Month: March, 2013

Better Than Best: Pastor Dan Haugen (March 24th)

Better Than Best


Over 2,000 years ago, the Sadducees had a tradition. Four days before the Passover, they would open the gates of the Temple because they believed it was then that the Messiah would show up and take his rightful place. Of course Hebrew anticipation and excitement was very high at these times and the Roman guards would always be on high alert. These Romans feared that radical Jews would loose their minds if this was to ever happen and religious revolt would be inevitable. Tensions were high on both sides.

The Jews got excited every year at this time because they knew their scripture well and that on that day, four days before Passover, I’m sure the scripture from Zechariah chapter nine was on everybody’s mind. This part of scripture reads:

    “But I will defend my house against marauding forces. Never again will an oppressor overrun my people, for now I am keeping watch.  Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”

This is the day, four days before Passover, that Jesus does just as scripture had foretold. It was on this day that Jesus enters into Jerusalem, riding a colt. The day as predicted by Zechariah.

Much like a king returning from battle riding in victorious, they saw Jesus riding in to save them. At the time of Christ, the Temple would have been, by far, the most prominent feature in the city. Jesus would have come to that place up the ridge right outside the city closest to the Temple which would have been sitting directly behind the wall.

What a scene this must have been. Can you imagine? For as long as anyone would have been able to remember, there had been this tradition of the Messiah riding in on a colt four days before Passover…. and here was Jesus, four days before, riding a colt, heading for the temple. As you can imagine, the people go crazy. They set out palm branches before him both to honor him and to make the way more beautiful for him.

Because of Passover, there were many visitors to Jerusalem at this time and several of these visitors would have been heading for the Temple with branches in hand, singing songs of praise and joy.  One of these songs was based on the familiar words in Psalm 118, which is what they say as Jesus enters the city. They literally say, in Hebrew, Lord please save us, Lord please save us.

For Jesus this must have been a bittersweet time. On the one hand he was entering in victory, prophecy was being fulfilled and he truly was the promised Messiah and deserved the praise.  But on the other hand he knew that many of the people who were now shouting their Hosannas would soon turn their backs on him. He knew that the same people who were excited about his long awaited entrance would soon be mocking him as he made his way to his own sacrifice with a cross on his back. Even worse, Jesus knew who these people would be.

So why was everyone so excited at first and then so against him or at least unsure toward him later? Well, it’s because at first they have their own expectations and ideas of what the saving Messiah would be. They praised him for two reasons: one – because he had done miracles. It was just before this that Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead and word would have gotten around about that. And Two – they were sure that he would be someone who would make their life easier. They assumed that Jesus would free them from their political oppression from the Romans. If you notice, Jesus didn’t perform any more miracles after he made his final entrance into Jerusalem. His teaching also becomes more critical and serious. He teaches on submission and commitment. Not a message that the people were expecting that the coming Messiah would teach. They were more interested on how he was going to make their lives easier, they wanted to know how he was going to get rid of the greatest problem in their own eyes, the Romans.

Of course we now know that Jesus did come to make our lives better. We now know that he came to teach us how to deal with all of life’s problems. But it wasn’t in the way the people shouting their hosannas expected and perhaps not in the way we would have expected either.  Jesus didn’t come to be some great guru or even to be an ideal example of how to be a decent person. And, despite what many say, He didn’t come to make us good people. He came to deal with the burden of sin that had infected their lives as it still infects ours today. He came to deal with the sin that caused them and us such grief, hurting our relationships, causing distance between those we love, leaving us empty and shattered and with that comes submission and commitment to God. Jesus is awesome when he comes to make life easier to bear but it becomes something different when he expects submission and commitment in return.

Some time ago, Rosie O’Donnell was being interviewed. When asked if she thought that God would be disappointed in her when she was standing before him she said, “God ought to be happy – I’m doing the best that I can.”  So when you think of it, that seems fair. I mean, what better can I do if I’m doing the best that I can? To some degree couldn’t any of us stand before God and say the same? God, give me a break, I’m doing the best that I can. Do any of you really think that this is going to be the criteria that God’s going to go with?

Sophia Loren also sat down for an interview and the interviewer asked her if she was religious and what she thought about God. She said, “Well, I’m not really into it, I’m not a very religious person. But I should go to Heaven. I haven’t ever done anything wrong – my conscience is clean, my soul is as white as orchids. I should go straight to Heaven.”

