Where does the vine end and the branch begin?

In my time with our student leaders last night, we were looking at John 15:1-8 and talking about how easy it is to busy for God but not intimate with Him.  I was challenging them to not be missional for missional sake…but be missional because it’s the overflow of their “abiding in Christ”.  As we discussed this one of our leaders asked about the branches that are being cut off.  “Are those branches whole people that are not bearing fruit and God cuts them out completely…or are those branches just parts of individuals that are not healthy and are being cut off?”  To answer that I think we have to put ourselves in the shoes of the Gardener.

Look at this picture to the right.  Can you tell me which part is the vine and which parts are the branches? No.  Now with that in mind, be reminded that scripture says in…

  • Romans 12:4-5 “Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.”
  • 2 Corinthians 5:17 “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!”
  • Galatians 3:28 “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
  • Ephesians 1:13 “And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit,”
  • Ephesians 3:6 “This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.

Just like a gardener does not separate the branches in his mind from the vine, The Father does not separate us from the Son.  We are in Christ! It’s impossible to determine where the vine ends and the branches begin.  The vine is the whole constitution of the roots, trunk, branches and fruit!  The interesting thing about John 15:1-8 is that regardless of if a branch gets cut off or pruned…it still gets cut!

Are you bearing fruit?  Are you showing evidence of the grace of God in your life? Is the growth of the Fruit of The Spirit in your life changing your interpersonal relationships, your personal integrity or your perseverance in the faith?  If so, then continue to abide in Christ and look forward to being pruned by The Father.

Lessons From Daddyhood: Be Like Jesus, But Don’t Take His Job!

I talked before about how over grown our backyard was when we moved in, but I’ve never told you about our fig tree.  I’m assuming it was planted, but it may have grown on it’s own.  Either way, it’s in a horrible place.  Fig tees grow incredible wide and have branches that grow out in every direction and take strange turns as well.  They just look like a mangled mess!  This one is in a corner of out yard where it has no room to grow and either needed to be moved or cut down and since I don’t have the time to move it, we decided to cut it down.  But it does not matter how hard I try to kill that thing…it won’t die!  It keeps growing back and it currently is the size of a small bush.

So, now that you know the back story with this tree, let me tell you what I learned from watching Davis.  We were playing in the back yard the other day and while he was occupied with his toys, I took the chance to work on cutting back the fig “bush”.  I knew that Davis was watching me, so I should have been surprised by what he did next.  He got up an took a stick and stared hitting all the other bushes in the backyard.  He was trying to mimic me and when I told him that we do not hit bushes because that hurts them, he immediately pointed to the bush I was “hurting”.  I realized there was no way he was going to understand the difference.  I was able comprehend that some bushes needed trimming or in this case, destroying…but Davis can’t understand that right now.  I began to ask the Lord to give me wisdom to re-direct and teach him to just obey me even if he does not understand.  It was then that God reminded me of John 15:1-8.  
I love this passage, but God was wanting me to see that while it’s easy to get excited about Him bringing health to His Body, it’s His job to prune…not mine.  Ministers these days can get really excited about cutting things that seem to get in the way of people getting back to the basics.  We have lots of justification for it.  But are cutting because we are trying to the pruning or are we cutting out of obedience to The Gardner?  I heard the Lord tell me that I need to make sure I don’t run out ahead of Him and just copy what I see Him doing.  I need to stay beside Him and do only what He tells me to do.  
I hope you will take a moment and think through this in your own life.  Is there any area that you are trying to do God’s job for Him?  Is God wanting you to settle down and just obey?

Lesson From Daddyhood: He Is More Able Than I Am

Yesterday evening Davis and I were playing hard and I had him laughing out loud pretty good.  We have a great time together and the last 21 months have been amazing!  But, yesterday I realized that Davis is the only one of my children (#2 is on the way!) that I will have that kind of time with.  I fully plan on playing and spending time with the next child, but she won’t ever have two years of her life dedicated to just time with me and Megan.  She will always have to share us.  Davis has never had to do that and I found myself a little sad that my daughter will miss out on that.

