The Center Fellowship
The Center Fellowship

Sowing and Reaping

RS: All right, we will be back here next week, kind of finishing up this really important area we’ve been talking about. I realize some of you were not here last week, so, just a kind of quick review. We’ve been talking about the Will of God and how to find it. We said that there are three components of God’s Will. The first is His General Will, which is pretty self-evident because it is found in Scripture. Example, it is God’s Will for you to be honest. It’s God’s Will for you to be unselfish. It’s God’s Will for you to be humble, that you be faithful to your spouse. And then we spent a good bit of time on what is called God’s Sovereign Will. And God’s Sovereign Will always comes to pass. An example of His Sovereign Will was that Jesus went to the cross and was crucified. As evil as it was, it was part of God’s Will. And we talked about God’s Sovereign Will in contrast with man’s free will, which always can end up being a can of worms, if you’re not careful.

But, I feel like I got a lot of comments afterwards, that a great way to really understand this is to look at the life of a Biblical character, and the character that we looked at was Joseph in the Old Testament. But before we proceed, I want to go back and kind of remind each of us what the Will of God is. There are two different Greek words that are used, and we looked at those last week. The first one is thelema, t-h-e-l-e-m-a, and that means God’s gracious design. And then there is a second one, boulema, b-o-u-l-e-m-a, which means a deliberate design, or that which is purposed. And what we don’t realize, and I don’t think humanity realizes, is that the very best place you can be in life, the safest place you can be in life, is in the center of God’s Will. That’s where we were designed to be.

Now, over this past weekend, I’ve been reading through Tim Keller’s new book, which I would recommend. It’s called Making Sense of God. And he articulates this beautifully. And so, now let me just read you a couple of paragraphs; it will take a couple of seconds to read, but it’s worth you hearing. “As we follow God’s Will, we increasingly come to sense that we are also becoming who we were designed to be.” Let me read that again. “As we follow God’s Will, we increasingly come to sense that we are also becoming who we were designed to be.”

He says, “Imagine that you see a car being driven down the road and you look into it, and you see that there is a five year old that is driving it. What will happen? It will be disintegration of some sort. The car is going to run into somebody, run into a tree, or destroy a fence. Why? Because, although it is a good car, it is not designed to be driven by a five year old. When God says here are the commandments, here are the moral directives, don’t lie, don’t be selfish, don’t bear false witness, those directives come from your Designer. And therefore, they aren’t just busy work; they aren’t just arbitrary laws that He pulled out of the air. To break them is to violate your own nature, and to lose freedom, just like the person who eats the wrong foods and ends up in the hospital. For example, the Bible says ‘Don’t bear a grudge.’

Many years ago, I was talking to a teenage girl in my church who was angry at her father for a number of very warranted reasons. She said I know that God says I have to forgive, but I don’t want to. I began by agreeing that God requires forgiveness of His followers. But, I said, I want you to consider that God is our Creator and so His commands are never meaningless or arbitrary busy work. His obligations are always, in the end, our liberation. If her father succeeded in making her bitter towards him, it would mean he would continue to shape and control her life. It would perhaps distort her view of men in general. It would make her more hard, and more cynical. And it might even have other effects. I said, the best way to be free, to ensure that the wrong that he has done to you does the least damage to you, is to forgive him. She later told me that that conversation had been a true turning point in her life. If you are made in the Image of God, who is a forgiver, then it is a directive. You must forgive. In the short run, it can feel good to be angry at somebody who has wronged you. It is easy to hate somebody. It is easy to want to pay them back. But in the long run, what’s going to happen? Disintegration in your life. It can hurt your body to be angry; it can certainly hurt all your relationships, making it harder to trust and commit. It can distort your whole life. Why? Because when you are disobeying the moral directive from God, you are going against the grain of your own nature.” Listen to this. “You are going against the Will of God for your life. You are like a five year old trying to drive a car, and it will not work. But, when you begin to obey,” and we’re talking about the General Will of God, “when you begin to obey, you are living into your own design rather than working against it.” This is what God’s Will is. Living into your own design. The way you were designed to live and to be. Comments or questions?  

