Mosaic Spokane

Divine Pomology

Divine Pomology

John 15:1-17

June 29, 2014

Welcome to summer! Yes, this is the second Sunday of summer 2014. I have yet to meet someone who lives in Spokane year around who doesn’t LOVE summer. Even if it isn’t your favorite season of the year, I’m betting you still have plenty of reasons as to WHY it’s still a really good season. In fact, I’d like to hear as many different reasons as we can mention in the next 90 seconds as to WHY you love summer. Go!

Because I love to eat, you can probably guess what is one of my favorite reasons for loving summer…besides ice cream and Slurpies and backyard barbeques and smores at the beachfire. It’s FRUIT! I absolute love the fresh fruit in season that we get here in the beautiful Northwest. Just try naming all the fresh fruits we enjoy right here in Spokane—cherries, blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, huckleberries, pears, apples, peaches, nectarines, cantaloupe. Watermelon, grapes…and everybody’s favorite…rhubarb!

Just WHY do we love fresh fruit so much? (The collogue of amazing tastes, textures, juices, colors, etc.) Fruit is SO wonderful because God has given us appetites and taste buds that can experience them. If they all tasted like grass to us, I’m pretty sure that you wouldn’t be buying them at the store or raising them in your backyard. If you like the taste of grass, it’s just a lot easier to go graze in the backyard!

Well today I’d like to take us to a passage of Scripture that deals with divine pomology. Any know what “pomology” is? (No, it’s not the study of palms. That would be “palmistry” as in fortune telling.)   Pomology comes from the Latin pomum (fruit) + -logy, or “study of” or “science of.” It is a branch of botany that studies and cultivates fruit. It’s also known as fruticulture (no, not what grows on your fruit when you store it too long in the refrigerator). Fruiticulture comes from the Latin fructus and cultura. There, you just learned something new today. And you can call me an amateur pomologist if you would like too… and I won’t even take offense.

A couple of weeks ago, your pastoral staff took a whole Monday to talk, pray, think, strategize, walk, eat and converse about how God might want to make Mosaic more fruitful in His Kingdom and in this city. Pastor Chris walked us through several different and fun exercises that helped us clarify what we think it is that God has called us to be in terms of “fruit” in this community that may make the people around us salivate spiritually and just maybe say that Spokane is a really great place to enjoy the taste of God in life.

Well, I have a confession to make. The next couple of weeks since then have, for various reasons, left me feeling like a barren, dried-up, fruitless old hardwood. Conflict with my siblings, feelings of inadequacy and isolation galore…they all combined to leave me feeling entirely fruitless and more like a maple tree in the winter than a peach tree in the summer.

So as I knew I wanted to lay out some things regarding our life together here at Mosaic before summer really hit and we all headed here and there for two months, I told the Lord I just needed a little refresher course in fruitfulness if I was going to have a ghost of a chance of helping anyone else today grow in fruitfulness.

So knowing that I certainly don’t have the answers for leading a fruitful life, let’s turn to One who does—Jesus.


And let’s turn to a couple of passages about trees and fruit and then we’ll see how God might want to apply that to Mosaic Fellowship.

The first passage is in Luke 13:1-8.

1.)There were present at that season some who told Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And Jesus answered and said to them, “Do you suppose that these Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, do you think that they were worse sinners than all other men who dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.”

He also spoke this parable: “A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. Then he said to the keeper of his vineyard, ‘Look, for three years I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree and find none. Cut it down; why does it use up the ground?’ But he answered and said to him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and fertilize it. And if it bears fruit, well. But if not, after that you can cut it down.’”

So what’s the big idea here? What is the main theme Jesus is teaching about?


Somebody give me a simple, working definition of repentance.

(A change of heart that results in a change of action from wrong to right.)

Of course, one of the first questions is, “Who/what does the fig tree symbolize?” I think there is good reason to believe it is primarily Israel and possibly secondarily anyone who considers themselves a part of God’s cultivated field.

