When a pastor or church member looks at their church’s calendar when it is full of events, the response is usually one of satisfaction.

However, there are good reasons to exchange that perspective for one of concern.

The reason we like to see a full schedule is because we think it declares fruitfulness is taking place. And perhaps that is true. But most likely the idea of fruitfulness through busyness is only partially true.

I have been a pastor for almost 35 years, and I have discovered that when pressed to identify the fruit in our programs, sometimes the results are surprisingly slim. This has nothing to do with the sincere intentions and faithful hard work of those involved in them.

There have been times when a program that many would consider to be a showcase of good work was in fact producing virtually no identifiable fruit.

The answer is not to trash all programs, but we should carefully examine their usefulness.

The knee jerk reaction by people tends to be that attempts to significantly reduce programs is a step backward from fruitful ministry.

But the opposite truth is the motivation for trimming the programming in our churches. It is because we do want to be fruitful, that we don’t want to fool ourselves into thinking we are being effective because we are being busy. The importance of gospel ministry is too precious to merely think we are being effective.

The ministry goal that Jesus has given us is to be making disciples. This involves having people come to faith in Christ and having them mature so that they become part of the disciple-making process.

This requires a certain amount of programming in and by the church, but it also requires freedom to be involved in disciple-making in our homes and communities.

When we free up the church calendar AND empower church members to be disciple-makers, fruitful ministry expands.

The topic of church schedule and programming is not a minor concern, the health of gospel ministry is partially at stake.

Jared Wilson serves the church well with this article, “10 Reasons Why You Should Underprogram Your Church”. A careful reading of Jared’s points reveals the value of giving this matter serious consideration.

It can be hard for a church to strike a perfect balance, but we can become more careful and intentional about busyness in the church just as much as we should be concerning busyness in our personal lives.



We want life to have meaning

We want to look back and see that it was fruitful

But our life experience often feels as if we are spinning our wheels

We intend and plan on being a part of meaningful activity, but distractions by the bushel take over our days (I don’t actually know how much a bushel is, but it sounds like a lot).

Technology promises and does add to our potential for productivity. However those same technologies can easily take it away just as quickly.

John Piper recently gave a talk on productivity, in which he gave 10 principles to help our life to be as useful and fruitful as possible. You can either listen (11 minutes) or read the transcript here at the desiringGod website.


This is the final article in our series on Hope. Today we look at a third biblical picture that guides us in what it means to live hopefully.

Biblical Hope Makes Us Like a Tree

“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord and whose hope is the Lord. He shall be like a tree planted by the waters; which spreads out its roots by the river and will not fear when heat comes; but its leaf will be green and will not be anxious in the year of drought, nor will cease from yielding fruit.” (Jeremiah 17:7-8)

Living Hopefully brings vitality to our life

This is the fruit of what we have already seen when we reject spiritual carelessness and embrace biblical obedience.

Satan tries to sow seeds of doubt concerning how worthwhile it is to live wholly for God. But the only things to grow from that seed are weeds.

Spiritual vitality that grows like a mighty and fruitful tree comes from being rooted in the entirety of salvation’s promise. This is exactly what biblical hope is – confidence that the entirety of salvation’s promise will be fulfilled.

Ask yourself, “What should it mean to my life if gospel hope is totally and irreversibly true?”

If you have no vitality or fruitfulness, check your hope status – and check how well rooted you are in biblical obedience

Yes you may believe, but is that belief causing you to pursue God more fully, or is it something you merely use to convince yourself that you are “Okay with God”.

What is the practical application of hope that is like a “tree planted by the waters”?

Don’t try to plant your hopes or your life in dry places.

These are places that are not dependent upon God. It is to trust in yourself and to pursue the temporary things that the world offers as its hope

Living water is only found in the Holy Spirit.

He flows through the Word, our worship, and other believers in whom He dwells (your church).

It is not complicated, if you life with distance from God, you are planting yourself in dry places.

The result will be what always happens in dry places – no vitality or fruitfulness.

Once you are in a fruitful place, get that fruit to market

Invest your life in the work God is doing around you

If we think the fruit of our life is just rotting on the ground – why bother?

But if we see people eating this fruit, it encourages us to grow even more fruitful.

To live hopefully we don’t need anything new to be made true for us, we simply need to live by what Christ has made true through his glorious gospel!


The wonderful news is that we can have more!

But we have to look where more actually lives.

Paul Tripp takes us to that place in this outstanding book.

The full title of this book is “A Quest for More: Living for Something Bigger Than You”.

