Top Menu

Striving for a B

This is the manuscript for a message I gave to the Meadow Creek Youth Group on September 2, 2009.

_____________________

Introduction
It is really good to be here tonight.  I want to say a special thanks to my kids for not being totally freaked out at the thought of having their Dad come and speak.  I promised them I wouldn’t tell any embarrassing stories about them.

However, I can’t guarantee that I won’t embarrass them!  But, that was a risk they were willing to take.

It is really good to be here.  I’ve been so thankful for this youth group.  You know, we just moved here a couple years ago, and this was the first point of contact, especially for Micki and Ethan.

You know, the main reason we chose to connect here, with the Meadow Creek youth group is because this was my home back when I was in high school. It’s pretty weird to be in this room.  When I was in high school, we called this the purple palace.  It was the main sanctuary for the church.  I remember being in choir right up here.

Back then, when I was a sophomore, the youth group had four people in it on the first day I got here.  That was wild.

Overall it has been a weird experience to come back to this area after being gone for 20 years.  A lot of memories have flooded back. 

I went to Coon Rapids.  Any Cardinals here tonight?  Go Cards!

In high school I played football.  Yeah, laugh all you want.  My kids still don’t believe me, but its true. Not only did I play football, but I was obsessed with lifting weights and getting really buff.  Again, with the laughing.  I know, but it is true.

My sophomore year, the varsity team won the state championship.  It was an incredible time to jump into a new school.  Cardinal Fever was in the air.  One of the men in the church took me to the Dome to watch the championship game.  It was awesome. 

The next year, I was the second string defensive end, right behind a returning senior who had been on the championship team the year before.  We went undefeated that year and I got to play a lot because the first string blew everybody out in the first quarter.  We lost in an upset during the playoffs, but it was still an amazing experience.

Then it was my turn.  I was the starting defensive end my senior year.  We were ranked number 4 in the state.  We won the first four games of the season and our fifth game was against our arch rivals, Anoka.  I had a great game the week before and I got to be a game captain for the Anoka game.  Things couldn’t have been better.

We were so pumped for that game.  I remember the night like it was yesterday.  It was a crisp autumn night.  It was Anoka’s homecoming, so there were floats and parades, and all kinds of craziness around their school when we pulled up.  The sky was crystal clear and the moon was full.

The game started, and we stopped.  We lost that game.  But, we didn’t just lose, we got shut out.  We didn’t just get shut out, we got annihilated.  Are you ready…42-0! 

It was one of the worst experiences I ever had.  We were completely defeated as a team by that experience.  We lost the next 3 games in a row to teams that should have never beat us.  On the final game we pulled it together enough to squeak out a 5-4 season.  On paper it was a winning season, but in our minds we were the biggest losers our coach had ever known, and we were a disgrace to our school.

I know, you can feel sad for me, go ahead.

Why was that such a devastating event for me?  I mean, it’s just a stupid game, right?

I think I had bought into a message that a lot of people buy into in high school.  It’s a message that you hear. 

There are two messages that I hear being presented to youth today.

The first is what I call the “Gospel According to Disney”  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not an anti-Disney guy.  I love Disney and I think it is a great, positive message.  I confess, I watched Camp Rock, and liked it.  I like the Jonas Brothers, and Miley, and all those guys – expect for the Suite Life,  come on, really?

But, I think there is a subtle message sent by the “Gospel According to Disney” that can be damaging in the long run if you buy into it.   The message is

“You can be anything you want to be, if you believe in yourself and work really hard.”

At face value, this is a good message.  It encourages students to dream big dreams, to not give up, to work hard in school.  That’s great.  Without big dreams, we would not have invention and progress and all that. 

If Martin Luther King Jr. had not had a dream, where would we be today?  Dreams are great.

But, I have a question.  Can we really be anything we want to be?  In high school, I wanted to be 6’ 9” and weigh 280 pounds.  I wanted to be a defensive end for a division I college.  I wanted to throw the discus 240 feet. 

Here’s a reality check.  No amount of belief or hard work would help me accomplish those dreams.
Here’s another message we hear today:

“You are only good if you are the BEST.”

It isn’t said that blatantly, but it is the subtle message.  We tend to worship idols.  Even in the Christian Entertainment Industry.  I went to Rock the River and had a great time.   But isn’t it interesting how we idolize these bands?  Why?  Because they have excelled to the top of their game.  They are the best at what they do.  Anything less than that and they get booed off the stage, or voted off the island.

