"Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree growing 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 fig tree and 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, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’” -Luke 13:6-9
Forty four years ago, a few days before my 31st birthday a doctor walked into my hospital room and told me I had non-hodgkins lymphoma. Stage 3. "We're going to start you on chemotherapy, but I'm not optimistic that you'll see your 40th birthday." I'll bet God laughed right out loud!
I'm currently 75 years old now.
Back then, at best I was a cultural Christian. But the Holy Spirit kept bringing me back to this parable of the "barren fruit tree," because I sensed I was that tree. And for the first time in my life I was considering my break from cultural Christianity and truly following Jesus but not yet ready to take the plunge. I went to a pastor friend who knew me well. I gave him a litany of all the things I was doing. I taught Sunday school, served on mission boards, tithed regulary, believed every work of the Bible to be true. I was a nice guy! Ask anyone (The Pharisees had nothing on me.) "So what's wrong?" I asked. "What am I missing?".
"Clare," he said, "if you found a dead branch, stuck in the ground, then wired apples to it and glued leaves on it, would you have an apple tree?" I almost laughed out loud before it began to sink that he describing me. I was the dead branch trying my best to look fruitful to everyone, including God, without actually having surrendered my life to the lordship of Jesus. I wasn't trying to give God the glory and make him look good by all of my good deeds. The goal of my life was to make me look good!
At the time, my behavior and worldview were pretty much in sync with the Christian culture all around me. The problem was that it, the Christianity I was trying to mimic -- didn't look anything like what Jesus required any of his followers. It was a shallow counterfeit. And it was slowly dawning on me, sitting in church every Sunday, that although I was theologically certain about God, I was an obedience coward -- no better than Peter. I could almost hear the cock crowing -- this time for me!
I was an admirer of Jesus -- I just didn't want to live like him or for him.
Why in the world should God keep me alive with so little fruit compared to how God had blessed and gifted me?
Six months later this rich young ruler finally surrended my life to Jesus.
Here is what makes me sad. The number of older Christian men I know who've retired and appear to be coasting. Compared to how God has gifted and blessed them, these are "5 and 10 talent" Christians with incredible potential to use the balance of their lives serving others. They serve on some ministry boards, volunteer in their church a little, give and attend Bible studies. They appear to be giving God back some of what he gave them but not nearly with the passion and comittment they gave to their careers and hobbies. To be fair I have no idea what their private life is really like. Maybe they are serving others sacrifically, or quietly, or caring tenderly for their wives with health problems. Maybe they are quietly giving 50-75% of their income to Kingdom causes and the poor. Maybe. But I'm fearful for them.
Last week I blogged on the dangers of wealth and quoted these verses:
"The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature. But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop." -Luke 8:14-15
The danger of reading these verses and a blog like this is thinking it's true of others you know, but not of you, or me. This is the time for self-evaluation. Do not make the mistake of comparing yourself to other "good Christians". The question is, are you still a good investment for God, or are you in semi-retirement from the Kingdom of God?
Why should God keep you alive?