Blogtext: "The Axe is laid to the root."

Do I hear the sound of the axe?

Over the years certain impressions grow very slowly. So slowly that one does not really notice them. Then one day something changes the configuration of the thought patterns and the result is a jolt that makes one sit up straight and stare at what had been more or less hidden from view or if seen had been successfully ignored.

What was it that jolted me? Oh nothing much, just the fact that when I read the word of God I see how people were transformed by the gospel whereas looking at the church of today I see the opposite.The churches by and large strive to be conformed to what is considered 'normal' in the world. "Fitting in, not rocking the boat, giving no offense to anyone" seems to be the catch phrase of the times we live in. And when it has become the purpose of the pulpit to minimize the distance between the church and the world, then the edge has gone from the axe.

Aye there's the rub! A blunt axe can never be used to aim at the root of the tree in order to chop it down. It may not even be useful to lop off a few branches. If your eyebrows disappeared in your hairline I guess that you have a question: "what has the axe felling a tree got to do with the life of the church?"  That is a legitimate question, but one that only can be raised where 'conformity' is the norm. 

In order to be like the world no man needs to change very much.
In order to receive glory from fellow men no man needs to have his roots examined. 
In order to only bear such fruit as falls nicely on the palates of those who scoff at God while claiming to be religious, one needs only to 'do one's best'. 
In order not to give any offense one needs only to stop preaching the truth.

In order to secure a vote of no confidence from God on the day of judgement all you need to continue to do is to endeavour to conform and avoid the one needed transformation.

What? No transformation?

A Christianity that no longer wants transformation is an oxymoron. The indwelling of Christ can only then become a possibility when a major 'total make over' has occurred in me and you. Naturally: his rightful place in us is not free and available to Him. It is occupied by the most pernicious ruler of all. The Self, the ego, the fallen "I am". Unless there is a coup d'etat and that the old ruler, that autonomous tyrant called "the old Adam", is forcefully dethroned man is a rudderless ship driven by any and every storm, and will be thrown up on the rocks to his everlasting detriment.

This element of the message of the church was delivered by the "Voice of Him that speaketh in the wilderness: Prepare ye the way of the Lord!" This is what the word of God tells us: "But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sad′ducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit that befits repentance, and do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
 “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.  His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the granary, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” Matthew 3:7-12
A short list of the main ingredients in his ministry should raise questions of importance.
"There is a wrath to come." "Who warns the world today of the coming wrath?"
"Therefore bring forth the fruit of repentance."  "Who tells the mankind of today of the need for repentance?"
"Do not fancy yourselves to be in no need for repentance because you belong to this or that religious affiliation." "God can sooner raise up children to Abraham from the very rocks in the ground."
"The axe is already (but no longer in contemporary Christianity) laid at the root of the trees" "But we are conditioned by the idea of "loving sinners as they are" to the exclusion of cutting down the fruitless trees."
"I baptize you with water, He who comes after me will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and Fire." "Where is the holy? Where is the fire? You speak of transforming power from on high. We see conforming as more important."
"He who comes after me has His winnowing fork in His hand, he will clear the threshing floor, wheat will be gathered, chaff will be burned."  "That sounds divisive, sectarian, racist and xenofobic. I am offended by that!"
But how ever offensive that is to the old Adam, to that humanity which never has any real interest in it's own abdication from it's own prerogatives, it is still the word of the Lord. This humanity to which selfish glory matters more than the glory of God will not bend before it is broken. Trees have been uprooted by storms all over the world. Once uprooted they die. The storms will come and the whole forest of mankind will be scythed down in fell swoops. "As it was in the days of Noah". But the churches are silent?
"What do you see? Men. But like walking trees."

"And they came to Beth-sa′ida. And some people brought to him a blind man, and begged him to touch him.  And he took the blind man by the hand, and led him out of the village; and when he had spit on his eyes and laid his hands upon him, he asked him, “Do you see anything?”  And he looked up and said, “I see men; but they look like trees, walking.”  Then again he laid his hands upon his eyes; and he looked intently and was restored, and saw everything clearly." Mark 8:22-25
I suppose that what I am hoping is that this miracle would grab every believer by the throat and ask us all: what do you see? Or maybe you still are walking in the darkness and are totally blind to all spiritual realities. Oh how partially I see. But at least the healing has begun. I see men like trees..

The metaphor of men as trees is a common one in the bible. That is why John the Baptist did not introduce a new idea when he spoke of the necessity of the axe being laid to the root. It would have been a vital image in the minds of the Jews to whom he spoke. They would have recalled several things from their Bible, from the law, the prophets and the writings. They would have known Psalm 1. They would have known all about the way The God Most High had dealt with that champion tree of all trees called Nebuchadnezzar according to Daniel ch 4. They would be familiar with the Majestic imagery of Ezekiel chapter 17 and again in chapter 31. Particularly chapter 31:10-14

“Therefore thus says the Lord God: Because it towered high and set its top among the clouds, and its heart was proud of its height,  I will give it into the hand of a mighty one of the nations; he shall surely deal with it as its wickedness deserves. I have cast it out.  Foreigners, the most terrible of the nations, will cut it down and leave it. On the mountains and in all the valleys its branches will fall, and its boughs will lie broken in all the watercourses of the land; and all the peoples of the earth will go from its shadow and leave it. Upon its ruin will dwell all the birds of the air, and upon its branches will be all the beasts of the field.  All this is in order that no trees by the waters may grow to lofty height or set their tops among the clouds, and that no trees that drink water may reach up to them in height; for they are all given over to death, to the nether world among mortal men, with those who go down to the Pit."
Men seen in the light of the image of a tree is then a common image in the Word of God. Old and New Testament are in total agreement on the use of it. Jesus spoke of Himself as the True vine and the disciples as the branches. Branches designed to bear fruit that does not belong to the branches but to the Master. And He is a sovereign wine-grower with absolute authority to prune, cut and radically dismiss what ever does not aid his purpose of true fruit.

