Don’t Cling To The Bible

“Don’t cling too closely to the Bible. It’s not that important.”

That’s a paraphrase of something said to a friend of mine as he attended a Christian course. Both he and I agreed that it’s that sort of comment that immediately puts us on the defensive. It wasn’t quite as bad as it sounds though. In essence, this person was saying that we shouldn’t hold the Bible so tightly that it becomes more important than God.

And there’s a lot of truth in that isn’t there? We don’t want to become people who effectively say we worship God the Father, God the Son and God the Bible (a very real danger in conservative circles). At New Word Alive a few years ago I attended a series of Wayne Grudem’s seminars on the Bible and he said it’s all to easy to make it sound like we worship the Bible rather than Jesus. His answer to those accusations was to invite people to come along to church and let them see for themselves if that really was the case.

So that initial paraphrased quote (I’ll just call it a quote from now on), despite its unfortunate wording, seems quite reasonable doesn’t it? It seems to occupy that hallowed middle ground between the Liberals who don’t really seem concerned with the Bible at all, and the fundamentalists who read everything 100% literally. But I’m not sure it does. For all it’s well meaning intentions, I think it highlights a misunderstanding of what the Bible really is, and so rather than occupying a middle ground, actually ends up in a sort of biblical no mans land.

It’s 100% right to say that our love should be directed towards God and we must avoid the very real danger of worshipping a book, rather than it’s author. But there in lies the issue. God and his word are not that simply divided. The quote sounds like a reasonable thing to say because many of us slip into the trap of thinking in terms of God and the Bible as completely distinct entities. I mean, one’s a person and one’s a book for goodness sake. Why wouldn’t we think like that? But the reality is subtly different. Try thinking in terms of God and God’s word and suddenly that quote begins to look absurd.

Look at it this way, the basic premise is “love the person (God), don’t end up just loving a book.” But it’s not just a book. It’s the words of the person. What would it look like if I applied that thinking to my relationship with my wife? If I told you that I love Becca but I don’t really need to pay that much attention to what she says, or that what she says isn’t really that important, I think you’d begin to question the reality of my love for her and the nature of our relationship. What would it say about my love for her if I think that her words may be worth listening to but I shouldn’t cling too closely to them? And so more importantly, what would it say about my love for Jesus if I feel that way about his words, the Bible? Suddenly, we begin to realise that divorcing the two from one another becomes a little bit silly.

…and so by extension think what he says is quite important too!

After all, the disciples seemed to realise loving Jesus didn’t mean having intense feelings about him in some abstract way, but listening to his words and then putting them into practice. As Peter says:

“Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” (John 6:68)

We can’t leave Jesus’ words behind (I mean, where else would we go?) therefore we can’t leave the Bible behind. There’s no other place to go if we want to know Jesus and hear what he has to say to us today. This isn’t a 2000 (or more) year old document simply recording a bygone age but it is something living and active.

So do make sure you love Jesus and not just his book. But do treat Jesus’ words as important, do cling to them, because these words are the only way we know anything about Jesus in the first place, these words are the words of the person we claim to love most & these words are the words of eternal life.

Advertisements

My Testimony

A little while back, we were visiting my parent’s house. During our time there, my parents asked me to sort through some of my old stuff and decide if there was anything I wanted to keep or whether stuff could be chucked. Apparently when you’re 28, married, have two kids and haven’t really lived at home full time for about 10 years, your parents decide it’s probably time for you to finally take your stuff away. As I sifted through various folders containing bank details and GCSE certificates, I came across two handwritten pieces of A4 lined paper with the heading “My Testimony”. I had written this about 11 years ago, shortly after I became a Christian. I think Jon March had probably told me I should write it down before I forgot. Well I did, but it had sat forgotten for over a decade. Needless to say it had some sentimental value and I wanted to hold onto it. Now finally I’ve typed it up and put it onto my computer and as we’re in a week of interviews and testimonies at All Saints this week, I thought why not share mine. I’ve copied it below and it’s all as written by 17 year old me, with no changes, even if I would’ve liked to have tidied it up a bit.

My Testimony

I was at Soul Survivor B 2003. I was enjoying the experience, especially the worship as that was the only time I felt I was really connecting with God. Even then, I had doubts about whether or not it was actually the music I enjoyed or the praise. I have now come to the conclusion that it was a mixture of both and the reason I liked the music was because the Lord had given me a real passion for it. Despite feeling connected to God during the musical worship, I was saddened that I didn’t feel anything when I was being prayed for.

