The other day, Karen and I were sitting on the back porch watching our little dog, Sissie, and thinking about things. We realized that fifteen years ago we hadn’t even been to Africa and would have laughed at anyone who suggested we might one day be living here. But fifteen years ago we had some big problems. I had decided to go all in and borrow money on everything and from family and friends to try to make enough on the dot.com boom to become debt free. Sadly, I got in on not the dot.com boom but the dot.com bust and lost everything. I was half a million dollars in debt with only about two hundred thousand dollars in assets. We were forced to declare bankruptcy and lost our house, our cars, my father’s inheritance, and my job as an associate pastor at a large church. We lost a lot, but we found a lot, too. We found who our real friends were, the ones who stood by us and helped with finances and emotional support (many were members of the church I had been serving and still support us here). We found that “things” are not the key to happiness, and we found that relationships are the most important blessings of all. We also found our selves and our new direction. We found new meaning to life and new meaning in little things. Over the next couple of years, we found where we would be living the rest of our lives, right here in Tanzania. We found that even the things we still had, had to be sold or given away so we could follow God’s call. It hurt at first, but the more we gave away the better we felt. We found so many good things through all that pain that now we can’t even remember feeling any loss at all. I’m not recommending this as a way to find yourself, it was painful, embarrassing, and somewhat humiliating. What I think it was, was pruning. You know from that chapter in the Gospel of John where Christ says that He is the vine and we are the branches? Christ goes on to say that if we bear fruit, we will be pruned so that we can bear more fruit. I must have read those words a thousand times but never thought about the pain of pruning. Christ was right though, especially in our case. We got pruned down to the nub but that was what it took. When we look back at how much more fruit we have borne since then, it is staggering. We are where we are supposed to be. We are doing what we are supposed to be doing—and we are bearing fruit for Christ. We didn’t know it at the time, but our indebtedness was choking the life out of our vine and keeping it from doing what it should have. It seems strange to thank God for bringing you pain and humiliation but that is exactly what we do, every day. I have known convicts serving life terms and quadriplegics confined to wheel chairs that have both said that the bad things that happened to them were the best things that could have happened. Both told me that without their respective imprisonments that they would never have found Christ and never discovered the hope and joy that He brought them. Both of them have been bringing others to Christ ever since. God bless all who have endured God’s pruning to bear more fruit.
There’s another part of that passage that needs to be mentioned. Christ said that the vines that were not bearing fruit would be cut down and destroyed as worthless. It would seem that pain and embarrassment are not the worst options from that passage. Give me more pruning if need be, as I have seen the good that comes of it and truly fear the consequences of not bearing fruit for Christ. The trouble with reading the Bible and believing its words is that you had better check out your life and make sure you are bearing fruit and not being worthless. Just sayin’.