Warner's TheoBlog

Thoughts from a disciple who writes


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How can I be more fruitful?

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5)

This verse has been speaking to me a great deal in the last week. It comes from Jesus wonderful metaphor of the vine and the branches.

Jesus is the vine, the source of nourishment and that which is rooted in the soul. We are the branches, attached to the vine for our flourishing. Without the vine we can do and produce nothing. God is the gardener, managing and caring for the vine so that it is a fruitful and productive as it can possibly be. He cuts off branches that do not bear fruit, so that they do not take valuable energy away from fruit giving branches. He prunes those branches that bear fruit, cutting them back so that they can become even more fruitful.

This passage in John 15 warrants plenty of time. It is one that, I have found, needs to ferment and mature in order for it to become more clear.

There are several things that are swilling around my brain.

First, the branch MUST be attached to the vine. No branch can produce fruit if it is not firmly and healthily attached to the vine. A branch can survive for a short time in a vase, but it will die. The place for a branch to be is attached to the vine, so that it can be fed and grow. Verse 5 is very clear. “Apart from me you can do nothing”. It is in our closeness and attachment to Jesus, the vine, that ALL of out ability to flourish as Christians depends. Without it we can do nothing. Without it we are nothing.

Second, fruitfulness is the natural result of being a healthy branch. Branches do not produce fruit if they are separate from the vine, but when they are healthily attached they cannot help but produce fruit. Fruitfulness comes from Jesus. It is a consequential response to real intimacy with God. ‘Apparent’ intimacy will not produce fruit. Fruitfulness is the purpose of the vine and the branches, it is what the gardener desires. So fruit should be our purpose, but only as a response to closeness to the vine.

Third, pruning bloody well hurts. I am sorry to put it so crudely, but it is what I have found. I do not like bits being cut off of me and, if anyone has witnessed an expert gardener pruning a plant, pruning is a violent and surgical activity. BUT, and this is really, really important, pruning works. It is the best and, as far as I know, only way to nurture a plant to greater and better fruitfulness. Pruning hurts, but it is worth it to increase the yield of good fruit.

Fourth, a good vine takes time. It is over seasons that the fruit multiplies. Only with time can the gardener train and nurture a plant to excellent fruitfulness. With time, the link between the branch and the vine becomes stronger and more effective to enable the branch to flourish and produce fruit.

Finally, we should not pray for more fruitful lives. We should pray for a closer relationship with Jesus. It is only and always our closeness to the vine that will increase the quality and quantity of our fruit. If we want to see more evidence of the presence and power of God, then we need to be in the presence of God.

If I want to be more fruitful as a disciple of Jesus, then I need to be more firmly and closely attached to the vine. Apart from Him, I can do nothing.

 

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A lament of thanksgiving

I hate the door to my prison.

It stands, apparently immovable, between me and the outside.

It stubbornly refuses to move, to open or to fade away.

I remain here, in my prison.

 

Yet, this prison is a gift from you, O God.

A holy opportunity to spend time in your presence.

Your presence fills my cell and your voice is clear and fluent.

How wonderful it is to be with you.

 

My human nature rebels against the walls,

yet my spirit soars without limitation.

Time in your presence is never wasted.

True freedom resides in being where You want me to be.

 

I could kick down the door and run outside,

but all I would achieve would be to escape my freedom;

an escape from your presence;

an escape from your perfect will.

 

I will wait for you, O Lord my God.

I still yearn to see you open the door to my cell.

Because then I will be released

and together we will walk into the light.

 

Lord, come quickly.

Father, fulfil your promises.

Make real the visions of my youth and the promises you gave.

Lord, open the door for me to walk with you into the light.

 

I yearn to be free,

yet I will not walk out of my prison if you do not walk with me.

I no longer fear solitude,

because you are with me and closer to me than ever.

I am never alone,

because you are here with me, O my Lord and my God.

 

When the prison door is opened, I will dance into the light.

But,

until then,

I will dance in the dark.