Jim: Richard, I’d say one thing is obvious from what you were talking about, is that following the Will of God is not a matter of feelings.

RS: Absolutely right. Because you, as in this example, it feels really natural to hate somebody that has really wronged you and done you bad. I mean, it’s just very natural, and so, you have to basically, to forgive, you have to go against what you naturally feel. So, yes, absolutely, I couldn’t agree with you more, Jim. Anybody else?

RS: All right. We’re going to move to the third component of God’s Will, and that is His Specific Will. Now, let me start by sharing something that I saw several years ago on the History Channel. They had a special on the invasion of Normandy, and they played an actual recorded conversation between two men as they were approaching the beaches. And, you know, facing the real possibility of dying. And as they were about to land, one of them exclaimed, “There is no finer thing that we could be doing right now. This may be, perhaps, the most important thing we do in our lifetime.” And it made me wonder, you know, what is the most important thing that I will do in my lifetime? What is the most important thing that I will do that will have enduring value? You know, from the Christian perspective, nothing we do will be of any importance if it is not aligned to the Will of God. Someone once said, you could become President of the United States, but miss God’s calling on your life, and that would be a great tragedy. Now, last week, again, we have been talking about the General Will of God, which is laid out in scripture.

Now, there is something that God has made quite clear that is true for all Christians, everybody sitting in this room, and it is clearly His Will. But within what I’m going to share it you, we have to determine how this specifically works out in my life. Because the way it works out specifically in my life will be different than the way it will work out in your life.

Now let me show you what I mean by that. If you would, turn to John chapter 15. It’s important to know the context of this. Back in John 11 and 12, we read of Lazarus being raised from the dead, and that was the straw that broke the camel’s back with the religious leaders, and so they decided the time has come, we’ve got to get rid of this guy. And that is when they plot with Judas to have Him taken out. And in John 13, Jesus tells them I’m getting ready to leave you, and where I’m going, you can’t come with Me.  And it gets them all upset. And, then in John 14, you see Him trying to calm them down. And then, in chapter 15, He says, this is the way you will function spiritually now that I am gone. And He gives them an illustration, and the illustration is the picture of a vine with branches. And Jesus says, I am the vine, and you are going to be the branches. And the way this is going to work, and He’s really giving a picture, the sap from the vine will feed the branches. And He was really talking about the Holy Spirit that would be coming, that would dwell in you, and work in you. But, the most important thing about the vine / branch relationship is that the branch is to ultimately bear fruit. Look at verse 1. “I am the true vine, and my Father is” some translations say, “the gardener”, others say “the vinedresser”. I think you get the picture. He says, “every branch in me that does not bear fruit, He takes away, and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so it may bear more fruit.” This issue of bearing fruit is a recurrent theme in the scripture. Go down to verse 5. “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, bears much fruit, for apart from Me, you can do nothing.” Now, the New American uses the word “abide” and the NIV uses the word “remain” but it means the same thing. It’s this idea of the vital attachment of the vine and the branch. Because when you become detached, you no longer can be nourished. The sap can’t flow into the vine. And then verse 8, “by this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit, and so, prove to be my disciples.” You know, we were talking about being transformed, and the ultimate objective is to become a true disciple of Christ. And we talked about what that meant. And here it says, this is the proof of being God’s disciple is to bear fruit. And so, it is God’s General Will that we be fruitful. But, it works out specifically different in each and everybody’s life.

