My wife and I have a cherry tree in our backyard.
It’s a nice enough tree, as trees go. It’s not too big, its roots aren’t intrusive, and it looks nice and creepy in the fall, as trees should. And yet, although the tree has several good things going for it, there is one flaw that my wife and I just can’t overlook. In fact, this flaw is so large, that we recently have been contemplating having it cut down.
What is this flaw, you ask?
It is a non-fruiting tree.
Sure, it has nice points, but we’ve been thinking of what else could go in that area, and really, the tree doesn’t serve a purpose right now. I feel like a non-fruiting cherry tree should really just be called a “tree”. The name “cherry” infers a purpose, doesn’t it? A cherry tree produces cherries, right?
I wonder, if we applied this same logic to Christians, how many of us would be “non-fruiting” trees? How many of us would not be fulfilling our purpose?
Let’s look to John 15:1-5
“’I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.
‘I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.’”
Christians are meant to bear fruit. We are meant to produce for the Kingdom. When we do not, we are not serving our purpose. And if we aren’t serving our purpose…well…what’s the point? If we aren’t trying to grow the Kingdom in some way, growing the Church, serving in some way, making use of the talents God gave us, then what is the purpose of having those talents? We are meant to bear fruit.
Of course, the question often comes, “how do I do that”? Well, Jesus makes that clear in verse 10, “’ If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love.’”
Do what Jesus said. Do what Jesus did. Just like a branch that’s been cut off from a tree can’t grow new fruit, there’s no way that we can bear fruit apart from Jesus.
That’s something worth repeating, just in case you didn’t get it the first time.
Just like a branch that’s been cut off from a tree can’t grow new fruit, there’s no way that we can bear fruit apart from Jesus.
Remain in Him. Do as He did. Bear fruit. Otherwise…what’s the point?
I had an unexpected encounter recently.
Friday mornings, my wife is in the office and my two older kids are at school, so my youngest (Charlotte) and I have that time with just the two of us. Well, a few weeks ago, I decided to take Charlotte out to breakfast, only the healthiest of meals, of course.
So, we made our way to Burger King, put in our order, and sat down to wait for our food. We sat in our booth, alone in the restaurant, save for one other man.
He was probably in his late 50’s, sitting alone, and was also waiting for his food. He sat quietly for a while, then, while I was playing with Charlotte, turned to me and asked, “Do they bring your food out to you here, or will they call your number?”
I told him that I wasn’t sure, and thought the brief conversation over. But he had more to say. “Yeah, I wanted to make sure I know what to expect, that way if it happens, I know who to complain to. I don’t usually like to complain, but sometimes you need to. I mean, I don’t lean right or left, so I don’t usually complain about politics or anything like that…”
He continued like this for a little while, talking about the things he would and would not complain about. I assumed he was just a person who welcomes conversation, so I smiled and continued to respond as he spoke. But his ultimate purpose became clear as he went on. “You know, you don’t want to complain about things that aren’t important, and you can always tell what’s important because God tells us what is most important in the world. His Holy Word guides us and lets us know what’s truly important in the world.”
Ah! Now I understood. He was a Christian who was looking for a way to share his faith. I was impressed by how direct he was, and happy to hear what he had to say, but was also trying to communicate to him that I was a fellow believer.
After some time, I was able to mention that I was a pastor. This seemed to surprise him, and that seemed to satisfy him, and he brought his testimony to a close. I remember thinking to myself how bold he was in his faith, and how he was so willing to preach Christ to a stranger.
But this is when things took a bit of a turn.
He stood up and walked to the counter and asked the cashier if his food was ready yet. She said it would be just a moment, they only had two people working at that time.
Well, I guess he thought this would be the right time to complain, and so began a lecture on what “fast food” should mean, how many staff should be working, and how to communicate with customers. The cashier, also the manager, said that she was sorry for the inconvenience and that his food would be out as quickly as possible.
At this point, he heaved a sigh and went toward the bathroom, only to find them locked, as per that Burger King’s “restrooms for customers only” policy. This began a second lecture on customer convenience and how businesses should be run, all while the manager is helping customers.
The manager apologizes again, she gathered his food, handed it to him, and he walked out the door without so much as a thank you. Now, I want to make one thing clear before I go on, I don’t know this man personally, and I cannot make judgments about him. So many things could have impacted his attitude that Friday, not the least of which being that he was just having a bad day. So I won’t say anything about the man personally.
But, what I will say is that, were I a non-Christian bystander in this situation, this would have directly impacted my opinion of Christians. Here we see someone eager to share the gospel, directly followed by being eager to judge and lecture an overworked manager.
It reminded me that, when it comes to being an ambassador for Christ, telling people about Jesus must always be paired with treating them with the love of Jesus.
It reminds me of James 1:22-25. “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.”
Hearing the word, reciting the word, even spreading the word, means nothing if we aren’t doing what it says. We are called to love others, to treat them as we would want to be treated, and to do those things joined with telling them about Jesus. We can’t just think that our words are separate from our actions. We cannot just hear the word, we need to be living it as well.
Even at Burger King.
We live in a very unique time.