 

I will dance because of your love and grace.

I will celebrate your mercy and open handedness.

I will cavort and spin and bounce and sway,

because you are God and I love you.

 

Be with me Lord.

Be with me, my Father.

I do not hate my prison cell.

I don not hate your presence.

 

I hate the sin that holds me here.

I begrudge the nature in me that needs to be changed.

I acknowledge this is the way by which you are changing me.

In truth, there is neither prison nor freedom, there is only your presence.

 

O my Lord and my God, do not wait forever.


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Submission and obedience

It was during a time of worship at the #RMLC14 that I felt God speak to me. It was simple yet profound.

As I was kneeling on the floor, lost in the presence of God, I was wrestling with Him. God has called me, for a time, to exist in a situation where my frustration is sometimes overwhelming. As I was saying, I was wrestling with God in prayer.

“Why me? Why must I go through this Lord? Why me”, I complained.

“Because I have asked you to”, God replied.

My reply was simple, “I will carry on because you have told me to”.

God spoke again, “No, I have asked you to. If I told you to keep going then it would require your obedience. I have asked you to keep going, because I want your submission”.

This conversation dropped into my head and I have been praying it through ever since. I WILL stay where God has asked me to be until, either, the situation is changed by God, or, He asks me and my family to move on to pastures new.

“Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him” (Psalm 37:7)

Obedience is fine and good, but it is involuntary and so lacks love and honour for our Father. We can be obedient whilst still being rebellious in our heart. Submission, on the other hand, is the result of relationship, devotion and love.

Jesus saved us through his submission to the will of the Father (see Philippians 2). We are saved by grace. When we submit in response, then we are living in grace.

I think that there is more to say here, and I am sure that there are many, many more passages from the Bible that I could look into. But I don’t think I have finished cogitating on this idea yet and so I will leave it there for now. I would be interested to read you response and thoughts on the subject of submission over obedience.


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A Psalm of Nigel

This Psalm has already been published on my friends Facebook group, “Write a Psalm a Day”, but I wanted it to be on my blog too. I have become more and more interested in writing short stories and psalms as a method of expressing things to God and so I hope that this might speak to you too.

 

I wait impatiently for the Lord.

He hears my cry, but still I moan.

He sets my feet upon a rock and still I complain.

I cry and weep as time goes by far slower than I would like.

Even though I am certain that He hears me, I say the same things time and again.

I rail against the constraints that he has put on me and I complain often.

 

Yet, my God is patient with me.

He listens, again and again.

My God is patient with me,

even when I am impatient with Him.

He knows me and still He loves me.

He knows me and still He calls me.

And slowly I learn.

There is no one like my God.

 

I know the truth.

God is perfect.

His timing is flawless.

His knowledge is complete.

His actions are matchless.

Even if I have to wait forever,

God’s will WILL be done,

God’s glory WILL be seen.

God’s word WILL go forth.

 

The God I serve is beyond compare.

Nothing in this life even comes close to Him.

He speaks to me with words of comfort and patience.

My Father is always encouraging.

I am his child and He loves me.

 

Who is there like you, O Lord my God?

There is nothing and no one I would rather serve.

I submit to your ways, even if I don’t understand.

Still, I wait impatiently for the Lord… yet, still I wait.

Without His word I will not move a single step.

 

When the prison door opens I will dance into the light!


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Paying the price

I wonder if, for too long, the Christian faith has been presented as an easy option?

Let me start by stating that Jesus has paid the price for our salvation, once and for all. We are saved by grace, not as a result of our own righteousness. In this way, the price that we simply cannot afford has already been paid, fully and unequivocally, and salvation is free. BUT…

However, it is not salvation that is at issue, so much as it is the life of a disciple.

To paraphrase Bill Hybels, if the Christian faith is only about salvation, why are we still breathing? Why is it that we are not, as soon as we believe, taken into heaven? What happens after salvation? It is after we are saved that God asks us to pay a price. We don’t have to pay it, but we are given the opportunity to do so over the rest of our life on Earth.

