transformation

September 15, 2022

How can my life bear fruit?

Luke 13:1-9

I love gardening and one of my favourite things to grow are sweet cherry tomatoes. At times they have been so abundant that I have had to give them away in buckets, however, they need a lot of looking after. The delicate stems need support as they grow through staking and tying. They need daily watering and weekly plant food. The sneaky side shoots need pinching out and any rogue snails and slugs need to be removed and dispatched. And finally, leaves or ripening fruit plagued with mildew or blight need to be carefully removed and discarded. Growing an abundant crop takes quite a bit of effort but it is worth it to pop those delicious red balls of delight into your mouth and feel them burst with sugary sweetness!

Gardening metaphors are used frequently in the Bible. In the parables that Jesus taught, he likened himself to a gardener and us as plants that should bear fruit in our lives. Have you ever wanted to be more loving, joyful, patient, kind, generous, faithful, gentle, and self-controlled? Me too. And this is how God wants us to be. Jesus wants us to bear this kind of fruit and it matters so much to God that Jesus used the strongest language possible to get his point across. He even compared a fruitless life to a life that is dead and good only for firewood.

Far from being selfish, bearing fruit in our lives is not for our sake, but for the sake of others. We are called to love one another; share our joy; have patience with others — even when they wind us up; be kind to people — even when that kindness is rejected; be generous expecting nothing in return; be faithful to those who let us down; be always gentle; and be self-controlled — not flying off the handle when things make us cross. That is a pretty high bar and sounds impossible to achieve. The truth is that we cannot be like this on our own and we need God’s help.

Like my tomatoes we need constant tending. Left on their own my tomatoes would not bear much fruit, and at the worst they would wither and die. In the same way we need God to supply us with what we need and that is by allowing the Holy Spirit — the Spirit of Jesus — to live in us and work through us. This act of recognising we need God is called repentance. Repentance literally means to renew one’s mind and change direction. Repentance means to recognise that we need God’s help and to invite the transforming Spirit of God into our hearts to do his work inside us.

Like my abundance of tomatoes, the fruit in our own lives is to be given away to others. It should therefore come as no surprise that the Spirit of God is always outward-looking and always looking to the interest of others. We are never filled with the Holy Spirit for our own sake but for the sake of others, hence, “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22) – all things that are given away.

If we try to live in our own strength, if we serve others without drawing on God, and if we give out without being filled, then we eventually burn out, or become resentful and bitter. You do not become a better person by trying harder — by reading your Bible more, praying more, fasting more, or going to church more. Despite those things being good and helpful, the truth is that you become more Christlike by opening yourself up to the life-transforming Spirit of God. It is the Spirit who transforms us from the inside out.

Salvation is a process and it is a process of transformation into the likeness of Christ. When you first turn to Christ you feel the weight of sin being lifted from you, but the journey of faith is an ongoing and life-long process. We are works-in-progress as long as we continue to allow God’s Spirit to work in and through us.

For most Christians, this opening of oneself to God comes through the form of a quiet time — a moment in each day where we perform a simple act of repentance. We submit to God, acknowledge that we cannot do this thing called life in our own strength and ask the Spirit of Jesus to fill us — to change us and transform us such that we become more like Jesus. This quiet time usually includes some Bible reading where we allow God’s Spirit to speak to us through God’s Word, and some prayer where we talk to God and listen.

Us Christians are not perfect. We are nearly all broken in one way or another and we stuff up and mess up on a daily basis. We are literally works-in-progress as we do our best to allow God to transform us from the inside out. Therefore, my prayer today is as much for me as it is for you:

Holy God, I want to be more like Jesus. I want to be more loving, joyful, patient, kind, generous, faithful, gentle, and self-controlled. I cannot do this on my own and so I open my heart to you. I need your help to transform me from the inside out. Amen.

August 27, 2022

Invited

(There but for the grace of God go I)

Luke 14:7-14

Have you ever had the experience where your friends have been invited to a party and you didn’t get an invite? You feel let down, left out, and a bit jealous of your friends all having a good time while you remain at home. You question why they didn’t invite you as you try to stem the rising bile of bitterness and resentment welling up inside you. If you’re like me, even at fifty years old, I find my self acting like a sulky child and saying, “I didn’t want to go to their stupid party anyway!”

Or, occasionally, you may get an invite to something very special, for example, a wonderful wedding or to a smart dinner with the governor. You excitedly place your invitation — the one with your names in bold print on the front — in a prominent place on the mantelpiece and your thoughts are excitedly consumed with what you will wear, the wonderful experiences that have yet to come, and how many days and minutes you have left to go.

Invitations matter don’t they? They carry weight and importance. To be invited to something means you matter and have worth in the eyes of the sender.

Jesus, in his teaching, talks a lot about invitations, and what our attitude should be to them. In telling his parables or stories he makes the point that we should express both humility and generosity. For example, when we are invited to a wedding banquet he says we shouldn’t sit down at the place of honour — i.e. next to the bride and groom — in case someone more important than us has been invited. Instead, we should sit down at the lowest place, so that we may be asked to come and sit closer to the top table. In other words, our attitude must be one of humility. Jesus goes on to tell us that when we throw a dinner party, we shouldn’t only invite our friends, family, or rich neighbours but invite the poor, marginalised, broken, or hurting. In other words, our attitude must also be one of generosity.

One of the pervading attitudes of our culture is that we don’t think that others are deserving of our love and support. We look at the circumstances of others — especially those that fall into the category of poor, marginalised, broken, or hurting — and label them as lazy, negative, self-obsessed, or in need of a good kick up the backside.

But here’s a thing. God sees every second of our lives lived, and experiences it as the present. God does not see us as who we are in the here and now, but who we have been, and, more importantly, who we will become.

The truth is that we do not know what someone else has lived, the pains they have endured, the traumas they have experienced, and the losses they have incurred — all of which have shaped their emotions, their character, their attitudes, their sense of self-worth, their sense of safety and security, and yes, their current circumstances.

I once worked in a prison with young offenders, and when I heard some of their stories of lack of support, lack of a loving family, absent parents, and the abuse and neglect they had suffered, it became abundantly clear that if I had lived their life and experienced their experiences, I would be exactly where they were; I would be the one in prison.

There is a proverb we say, “There but for the grace of God go I.” It may come from a mid-sixteenth-century statement by chaplain to the king, John Bradford, who upon seeing a group of prisoners being led to their execution, exclaimed, “There but for the grace of God, goes John Bradford.” In other words, it is a statement of humility, that it is only by God’s grace that we are not living the mistakes, crimes, pain, or suffering of others.

The gospel, or good news of Jesus Christ, is an invitation. It is an invitation to a new life found in Him, and a new way of life inspired by Him. Christians are called to model God’s way of life and extend God’s invitation to all. It is a way of life marked by a combination of both humility and generosity.

A life that experiences the love of God is a life that begins a process of transformation. Christians, as Christ’s ambassadors, are called to be conduits of Christ’s love. As God’s Spirit lives in us, we extend God’s love to others. As we are witnesses to the difference Christ has made in our own lives we become excited by the possibilities of transformation in the lives of others. No matter where someone is in their life journey; no matter what mistakes they have made; no matter what circumstances they find themselves in; there is an open invitation by God to his banquet. There is an invitation with their name printed in bold on the front, and we are the ones to do the inviting.

This week, you will no doubt encounter those that are poor, marginalised, broken, or hurting. Journey with them and extend God’s love to them. Try to see them as the summation of their whole lives, and, importantly, through God’s transforming love, see who they might become in Him.

Amen.