Archive for July 11th, 2008

Tough Love

Friday, July 11th, 2008

Today’s scripture: Luke 13:6-9 (ESV-text and audio) (KJV) (The Message)

As you read, consider: What might God be saying to me? Summarize your thoughts in a sentence or two.

My thoughts (Jeff Miner):

This parable is a real kick in the pants!  Let’s not sugarcoat it; let’s not try to explain it away; let’s not ignore the parts that we wish Jesus didn’t say.  Let Jesus speak!

So often, we emphasize the gentle side of Jesus — as well we should.  But he also had another side.  Like a great coach determined not to allow a gifted athlete to fail to reach her full potential, Jesus is not afraid to challenge us.  Actually, in today’s parable, we see both sides of Jesus, as he exhibits a beautiful balance between mercy and accountability.  This is what we might call a “tough love parable.”

It unfolds in three steps – first the tough love.  The owner of a vineyard notices that a particular fig tree has failed to bear any figs for three consecutive years.  He’s not amused.  He says to his gardener, “Cut it down!  Why should it be wasting the soil?”

The point is pointed.  You and I are like fig trees; God has created us with incredible potential.  God didn’t put us here just to occupy space and consume oxygen and food.  We’re here to share in God’s wonderful creative work – to partner with God to make earth more like heaven (Matthew 6:10).  You and I have meaning and purpose.  And God is not amused when we live aimlessly, wasting our incredible spiritual potential.

But God is also merciful, as illustrated by the second step in the parable.  The fruitless fig tree gets a reprieve.  At the urging of the gardener, the owner decides to give the tree one more year and even invests more precious resources in the tree — more labor hours of cultivation and more manure fertilizer.

What a beautiful picture of how God works in our lives!  When we find ourselves living distracted, unfruitful, unfocused lives, God doesn’t quickly give up on us.  Instead, God doubles down, investing even more time, effort, and resources in an attempt to get our attention and get us on track.

Just ask Fyodor Dostoevsky, one of Russia’s all-time great writers.  His story is told in Phillip Yancey’s book, The Jesus I Never Knew (Zondervan, 1995), pp. 140-141:

Early in his life, Dostoevsky . . . [was] arrested for belonging to a group judged treasonous by Tsar Nicholas I, who, to impress upon the young parlor radicals the gravity of their errors, sentenced them to death and staged a mock execution.  The conspirators were dressed in white death gowns and led to a public square, where a firing squad awaited them.  Blindfolded. . . , hands bound. . . , they were. . . tied to posts.  At the very last instant, as the order, “Ready, aim!” was heard and rifles were cocked. . . , a horseman galloped up with a pre-arranged message from the tsar: he would mercifully commute their sentences to hard labor.

[Sobered by the experience, Dostoevsky said,] “Now my life will change.  I shall be born again in a new form.”  As he boarded the convict train toward Siberia, a devout woman handed him a New Testament. . . .  Believing that God had given him a second chance to fulfill his calling, Dostoevsky pored over the New Testament during his confinement.  After ten years, he emerged from confinement with unshakable Christian convictions, as expressed in one famous passage, “If anyone proved to me that Christ was outside the truth, then I would prefer to remain with Christ than with the truth.”

Through the many circumstances of life, patiently God is calling us to recognize and develop our spiritual potential.

Which brings us to third step in Jesus’ parable.  Actually, the third step is missing.  Jesus leaves his story unfinished, never telling us whether the unfruitful fig tree responded to the extra love and care it received.  I think that’s intentional.  Since each of us is the fig tree, it’s up to us how the story ends.

Thought for the day: Am I focused?  Am I taking positive steps to grow into my full spiritual potential?  If not, today is another chance to get started.

We encourage you to include a time of prayer with this reading.  If you need a place to get started, consider the guidelines on the How to Pray page.

"Be still, and know that I am God." Psalm 46:10
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