Friday, 22 June 2012

The Neglected Winemaker

“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. If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you.

This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.’ (John 15: 5 – 8 )

Winemakers may also be vineyard owners, but first and foremost, they (surprise, surprise) produce wine. It’s really obvious, but it means that the vine has a specific overall purpose. However luxuriant its foliage, however full its buds, however strong its branches, its fundamental purpose in a vineyard is to deliver as many fine grapes as possible. The job of the vine is to deliver the raw material for wine.

Without that raw material, production stops, and there ceases to be a benefit. Spiritually, first century Judaea had ceased to deliver what God desired: the raw material of practical devotion to God that He could use to right a world that was so wrong.

The nation’s leaders had compromised values under the Roman Empire’s tyranny. Even the divine laws were interpreted by the religious elite in a manner that contradicted God’s underlying intent to benefit the whole nation. Those who were wealthy assumed that their accumulated comfort was proof of God’s approval. They segregated their social lives, ostracised the poor from positions of authority, abandoned the chronically helpless and publicly censured sinners with contemptuous disregard. It was all too easy to reap condemnation for even ceremonial mistakes. Forgiveness and reacceptance by society could only be provided through the temple officials at great financial expense. An even greater cost was imposed on pilgrims to Israel, who were forced to pay a hefty commission to convert their money into temple currency. It was far easier to condemn, than rehabilitate wrongdoers by giving them a chance to change.

John the Baptiser was hurled into the midst of this moral mayhem. He demanded that everyone in Israel re-evaluate their behaviour and devotion to God with a desire to make amends wherever they fell short and deliver fruit from their lives that was worthy of the nation’s God-given role. They should have been an example to the world, rather than a cause of God’s shame. For many, It was the impetus for change that they needed. A fresh start in a newly formed community. One that would let them bury the past and live a new life. He offered a simple ritual of cleansing that would signal an end to their neglect of God and a new focus on relaying God’s providence to others. A new life symbolised by BAPTISM: the purification rite of water immersion.

Teaching explains what we don’t understand, whereas preaching insists on what we already know. Of course, we know what to do. It’s just that we prefer to do something else and we can’t do both. The Prophets, Jesus, the apostles preach one message: without the mercy of God, our lives don’t deserve to remain part of God’s creation. Without the mercy of God, our nourishment through all that God has created will be lost forever. The Winemaker is on his way, so where’s the fruit we owe Him?

Foreseeing the destruction of Jerusalem a few decades later, John PREACHED to any Jews who lacked remorse that the era of privileged hereditary protection was almost over: ‘Even now the axe of God's judgment is poised, ready to sever the roots of the trees. Yes, every tree that does not produce good fruit will be chopped down and thrown into the fire." This is the preaching of the Kingdom of God: ‘If there’s no desire for fruit, judgment is poised over my fate. No fruit? No more privilege. Where’s God’s fruit?’

It is mandatory. If we are casual and not eager to demonstrate moral change, our privilege of growing in the soil of God’s providence and revealed truth hangs by a thread. It is ready to be lost forever by those who don’t desire to respond productively to God. Those who do respond partially, are challenged to deliver even more fruit.

Christ also reminds us to ask for whatever we like. As long as it doesn’t hinder us from our primary purpose, guess what? We can have it!

All around us today, we see the proof that the status earned by our Christian forefathers is receding from our grasp. The freedom of Christian expression in society is opposed on all sides. Atheism, godless secular thought and mindless contempt for the church is on the rise. No fruit? No more privilege. It’s time to ask and when you do, ASK BIG!

Without fruit, as the Messiah promises ‘Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' Notice their focus on ministry gifts: prophecy, exorcism, miracle-working are the tools to achieve the intended outcome, they are not the intended outcome. Imagine telling a winemaker who comes to collect grapes about the work you did on his behalf: how well you’ve tilled soil, pruned branches and spread fertilizer, WHEN WHAT HE WANTS IS FRUIT.

So what fruit does God require? You know already. ‘He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.’ (Micah 6:8 )


  • Discreet, practical empathy that reaches out to improve the lot of those confronted with hardship and injustice. Defraud no-one. Deceive no-one.
  • Prayerful compassion that reaches out selflessly to empower those overpowered by hate, selfishness and helplessness.
  • Thankfulness to and opportunism for God against evil in a world full of selfish grudging discontent with His natural abundant providence.

Monday, 11 June 2012

Growth, Division, Multiplication

Organic growth is achieved through cell division, multiple cell differentiation, expansion and adaptation.

In church, are we willing to divide cells and build new smaller units of fellowship that expand and adapt for new purposes? How will those new cell units need to adapt to grow in a very different environment? How will they develop? Will a few parts of the body remain relatively unchanged in purpose and size, like our eyes?
Paul says, 'I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God gave the increase’ (1 Cor. 3:7).

Christ’s own growth example involved pruning away unproductive aspects of our individual and corporate lives: '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.' (John 15:1 - 4)

Our two-service proposal for Sunday worship is a low risk initiative that foreshadows future growth: the development of interdependent units of community, outreach and worship. Units that can spread and demonstrate the message of God’s Kingdom in a wider context than is possible now.

That's the ultimate aim of church growth. Beyond the numerical outreach, this proposal is a test of whether the church cell is capable of the cell division and differentiation needed to adapt to the needs of our community. To do so, the church needs to draw upon the moral and emotional energy reserves bestowed by God on all its members.

Uncontrolled, rapid cell division does not provide normal healthy growth and adaptation to a changing environment. It is like cancer and it can destroy us by first disrupting existing useful functions and finally spreading to destroy vital organs.

As a pre-cursor, it is far better to spur change by challenging church members to re-group around smaller initiatives that may involve working towards a goal outside of each other's comfort zone.
Beware of inward focused self absorption. There are those who believe that the church's primary duty is towards the comfort of its existing members. It's not change in itself that they fear, but the disruption of the comfortable relationships and roles that they've built for emotional support and insulation. As you know, Paul faced major emotional upheaval when the Holy Spirit made it clear that he had to move on from Ephesus never to return (Acts 21:13)

Finally, what are the lessons to be learnt from our past outreach initiative, Taste?
Was the whole church involved?
What worked and what didn't?
Was the mission to invite outsiders and attend with them accepted by all members?
Did any of the existing church members reject the idea on the level of personal encouragement and involvement?
Did it end for natural reasons, or was too much responsibility for success imposed on too few church members?
Why won't history repeat itself this time?