In our media saturated culture, we live on a steady diet of the rich and the beautiful.  When I watch the Disney channel, and see their current campaign of friends for change, I look at that cast and I see the cream of the cream of the cream of the crop.  That’s only 8 kids out of 100 million.  And yet, most young girls are gauging themselves against Selena Gomez, or are gauging a boy and a relationship against Edward from Twilight.  He’s not only a georgeous guy, that doesn’t cut it anymore, he’s also immortal, with superpowers, and he glitters!

Why was my loss to Anoka so terrible?  Because I had bought into those messages.  We all thought, “How can we go on now, we aren’t the best?  We didn’t win.”

For 99.9% of people, these messages might motivate you through school, but eventually they land you in middle age, in an average life, feeling disappointed and disillusioned. 

There are a lot of people just out of college thinking, “Where’s the big payoff?”  This is why there is so much depression and addiction out there today.  There is nothing worse than a shattered dream.

So, if those messages aren’t true, then what is?  If those are false dreams – fantasies – then what is real?

I think there is another message, another dream, that will last a lifetime.  And, of course, Jesus is the one who taught it to us.

Let’s look at something Jesus said in John 15:5-8.
Text – John 15:5-8 – Striving for a B [draw picture]
Something to always remember when you read the Bible.  You have to know what’s going on around the words.  Everything is connected to everything else and takes its meaning from what is most directly connected to it.

Can anyone tell me what this is called?  Context.

In John 15, Jesus is hanging out with his closest friends and his most devoted followers.  They’ve been making their way toward Jerusalem for the big daddy of feasts, called the Passover. 

It’s important to understand, that at this point in the story, the disciples think that Jesus is going to march into Jerusalem the next day and overthrow the government.  They believe he is the long awaited Messiah who is going to get rid of the rotten King Herod and become a great king like David was back in the old days.

They also thought that, when Jesus did take his throne, they would get to be his royal advisors and sit in positions of power.  They’d be very powerful people.

Then Jesus gave them the teaching found in John 14-17 and turned them on their head.  He told them all kinds of crazy things that didn’t make sense.  His ideas about greatness and about the kingdom of God went against all logic. 

Then we come to our passage:

John 15:5-8 (NIV)
5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. 7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. 8 This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

Jesus paints a picture for them.  So I thought I’d draw a picture for you.

[start drawing the vine]

In this picture Jesus makes an analogy.  There are three players.

First, there’s the vine.  [draw the trunk of the vine]

This was not some random analogy that Jesus picked out of the air.  All throughout the Old Testament Israel was referred to as the vine.  Every Jewish person knew that they were a branch and part of God’s elite group of people called the Jews.

Now Jesus is making a bold claim.  He says, “he guys, the nation of Israel isn’t the vine any more. I am.”

Second, there’s the branch. [draw the branch, but leave a gap between it and the trunk]

The Jews believed that they were the branches for one simple reason, because they were born that way.  Think about it.  How do you think you would behave if you believed that you were better than everyone else simply because of your family name?  How do you think you would behave if you believed that because you were born a Jew, God loved you and hated everyone else?

Unfortunately, that is the attitude that the Jewish people had taken.  They thought that God only loved their country and that he hated everyone else.  They were the branches of the only vine in the universe.

Third, there’s the gardener.  We see him back in verse 1.  Who’s the Garderner?  The Father.  [write Father behind and at the top]

Question:  Why does a gardener grow vines?  He wants fruit, right?  [draw a cluster of grapes]

What kind of fruit do you suppose the Father would want from His branches?  What does God want from us?  He probably wants us to do good things.  Maybe, like the book you’ve been studying, he wants us to do hard things.

The fruit is the product of our lives.  Think back to the messages we talked about.  The Gospel according to Disney.  You can be anything you want to be.  Or the other message that you have to be the best.

Those are fruit messages.  They tell you that you can choose the fruit you produce, and that your fruit has to be the biggest juiciest fruit on the vine, or its not worth anything.

So, here’s the question.  HOW do we produce the kind of fruit that the Gardener wants?

In this passage, Jesus tells us three important things about producing fruit.

Each one starts with a big IF.  I’m going to divide the room into three parts and I want you to each help me remember these three IF’s. OK?  You’ll be part 1, you’ll be part 2, and you’ll be part 3.  IF, IF, IF.  Got it?

If you remain in the vine, you’ll bear fruit. [If you Remain You will  Gain]
Here’s the first IF.  Verse 5.  “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.

This is really about focus.  It’s about where you concentrate your energy.