Let me just stop here; this isn’t in my notes, but I shared when we finished yesterday, and I think this might be a good time to insert this. I believe every man in this room, God would desire to have a ministry of some sort. It doesn’t have to be a big ministry, but I believe that there is something that He wants to do through each one of us as we live this life. And I would also say that if you’re at home, and if you have kids at home, that’s probably one of your biggest ministries right there, is raising your children. So, I want you to think about this week, and next week, as we really kind of get into what does God want to do specifically in and through me. Now there is another way to look at this, or another verse that I think backs up what I just said. Ephesians 2:10. Do you know that verse? “We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which He prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” And that word “workmanship” is a Greek word poiéma, which literally means what? Work of art. We are God’s work of art. You have been created in a very unique way, with unique talents, gifts, abilities, resources, and He says He wants you to take all that you have been given and use it for certain good works that God prepared beforehand. I guess before you were even born. And that you would walk in them. This is God’s Will. And He desires to see that lived out in our lives. There is another way of looking at this that I think is instructive. Everybody turn if you would to Ephesians chapter 4. Ephesians 4, verses 11 and 12. Alex, would you read those for us?  

Alex: “And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the Body of Christ.”

RS: Thank you sir. That word “saints” is a word that is used for Christians. You didn’t know you were a saint, did you? But you are. That is what that word means. Now, this is how God intended for the Church to work. It’s very insightful. Look at that first part. It says, He gave some people; He has called some people to be apostles. We don’t have apostles anymore, and prophets. Some as evangelists, and some as pastors and some as teachers. This is God’s Specific Will for them. And God always gives people the giftedness to do this, and generally, the desire to do it. That doesn’t mean we all shouldn’t be involved in teaching or evangelizing, but some are called, this is, in many cases, a full time position. But when you are called to do it, not only are you called to do it, I think you want to do it.  It’s like a missionary I talked to, he said, I don’t want to stay in the United States. I feel compelled to go to – wherever it was he was going. It’s like the street evangelist I know. How would you like to do what he does? He goes down to New Orleans, he loves to go during Mardi Gras, and do street evangelism. I told him I can’t think of anything I would rather not do. But he loves it. He loves it. Now, if you don’t fall into one of these categories, and only just a tiny small percentage of people do, if you’re not an evangelist, or a pastor, or a teacher, then based on what we just read here, what is God’s Will for you? It’s in there. It’s in verse 12.

Unidentified audience member: Works of service.

RS: Before that though. Before you go do works of service, what do you do?

Unidentified audience member: Equip.

RS: You get equipped. Basically, that is what our lives should be about. To get equipped, to get trained, to learn, to grow, so that I can basically be more effective in works of service to build up the body of Christ. And so the issue then becomes as I’m living my life, how does He specifically want to use me in the lives of other people? Let me stop here. Comments? Questions? Well, let me just say this. This is where I’m going to kind of challenge you. In my mind, life’s great tragedy for Christians is to know that God wants to do something specifically through me, and I blow it. In other words, I just am not interested in doing it. And I share this, because this has been a historical problem with the people of God. Let’s look at a for instance. Turn back to Isaiah 30.

Jim: Richard, I was going to say that the people in the Bible who have done God’s Will have also blown it a lot.

RS: I would agree.

Jim: We talked about Joseph, and David [unintelligible 20:34].

RS: There’s no doubt about it, Jim. Anybody else? All right, are we at Isaiah 30, verses 1 and 2. Mike Graham?

Mike: “Woe to the obstinate children, declares the Lord, to those who carry out plans that are not Mine, forming an alliance, but not by My Spirit, heaping sin upon sin; who go down to Egypt without consulting Me; who look for help to Pharaoh’s protection, to Egypt’s shade for refuge.”

RS: Thank you sir. You know, I wonder, this talks about God’s plan, and He says, you know, they go about their lives; they go down to Egypt, without ever consulting Me. You know, as we live this life, I wonder sometimes as Christians, do we just live our lives and never look to God for any guidance at all? Without consulting Him, without looking for His leadership and guidance in our lives? And then you see what happens here. This is a problem. They want to follow a plan, but God said, you just don’t want My Plan. You want your plan. It’s interesting, back in the book of Philippians, in chapter 2, verse 20, Paul tells the church, it might kind of hurt their feelings when he said this, he said, you know, other than Timothy, I have no one who is concerned about your welfare. He was talking about the Christian church in Philippi. That’s what he’s talking about. He says, other than Timothy, nobody is concerned about your welfare, and then he tells them why in verse 21, he says, for they all seek after their own interest and not those of Christ Jesus.