The main tent at Soul Survivor

I had had prayer on about two occasions, with people placing their hands on me and praying for various things, including healing. The prayer for healing went unanswered and I felt upset and angry with God as I was truly asking him to come into my heart. I also was sad about it because it was evident that people around me were getting healed and some very quickly. I began to think that the only way the Lord would really give me some sort of sign was when people laid their hands on me and prayed for me. I felt that my prayer wasn’t good enough to warrant an answer.

On the third night of Soul Survivor, Mike Pilavachi did not ask people who wanted particular prayer to stand up and for people to pray for them by laying hands on them. Instead, he asked everyone to stand and to pray in whatever way we wanted for the Lord, the Holy Spirit to come down upon us. I heard people screaming in what I thought was tongues and Mike was saying that he knew some of us had anger rising up in us and that we could let it out. I was feeling nothing at that point and felt fine, apart from being worried that God didn’t want me. I was also scared at all the noise going on around me and Mike said not to be scared but I still was. I prayed to God , telling him I was scared and asking him to make it right. I asked the Lord to fill me with the Holy Spirit and for Jesus to come into my heart.

I began to tremble in my legs, which I had felt in previous prayer sessions before. However, I was always dubious of this in case it was my body just shaking because I was cold or that I might be somehow faking it. As I went on in praying I began to shake violently. I remembered Mike saying that if we can’t cry here, with God, where can we cry and so I said to God something along the lines of “Lord I’m not afraid to cry in front of these people, so if you’re there please give me some sign.” Almost instantly I began to fill up and I burst into tears. Sam, Oli, Jon and Anthony prayed for me whilst I just let it come down.

It was the most emotional experience I have ever had. I cried for all the bad things that had happened to me, such as the lack of healing and other life problems and it hurt emotionally and I remember thinking maybe I was doing something wrong, as surely I shouldn’t feel this upset. I was crying because I knew I had made mistakes. But whilst I cried, I felt that the tears were tears of awe because I knew that it was true, all true and I was going to heaven and I was going live forever in heaven and I could never doubt again. And as I went on praying, there were moment that the tears subsided and I thought the Lord had almost finished saying what he wanted to me but then the tears came again and this time I was crying for the things I had done in my life which had not glorified the Lord and I was saying, “Sorry Lord, I’m so sorry, it’s all true.”

When these tears passed, I felt myself laughing because I just felt so happy but I was so happy that I couldn’t smile or laugh enough to express my happiness so I just had to cry again. Then my tears subsided and I fell to my knees and bowed my head, partly in exhaustion because I had done a lot of crying, and partly because I felt bad for all the wrong things I had done and I cried again.

Eventually, it all passed and I was left tearful but absolutely beaming because I was so happy. How could I doubt now?

Despite thinking, “how can I doubt now?” and the fact this this occurred only a few days before I wrote this, the further the event got away, the more I began to analyse and think about what happened, the more I began to think, “maybe I was just letting out pent up emotion” or “I got caught up in the mood.” I don’t believe that this is because I don’t believe in the Lord, but that it is because it is human nature to doubt. I know he’s there because I felt it to be true so strongly and if it was just me, I would have had some doubts even at the time but I had none. I felt God so intimately but still I doubt as is my nature but even as I write this my faith is reaffirmed as I remember something I think J. John said. “When we pray, coincidences happen. When we don’t, they don’t,” and as I write my testimony of how I felt the Lord, songs are playing on the radio praising Jesus and never before, until now, have I heard music praising the Lord on Radio 2! Now that’s what I call a coincidence. Amen.

Why I Fell Out Of Love With Two Ways To Live Pt.4

After taking a short break from this series over the Christmas period and new year (Happy New Year BTW), I thought I should probably get a shift on and actually get down part 4 of my look at Two Ways To Live. So without further ado, the other problem I have with TWTL is:

The Illusion of Choice

Now this might be a slightly controversial one as I know Christians have different views about this. TWTL’s tagline is ‘the choice we all face’ but I just don’t think following Jesus is about making a choice (hear me out), because I don’t think any of us have the ability to make the choice to follow Jesus. Left to our own devices, we are so steeped in sin that it is impossible for us to choose Jesus of our own accord. We’ve already seen in part 3 that we’re not free agents and that before being saved we’re under the rule of Satan. Two Ways To Live doesn’t pick up on this, which is a shame, but it also paints another unhelpful picture of what we’re like. We’re depicted as empowered decision makers who should take the clever option for the discerning religious consumer and make the enlightened choice. But this idea is foreign to the Bible.

