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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Happy Christmas! He is in it with us!

Christmas cogitation part 9

For me, one of the most important verses in the Bible is also the most important verse of the Christmas period.

“The word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the Only Begotten Son who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14 NIV)

I like the translation in Message too;

“The Word became flesh and blood,
and moved into the neighborhood.
We saw the glory with our own eyes,
the one-of-a-kind glory,
like Father, like Son,
Generous inside and out,
true from start to finish.” (John 1:14 MSG)

Jesus is the Word. He is the beginning and the end. It is this Word that is incarnated in the person of a human baby. He takes the form of a human being, just like us. Why? So that we can be rescued to be just like Him.

Human beings are separated from God by the sin of pride. It is our pride that leads us to conclude that we do not need God. That we can find our purpose and being in the world we live in by our own actions. This is simply not true.

Without God, there is no purpose or meaning for us. We are formed by God to walk with Him. Our purpose is to live in relationship with God and as long as we do not do so we will forever be disconnected and lost. When we walk alone we are simply not doing what we are supped to be doing. We are like a shoe that is being used as a doorstop. In some way the shoe is up to the task of keeping a door open, but this task is so much less that the purpose that the shoe was intended for.

In the midst of this beautiful, broken and suffering world, humanity is lost and alone. Struggling to create a place of meaning and significance, yet doomed to failure since our meaning and significance rests in God. We will only ever find eternal meaning and significance when we live the life we were created to live. When we walk with God.

God sends His son, Jesus, to be born, live, walk, suffer, die and rise in the same world that we live in. He literally moves in to the middle of the neighbourhood where we live, so that he can point us towards the Father. Jesus is in it with us.

That God would make and enact such a plan is the proof of His glory and the evidence of his commitment to the people that he created. Jesus directs us to the Father, evidence of His grace and the truth and that the only true purpose for human beings is found by being close to Him. We are adopted by God, as beloved children, as a result.

I simply love this concept. Jesus is in it with us! He has moved in to the same situation that we live in, for the profoundly simple reason that we need to be offered a way to come to God. We cannot do it for ourselves, so Jesus does it for us.

An idea and truth that is worth celebrating.

HAPPY CHRISTMAS!


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Burned out on Religion

In my work as a funeral celebrant, the phrase that I hear most regularly is, “we are not religious”. In fact, almost all of the funerals I officiate at are understood, at least by the families whom I serve, to be non-religious. Yet they request prayers, Bible readings, a brief message of hope in the grace of God, and a hymn with words that give honour and glory to God.

When families tell me that they are “not really very religious”, they do so with a sense of apologetic determination. As if they are saying, “we are not really very religious and we are not going to be persuaded otherwise”. As I dig a little deeper during our discussions, I find that people have often been put off of the church, by their experience as children or by a kind of assumed cynicism. They may not be ‘religious’ but they have a suspicion of faith in God.

 “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” Matthew 11:28-30 (The Message)

As I sit with them, I tell them the truth. I am not very religious either.

I believe that religion sucks the life out of faith in Jesus. To be religious is as helpful to faith as making formal rules for the conduct of love. As if a love affair can only be a ‘real’ love affair if one uses specific words, visits particular venues and involves only prescribed movements to acceptable pieces of music.

We all know that pretty much every love affair involves certain elements: words that declare love, dates where couples hold hands, sofas where they canoodle, physical touches that send shivers down the spine, all done to a soundtrack that, when one hears it years later, engenders sharp memories of a time of sweetly sharp love. Love affairs do not need to be formalized and controlled, they need to be given space and minimal boundaries.

Religion is rubbish! It is the codification of our relationship with God. Religion turns our relationship with God, that would otherwise be a love affair, into a stuffy meeting over afternoon tea. It takes all of the vibrant reality out of faith in Jesus, telling us that it is only the prescribed methods of spending time with Him that are unacceptable. Religion makes the love of God into something that it should not be… a contract.

Faith in God is supposed to be unfettered, unrestricted, and wonderfully real. We should not dread and avoid our encounters with Him. We should be excited to be early, so that we waste none of the time we spend in His company as possible. Our desire to be with God should be a reflection of the overflow of a forgiven soul. We are the recipients of His grace, welcomed into union with Him by His open arms, desperate to squeeze every moment out of our joyous time together.

Going to church, praying, singing, reading God’s word; none of these should be a bind or a chore. They should be a wonderful overflowing pleasure. And it is almost impossible to make them so, unless one has a very specific taste, through codification and formalization. My time with my beloved wife is not characterized by our prescribed words of devotion and strictly timed liaisons, but by our sheer pleasure in simple having opportunities to sit, laugh, talk, touch and love.

That is not to say that there are not boundaries in both love and faith. The boundaries of a love affair have to do with restricting the expression of passion so that it does not become destructive to ourselves and those who are witnesses to our love. The boundaries of faith expression are similar, having less to do with what we practice and more to do with what might be destructive.