I’m beginning to think that in America, many people would echo these words in one way or another. What about those people who welcomed Jesus one day and then cursed him or still worse, ignored him as they went on with their life….as Jesus was dying for their sins.

Weren’t they doing the best that they could? I mean, they had things to do, places to go, people to meet. Couldn’t they say to them selves like Sophia, I haven’t done anything wrong – my conscience is clean? After all, how could they be aware of the direct result of their actions or inaction? I Corinthians 4:4 reads, “My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me.” We so easily fool ourselves. We assume a clear conscience is relevant. After all, many Nazi’s died with a clear conscience. Just because we have a clear conscience doesn’t mean we are innocent.

When I think of Rosie’s theological standpoint, that God should be pleased with me simple because I’m doing the best that I can, I’ve come to realize that, from a biblical standpoint, this theory doesn’t hold water. Is God looking for us to do, “the best that we can?” Not once in all of Jesus ministry did he say, “That’s O.K., just do the best that you can.”

Remember the woman who was caught red handed in adultery? They were going to kill her by throwing large stones at her but Jesus steps in and saves her life. After this, did he say, now go and do the best that you can? No, he said, “now, go and sin no more.” In fact, this is what Jesus keeps repeating over and over in his teaching. He doesn’t expect our best effort. He’s not like a tennis couch who praises people for trying.

A God who is happy with me doing the best that I can is not the kind of God that we need. If this is our perspective of God then this perspective is way off. Much like the perspective of the people waving palm branches before Christ was off. It’s not about doing the best that we can, leading a Dr. Phil prescribed life. We don’t need personal help guru’s, personal self-help books or even help with life’s past experiences.

So that day, more then 2,000 years ago when people lined the streets to welcome in their promised Messiah but they had no idea about what the message that Jesus would soon give about submission and commitment was all about and they weren’t prepared to hear it. They weren’t ready for the message of total commitment and submission to anyone but themselves.

Let’s even take this one step further. On the one hand we can judge the crowds because they turned away from Jesus. But, everyone did. All of Jesus’ friends, his disciples, everyone was a friend when Jesus came into Jerusalem. But he died alone and despised days later. No one was a hero. Everyone failed. No one, even those people Jesus healed, even those who Jesus stood up for or people he raised from the dead. No one stood by our Saviors side. It turns out that no one did the best that they could.

And that, people of Redeemer, is good news for us! Because Rosie’s wrong. God isn’t looking for those who are doing the best that they can. God isn’t interested in something so…..practical. God is looking for people who can recognize that they have broken lives and can recognize their need for healing. He is looking for people who recognize that they need forgiveness in their lives. He’s not looking for people who think they can make it because there is no room for God in the lives of people like that.

You know, in the last few weeks we have talked a lot about the death of Jesus and what a powerful thing that was. But the resurrection of Jesus holds the real power. There is the real transformation.

All of his friends, all of his disciples but one, many of the Pharisees and Sadducees who condemned him to death and thousands upon thousands of those who lined the streets waving branches as Jesus passed by and later betrayed him – became committed followers of Jesus Christ after his resurrection and experienced a great forgiveness. These people experienced such a great and wonderful power, such a great and glorious awakening that even when threatened with death, they would not back down, because they knew that they could now rely on someone much greater then themselves.

They had the mighty power of the Holy Spirit in their lives. It had become clear to them that they could not do it on their own. They tried the best they could on the day of Jesus triumphal entry but they failed miserably a few days later. But now, after the resurrection, it is not about you or I doing the best that we can but about the Spirit of God coming upon us doing the best that he can for us.

Where are you putting your trust? Is it in the risen Lord or are you content doing the best that you can? I invite you today to place all your trust in the God of promise.

Decide now to submit your life to God and commit your soul to him who loves you so much that he made the ultimate sacrifice so that you may live a life in him.

Now may the message of the risen Christ enter your heart and soul and may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.

Focus on the Cross: Pastor Dan Haugen (March 17th)

Focus on the Cross

It was a fog-shrouded morning, July 4, 1952, when a young woman named Florence Chadwick waded into the water off Catalina Island. She intended to swim the channel from the island to the California coast. Long-distance swimming was not new to her; she had been the first woman to swim the English Channel in both directions.