We’re not empowered decision makers, given a choice and just needing to make the right one. We are captives in the strong man’s house (Mark 3:27).  We are helpless slaves to sin (John 8:34).  We are whores besotted with terrible lovers (Ezekiel 16).  We are sheep following after bad shepherds (Ezekiel 34).  We are thirsty beggars drinking from broken wells (Jeremiah 2:13-14).  We are lost and must be found (Luke 15). We are snake-bitten and need healing (John 3:14f). We are famished and need Bread (John 6). We are dominated subjects in Satan’s kingdom (Ephesians 2:1-3).We are dead and need raising (John 5:24f).

These are not pictures of empowered decision makers who just need to choose to get out of this situation. These are pictures of people who are hopelessly lost, enslaved, dead! That last picture, death, is the most helpful in seeing where the idea of choice falls down. TWTL presents us with two lifestyle choices. But of course, we don’t really have a choice, because we’re spiritually dead and dead people don’t, in fact they can’t, make decisions! When was the last time you heard about someone who was dead and one day just chose to be alive again? When was the last time you went to a funeral and you heard the vicar say in his address, “well it’s terribly sad that she’s gone but who knows?! She might just choose to come back again!”Or when Lazarus was dead in the tomb, did we hear Jesus say, “I’m sure he’ll choose to be alive again when he’s ready?”

Imagine that you’re walking along the street one day and “BAM!” You have a heart attack. You fall to the ground and your heart stops beating, leaving you lying dead on the curb. Now you are in no position to make any choices at that point. You are entirely dependent on salvation coming from outside of you. Maybe a passer by or a paramedic will step in and administer CPR, get your heart beating again and give you your life back. But you! You were powerless. This is exactly the situation we’re in.

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins…But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved.
Ephesians 2:1, 4-5

We were dead and made alive, and this wasn’t our choice. Following Jesus is not something we choose to do. We don’t weigh up the evidence and then choose to have faith. Faith is given to us as a gift, it comes from outside of us.

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God
Ephesians 2:8

Now one of the ways we might receive faith may involve us weighing up the evidence but let’s not falsely pretend we’re free agents reaching this point ourselves. We’re only going to come to faith if faith is given to us. Even in those circumstances, we’re still receiving it.

Think of a couple of classic illustrations we often use and how they’ve been influenced by the same sort of thinking as TWTL. Take the illustration of being stuck in a burning building and the fireman putting his ladder up to the window. All we need to do is make the decision to jump into his arms and let him save us. Or the image of being lost at sea and floundering in the water, until a boat appears and someone throws you a life ring, urging you to take hold of it. I’ve used both these and similar illustrations before. But don’t they suggest that the fireman himself can’t really rescue us and that those on the boat are ultimately helpless to save us? In the end, the focus is put onto us and our decision. Choose to leap into the fireman’s arms. Choose to grab the life ring. Once again, subtly, the focus is being moved off of Jesus and onto us (and the gospel simply as self preservation again). It would be more accurate to have us as the person overcome with smoke inhalation and not breathing, or the body floating facedown in the water, lungs filled with fluid, who is then resuscitated by our rescuer.

Ultimately, the gospel is not a one of two lifestyle choices, it is life to the dead and the dead can’t choose to make themselves alive again, Christ gives life. I think this has far greater impact than Two Ways To Live.

If not TWTL, then what?

So you’ve probably guessed by now that Two Ways To Live doesn’t float my boat. So what does? Below is 321, an outline I have been particularly taken by in the last year. I’m not going to say anything about it, it’s just yours to watch. Below I’ve also posted some links to a few articles from the writer of 321, Glen Scrivener, where he addresses how 321 relates to the classic gospel outline of Creation, Fall, Cross and Repentance. Enjoy!