Here’s an important point.  Deep Truth, God’s truth, almost always goes against common logic. 

Do we have any martial artists here?  I’m not a martial artist, but my first boss was a Black Belt in Aikido and he would give us lessons.  He taught us how to punch.   A punch goes forward, so common logic would tell you that you should focus your energy into the forward motion of the punch. 

The truth about a punch is that you need to focus your energy into the recoil of the punch.  You snap it back.  This taps into the law of physics that says for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.  So, in order to put energy forward, you have to focus on pulling back.

The same was true when I threw the shot put.  You throw the shot put with your hand and arm, right?  That’s what common logic says.  The deep truth is that you throw the shot put with your legs and hip.  You focus your energy on the snap of the hip and it flings the arm forward.  It doesn’t make sense, but it works.

That’s how it is with producing fruit for the Father. 

If you are told to go be good, what do you do?  Common logic would tell you to make a list of all the good things God wants you to do and go work really hard at doing them.  And, perhaps it would tell you to make a list of all the things that are bad, and work really hard at NOT doing them. 

So, you go out there and try really hard to feed the hungry, or be nice to the bully, or not gossip, or to stay away from lust, or to memorize scripture.  And you work and work and work.

Many times, when we get into this mode, the Christian life is all about doing good things and not doing bad things.  We are doing and doing.  Do, do, do.  Let me tell you something.  If all you do is do, then all it is, is doo-doo.

Jesus’ message in v. 5 is to stop focusing on the doing and starting focusing on the Being. 

Help me out group 1.  What did he say?  Remain to Gain.

If you want to bear the fruit that God wants you to bear, then here’s the deep truth.  Don’t focus on the fruit.  Focus on the relationship with Jesus. 

Have you ever noticed that when you spend a lot of time with someone you start to act like that person?  I can tell when my kids have been with certain people, because they come home and they have a slightly different inflection to certain words, or they say certain phrases that they don’t normally say.  And I think, oh, I can see that person in their behavior.

That’s how it is when we spend time with Jesus.  The more we study his life in the Gospels, the more we spend time with Him in prayer, the more his way of being works itself into our way of being.

You guys are at a very important part of your life.  You are brainmapping.  You are laying down the foundation of what you will be like for the rest of your lives. 

It’s like shooting a gun.  When you aim it, a slight movement at the barrel will affect huge change at the target. 

How you spend your time right now, where you focus your attention right now, is setting the trajectory of your lives. 

Where’s your focus?  Are you striving for an A all the time.  Are you trying to be the best in everything? 

Or, or you focusing all your attention on entertainment, or escape, or yourself?

Whatever you invest in that is the fruit that will grow.

Where did Jesus say to focus your attention?  On Him.

During this time of sight setting and trajectory setting, I encourage you to do something.  Take a deep breath and don’t worry about doing the right thing.  Focus on learning everything you can about Jesus.  Study the Gospels.  Study about Jesus through books and tapes and videos.  Talk to Jesus.  The more you spend time with Him, the more you will be like Him and guess what…the fruit that the Father wants will naturally come out.

You won’t have to think about doing good, you will be good and everything you do will be what the Father wants.  How cool is that.

Now, let’s look at the second IF.
If you are disconnected from the vine, you’ll dry up. [if you turn, it will burn]
If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.

OK, group 2,  here’s your piece.  If you turn, it will burn.  Turn away and You will Pay.
Group 1, what’s your IF?  Remain to Gain, if you Stay it will Pay, Dwell to do Well.

Now, the second IF, If you Turn, it will Burn,  Turn Away and You will Pay.

[draw a pile of branches on Fire]

Wow, that’s intense.  This verse takes a lot of heat.  Get it, fire, heat?

When you hear the Bible say that something will be thrown into the fire and burn?  What’s the first thing that pops into your head?  Hell, right?

It is very easy, and very common, for people to read this verse and say, “Oh yeah, that’s easy to interpret.  If you mess up your relationship with Jesus, then God is going to throw you into Hell where you will burn forever.”

That isn’t what this verse is saying.  This verse isn’t about salvation.  This verse is about fruitfulness.

I have two apples trees in my back yard.  Last summer was our first summer in our house.  We moved into the house in March so we were all excited about having apples.  The summer came, and there were no apples.  We were so bummed.  We thought maybe the trees were duds.  This year was a totally different story.  We have hundreds of apples.  It’s been really fun to watch this fruit develop from pink blossoms to little bulbs, to big, juicy apples.

