A Vine-Ripened Life

A lot of ink has been spilled lately on the topic of sanctification. How exactly do we grow as Christians? What is the relationship between the Spirit’s work and our own efforts in sanctification? What fuels and motivates our growth?

I was interested, then, to read a new book called A Vine-Ripened Life: Spiritual Fruitfulness through Abiding in Christ by Stanley D. Gale. I was also interested because I’ve preached on the theme of abiding in Christ from John 15, but have never been completely satisfied with my efforts.

A Vine-Ripened Life can best be called a collision between the themes of abiding in Christ from John 15 and of the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5. Gale clearly describes God’s work in our spiritual growth (the fruit of the Spirit) and our work: abiding, or staying intimately connected with Christ to draw on his power. He works through each of the fruit of the spirit (love, joy, peace, and so on), exegeting and applying the text. He also throws in a bonus chapter on humility, which he compares to the chlorophyll. Chlorophyll gives a plant its distinctive color, and enables the absorption of light. Humility gives Christians their distinctive color, and helps them to thrive as we abide in the Vine.

This is one of the least flashy books I’ve read. Gale simply thinks biblically about how Christians grow, and exegetes and applies Scripture. It reads like a series of written sermons: solid, biblical, and more faithful than fizzy.

If you are looking for a study that will help you understand how to grow as a believer in Christ, and what it looks like, I recommend this book. It is not a theological exploration of the complex issues around sanctification, but a series of pastoral meditations how God will change us as we continue to abide in Christ.

Planting at the Intersection of Receptivity, Need, and Passion

Where should we plant churches? With over four billion people on the planet who are not disciples of Jesus Christ, we have a responsibility to answer this question carefully. No one has helped me think through this question more than J.D. Payne, author of Discovering Church Planting.

Payne suggests that we plant at the intersection of receptivity and need:

  • Receptivity — Where are people ready to hear the gospel? While there is a role for planting in areas with low receptivity, it is best to prioritize areas where people are receptive to the gospel.
  • Need — Where do people need to hear the gospel? Where are there a high number of people who have never heard the gospel, in contrast to areas where there are a high percentage of believers? (See Payne’s recent post on Utica as an example. I would argue that Toronto is just as needy.)

Payne argues that we should prioritize areas of high need and receptivity as a matter of stewardship. While some may be called to areas of high need and low receptivity, this is not the norm.

As I think about this, I would add one more consideration:

  • Passion — Where am I particularly suited and impassioned to serve?

This is probably worth its own post, but I have found that when God calls someone to do something, he usually also gives them a great passion or burden for that work. 

We should therefore aim to plant churches at the intersection of receptivity, need, and passion.

Thoughts? I’d love to hear them!

Saturday Links

Links for your weekend reading:

He Must Increase; Our Churches Must Decrease

A gospel-centered church is okay with its own decreasing — in reputation, in acclaim, in legacy, even in (gasp) numbers, but especially in self-regard — so long as it serves the increasing of the sense of the glory of God.

How To Criticize A Preacher

I’m going to give you ten questions to ask that I hope will produce the right words and the right way to say them should you ever have to offer criticism to a preacher.

"All the Law and the Prophets..." in a piece of fruit

Almost every person who has read that fateful chapter has at one time or another expressed the same frustration and confusion at the account of the fall:

"What's the big deal with the fruit?!!"

A Critical Leadership Error and 4 Ways to Approach It

There is one critical error most leaders make at some point. I make it frequently. We forget that people are trying to follow.

7 Lessons for Leading a Growing Church

Church leaders, I want to share with you some insights and suggestions that will encourage you in both your ministry and personal life.

The Freedom that Comes from Grace

I read recently of an actor (Meryl Streep?) who said she no longer cares what people think. It’s a perk, she said, of getting older. I can relate. I’m old enough to have stopped caring (at least as much) about what other people think. This article, while a little crude, puts it well: “You don’t care about being cool anymore and therefore you become the coolest you have ever been in your life” (cool being a relative term).

But it’s not just age that frees you from what other people think. Grace does this too. As Scotty Smith puts it, grace is the end of all posturing and pretending.

  • Because of grace, I no longer have to pretend to be someone different than I am. Grace meets me right where I am.
  • Because of grace, I don’t have to measure up, because I couldn’t anyway. Jesus has measured up on my behalf, and it is enough.
  • Because of grace, I can accept the harshest criticism, knowing that even worse is true of me than they know, but it’s all been dealt with by Jesus.
  • Because of grace, I can be free from needing the approval of others, knowing that I already have the only approval that really matters.
  • Because of grace, I can lean into honest relationships with others, knowing that I don’t have to fear being exposed when I’m dressed in the righteousness of Christ.

I love how Jared Wilson puts it in The Pastor's Justification, especially (as the title suggests) as it relates to pastors:

Pastor, will we seek justification in our reputations? In our church’s numbers and figures? In our retweets and links? In our podcast downloads? In a book deal or speaking engagement? In our own sense of a job well done? This is sand.

Or will we look up and out, away from ourselves, away from the fickle fellowship, away from Satan’s right hand of the Father, where our righteousness sits, firmly fixed eternal? There is your justification, pastor, perfect and big, bigger than you and better than you but bled and bought for you and birthed in you, yours irrevocably, sealed and guaranteed through both your successes and your failures, through the pats on your back or the knives in your back. There is your justification, there in Christ, and because in him there is no shadow of turning, you are utterly, totally, undeniably justified.

Brother, you are free.

The freedom that comes from grace is much better than the freedom that comes from aging.

This Church Opens Wide Her Doors

When people walk into church, according to Ray Ortlund, they have been beaten up all week. We live in a social environment in which we never measure up. We are soaked in an environment of criticism and comparisons, so much so that it feels normal. We are made to feel small at work, in advertising, and in almost every area of life.

We swim in an ocean of criticism all week, and then we walk into church.

That’s why Ortlund gives a little speech at the beginning of the worship services at Immaneul Nashville that he adapted from James Boice from Tenth Presbyterian Church:

Ray Ortlund's notes

Ray Ortlund's notes

To all who are weary and need rest;
To all who mourn and long for comfort;
To all who feel worthless and wonder if God even cares;
To all who are weak and fail and desire strength;
To all who sin and need a Savior —
This church opens wide her doors with a welcome from Jesus,
the mighty friend of sinners,
the ally of his enemies,
the defender of the indefensible,
the justifier of those who have no excuses left...

Ortlund says, “I just want people to know, it’s going to be different now. You just walked into grace. We can relax. We can own up. We can be honest. We can face the living God through the blood of Christ and let him speak to us.”

Sign at Redeemer Church, Bellingham, Washington

Sign at Redeemer Church, Bellingham, Washington

In the next hour, he wants the souls of the people to be re-oxygenated, so that when they walk out of the service they feel alive again.

I love this! As you can see from the picture, others have borrowed it from Ortlund as well.

Check out Ray Ortlund’s excellent message at The Gospel Coalition Atlantic Conferences — this post is based on his comments at the 19 minute mark — as well as the other messages. I felt my soul re-oxygenated as I soaked in grace under the teaching at this conference.