This is my favorite book by Paul Tripp. I have read it a few times and always find it freshly encouraging and challenging.

Paul Tripp shows how living for our own kingdom is in reality narrowing our life to something meager and small.

The meagerness and smallness of it becomes increasing apparent as we discover the magnitude and eternal grandeur of the kingdom God invites us to live for.

“A Quest for More” is one of my most highly recommend books.


Leaving the hospital this morning

My hospital room was a narrow bare rectangle with one dim fluorescent light high on the wall, which reflected up toward the ceiling giving off an odd color that I decided had a hint of green. The hospital staff treated me well, but after late afternoon Friday, they also left me alone. A woman took my temperature at 7:00 p.m. After that I did not see anyone until 10:00 a.m. when breakfast arrived. I am not complaining, because that meant I was not visited by the girl who punctured my finger twice daily with what felt like a spike to draw blood.

The woman who delivers meals was not overly pleased with me yesterday; I nibbled my breakfast of oatmeal and an egg product, but never attempted to touch my lunch of plain pasta and an anemic looking meat. When dinner arrived, with my lunch still sitting there like an accusing witness, she took me to task letting me know what she thought of my negligence or my failure to build up strength. I was not sure which because it was in Russian.

She replaced the metal bowl which had held my lunch with a metal plate holding my dinner of barley and a whole fish with the ends cut off but the bones still inside. I did not want to eat that either, but thought it might be good to attempt a bite or two to keep me from more trouble. I was surprised how well it went down, but I didn’t push it. By the time I was done I had finished half of the fish and several bites of barley. I tried to arrange the rest to give the impression that I had eaten more. When she came back to take my plate, the woman looked at the plate and then at me without saying a word, a stalemate I would say.

Well this morning I was definitely feeling better, so when my cream of wheat with bread and a hardboiled egg was delivered I enthusiastically took the plate and began to eat. The woman smiled with satisfaction, victory was hers! But in reality it was mine as well. I felt so good after eating that I immediately called Sergei and told him it was a good day to leave the hospital. When he asked what the doctors had said, I told him I hadn’t seen any.

Sergei arrived with my clothes by 11:30 and found a nurse who said she would find the doctor on call. Since it was Saturday the regular doctors were not on duty. We were both surprised how quickly she returned. Without any argument the nurse told us that I would need to sign a paper saying I was leaving on my own accord or something like that. She dictated the wording to Sergei and I eagerly signed it. I noticed it was the same paper they had given me two day before when I asked for toilet paper. The nurse also wrote down three prescriptions for me to take over the next few days.

That was it. I thanked her for the care of all the staff, which I could see she appreciated and as quickly as I could change, we were out the door. When we arrived at the Seminary Apartment where Eric moved to yesterday and where we will spend the rest of our stay, I found Eric had arranged my stuff as best as he could according to the way I had left it in the previous apartment.

Most of my blog is about my morning because the rest of the day didn’t entail much. I called Debbie, napped and finished reading “Harry Truman’s Excellent Adventure” on my Kindle; nothing more strenuous than that. I feel more energized, but I also realize my body still needs to rest.

However, I did do some valuable reflecting this morning as I lay in my hospital bed. My biggest disappointment in going to the hospital was to miss speaking at a conference today. The attendees were to be several pastors and leaders of churches I know well. It was one of the most anticipated activities of my trip.

That got to thinking about people who are stuck in limited situations far more severe than two days in a hospital. What if I had been paralyzed and would spend the rest of my life with limited mobility. Or, what if I was pastor of a church with 8 people, and spent years laboring earnestly without seeing much result.

God’s most faithful people are not necessarily those with large and visibly productive results (although some are). Faithfulness is how we use the place, time, situation and circumstances God has given us. Fruitfulness comes from the heart outward. We should all want our fruitfulness to include visible results in many lives – but we do not have control over that. We only have control over our heart and that requires our constant dependence on the Holy Spirit.

So how fruitful were the last two days. I am not sure we are able to judge such matters. But I know they were not wasted; only sin can do that. And I do think it was a time God used well in my heart – and that is always fruitful.

I won’t ask you to pray, because you have so wonderfully demonstrated that you have been. I will thank you for your love and prayers. God has made me a man of extraordinary wealth in the things that matter most. However, I will ask you to keep praying.

Tomorrow Eric and I will be with our sister church in Gatovo (missing that would have been very hard). I plan on preaching and look forward to it. To all those at Greentree, I will be praying for you and your faithful preacher tomorrow. And for the rest of you, who will not be in Gatovo or Greentree, may our Lord richly bless where you do worship our great God!