Fruit Inspector

John 9: 16

Some of the Pharisees said, “The man who did this is not from God because he doesn’t follow the traditions for the day of rest—a holy day.” Other Pharisees asked, “How can a man who is a sinner perform miracles like these?” So the Pharisees were divided in their opinions.

Jesus drove the Pharisees crazy with his continual neglect of the traditions of religion. He performed miracles on the Sabbath, didn’t wash his hands before eating and didn’t fast at all of the prescribed times. Wow! What a heathen.

As we wrap up our brief study of ritualistic worship and you ponder Christian ideologies on the sacraments, there are two thoughts I would leave you with. First, Jesus said, “So then, you will know them by their fruits” (Matthew 7: 20). We are not supposed to judge people by their activities but we are supposed to observe the fruit they display. The Pharisees judged Jesus as “not from God” because he didn’t observe the same traditions as they. We should neither judge people as holy because they “do” all the right things nor as “unholy” because they don’t behave according to our religious traditions. As you see, some of the Pharisees were fruit inspectors. They said, “How can a man who is a sinner perform miracles like these?” Amen. They saw him extending grace and mercy to people and recognized that as a God trait.

Another interesting question we can ask is, “Who is Jesus speaking about in Matthew 7: 20 where he teaches us to inspect a person’s fruit?” He is talking about believers, church people, isn’t he. He wants us not to be misled. The way of Christ is the way of the heart. Whether we practice the sacraments or not is not the test Christ gave us. He recognized there would be among us people who put on the vestments of Christian faith but whose heart does not belong to Jesus. So Jesus told us to become fruit inspectors. This is what is important. Do not be misled by all the “churchy” things we say and do. Check the fruit. Jesus said that a bad tree cannot bear good fruit and a good tree cannot bear bad fruit (Matthew 7:18). Don’t be fooled by my regular church attendance, that I sit on four committees and that I am always the first to volunteer. Check the fruit which is hanging from my tree. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5: 22). These are the expressions of a sincere faith. 

Secondly, being a Christian is all about a deep, devoted, interpersonal relationship with Jesus. It is not about being a good Catholic or a good Baptist. I hear that expression rather frequently and it grieves me. The speaker almost always means that the person to whom he refers models prescribed denominational behaviors. All too often, those behaviors are not scriptural. They are merely the traditions of men. Jesus warned us about this all too human tendency. Be a good Christian meaning a devoted follower of Christ in all that he teaches. Jesus warned us that not all who call themselves Christians or followers of Christ will enter heaven. “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven ”(Matthew 7: 21). 

It is not the practice or abstinence of rituals and sacraments which is important. What is important is that we humble ourselves in the presence of the Lord and worship him. It is that heartfelt love and admiration for the Lord which longs for expression which is important. Our best worship is in giving ourselves to his Lordship. Nothing else really matters in the big picture. This is what I wish to encourage with these words I write. I want you to abandon all of the trappings of Christianity and follow the trail of the heart.

Let your heart be at peace. Fret not. If rituals, rites, sacraments and even the pomp and circumstance of Christian traditions helps you to make a real heart connection with Jesus then use them. Perhaps singing moves your heart to a tender state or maybe you even dance to break down the walls of your heart. The key here is to seek God. Seek Him until you have a true, heart-felt connection with Him. Once we can connect with God in our hearts then He can lead us into the forms of worship which are best for us.

In our seeking, however, let us not judge others nor take upon ourselves the judgments of others. I hope you come away from this mini-series feeling validated. Whatever form of worship God ratifies in your life is valid. I sing and I hibernate in the Word. That is where I find Jesus. Because that is what is right for me does not give me license to judge someone who is highly ritualistic in their communion with God. In like manner, those who prefer a formalized structure of worship have not been given leave by God to judge those for whom the sacraments hold little power. If the fruit of my tree is good, then that demonstrates a true connection with the Holy Spirit of God because it is only with that divine union that I can produce good fruit. If I do a daily bible study, sit on the first pew at every service, serve communion at my church, and do every other external act of Christianity but do not exhibit the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control then you will know that I am really not of a true faith with Jesus, the Christ. This is the point that Jesus is makes in Matthew 7: 20. Don’t get hung up on the method of practice but rather observe the fruit. By this we will know all people. Do not be misled. The fruit, the specific fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5: 22) is how we can recognize true brothers and sisters in the faith. In these last days it is very important that you become a fruit inspector.

The Surprising Arsenal

Romans 12: 21

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Last week my mom called and told me that she had employed my spiritual warfare tactic of sowing into a ministry when the devil is putting up road blocks. She put today’s scripture into effect. Overcome evil with good.

The devil really, really hates it when he is trying to bother you and you write a check to God’s work. It is one of my favorite tactics and I will say that I enjoy doing it. We have learned by now that trying to get back at someone or trading blows with them is not going to yield the fruit we want. In fact, there is no spiritual weapon or spiritual warfare tactic for striking back at our enemies. Jesus said to pray for them (Matthew 5: 44).  

The weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses (2 Corinthians 10: 4). Besides prayer, the weapons of our warfare are love, peace, joy, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5: 22). Now, if you choke on that a bit, I don’t blame you but ultimately we need to figure out what works and abandon that which doesn’t. The Apostle Paul knew more about fighting these battles than most of us ever will so when he says overcome evil with good he must have known what he was talking about. I believe an extension of what he was saying is that we will never overcome evil with evil. In order to overcome at all we must fight with the weapons of our warfare, namely that which is good.

I also believe Paul is telling us that we never have to be overcome by evil. The reason is that we have a savior. Besides just having the loving grace of Jesus, we also have his victory which has crushed ultimate evil. Jesus is good. He dwells in goodness and kindness. Therefore, the weapons of our warfare are good. Jesus defeated the devil by doing a good thing, really a great thing. He gave in order to conquer. Certainly that is not how most people strategize for battle. That is why giving is such a powerful weapon. It imitates Christ. That is also why it bothers Satan so much. It is a reminder of how he was defeated.  

Let this revelation sink into you. Our God is a good God and His overcoming is in His goodness. Overcome evil every time. It has no hold over you. Let goodness and righteousness be your banner.

Fruit Harvest

John 15: 8

By this is My Father glorified, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples.

This is the high calling on our lives, that we should imitate the Lord in word and deed. Many people will read this verse and begin to think of all the good works they can do so that their light will shine. It is important for us to see, though, that Jesus did not ask us to perform great tasks and good works. Rather he desires us to bear fruit. This is an important distinction. The fruit of the Spirit is: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5: 22). These are the traits that Jesus wants manifested in our lives. If we do all the good works but are not bearing the fruit, our testimony will be tainted. Good works are wonderful. There are many needs that we can individually and collectively address through our good works but they are not the end. Paul said if he did all good things but was without love it profits naught (1st Corinthians 13: 1-3). Let us focus on letting our lives demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit and in so doing we will forget not the good we can do for others.

Position Available

Ephesians 4: 11 – 12

And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ.

These are called the five-fold ministries and God calls people to these offices. What I found so interesting about this list is that only one of these ministerial offices is directed towards people outside of the church and, of course, that would be the evangelist. Verse 12 tells us that God gave these offices, and people to fill them, in order to equip the church for her work. In other words, the saints, or the laity, are being equipped for the work of the church. You are the body of Christ.

Jesus told us to go into all the world and preach the gospel (Luke 16:15) but then when he gave the ministerial offices he gave four that were designed more for the church and only one specifically for the unsaved. These offices are appointed to equip us to go into all the world and preach the gospel. They are designated to teach us and build us up. But we are not supposed to only absorb the teachings for ourselves. We are meant to be the distributors of the good news of Jesus Christ. Now how do we do that? Well, this specifically means that we were not all called to preach since we are not all called into one of the five-fold ministries. But we are all called and equipped for “the work of service.” Your calling might be as a school teacher or a hair dresser. Or maybe you are a doctor or work in a laundry. You are the word of the Lord that is sent into the world and you are going to interact with a lot more people than the pastor at your church.  

You are the one who will be there when a co-worker has trouble. You will be the one they see day in and day out. You don’t have to preach at them. Just let the love of God show in what you do. Be loving and compassionate. Do your job with vigor and honesty. Let them see how a child of the most high behaves. Let the light, who is Jesus, inside you shine. It’s not about telling other people what they should do. It is about being who you should be and allowing the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5: 22) to manifest in your daily life. That is how people will be saved, by love. Because God so loved, he gave . . . (John 3: 16).

The Character of God

Galatians 5: 22

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.

We saw yesterday from 1 John 4: 8 and 1 Corinthians 13: 4 – 8 that God’s essential nature is love. Today’s verse reveals the characteristics of God’s personality. As you look at them you can see that first is love but moreover that all the rest flow from love. The best way to get the full revelation of this verse is to put “God is” in front of each word i.e. God is love, God is joy….

These characteristics determine how God behaves and how He interacts with others just the same way as our personality traits predict how we will behave. So, God is always patient with us, always loving, kind and gentle. He exercises great self-control. Most of us can testify to the latter one.

Conversely, we can know what God is not by acknowledging His qualities. For example, we can deduce that God is not unkind or unfaithful. Can we not deduce a great deal more though? He is not cruel, vengeful, harsh, intolerant, hateful, spiteful or mean-spirited. He is all things which are good and none of those traits which are painful to us. He is ultimate goodness and kindness. He is neither over-bearing nor a punitive spirit. His intent, therefore, is not to punish us but rather to guide us with loving hands. And He is not scary. He is beautiful. He is warmth and sunshine.

We can know the Father of all personally, intimately and as we do we perceive greater and greater levels of His great kindness and affection. He is completely predictable in His goodness towards all creation. He loves us.

