We Must Decrease

I had a medical check-up a few days ago. I have one every three months where we review how I am doing physically and chat with both a registered nurse and then my doctor about my life-style, exercise routine, eating habits, and if there are any issues that we, as a team, need to deal with. It is a thorough review of my physical health and my lifestyle. And, as I recently celebrated my 72nd birthday it is good to stay in touch with how I am doing, making adjustments as I age. It was interesting to note that over the past few years I have shrunk almost three inches in height.

The evening of the most most recent health review I was reading the Gospel according to John (my favourite) in a new version (The Passion Translation) and came across John the Baptist’s comment: “So it is necessary for Him to increase, and for me to be diminished.” (John 3:30). I took note of the verse in light of the fact that I had just come to realize that I was “diminishing” and was a few inches shorter than in my earlier days.

That led me to study the verse a little more during my time with Him that night. Of course, I recognized that my becoming slowly physically shorter was not what this verse was referring to. It was simply the way the Holy Spirit got my attention so I would look a little deeper into John the Baptist’s comment and its context.

The first thing I found was that a more literal translation of the verse would be: “He is destined to become greater, and I must be pruned.” This, of course, let me to look into the whole process of pruning… it has been years since I first studied it (40+ years to be honest).

When you prune a tree or a vine you are literally cutting off parts of the plant that are still bearing fruit. However, you cut them back so that the plant can produce more fruit of a higher quality. You obviously remove the dead branches on a regular basis so new shoots can come up in their place. But, pruning is looking at the overall plant, tree, or vine and removing some of the lesser producing branches so that the remaining branches can produce more and richer fruit. 

John 15:2 “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.”

The Passion Translation: “He (The Father) cares for the branches connected to me (Jesus) by lifting and propping up the fruitless branches and pruning every fruitful branch to yield a greater harvest.

From the Wiersbe Study Bible …Of itself, a branch is weak and useless. It is good for either bearing or burning, but not for building (see Ezekiel 15). The branch cannot produce its own life; it must draw that life from the vine. It is our communion with Christ through the Spirit that makes possible the bearing of the fruit. The sooner we as believers discover that we are but branches, the better we will relate to the Lord, for we will know our own weakness and confess our need for His strength.

Our heavenly Father is never nearer to us then when He is pruning us. Sometimes He cuts away the dead wood that might cause trouble, but often He cuts off the living tissue that is robbing us of spiritual vigour. Pruning does not simply mean spiritual surgery that removes what is bad. It can also mean cutting away the good and the better so that we might enjoy the best. Yes, pruning hurts, but it also helps. We may not enjoy it, but we need it. (Emphasis mine)

Of course we all agree that we must decrease so that He can increase. He is to receive all the praise, thanks, and glory for all that is accomplished in and through us because it is all about Him and not about us. But, we are a little less excited about the prospects of being pruned … shaped in such a way that we can bear more and better fruit for Him. The end result is great but the process of pruning can be painful, difficult, and even disturbing and unsettling at times. 

In my life currently I am very aware that He is removing a number of activities, ways of doing things, things that I do and do well, and even some relationships … things and people that are robbing me of spiritual vigour. These are, as the study Bible notes state, not necessarily bad things. Often Jesus is removing good things and things that touch lives and benefit others. He does this so that we might be changed and thus “enjoy the best.” He prunes so that we can bear better fruit and more fruit. John 15 mentions this when it refers to “fruit,” “more fruit,” and “eternal fruit.”

So, like me, maybe you are undergoing some changes and feeling a little disoriented and even frustrated. Maybe you are experiencing a hunger for something new and different. It could be that you like what you are doing as you live for Him and can do it well but you are bored with it all. These are all good feelings as they are indicating a “grace shift” as God takes away things and ways that are not bearing as much fruit as before, and prunes so that you can bear new fruit, more fruit, eternal fruit. 

So, welcome the season and embrace what the Holy Spirit is doing. It is resurrection life flowing through you – you are the branch and He is the vine – that bears the fruit. So, let Him remove and change things so that His life can flow more freely and bear more and better fruit in and through your life. 

