Cultivating a Life That Speaks

03.27.15 | Leader Development, Discipleship Formation | by Jorge Acevedo

    Learn from these plenary notes by Jorge Acevedo at the Washington Region Leadership Day on March 14, 2015.

    Following Jesus is an adventure!

    Yet we have tamed and domesticated faith.

    When I was a little boy there was a basket of artificial fruit in the room I was never allowed in—the living room. I admired it--it looked so real. One day, when my parents weren’t home, I snuck into the guest only room and took a bite of one of the pieces of fruit leaving my teeth marks in it. While it looked good, it was unsatisfying.

    Artificial fruit looks good but it’s of no real value; many Christian folk and churches are producing artificial fruit.

    Look at some of Jesus’ swan song in the Upper Room discourse (John 13-17)

    • In Luke’s account (Luke 22:24-27) the disciples were arguing over who got to be the line leader – the greatest in the kingdom of heaven
    • Disciples were thinking about the wrong kind of Kingdom
    • Jesus describes the kind of followers needed to build this new Kingdom

    Read what Jesus had to say about fruitfulness of his followers:

    “I am the true grapevine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more. You have already been pruned and purified by the message I have given you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me. Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing. Anyone who does not remain in me is thrown away like a useless branch and withers. Such branches are gathered into a pile to be burned. But if you remain in me and my words remain in you, you may ask for anything you want, and it will be granted! When you produce much fruit, you are my true disciples. This brings great glory to my Father.” John 15:1-8 (NLT)

    Lots in this text but I want to focus on the fruitfulness theme that Jesus says Christ-followers can produce

    The timeless, transferable principle is: Faithfulness precedes fruitfulness!

    • Our lack of fruitfulness is the direct result of our lack of faithfulness.
    • You cannot give what you do not have.
    • Jesus uses superlatives in this text; words like “much” and “great.”
    • Much fruit = superabundant, supernatural; above normal; beyond normal yield; bumper crop. Like the 100 lb 4-H pumpkin.
    • What you read in the book of Acts; “daily the Lord added to their number;” healing and deliverance; unity of mission and sacrificial giving and living; Is this a fairy tale? NO!
    • Lots here, but note a few things Jesus teaches about being a fruit bearer.
    • Focus on what Jesus says is REQUIRED of Christ-followers to know fruitfulness. There are three requirements for fruitfulness from Jesus teaches us.
    1. Faithfulness requires community.

    • The use of the word “you” in these texts are in the plural not the singular. It’s the Kentucky word “Y’ all!” In the Northeast, it's “You’z guys!”
    • SLI findings: In last 14 years with more than 2,000 churches; vast majority of pastors and Christian leaders suffer from agonizing loneliness and despair.

        • When my wife Cheryl and I were moving to Wilmore in February of 1982; we had dinner with our pastor and his wife. They told us that “Being a pastor will be the loneliest thing you’ll ever experience…” I promised her that wouldn’t be us.

    How are you doing at staying connected in rich, authentic relationships with other Christ-followers?

    2. Faithfulness requires abiding.

    • “Remain in me, and I will remain in you.”
    • Las Vegas is a gambling town and earlier this year, Dale Earnhardt Jr. gambled and lost! Brad Keselowski won the Kobalt 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway when Dale Earnhardt Jr. ran out of gas half a lap from the end of the race. In a calculated risk, Earnhardt bet that his car would have enough fuel to finish but sadly he didn’t and he finished second in the race. He was half a lap from victory! I don’t know about you but Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s experience last Sunday often illustrates my life. Just when I think I’ve got life won, I run out of gas!
    • Date night; run out of patience
    • Meeting with the 4 other Grace Church pastors; run out of self-control.
    • Traveling down 41 during season; Ohio plates; run out of love for neighbor
    • Am I alone in this experience? I didn’t think so!

    We need to be training not trying (Dallas Willard in Spirit of the Disciplines)
    Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.” -- Matthew 11:28-30 (NLT)

    • I need to exchange my heavy yoke for the yoke of Jesus... but it’s still a yoke!

        • Daily University of the Holy Spirit devotions helps me
          o Listen to God
          o Dethrone self
          o Provide a “word” for someone else or my congregation
          o Create space for innovation in my life and ministry

      How are you doing at staying connected in a rich, authentic relationship with Jesus?
    3. Faithfulness requires pruning.

    • “He cuts off every branch of mine…”
    • We are the beloved of Jesus so he prunes and purifies us.
    • Later in John 15 we are no longer slaves but friends.
    • There are a lot of interpretations about this pruning of the Father in this teaching of Jesus. Let me suggest two things the Father does in us when He prunes us:

        • Cutting away those things in me that keep me from super-abundant fruitfulness; GOD’S DISCIPLINE

        • Lifting up and cleaning off anything that keeps me from super-abundant fruitfulness; GOD’S DELIVERANCE
    • Here's a story of God’s discipline in my journey towards fruitfulness…

        • SOAP in December – Revelation 19

        • John was a seasoned and aging follower of Jesus exiled to the island of Patmos when he had his vision recorded in Revelation.

        • By this time he had likely already penned his Gospel and three letters found in the New Testament.