321 & Creation
321 & The Fall
321 & Christ’s Redemption
321 & Repentance Part 1
321 & Repentance Part 2

Why I Fell Out Of Love With Two Ways To Live Pt.2

Yesterday evening I talked about Two Ways To Live’s lack of Christ centred-ness. I probably could have spoken more about that under this next heading, but thought it would be easier to break them up for the sake of length. So, issue number 2…

It’s Quite Man Centred

It’s tagline is, “The Choice We All Face.” The main focus of the whole thing is us and our response. That’s not to say it doesn’t look at the works of Jesus but his works are framed within something which is very much about us – the two ways we have to live and the choice we need to make (more on choice in part 4). So it’s not about Christ and what he’s done, it’s about you and what you need to do. This is part of the reason it struggles to remain Christ centred.

As the focus is squarely on us, Jesus and his works can never really take centre stage. Everything is framed around us escaping judgement and so the gospel becomes nothing more than a get out of jail free card. Jesus’ works are really just a means to an end, rather than Jesus himself being the big deal. This is in turn means that love for Jesus isn’t really encouraged, just preservation of self, namely avoiding hell.

I can think of a number of times I’ve asked teenagers why they trust in Jesus and the answer has been, “because I don’t want to go to hell.” There is some value in that, but as soon as they say it, I always rather think they’ve missed the point. Surely it should be because they’ve caught a glimpse of who Jesus is and what he’s done, that Jesus is so incredible and beautiful that they can’t help but surrender to him? The focus should really be on Jesus rather than benefit for self.

So the way Two Ways To Live frames things makes it very hard for Jesus to appear as anything other than a means to our salvation rather than our salvation himself – salvation becomes about escaping hell rather than knowing God through Christ (John 17:3) and as in my previous post, because the link between God and Jesus isn’t that explicit anyway, it become even harder to avoid this.

Part 3 to follow…

Why I Fell Out Of Love With Two Ways To Live Pt.1

OK OK, so in fairness, I don’t think I was ever “in love” with Two Ways To Live. To be honest, I’m not sure that I ever really felt that strongly about it. But nonetheless, it’s certainly been the default outline I’ve fallen back on when explaining the gospel, even if I haven’t explicitly started drawing out the six boxes.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Two Ways To Live, the whole presentation can be viewed here.

Even though I always seem to default to this outline, over the last year or so my attention has been drawn to a number of issues which have led me to question it’s helpfulness. Most of this has been a result of reading Glen Scrivener’s blog over at http://www.christthetruth.net which is undoubtedly  the best and most challenging thing I’ve been reading in the last year. Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that Two Ways To Live isn’t useful for anyone. It may well work  for you. But I think I’ve reached a point where I need to part company with it and over these next 4 blogs, I hope to be able to explain why and bring together the things I’ve been wrestling with in the last year. And that’s exactly what these blogs will be. Me wrestling. I’m not saying I’m right, or that I’ve got it all sorted, nor am I saying that some of my criticisms can’t be met with an answer. This is just where I’m at.

Briefly, here’s why.

It’s Not Very Christ Centred

Jesus doesn’t make his grand entrance until box 4 of 6. God is mentioned before this but Jesus isn’t. So when Jesus appears on the scene, we can’t help but say “well who is this guy?” He looks like nothing more than a third party stepping into a dispute between us and God that has nothing to do with him. Now of course, Jesus is our mediator so there’s an element of truth in there regarding the stepping in. The big problem though, is that Jesus isn’t a third party, he is in very nature God. But as Jesus hasn’t been mentioned at all until he enters the world, there’s real confusion over who he is. This is the problem I most commonly come up again when using the classic two ways to live outline. I get through boxes 1-3 alright, but when Jesus appears, the whole thing goes to pot.

Seeker: “Who is Jesus?”
Me: “Well he’s God.”
Seeker: “But I thought he was God’s son?”
Me: “Well yeh he is that too, because uh, you see…um… God is a trinity…”

Immediately, I’m back pedalling. Because I haven’t bothered to do the groundwork regarding the Trinity and Jesus’ divinity, it gets complicated very quickly. Now I can already hear people saying, “hang on, the trinity? With a non-Christian? Isn’t that quite advanced stuff (you gnostics you)? Do we really want to be dragging that in at this stage?” Well I want to answer with a resounding “YES!” Why? Because the trinity is at the very core of who God is. It’s inherently part of his nature. Before anything else was, God was Father, Son and Holy Spirit, one God but three persons in unity. I’d say that’s pretty foundational stuff. In fact, the more I’ve thought about it, the stranger it seems that we try so hard not to talk about it.