I remember being in high school and getting my first cell phone ever. It was literally about the size of half a brick, and came with a holster to sling it on to my belt. I kept it next to my pager.
These days, students have the world at their fingertips. A wealth of information is available beyond anything that’s ever been known in history. People have dozens, if not hundreds, of ways to communicate with one another, and all with a single device in their pocket.
But, as we all know, this comes with many drawbacks as well, especially for teenagers. Students have begun to rely on their cell phone and social media as their primary form of communication. Because of this, deep, genuine, Christ-like friendships are becoming harder and harder to achieve, as this isn’t something that’s likely to come via a screen.
Because of this, we in the Refuge decided that this February, our discipleship camp would be focused on showing the students the importance of a Christian community that stretches beyond social media. So we headed out to Sweet Home to grow in our faith in Christ, and to grow as a Christian community.
The weekend began with the students being given prayer partners for the weekend, one specific person with whom they would be praying for, and would pray for them, throughout the weekend. Kyle Fox brought our messages, and he taught us the importance of how we connect with God, how we connect with each other, how God connects with us, and how we are meant to connect with the world.
The students we also challenged with a game that put the same limitations on them that social media does. They could only communicate in short phrases, like Twitter; only with pictures, like Instagram; for only ten seconds at a time, like Snapchat; and so on. Throughout the weekend, we were shown how limiting relying on social media is, and how important it is to have friendships that go beyond a screen.
Now that we’ve returned, friendships, new and old, have grown and students have learned to be praying for one another and to be in the Word together. In fact, a student led Bible study will be starting along with all of the new small groups beginning within the church.
It was an incredible weekend, and God moved in many ways. If your student wasn’t able to make it, be sure they can go during President’s Day next year, and make sure they can be at our summer camps this year!
There’s a reason students love summer so much.
This summer was jam packed full of incredible moments and the building of relationships. We laughed, we played, we felt the Holy Spirit move. Whether it was just one of our weekly events, or one of our annual camps, God moved this summer in incredible ways.
The highlight of the summer, of course, were the camps. The high schoolers went to CIY’s Move conference. There, students were challenged, through the book of Ephesians, to be kingdom workers, to be people who are living to help usher in God’s kingdom on Earth. Students were reminded that Kingdom Workers are loved, rescued, united, changed, and sent. This impacted the students in profound ways, challenging them to come home and grow the kingdom in some way. And through all this, we baptized three students into Christ, had another rededicate his life to Christ.
But the high schoolers didn’t have all of the fun. The middle schoolers went to Wi Ne Ma Christian Camp, where we learn how to be Olympians of the faith. Each day, the students learned how to “run the race”, as Paul wrote, and how we can be training ourselves to run that race most successfully. The students grew in their faith, and had a lot of fun doing it! Not to mention: we had three more baptisms!
But, as fun and moving as this summer was, it’s time to get back into the school year. But that doesn’t mean that we’re done growing and having a great time. This year sees Aftershock, our Sunday night small groups, returning, but differently than the students will remember. Instead of meeting
weekly and having a lesson, we’re changing Aftershock to a once a month, fellowship and prayer format. Each month will have one meeting for guys and another for girls, and we’ll spend those Sunday nights hanging, eating food, and most importantly, praying for each other and helping keep one another accountable.
Monday Funday also returns this year, and we’ll be spending each Monday, from after school until 5pm, hanging out at the church doing something new each week. So make sure you’re keeping up with our calendar so you can see all that we’re doing!
We’ve had an amazing summer, and God did amazing things. But we know His work is never done, and we’re excited to keep doing it through this school year!
Something happened this past weekend. Something unexpected, but also something that was incredibly exciting to be a part of.
This past weekend, a group of students came together out at Unite Winter Camp. Like so many other situations with teenagers, there was a group who knew each other well, and a group of newer students who knew very few people, if anyone at all.
When it began, it was clear that some people were unfamiliar with the surroundings, others admitted they were there because their parents made them go, and still others were genuinely there to learn and grow in their faith. But by the end of camp, Sunday night, every member of the group was united in heartfelt goodbyes, nicknames, hugs, and laughing, as in two short days, they had united.
But this doesn’t just happen, not often, and certainly not often with teens. Social insecurities usually hinder this kind of unity happening in this short amount of time. But God moved this weekend, and we all came home better for it.
I think this is precisely what Jesus was encouraging us toward when He was praying for us in John 17:20-26. Jesus, just hours before His arrest, vehemently begs His Father that those who believe in Him will be united in Him, just as He is united in God. Jesus also prays that His church will be united with one another, so that “all of them may be as one”.
But I wonder how you, the reader, handles this verse. It certainly is not limited to teenagers at a weekend winter camp. Here we see the Savior of the world calling out to God that those who believe in Him be unified entirely. And yet, how often is it that we are content to come to church on Sunday, enjoy an uplifting or challenging message, worship for a while, and go home? Maybe we read our Bible and we listen to Christian radio and we love Jesus, but are we uniting with the body of Christ? Are we in fellowship with our church, both inside and outside of the building?