Transformation Not Information

So many believers come to Church every week and take notes as the leader or pastor teaches God’s Word. The preacher starts to share and people take out their pens and their journals and take notes. This warms the heart of the preacher because it is easier to teach when people are hungry and receptive. 

However, we need to consider the reason for listening to someone teach the Word of God. It seems to me that many people are simply collecting information and becoming well informed regarding what the Bible says. They know the Bible stories, they understand the teachings of Jesus, they are aware of the basic tenets of the Paul’s letters to the early churches that he planted. But, is that really enough?

I believe that the Bible is meant to help change us from the inside outward. I believe that the Bible and God’s Words contained in it are meant for more than information, they are meant to bring about transformation. But, for change to happen people need to take action. Believers need to apply the Word they are hearing to their daily lives – their actions, their attitude, their words. Taking notes is good but it is really just the start. True and lasting changes in one’s life begin on the inside as we hear and heed God’s Word and begin to apply it to our lives every day.

For real change to happen, we must go from knowing to doing. It is at this point that transformation begins. Transformation is always difficult, yet the results are so beautiful. Difficult because we don’t like to change. And, because it takes courage, consistency, and determination. But, when we apply God’s Word and begin to change then we are not only faithful we become fruitful. 

It is difficult because saying is always easier than doing. As the old saying goes, “talk is cheap.” Action and change costs. Action brings transformation and thus, although difficult at times, it is really necessary and in the end very beautiful.

Everything worthwhile in life is uphill – all the way. Transformation requires us to walk uphill. Every day. All the way. Most people are unwilling to commit to that. Instead of climbing, they would rather be…

  • Talking – “Let’s discuss uphill climbing”
  • Thinking – “Let’s contemplate uphill climbing”
  • Planning – “Let’s strategize about uphill climbing”
  • Surveying – “Let’s ask others what they think about uphill climbing”
  • Studying – “Let’s examine what uphill climbing looks like”
  • Resting – “Let’s conserve energy before we start climbing”

Transformation is a result of serious application, not information and more education. That’s why Gandhi said, “An ounce of practice is worth more than tons of preaching.”

Christians are called to live transformational lives. That takes courage. The courage to let go of the familiar and set off on a better way. The courage and determination to start. Today would be a good day to do just that.

Living On The Other Side Of ‘Yes’

When I was born again over 40 years ago I had a deep and open conversation with God within a few days and said something I deeply felt and sincerely meant. I told Him that no matter what He asked me to do or where He wanted me to go that answer would be “yes.” In fact, I said that the answer would always be “yes” before I even knew what the question was or what it was He was about to ask me to do for Him. 

I believe this has been the key reason that the Lord has used me to do some many things in so many places. He knows that no matter what He asks of me, the answer is “yes” even before I hear the question.

So, I was reading in my favourite corner of the best coffee shop in my city – with a large cup of terrific coffee – and I read about another man – a pastor, author, and leader – who said, “I live on the other said of yes.” He had my attention. He went on to say, “That’s where I find abundance and opportunity. It’s where I become a better and bigger self. The opportunities of a lifetime must be seized within the lifetime of the opportunity. So I try to say ‘yes’ whenever I can.” I could not agree more. 

Living on the other side of ‘yes’ allows us to be instantly obedient to the voice of the Lord and to seize opportunities as soon as they come along. After all, opportunities have a shelf life. If you are not ready to grab the opportunity when it comes then it is too late. By the time you become ready the opportunity is most often long gone. Being ready – spiritually, mentally, and emotionally – is living on this side of ‘yes.’

Lori Greiner wrote:

Dear Optimist, Pessimist, and Realist – 

While you guys were busy arguing about the glass of [water], I drank it!

Sincerely,

The Opportunist

We, as believers, need to be prepared and ready to go, living on this side of ‘yes.’ It is inevitable that the Lord will ask you to talk to someone about Him and the way He has changed your life. After all, He said, “Go… and make disciples.” It goes without question that you will be travelling to other parts of your nation and even into other nations. After all, the Lord said, “Go into all the world…” So, living on the other side of yes meaning having already decided to say ‘yes’ and then preparing yourself in various ways to “go into all the world and make disciples.”

