A week from now, I leave for the Southern Baptist Convention. I know many of you who read and interact here will be doing so as well, and if you came here for the reason I first started coming here a decade ago, you might be disappointed. This isn’t going to address the latest and greatest controversy in the SBC. It won’t even celebrate the good progress related to the SBC Pastor’s Conference that we have going on.
Instead, it’s about trees. Well, trees and me.
A few years back I left one church and went elsewhere as a pastor. Why I did so takes a long explanation. It wasn’t for the money and it wasn’t because I screwed anything up and had to leave. It was just, well, time. When we left, it felt more like leaving home than leaving a workplace, but at the same time there were several areas that kept me feeling like my time there had been a failure, my departure was a failure, and that nothing I had done was really worth doing.
A couple of years of passive-aggressive criticisms from members back there through social media didn’t change my perspective. Instead, it intensified. It was one of those overly introspective moments that I think we all need to approach: when there are competing views about whether or not what I have done is right, how do I determine it?
Now, some of you dwell on a spiritual level that I don’t approach, and you’re able to be settled in your own conscience without any outside input. That’s not me on my best days. The last few years, I haven’t been at my best. So, I’ve been praying and seeking some clarity from the Lord about whether or not I followed Him well in those years.
Then the same social media that had chipped away at my confidence brought a stunning visual image that pointed me to what good God was doing through me in my time there. It was a picture of a tree in a front yard. A peach tree.
Laden with fruit. As in, enough to make peach ice cream for the town and still save enough peaches for a good cobbler this fall. (Which, rightly consumed, will be covered in another ice cream. Notice a common theme here?) Why would the peach tree make such an impact?
Simply put: it’s my peach tree. After we had been in that parsonage for a year, we planted peach trees in the front yard. One year they nearly died. One year we got about a half-dozen peaches off of them. One snapped in a windstorm and I carefully nursed it back together. In the process, I learned a lot about grafting and tree healing.
In short, that fruit was partially my fruit. True, the new resident of that parsonage has had to do some work to keep the trees going. And he’s had to have the good sense not to cut the trees down. But the fruit in his front yard is the result of a work started several years before he moved in. And he gets to enjoy it almost immediately.
At which point, the Lord God hit me over the head with a stick. Or, perhaps, slapped me with the flat side of a two-edged sword. How?
1: “I planted, Apollos watered, but God granted the growth” (1 Corinthians 3:6, CSB) and…
2: “What does it matter? Only that in every way….Christ is proclaimed, and in this I rejoice.” (Philippians 1:18, CSB).
I was reminded that my responsibility is to be faithful to God, love His people, and obey His word. Through doing this, I helped set the possibility of a harvest later. Of good fruit, later. And to realize that I have no right to bitterness that someone else sees the joy of that fruit, because it’s not my fruit any more than it’s really his fruit.
It’s all Jesus’ fruit.
Now, why share this here instead of on my own corner of the Internet? To point out a couple of things that I hope end up encouraging you:
- Some of you in ministry wonder if you’re doing the right thing. Whether your ministry is to be the “super-duper-special pastor” or your ministry is serving the poor under the bridge, guess what? Obedience to Jesus and love for the ones He loves define success. Not special stats or even plaques from the high-and-mighty. (Keep in mind, there’s barely more than a jot between a plaque and a plague.) Put down roots. Water, bind up the broken. It’s long work. It’s tiring work to prune and trim and rake away fallout when you see no fruit. But God is in charge of that.
- Even more important to keep in mind is this: you think your work is hard? You’re bearing this burden and that burden? You don’t deserve the criticism that you’ve received? Guess what? Most of us don’t, but more than that: the hard work was already done. You don’t even carry your own cross alone: Jesus took your sin, your debt to God, and paid for it. He substituted for you in the face of the wrath of God. That someone is angry with you for what someone else did pales in comparison.
Try to be encouraged: the fruit will come in due season, when the Lord of the Harvest brings it. And, from time-to-time, tune out the social media, hug your kids, and go pray with someone who needs a friend.