One morning I’m drinking my coffee and I look out the back door to admire my lovely apple trees and there’s something wrong.  One of the trees looks deformed.  An entire branch snapped off the tree. 

Here’s the question.  That branch is no longer connected to the trunk of the tree.  What is going to happen to those apples?  They won’t grow any more.  We had to harvest all these premature apples.  They were still really tart.

Where’s that branch now?  It’s drying out over on the side of the yard.  All it’s good for now is to be cut up and used for firewood.  I’m going to burn it.  Does that mean I hate that branch?  No.  It’s just a natural consequence of the branch being severed from the trunk.

Do you remember who originally thought they were the vine and the branches?  Israel.  This is a really important point to remember if we are going to understand this passage correctly.  One of the main messages of Jesus’ ministry was to show the nation of Israel that they had lost site of their original mission.

When God called Abraham, centuries before Jesus, he gave him a promise and a mission.  He told Abraham that he would be a great nation, and that the purpose of his nation was to be a blessing to all the nations. 

In other words, the fruit of the vine of Israel was to be a blessing to the world.  Why, because God loved the world and wanted to draw the world to Him and let the world eat the sweet fruit of His love and grace.

Over the centuries, the nation lost sight of this and got their focus off the mission.  They started to believe just the opposite.  By the time Jesus got on the scene, Israel believed that God loved them and hated everybody else.  In turn, they hated everybody else.  They believed that God wanted them to do good things and they focused their attention on obeying the law.  On the fruit.

They had taken their focus off of God and put their focus on the doing. 

I think, that as Christians, we can tend to fall into that same trap.  Many Christians have the same attitude toward the world.  They look at the “poor, lost, sinners” of the world and hate them.  They think “I’m so glad that I’m connected to the vine and not like those wretched people.”  The more they focus on the sin and corruption of the world, the angrier, and more bitter they become.

Why does this happen?  Because of their focus.  Where is their mind dwelling?  It’s dwelling on the ugliness of the world. 

Or, other Christians get caught up in the doing good.  Eventually they burn out or get disillusioned.  Why?  Because they are focusing on the fruit.

Jesus’ message was to remind the nation of their original mission.  He redefined the image and said, “The vine isn’t the nation of Israel.  The fruit isn’t obeying the Law.  I am the Vine, my way of being is the way.”

As soon as we turn our attention off of Jesus, we get distracted.  We get distracted by our own greed.  We get distracted by the overwhelming problems in the world.  We get distracted by fear.  We get distracted by doing good things.

Jesus tells his disciples, “Guys, just calm down.  It’s simple. If you stay focused on me, then the fruit will come.  As soon as you turn your attention away from me, the fruit will stop and you will become unproductive.  You’ll be a dry branch and only worth burning.”

I said that I don’t think this passage is about going to Hell when you die.  I think it is about something more practical and something more scary.  It’s not about burning in Hell, its about being nothing more than a dry, scratchy twig. 

Think about it.  Who wants that kind of life?  Jesus came to give us life.  He came to show us how to live vibrant, fruitful, lives full of meaning and power.  Lives that make a difference.

Is that the kind of life you want?  Do you want to be strong and healthy and have a life that is so real and so inviting that everyone who meets you will say, “I want to taste the fruit of that life.  It looks great!”

Or, do you just want to live a dry, meaningless life where you go through the motions day in and day out with no purpose or meaning?  Honestly, I think that is the worst kind of Hell.  Hell is real and people live in it every day.

Jesus said, “NO!” to that.  He came to give us the secret to a fruitful life.

What’s it about?  Focus?

What’s it not about?  Doing?

Group 1?  Remain to Gain, Dwell to do Well.
Group 2?  Turn and it will Burn, Turn away and You Will Pay

You guys over here, I didn’t forget about you.  There is a third IF.  Look at verses 7-8.

If you remain, then you’ll have the power of God. [if you stay, God has His way]
If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. 8 This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

OK, group three, here’s your piece.  If you Stay, God Has His Way.

Group 1:  Dwell to Do Well, If you Stay, it Will Pay
Group 2:  If you Turn, It will Burn
Group 3:  If you Stay, God Has His Way

Again, this verse has been interpreted, and misinterpreted in many ways.  At first glance it would be easy to think this verse says, “if I do everything right, then God is like a big vending machine in the sky and I can get whatever I want out of him.  Just name it and claim it, as long as I have enough faith.”