You noticed the mission of the coming Christ? To baptize in Holy Spirit and Fire? Did you also notice that the fruit God looks to produce through us is the Fruit of the Spirit? And is the Fruit of the Spirit ever a product of the flesh? If love, peace and joy are missing in the Church then there would need to be a transformation because we are already conformed to the lovelessness, missing peace and short-lived joys of which the world is full. The radicality of the gospel of Jesus is for transformation, not for conformation. To avoid being an offense to the world is selling out our birthright for a messy pottage of commonplace frivolity. A very shortsighted gain indeed. Because we were destined for eternity, not for time alone.
A tree planted by the water
"Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
    nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
 but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
    and on his law he meditates day and night.
 He is like a tree
    planted by streams of water,
that yields its fruit in its season,
    and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.
 The wicked are not so,
    but are like chaff which the wind drives away.

Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,

    nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;

for the Lord knows the way of the righteous,

    but the way of the wicked will perish." Psalm 1
You may have read this sometime in your life. Now reflect on it in the light of what I have already said. There is a division between men. Those whom God calls righteous and some other whom He calls wicked. To belong to those who are wicked means that you have become entirely conformed to the world. It need not be all bad by our own standards. Simply because the world is busy attempting to reproduce in the flesh what can only be born of and produced by the Spirit! So it will be very difficult at times to see anything wicked going on. In fact it is only the almost perfect that is the most vicious enemy of the ultimate good.

 But you see this. The difference is between those who follow the world and those who follow the law. The law is a law of cutting down the old tree in order for a new shoot to grow from the root. Unless the axe is laid against the root, there is no hope of anything other to grow from it than that which is nascent in the DNA of that particular tree. There is a division: good trees and bad trees. Mixing metaphors is bad but you need to see this: on a root that of itself can only produce something bad, there can be grafted into it fruit-bearing branches. And that is what happens when the axe is laid to the root of my self-determined refusal to abdicate from my own throne. I have never known any tree invite the axe! The tree is felled. But from the root something new can grow up. You will maybe not be surprised that this also is known by the men of God in the Bible. Listen to Job 14:1-12

              “Man that is born of a woman

                  is of few days, and full of trouble.
 He comes forth like a flower, and withers;
    he flees like a shadow, and continues not.
 And dost thou open thy eyes upon such a one
    and bring him into judgment with thee?

Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean?

    There is not one.
 Since his days are determined,
    and the number of his months is with thee,
    and thou hast appointed his bounds that he cannot pass,
 look away from him, and desist,
    that he may enjoy, like a hireling, his day.
 For there is hope for a tree,
    if it be cut down, that it will sprout again,
    and that its shoots will not cease.
 Though its root grow old in the earth,
    and its stump die in the ground,
 yet at the scent of water it will bud
    and put forth branches like a young plant."

 But man dies, and is laid low;
    man breathes his last, and where is he?
 As waters fail from a lake,
    and a river wastes away and dries up,
 so man lies down and rises not again;
    till the heavens are no more he will not awake,
    or be roused out of his sleep."

Job had only vague understanding of resurrection. But he knew how 
trees can renew themselves even when cut off at the root. And it is only the resurrection life of Christ that gives hope to us when we have been chopped down by the hard mercy of God which kills us before it thrills us with new life. The modern and purpose driven and seeker friendly churches have no sound of the axe. They accept man as he is without the imperatives of the gospel towards repentance and absolute rebirth and total change. Such trees cannot bear fruit that is acceptable to the Husbandman and Owner.

The image of the axe being aid at the root has other very similar co-workers in the language of the apostles. Paul gives us, again and again, the idea that we who have been baptized were actually totally reckoned to be partakers of the death of Jesus himself. In other words, my baptism was the funeral of my old Adamic self. Did I enjoy my funeral? Well, how many have understood that image? But unless you understand it you are left with a dead corpse not yet buried. And bodies start to smell after a while. Unless buried. The point of baptism is that of a burial AND A RESURRECTION! "Or do you not know that all who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized to his death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we might walk in the newness of life... Now if we have died with Christ we believe that we shall also live with him." Rom 6:3, 4, 8

"I have been crucified with Christ and it is no longer I  who live, but Christ lives in me, and the life that I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me." Gal 2:20

Only those who have been pole-axed by God can live a transformed life.

So let me ask: how radical was your conversion? How radical: i e going to the roots, is your church in its ministry of the gospel?

By their fruit we will know them said the Lord. Well now. Where is the fruit?
It is growing on the new branches that come from the old stump when it has been cut down by the axe! Come all you who swing the axe of the Lord! Many trees are waiting for the chop.

"I adjure you, plead with you, call upon you by the mercies of God to present your bodies as a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your  spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect." Rom ch 12:1-2

Transformed or conformed. A life and death issue.

Teddy Donobauer, Doncaster 21st January 2019


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