A toot, a vineyard, and me

Isaac just had one of the loudest toots ever. What he is doing up with me this early in the morning I will never know? We did a special sleep in the living room night last night. I figure it will be a monthly tradition. I woke up at 4:45 for no reason. I just couldn't sleep anymore. Isaac woke up at 5:30. There goes my morning of solitude. Anyway, back to the toot. It was loud.

I asked him, "Was that your mouth or was that a real toot?"

He replies, "A real toot."

I proclaim, "A super-toot!"

He says, "Just like Superman, Batman, and Spider-Man."

It made me laugh.


Here is the finished produt that will be shared tomorrow morning at 10:30 at Antwerp Community Church. If you're bored and in the are, feel free to come on over. Please say a little prayer for me in this matter.


When we received the big snowfall a couple of weeks ago and church was cancelled, I tried to save some money. Instead of calling someone with a big truck and a snowplow to come and clear out our long driveway, I decided to get in the Blazer and drive up and down the drive for twenty minutes trying to make a good trail to get through. I did a decent job. I’ve only fallen off of the trail and got my car stuck a few times, and none of those times, thankfully, were anything that going in forward and reverse for five minutes couldn’t handle.

Today we’re going to read a passage from Isaiah 5. Isaiah was written to try to get the people of God, at that time the nation of Israel, back on the trail he made for them. I think there is a lot we can learn from this book and this passage in particular. I’ll be reading starting at verse 1.

Isaiah 5:1-7

"1 Let me sing for my beloved my love-song concerning his vineyard: My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill. 2 He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines; he built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it; he expected it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes. 3 And now, inhabitants of Jerusalem and people of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard. 4 What more was there to do for my vineyard that I have not done in it? When I expected it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes? 5 And now I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard. I will remove its hedge, and it shall be devoured; I will break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down. 6 I will make it a waste; it shall not be pruned or hoed, and it shall be overgrown with briers and thorns; I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it. 7 For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the people of Judah are his pleasant planting; he expected justice, but saw bloodshed; righteousness, but heard a cry!"

God has a vineyard. I have a garden. If you've been to my house, my garden is one of the many eyesores in my yard. I'm not the best at protecting my garden. We have rabbits and failed to plant any marigolds to keep them away, so the rabbits are free to eat whatever they whenever they want. It all depends on whether my dog is out there to chase them. We have weeds growing in the garden that are almost as tall as me. My garden is not a garden to be proud of, but the vegetables we have pulled from that garden are. We are fortunate to have such great soil, that despite all of my inadequacies in gardening I have had the biggest tomatoes I have ever seen come out of it. I have had cucumbers that were abnormally large. I actually should have pulled them before they became that large. Now if only it would've produced giant pumpkins, but I digress.

I have heard garden horror stories too. I have heard stories where people take immaculate care and love their garden, yet it just does not produce good fruit and vegetables. Those great garden caregivers are somewhat like God. God is far superior to me in gardening (and everything else for that matter) in that he did everything he could to make his vineyard fruitful. Forget marigolds to keep rabbits out; he built a stink'in watchtower. I tilled my garden and forgot it. God painstakingly cleared his vineyard of every stone. I have no idea how to tell what strain of tomatoes, peppers, green beans, or the like, are good, so I just planted what the greenhouse carried. God planted choice vines. I was just fortunate to have good soil. God actually checked the soil before planting his vineyard.

Everything about God's vineyard was perfect, perfect for growing the best grapes ever made - except for the grapes themselves. God could only do so much. The grapes had to grow on their own.

This story is a sort of parable. God is talking about bad grapes, but in actuality he is talking about his stubborn followers. His people refused to grow and be what he intended them to be.

There are many people out there who refuse to follow God because of his grapes. At one point I was one of them. At one point in my journey while I was a youth pastor I gave up on Christianity. I became completely frustrated with what I felt was the whole charade going on around me.

I remember coming back to Antwerp and going to an event at the church I grew up at on the other side of the river. They were having their annual campfire and campout party. I went for a walk with my mom around the church. Not to kiss like naughty teenagers, but to talk. During that walk I told her a conclusion that I had arrived at. I said, "I don't think I'm a Christian any more." She wept. I hugged her. I said, “I can't be a Christian when all the world is filled with all of these fake people who think they are saved just because they have proper belief statements and don’t live their faith out in actions. If what they believe makes them live the way they do, then I don’t want to believe what they do.”

Thankfully, God didn't give up on me and my arrogant self. God laid this passage from Isaiah on my heart. It's a story about God trying his best to create a fruitful vineyard. However, he did all he could and it still produced bad grapes. And the verse that really brought me back is the one where he tells us to "judge between me and my vineyard." At that point I decided to do just that. We shouldn’t judge God based upon the people who claim to follow Him. We need to view him for who He is and judge Him accordingly. If there is one passage in the Bible that has saved my soul, we read it today.