Guys, this is why the Christian life is a surrendered life. Where we surrender our will to follow God’s Will and there is a reason that we should do this, because, it’s as Keller says, when we do, we are living into our own design. We were designed for, and function best, inside the Will of God. Now next week, we’re going to look at how do you seek God’s counsel? How do we seek His guidance? How do we discern His specific plan for our lives? But I want to come back and really focus on this last part, because I think it’s the most important thing that I can tell you, and talk about, show you that God’s Will is for His people to be fruitful. To be fruitful. Now, hear this, guys. This is His expectation. It is not optional.

Another way of putting this, and, as business people, you understand it. In fact, it was interesting, I was talking to a young man who, I’m meeting with, he’s about to turn 20, and he’s trying to figure his life out, and he’s been working for a company, and he’s changed jobs, and he had a week off. And he said he’s starting his new job on Monday and I met with him Monday afternoon, and he said that week that I had off was horrible. It was miserable. I had nothing to do. And I told him, I said, you know why you felt that way?  We were designed to be productive.  And that’s why, and I’m really digressing here, that’s why I believe in Heaven we will be doing things that are productive, because that’s the way that we were designed. A very wise man once told me, we were designed to be productive in all areas of our lives, but, he said, we were designed to be productive spiritually, and if we are not, he said, we’ll experience a great deal of spiritual frustration because we’ll be outside the Will of God, because we will be totally living this for ourselves.  

Now there is a great deal of scripture on bearing fruit and I think it reveals God’s expectation of us bearing fruit. We’re not going to read all of this because there is just so much of it, but, for instance, the very last parable that Jesus gives right before being taken and crucified is in Matthew 25:14-30 is the Parable of the Talents, that you are all familiar with. Back in January or February we studied the Parable of the Minas, remember that? Very similar to the Parable of the Talents. It’s about stewardship. Taking who you are, your talents, your abilities, your resources, and using them. And those who are productive. Remember what He said, well done my good and faithful servant. Then you have, remember this summer we studied that Parable of the Sower? He talks about the seed that falls on the good soil, He says those are the ones who bear fruit, 30, 60, and a hundred-fold, that’s what God says, this is what I’m looking for. And then in Matthew 3, verse 8, He says, Bear fruit, in fact, it’s really interesting the way The Amplified says it, it talks about bearing fruit, and it says, “Bring forth fruit that is consistent with repentance. Let your lives prove your change of heart.” What I’d like to do now is look at two short parables. And I think, for time’s sake, I’m going to let, from Jase over, you guys look up Isaiah 5:1-6, and Paul over, Luke 13:6-9. Who wants to read Isaiah? Greg, you want to read that for us?

Greg: Sure. “Let me sing for my beloved my love song concerning his vineyard: My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill. He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines; he built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it; and he looked for it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes. And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard. What more was there to do for my vineyard that I have not done in it? When I looked for it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes? And now I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard. I will remove its hedge, and it shall be devoured; I will break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down. I will make it a waste; it shall not be pruned or hoed, and briers and thorns shall grow up; I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it.”

RS: When you read that, the words “wild grapes” is the literal translation, others have bad grapes or worthless grapes instead of the good grapes that were used for making wine, it didn’t produce good grapes, it produced the worthless ones. All right, Luke, Forrest, you want to read those for us? Luke 13:6-9.

 

Forrest: “And He told this parable: ‘A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. And he said to the vinedresser, ‘Look, for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground?’ And he answered him, ‘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.’”

 

RS: What are the similarities in these two parables?

 

Forrest: Might get cut down.