I learned that I needed to be prepared to say ‘yes’ in a neat way. I was reading Matthew’s gospel and was in Chapter twenty-eight. That morning I heard the still quiet voice of the Lord say that I did not believe what I was reading. Of course, I disagreed with Him assuring Him in a very strong manner that I did believe His Word. After a brief back-and-forth I gave up and asked Him what it was He thought I did not believe. He said that I did not believe the part about going into all the world. I again strongly disagreed. But, the disagreement ended when He commented that I did not have a passport and so could not go into all the world when (not if) asked to. 

So, I took a step of faith and applied for and obtained a passport. It was a step of faith because I was not known other than in my small regional area where I was working planting churches. An area where I did not need a passport. Within two weeks of the receipt of the passport I was on my way to my first international speaking opportunity.The door to go opened within 24 hours of my receiving the passport in the mail. So, it is more than saying ‘yes.’ It is more than living on the other side of yes. It is being prepared in numerous ways to be able to act on the ‘yes’ when you have the opportunity to say it. 

Is there something you have not done; something that is not in correct order in your life; some Biblical imperative that you have not obeyed… that would prevent you from acting on your yes’ when you said it? Then you know what you need to do and today would be a good day to do it. The Lord is looking for those who are ready and willing to do whatever it might be that He asks them to do for Him. 

Hungry to Learn

When someone asks me to disciple them or mentor them (and there is a difference) I ask questions and observe their lifestyle before answering. I want to know if they are “hungry to learn.” If they are not hungry to learn then they are not serious about being discipled or mentored. Someone once wrote, “Strong, deeply rooted desire is the seating point of all achievement.” I would add, ‘and all change and growth.’

Much of what people accomplish in their lives is based more on how much they want it than on how easy it was to get. Hope says, “There must be a way,” while hunger says, “I will make a way.” People with hope are many; people with true hunger are few. I want to disciple and/or mentor the few and so not waste my time on the many.

If you have to talk the person into being helped or convince him or her to follow through on your advice, that may not be someone you should be investing in. They are not hungry to grow, change, and learn. Your time on the earth is limited and there are three things you can do with your time – waste it, spend it, or invest it. I choose to do the latter and thus look for people who are hungry to learn and willing to apply what they are learning to their life skas to change and grow. 

So, I look to see if they value personal growth and development. Do they demonstrate a lifestyle of learning? Are they reading (or listening to) books on a regular basis. When we meet for coffee are they asking questions that enable them to draw information and knowledge out of me in the areas where I am knowledgable and work on a regular basis? Are they attentive to the conversation and leaning into it to learn al that they can? Are they asking questions that arise out of what they are reading or from previous conversations you have recently had?

More than hungry for new information and deeper understanding of practical matters – are they wanting to change personally? In other words, are they applying the wisdom and understanding that they are gaining from you as the mentor or disciple maker and making obvious changes in their lifestyle and their approach to life? 

If you meet with them on a regular basis and they are continually talking about the same issues – medical, relational, work related, feelings, thoughts – then they are not hungry to learn. If the coffee conversations are not moving forward and progress in these “life” areas is not visible and evident there is no real hunger to learn. Talk, yes! Coffee with you, yes! But learn and grow, no. 

If you are giving advice and sharing the wisdom and knowledge that you have gained through life experiences and study and they are not actively applying what you share and thus are changing, then that person is not hungry to learn, grow, and change. You are not making a good use of your limited available time. 

A special thing to note: If they are coming to “tell you” what they are doing, what God has spoken to them recently, their plans, their ministry … and are not “asking questions” then you have a time of social fellowship and not mentoring. They may be looking for your approval but they are certainly not hungry to grow and change. If they come with questions arising out of previous meetings, a recent life experience, or what they are reading then this is an indication that they are truly hungry to learn and worthy of your time and effort – your investment in their life. 

All believers should be ‘hungry to learn.’ But, those who come to you asking for you to invest your time and expertise in them must demonstrate that they truly are hungry to learn. 

People Are Watching – A Parable

A defence attorney was arguing a case for his client, who was charged with murder. Despite the fact that the victim’s body was never discovered, the circumstantial evidence was overwhelming, and everyone in the courtroom, including the jurors, knew that the defendant was guilty. The clever lawyer decided to go for broke. As he addressed the jury in his closing argument, he pointed toward the courtroom doors and said, “Ladies and gentlemen, in exactly 60 seconds, the so-called corpse, the man you believe is dead, is going to come walking into this courtroom – right through those very doors. We can begin counting.”