And we might think it is a copout to not follow God because of the people who claim to follow him. It is. It will hold no weight at the time of judgment, but, unfortunately, it seems to be the copout that most people use to not follow God. I've yet to run across someone who told me that they don't follow God because they can't accept the Trinity. But I have ran across many who refuse to follow God because the church is full of gossip. I have yet to run across someone who told me they refuse to follow God because they don't know if they can trust the Bible. But I have ran across many who refuse to follow God because they have been emotionally hurt by people who claim to follow Him. I have yet to run across someone who told me they refuse to follow God because they don't understand the balance between free-will and predestination. But I have ran across many who refuse to follow God because they feel the church is not loving. I'm sure there are some out there who don't follow God because of intellectual reasons, but most people don't follow God because of the people who claim to follow him.

There was a somewhat obscure band in the mid-90s that I listened to named the Caulfields. They wrote a song about how it is tough to follow God. I'm not going to sing it like some who have stood up here and quoted lyrics from songs. I’ll save you from that awkward situation. If I did, we might wind up with people who refuse to listen to this message because of the quality of my singing.

I’m not sharing this song because we should believe what it says. I’m sharing it because it is a glimpse into the mind of someone who seems to refuse to follow God because of those who claim to follow Him.

Fragile by the Caulfields

I'd love to hear your thoughts
On sinners you have caught
And what about the ones who got away

Where are they today
You see them everywhere
And they don't care
And if we all seem terrified
It's just because we are
We're fragile
Don't let us down too hard

What does it all achieve
The orphaned family grieves
But still believes
In our rebirth
You damned us all to earth
And turned it into hell
And wished us well
And if we all seem petrified
It doesn't mean we're hard
We're fragile
Don't let us fall too far

Is this the part
When everyone gets on their knees for you
I always wanted to believe in you
But you never gave me half a chance
Or half a reason to
Are you fragile too?

I'd love to make you proud
But I know
They sure put on a show
And man they say it loud
They're not my crowd
And if I can't believe in you
It doesn't mean I don't
I'm fragile
Don't let me fall alone
I'm fragile
I can't fall alone

Since today is Superbowl Sunday, what would be a sermon without a football illustration. I was taught in college not to use sport illustrations in sermons since they usually alienate over half your audience, so please humor me on this once since it almost a national holiday. For those who don't follow football, the game later today will have two of the greatest coaches in the NFL facing off against one another. They are great motivators and tacticians, and they have trained their players well.

However, if we transplanted their careers and always placed them with players who refused to learn or be motivated, they would not be where they are today. Their success depended upon the moldability of the players they have coached up to the point they are in their careers. And their success today will depend upon their players. It doesn't matter if they are the best leaders in the world, the best tacticians, their success is all dependent upon the players on the field.

Take my high school football coach for instance, Coach Snoad. When he was our coach in 1993 we went 0-10. We actually put the Antwerp football program on the map by making the USA Today twice. Once was when we lost to Columbus Grove 92-0. The other was when Holgate ended their 60 game losing streak against us. After that season Coach Snoad left. The next year he was coach of the year in the Defiance Crescent for the job he did at Napoleon. Was he “coach of the year” quality when he was our coach? I would assume so; however, the players made him look bad.

Christians are led by the greatest leader in all of history, God. And yet some of those who claim to follow him are immune to his motivation. They are immune to his training. If you're not a Christian and you have seen that – if you’re sitting there thinking you are justified in not following God because of the hypocrites who do, please do what God asks you to do in this passage: Judge between Him and His people. Your decision to not follow Him because of those who do holds no water.

When Lindsay’s Grandma Tootie was on her deathbed, the family decided that I would be the one to go in to her and share the good news of the kingdom of God. She had always been a little cynical toward the church (except for when they had bingo), so I was very hesitant to go in there and share with her. Grandma Tootie was the type of older person who wasn’t afraid to share her mind, so I was worried that she might tell me off or something like that. I had no idea how it would go. After much prayer and consideration of what she needed to hear, I went in and shared with her today’s passage along with a few others. I told her that she had probably seen many Christians who claim the name but don’t live as if they are redeemed. She, in her long life, had probably seen more fake Christians than I can imagine. But I shared that God is still God and he shouldn’t be judged by the failures of his people who he is quick to forgive.

After sharing with her and praying with her, she responded that she wanted to be one of God’s children. We baptized her and shared her first communion with her. All of this happened less than one week before her funeral. It was one of the most touching moments in my life.

Now, I’m not up here trying to say that this passage is the ultimate evangelism tool. Strap this passage to your evangelism batbelt and everything will be okay. I don’t think that is the case. But I do think this passage contains the secret to the ultimate evangelism tool, living the Christian life together as the people of God. If we were to examine the other side of this passage we would see what God wants out of us. On the surface the passage says, “Judge between me and my vineyard.” On the flipside it tells those that claim to follow Him to become people who don’t just claim to be his people but really are.