And considering some of the great passages there are which can give clarity as to Jesus’ identity, it almost seems criminal not talk about it. John 1:1-18, Colossians 1:15-20, Philippians 2:5-8, Micah 5:2 are all stone cold classics and undoubted slam dunks in this area. They all clearly show us that Jesus is not a third party who “began”, so to speak, 2000 years ago. He’s the one whose origins are from ancient times, he’s the Lord of heaven, he’s God in the flesh, God with us, the visible image of the invisible God and in him the fulness of God was pleased to dwell.

If this isn’t naturally how we speak about Jesus, we’re always going to speak in a way that divides God and Christ, setting them up against one another and causing confusion for the non-believer. I’ve come to find this a big stumbling block for people and generally unhelpful.

As a slight addendum to this section, I’ve heard some Christians (who are pretty firmly entrenched in the two ways to live outline) almost sneer at this idea. “Oh you’re one of those people who thinks we need to mention the trinity in evangelism,” they say, implying that it’s just some passing fad. I’ve often felt the resistance here has come from those for whom the outline has become a bit of a sacred cow though. Let’s be careful not to be quick to dismiss and slow to re-evaluate. There’s a Pharisee lurking in all of us!

More thoughts on this in part 2. Coming soon!

The Depth of Brotherly Love in Philemon

The letter of Paul to Philemon strikes me as such a wonderful example of the love Christians should have for one another. Just look at the relationship between the two men:

  • Paul calls Philemon “dear friend” (v1).
  • Paul is so clearly encouraged by Philemon’s walk (v4-7).
  • Philemon had clearly helped Paul in the past (v13).
  • They would consider each other “partners,” suggesting a close friendship and relationship as fellow gospel workers (v17).
  • Philemon was likely converted by Paul (v19).
  • Paul desires to come to Philemon in person and stay with him(v22).

The two men are clearly close friends but once Paul begins to talk about Onesimus, we really begin to see the extent of the love that Christians must have for one another. Onesimus was seemingly a valued slave of Philemon’s (v16) who had in some way wronged his master, most likely stealing some of his money (19) and then running away (v12, 15). It seems that at some point after fleeing from Philemon, Onesimus had come into contact with Paul and been converted (v10-11). The transforming effect that the gospel had on his life is clear to be seen. He became a fellow worker for the gospel alongside Paul (v11, 13) which led to a close relationship between the two of them:

  • Paul calls him his “son” (v10)
  • Paul describes Onesimus as “my very heart” (v12).
  • Onesimus had helped Paul during his imprisonment in a similar way that Philemon did (v13).
  • Paul says that Onesimus is very dear to him (v16).
  • Paul is willing to pay back what Onesimus owes (v19).

Clearly Onesimus’s life has changed for the better but Paul is writing to Philemon because he knows that the broken relationship between the slave and master needs to be addressed. We’ve already seen two great examples of the closeness Christians should share in their relationships but it’s in Paul’s plea for Philemon to welcome back Onesimus that we see how much deeper that love must go:

  • Paul has commended Philemon on his love for the other brothers and how he has ministered to them (v7). He appeals to Philemon to love Onesimus in the same way, despite the wrong he has done him (v9).
  • Philemon is to welcome Onesimus back not as a slave but as a fellow Christian brother (v16).
  • Philemon should welcome Onesimus as he would welcome Paul, as a partner, as if Onesimus was the man who had converted him and as a dear friend that he’d prepare a bed for (v17).

Paul and Philemon were clearly dear friends who had great love for one another and Philemon clearly had great love for other Christians too. But Paul’s challenge to him is to welcome back a thieving slave (who no doubt had cost him lots of trouble and money) as if he were Paul himself. Any previous wrongs in the relationship are to be put behind them and they are now to love one another as Christian brothers and not slave and master. Paul even suggests that by doing this, Philemon will refresh his heart (v20) which is surely a reference back to the joy and encouragement Paul had from Philemon’s love of his Christian brothers and sisters in v7.

I find this little letter profoundly challenging. Not only does it show the depth of relationships we should share with other Christians but it challenges us to forgive those who have wronged us and love them as if they were our nearest and dearest. It also shows the encouragement that this can be to others around us and therefore the discouragement that a refusal to do so can be.