Immediately, the eyes of all the jurors went to the door.

The time ticked by: 1 second, 2 seconds, 3 seconds, 10 seconds, 20 seconds, 45 seconds, 55 seconds, 56, 57, 58, 59 seconds – finally, one minute. And at exactly the one-minute mark, wouldn’t you know it, but who should come striding in through those doors?

Absolutely no one. Certainly not the victim.

The lawyer now faced the jury once again and spoke in a conciliatory, reasoning, almost patronizing tone: “Now, ladies and gentlemen, I must apologize. I told you something that clearly did not come true. However, you will have to admit that the mere fact that each and every one of you looked towards those doors as you did, showed me and showed you snd showed everyone in this courtroom that you had some doubt. And, as the judge will instruct you, if there is any doubt in your minds, any doubt at all, you must – you must – return a verdict of not guilty and set my client free.”

The jury went into the jury room to deliberate and came back out five minutes later to render the verdict. The foreman stood up, faced the defendant, and when asked by the judge what their verdict was, said that they declared the defendant – GUILTY!

The defence attorney was enraged. “How could you?!” He stammered. “I saw you all watching those doors.”

The foreman glanced at the defence attorney and replied, “Yes, sir, you did. But we were also watching you and your client – and you did not watch the door; your client did not watch the door. And that’s because neither of you believed for even a moment that anyone was actually going to be walking in through there.”

The moral of the story?

Don’t expect anyone to believe in something you don’t believe in yourself.

The Christian takeaway … if you are not living out what you believe for all to see then they will not believe your words when you share the Gospel of the Kingdom

The underlying though: You only believe what you apply and what others can see in your lifestyle. 

“Abba Father” Not ‘Daddy God’

Believers today are frequently referring to God as “Papa” and “daddy” or “daddy God.” Every time I hear someone do that or read something they wrote on Facebook or in a blog that includes a reference to “daddy God” my spirit cringes. There is just something wrong with this “familiar” reference to God, our Heavenly Father.

Yes, I know that Jesus refers to His Heavenly Father as “Abba.” We see this in Mark 14:36 “And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”

And, I understand that if we translate this Aramaic word it is essentially equivalent to the English word “Daddy.” But, in the context of Jesus’ Words there is a respect and reverence for His Heavenly Father in the situation that is simply not conveyed by the English word ‘daddy’ and its regular use today. A literal translation of a word does not always correctly represent the full meaning and intention in a different time and a different culture.

We see the same reference to “Abba” in Paul’s writings

Romans 8:15 “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”

Here Paul has chosen the word “Abba” which is an informal Aramaic term for Father that conveys a sense of intimacy. But, does the English terms “Daddy” or “Papa” convey the same sense of intimacy today? In this verse the context of the word ‘Abba’ conveys the sense of tenderness, dependence, and a relationship free of fear or anxiety.

Galatians 4:6 “And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’”

Here it is a term of endearment, used by young children to speak to their earthly fathers. The word ‘Abba’ in Hebrew society contained a deep sense of respect and a recognition of family authority that the word “daddy” no longer conveys today. We live in a different time and a different culture than the one represented in the pages of the New Testament.

So, the word ‘Abba’ is a term that doesn’t actually mean “Daddy,” the way a lot of people will tell you and the way it is used today by many. You simply can’t take a Bible word out of its cultural and societal context and translate it into a current word and still manage to translate the full meaning behind the word in its original context.

Bible words are found in a social context. And, they were used in a cultural context. In the case of “Abba,” Jewish people living in that historical time and place would never have dreamed of using such a casual English term like ‘daddy’ as a means of parental address. This would be the case in both the relationship with their natural father as well as their Heavenly Father. It would have been the height of disrespect. ‘Abba’ represented so much more than the word ‘daddy’ does today.

Our term “daddy” in our cultural context lacks the sense of respect and reverence that a person in Biblical days using the word “Abba” would be sensing and feeling. Our English word ‘daddy’ is too informal and does not represent the biblical understanding of ‘Abba’ properly.