            Jesus had just been challenging the prevailing wisdom of the day that said people who suffered a tragic death as opposed to a natural death did so because they were somehow worse sinners than the Israelites who died a natural death. We’re not sure exactly what the incident was Jesus refers to when Luke talks about “the Galileans whose blood Pilate mingled with their sacrifices.” But we do know that Pilate was notoriously insensitive to the Jewish people early in his rule. So it is possible that some Jews were killed by Pilate’s troops at the Temple during a time of sacrifice, possibly the Passover.

            Jesus uses that and the death of 18 people when the tower in Siloam fell and killed them to teach a little corrective truth about sinfulness. No, those people were not worse sinners than the rest of Israel. But unless the people of Israel repented, Jesus said that they too would “perish.”

            Then Luke links this parable to that teaching. In the Old Testament, both the prophet Hosea (9:10) and Jeremiah (24:5) used a fig tree to represent Israel in their own teaching using parables. So I think it is highly probably that Jesus is directing his words to those who considered themselves God’s chosen people.

            But that isn’t the end of the story, says Jesus. Being fruitful chosen people is the Owner’s concern in this life. Jesus is probably the “keeper of the vineyard” here who is interceding for the fruitless Israel, telling them that there is not an endless amount of time to repent and get right with God. Continual unfruitfulness will eventually lead to God saying, “It’s time to give this cultivated ground to someone else who’s going to bear fruit.”   And that is precisely what happened in 70 A.D. when Jerusalem was destroyed and Israel was banished from the land. The Gospel went to the Gentiles and the “keeper of the vineyard” became the “vine” of John 15. It’s interesting that even in this parable, this tree is planted in a vineyard. I wonder if Jesus was giving a clue about what would replace the “tree” of Israel—the Vineyard of Christ.

Besides the direct message to the Jewish nation to wake up and change course, this parable still reveals God’s heart for the fruitfulness of His people.  

First, God is immensely patient towards His children, even when we’re fruitless. And He will do all in His power to promote fruitfulness as long as there is any hope of change.

It’s striking that God gave Israel another 40 years after warning them they only had one more season before he “chopped down the tree” of the nation and dispersed them to the world. Rather than immediately punish the nation when Christ was crucified or when the Jewish leaders continued to persecute the first evidence of the church in Jerusalem, He waited 40 years.

Only when the work of God-- repeatedly stirring up the roots and soil of our lives--fails to bring any change, any fruitfulness, will God say, “Enough!”   Even in our times of unfruitfulness, God is digging around the roots of our lives in ways that have to feel painful and hurtful.

If trees could talk (as they do in Lord of the Rings or Narnia), I’m sure they would complain about all the cutting and tearing that digging around them brings. Sometimes the soil just needs to be loosened up or the roots unbound. It may shake us to the foundations but it is done with a desire for fruit, not frustration.

While not all painful times in our lives are because of our unfruitfulness, certainly some of them are. While my tendency is to complain or get angry or withdraw, I’m glad we have a Gardner who isn’t content to let us remain unfruitful. It is appropriate to ask in times of frustration and pain, “Lord, is there something you are trying to work out of or into my life? Something I need to repent of?”

Secondly, God will not abide fruitlessness forever. He is certainly committed to giving us all the time that could possibly be useful to bring us to fruitfulness. But even we, His children, can harden our hearts. We can persist in our own ways so long that God finally sets us aside and calls others into the place He had desired us to occupy in bearing fruit for His Kingdom.

So let’s move now to the NEW FRUITBEARING IMAGE Jesus introduces in John 15. It’s a passage most of us are familiar with so I won’t go verse-by-verse. Rather I would like to look at 3 promises Jesus makes to anyone who is His follower & 3 benefits he offers to those who learn what life is like “abiding” in Him.

            Jesus begins his teaching on abiding in Him by echoing what the previous passage in Luke taught—that God is doing all he can to insure that His children become as fruitful spiritually as possible in this life without violating our free will. This passage starts by talking about how both the Father and the Son are deeply involved in working to help the “branches” be fruitful. The Father is always working to lift up or tie up branches that would otherwise never get up off the ground and become fruitful. This is a basic principle of gardening. Lots of plants, left to themselves will languish in the dirt. If their fruit sets, it will usually spoil on the ground. Think tomatoes. If you don’t tie them up, at least in this part of the country, their slug bait. And if the slugs don’t get them, they will usually split and spoil.

