Lent 2013: Grapes and Figs

As we have done throughout previous Lenten and Advent seasons, we are again blogging through the Lectionary readings in this Lenten season. This year, however, due to our travels in Central Asia, we have asked a number of guests to blog for us. These guests are individuals who are influential in our lives and work. We're honored to share this space with them-and with you–in this season of reflection.

A reading from the Gospel According to Luke

Then Jesus told a story. “A man had a fig tree,” he said. “It had been planted in his vineyard. When he went to look for fruit on it, he didn't find any. So he went to the man who took care of the vineyard. He said, 'For three years now I've been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree. But I haven't found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?'

“'Sir,' the man replied, 'leave it alone for one more year. I'll dig around it and feed it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.' “

— Luke 13:6-9 (NIRV)

Many years ago, when I was in college, I worked in a nursery (the plant kind). I remember my boss, Mickey, telling me one day the definition of a weed. We were sitting in his office having pizza for lunch on one very hot Saturday. We were chatting about plants and landscapes as we looked at some trade magazines. He showed me a picture and said that it looked like there was a weed in the landscape. “A weed?” I asked. He pointed to a particular plant that didn't really fit into the overall scheme and said, “Yes. A plant growing where it doesn't belong. Even though a rose bush is beautiful in full bloom, if it's in the middle of an azelea bed, then it's a weed.”

A weed. You know, a fig tree in the middle of a vineyard.

Here's Jesus teaching His disciples–and us–through a parable (a kingdom truth wrapped up in an earthly example). This time He tells about a fig tree. A land owner grows a vineyard. Somehow in the midst of this field of grapes, a fig tree gets planted. But, it's not a particularly good fig tree. It's been there–taking up space in the vineyard–for three years, and there are no figs. The owner of the vineyard tells his laborer to cut it down and plant more grapes. But, the farmer, seeing potential, says, “Give me a year. If there are no figs next year, I'll cut it down.”

Jesus is, in essence, telling the disciples that there is a weed in this man's vineyard. He intended to grow grapes, and instead he has a poor excuse for a fig tree.

But, his laborer sees something else. Maybe it's all of the grape vines that are out of place.

Potential.

The laborer tells the owner, let me care for this “weed”. Let me clear the ground under it. Let me water it. Let me spread some donkey manure around it. If it produces fruit, then great! If I fail, then ok, I'll cut it down.

The laborer sees the potential for the fig tree to produce figs, and, consequently, more fig trees. Yes, it will take a lot of years for the vineyard to become a fig orchard, but there is potential for that to happen.

Do you know a fig tree in a vineyard? That person in whom you see potential to turn the entire vineyard into an orchard? Are you willing to take the time to disciple that person? To prune them? To fertilize and water them? To help them reach their potential?

That's discipleship. Helping someone reach their God-given potential.

Let's look at this same story from the owner's perspective. He has a laborer who has a plan. The laborer has a fifty-fifty shot at this plan working. It could be a bust. In which case, the owner will have spent money on water, fertilizer, and man hours to no positive outcome. But, if this hair-brained scheme works, then consider the possibilities.

Do you know this laborer? That person whom you have been discipling that has an idea that could either be hair-brained and work, or brilliant and fail. Will you release them to try? Will you father them if it fails?

That’s leadership. Helping someone reach their God-given potential.

Two men.

One tree.

A thousand grapes.

Potential?

Plan?

The wise owner will say, “Laborer, I don't know if what you're proposing will work, but…”

The wise laborer will say, “Owner, I know it makes sense to cut down the tree, but…”

A rose in an azelea bed is a weed. But, a bed of azeleas in a rose garden is also a weed.

You can choose to cultivate the fig tree, or cut it down. But, in only one scenario are you helping the fig tree reach it's God-given potential.

Let me challenge you–us. That person who has all kinds of potential but seems impossible, may just need someone to say, “Go try it. If it works, I'll rejoice with you. If it fails, I'll be here to help you.”

What if, we all said that–and meant it–to one another?

Caleb and a crazy tree.

Caleb and a crazy tree.

 

Jesus and His Personality

This week’s topic in our Crossroads Discipleship Training School is one of my “passion topics”–team dynamics, interpersonal relationships, personality typing, etc. I love this stuff!

In our class, we have been examining the Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator. For Steph and I, we have found that we are polar opposites (she is ISFJ and I am ENTP).

