3 Benefits of Pruning: John 15:2

I read John chapter fifteen this morning. It is a wonderful chapter, filled with glorious truths, personal warnings, and sweet love. It is part of the last exhortations of Jesus to the disciples, and it is packed with exquisite truth for life.

In verse two Jesus says, “Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit.” (KJV)

The first half of the verse deserved it’s own treatment. It was the second half of the verse that stood out to me. In our society, we are obsessed with comfort and ease (aren’t we all?). We seek for projects to be as easy as possible. We want our food to be readily available. We need our packages shipped the next day. It is every where. We want “1 click buy options,” and a card that we can simply move over the card reader.

We could go on with this, but I think we can all agree that it is true. We are creatures who are protective of our comforts. Now, comfort is not wrong in and of itself. It is wrong when we place it above what is necessary or better.

This is where John 15:2b comes into play. When we bear fruit for Jesus, Jesus promises that the Father will purge the branch to produce more fruit. The word translate purge (or prune, as in the ESV), comes from καθαιρω. Interestingly, this is the only instance in the New Testament of this word. Its basic meaning is to cleanse or prune. Surprise, right? But what does this look like?

Jesus is illustrating the biblical truth of sanctification with the cultivation of grapes. Gardeners know that in order to help plants grow better (or produce more fruit/vegetables), they must trim and keep healthy. Sanctification is God’s process of growth to be more like Jesus Christ (see 2 Corinthians 3:18). It is God’s pruning of our lives, if you will.

Why does this matter? Because it means that there may be things in our lives, good things, that God removes in order to help me be more like Jesus. I think there are three helpful points to note.

1. God may cause us pain in order to make us more like Jesus.

This is huge. Understanding that painful and terrible experiences in our lives are allowed and produced by God for our good and His glory redeems our sufferings. We all have had Romans 8:28 quoted to us, but it is a depthless verse. All things work together for our good and God’s glory. All suffering prunes us to bear more fruit. All experiences, no matter how impossible for us to understand, helps us bear more fruit.

2. God may bring people into our lives that help us to be more like Jesus.

We all have that one person that knows how to push every button that irritates us. There is that guy at work, or that lady on Instagram, and it seems every thing they say and do is like an arrow shot from a crossbow two inches from your chest into your heart. Could it be that God has allowed him or her into your life to prune you and me? The Scriptures are packed with references to how we treat other people. Even in John 15 Jesus says that we should love one another (verse 12). Rather than complain about the individual, rejoice in God’s sovereign goodness in allowing that tool of pruning to enter your life. Rather than seeking to minimize or eliminating the relationship, why not embrace it and through the power of God (see John 15:4) produce more fruit.

3. God may allow irritating events in your life to make you more like Jesus.

One thing about blogs that I do not like it that you do not really know the blogger. We usually have a romanticized view of those we read. One thing that you may not know about me is that I get irritated over little things. Now, I do not mean that when one little thing happens I fly off the handle. It is when 100 little things happen, ether simultaneously or sequentially. That is irritating, right?

But I am slowly learning (emphasis on slowly) that it is God’s way of helping me be more like Jesus. He was patient with people. He was kind. He trusted in the Father’s sovereign rule of His life. Don’t you want to be like Him? I do!

So, you may be experiencing a little issue or a life-changing trauma. Will it be easy to work through? Probably not. Will it be enjoyable? Only if you are warped. Will it produce more fruit? Only if you yield to God’s leading, and through God’s power allow it to mold you more into the precious image of Jesus Christ.

“Every branch in my that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit.” (KJV)

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How to Worship: Me or Us?

I have been on staff at two very different churches. I have also been a member of several different churches as well. These churches have different emphasis that produce a variety of expressions in their worship. I am sure there are others who have experienced similar differences in churches.

Yet, one question that is not often asked is, “Is worship for me or us?” Or, perhaps the more accurate question is, “Is worship only for me?”

This question is pregnant with implications. If worship is individualistic, then my tastes, my desires, my outward expressions serve as the rule for proper and actual worship. So, for example, I am not an outward, emotional individual. I do not raise my hands, nor do I sway from side-to-side (unless I am holding one of my precious children). So, for me, worship excludes the raising of hands. To do otherwise may violate my conscience. My wife, however, often raises her hands. While I would be uncomfortable doing that, she is completely free in her spirit. What does this have to do with us? Much!

Worship is not primarily an individual experience.[1] Worship, in the corporate sense, is about the church, gathering together and expressing praise to the gloriously sovereign God of heaven. Now, you may be wondering, what does this have to do with my personal experience in worship?