        • He had seen or heard of the death of the other disciples and countless other Christ-followers. This was a mature believer.

        • First 19 verses: John has an audio-visual experience of worship and praise by a vast crowd including the 24 elders and 4 living beings; angel appears and says. “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding feast of the Lamb. These are true words that come from God.”


    Then I fell down at his feet to worship him, but he said, “No, don’t worship me. I am a servant of God, just like you and your brothers and sisters who testify about their faith in Jesus. Worship only God. For the essence of prophecy is to give a clear witness for Jesus.” Revelation 19:10 (NLT)

    • But "in the Spirit on the Lord's Day," John sees and hears an angel announce the wedding feast of the Lamb and he is so moved that he falls to his knees to worship the angelic being.
    • As a good Jew he knew that idolatry was at the core of our struggle with sin yet this mature, seasoned follower fell into this trap of idolatry.
    • It could be that the easiest trap for idolatry for maturing believers are the ones that are spiritual and religious in nature.
    • The temptation to worship a tree or a rock is fairly easy to spot and avoid. I get that. It's the temptation to worship the newest or coolest pastor, church or worship band that gets closer to home for me.
    • The temptation to bow the knee in the presence of Bill Hybels or Ken Davis, Willow Creek or Saddleback Church and Hillsong United or Matt Redman is truly more of a trap for me and I guess lots of other maturing Christian leaders as well.
    • That John succumbed to this helps me some though it does not in any way excuse it.
    • It helps me to know that one who walked and talked with Jesus physically was lured into the trap of idolatry gives me comfort and caution.
    • A story of God’s deliverance in my journey towards fruitfulness…

        • At the beginning of my sabbatical I spent two weeks at Quiet Waters Ministry in Parker, Colorado. I came to this time very tired and burdened with some personal concerns. Youngest son has struggled with addictions; 86/85 year old parents live with us…I came to this space and place with many hurts, habits and hang-ups. In these days, my primary areas of recovery are people-pleasing and performance addiction. More than I care to share, I struggle with this. In many ways, it is why I work so long and hard.

        • My counselor, Gordon was precisely the person God knew I needed to help me experience God’s love and power in profound and new ways. He was God’s instrument of liberation. Gordon asked me about the family I grew up in. I am the middle child with a brother six years older than me and a sister 18 months younger than me.

        • He asked me a strange question one day. “Jorge what do you think that 18 month old boy felt when your baby sister was brought home?” I told him, “How do I know Gordon? I’m 53. That was a long time ago.” “I know,” Gordon said, “but what do you think he felt?” I said, “Well, I guess he felt misplaced or even abandoned after having been the baby for 18 months.” It wasn’t my parents or siblings fault. It’s nobody’s fault. I was just born the second of three children.

        • Now as only God could orchestrate, I was also reading Brennan Manning’s book Abba’s Child. In his book, Brennan writes about John the youngest of the 12 disciples who identifies himself in his biography of Jesus life with the phrase “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” Brennan then writes about how John had a second “tag” to describe himself in his biography.

        • This was a new insight to me. It’s found in the story in the Upper Room just hours before Jesus’ betrayal, abandonment and ultimate death. John describes himself as “the disciple who Jesus loved, the one who placed his head on Jesus’ breast.” You remember that in the Upper Room, John sat next to Jesus and rested his head on Jesus’ chest. Brennan writes that this moment was the precise moment when Jesus transformed John because as he rested his head on Jesus’ chest, John heard the heartbeat of his Father who loved him most and best.

        • A day or two later--not knowing that I was reading this book--Gordon asks me to do a prayer exercise with him. He asked me close my eyes and imagine that Jesus picked up that 18-month-old boy named Jorge and held him to his chest. Then Gordon says, “What would Jesus say to him?” I want you to know that in that moment something profoundly mysterious and healing happened to me. I was flooded with God’s love and power. I heard the whisper of my Father telling me I was his beloved child. I was the one he loved. Waves of God’s love and power flooded my heart. I was experiencing it!

        • Can I tell you that God has changed me? I find myself with an amazing empathy and love for my wife, adult sons and parents simply because I let Jesus’ love and power transform my life.

        • Because Jesus loves me and because he wants me to me more fruitful, he pruned me!

      My life is a witness to vulgar grace—a grace that amazes as it offends. A grace that pays the eager beaver who works all day long the same wages as the grinning drunk who shows up at ten till five. A grace that hikes up the robe and runs breakneck toward the prodigal reeking of sin and wraps him up and decides to throw a party no ifs, ands, or buts. A grace that raises bloodshot eyes to a dying thief’s request—“Please, remember me”—and assures him, “You bet!”

    "A grace that is the pleasure of the Father, fleshed out in the carpenter Messiah, Jesus the Christ, who left His Father’s side not for heaven’s sake but for our sakes, yours and mine. This vulgar grace is indiscriminate compassion. It works without asking anything of us. It’s not cheap. It’s free, and as such will always be a banana peel for the orthodox foot and a fairy tale for the grown-up sensibility. Grace is sufficient even though we huff and puff with all our might to try to find something or someone it cannot cover."

    "Grace is enough. He is enough. Jesus is enough."
    Brennan Manning and John Blase in All Is Grace: A Ragamuffin Memoir