Being part of the body of Christ doesn’t just mean we are united with Him, it means that we are coming together in fellowship, in service, and in so much more with the other members of our church. Too often I hear people say that they “don’t feel connected” with the church, yet they’ve never tried a small group, or gone to any events, or even just stayed and talked with people after service.
If you’re feeling like you haven’t connected with anyone, it’s time to live Jesus’ prayer and make a point to unite with the rest of church, to plug in with what we have for you here.
You never know what a small group, or a coffee conversation, or even two days at a camp will do for you.
I would like to give a resounding thanks to everyone who gave scholarship money for students to go to camp. This camp would not have been the same without every student that went, and your contributions made that happen. Thank you!
Youth Pastor Steve Valdez
For the past few weeks, we’ve been talking about marriage and how to fight for your marriage and how to not fight for your marriage and how to keep ministry in your marriage and whatnot. As a husband, I’ve been loving it. Reminders on how to best love my wife are always welcome. But, as a youth pastor, there’s always the thought in the back of my head, “how does this apply to teens”.
Surprisingly, this series has been more important to teens than you might realize.
It’s indirect, but still incredibly important. It’s more of a message to parents, but teens are a huge part of the message.
Marriage is an example.
It’s actually kind of interesting to see, as a youth pastor. I’ll meet a student, spend some time getting to know them, and just by seeing how they act in certain situations, I can learn a lot about the parents’ marriage. Is there a student with a servant’s heart? Chances are, the parents’ marriage is one where they serve each other. Is a student easy to get along with? Chances are, the parents get along really well with each other. Is the student respectful of the opposite gender? Do they avoid gossip and treat others with respect? All of these things can offer a look into a marriage.
Something that we often forget is that our marriage isn’t living inside of a box where it can only effect the two people within it. The way we handle our marriages isn’t limited to us within the marriage. People see us, and more importantly, our children and any other youth that know us see us and start to form an opinion on what marriage is.
Ephesians 5:21-32 outlines how marriages should look for Christian households. Husbands and wives submit to one another, love one another, serve one another, and all around build up a relationship that not only shows love for one another, but also love for God. And because of the unfortunate separation of chapters, it would be easy to end right there. But Paul knows that marriage goes beyond a man and a woman, and Ephesians 6:1-4 is about how to bring up children. Paul is aware that marriages don’t live in isolation, they effect the entire family.
So, don’t just think of your marriage as worth fighting for, think of your family as worth fighting for. Or, better described, your marriage is worth fighting for on behalf of your family. The way that you treat your spouse will directly reflect on how youth around you will see marriage. As a youth pastor, I cannot emphasize how much this reflects on youth.
Your marriage is worth fighting for, not just for you, but for everyone around you as well.
I’m getting old.
Not in the literal sense, I recognize that 32 is still relatively young, but in the mental sense. Really what I’m getting at here is that I’m starting to use the phrase “kids these days” and talk about how things were “when I was in school”. Maybe it’s better stated that I’m starting to sound old…
One of the more regular moments of “when I was in school” for me is when my students talk about their gym/PE class. A lot of them tell me that their GPA is great, except that they have a “D” in gym. All I can think is that gym was the ultimate easy “A” when I was in school! How could it be a GPA ruiner for students today?
The most common response: “I don’t dress out. I don’t want to get sweaty just before (whichever class is next).” Or sometimes it’s, “I don’t run the mile, I just walk it. Running is hard!” or something like that.
It gets frustrating hearing things like that as often as I do. All I want to do is shout, “all you have to do it put effort into it! Just try as much as you can and that will be enough!”
Ah, hypocrisy, thy name is me.
As true as this is for my students, it’s true for every Christian out there. Recently, I preached a sermon on 1 John 1:5-2:1. It’s a challenging passage of scripture. John lays it out pretty clear for us; we cannot be comfortable with any amount of sin in our lives. we should always be striving for eliminate our sin completely.
This is exceptionally clear in verse 1, where John says that he writes this so that the readers “will not sin”. Not sin less. Not overcome most of our sin. Will not sin. What’s expected of us is clear here, as well as when Jesus says it in Matthew 5:48, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
We should be striving for perfection. And yet instead, much like my students, we make casual excuses for not putting in the effort that we should. “I’m a gossip, it’s just who I am”. “I’ve been struggling with anger for years and I just don’t think it’s something I’ll get over”. “Lust is a natural thing, I just struggle controlling it”. Thankfully, John continues by talking about how Jesus makes up for our shortcomings, that He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins.
But we should always be making the effort for sinlessness. Jesus’ sacrifice is meant to make up for our lack of success, not our lack of effort.
But, as intimidating as this can be, we should remember that success is not as important as effort. It’s like a race. We should train, we should work hard, we should be doing everything we can to be in shape for the race, but it’s okay if we don’t win. Jesus has already won, and He wants to add our name to the trophy.
The author of Hebrews puts it like this, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” (Hebrews 12:1-3).
Throw off the sin! Run the race! With everything that we are, we are meant to strive to be sinless, to run this race with all effort. But don’t grow weary or lose heart, because Jesus has already claimed victory.
Run the race with all effort. Do not let sin entangle you. Strive for sinlessness, but if you fail, know that Jesus has already given us the victory.
– Steve Valdez