I am not Religious. I am deeply, passionately, breathlessly, sincerely, seriously, amazingly, desperately in love with Jesus who, when I was lost in destructive sin and far away from my Father Creator, paid the price so that I could be reconciled and reunited with Him. I love Him. And I want to tell Him that I love Him. I want to be with Jesus, filled with the Holy Spirit and close to my Father. I don’t need prescribed words and movements to do that, although there are times when it is a little help, I need space and opportunity and desire. I WANT to spend time with God, so that is what I do. Freely and lightly, as an overflow of my very forgiven, renewed soul.


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Lord, help me stand

Lord, help me stand.

In the midst of every activity, let me stand.

In the teeth of the gale, let me stand.

Amongst the clamor of voices, let me stand.

When thoughts conflict, let me stand.

When all seems at ease, let me stand.

When I know nothing, let me stand.

When accusations fly, let me stand.

When suspicions are directed toward me, let me stand.

When the waters rise and seem set to engulf me, let me stand.

In the darkness and the cold, let me stand.

In the light and the heat, let me stand.

When I am noticed, let me stand.

When I am ignored, let me stand.

When I am included or pushed out, let me stand.

In the silence and the noise, let me stand.

On your promises and your word, let me stand.

Wherever I am, let me stand.

Let me stand.

Let me stand.

Whatever the world throws at me and if suffering comes.

Whenever and wherever I am.

Please Father, give me the conviction, faith, acceptance, grace, strength, power, peace and knowledge to stand.

And when all else fails… let me stand.

 


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Psalm 23 (rebooted)

(A Psalm of Nigel… taken from David)

I am the Lord’s sheep. He is my shepherd. He is there to guide me and I am there to be guided. Whilst I know that I shall lack nothing with Him as my shepherd, for some reason I still live in repetitive fear that I will go without something and be left alone. It is not true, but it still sneaks in to my head.

I feel His firm hand on me as he lays me down in the lush green grass, besides quiet waters. The only thing that disturbs the peace is my bleating, as I keep trying to find out what the grass is like over there and there and whether I should have such peace. My soul needs restoring, but I wonder if I ever stop long enough to let it happen.

My shepherd guides my path in righteousness, but I am constantly wandering off without thinking. But my shepherd keeps on guiding, because he is my shepherd. That’s what he does.

At those times when I walk through the shadowy valleys, that suggest and feel like death, I don’t need to fear evil. I find that as I walk in the dark, I can sense the presence of my shepherd staff… even when I find it almost impossible to see the shepherd. I really don’t need to fear evil in those dark places… but often I still do. Until I stop. Then I notice that my shepherd is, in fact, right next to me and feel immense comfort from the presence of his staff and the knowledge that He is with me.

My shepherd prepares a table for me. My enemies might think I deserve to eat off of the floor, but my Lord sits me in His banqueting hall at His table to eat His food. Everyone can see that He loves me, even those who hate me. My Lord anoints my head with oil to show that I am not only a sheep of His flock, but a son of His family. If I can but notice it, my cup overflows because He gives me more than enough of everything that I need.

Because I am His sheep and His son, good things and His love will be with me and upon me for every minute of my life. Nothing can happen to me that will separate me from Him and so everything is good, for the rest of my life.

I am His and so I will live in His presence for ever. Nothing will change that. I just pray that I perceive it.


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Caleb – Man of Action

40 years after the spies returned from their mission (Numbers 13), the people of Israel reentered the Promised Land. For 5 years, they battled the nations who lived there, until the land that God had promised them was theirs. Then Joshua gave the different tribes and clans their share of the land as their inheritance as God had directed.

By this time, Caleb was 85 years old, quite probably the oldest man in Israel, and still fighting with his sons in the front line of battle. His faith had led to a promise from God, that he would inherit the parts of the land that his feet had walked, and he had held on to that word from God for 45 years. This man of faith had remained faithful in his faith.

In Joshua 14:6-15:19, we see that Caleb’s faith comes to fruition. This 85-year-old man approaches Joshua, the leader of the people, who was the only other member of the tribes to have been an adult when they had spied out the land under Moses and a witness to God’s promise to Caleb, and asks for his inheritance.

‘Now then, just as the Lord promised, he has kept me alive for forty-five years since the time he said this to Moses, while Israel moved about in the wilderness. So here I am today, eighty-five years old! I am still as strong today as the day Moses sent me out; I’m just as vigorous to go out to battle now as I was then. Now give me this hill country that the Lord promised me that day. You yourself heard then that the Anakites were there and their cities were large and fortified, but, the Lord helping me, I will drive them out just as he said.’ (Josh. 14:10-12)

Such faith! Caleb reminds Joshua of the promise and testifies to the faithfulness that God has shown him. Caleb and Joshua are at least 28 years older than their nearest peers, yet Caleb is still as physically strong as he had been 45 years before. He is also just as strong in his faith as he had been 45 years before.

Caleb’s faith is not passive. He does not simply wait for things to happen, even though he has waited for 45 years. When the moment is right he stands up, steps forward and makes things happen.