 

RS: Yeah. First of all, you’ve got this expectation from the owner of both the vineyard and the fig tree. There is the expectation of good fruit, and yet, in both cases, you don’t see that. One ends up with worthless fruit, and the other ends up with no figs at all. And this seems, as I mentioned, this seems to be a recurring theme, God expects good fruit from the people of God, and so, often ends up with worthless fruit, bad fruit, or no fruit. And the thing that Greg read, in the fourth verse, said, everything, I made everything available to assist the fertility of the plant. It’s almost as if He says, there’s not an excuse, for not to bear fruit, or to bear good fruit. And, of course, in the one in Isaiah, you see a real anger, and in the second one you see a little more patience, maybe, but you see the expectation of fruit. And that is what God expects; He expects us to be fruitful. Now, you may be sitting there thinking ‘I don’t know what that means’, or ‘how do I go about this’ but this is not rocket science. But I do think it’s something you have to really think about and be intentional about.

 

Now, I want to close by talking about what do you mean by fruit. What does that really mean? And, if you go to Webster’s, Webster’s uses this definition. It’s from agriculture. It says, “Fruit is the end product of plant growth.” I like that. It’s the end product of plant growth, so spiritual fruit is the end product of spiritual growth. That’s why Paul says; you need to get equipped, so you can do the work. Because, once you get equipped, you have the ability to do all types of things to help people. And the Bible speaks of two components of being fruitful. The first is; think about fruit that is generated on a tree. The fruit that you see generated on a tree distinguishes it from all other trees.

 

I don’t know that this would ever happen, but let’s say that you are walking through a forest, and see all these pine trees and oak trees, and whatever, and all of a sudden, you come upon a tree that has got big red apples on it. You would go, that’s an apple tree, very quickly because of the visible manifestation of the fruit. Of the end product. You know, if we’re growing spiritually, there should be some type of visible manifestation of that growth. You should be able to see it in your life. This is the type of fruit that Paul talks about when he makes reference to the fruit of the spirit. That there should be, over time, as we’re growing spiritually, we should see love and joy and peace and patience and kindness and faithfulness and gentleness and self-control, and Paul is saying this fruit should be present in your life and others should clearly see this.

 

And you know who should see it most particularly? Your wife. If something really good is going on in your life, your wife should be the first to notice it. Now, don’t get me wrong, she’s going to still see your flaws. Those are the ones that are always the most noticeable. But, there should begin to be a visible manifestation that God is doing something in your life. Your kids should see it, and you know who else should see it? The people you work with. These are the people that see us as we really are. We can fake it pretty well out in public, but at home and at work, they see the real us, and, as God is working in us, He should be changing us. There should be this fruit of the spirit that is manifest in our lives. But the second one is the one that we’ve been focusing on and that I would like to focus on as we close up. Paul speaks of it in Philippians 1 when he talks about he feels torn. He says, I’m ready to go home and be with the Lord. That is so much better for me. A better place. But, he says, but to remain on will mean, these are his words, “fruitful labor for me”. And I don’t know what to choose, because they are both great. Bearing fruit. Going home. And then Jesus makes reference to it, as well. And He refers to it as laboring in the harvest. Let’s look at what Jesus says about this in John chapter 4.

 

Jim: Richard, on this issue of bearing fruit. Is this something that we experience in real time or in retrospect? Or both?

 

RS:  I think both. You know, if you’re living the Christian life, in a lot of ways, you influence people and you don’t even realize it. And that’s a whole, we could talk, really, that’s an interesting thing, that sometimes you may have had an impact on somebody and don’t even know it. But, that only comes from living the Christian life, and living in a Christ like way, and it impacts others.  

 

Unidentified audience member: The fact is, most of us are going to have an impact on somebody, in some way.  

 

RS: In some way. You hear that? That’s a great point. All of us are influencing people, how are we influencing them? That’s a really good point. John 4. Everybody at John 4? Read verses 35 to 38. Lee, you want to read those for us?

 

Lee: “Do you not say, ‘Four months more, then comes the harvest’? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting. The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’  I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.”

 

RS: Thank you. He’s talking about sowing and reaping, in the harvest. He says the harvest is ripe, it is full.

 

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