Tag Archives: the gospel

For a Tree There is Always Hope

The following is an excerpt from Mere Disciple, chapter 9.

As we invest in our relationship with God, hope becomes one of the pivotal virtues we need to be building into our lives. Few people think of hope as a virtue, but that’s what it is. Hope is more than just wishful thinking; it’s the deliberate decision to live out of the inevitable conclusion of God’s story—the complete redemption of creation. History is going somewhere, and our hope is born again when we fasten it to God’s promises and His faithfulness.

In the book of Job, a tree is used to underscore human hopelessness in the face of life’s hardships. Job was a man who understood the hardships of life. It’s not an overstatement to say that at one point he had lost everything. In the midst of his darkest times of mourning, confusion, and sorrow, Job lamented the following from the core of his heartache:

We’re all adrift in the same boat:
too few days, too many troubles.
We spring up like wildflowers in the desert and then wilt,
transient as the shadow of a cloud.
Do you occupy your time with such fragile wisps?
Why even bother hauling me into court?
There’s nothing much to us to start with;
how do you expect us to amount to anything?
Mortals have a limited life span.
You’ve already decided how long we’ll live—
you set the boundary and no one can cross it.
So why not give us a break? Ease up!
Even ditchdiggers get occasional days off.
For a tree there is always hope.
Chop it down and it still has a chance—
its roots can put out fresh sprouts.
Even if its roots are old and gnarled,
its stump long dormant,
At the first whiff of water it comes to life,
buds and grows like a sapling.
But men and women? They die and stay dead.
They breathe their last, and that’s it.
Like lakes and rivers that have dried up,
parched reminders of what once was,
So mortals lie down and never get up,
never wake up again—never.
(Job 14:1–14, The Message)

Job thought that it would be better to be a tree than a human, because at least a fallen tree had a chance, however small, of coming back from the trials of this life. Our fate, Job believed, was to eventually get crushed under the weight of life and “never wake up again—never.” That’s a pretty bleak perspective.

However, we see the symbolism of the tree being used very differently within the first psalm. Instead of being a symbol of man’s lack of hope, the tree is used as a symbol of the profound hope those rooted in a relationship with God can enjoy:

Blessed is the man
who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked
or stand in the way of sinners
or sit in the seat of mockers.
But his delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law he meditates day and night.
He is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither.
Whatever he does prospers.
(Psalm 1:1–3)

This hope-filled symbolism also characterizes Jesus’ own use of trees within his teachings. Jesus regularly used the tree as a central image within his teaching ministry (e.g., Matthew 7:17; Luke 6:44; John 15:1), and through it highlighted the importance of staying connected to his love, grace, and power. In John’s gospel, Jesus repeatedly told his disciples to stay rooted in him and his teachings:

I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. 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 15:1–4)

“If a man remains in me . . . he will bear much fruit.” I’m positive the disciples immediately thought of Psalm 1 as Jesus spoke those words, recognizing their rabbi was echoing the promises found there. What would have shocked them in particular was the fact that Jesus seemed to be localizing the source of Psalm 1’s blessings in himself! He is the one who causes us to thrive and flourish in our calling to be God’s image-bearers in the world—humans fully at home in their relationship to God, each other, themselves, and creation.

In light of this, Job’s lament can become a source of transformative encouragement and insight if we read it through a lens that was impossible for him: the lens that we are trees sustained by and rooted in Jesus’ life and power:

For a tree there is always hope.
Chop it down and it still has a chance—
its roots can put out fresh sprouts.
Even if its roots are old and gnarled,
its stump long dormant,
At the first whiff of water it comes to life,
buds and grows like a sapling.
(Job 14:7–9, The Message)

Throughout our lives we will face many trials and hardships, but no matter what we face, no matter the forces that plot against us, in Jesus we will always have an enduring hope. To live with guaranteed hope is an incredible thing, and that is precisely what is available to us through Jesus.

It doesn’t matter what parts of us have been “chopped down” by circumstance, misfortune, or the selfish acts of others.

It doesn’t matter what places within us feel “old and gnarled” due to bitterness, regret, or shame.

It doesn’t matter what aspirations and hopes lie “long dormant” after repeated failure or disillusionment.

In Jesus we can still grow “fresh sprouts” (i.e., new beginnings). We can come back to life, budding and growing like a sapling that’s been born again. All Jesus needs is for us to stay rooted in him.

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Plant Your Hope with Good Seeds


“Plant your hope with good seeds, don’t cover yourself with thistle and weeds.”

Thistle and Weeds, Mumford and Sons

“Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up.  Some…seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain.” (Mark 4:3–4, 7)

Part of the message embedded in Jesus’ parable of the sower is that God is continually and gracefully scattering the seeds of His kingdom into our lives.  They are seeds that hold the promise of hope, restoration, forgiveness, reconciliation, freedom, healing, and salvation.  He wants these seeds to be the foundation of our hope.

But some of us find clever ways of resisting the seeds God is sowing in our lives.  Sometimes, this resistance is born from the belief that we deserve “thistles and weeds,” not the kind of hope, love and wholeness God offers.  This is often true of those who’ve been grievously hurt by someone during their childhood.  The result: while God tries to plant hope with good seeds, we spend time covering ourselves with thistles and weeds.

God plants hope; we cover ourselves with depression.  God plants salvation; we cover ourselves with bondage.  God plants healing; we cover ourselves with self-harm and self-hatred.  God plants peace; we cover ourselves with fear.

But today is a day to let God clear the ground of your heart from the thistles and weeds.  Today is a day to acknowledge the ways you’ve been resisting His grace and love, and throw off that which has been holding you back.  Today is a day to welcome the seeds of God’s hope, grace, and power into your heart.

