One More Year

2 Corinthians, Death, Legacy Church Family, Luke, Repentance, Romans No Comments »

“Leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit, fine! If not, then cut it down.” ~Luke 13:8-9

FigTreeCoupleThere is a time limit. The Master is not calling for the indefinite existence of a bad tree. It’s got one more year. The health of the vineyard is too important, the Master’s expectation for fruit is too strong to leave in place an unproductive, non-responsive tree taking up good ground. It’s got one more year. One more season. One more chance. And then, if it doesn’t respond to the patience and care of the Master? Then, cut it down.

There’s an urgency in this parable that we shouldn’t miss. The tree is going to be held accountable. And it’s only got a short time left to respond to the farmer’s patience. Something’s got to change. The coming judgment is real.

“We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.” ~2 Corinthians 5:10

The holiness and righteousness of God demands justice and judgment. Romans says we will all stand before God’s judgment; every knee will bow and every tongue will confess; each of us will give an account of our lives to God. There is a judgment coming. God is going to judge the world. And it’s one of the best kept secrets in the Bible.

We don’t talk about it. Judgment sounds harsh or cruel. The idea of God’s divine judgment clashes with what works in our culture — even our church culture. We barely acknowledge it anymore. The only time we speak about God’s judgment is when we’re making fun of people who talk about God’s judgment. We don’t preach God’s judgment. I don’t. Not very much.

But this parable…

This tree’s got one year. That’s it. And then it’s over.

There’s a story about Satan meeting with his demons in hell, working on their strategies against us humans. The first demon said, “I’ll go tell people there’s no heaven.” The second demon said, “I’ll tell people there’s no hell.” The third demon said, “I’ll tell people there’s no hurry.” Satan said, “Yes! That’s the plan!”

No hurry? That tree’s got one year. That’s it. If it bears fruit next year, fine. If not, then cut it down.

There’s an urgency in Jesus’ story. But we don’t feel that urgency. We appreciate the manure of God’s great patience and his merciful restraint. But we don’t even think about that coming judgment. In this country, in this century, as our sense of self grows larger and larger and our sense of God becomes smaller and smaller, we fear God so little we don’t understand the seriousness of our sin. And we sense the seriousness of our sin so little, we very seldom fear God. That’s a bad place to be.

“Do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance, and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance? But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed.” ~Romans 2:5-6

He gave the tree one more year. One more season. If it bears fruit, fine. If not, cut it down.

There’s an urgency here. It’s later than we think. One of the elders at the Legacy church, Kent Robinson, says every single day, “It’s later now than it’s ever been before!” He’s right. And the time to act is right now, during this season of God’s patience, during this time when God is holding back the ax and spreading the manure of his grace and forgiveness. Now is the time to respond, not tomorrow. Now is the time of God’s favor. Now is the day of salvation. God’s mercy is being extended now. The opportunity for a fruitful life is now.

I don’t know how much time we’ve got. I don’t know. Apparently, even Jesus isn’t sure. But that day’s coming for each of us. That tree’s got one more year. You might have longer. Maybe.

Peace,

Allan

Dung It!

2 Peter, Grace, Luke, Romans No Comments »

“Leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.” ~Luke 13:8-9

FigTreeShovelThe Greek phrase for what the farmer wants to do to the tree is literally “Dung it.” Most English Bible translations say “Fertilize it.” A couple of them, including the Revised Standard Version, use “manure.” But the old King James and American Standard Versions go with the literal “Dung it.” It’s a weird little line in a short little parable. But the solution to the barren fig tree is to give it more time and spread around a little manure (No, that doesn’t mean preach to the tree).

Manure is not a word, especially back then, that anybody would use in a religious illustration or religious teaching. It’s just not polite. It’s gross. In fact, this is the only place in the entire New Testament this word is used. Why do you think Jesus said “manure?” He could have said, “Let me bring in some better soil” or “Let me water the tree” or “let me prune some branches.” Why did he say, “Let me dung the tree?”