This whole letter shows the incredible love Christians are to have for one another and in doing so, points to the greatest love, shown by Jesus on the cross. In many ways, we are all like Onesimus, having wronged our master and done our best to flee the scene of the crime. But where there is true repentance, Jesus welcomes us back like an old friend, like a brother.

No longer as a slave but…as a dear brother.

Hark The Herald Angels Sing, Death To The Newborn King!

Last Sunday morning we were looking at some Christmas passages with our 11-14’s and I was struck by this short passage about Herod and the birth of Jesus.

1 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.” When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied… …Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.” – Matthew 2:1-7

What struck me was verse 4. Herod clearly understands that the one to be born is the Christ, the Messiah, God’s anointed one, His ultimate chosen ruler and King who will save His people. So how does Herod react to this wonderful news! He’s disturbed. Clearly Herod isn’t too chuffed about another King arriving on the scene, chosen one or not. And we know from later in chapter 2 that his request that the Magi report the child’s whereabouts is really a front for his plan to do away with him.

This is mind boggling when you think about it. The Jews have been waiting for the Messiah for hundreds of year, a whole people waiting for this momentous occasion. Children would have been brought up with the expectation of the coming Messiah as a part of the very fabric of their lives, Herod included, and yet his very first thought on hearing of the Messiah’s birth, is how he can ensure that he stays on the throne. He even goes as far as murdering babies so as not to give up his power and submit to another.

It just struck me how incredible it was, that at the announcement of good news on a universal scale, Herod’s immediate thought was for his own self. But the more I’ve thought about it, it’s not that strange at all really is it? Aren’t you and I just the same? Aren’t we all like Herod, little kings who don’t really want the real King to be on the throne? Everyday millions of people “do a Herod” (yes, I’m coining that phrase) and do everything they can to remain king of their own lives whilst rejecting the true King. No-one wants to hand over the throne to someone else. We’d all rather be in charge of our own lives.

But that kind of attitude betrays a misunderstanding of what it means to follow Jesus. Of course we need to let Jesus be our Lord and take charge of our lives and that will be necessity mean submitting to him. But to quote Glen Scrivener:

“at the end of the bible, we’re not looking forward to man getting off the throne.  Precisely the opposite.  Salvation involves being invited onto the throne, to rule with Christ (Revelation 3:21).”

We do have to submit to Christ as our King, but in doing so we’re raised to share in a far greater rule, one that we share in now in part, but one day we’ll share in completely.

To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne. – Revelation 3:21

If only Herod had known that.

The Curse of the Christmas Tree

This is a transcript of a talk I gave at our Scout Carol service 2012, which I  followed as a rough outline. To set the scene, I had kicked off with a bit of banter about who had had their tree up the longest and whose would be up the latest.

Each year many of us will buy a Christmas tree and then we’ll set about decorating it . For some of us it might even be quite an occasion, the sort of thing the whole family gets involved in. We’ll break out the baubles, maybe a star or an angel, a bit of tinsel, Dad’ll be getting more and more wound up as he tries to unravel the lights, and then you’ve got to make sure that all the decorations are spread out evenly so it looks just right.

And you’ve got to decorate it haven’t you, because if you didn’t do anything to it, it wouldn’t look very attractive at all would it? Because it’s a Christmas tree! A Christmas tree has been wrenched up and torn from it’s natural environment and so it’s not got any roots. It’s not going to be getting any nutrients and things like that, it’s probably not going to get much sunlight and so it’s never going to blossom or produce any fruit. How can it? There’s no real life in it. It’s as good as dead and it’s not got long before it’s going to start rotting away. My wife always says not to get a tree too early otherwise it might have dropped all it’s needles and gone brown by Christmas and then all the decorations in the world won’t be able to hide the fact that the tree is dead. And no-one wants a brown decaying tree littering up the living room, no matter how many lights, baubles or bits of tinsel it’s got on it. A Christmas tree is by it’s very nature heading for the rubbish dump, good for nothing more than wood for the fire. It’s not something that’s going to be worth keeping in the long run.