Again, I say much. One of the marks of our current society is individualism. Individualism, however, finds no place in Sacred Scripture. We are called to be the church (that is, believers). It is us, not me. With regards to public worship, we worship as a congregation.

How does this look, practically speaking? Hart and Muether write, “If, for instance, we close our eyes and lift our hands in a congregation where no one else does this, we are cutting ourselves off from other worshipers in order to pursue a personalized and privatized experience with God.”[2] That is, if a congregation is used to maintaining a somber attitude, without bodily expressions, then an individual should focus on us rather than me. Likewise, if a church is more open to outward expressions, then the individual who feels so disposed should not hesitate in expressing accordingly. At the church I am currently at, we have men and women who do both. The main focus of this post is not how you worship, but how we worship.

Have you ever considered how others in your congregation worship? Have you ever thought about how you worship in connection with how the rest of the church worships? Are they contradictory? Are they conducive?

My hope, with this post, is to help us look at the church as a whole. Paul’s words, though addressing the consumption of meat, has special emphasis here, “Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decided never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother.” (Romans 14:13, ESV)

In worship, brothers and sisters, let us not put a stumbling block in front of one another.

 

 

 

[1] D. G. Hart and John R. Muether write, “When we come to worship [referring to corporate worship], we are not engaging in an individual experience.” D. G. Hart and John R. Muether, With Reverence and Awe: Returning to the Basics of Reformed Worship (Phillipsburg, NJ: 2002), 139.

[2] Hart and Muether, With Reverence and Awe, 139-140.

 

 

 

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The Ancient and Modern Church

The below post was for an assignment regarding the separation engaged in by the ancient church. To what extent should a church separate from certain practices? Is there anything in culture a Christian abstain from? Please share your thoughts below!

Separation Based on Acceptance

When Constantine granted freedom to the Christian religion, many people would have rejoiced. The terrible persecutions ended, and now practicing Christians could enjoy open worship of God.[1] Austin notes the detrimental effect Constantine’s decision had on the church, “While Christianity converted the world, the world also converted Christianity. The natural impulses of pagan humanity were openly displayed among professing Christians. Doubtless tens of thousands had followed their emperor into the fold of the church without ever experiencing true regeneration or new birth.”[2] Because Christianity was legal, everyone wanted to join. Whereas the illegal religion was once looked upon as a blessed protection, it was now enjoyed by all.[3]

There is a similarity between the legalization of Christianity in ancient Rome and the once, wide-acceptance of Christianity in the United States. Though there is a decline at the moment, there are cultural benefits to “being Christian.”[4] One might place their involvement in a leadership position in a youth group on a resume. One may say that he is a Christian in order to be well received at work.[5] However, these people may not be true Christians. They reject the commandments of God and live as if He does not exist.[6] The Ancient Church would have rejected the inclusion of these professed believers, individuals who may look and act the part but not truly be Christians.

Separation Based on Culture

The early church received persecution for many reasons, but one of the reasons for their persecution was their refusal to engage in the cultural norms of the day. One group of authors note, “Christians gathered in private, and their exclusive monotheism compelled them to refuse all participation in pagan religious observances….they were marked out as a small group of willful dissenters from the very basis of communal life.”[7] Roman culture was anything but Christian.[8] The early Christians, then, separated from the social norms of the day.[9] They separated from the culture, though it cost them everything.[10]

The modern church, however, has allowed much of the American culture to infiltrate and devastate the church. Views of music, dress, and personal sanctification are cast aside in order to “by all means save some.”[11] The Ancient Church would separate from the culture, not embrace it.

Separation Based on Methodology

The Ancient Church experienced a traumatic event in AD 313. The Edict of Milan provided unparalleled freedom to the Christians, in addition to many financial and political advancements.[12] This changed everything. One group of writes discuss this monumental shift, “Thus the church passed from persecution to privilege. In an amazingly short time, its prospects changed completely. After centuries as a counter-culture movement, the church had to learn how to deal with power.”[13] There were many advantages to becoming a Christian after the Edict of Milan.[14] The Church, then, was able to utilize many methods (including financial gain) to gather people into her membership. The Ancient Church, no doubt, rejected these underhanded methods, ultimately bringing further persecution.[15]

The modern church would do well to follow their example. The variety of unbiblical and downright sinful methods utilized in churches today is sickening.[16] The Ancient Church would have separated from this, following Paul’s example of “preach[ing] Christ crucified.”[17]

 

[1] This is a highly simplified description of the events. For more information, see Bill Austin, Austin’s Topical History of Christianity (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1983), 85-93.