When he talks to Joshua, Caleb…

  • Asserts the foundation of his faith – “The Lord promised, 45 years ago.”
  • Testifies to the truth of his faith – “Here I am, 45 years later, as the Lord promised I would be”
  • Seeks his inheritance by faith – “Now give me this hill country, that the Lord promised me that day… it is time”
  • States what will happen by faith – “The large people and cities cannot stand in the way of the Lord. With the Lord’s help I will drive them out”
  • Moves in faith – He went on from there to defeat his enemies and take the land that God had promised to him (Josh. 15:13-17)

Caleb was patient for 45 years, but when the moment came to act he did so with no hesitation and in total faith. His faith was a living, vital thing and his life and convictions were founded upon it. He waited for such a long time, but he did so actively by preparing himself and his family for the next stage. When they entered the Promised Land, he and his sons were not only ready to fight, but full of faith that God was on their side.

Caleb’s faith is an inspiration and I want a faith like Caleb’s.

It is a temptation, with matters of faith, to become passive.

  • Sometimes, we see what God says in faith and we fear that it might be too big for us to achieve. It can be tempting to withdraw or hide. Caleb understood that it was too big for him to achieve, and so trusted in God who was far bigger and more able.
  • At other times, we can become impatient with waiting for what God has promised to us and step forward too early. Caleb could have gone with the others, back into the promised land to try and take hold of it before God’s time (Number 14), but he trusted that when it was time God would tell him. He listened for the voice of God telling him to go.
  • We can become fed up with waiting and switch off, becoming overly familiar with what we have and coming to believe that it is all God has for us. Caleb never let go, even once, during his time in the wilderness. Even with his peers and friends’ deaths and the passing of the years, he showed awesome faithfulness to God’s word and patience with God’s timing.

Caleb teaches do much about faith. God’s word has its season and faith response to it. Faith should be in God’s word, in God’s time. Faith is never passive. Faith recognises the timing of God because it listens intently for the voice of God. Faith is eager to hear and even more eager to respond. Faith does not fear because in God there is nothing to fear.
Faith demands a response, but that response is not always the same for every situation. The key is to discern what God’s will is. Our faith response might be to wait, hold on, stand up, move, fight, or any number of other things. However, the key is to discern the will of God and move forward in faith.

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Matt. 7:7-8)


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Obviously Transformed

How is it that we can tell if a person is close to God?

In my recent times with the Bible reading about Moses, I have found myself drawn, time and again, to the passages where he and the people of Israel encounter God. It blows my mind to think that every day of their journey through the wilderness, these men and women were able to see and experience the presence of God.

“When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the covenant law in his hands, he was not aware that his face was radiant because he had spoken with the Lord. When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, his face was radiant, and they were afraid to come near him. But Moses called to them; so Aaron and all the leaders of the community came back to him, and he spoke to them. Afterwards all the Israelites came near him, and he gave them all the commands the Lord had given him on Mount Sinai.

When Moses finished speaking to them, he put a veil over his face. But whenever he entered the Lord’s presence to speak with him, he removed the veil until he came out. And when he came out and told the Israelites what he had been commanded, they saw that his face was radiant. Then Moses would put the veil back over his face until he went in to speak with the Lord.” (Exodus 34:29-35)

In this passage, we see Moses returning from the presence of God with the second set of stone tablets with the words of the law. There are a few remarkable things that I would like to point out.

  • Moses’ face was radiant. This is not to say that he had a particularly effective skincare regime. Moses’ actual face shone with the actual radiance of God’s glory and presence. He was reflecting God’s presence in such a way that it showed.
  • People noticed. The leaders and the people were frightened to come near to Moses, because of the radiance of his face. They recognise in him something overwhelming of the holiness and presence of God. The reality of the glory of God that showed in Moses’ face struck fear into them.
  • The radiance in Moses’ face was the evidence that he had been speaking to God. This was a physical and obvious manifestation of God’s reality. Moses did not need to tell the people where he had been… it was clear and obvious. God’s glory was shining from Moses face. His words had authority because Moses was displaying God.
  • Moses had to cover his face so that the people could function. The veil was not for the benefit of Moses, but for the people. Those who were far from the presence of God were simply unable to cope with the proof and evidence of God’s presence. Had Moses not have covered his face, he never would have got anything done.
  • Moses uncovered his face to prove his words. Moses was shining with the presence of God whether people wanted to see it or not. It is the presence of God that is important, not what people want to see. But when Moses wanted to tell the people about God’s will he ensured that the proof of the effect of God’s presence was plain for all to see.

As I think and pray, it seems to me that it is VITAL that the people who speak to us about the word of God need to display the presence of God. If I am to speak God’s Word, I must display God’s presence.

I have come to the conclusion that it is impossible to come into the presence of God and not be changed by it. Therefore, the evidence of time spent in the presence of God should be clear in the lives of the people of God. If we do not display the glory of God’s presence then we are not going into His presence. We need to get into God’s presence.

This has some uncomfortable implications for Christians and their leaders. Does our time in the presence of God show in us?

Two things seem clear to me…

  1. As a Christian, I need to get into the presence of God.
  2. I need to be willing to let God confront me and change me

Huge implications for the way in which we approach prayer, scripture, fellowship and worship.