The water was numbingly cold that day. The fog was so thick she could hardly see the boats in her party. Several times sharks had to be driven away with rifle fire. She swam more than 15 hours before she asked to be taken out of the water. Her trainer tried to encourage her to swim on since they were so close to land, but when Florence looked, all she saw was fog. So she quit. . . only one-mile from her goal.

Later she said, “I’m not excusing myself, but if I could have seen the land I might have made it.” It wasn’t the cold or fear or exhaustion that caused Florence Chadwick to fail. It was the fog.

Many times we too fail, not because we’re afraid or because of the peer pressure or because of anything other than the fact that we lose sight of the goal. Maybe that’s why Paul said in our Epistle lesson, “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Two months after her failure, Florence Chadwick walked off the same beach into the same channel and swam the distance, setting a new speed record, because she could see the land.

Florence failed because she couldn’t see the goal. She started out with the best of intentions but along the way she became distracted and she lost faith. Even when others tried to encourage her, all she could see was the fog.

I think this is a very fitting illustration for many of us when we think of ourselves and the focus we have as Christians on the goal of everlasting life. We have the best of intentions, but along the way, something comes to fog the picture and we lose sight of the goal.

During this Lenten season we are reminded time and again of the supreme sacrifice that was made on our behalf through the death of the only person ever to live who did not deserve it. Each week we focus on the cross of Christ because it is there that our goal of everlasting life was made possible. Because of the cross, we are able to have the hope of one day spending eternity with the Savior who gave of himself so we could, one day, stand before Him as one forgiven and welcomed into our eternal home in heaven.

But even with this blessed assurance, we faulty humans become distracted by things that fog up the picture. We want to do what God has called us to but something stands in the way and tests our faith to the point that the goal becomes like a shadow and then has soon clouded over.

Many times we lose our focus because of failures we have made along the way both great and small. A man once said, “You must have long-range goals to keep you from being frustrated by short-term failures.” In Christian terms, our eyes are distracted from the goal of everlasting life because, along the way, we have made careless mistakes of faith. Our focus is clouded by the times we have not met the challenges that God has set before us and we start to lose faith in ourselves and in the guidance of the Holy Spirit to do what is right and forget what is behind. This, in turn, causes us to lose sight of the goal.

Paul, the writer of the letter to the Philippians, suffered with this too. In writing to the churches he admitted many times to failures he had made. He said in Romans 7, For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.”

We are by nature sinful and unclean. It’s who we are. On the path to salvation we are bound to trip up from time to time. But these occasional lapses should not cause us to lose sight of our ultimate goal as God’s children who have been cleansed in the blood of Christ. If our focus on the goal becomes clouded, it cheapens what Christ had to do so that we might fix our eyes firmly on our objective.

Our God calls us to be like Paul and press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of us. God is still at work conforming us to Christ, a task that will be our whole life-long. There will be no point in our lives that we will be able to say that we are done being molded and shaped. Little by little, as we are formed by both good experiences and bad, we come to know Christ and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death and so, somehow, reaching the goal of everlasting life.

Our God is a patient God and He longs for us to never lose sight of what He has prepared for us. We know this by the sacrifice he had to make so that we could realize the goal. So, even when we make missteps along the way, He allows us back in by giving us the humbling and holy gifts of repentance, forgiveness and mercy secured for us on the cross.

Our momentary lapses might cause us to lose sight of the goal but the knowledge of God’s forgiveness in Christ produces in us the drive to strain forward to what lies ahead, the goal of which God has called us heavenward in Christ Jesus, everlasting life.

But, as we all know, it’s all too easy to fall back into bad habits and past mistakes and this is made all the more difficult by a nemesis who looks out for our every misstep so that he might drive into our mind how hopeless we are.

As I have said many times, the devil is very good at what he does. He has had thousands of years to hone his craft and he is an expert at drawing people’s attention away from the goals they have set and towards destruction. He has a plan for every gaffe we make and every faux pas we commit and he’s counting on our slip-ups because he knows we are people born into sin, bound by our own nature to lapse into iniquity.

Only one thing can save those who find themselves lost in the fog, and that’s through the cross of Christ. God the Father has provided for us a way to beat the devil and all his deceit. Out of His genuine love and mercy, God made it so that we might be saved from those times of momentary weakness and bad judgment. Despite our sinful nature, God took it upon Himself to make a path towards heaven, and He did it by taking His only Son to the cross so that we might have the fog of life lifted and our pathways clear. We have only to look to the cross because by that cross “The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone.”