[2] Austin, Austin’s Topical History, 90.

[3] “Rome, the imperial order, was perceived not as the real source of the evil by which Christians were afflicted but rather as a power which, in God’s providence, kept things from getting much worse—and this was a judgment which, no doubt in a very rough way, reflected the actual state of affairs.” Williston Walker, Richard A. Norris, David W. Lotz, and Robert T. Handy, A History of the Christian Church 4th Edition (New York, NY: Scribener’s Sons, 1985), 53.

[4] David Kinnaman, UnChristian: What A New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity…and Why It Matters (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2007.

[5] This is the idea that Mark Dever discusses briefly in, Mark Dever, Discipling: How to Help Others Follow Jesus (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2016), 14-16.

[6] For a deeper treatment of this, see John MacArthur, The Gospel According to Jesus: What Is Authentic Faith? Revise & Expanded Anniversary Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008), 9-11.

[7] Walker, et. al, History of the Christian Church, 51.

[8] Cynthia Long Westfall, “Roman Religions and the Imperial Cult,” Edited by John D. Barry, David Bomar, Derek R. Brown, Rachel Klippenstein, Douglas Mangum, Carrie Sinclair Wolcott, Lazarus Wentz, Elliot Ritzema, and Wendy Widder, The Lexham Bible Dictionary (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016).

[9] Jonathan Hill, Zondervan Handbook to the History of Christianity (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2006), 54-57.

[10] J. Hebert Kane notes the differences between Christian and Roman culture, and the cost of following Christ. See J. Herbert Kane, A Concise History of the Christian World Mission: A Panoramic View of Missions from Pentecost to the Present Revised Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book, 1982),24-33.

[11] 1 Corinthians 9:22, KJV.

[12] Hill, Handbook to the Christian Church, 74-77.

[13] A. Kenneth Curtis, J. Stephen Lang, and Randy Petersen, The 100 Most Important Events in Christian History (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book, 1998), 34.

[14] Walker, et. al, History of the Christian, 129-130.

[15] The space does not allow a full discussion on this topic. The reader should consult the following materials for additional information: Walker, et. al, History of the Christian, 130-131; William R. Estep, The Anabaptist Story: An Introduction to Sixteenth-Century Anabaptism Third Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1996); and Henry C. Vedder, A Short History of the Baptists: New and Illustrated Edition Philadelphia, PA: American Baptist Publication, 1958)

[16] For one example, see Sarah Pulliam Bailey, “Megachurch pastor Steven Furtick’s ‘spontaneous baptisms’ not so spontaneous,” Religious News Service (24 February 2014, https://religionnews.com/2014/02/24/megachurch-pastor-steven-furticks-spontaneous-baptisms-spontaneous/ accessed 30 November 2018).

[17] 1 Corinthians 1:23, KJV.

 

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How To Worship Reverently

How do we worship? Does it matter how?

I am slowly working my way through In Reverence and Awe. It has been superb. Every chapter brings me to the truth that God is a glorious, holy God before Whom I should fall in worship and adoration. I am reminded, on almost every page, that I am a wicked sinner deserving at every moment to be cast into hell for eternity. Thankfully, I am also reminded that Jesus bore God’s righteous indignation and saved me forever.

As the name implies, Hart and Muether discuss worship throughout the book. In chapter eight, the two enumerate on the thought “Worship with Godly Fear.” So, according to the authors, how should we worship?

D. G. Hart and John R. Muether write,

“The joy we experience in contemplating and worshiping the risen Savior is an emotion that is always tinged with sobriety and humility. It is not the high-fiving ecstasy of fans who have just seen their team win the national championship. Nor is it the celebration of a job promotion. It is a joy that recognizes not only the suffering and death of Jesus Christ, but also our own complicity, because our sin, in his pain and death. When we contemplate the suffering of Christ we come in humility, restraining sinful impulses, and we embrace a bleeding Savior as the fountain of our comfort.” (Hart and Muether, 128)

There is a beauty in this type of worship. It is God-honoring, for it does not treat God lightly. Truly He is immanent (or close). However, we must never forget that He is transcendent as well. He is, as Isaiah describes, “One who is high and lifted up, who inhavits eternity, whose name is Holy” (Isaiah 57:15, ESV).

We take too causal an approach to the Holy One of Israel. Hart and Muether argue along the same lines as does the author of Hebrews. “Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:28-29, ESV).

How do we worship? With reverence and awe.