Well, there’s nothing glamorous about manure. It’s not exciting. It’s messy. Smelly. And it takes time. It’s not a quick fix. Digging around the tree, mixing in the manure, caring for the tree, nurturing the tree, paying careful attention to the tree — that takes patience. And great restraint. It’s going to take a while to see if it makes any difference.

Normally we want immediate results. So chopping down the tree seems like the best thing to do. We clear the ground out and get ready for a new tree. A new start. A new beginning. We love new beginnings: new efficient programs, new shiny buildings, new attractive members, new exciting projects, new fulfilling jobs, new shock-and-awe wars. But spreading manure has none of that exhilaration. It’s not dramatic. It doesn’t get anybody’s admiring attention. Manure is a slow solution. And it sounds a lot like our Lord, huh? Jesus is very much about the small, the slow, the unglamorous: yeast and salt and seeds. And manure.

This is how our God deals with people. Patience and restraint. Slow. I don’t care what 2 Peter says, God is slow. He’s not in a hurry. Scripture tells us over and over again we need to wait on God. And Scripture also tells us that God spends a lot of his time waiting on us.

“The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as Allan understands slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance… Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation.” ~2 Peter 3:9, 15

The holy God of Heaven and Earth holds off on his judgment, he delays his punishment, he refrains from putting the ax to the root because he loves us. He gives us time. And while he gives us this time, he nurtures us and takes great care of us. He carefully digs around us and blesses us with love and mercy and forgiveness. God keeps coming to us, keeps sparing us, keeps giving us opportunities and unlimited chances to respond. He never gives up on us. He keeps forgiving.

For me not to respond to that grace, for me to go through my life every day and not make changes, not start bearing Kingdom fruit for his glory — I’m without excuse.

“Do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance, and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance?” ~Romans 2:4

If God dealt with us strictly by his holy justice, we wouldn’t stand a chance. But he doesn’t. He is patient with us. He gives us time and second chances and third and fourth and fifth and sixth chances to repent. That’s patience. Grace. The Master’s been digging around you for years. He’s been reaching out to you and taking loving care of you for a long time. You’ve responded, right?

Peace,

Allan

Leave It Alone

Forgiveness, Grace, Luke No Comments »

FigTree“A man had a fig tree, planted in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it, but did not find any. So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?'” ~Luke 13:6-7

Notice the violence of the command. “Cut it down!” It’s not producing fruit. Chop it down! It’s not doing what I need it to. Get rid of it! This tree is disappointing me, it’s taking up space and eating valuable resources and doing nothing productive. Cut it down!

That’s usually our first instinct: Cut it down. We see something we don’t like, we meet somebody who treats us wrong: Cut it down!

The disciples, while they were on the way with Jesus, reacted this same way. Just three verses into this journey, Jesus and his followers are rejected by the people in a Samaritan village:

“Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?” ~Luke 9:54

Burn ’em out! Turn this whole place into a giant sand trap! Cut ’em down!

We’re the same way. We something wrong, we rush in to make it right. We encounter sin in the world or sin in the church and we fly into action with accusations and judgments and violence. Something offends us or some person is useless to us or just taking up space in the Kingdom, not doing what I think they should be doing, and we either verbally or physical get rid of them. Cut him down! Cut her out! Get rid of it!

We like to solve problems by amputation. That’s our instinct.

According to our Lord’s story, though, the preferred solution is to wait.

“‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.'” ~Luke 13:8-9

Notice the patience and restraint in that response. Leave it alone. And let’s spread around some manure. I want to write more about the manure tomorrow. Today, let’s look at the great contrast between “Cut it down” and “Leave it alone.”

There are times when brave and decisive action is demanded. And those times are exhilarating. It’s exciting to be in the middle of God’s action. But there are other times that demand restraint. There are times when the command from Christ is to not do something.

Sometimes Jesus says, “Go and do likewise” or “Come, follow me!” His commands move us, they push us. “Put out into the deep” or “Go make disciples!” But sometimes his commands stop us in our tracks. “Get behind me” or “Put your sword away.” “We’re not calling down any fire today” or “Leave it alone.”