Biblically, while ‘Abba’ does connote a level of family intimacy, it sends up more of the idea that “my dad can beat up your dad,” and that our Heavenly Father is not caught off guard or pushed around by anything that seems too big or oversized for us, no matter what it is we are facing in life. Again, ‘Abba’ is a term representing His power, His position, His ability, His authority, and our respect for His constant and wonderful care. And in our culture today, generally the word ‘daddy’ does not bring to mind the respect, reverence and authority that the original word ‘Abba’ did for the early believers. “Daddy’ is simply too familiar and somewhat disrespectful when referring to our Heavenly Father.

So, my point, is that ‘Abba’ is a term that does not actually mean “Daddy,” the way a lot of people will tell you. “Daddy” is simply too casual a word to use in the context of referring to “Abba” as understood biblically. Word for word replacement – Aramaic to English – simply does not do justice to the meaning and context of the original word.

So, as you may have figured out by now, you will not hear me refer to my Heavenly Father as “Daddy.” With deep respect and awe I call Him “Abba Father.”

People Are Watching

A defence attorney was arguing a case for his client, who was charged with murder. Despite the fact that the victim’s body was never discovered, the circumstantial evidence was overwhelming, and everyone in the courtroom, including the jurors, knew that the defendant was guilty. The clever lawyer decided to go for broke. As he addressed the jury in his closing argument, he pointed toward the courtroom doors and said, “Ladies and gentlemen, in exactly 60 seconds, the so-called corpse, the man you believe is dead, is going to come walking into this courtroom – right through those very doors. We can begin counting.”

Immediately, the eyes of all the jurors went to the door.

The time ticked by: 1 second, 2 seconds, 3 seconds, 10 seconds, 20 seconds, 45 seconds, 55 seconds, 56, 57, 58, 59 seconds – finally, one minute. And at exactly the one-minute mark, wouldn’t you know it, but who should come striding in through those doors?

Absolutely no one. Certainly not the victim.

The lawyer now faced the jury once again and spoke in a conciliatory, reasoning, almost patronizing tone: “Now, ladies and gentlemen, I must apologize. I told you something that clearly did not come true. However, you will have to admit that the mere fact that each and every one of you looked towards those doors as you did, showed me and showed you snd showed everyone in this courtroom that you had some doubt. And, as the judge will instruct you, if there is any doubt in your minds, any doubt at all, you must – you must – return a verdict of not guilty and set my client free.”

The jury went into the jury room to deliberate and came back out five minutes later to render the verdict. The foreman stood up, faced the defendant, and when asked by the judge what their verdict was, said that they declared the defendant – GUILTY!

The defence attorney was enraged. “How could you?!” He stammered. “I saw you all watching those doors.”

The foreman glanced at the defence attorney and replied, “Yes, sir, you did. But we were also watching you and your client – and you did not watch the door; your client did not watch the door. And that’s because neither of you believed for even a moment that anyone was actually going to be walking in through there.”

The moral of the story?

Don’t expect anyone to believe in something you don’t believe in yourself.

The Christian takeaway: If you are not living out what you believe for all to see then they will not believe your words when you share the Gospel of the Kingdom

The underlying though: You only believe what you apply and what others can see in your lifestyle.

Revelations Not Resolutions

We are approaching the start of a new year….

It seems to me that time is moving more quickly than it ever has before

Or, that I am simply moving a little slower than I use to

Maybe it is that time sure does fly when you are having fun…

But then life is not always a lot of fun

As believers, when we look at the start of a new year we should have inside of us a renewed sense of hope Read more

On-Line Stupidity – Part Two

We are looking at on-line stupidity or the art of being an on-line jerk. So far we have seen:

1> Move from arguing the substance of a disagreement to attacking the person with whom you disagree.

2> Assume what other people think and believe rather than asking them directly.3> Write things to or about your fellow believers in Christ that you would never have the gall to say to their faces.

4> Don’t read a blog post or an article or comment carefully.

5> Write something online when you are angry or your feelings have just been hurt.

Let’s go on from there…

6> Presume to know what another person is thinking and assume you know the motives behind their words and actions.