            God is reminding us that He, the one with the most at stake in our fruitfulness, is actively working for our fruitfulness. Left to our own devices, we would languish and be hopelessly mired in the mud of this world. But the Father personally picks up, or as the text should be translated, “lifts up”, every branch that isn’t bearing fruit.

            What a difference from what I would expect. Coming from a work-oriented and accomplishment-driven upbringing, when I’m feeling like a looser, the last thing I envision God doing when I’m coming up empty is personally seeking me out, bending down and carefully lifting me up to some sort of existence that will enable me to experience a change. As a father myself, that’s just what my heart wants to do when my kids are feeling empty or down. So I don’t know why I find it so hard to believe that’s what God is doing with me when I’m feeling unproductive and void of life-giving fruit.

            APP: If that’s how you’re feeling today, can I encourage you to take some time either before you leave today or when you’re sitting somewhere quiet to just ask God to show you His tender, personal care?

            So first off, God the Father offers us compassionate care. He combines that with strategic pruning.

Vs 2—“…every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful”.

            ILL: thinning my peach trees this past week. Last year we hardly had any peaches due, I think, to a cold snap just about the time they were blossoming. But this year, what a difference! I must have pinched off hundreds of tiny peaches, some bunched together like grapes on the stem.

            What would happen to those branches and those peaches if I didn’t do some thinning? Well, IF the branches didn’t break (which they would), my peaches would probably be about the size of small apricots…and mostly pit at that. So, knowing they need to focus their fruit-bearing energies on fewer peaches, I thinned branch after branch.

            Again, being an imaginative pomologist J, pinching off every one was a real exercise in callousness. I could just hear the tree whimpering every time one fell to the ground! J

            The point Jesus is making is that the Father is going to personally take action in our lives, even when our life is giving off something tasteful and nourishing for others around us, so that we’ll be able to give really good things to others around us.

            And sometimes that “thinning” or “pruning” action still feels strange. Even in the fruitful seasons of our lives, we may feel like God is picking on us. We may wonder why some efforts we’ve poured a lot into just aren’t panning out. That’s when it is good to know that the Gardner of our lives has the right vantage point and the right method of moving us to fruitfulness.

            To tender care and strategic pruning, Jesus adds something he does in caring for us—Vs. 3: You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.” Spiritual hygiene” or “a spiritual shower”   This word “clean” here can mean anything from physical healing to spiritual purity or cleansing.

Jesus and his disciples were periodically criticized for not “washing” to the ceremonial level of ritual cleansing required by the legalists of the day. But Jesus compared the very same legalists to freshly painted tombs which have putrefying, dead bodies on the inside and nice china cups that are encrusted with, rotten old food on the inside. Clearly Christ cared about the hearts, minds and souls of his disciples far more than the rituals that religionists of His day valued. And that cleansing of the deepest parts of their being, Jesus said, happened through the very teaching he gave them.

            Clearly, all the teachings of Jesus have that same ability for every follower of Christ. But if you consider the teaching he had given them just that night, where was the emphasis? Was it not on how they were loving each other…or not? Was it not about serving each other in the humblest of tasks, even foot washing? Was it not about helping each other be “clean” rather than trying to outdo each other by fighting for coveted positions?

            ILL: Just this weekend, Sandy and I were watching a Hallmark-is, rather predictable sort of Christian movie. In one scene, the 10 or 11 year old son of this single dad is trying out some church’s Kid’s Camp. The leader of the camp is explaining how the week is going to be all about putting others first. So he quotes Philippians 2:3 about doing nothing out of selfish ambition but rather humbly considering other’s needs as more important than your own. Right there, in an instant, the Holy Spirit said, “That’s for you, John, in this situation you’re having trouble with in your family. You’ve been watching out for yourself first and that’s why you’ve grown resentful in your serving.” Ouch! But that’s how the Word of Christ, even in a predictable sort of Christian family movie, can still do its cleansing work. But if we’re not hearing or reading the Word, it won’t be exercising its cleansing properties in our lives.

            Only the Word of God and the blood of Christ has this ability to wash away the dirt of our hearts and minds. I don’t know when you last tried to get your hands clean, but without using water, it’s a pretty unsatisfying endeavor. As Paul says in Eph. 5:26, Jesus is always in the process of cleansing His church “with the washing of water by the word.”