This is a good lesson for us. I think this is a great lesson for me. I’m too quick to retaliate when I’ve been wronged; I need to be quicker to say, “I forgive you.” I’m too quick to correct others; I need to be quicker to say, “How can I help you?” Instead of evaluating and judging and fixing others, I need to be nurturing and caring and paying attention to others. Instead of chopping down, I need to leave alone.

The world desperately needs our patience and restraint. If we don’t forgive, who’s going to? If we don’t spread love and hope around all the hate and fear, who will? This world is full of people who demand and take; who’s going to give and give and give?

Peace,

Allan

House Money

1 Corinthians, Possessions No Comments »

MoneyHundreds

Most of us, to some degree or another, live with a conviction that we control our possessions because we earned them. At the most, we’ll admit that, yeah, where we were born and when we were born and into what socio-economic circumstance we were born plays a role in the stuff we have. But even then, we attribute what we have to our own hard work. God may provide the raw materials. But it’s still up to me to make the most of it. So these are my possessions. And I do with them what I please.

Listen, when the Bible speaks about blessings or wealth, it doesn’t talk about some vague sense of having it pretty good. Scripture puts it in terms of very specific acts and very specific gifts of the one true and living God.

“What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?” ~1 Corinthians 4:7

It’s like the people who work for Publisher’s Clearing House. I’ve read interviews with the people who actually award those big winners checks. They get to fly around the country and knock on the doors and give away 25-million dollars or 100-million dollars to unsuspecting strangers. And they love their job. They change people’s lives. They bring untold joy and happiness with every interaction.

You know why they love their job? They’re not giving away their own money. They’re giving away the company’s money.

The money in your checking account is Kingdom money. It’s not yours. The money in your retirement fund or in your savings account, the money in your pocket right now doesn’t belong to you. It’s God’s. We’re all playing with house money.

God is the giver of everything you have. God is responsible for all of it. And that doesn’t mean we care less about our possessions. It means we care so much more about God’s purposes in giving us all these gifts, which, ironically, is to use them to bless others.

Peace,

Allan

Sabbath Rest

Central Church Family, Discipleship, Exodus No Comments »

“Six days you shall labor, but on the seventh day you shall rest; even during the plowing season and harvest, you must rest.” ~Exodus 34:21

SabbathRest

Rest. Relax. Be still. Slow down. Impossible? Yeah, almost. In the middle of a busy summer in the middle of a hectic life in the middle of a rushing world, the idea of a night off is almost unthinkable. We say it would be nice, but we rarely take the time to do it. There’s just too much going on. Always.

An important part of following Jesus is paying attention to your inner life. Quiet time with God, just being still and basking in his holy presence — when do you do that? Sitting down at the same table with your whole family for a relaxed meal with nowhere to go and nothing else to do — when was the last time that happened? A long conversation with a close friend? Reading through an entire Gospel in one sitting? Just you and your spouse in the car at Sonic for half-price shakes, no kids, no iPhones, talking about your future? Praying with someone you love for what you both really need, not just what you want? An art project with the grandkids? When will you do these things?

During our “In the Zone” Wednesday nights this summer, we’re focusing on the four areas where we believe God’s Spirit does his best transforming work. And tonight we zero in on the “Inner Life” and practice Sabbath rest. There won’t be any meal or any programs at our church building tonight. We’re setting aside everything — our gatherings, our goals, our activities — and asking our people to please use the time to reconnect with our God and with someone they love.

Don’t use the time to get caught up on work. Don’t kick your feet up and watch more TV. Don’t clean the house or your email inbox. Do something you hardly ever do that will connect you more closely to our Lord and to his people.

Peace,

Allan

Thank You, Mr. Bass

Texas No Comments »

Stephen F. Austin. Sam Houston. William Barret Travis. David Crockett. Buddy Holly. Tom Landry. Nolan Ryan. BlueBellLogo

And now, Sid Bass.

Thank you, Mr. Bass, for your service to this great Republic of Texas. The entire state is eternally grateful for your generous contribution and will forever remember your significant gift of assistance during this hour of desperate need.

Eternally Indebted,

Allan