That’s not what this verse is saying.  Jesus is talking about Focus.  He’s talking about a relationship.  He’s talking about becoming so familiar and so intimate with Him, that you become like him.

Here’s a verse that often gets lumped together with this one. 

Psalm 37:4 (NIV)
4 Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart.

Delight yourself, Remain, Dwell with, Hang out with the Lord, and he will do what?

Give you the desires of your heart.  This can mean one of two things.

It can either mean, he will give you whatever you want. 
Or, it can mean he will give you the desires that your heart needs.

Which makes more sense?  When I was a kid, I desired to eat junk food all the time and not eat good food.  Would my loving parents give me that desire?  No way, they love me too much for that.  Instead, they educated me and taught me that healthy food is better for my body.  As I grew and matured I actually had an authentic desire to eat healthy.  They gave me the desire.
That’s what verse 7-8 is teaching us.  Jesus is telling his disciples that if they stayed connected to him, if they dwell in his teachings and the model of life that he gave them, then they will be transformed from the inside out and the very thing that God desires to do through them will be the thing that they desire to do.  When they ask Him, it will happen, because it is in line with what He wants to do.

Let’s look at this drawing again.  We said there are three players.  There’s the Father.  He’s the gardener.  There’s the Son, he’s the Vine.  Then there’s the disciple, we’re the branch.

There is a fourth player that is implied.  Jesus talks about it all throughout chapters 14-17, so I don’t think it’s a stretch to see it hear. 

The fourth player is the Spirit [write SPIRIT along the bottom]

All summer, Pastor Randy has been preaching about cultivating fruit.  Does anyone remember what passage that is?  Galatians 5:22-23.  That’s right.

Who’s fruit is it?  Is it the fruit of Steve?  Is it the fruit of Micki?

No, it’s the fruit of the Spirit.

The Spirit is the sap, [draw the flow through the vine and to the branch] it’s the energy and nutrition itself that produces the fruit.  It grows up from the soil, flows through the vine, spreads out through the branches, and then makes the fruit appear.

According to Galatians, what is the fruit of the Spirit?  It’s LOVE. [write LOVE on the grapes] That’s it.  I think all the other things are just descriptions of what love is like.  Love is joyful.  Love is patient.  Love is peaceful.  Love is patient.

Did you notice something about this fruit?  It has nothing to do with WHAT you do. 

Jesus didn’t say, “if you remain in me, you will go to church, memorize scripture, give to the poor, go on a mission trip, stay away from sinful behavior, where certain clothes, go to a certain college, get a certain job.”

No. He said, “if you remain in me, you will bear fruit.”

In John 15 Jesus went on to describe the fruit.  He said you will bear fruit if you obey my command.  What was his command?  To love each other.  That’s it.

You guys are here in Junior High and High School.  Over the next few years you are going to be asking some big questions.  You’re going to wonder about where to go to school, what kind of a job you want to have.  You’re going to wonder about how you can make a difference in the world for God.

Listen to this.  This is the secret of the vine.  This is the mystery of the fruit.

God isn’t concerned with WHAT you do.  He’s concerned with HOW you do what you do.  He doesn’t tell you to go DO a bunch of good things.  He doesn’t tell you to OBEY a bunch of rules.

He INVITES you to hang out with him. To dwell with him.  To remain with him.  To focus on him.

It’s right here This is where our focus should be. 

When we focus on Jesus and not on what other people think about us, or about whether we are doing everything exactly right, or about how scary or terrible the world is, but focus on the love and grace and teaching of Jesus, then we will be transformed by the Holy Spirit from the inside out and the fruit of our lives will be exactly what God wants for us.

Conclusion
God has something very special for each one of you.  He designed you.  He gave you gifts and talents and passions.  Each of you is like an apple blossom. You are young and beautiful and full of potential.

Here’s the bad new.  You can’t be anything you want to be.  No matter how much you believe in yourself or how hard you try.

But here’s the good news.  You can be EVERYTHING God designed you to be, if you stay connected to the vine. 

Let’s review it one more time.

Group 1:  Dwell to Do Well, If you Stay it will Pay.
Group 2:  If you Turn, it will Burn.
Group 3:  If you Stay, God gets His Way.

Here is my prayer for you.  I pray that you will invest your time in learning everything you can about Jesus.  Focus on Him. 

And then I pray that you will discover the gifts and passions that God has given you and that your life will be a strong, healthy branch, full of luscious fruit that the world will eat and benefit from knowing you.

Let’s pray.

, , , ,

subscribe to my monthly newsletter
Holler Box