As we go through life as a ministry leader or lay-member, we make choices. The choices we make move us in a direction, either toward death or toward life. Toward God or toward the world and it’s operating system - which leads to death.
When a ministry leader slides toward the world’s operating system and still hopes for Tree of Life results in his/her ministry, disappointment and disillusionment are inevitable. The TKGE method of ministry has wonderful promises, with all its formulas, cliches, and programs. In view of all this exciting sophistication, the simple innocence of the Tree of Life seems so naive.
Please remember, Christianity is a relationship between bride (church) and groom (Lord Jesus) and it is not a religion. If you have an old version of the dictionary, look up the usage of the word religion from a generation ago. One of the first usages listed is, “a return to bondage.” Bondage or slavery wears you out. You end up exhausted and totally depleted of your own resources, because that’s the energy source you are relying on. All the formulas, rituals and techniques you are using are getting very mixed results in your ministry. You’re trying harder each week or month to make it work, and your frustration with people and God is growing. You have entered into self-imposed bondage like an athlete training for a marathon, and you are growing weary.
In scripture we see Jesus sitting down and viewing the crowds. He weeps because they wander like sheep without a shepherd. Their weariness is so obvious to Jesus. They are caught in religion, and it is taking the people to death, step by step, with all the teaching about right and wrong, good and evil. The crowds are worn out, and still so far from God they don’t recognize him when he walks up to them and says hello. The TKGE seems sensible to so many people that many a ministry leader becomes seduced by its fruits.
The Tree of Life is not about right and wrong, good and evil. The Tree of Life is about life. If you choose to become an expert in right and wrong , good and evil, you are moving toward death. The religious leaders of Jesus’ day were experts in this area. They could spot a sinner from a mile (how many cubits is that?) away. Even when they were technically correct, death surrounded them and infected everyone they came in contact with.
Jesus, however, walked in life. Life was so appealing to the sinner, they often invited Jesus over for a meal and fellowship. The sinner never felt evaluated, judged, or condemned by Jesus. They loved his presence, and the hope and respect he gave to them. It was fun to be around Life. It was invigorating for these people. Life made them feel very different than religion. Life filled them with joy and hope. The religion of the scribes and pharisees made them feel hopelessly condemned to failure.
People who live in the TKGE often have a presentation problem. In other words, when they see a woman who is a prostitute, they see a fallen failure. A sinner! If you walk in the Tree of Life like Jesus, you see a woman who is a child of God. She may be lost at the moment, but she is one of His, and needs to be treated with love and respect. Jesus never called anyone a sinner. He referred to them as lost. When something valuable is lost, you spend time finding it. It is something precious, not something to be scorned. Jesus much preferred hanging out with the prostitutes, tax collectors, thieves, lepers, and street people - than the religious. Religious people are rarely fun to be around. To Jesus, breathing life into the lost was so much easier than breathing life into the religious! You can not eat the fruit from the Tree of Life when you live in the branches of the TKGE.
God set before his people life and death, and recommended to them to choose life. Life is Jesus. He makes that clear to us in no uncertain terms.
The bread of life - John 6:35,48
The living bread - John 6:51
Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life - John 6:53
I am the resurrection and the life - John 11:25
I am the way the truth and the life - John 14:6
The Messiah - John 4:26
The light - John 9:5
The Gate - John 10:7
The son of God - John 10:36
The Lord - John 13:13
The Vine - John15:1
The Alpha and the Omega - Rev. 1:8,17
It is by focusing on Jesus and making him the very center of our lives that we will find life, and escape the thinking of the TKGE. When you choose life, you are choosing a whole new way to think - one not taught at seminary. When you choose life, you are choosing the deepest form of repentance.
An old definition of repentance is, “turn and go the other way.” Turning and going the other way is a by-product of repentance, not repentance itself. We need a new way of thinking. We need a renewing of the mind.
Rick Warren once gave a great story defining repentance. If you have a motor boat with an auto-pilot set to south, you can grab the steering wheel and turn the direction around to north. As long as you exert effort and determination you can keep the boat going north. At some point you are going to get tired or bored or fed-up exerting effort to force the boat to go north. At some point you let go of the steering wheel and instantly the auto-pilot turns the boat south. The “mind” of the boat had remained the same even when a will was exerted to force a different direction. What is needed is to reprogram the auto-pilot (renew the mind) and then it becomes ten times easier to travel in the correct direction. Repentance is a change of mind - and the change of direction is a fruit or by-product of that change (renewing).
When we choose the Tree of Life (and don’t assume you already have) we are choosing a whole new way to think, relate and minister. We are choosing a deep form of repentance that opens a new door to life than may be beyond what our hurting, burned-out, cynical, angry heart and mind can presently understand.