There will be lots of daddy-daughter dates, but she may never experience what Davis has the last two years.  In the midst of the realization I was not only humbled by my inability to give everything I want, I was reminded how much more able the Lord is than I am.  He’s not just able to provide more than I can…He can have undivided time with each of His children.

I don’t share Him with you.  You don’t share Him with me.  While we may share in Him…when we are with the Father, He is fully engaged with us all…individually…completely un-distracted.  That is how able our Father is.  While providing for my family can feel like a battle, it’s basic to Him.  No…He goes even further than basic provision.  He gives time in a way that I had never even comprehended until last night.  Don’t take that time He offers for granted.  It was expensive.

Thoughts On Theological Distinctives

I normally don’t publicize whether or not I land in the Reformed Theology camp, but I’ve been reviewing that decision.  The reason I don’t is because I’m not called to point college students to Reformed Theology, Armenian Theology or some weird mix of the two that comes out of indecision.  I’m called to point them to Christ crucified, teach them how to discover God’s voice in their life, teach them to obey it and join God in His mission in this world. I’ve seen too many college students get caught up in the theological distinctiveness of the people they admire more than being caught up in the person of Christ.

Now, please don’t stop reading and walk away saying, “Ben does not care about doctrine!”  It’s the exact opposite of that.  Examining doctrine and it’s implications is a vital part of my personal discipleship times with students.  And it’s for this reason that I have been rethinking how I have not broadcasted where I land on many of the highly debated pieces of doctrine.  But I stumbled upon this article today by Ray Ortland.  He’s one of several Reformed guys I read from…and there are several non-reformed guys I read from.  Here’s an excerpt from his blog that highlights well why I am careful at broadcasting where I land on anything but Christ, and Christ crucified.

“The Judaizers in Galatia did not see their distinctive – the rite of circumcision – as problematic.  They could claim biblical authority for it in Genesis 17 and the Abrahamic covenant.  But their distinctive functioned as an addition to the all-sufficiency of Jesus himself.  Today the flash point is not circumcision.   It can be Reformed theology.  But no matter how well argued our position is biblically, if it functions in our hearts as an addition to Jesus, it ends up as a form of legalistic divisiveness.”

I think that there are many theological distinctives that can drive us away from Christ alone as our only hope of glory.  Reformed Theology is not the only one.  So…for now I’m leaning toward staying silent a little longer.  What do you think?  Am I crazy?

What LOST teaches us about post-modernism.

I’m going to go down on record that LOST is the best show to ever be on TV in my lifetime…so far.  We will have to see if the rumored live-action Star Wars television series Mr. Lucas is cooking up will out do it.  But for now…LOST get’s the prize.  The story tellers of LOST understand how to draw you into a great mystery and as this final season is drawing to a close the mystery they are unfolding is a great object lesson into how our culture views spirituality. Here’s a great quote from one of the writers at Entertainment Weekly’s blog.

“Lost seems to be saying that something like God actually exists — but anyone who claims to know who or what God is…is probably wrong, if not biased and untrustworthy, if not totally off their rocker.”

I think this quote sums up our culture’s view on spirituality better than any I’ve heard recently.  The large majority of our population accepts an existence of the spiritual world and unseen powers that can’t be explained, but their post-modern based education can’t allow them to accept that God has a distinct personality that is knowable.

But the Christian hope and joy is that this great mystery, The Gospel, has been made known!  God is not only knowable, but also describable.  Now, the limits and extent of God’s attributes cannot be fully understood because the finite can never fully understand the infinite.  But even though I may not know the heights of His greatness, I can know that He is great! God is knowable and we need to not be afraid to accept what God is and what God is not. In the end, I  guess I’m asking us all to take God up on His promise in Jeremiah 29:13-14…

“…’You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,’ declares the LORD, “