Chapel – Pastor Josh Philip

Well, good morning, everyone. It is a true joy for me to come and be able to share with all of you this morning. Dean Sweetman, or as I affectionately know him as George, from our friendship over the years, thank you so much for the invitation. To the administration, faculty, thank you so much for having me, it really is a pleasure to be back here, and to be able to come and provide a thought or word from God's word, and be able to hopefully provide some encouragement for you and reflection, in these coming days.

When George extended the invitation to me, he talked about some of the motifs and the ideas that you're carrying through the course of the year, the idea of the parable of the sowers, and how seed that is planted, can also be nurtured and cultivated, and ultimately harvested. And so the topic that he had asked me to cover today was on the topic of nurturing, and, or sorry, cultivating. And when I thought about that idea of cultivation, you know, it's not just about how we grow, but it's how we maintain that growth in our lives. I really feel that applies in many spheres, not only in your personal life, it could be in the life of your church, your family, even in this institution, when we prayerfully, consider what God has called us to do and to be, and how we ought to move forward. How do we make sense of what is good growth? And what are the areas where we need to maybe prune something. And so over these next few moments, I hope to share some thoughts that God has laid on my heart, and I hope that they will be an encouragement for you.

When we talk about this passage, about the parable of the seeds, we find that in Matthew chapter 13, and in that passage, we hear about these seeds that fall on different soils. And we also find a story in John, about the vine and the true branches. These are the two passages I wanted to sit on for the next few moments. And in fact, let me read these verses from John chapter 15. verses one through eight, says "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're already clean. Because of the word I have spoken to, because of the word I've 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. And 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 and you, you will bear much fruit and apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me You are like a branch that is thrown away and withers. Such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is my Father's glory that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples."

When I read this passage, a few thoughts come to my mind that I hope to share with you this morning. The first is this is that, it's our God given purpose to bear fruit. When you read this passage, God's desire and hope, his longing for you is that you would be fulfilling your God given potential. All of us are uniquely and wonderfully made. And if we realize what God wants to do in your life, and in my life, we begin to discover those things. And we understand why God made us uniquely and just the way we ought to be. And we aren't fighting, and struggling, and wrestling with what we think our life should be. But when we live fully surrendered to God's plans, and his purposes, we become to understand why God gifted me this way, why I function this way, why I think this way, because God places you in the places where you can fully thrive and flourish. And symbolically, reading this passage, that's in the vine, and you as the branch. But it's interesting is, a couple of thoughts that come in this passage here in John chapter 15. Jesus shares that there are two things that can happen to encourage this great growth. The first thing is that God prunes what is good, to make it great. Now that may not be the idea that first comes to mind for something to flourish and to grow. I don't know about any of you, if you have gardens, if you've got a green thumb. My wife is more of that person. She loves to be in the garden. I'm more of a mow the lawn type of thing. That's my, that's my gig. That's my jam. I enjoy that time and like fertilizing, that's, that's good. I understand grass a little bit more than in the garden. But when my wife does this, the way she cultivates the soil, and unfortunately I am the labour that is conscripted for that job every spring and fall, as we have to till the soil again. But as we're growing these plants, what we've come to understand and those of you who understand this to know that there are certain plants that you don't just let grow and, and bloom as much as they can. In fact, I was learning more recently that tomatoes, for example, are one of those plants where, as much as you may see lots of branches and leaves blooming, you actually trim some of them. So that the nutrients and the, and all of the healthy stuff is going to the exact parts of the plant you need, and it's not being wasted anywhere. And in order for you to do something good, or in order for you to become great, even good things need to be cut off. When I was growing up, in my parents home, we have this stone pathway that walks up to our porch, and into our front door. And my mom again, a green thumb, and she loves beauty, of making beautiful gardens. In fact, we've won awards, we've heard from our city counsellor, and we get these beautiful garden awards. Now there is this one rosebush, and those of you who don't, roses can be very finicky, but this one just took off, and it bloomed. It was high stock, it was like eight feet tall. It was blooming everywhere. Beautiful rose. But you would quickly realize that as you're walking up to our porch, that these branches are leaning well into your path. Now the rose itself, if it were alive, would say, well look at me, I'm doing exactly as I ought to, look at how wide my branches go, look how tall I'm getting look at all these beautiful roses that are blooming on me. And yet we as the gardener look and see. And the larger picture. It's not just about what the rose thinks is good. It's about what is the purpose? What is its purpose? Where's it is adjacent to and how ought it better serve other needs. And so we have had to trim that tree, or trim that rosebush from time to time. So it doesn't encroach too far onto that walkway. Now imagine the rose were saying, What are you doing? I'm doing exactly what you want me to do. Why are you cutting off something that is seemingly good. And I imagine there are times in your life where you are fully embraced, and fully immersed in what God has for you. And out of nowhere, it feels like God sometimes just prunes that area of your life. And it's hard to understand why. We don't, we think we're in the will of God, we seem to have been doing what we ought to be doing. So why is God taking this thing away from me. And what I've learned from myself, and hopefully this is something you have learned, or maybe this is the opportunity to have this new perspective, is that I trust God and what he's doing. And maybe something was good for a season. But maybe that season is done. And that needs to be pruned, so other areas of my life can bloom and can flourish.