So, let us stop worrying about things of the past and let’s start focusing on the things to come. Let’s take our missteps for what they are and learn from them so that we no longer have to carry those burdens.

Come to the understanding of your complete forgiveness in Christ through the gift of repentance and trust in the Holy Spirit to lead us to the goal. It is a day by day endeavor and we are bound by our sinful nature to stray away from the path of salvation on occasion. But let’s not forget what Christ gave us by His death and, thereby, water down its importance in our lives. Let’s not let the missteps we make along the way decide our future.

Florence Chadwick became panicked and lost her way when she could not see the goal, but that wasn’t the end of her story. She didn’t walk away to stay defeated. She prepared herself with the same goal in mind. She didn’t give up because she had failed; she became even more determined to reach the goal she had set for herself. She didn’t look back to her past disappointments so that they might dictate her future, she put her failures behind her and eventually found the goal in record time.

We all have a story to tell about how we have let God down time and time again, but we cannot let this be the end of our story. We were created to be more than a list of past catastrophes; we were created in God’s image so that we might one day stand before Him in glory. Everything we need for salvation has already been given to us. Let us rejoice and be glad in it. Amen. Please pray with me…

Our Call is Unique: Pastor Dan Haugen (March10th)


Our Call is Unique   

A young girl grows up on a strawberry farm just above Bellingham, Washington. Her parents, a bit old-fashioned, tend to overreact to her nose ring, the music she listens to, and the length of her skirts. They ground her a few times, and she rages inside. “I hate you!” she screams at her father when he knocks on the door of her room after an argument, and that night she acts on a plan she has mentally rehearsed scores of times. She runs away. She has visited Seattle a couple of times before, once on a bus trip with her church youth group to watch the Mariners play. Because newspapers in Bellingham report in lurid detail the gangs, drugs, and violence in downtown Seattle, she concludes that there is probably the last place her parents will look for her. California, maybe, or Florida, but not Seattle.

Her second day there she meets a man who drives the biggest car she’s ever seen. He offers her a ride, buys her lunch, arranges a place for her to stay. He gives her some pills that make her feel better than she’s ever felt before. She was right all along, she decides: her parents were keeping her from all the fun. The good life continues for a month, two months, a year.

The man with the big car–she calls him “Boss”–teaches her a few things that men like. Since she’s underage, men pay a premium for her. She lives in a penthouse and orders room service whenever she wants. Occasionally she thinks about the folks back home, but their lives now seem so boring and rustic that she can hardly believe she grew up there. She has a brief scare when she sees her picture printed on the back of a milk carton with the headline, “Have you seen this child?” But by now she has blond hair, and with all the makeup and body-piercing jewelry she wears, nobody would mistake her for a child. Besides, most of her friends are runaways, and nobody squeals in Seattle. After a year, the first ashen signs of illness appear, and it amazes her how fast the boss turns mean. “These days, we can’t mess around,” he growls, and before she knows it she’s out on the street without a penny to her name. She still turns a couple of tricks a night, but they don’t pay much, and all the money goes to support her habit. When winter blows in she finds herself sleeping on metal grates outside the big department stores. “Sleeping” is the wrong word–a teenage girl at night in downtown Seattle can never relax her guard. Dark bands circle her eyes. Her cough worsens.

One night, as she lies awake listening for footsteps, all at once everything about her life looks different. She no longer feels like a woman of the world. She feels like a little girl, lost in a cold and frightening city. She begins to whimper. Her pockets are empty and she’s hungry. She needs a fix. She pulls her legs tight underneath her and shivers under the newspapers she’s piled atop her coat. Something jolts a synapse of memory and a single image fills her mind: of June in Bellingham, with her golden retriever dashing through the rows and rows of blossomy berries in chase of a tennis ball. “God, why did I leave,” she says to herself, and pain stabs at her heart. My dog back home eats better than I do now. She’s sobbing, and she knows in a flash that more than anything else in the world she wants to go home. Three straight phone calls, three straight connections with the answering machine. She hangs up without leaving a message the first two times, but the third time she says, “Dad, Mom, it’s me. I was wondering about maybe coming home. I’m catching a bus up your way, and it’ll get there about 7 o’clock. If you’re not there, well, I guess I’ll just stay on the bus until it hits Canada.” It takes about three hours for a bus to make all the stops between Seattle and Bellingham, and during that time she realizes the flaws in her plan.