You can choose to continue resisting, but know that God will continue to scatter kingdom seeds in your life.  His love for you is unrelenting, and He will pursue you in Christ until you He overwhelms you with His love.

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Living Inside a Cosmic Hope

If you aren’t reading Richard Rohr, you need to be.

“The final chapter [of history] will be ‘the universal restoration’ (Acts 3:21) that Peter speaks of in his first sermon. The good, the true, and the beautiful will have the last word, not the evil, the false, and the ugly. That will be the ‘second coming of Christ’ in all his glory, and God’s true victory. Trusting, therefore, that our failings and killings will not draw history into a final sad whimper, we live inside of a cosmic hope.” Radical Grace, Daily Meditations p. 387, day 402

I love the language of “a cosmic hope.”  Christians don’t simply live with a hope for their life–they live within a hope that is rooted in God’s redemptive plan for the cosmos!  Following Jesus doesn’t just lead us into a larger view of our life and purpose; it leads us into a grand cosmology that redefines our categories of faith, hope, and love.

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Staying Rooted in Jesus

The following is an excerpt from Mere Disciple, chapter 9: A Tree of Life

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. 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 15:1–4

How do you and I stay rooted in Jesus? How do we remain connected to Him so that we can experience this great life and extraordinary hope regardless of the circumstances we find ourselves in? How do we keep Jesus’ call to discipleship front and centre, especially when we are assaulted by countless distractions and difficulties? How do we avoid being overwhelmed and choked out by the cares and worries of this life? Staying rooted in Jesus begins with and is sustained by a commitment to four priorities.

Engage the Bible everyday. Whether it means reading, studying, discussing, or memorizing, staying rooted to Jesus means staying rooted to the Scriptures. We need to continually stretch our understanding of what the Bible says and how that should play out in our lives. The gospels should be read consistently and carefully, because declaring ourselves to be disciples of Jesus means we’re trying to embed the values, attitudes, and priorities of Jesus into our lives. The importance of reading, studying, memorizing, and discussing the Bible is a value most Christians agree on but few actually practice. However, everyone I see flourishing in their discipleship walk is engaging the Bible everyday.

Develop a strong prayer life. Developing a strong prayer life is very challenging for most people. Personally, prayer is an area I read about, talk about, and think about more than I actually do anything about. Prayer is very hard for me, because quite honestly it feels like a waste of time. It feels inefficient and sometimes ineffective compared to physically doing something, but I’m pushing myself beyond those faulty assumptions. I’m in the process of exploring different forms of prayer because I want to develop a strong and intimate relationship with Jesus. This intimacy will never happen if I neglect communicating with Him honestly and openly. Although it may not be easy for us, taking time everyday to share our hearts with Him—and taking time to listen for His still, small voice—is critical to our growth as disciples.

Invest in a local church. I will be the first to say that church can suck. You know it and I know it. But here’s the reality: I’ve never, ever met someone who powerfully inspires me to love and serve Jesus who isn’t invested and connected to a local church. I don’t think church is some kind of magic bullet when it comes to discipleship. However, I believe that discipleship outside of a church commitment just doesn’t work. I also know how tempting it is to bounce around and check out the latest ministry, church, or preacher. But discipleship requires roots, and you can’t grow deep roots if you’re continually uprooting yourself in order to be a part of the next new thing. Therefore, if we are serious about discipleship to Jesus, we have to make it a priority to plug into and invest in a local church community.

Serve others. Following Jesus as a disciple means continually reminding ourselves that in Jesus’ kingdom leaders are the ones who serve (Luke 22:26) and greatness is measured by one’s ability lay down one’s life for others (John 15:13). Our days are filled with opportunities to bless and serve others in both simple and profound ways, and Jesus calls us to adopt a servant heart that places our preferences secondary to the interests and needs of those around us. Jesus said that His kingdom is one that will be characterized by servant leadership (Matthew 20:25–28), so if we aren’t consistently serving others we’re operating out of ego and self-centredness.

These disciplines, however, may strike us as overly simplistic or obvious. Because of this, it’s common for us to overlook them in order to look for something that sounds deeper and more profound. But these four practices form the foundation—the root structure—of the Christian faith. If we ignore, dismiss, or abandon them, we’ll soon find ourselves feeling old, gnarled, and lifeless.

After years of discipling, mentoring, and observing many young adults, I’ve noticed a huge difference between those who just talk about these things, and those who actually do them. Jesus said a disciple is someone who “hears these words of mine and puts them into practice” (Matthew 7:24, emphasis mine). It’s easy to extol the virtues of Bible study and prayer, hold lengthy conversations on the nature of community, and discuss new justice initiatives. However, none of these things lead to transformation in Christ. Those who have been truly transformed are those who have consistently done these things and not just talked about doing them.

 

To order a copy of Mere Disciple: a spiritual guide for emerging leaders, click here.

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More Teens Becoming “Fake” Christians

More Teens Becoming Fake Christians
More Teens Becoming "Fake" Christians

CNN posted an interesting interview with Kenda Creasy Dean about her new book Almost Christian. In her book, Dean argues that how the church currently engages the youth culture amounts to little more than a do-gooder, self-help “Christianity” that is utterly failing to captivate the hearts and lives of youth.

The article (found here) is excellent and reinforces what I’ve been saying for years: youth ministry isn’t working. It’s time for ministry that focuses on identifying, challenging and empowering emerging leaders within Christ’s church to come into prominence.

How does “emerging church ministry” differ from “youth ministry”? Head over to https://www.meredisciple.com/downloads.htm and grab the free PDF article “The Future of an Illusion” for my thoughts.

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