It got me to thinking about the team that Jesus put together to aid Him in His ministry. What an interesting group of people. For some of them, they found within the team opposing political views. Some were fishermen and others were business men. Some were educated and some were less educated. You get the idea. It was a diverse group.

While we have a lot of stories of a couple of these individuals, and could likely deduce from those stories the root behavioral types, I have been thinking more about their Leader.

So, using the Meyers-Briggs Type Indicators, I have come to theorize regarding how Jesus would score on this test.

The stock answer in many Christian circles is that Jesus was a perfect blend of all. While I used to think that same thing, I’ve come to believe that to be an easy way out. So, here is my observation and why I think it.

Jesus was a ESFP.

ESFPs are people who tend to live in the moment. Their focus is on the moment. While they can see the larger picture, they thrive on working from moment-to-moment. They take interruptions in stride (most of Jesus’ recorded work was interruptions). They work to ensure that everyone (even the interrupter) are included.

When controversy arising, the ESFP will tend to use diversionary questions to change the course of the discussion. We see Jesus doing this often when confronted by the religious leaders of His day. He chose to teach in parables that purposely (Matthew 13:11-17) were not completely understood by many of the people to whom He was speaking.

Jesus loved life and people. He made His (and the Disciples) work fun. He enjoyed a good laugh.

Unchecked, the ESFP would struggle to get their goals accomplished. They need a benchmark and a constant reminder of the mission at hand. Throughout His recorded life, we find Jesus in times of communion with His Father. I have come to believe that these conversations, the Mount of Transfiguration, and Gethsamene are examples of Him returning to the benchmark to find how He was progressing in the mission.

Now, the disclaimer.

I could easily be totally out in left field. And I’m ok with that. Jesus’ personality traits do not diminish the work He accomplished on the cross. So, feel free to disagree. I’m just a highly theoretical person theorizing (which for my personality type is how I process and recharge).

So, what is your MBTI? You can find out here.

 

Rehoboam – The Sometimes Truster

 By the time Rehoboam had secured his kingdom and was strong again, he, and all Israel with him, had virtually abandoned God and his ways. (2 Chronicles 12:1 MSG)

Rehoboam.  Son of Solomon.  Wisest of all of the Kings of Israel (and of any other country).  Abandoned God.

Solomon.  Built the Temple of God.  Son of David–the man after God’s own heart.  

David.  Shepherd boy turned King.  Catalyst to Israel’s Golden Age.  Successful in all his ventures because of his devotion to God.

What happened?

Upon Solomon’s death, Rehoboam becomes King.  However, his brother, Jereboam, soon leads a rebellion and the kingdom is split.  

Nevertheless, Rehoboam gets off to a pretty good start.  He seeks after God, and follows His commands.  But then…

As his kingdom becomes secure, he abandons God.  

How often do we do the same?  When things are tough, we follow God.  We listen and obey.  

But then…

Our kingdom is made secure, and we abandoned God.  We develop a self-security.  We fall into the mode of thinking, “Look what I did.”

We abandoned God.

Like Rehoboam, we build up defenses in a vain effort to protect “our kingdom”.  We built strong fortresses and high walls.  We put our trust in our own devices.

Yet, notice what happens later.  Egypt decides (at God’s behest) to attack Rehoboam’s nation.  Rehoboam has his back to the wall–the wall he built.  God uses the prophet to tell him that this mess was of his own making.  And Rehoboam repents.

After the battle is over, we find that Rehoboam’s shields of gold have been replaced with shields of bronze that are only brought out in times of defense.  Rehoboam turns his attention back to God.  Recognizing God as his protector.  Remembering the songs of his grandfather, David, he recognizes God as his shield.

In the end, though, Rehoboam is listed as a bad king.  God wasn’t central to his life.  God was an after-thought.  God, to Rehoboam, was sort of a protector-in-a-bottle.  As long as things are good, I did it.  When things get tough, then I need God.

The lesson for us is to trust in both the good and the bad times.  To need God when we are on the mountaintop and when we are in the valley.  

To live one life.

A life of constantly trusting God.  Of viewing Him as our sole source. 

Live one life!