Richard Taylor, at #RMLC2014, talked about an aeroplane where the ones who are in first class are simply those who are willing to pay the price expected to upgrade from standard seating. All of the passengers are heading for their destination, but some have paid more and so find more on their journey. The difference between standard and first class is not where one travels, it is how one travels.

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters – yes, even their own life – such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26-27)

These words of Jesus do not say that there is a cost to salvation. Anyone can hear the words of Jesus, comprehend the meaning and believe in the truth. Yet, there is a difference between those who believe and those who follow. Following Jesus costs more, but it means more too.

To follow Jesus we must give up our own preferences and life choices. We must choose to submit our future to him, living in a way that is consistent with his teaching, even if it is different to what we have always known. This might mean that we strain, or even lose, relationships with family and friends who do not agree with us or understand our faith. It might necessitate a change in our priorities of time and effort. Following Jesus will almost certainly mean that we have to sacrifice our need for control over our own destiny, choosing to live by faith instead of knowledge.

Following Jesus ALWAYS leads to change. We will change, our lives will change, our relationships will change and our view of the world that we live in will change.

The Cost of following Jesus is simply that we have to follow Jesus, wherever he leads us… even when it results in derision, persecution and, possibly, death.

Why? Because Jesus Christ is the only way for the people of the world to be reconciled to the God who created them. He is the only way to be forgiven from sin and the only path into the presence of the living God. Further, the people of this world NEED to see the truth that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. It is through the lives of the disciples of Jesus that they will find the evidence of the truth of salvation by grace. We are the body of Christ!

To be saved does not mean that I need to be a disciple of Jesus. I don’t have to pay that price. But, because I am saved, how can I not follow? How can I not dive into God? The question is this… am I willing to pay the price so that my fellow men and women of the world might taste and see that Jesus is the way to full and wonderful life?

“Where else can I go? With you, Jesus, are the words of eternal life”

End Note – This blog is the result of my thoughts following the @RMChurches Leadership Conference in Norwich (#RMLC2014).


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The Parable of the Treasure (a retelling)

It has been a long time since my last Theoblog post, but now it is time to start posting again. If you like what you read, please share it around. There are also a great many posts in the archive so please take a peek. Comments are more than welcome as are retweets, shares, and the like.

I am going to start off this new era with my take on a parable of Jesus…

There was once a man who, whilst he was working in a field, found a treasure of immeasurable worth. From the moment he found it, he knew that this treasure was of greater value than anything else in the world. Greater than anything he had, would or could ever possess. So, he buried the treasure once more and went off with the firm intention of selling everything he had so that he could buy the field and gain the treasure for himself.

Whilst he was hurrying to do so a pretty young lady caught his eye and he stopped to talk to her. He thought, “I will sell everything later to buy the treasure” and took the pretty young lady for a drink. The man and the lady got talking, time passed and the man still firmly intended to sell everything and buy the field… later.

In time, the man and the lady married, found a house to share together and had a few children. He often thought about the treasure and, every time it came to mind, he firmly intended to sell all that he had to buy the field where he had found the treasure. He even went as far as to go to the auction house where he could sell everything, and was surprised when they offered him a job. The treasure would come a little later, he decided.

The man worked hard, smiled, was patted on the back, celebrated, enjoyed his children, house, pet dog, food, drink, holidays in the sun, sadness, fun and a cottage on the continent for dreamy days and family gatherings. All safe in the knowledge that the man knew where the treasure was.

When, eventually, as a much older man, he got around to being able to afford the time to be able to buy the field the old man handed over the money, took his spade and dug down to find that the treasure he had found all those years ago was still where he had left it. And he wept as he looked on its beauty and was overwhelmed once more at its immeasurable worth. He wept for all of the time he had lost without the greatest treasure in the world.

The man fell down dead and went to heaven, leaving the treasure in the field where he had first found it. Unused.