Tuesday, March 11, 2014

John 15:2--Pruning through Counsel

Jesus said to his disciples:
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2He 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.

Another way God prunes us into fruitfulness is by using fellow believers as His shears. He knows that we, like vines, need pruned to be fruitful and directs us to submit to pruning from others who have better insights

There is no doubt that we need that pruning. Vines left to themselves will put energy into unproductive things rather than fruit; “left unattended, grapevines can become unruly, and fruiting will be poor due to overproduction of vegetation.” Basic Principles of Pruning Backyard Grapevines (Ohio St. Univ. Extension 2004).   

God knows that humans are the same way. He therefore does not mince words about our need to be trimmed back into productivity and what happens if we resist that trimming:

“He who ignores reproof goes astray”

“He who hates reproof is stupid”

“Poverty and shame will come to him who neglects discipline”

“Grievous punishment is for him who forsakes the way; He who hates reproof will die”

“He who neglects discipline despises himself”

“He who hates correction walks the sinner's path”

God also makes it clear that a lot of that pruning comes from fellow believers. He does that by repeatedly stressing the benefits that come from listening to what other Godly folks have to say:

“A man of understanding will acquire wise counsel”

Proverbs 11:14

“Where there is no guidance the people fall, but in abundance of counselors there is victory”

“A wise man is he who listens to counsel”

“Wisdom is with those who receive counsel”

“Without consultation, plans are frustrated, but with many counselors they succeed”

“Listen to counsel and accept discipline, that you may be wise the rest of your days”

“Prepare plans by consultation”

“Incline your ear and hear the words of the wise”

“For by wise guidance you will wage war, and in abundance of counselors there is victory”

“Oil and perfume make the heart glad, so a man's counsel is sweet to his friend”

“Go where the old people are; find someone who is wise, and stay with him”

“If you find someone with understanding, get up early to call on him; wear out his doorstep with your visits”

“Pay attention to what old people say, for they learned from those who came before them. You can learn from them, and they can teach you how to have an answer ready when you need one”

“Engage in conversation with intelligent people, and let the Law of the Most High be the topic of your discussions.16 Choose righteous people for your dinner companions”

“A wise person's knowledge is like a river that never runs dry, like an everflowing stream of good advice”

“It is a pleasure to hear what intelligent people have to say.17 The assembly will be eager to hear from an intelligent person and will take his opinion seriously”

“Sound judgment, good advice, and gray hair go together beautifully.5 Wisdom, understanding, and sound counsel are appropriate to the aged and the respected.”

“When you find yourself with stupid people, look for some excuse to leave, but when you are with serious-minded people, stay as long as you can”

“Have constant recourse to some devout person, who you know to be a keeper of the commandments”

“Gold and silver provide security, but good advice is better”

That makes sense. Others see things that we miss, and we are therefore wise to listen to them.

There is one caveat to this however. We should seek counsel from wise, Godly, people, not fools or those that do not cleave to God’s precepts. Compare Sirach 6:34, Sirach 6:36, Sirach 9:15-16, Sirach 21:16-17, and Sirach 37:12 with Ecclesiastes 7:5, Ecclesiastes 9:17, Sirach 21:16, and Sirach 27:12.

Friday, March 7, 2014

John 15:2--Part 5--How To Respond to Pruning Through Adversity

Jesus said to his disciples:
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2He 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.

So what does scripture tell us about how to respond to, fruitfully get through, the times God uses adversity to prune us?  It stresses at least four themes.

First, we must remember—while while we are in the midst of it—that there will be good results on the other side of it. The passages dealing with correction through difficulty repeatedly stress that the rewards will far exceed the interim pain. Romans 8:18, 2 Corinthians 4:16-17, Hebrews 12:2, 11, 1 Peter 1:6-7, Genesis 45:4-8, Genesis 50:19-21,Wisdom 3:5, Sirach 6:19, 28-31. St. Paul put it well: “our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” Romans 8:18. Scripture therefore instructs us to keep those rewards in mind as we go through the pain. Deuteronomy 8:6-10, Wisdom 3:5, Sirach 2:9, Sirach 6:19, Hebrews 12:2-3. As Sirach 2:9 puts it, “you that fear the Lord, look forward to his blessings[.]”

Second, we must not just seek to avoid/end the pain, but must realize that there is a lesson to be learned from it and work at learning it.  James 1:2-5 tells us to “think of the various tests you encounter as occasions for joy. After all, you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. Let this endurance complete its work so that you may be fully mature, complete, and lacking in nothing.” James is not alone in that view; it runs throughout scripture.  Romans 5:3-5, Hebrews 12:3, Hebrews 12:7, Hebrews 12:12-13, Sirach 2:10, Sirach 2:16. We are therefore instructed to persevere in the midst of adversity. Hebrews 12:2-3, Sirach 2:2-3, 7-13-14, Sirach 4:17-19, Sirach 6:19, and of particular import, we are told to actively look for the lesson God is giving us.  See Hebrews 12:7, Sirach 6:27, Sirach 6:32-33  (“if you apply yourself … and if you pay attention you will become wise.”).

Third, that requires us to control our emotions. God recognizes that our natural reactions are anger, fear, and doubt so He repeatedly tells us that we must work at suppressing them. Proverbs 3:11, 2 Corinthians 4:16, James 1:6-8, Sirach 2:2, Sirach 2:4, Sirach 2:12-14, Sirach 4:17-19.

Fourth, we must remember that God is doing this for our good and will help us through it. He is acting as a loving parent who is trying to get the most for his children. Deuteronomy 8:5, Proverbs 3:12, Hebrews 12:5-10, Revelation 3:19. He therefore tells us to come to him for instruction through prayer, James 1:5, through his word, Sirach 2:16, by looking at how He has acted in the past, Sirach 2:10, and by considering how Jesus dealt with adversity. Hebrews 12:2-3.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

God in the Ordinary

Two times in the last month God has let me unambiguously experience His acting in otherwise ordinary circumstances. Let me describe them and try to explain what I think the lesson is.

Several weeks ago I was coming home from work and came across a disabled fellow parishioner whose car had broken down on a busy road at a time when his cell phone wasn’t working. I was able to push his car to the berm and we used my cell phone to get AAA on the case. That had to be God—one member of His body at the right time and place with the right resources to help another.

Today Dave, one of the guys that rotates as a teacher in our adult Sunday school class, was teaching. It was my week off, so I did not prepare and in fact slept in too late to pray/read the Bible before class.  But God got Dave and I into a groove that could only be the work of His Holy Spirit. Dave would make a point in his lesson, and I would be lead to a verse that dealt with the same concept in a just different enough way to perfectly complement Dave’s point. And to top it off, we had a full house, including several new folks.  That too had to be God.

So what’s my point?

I’m not totally sure, but I think it shows how God gets things done and how we should react.  He unexpectedly, but unmistakably, uses us to deliver very good things in otherwise ordinary circumstances, and then life moves on. No burning bush,  no pillar of fire, no blinding light, just God’s good stuff being delivered in ways that are unmistakably beyond our own plans or abilities. I guess we just need to open our eyes and realize it’s happening.