            APP: How goes it with hearing Jesus’ word and letting it sink into your soul? There is an old saying, “Either this Book will keep you from sin OR sin will keep you from this Book.” There is usually a pretty close correlation between spending time listening to the voice of God in His Word and both aligning our hearts to God’s priorities as well as getting rid of the attitudes and actions that offend Him. Don’t let the change of routine this summer pull you away from the Word. Instead, why not decide to try some new Word-exposure experiences like memorizing Scripture or listening to someone’s regular podcast or reading Scripture both morning and evening. This blessing of a spiritual shower with God’s word only works if you get in the shower!

Compassionate care…strategic pruning…and spiritual showers. Jesus promises us all that if we’ll simply let God do his work by staying connected to Christ, the vine.

Now to the 3 benefits of abiding in Jesus according to vss. 7-11.

1.)    Productive prayer (15:7). Jesus says, “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” Jesus is not offering a blank check for answered prayer. It is conditioned upon being connected to Him (abiding) in such a way that the desires that drive our prayers are informed and moved by the Spirit of Christ in us.

The verb “ask” is an imperative…a command. Jesus is not just inviting us to pray, He is commanding us to pray. The one who abides in Christ and His words will have longings for things, desires for spiritual fruitfulness, that they never had before. That’s what the Holy Spirit abiding in us does. Jesus is not asking us to cut back on our requests and spiritual desires. He’s actually saying, “GO FOR IT!” When God puts a longing in your heart that comes from being connected to Christ, don’t ignore it.

ILL: Yesterday’s loss of the car key. Sometimes God may encourage us to pray for simple things like that in order to get us to pray for more substantial things in the kingdom realm.

ILL: Maybe we need to think of it more like texting. 54% of Studies show that the average teenager sends and receives over 2,300 text messages a month. What if we had a relationship like that with the Holy Spirit?  What if we had a special ring tone alert for when the Holy Spirit was prompting us to communicate with God about something. (Make whistling sound or volume adjustment to “notices” on phone.) Most of us who actually use texting will reply to a text much faster than most other forms of communication. This is what prayer is to look like—immediate, constant, message-prompted asking from God.

Problem is, when Christian students were surveyed about the impact of texting on their lives, they admitted to “neglecting important areas of their life” due to spending too much time on social media sites. But whether it’s social media or something that distracts those of us older adults from cultivating life in Christ, the result is the same. But Jesus still holds out the same promise of prayer that produces divine fruit.

2.)    Benefit #2--Proven paternity/discipleship (15:8). Jesus says, “My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples.” The phrase translated “so prove to be” is only one word—“become” (ginomai). In producing fruit we’re becoming Christ’s disciples…the Heavenly Father’s spiritual children… to an even greater degree (8:31-32). Yes, we “became” God’s kids the moment we believed in Jesus as our own Savior and Lord. But really demonstrating you are someone’s child comes when you actually start to pick up the values, the concerns, the mannerisms and the lifestyle of your parents.

It’s like taking a spiritual paternity test but based on behavior, not genetics. When the life of Christ starts being demonstrated in the extremities of our experience (just like fruit gets borne on the extremities of limbs), it’s proof we’re part of the Family.

ILL: Comments Sandy and I will sometimes get from teachers who have had our older children in their classes and now have Mikias or Yohannes (our adopted Ethiopian sons)—“I can tell he’s another Repsold by…(how polite he is; how hard working he is; how he just barely gets up in time to get to school a block from home J).

The specific “fruit” in this context refers to our love for our brothers and sisters. This is seen in the phrase “by this” in 13:35 and 15:8. We prove to be Jesus’ disciples when we love each other.

The Apostle John picks that theme up in his epistle of First John when he says in chapter 3:17-18, “But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? 18 Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.”

Loving on people, especially our spiritual family members, has powerful benefits in the believer’s life. That’s why so much of church-life is designed to be developing loving spiritual family relationships.

Jesus will go on and specifically mention unlimited love as the 3rd benefit tied to abiding in Christ. “Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.”