 

 

 

 

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Creation Meets the Christian

It is currently that wonderful time of the year where the wind becomes chilly, the sky deepens in its blueness, and the leaves of the trees become a wonderful display of the variety found all over creation. It is the time of pumpkin spice, of warmly, welcoming fires, and the renewed joy of drinking coffee. It is a time to look upon the changes of the season and reflect on the changes that come to us all.

One of my favorite aspects of fall is the change of leaves. The brilliant reds and the flashy yellows, the vibrant greens and burnt oranges, they all present a certain joy in simply beholding them. The trees range in sizes, some just a few feet in height, others towering above everything around them. Just as the ant can provide us with instruction (Proverbs 6:6-8), so too, the trees which paint our fall landscapes with breathtaking beauty can also take us under their wings and help us grow in our faith.

Sanctification is often view in an academic and intellectual manner.[1] Sanctification, as John MacArthur helpfully defines, is “the believer’s growth in spiritual maturity, practical holiness, and Christlikeness through the power and leading of the Holy Spirit (as He applies biblical truth to the hearts of His saints).”[2]

You may ask, “What does sanctification have to do with fall, or trees?” That is an excellent question! During this time of the year, I find myself constantly looking at the trees and their leaves. While engaged in the beauty of creation, I remembered a quote I previously heard, “When God wants to make an oak, he takes a hundred years, but when he wants to make a squash, he takes six months.”[3] The massive spread of the ancient oak provides shade during the summers, protection during the storms, and safety for the squirrels and birds. That same oak also provides a glimpse into the sanctification process.

Think about how long it takes for the tiny sapling to grow into the colossal hardwood. Years past, seasons come and go, children are born and grow up and have their own children. Sanctification is similar. Paul discusses this process in 2 Corinthians 3:18, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”[4] Get that? We are being transformed. It is a process. Just as the oak takes years to grow, so too the Christian takes years to become more like Jesus (see 1 John 3:2).

I think there are two helpful truths from this:

  1. Do not despise the process!
  2. Brothers and sisters, we all get discouraged with our constant failures. They are daily reminders of our sinfulness, of the infiltration of the world into the very fibers of our beings. The constant and unstoppable war between our flesh and the Spirit is exhausting. It left Paul asking, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?”[5] Have we not all struggled with wanting to do right but failing? Take heart! Our sanctification, our becoming like Christ is a process. It is grueling, at times. Let the trees encourage you, because just as it takes time for them to grow, so too it takes time for us to grow. But there is a delightful difference between the oak and the Christian. A horrible hurricane can demolish the tree. Nothing can prevent the Christian. Thanks be to God, because “he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”[6] Therefore, do not despise the process!
  3. Learn from your failures.
  4. While our failures are sin and must be confessed (1 John 1:9), we can still learn from them. One of my favorite authors, Thomas Brooks, writes on this thought, “Ah! you lamenting souls, that spend your days in sighing and groaning under the sense and burden of your sins, why do you deal so unkindly with God, and so injuriously with your own souls, as not to cast an eye upon those precious promises of remission of sin which may bear up and refresh your spirits in the darkest night, and under the heaviest burden of sin?”[7]Brooks later offers reasons for the constant battle of sin. He writes, “…partly to keep them humble and low in their own eyes; and partly to put them upon the use of all divine helps, whereby sin may be subdued and mortified; and partly, that they may live upon Christ for the perfecting the work of sanctification; and partly, to wean them from things below, and to make them heart-sick of their absence from Christ, and to maintain in them bowels of compassion towards others that are subject to the same infirmities with them; and that they may distinguish between a state of grace and a state of glory, and that heaven bay be more sweet to them in the close.”[8]As we approach to Thanksgiving, spend time in prayer on these thoughts, especially those of Thomas Brooks. Do not be discouraged by the process, stay faithful to the spiritual disciplines! Contrary to our “have-it-now” society, our progressive sanctification (becoming more like Jesus) takes time. Look to the oak, and meditate on it. Finally, learn from your failures. Let each sin point you to the Savior. Let each mistake cause you to marvel as His magnificent grace. Let each heart break cause you to long for the wonders of heaven.

Remember Strong’s words, “When God wants to make an oak, he takes a hundred years, but when he wants to make a squash, he takes six months.”[9]

[1] A perusal of many systematic theologies will provide ample proof for this. See, for example, Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible has this, “Term meaning being made holy, or purified, it is used broadly of the whole Christian experience, though most theologians prefer to use it in a restricted sense to distinguish it from related terms, such as regeneration, justification, and glorification.” Elwell, Walter A., and Barry J. Beitzel. “Sanctification.” Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988), 1898.

