing “good” if they make it to church on Sunday.

That just looks at discipling those who attend. Churches also have an obligation to the unchurched and unsaved in their areas of influence. It is an incredible challenge to reach and minister to these. 

It seems with this situation churches need to take a multi-phase approach to discipleship:

1. Since Sunday morning is the time of greatest impact on the greatest number, the Sunday service has to be designed to have the greatest possible impact on the greatest number of souls.

2. Since not all needs can ever be met on Sunday morning, churches must develop extensive all week opportunities for all persons to be ministered to,  mentored and encouraged.

3. We need to find ways to motivate members to attend the teachings and groups available to them on dates and at times other than Sunday morning. 

Next we will consider some of the current attempts to deal with the challenges of discipleship in 2013.

Be blessed.

Nick




Getting Fed

When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.” John 21:15

The most common complaint of those who are disgruntled or who have even left a church is that they were not “being fed.” Since Jesus clearly told Peter to “Feed my lambs.” this seems a compelling condemnation. However, I suspect that it is based on a misunderstanding of what it means to be a Christian or a “follower of Christ.” We seem to think that Christianity is primarily an intellectual pursuit. This is understandable in one sense. God is so infinite and deep that if we spent every minute studying Him and His ways we would never completely know Him. But the gospel is simple. It was designed to be easily understood. Great intellect or learning is not required.  

Consider, Jesus didn’t call his disciples to be great teachers. He didn’t pick those who were intellectually superior. Christianity is primarily experiential. The depth of our walk is not determined by what we know, but by Whom we know and by what we do as a result of that knowledge.  A good sermon shouldn’t be measured by the information that is put out,  but by the motivation it contains. What we DO as a result of what we hear is much more important than what we “learn.” 

There is no lack of sources for Christian knowledge. Check out a Christian bookstore, Christian TV or the internet. Although much out there isn’t worth much, we are blessed with a ton of good Christian teachers and great resources. I think we feel unfed because much of what we hear isn’t converted into a change in what we do. Our food isn’t converted into fuel. The problem isn’t with out food source but with our digestion. 

A Pastor is great not so much by how well He speaks or preaches but by how much he makes us want to be more like Christ. He leads by example. He feeds by taking the sheep into green pastures. He provides opportunities for service. The purpose of feeding is not to make one fat, but to supply energy for activity. 

If you are not doing anything, maybe you are in the wrong church, or maybe you are just getting fat. 

Our shepherd and our flock should motivate us to be feeding sheep ourselves.

Be blessed.

Nick

Render Unto Caesar

And Jesus answering said to them, Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s. And they marveled at him. Mark 12:17

There is not much doubt that this is my least favorite week of the year. “Tax Time” doesn’t have much meaning to most Americans any more. Most folks have a money taken from their paycheck every month and early the next year they get some of it back. It seems like a gift from the government, even though it’s their money and maybe some of someone else’s money as well.

The income tax with holding system is the most sinister evil plot ever conceived by our government. It has convinced most of  us that “tax time” is when the government gives us money. If you are one of those who is subject to withholding, it might be a good idea to compute not what you are “getting back” but what the government is keeping. Just a thought. 

As our government gets more and more evil, it gets  harder and harder for those of us who write a check each April to write that check. It’s without a doubt the largest check I write each year. Each year I am aware that much of the money is going to be put to uses that I don’t agree with and some I actually abhor. 

All I can do is consider just how evil was the Roman government when Jesus said to “render to Caesar.”  I guess the Romans would make our democrats and republicans today seem like nice guys. I know that is hard to believe, but it’s true. 

I think the most important part of what Jesus was saying is often missed when this verse is considered. He reminds us to give God, His things. I don’t think this is as much a message about tithing or church support as it is a reminder that everything is God’s. Man may fool himself and governments may live in delusion about who owns what. But we know it all belongs to Him. We need to recognize that and trust that He will find a way to put His resources to best use. 

Doesn’t make April 15 check writing any easier. 

Be blessed.

Nick