Incredibly, when you read how the Bible describes us, it says that we’re basically just like Christmas trees. The Bible makes the analogy between people and trees saying that “every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.(Luke 3:9)”. That shows us that what God wants from us is for us to produce good fruit, to live a life of obedience to him. But just like the Christmas tree we’ve been wrenched from our natural environment. Because of our sinfulness we’re all cut off from God, the source of real life. The Bible goes as far as describing us as spiritually dead. We might walk around and breathe the air but spiritually we’re dead, we’ve got no life in us. So if there’s no life in us, how can we produce the kind of fruit God wants? We’re like the Christmas tree, we just don’t have the means too.

Now sure we might try and be good, we might dress ourselves up in fancy decorations and good deeds and hope that God will think we’re good enough, but of course those things will never be good enough. Our incomplete, broken half attempts at obedience pale into insignificance next to the kind of obedience God really wants from us. They’re just like christmas decorations, they’re not real fruit.

And do we really think that that’ll be good enough? That’s like turning up in heaven and presenting God with bucket of baubles when he actually wanted real fruit. What an insult that’d be to God.You see, we can’t produce the fruit God requires from us, we can’t live the way God wants us to. We just don’t have the ability.

So like the christmas tree we’re heading for the rubbish dump, waiting to be thrown into the fire. All the half hearted obedience in the world can’t hide the fact that we’re spiritually dead and God doesn’t want to keep around a decaying corpse, no matter how many good deeds we might be clothed in. We’re not worth keeping, we’re worthless.

So this doesn’t sound like a very merry christmas does it? And if God had done nothing about it then we’d all be heading for the rubbish dump. But at Christmas time we remember how the God the Father sent God the Son, Jesus, to earth as a baby. God became man and stepped down to live among us.

And Jesus produced real fruit. He always lived a in complete obedience to the Father. Never once did the way he lived fall short of the standard God required. Never once did he bring God any baubles. He was in perfect relationship with the Father, spiritually alive, which meant he was able to produce the good fruit that the Father desired, in the same way that a tree that is rooted and nourished will produce fruit of it’s own too. So Jesus wasn’t heading for the rubbish dump. He was a keeper in the Father’s eyes.

But how does this help us? So far it just looks like Jesus is in a very good position and we’re in a very bad one. But you see, Jesus didn’t become a man just for the sake of it, to see what it would be like, or to try a new experience. No; Jesus’ sole purpose in coming to earth was to save us, to save you and me, to save this bunch of decaying Christmas trees, to replant us so we could be fruitful again.

You see, when Jesus died on the cross he swapped places with you and me. He took our bucket of baubles and presented it to His Father as if they were his and he was deemed to not be good enough. And so rather than you or I being thrown on the rubbish dump with all our pathetic baubles, Jesus was thrown on the rubbish dump instead. He willingly faced the consequences of being spiritually dead and fruitless, he took the punishment for our insult to God, so that we didn’t have to.

But more than that, Jesus didn’t just take our pathetic bucket of baubles but he gave us his own bowl of fruit. He gave us the fruit of a life lived in perfect obedience to God so that rather than coming to God with only our half hearted attempts at being good to show for ourselves, we can come to God with exactly what is pleasing to him.

But we only get the benefits of what Jesus has done for us if we believe in what he did, if we put our trust in him. The bible says “ I am right with God, not because I followed the law (so not because I was able to be obedient enough), but because I believed in Christ. God uses my faith to make me right with him,“ (Philippians 3:9) and “you have been saved by grace through believing. You did not save yourselves; it was a gift from God. It was not the result of your own efforts” (Ephesians 2:8-9).

We are saved by our faith in Jesus, not our own efforts. Our own efforts are rubbish. But when we put our faith in Jesus, he exchanges his fruit for our decorations so that when God looks at us, he sees the fruit of a life lived in obedience to him. And so God says “that person shouldn’t go to the rubbish dump, they’re a keeper.” We get brought into a relationship with God through Jesus and we get to enjoy the same relationship with the Father that Jesus enjoys, a relationship in which we can call God our Father and that will last through into eternity.

But following Jesus doesn’t just bring some future blessing because Jesus says “If you stay joined to me, and I stay joined to you, then you will produce lots of fruit.” (John 15:5). You see, when we trust Jesus we’re made spiritually alive, and the Holy Spirit can begin to be at work in us to make us produce fruit and begin to live in obedience to the Father. Our whole life will be changed.

And just think, this all started with a small child, a baby boy, Jesus Christ, born on that first Christmas morning over 2000 years ago. Maybe this Christmas, you’ll let Jesus bring you alive and make you fruitful.