What if her parents are out of town and miss the message? Shouldn’t she have waited another day or so until she could talk to them? Even if they are home, they probably wrote her off as dead long ago. She should have given them some time to overcome the shock. Her thoughts bounce back and forth between those worries and the speech she is preparing for her father. “Dad, I’m sorry. I know I was wrong. It’s not your fault, it’s all mine. Dad, can you forgive me?” She says the words over and over, her throat tightening even as she rehearses them. She hasn’t apologized to anyone in years.

A steady mist of rain hits the road, and the asphalt steams. She’s forgotten how dark it gets at night out here. A deer darts across the road and the bus swerves. Every so often, a billboard, a sign posting the mileage to Bellingham. Oh, God. When the bus finally rolls into the station, its air brakes hissing in protest, the driver announces in a crackly voice over the microphone, “Fifteen minutes, folks. That’s all we have here.” Fifteen minutes to decide her life. She checks herself in a compact mirror, smooths her hair, and licks the lipstick off her teeth. She looks at the tobacco stains on her fingertips, and wonders if her parents will notice – if they’re there.

She walks into the terminal not knowing what to expect, and not one of the thousand scenes that have played out in her mind prepare her for what she sees. There, in the concrete-walls-and-plastic-chairs bus terminal in Bellingham, stands a group of 40 brothers and sisters and great-aunts and uncles and cousins and a grandmother and great-grandmother to boot. They are all wearing ridiculous-looking party hats and blowing noisemakers, and taped across the entire wall of the terminal is a computer-generated banner that reads “Welcome home!” Out of the crowd of well-wishers breaks her dad. She looks through tears and begins the memorized speech, “Dad, I’m sorry. I know . . . ” He interrupts her. “Hush, child. We’ve got no time for that. No time for apologies. You’ll be late for the party. A banquet’s waiting for you at home.”

The unmerited love, grace and forgiveness of a father towards His child. To me this is the greatest lesson of the Parable of the Lost Son and this is what separates us from all other religions. The Buddhist’s have their 8-fold path, the Hindu’s their doctrine of Karma. The Jews have their covenant relationship built on laws, the Muslim’s have their code of law. Each have their ways to earn approval. Only in Christianity do we have a God who loves us unconditionally with understanding and forgiveness.

The unconditional love of a heavenly Father who keeps His eyes upon the horizon waiting for His children to return to Him. The unconditional love of a heavenly Father who, by grace, welcomes us back with open arms even though we had rejected Him. The unconditional love of a heavenly Father who celebrates with all the saints because one who was dead in their sins has come in repentance to find life, the one who was lost in the world has been found.

Even when we are at our worst, our repentance brings us back into good standing with the Father. After all, it isn’t God’s refusal that blocks forgiveness, “While he was still a long way off, his Father saw him and was filled with compassion for him.” No, we are the ones who reject and turn our heads toward destruction time and time again and each time our heavenly Father waits with His eyes pointed toward the horizon, looking for us to return to Him.

Jesus is giving us a glimpse of what it is like to be God. When even one of His lost children come to Him, there is cause to celebrate as if His most valuable possession had been found.

I cannot imagine the joy that I would feel receiving a phone call telling me that my son or daughter, who had been missing for several months, had been found alive and well.

You’ve all probably heard a hundred sermons on forgiveness and each time you hear them you are reminded just how hard it is to forgive sometimes. None of us forgive easily, nor find ourselves easily forgiven. Forgiveness is always harder than the sermons make it out to be. In Psalm after Psalm we hear the repeated anguish of a soul in torment over sin and each time a new request is risen to heaven in repentance. No, forgiveness is not a natural thing and the forgiveness we can offer can never match the complete forgiveness the father offers us each time we come to Him in repentance.

This unnatural act, however, should be at the center of every prayer you make, “Lord, forgive us our trespasses.” And every prayer should also include, “but only as I forgive others.” Forgiveness is not natural, but it is required. The fact that Jesus plainly links our forgiveness by the Father with our forgiveness of our fellow man speaks volumes to what God expects of His children. Just as the Father forgives his lost son, so should we forgive others.

Now, most would argue that a person should only be forgiven if they deserve it, but we have only to look at the word forgive to see that it contains the word…..give.