[2] John MacArthur, Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship (Nashville, TN: Nelson Books, 2013), 56.

[3] Augustus Hopkins Strong, Systematic Theology: A Compendium and Commonplace Book Designed for the Use of Theological Students (Philadelphia, PA: American Baptist Publication Society, 1909), 871.

[4] ESV

[5] Romans 7:24, ESV.

[6] Philippians 1:6, ESV.

[7] Thomas Brooks, The Works of Thomas Brooks: Volume I (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 1980), 93.

[8] Brooks, Works of Thomas Brooks, 94.

[9] Augustus Hopkins Strong, Systematic Theology: A Compendium and Commonplace Book Designed for the Use of Theological Students (Philadelphia, PA: American Baptist Publication Society, 1909), 871.

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Worship: Advice Worship

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Worship: Advice on How to Worship

I am slowly working my way through D. G. Hart and John R. Muether’s With Reverence and Awe: Returning to the Basics of Reformed Worship.[1] It is a wonderful book! In my reading, I came across the chapter, “Leading and Participating In Worship.” In the chapter, Hart and Muether discuss the different roles individuals (ministers and lay-people) play in worship. This post is not a discussion on that particularly (though the question is of upmost importance), I did want to highlight a few helpful points they offer for engaging in worship.

  1. Worship is God-centered

    In a previous chapter, Hart and Muether address the importance of remembering what worship is: “Worship is the work of acknowledging the greatness of our covenant Lord.”[2] We must always remember that we are worshiping God. That is what worship is all about. It is dangerous to be rash with our mouths because “God is in heaven and [we] are on earth.” (Ecclesiastes 5:2, ESV) We are worshiping the Creator of the Universe, the “One who is high and lifted up.” (Isaiah 57:15, ESV) We are not nearly as careful as we should be entering into worship. Toward the end of the chapter, Hart and Muether remark, “…if a problem exists with Reformed worship, the difficulty may be inappropriate expectations.”[3]

  2. Worship is active

    Worship is not a passive event. It is one of action. We worship The question may be asked, “How do I worship God?” Here are several ways offered by Hart and Muether:

    1. Hear the Word of God “diligently and prayerfully”
    2. Prepare for reception of Communion (self-examination, meditation on Christ’s body, etc.)
    3. Live in light of your baptism[4]

“Worship really is a verb when it consists of Word, sacraments, and prayer.”[5]

Is this how you view worship? Do you invest in worship? Do you read the Scriptures to be preached? Do you examine yourself prior to observing the Lord’s Supper?

Worship, far from being passive, is an active participation in glorifying the great and everlasting God.

“It is a time when heaven and earth meet; it is a holy conversation between the Creator of heaven and earth and his redeemed creatures.”[6]

Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the LORD, our Maker! Psalm 95:6

_____

You can purchase With Reverence and Awe, and other helpful resources, from Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company.

[1] D. G. Hart and John R. Muether, With Reverence and Awe: Returning to the Basics of Reformed Worship (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2002).

[2] John M. Frame, Worship in Spirit and Truth (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 1996), 1.

[3] Hart and Muether, With Reverence and Awe, 116.

[4] Ibid., 113-114.

[5] Ibid., 115.

[6] Ibid., 116.

“The Secret Token: Myth, Obsession, and the Search for the Lost Colony of Roanoke” Review

“The father never found his daughter or laid eyes on his granddaughter again. They, and the entire colony for which he was responsible, vanished from history.” (xx)

Such is the beginning of The Secret Token: Myth, Obsession, and The Search for The Lost Colony of Roanoke, written by Andrew Lawler. Historians and researchers have long pondered the disappearance of the Colony of Roanoke. Lawler details the events and figures leading up to the founding of the colony in part one of the book (chapters 1-4). Lawler’s research and footnotes are balanced with a winsome depiction of the events leading up to the Colony of Roanoke. While following the conquests of European and Spanish conquistadors, Lawler focuses his attention on the famous (or infamous) Sir Walter Raleigh. He also paints beautiful landscapes in the minds of the readers as they embark on their own voyagers. Lawler also contrasts the generosity of the Native Americans with the greediness of the colonists.

Part two shifts from a look at history to a National Treasure search for the lost colony. Lawler tracks his research for seven chapters. From conversations to fellow-researchers, to voyages to strange towns, Lawler weaves his own search on the backs of White and others. Part three continues the trek through this search, where Lawler continues to meet new people, getting more clues and seemingly no closer to the answer. Does Andrew Lawler discover the Lost Colony of Roanoke? Does all his research pay-off? You will have to buy the book and learn for yourself!

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.