Put yourself in the seat that only God Almighty occupies and impugn their intentions. Judging a person’s motives comes across in what is said. For example: “You said that because…” Another one would be: “You are trying to manipulate me when you said that.” Or another example: You are trying to control me…”

You are judging the motives and thus the heart of another person.

7> Engage in “drive-by” character assassination by posting a comment on other people’s blogs that smears the reputation of another child of God.

Don’t post your real name and your real email address when you leave the flaming comment. And hope that the blogger is sloppy enough to not notice the comment so they don’t delete it immediately. 

Interesting point: Every comment on a blog has an identifiable IP address. So, it is not that difficult to identify the person.

8> If someone gives you a response, ignore their response and repeat your points over again.

Have the attitude, “Don’t confuse me with the facts,” and disregard what they say. Just keep pushing the same points over and over again, hoping that they will eventually agree with you.

This also holds true in any recent face-to-face argument you have had.

9> With forethought and deliberation, completely misrepresent what another person has said or written, then play the victim.

For instance, accuse someone of attacking others when they have attacked no one. Accuse them of holding to beliefs and ideas that they don’t hold to. Play on the fact that some Christians will believe whatever you write instead of going to the source to verify if what you are saying is accurate or not. While this is the height of fleshly activity, it is fitting for the one who is perfecting the art of being an online jerk.

10> Forget what your Lord taught you.

Defy your spiritual instincts and grieve the Holy Spirit of God by treating other people (especially those you don’t like) in a way that you would never want to be treated yourself. Post things online to and about others that you would never want posted to and about you or your loved ones. In other words, claim you believe Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:12, but disobey them without wincing.

Matthew 7:12a “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them…

Just a closing thought: The world is carefully watching how we Christians treat one another online. Keep this in mind the next time you sit in front of a computer and type something. 

On-Line Stupidity – Part One

I do a lot of on-line work. I write teachings that are posted as full-text and downloadable documents as well as audio recordings. I write, on average, five blogs a week that are available to everyone and can be subscribed to by email. I write articles for the web and for my ministry’s web page. I read a lot that is on-line and even subscribe to podcasts and other Christian and non-Christian blogs. 

As a result I see a lot of downright stupid things. Things that are written that are simply from another planet or even another solar system. I read and watch comments that Christians make about other Christians and Christian leaders. It is always open season on Christian leaders or, for that matter, anyone who is doing something for the Kingdom. Every worker has their critics. 

But, the most amazing thing is how quickly a person can come across as a total jerk. That is not a negative word or a cuss word but is a descriptive one. Jerk: Slang – “a contemptibly naive, fatuous, foolish, or inconsequential person.”

Here are some sure-fire ways to be perfect the art of being a jerk online:

1> Move from arguing the substance of a disagreement to attacking the person with whom you disagree.

I learned something the other day. This is called an ‘ad hominem’ argument. This is where you attack the messenger when you disagree with their message. People often do this when they know they can’t win the argument (if there was even one to win).

2> Assume what other people think and believe rather than asking them directly.

And state your assumption about what they think and believe, as though it were gospel fact, to others. And you do this without asking the person whose name you are dropping directly about what he or she believes or thinks. I am always stunned when Christians do this. Talking with others about a person’s writing or comment (and naming them publicly) without first checking with the person to see if what you think is actually their stand on the issue. 

3> Write things to or about your fellow believers in Christ that you would never have the gall to say to their faces.

This is simply playing the part of a gutless wonder and a spineless coward.

4> Don’t read a blog post or an article or comment carefully.

Instead read “into it,” jump to conclusions, then go off or go snarky on the blogger or commenter. To be more specific, never ask clarifying questions about something you just read (such as, “Maybe I’m not understanding you correctly, but are you saying xyz?” Or …. “If what you are saying is true, what is your response to abc?”) Nope! Just lay into the person after you have ‘read into’ their post or comment. Ask no questions in a gracious manner, only make statements and accusations.

5> Write something online when you are angry or your feelings have just been hurt.

Give no time to bring it to the Lord. Stone that angel who is telling you to wait because you are not in the Spirit. Instead, let your emotions control your reaction and then write them out for the whole word to see or read. 

More tomorrow…