Wrestling with the command by God to love his enemies while being persecuted in Nazi Germany, Dietrich Bonhoeffer finally concluded that it was this very special quality, which others see as peculiar and extraordinary or unusual that separates Christians from other groups. The power to forgive those who persecute us, the power to go to our enemy in prayer and plead for him to God defines who we are in Christ and How the Holy Spirit works forgiveness in our hearts for those who might not deserve it in the eyes of the world. As Christians we are called to defy the laws of retribution and fairness. In Romans 12:14 it calls us to, “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.”

The Gospel of grace begins and ends with forgiveness and people write songs like Amazing grace for one reason, because grace is the only force in the universe powerful enough to break the chains that enslave generation after generation. Grace alone conquers and it is only by grace that we are saved.

Forgiveness is an act of faith. By forgiving another, even if we don’t feel they deserve it, we are trusting that God can hand out justice better than we can. We are, in faith, to leave it in the hands of God to balance out justice and mercy.

So, what does all this mean to us here at Redeemer? It’s a reminder of how God expects His people here to extend a hand of pardon to those who need our forgiveness and mercy. It’s a call to remove from our lives all those things that separate us. It a plea to reach out to those who once called Redeemer home with the grace that God models so perfectly.

We are called to be unique in a world that proclaims fairness and retribution instead of forgiveness and mercy. We are called to make our pardon and grace obvious to a world that doesn’t understand it. We are urged to teach the world by our actions and reach the world by our charity.

Throughout His life, Christ modeled forgiveness and mercy so that we might learn how to extend those gifts to others. Christ came here with a purpose, to extend the hand of pardon even though it would cost Him His life.

He taught us what it means to love your neighbor and now it is our turn. All of us should look to the horizon for those who are lost. All of us should welcome back those who come home even if we might feel they have wronged us in some way. All of us should rejoice when one who was lost has been found. It’s what God expects from us and it is what He deserves from us. Amen.         Please pray with me…

Be Fruit Bearers: Pastor Dan Haugen (March 3rd)

Be Fruit Bearers: Pastor Dan Haugen

In our Gospel lesson we have the telling of the parable of the fig tree and there is a message for every one of us in it. It’s a story about God’s mercy and grace. It’s a message of His patience and love but it is also a message of His urgency and judgment.

In its words we learn that God provides for us and cares for us year after year. He loves us and nurtures us, but God has His limits. He gives us all things and He looks at us to see what we’re going to do with the gifts He has given us. Will we fulfill His plan for us or will we forget our identity and bear only bad fruit.

There are those who reject and resist Gods loving guidance so they fail to have any idea what God’s plan is for them. They care little past what they can do for themselves based on the plans they have made that are propped up by the weathered and frail frame of the world. Worse yet, there are those who willingly take from God but have no intention of giving anything of themselves in return. This is a message for all people who forget their place in God’s kingdom or reject it outright. Honestly, it is a message for all of us because we all have times where we bear little to no fruit.

The tree in our parable is symbolic of man. God planted us here and we are His. We were not mere accidents born by chance and miracle biology. We have a creator and we have been put on earth with a purpose. God has a plan for every life. We are the trees and we are called to produce fruit for the kingdom of God.

Other places in scripture have used trees to symbolize man. Psalm 1: 1-3 says: Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; 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 that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.

Again Psalm 37: 34-36 uses the connection but it speaks of him who bears no fruit: Wait for the LORD and keep his way, and he will exalt you to inherit the land; you will look on when the wicked are cut off. I have seen a wicked, ruthless man, spreading himself like a green laurel tree. But he passed away, and behold, he was no more; though I sought him, he could not be found.

A man expected fruit and he came looking for it. He did all he could for the tree to help it bear good fruit. He watered it, he fertilized it. He even selected a good place for it. No labor was spared on this tree and the man had a right to demand fruit from it. Yet there was no fruit to be found time after time.

The man is God. He has put us in the place where we can serve Him best. He has worked with us and guided us. He has been patient with us. He has spared no labor on us and has done everything possible to help us to bear our good fruit. He has an expected outcome from all He has given, but are we bearing Him good fruit?

God expects good fruit from those who put their faith and hope in Him. God wants to see the fruit of service to our neighbors, the fruit of character in a world that often lacks it and the fruit of faith that all things will come too good for those who put their trust in Him.

Galatians 6: 7-10 says: Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.