            Just as so much of the Father’s commands to Jesus had to do with things He was to do towards his disciples to show them God’s love, so we are called to live in that kind of relationship of obedient love towards our spiritual family. Something about living in and under the unconditional love of God should spill out to passionate loving of our spiritual siblings.

            Hopefully if you’ve been at Mosaic for a while, you’ve picked up that an unconditionally loving family that mirrors the love of Christ for each of us is what we’re longing to be. That doesn’t mean we always achieve that or experience it. We’re saints who hopefully live like it most of the time but sinners who occasionally don’t live out unconditional love.

But unconditional love doesn’t mean we don’t tackle the real issues of each other’s lives that are holding us back from growing up in Jesus. We are trying to be a spiritual family that practices a wonderful balance between tender and tough love. And we’re trying to work that out in one of the most challenging environments of our city—the downtown. That’s what we’re called to do to abide in Christ.

Since this is the last Sunday before summer really hits in Spokane and everyone scatters on different weeks to various places for vacation, I want to ask you to be praying specifically about our fruitfulness as a strategic church in this city. We have a number of important decisions to make about our future that will impact the kind of fruit we are able to give to each other and our city. Let me tell you about a few of them.

ILL: Mosaic is like a tree with 4 or 5 main branches of ministry we believe God has called us to. We all have a place on that tree. We’re all at least leaves somewhere here—receiving sap from the trunk (Christ) and sunlight that enables us to strengthen the whole tree/church. When the spiritual “chemistry” of the tree is working, we bear fruit that nourishes and helps those around us.

We’ve identified about 4 or 5 branches of ministry at Mosaic that we believe God has called us to over the next few years. I want to ask you to be praying about a couple of them here this summer as we continue to seek God for the best place and facility through which to do this ministry.

Specifically, we have some building/space decisions to make that will impact several of the main branches of Mosaic’s ministry “tree.”  

1.)    The branch of FAMILY MINISTRY:

  1. Limited children’s space and the need to multiply classes >>more regular disciplers of children and youth.
  2. Youth—a downtown outreach venue—all-ages musical and youth venue???
  3. Resourcing marriages and parents—Chris Buck
  4. College and young adults
  5. Foster visitation facility???

2.)    The branch of COMMUNITY MINISTRY:

  1. Youth and children’s venues for outreach.
  2. Internships for Moody students
  3. Recovery Ministry—Changing Lives
  4. A Mosaic Coffee Shop???
  5. Building Discovery Bible groups
  6. Business Partnership???


[Show new potential building plans:

  • Outside: 2nd and Monroe—artists rendering
  • Inside: meeting space, Family/Children ministry space—floor plan


  • Our current build is up for sale >> increased rents
  • Any new option means more space at higher prices (from $5/sq. ft. to $10-15. From 3,000 sq. ft. to 7,000+. From $2,000/mo. to $7,000-10,000/mo.
  • Mosaic will need to grow and partner with/develop new sustainable business models.  



1. As you look back on your life in Christ, what periods of life seemed to be the most fruitful in Christ? Why would you say that was so? In those times when you didn’t see much fruit, what was God doing that may be described in John 15 and how was He doing it? What would you say are important factors in your fruitfulness or non-fruitfulness at present?

2. In John 15:3, Jesus tells us that we are “clean” through His word that is at work in us. In what ways have you found God’s word having a purifying or cleansing effect on your life? Since Jesus’ words are a sort of cleaning agent to our lives, how might you engage with His Word more effectively?

3. When Jesus said “Without me you can do nothing,” (John 15:5), what is He referring to? There are plenty of things people do without Jesus in life, so how can we as Christ-followers tell if we are doing things with our without Christ?

4. This passage lists several blessings to abiding in Christ (15:7-11). Which ones have you experiences the most? Mean the most to you? How do you think God might want you to grow in the other blessings? Who do you know who seems to live out or exude this abiding blessing? What would you like to ask them about how they learned to experience them?

5. Which of the four different “branches” of ministry at Mosaic mentioned in the message excite you the most (family, community outreach, arts and celebration or missions)? How would you like to be discipled in one of these areas and by whom? How could you help make someone else more fruitful in one of these areas?


Read More