I think also when we talk about the idea of pruning, we certainly understand the fact that what is dead, and what is not good and healthy in our lives, ought to be pruned. In fact, in John chapter 15, verse two, it says he cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit. And I think sometimes, you and I, we probably wrestle with that, because there are areas of our life that we want to be successful. We want to work out, we like having this area of our lives. And yet God is trying to show us, and reveal to us in a loving way, that no, this is not good for you. This is not healthy. I need you to trust and understand that when I'm pruning these things, it's for your good. And I think ultimately, if we have a desire to love God, if we have a desire to embrace our God given potential, if we understand that part of that growth is pruning off the things that are dead, and maybe even God pruning the things that seem to be good, but are not good for us right now, so that other things can flourish. If we want to fully embrace that process, then more than anything, we need to remain in Christ. We need to remain in that vine. I really believe that that's how we cultivate a healthy faith in a relationship with God. John chapter 15, verse four says, remaini in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself. It must remain in the vine, and neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.

I have often struggled with that idea of wanting to do things in my own strength, in my own wisdom. I've been fortunate enough over the years to have been actively involved in church ministry. I love participating in worship, and youth leadership. Over the years I've had many ministry jobs and I love these things. They are a passion and a joy for me to to be involved in. But it is so easy for me along the way to feel like, look at what I've accomplished. Look at what I've been able to do. Look at my family, of four beautiful kids and how God has blessed me. It's easy for me to say that this was me doing this. But every day, it's a gut check. It's a conscious decision to say, no God, I humbled myself before you because I know everything that I have, anything that I've been able to accomplish is only because of you. And in my best efforts to remain in the vine. I've learned for many years, that me trying to fight God, and His plans and purposes, doesn't lead to anywhere good. It just frustrates. And I want to encourage you today, if you feel like there is an area of your life where you feel like you're just fighting with God on it, and it just doesn't feel like you're landing in that place and you have peace about something, then is there one of these areas that I've talked about today, where you need to apply that in your life? Is it possible that you haven't remained in the vine? And that's why you're fighting this and you're feeling that struggle? Is it possible that there's an area of life that has died out, it's season is done, and you need to move forward, it's not bearing fruit. So God needs to prune that from your life. Or maybe there's something good in your life that God wants to take away, and you've been fighting him on that? Well, there are times in our lives where God needs to prune that. More than anything, we need to remain in the vine. I'm reminded of the other parable, in Matthew chapter 13, about the parable of the seeds. And this was a profound thought that came a few years ago, when I was reading over the passage. You know, when you read that parable of the sower, or parable of the seeds, and I'll conclude with this thought, is that we've get at a certain level, and I imagine many of us have heard the sermon many times, is that we don't want to be like the seeds that fall on the path, or fall among the thorns , or among the rocky ground, we want to be the seeds that fall in that good soil. But here's the thing about not remaining in the vine. I kind of liken it to being that seed that falls on the path, maybe among the thorns, or the rocks. Because around you, you will see this amazing harvest that is being grown, that throughout the season, you see incredible growth around you. And you can be misled to thinking that where you're at, in your life, is also good. What I want to share with you, and challenge you with this, is not to let the proximity to healthy growth. Let me say it like this, I don't want you to let the proximity of that growth to make you think that where you're at in your own walk with God, is also in a healthy place. It's possible that great things are happening around you, but you where you're at in your relationship with God is not where it ought to be. That you may find yourself on that path. You may find yourself among the thorns, or among the rocks. And it's important that we find ourselves in the vine. We find ourselves in that healthy soil, so that God can encourage that growth and strengthen us, so that we can bear a harvest 30, 60, even a hundredfold.

May God bless you with these words.

Chapel – Pastor Josh Philip
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