Resting our way to the Inheritance

Heaven and Earth were finished, down to the last detail. By the seventh day God had finished his work. On the seventh day he rested from all his work. God blessed the seventh day. He made it a Holy Day because on that day he rested from his work, all the creating God had done. — Genesis 2:1-3 (The Message)
Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Work six days and do everything you need to do. But the seventh day is a Sabbath to God, your God. Don’t do any work-not you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your servant, nor your maid, nor your animals, not even the foreign guest visiting in your town. For in six days God made Heaven, Earth, and sea, and everything in them; he rested on the seventh day. Therefore God blessed the Sabbath day; he set it apart as a holy day. — Exodus 20:8-11 (The Message)
Then Jesus said to them, “The Sabbath was made to meet the needs of people, and not people to meet the requirements of the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord, even over the Sabbath!” — Mark 2:27-28 (NLT)
“Keep the Sabbath day holy. Don’t pursue your own interests on that day, but enjoy the Sabbath and speak of it with delight as the Lord’s holy day. Honor the Sabbath in everything you do on that day, and don’t follow your own desires or talk idly. Then the Lord will be your delight. I will give you great honor and satisfy you with the inheritance I promised to your ancestor Jacob. I, the Lord, have spoken!” — Isaiah 58:13-14 (NLT)
One thing that I find super-cool about our “job” (I have a hard time using that word, since what we do feels so little like work) is that we get to visit lots of churches, hear different pastors, and experience worship services in many venues and styles.

This past Sunday was no exception. We attended the Acts 2 United Methodist Church in Edmond, OK.

We enjoyed worshiping with this body of believers, and were thrilled to see their emphasis on discipleship (since that is what Christ called us all to do). Yet, the thing that stuck out most to us was the “Office Hours” posted on the door.

They went like this:

Monday: 9a – 5p
Tuesday: 9a – 5p
Wednesday: 10a – 7p
Thursday: 9a – 5p
Friday: SABBATH

SABBATH

As a posted office hour!

Awesome!!!

That resonated with us in a big way.

Sabbath is critical to a successful life.

Rest.

Taking a break from labor.

Taking a break to just rest.

It’s important.

So important, in fact, that when God finished creating the world, He rested.

God.

The great Creator.

The I AM.

Took a break to rest.

As we embarked on this adventure, our Mentor told us to rest. Take one day out of every seven and rest (not always the same day of the week, rather one of each seven).

So, we did.

The first Sabbath that we took, we slept in.

Even the kids.

When we got up, we ate breakfast.

Then, we napped.

We woke up and ate lunch.

Then, we napped some more.

We slept more in that 24 hours than we had ever slept in a 24 hour period before.

We didn’t feel any more tired going into it than we ever did. What we didn’t realize is how tired we were.

The funny thing about Sabbath is how much more productive we are after we Sabbath. It seems counter-intuitive. We’re taught that if we take a break, then we will fall behind. Yet, honoring the Sabbath makes the opposite happen. When you are rested, you are more productive.

Sabbath means NO WORK.

None.

Don’t clean the house, mow the yard, cook a meal, wash the laundry, answer the email, answer the phone, etc. Don’t do it.

Just rest.

Sit outside and enjoy the weather.

Spend time together as a family enjoying each other.

Just don’t work.

Isaiah 58 teaches us that when we take time to honor the Sabbath, the Lord takes time to honor us. Sabbath actually becomes a condition of the promised inheritance. In other words, you can’t work your way to be honored with the inheritance.

You have to REST YOUR WAY to it.

So, to the staff of Acts 2 UMC, thank you for setting an example for the believers. Thank you for honoring God through the Sabbath.

For Such a Time as This

We spent the evening in a Missions Training led by Mary Jean Powers from Get The Word Out. Fantastic time of study as a group, and we’re now burning the proverbial midnight oil on a study through verses in Scripture which outline God’s Global Cause.

Thinking about this idea of the Global Cause coupled with Leadership, one of these passages stood out to me.

“When Esther’s words were reported back to Mordecai, he sent back this answer: ‘Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?” — Esther 4:12-14

Esther is in the midst of a struggle. A struggle between her selfish ambitions (life) and the overall welfare of her people. Do I keep silent and live, or do I speak up and safe my own people?

Mordecai points out to Esther that the very reason that she is in a position of authority could very well be for this one decision.

For what one decision have you been placed in your position?

Perhaps we would all lead differently if we asked ourselves, “And who knows but that I have come to this position for such a time as this?”

As leaders we have to come to the realization that our every decision (both in our role as a leader as well as our non-leadership life) will impact those who follow us. If we defined our decisions in such a way as to understand that the Global Cause of God is to bring glory and honor to HIS NAME (IT’S NOT ABOUT YOU), then perhaps we would make different (BETTER) decisions.

Perhaps you are in the position you are in “for such a time as this.”