For three years the man had been patient with the tree. If it had been us that tree probably would have been chopped down long before. But the man came back expecting fruit every year.

In the same way, God has been long-suffering with many of us. God has waited years for some of us to reach the potential we have with the gifts He has given us, but year after year we fall short. Instead, it seems as if we seek to only satisfy ourselves with any fruit we might have shown. It’s as if many in our world want to give their fruit to selfish desire and then, one day, when they have had their fun, maybe God will get an apple or two. How foolish. How dangerous. How careless.

Our long-suffering Lord has waited through the days of Noah, through the Exiles out of Egypt and into Babylonia, and Assyria of His people and through the suffering of His only dear Son on the cross all the way up to the present time. And our long-suffering Lord waits for us today. How long are we going to keep Him waiting? How long before we shed our own selfish desires so that we might be clothed in Christ?

I want you to notice the mercy that is seen in this parable. The keeper of the garden asks for more time. Maybe he saw something in the tree no one else could because he worked so hard to make it bloom. Maybe he saw some little buds of hope. Maybe he worked with the tree so long that he had developed a special love for it. Whatever the reason, he became the trees advocate and he spoke up in its defense. Here we see intercessory prayer in parable form.

God waits for many today and He has waited for a long time, for some of us a lifetime. He waits for the fruit only you can bear. He waits for the opportunity to take you to places where that fruit will do the most good. He longs to show you that a life of bearing fruit for Him is a life beyond compare.

But He expects to see growth. God in His mercy may have already given you that one more year many times over. Now is the time to do something with the fruits you bear. Maybe God is being patient with us because someone has prayed on our behalf or stood before God as our advocate. Maybe He sees in our hearts a slow stir or a little bud. Maybe He has been patient because someone has been working on you, tilling and weeding and fertilizing you so to speak. Maybe it’s a sister or a friend that holds you up in prayer. Maybe it’s someone who you would never expect.

Or maybe God is asking you to be the advocate for another. Maybe you’re the one asking God for a little more time for someone else you have hope in. If so, then you are bearing good fruit so that others might do likewise. Maybe your call is to help another, or maybe even a bunch of others. Our God is a patient God and He longs to hear from the advocates of the world.

And then our parable ends with the terrifying call of judgment,

Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure. Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.”

Cut it down? Why? Because barrenness is not the purpose of the tree. A fruit tree that bears no fruit is worthless. It is simply taking up the space where another tree could be put to good use by bearing the fruit it was designed to bear.

So far, the tree had brought no good to the owner. It was taking and taking but giving nothing in return. You cut a tree down because it’s useless. There is nothing as useless as an unfruitful tree other than salt without flavor and a light that will not burn.

The painful truth is that many people who profess to be Christians are not bearing any fruit. They are nothing more than a label. They are hoping to benefit from their label as Christians but they fail to help anyone in return. To what use are we putting our lives? Are you one who thinks that if you step out of the way and let others do God work that’s good enough?

Notice again that the tree, by not bearing fruit actually hinders God’s plan for it, taking up space and resources that could be better used somewhere else.

Some good questions to ask yourselves are, “What kind of world would this be if everyone were just like me? What kind of church would my church be if every member were just like me? Would there be a visitation program? Would there be ministries that would have to stop? Would there be enough money to fuel those ministries and run the church?

Are you eligible to be cut down? Are people you know eligible? It’s the law of nature that whatever tree does not produce fruit itself must die. A family that does not reproduce itself will die and a church that does not reproduce itself will die.

What is the answer to unfruitfulness. The answer is to be fruitful in Christ. John speaks of this in chapter 15:4-8, “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.

The answer is to have a true, yielding, intimate relationship with Christ. One that causes us to bear good fruit based on faith, one where we cannot help ourselves but to do the work of God. Look at our passage in John again,

Verse 4 says we must have it; Verse 5 says we cannot live without it; Verse 6 says that if we don’t have it we will eventually be destroyed for lack of it; And verse 8 finishes by telling us it is God’s will that we are fruitful.

Our very existence as God’s people at Redeemer is going to be based on the fruits we show. By bearing that fruit we not only serve God and our neighbor, but we also come to live the purpose that God has given us. We were not born to simply take up space in the garden. We were born to bear fruit. The choice is ours. Let’s be bold in our ministry. May we all bear fruit in such abundance that many people may be fed. Amen