God is looking for a group of people that he doesn’t have to tell non-Christians, “Judge between me and my people.” He wants a group of people that he can say, “Look at them. You can see me through them.” Are we willing to step up, make the sacrifices necessary, and be His people?

Notice that it is people and not person. A faithful Christian’s witness is often thwarted by the witness of people who call themselves Christian but refuse to live out the Christian life. Each member of the body is important to the effective witnessing of the whole body. We are not individual Christians living separate lives from one another but Christians that form one body together. We are parts of one another.

Take for instance the vineyard illustration. If there was some good grapes in a vineyard full of bad grapes, would it really matter? It wouldn’t if I was the one eating the grapes. After five rotten grapes in a row I would move on. At some point I think all of us would give up on that vineyard.

Imagine if you would that I’m a grape seed. You can call me Mr. Grapeseed. Not your normal grape seed, but a grape seed that wants to grow into the type of grape that is worthy for a king. And in so doing I want to find a vinegrower who is the master of grapes to mold me into that grape. Would I decide that the vinegrower in charge of a vineyard with more rotten grapes than good ones was the one I seek? No, I would see the rotten grapes and move on. I wouldn’t want to be like them. There is nothing more detrimental to the witness of the Christian faith than lukewarm or cold Christians. I think there are some people genuinely seeking, but the church is not always the best place to find God.

But on the flipside of that, there is nothing more effective for evangelism than Christians being the people of God, living our lives together in Christ, and loving one another as if we are truly brothers and sisters in a healthy family. We are called to be the people of God. And in so being, we will be the type of people that God would send the seekers to.

Let me read some passages from 1 Peter.

1 Peter 2:9

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.

We are God’s people in order to proclaim the mighty acts of God.

1 Peter 2:11

“Beloved I urge you as aliens and exiles to abstain from the desires of the flesh that wage war against the soul. Conduct yourselves honorably among the Gentiles, so that, though they malign you as evildoers, they may see your honorable deeds and glorify God when he comes to judge.”

People that don’t know God and even malign us as evildoers will eventually glorify God because of the way we have conducted ourselves around them.

1 Peter 3:1

“Wives in the same way, accept the authority of your husbands, so that even if some of them do not obey the word, they may be won over without a word by their wives’ conduct, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives.”

Wives are to win over their unbelieving husbands without a word but with the conduct of their lives.

1 Peter 3:13

“Now who will harm you if you are eager to do what is good? But even if you do suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated, but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence.”

Our lives should spark people to ask us about the hope that is in us.

As many of you already know, I sell games for a living. Board or card games are one of my favorite things in the whole world. We sell many obscure and unheard of board games - mainly European imports. When I’m trying to sell one – if all I do is explain what it is about, I will never sell it. However, if I place the game in their hands and explain it to them, the chance of me selling it goes up. If I have the game set up, and show them how it works, my chances of selling it increases a little more. If I play a game with them and teach them the game, my chances of selling it increases even more.

We are wired to respond to action. We are overloaded with words and concepts. We are trained that actions usually don’t lie but words often do. A fake Christian can tell you all about the theological truths in conversation. A genuine Christian can show you the love of Christ in their life.

Now, we have to be careful, especially those of us who have ever worked in sales. Jesus should never be turned into a sales pitch. Nothing about church or Jesus should ever be turned into a sales pitch. We are not trying to sell people on Christianity. We are just trying to be faithful to God, which inevitably draws people to Jesus. Too often we make the goal of our lives evangelism or something else. We try to take the work of God into our own hands. The goal of our lives should never be evangelism or anything else, it should be loving God by being the people He intended us to be. In being people that God can say, “Look at them and see me,” we will inevitably be used by God to bring people to him. We will be used by God to do all of the lesser things that we sometimes make our spiritual priority.

God desires for the world to know Him. He wants our neighbors to know Him. He wants our co-workers to know Him. He wants us to shine wherever we go. We need to make sure that we are living our lives in such a way that we aren’t an obstacle to the work of God but are actually participants. We need to make sure we place the U-Haul trailer behind the car, rather than in front. Have you ever seen anyone trying to drive with a U-Haul trailer in front of the car? Everything has its place. But the most important thing we should focus on is us loving God by being the people he planned for us to be.

Life is often like driving down a snowy, unplowed driveway that has only two tire trails for us to drive through. My father’s four wheel drive blazer made a path in our driveway. It was up to me to keep my car in that path in order to get through. It is like that with our lives in Christ. We can either stay focused on the way that is prepared for us or we will have a very rough time ahead. Sometimes we might get stuck. Sometimes we might get stuck so badly that we will need others to help us out. Whether we are stuck in a rut and need some help getting back on the trail Jesus blazed before us, just temporarily sidetracked, or trying faithfully to abide in the trail, I hope we all will be reinvigorated in our focus to be the people of God and stay in the path Jesus blazed; our lives will be much more fulfilling and the souls of our neighbors unknowingly depend upon it.


Watch out for the potholes.