Grace is Gentle

Proverb 15: 1

A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.

One of the fruits of the Spirit is gentleness (Gal. 5: 22). In all our ways we are called to be gentle, even in our speech and our communication with others. I was reading a book this week wherein the author said that one of the biggest problems we suffer in the church is that we tell people the truth but we do it in a harsh manner. The truth ends up offending. People need to hear the truth because only then can they be free but if we deliver it in a manner that they cannot hear it then what is the point? In telling a person the truth we are usually trying to lead them into growth and self-improvement so that they will experience greater victory in their life. However, when we deliver it in a harsh manner they spend all of their energy defending themselves that they miss the truth. They will fight ‘til the death for a lie because their personalities must defend themselves. So, we have just lost the battle.

How can we reconcile a brother to the way if he cannot hear us? How can we stimulate growth in a person if their personality forces them into rationalization? The answer is that we cannot. I confess that I am most guilty of this error. I have always preferred that a person tell me the plain truth rather than the candy coated version because I didn’t want to miss the message. So I was geared for hearing the hard truth and much preferred that to living a life of ignorance or stagnation. Then I mistakenly assumed that everyone else was the same way so I have tended to shoot from the hip. I tell you the truth because I love you and I want the best for you but it does no good if it causes you offense. When a person has received a perceived punch, even if it is verbal, their nature is to defend themselves. It is an automatic reflex meaning that most of us cannot stop this response even if our mind realizes what is happening. Truthfully, though, at those times the mind tends to disengage except to the degree that is serves the personality as it tries to defend and repair itself.

My theory on leadership and parenting is to catch your employee or your child doing something right and praise them. I can’t say I perform perfectly according to this theory but I have seen how powerful this approach is. Too many times we as ministers see what is wrong and spend our breath and effort trying to correct it and perhaps parents and bosses fall prey to the same dynamic. We must recognize, however, that there are times we must correct others. In that time above all others we should embrace the principle from today’s verse. Speak gently with folks. This even applies to your spouse and children. If you are raising your voice and yelling at your spouse, child or employee you are only doing harm. You are damaging the person, your reputation and your relationship with them. There can still be consequences for people’s actions without demeaning their character by speaking to them harshly. A gentle response will turn away wrath while a harsh response will only provoke anger and their self-preservation mechanism. Once that mechanism is triggered then they will, even unwittingly, spend all of their energy justifying their action. So even if they were wrong in their act and even if in their heart of hearts they know they are wrong, that self-preservation instinct is so strong that they will end up reinforcing their position. This is not going to help people grow as Christians, grow into healthy adults, nor help them become model employees. And the damage you do to your spouse with harsh language is incalculable.

So, let us all try to hear the truth without becoming offended but also let us deliver the truth in the love that Christ has for each of us. We must love people into truth and change and inspire them to be all that God created them to be.

Entering the Kingdom of Heaven

Matthew 7: 21 – 23

Not everyone who says to Me, “Lord, Lord” will enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven. Many will say to Me on that day, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?” And then I will declare to them, “I never knew you, DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.”

We are coming to understand that every person that says, “Lord, Lord,” will not necessarily enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus is a fruit inspector. He is looking at the fruit we produce in our lives. Today’s passage is a continuation of what Jesus was teaching about good trees producing good fruit and bad fruit coming from bad trees; trees representing people. So, if the fruit is good we can judge the tree as good. If the fruit is bad, steer clear. We can know good fruit by determining if a person’s character traits line up or are consistent with Galatians 5: 22.  

We are also learning that no amount of “good works” is going to impress Jesus. We may say to him that we went to church every Sunday for 50 years, attended every event and have performed all sorts of miracles in his name, even casting out demons but even still if the fruit of the Spirit is not evident in our lives he will say to us, “I knew you not.” This would be a very frightening passage indeed if Jesus had not just taught verses 15 – 21, that he will judge us by our fruit rather than our works. That lets us know that we do not have to perform in order to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.  

If you live in a works mentality you will never believe that you have ever done enough to earn your way into heaven and you will be right because there is nothing you could ever do that is even in the smallest way, even microscopically worthy of all that Jesus has done for you. He did not suffer enormous pain and humiliation so that we could try to impress the world, or him, with our good works. Here is the ridiculous truth. He did it all in exchange for our hearts. Wow! Didn’t he get a bad deal? That is all that he and the Father have ever wanted, our hearts and as small an offering as that may at times seem it is the greatest gift one can give.

Jesus tells us that the secret passkey to the Kingdom of Heaven is doing the will of the Father. The will of the Father is not hidden. He gave us an entire book in order to reveal His will for us. That is not to say that the Bible is a list of thousands of things we must do in order to fulfill God’s will. No, that is a works mentality again. If you read the Bible cover to cover you will see that there has always been just one thing. Over and over and over again Father has said the same thing. His desire, His will is for us is to receive Him as our God and Father and for us to be the people of His hand. He has always wanted a family, a people who will not rebel and leave Him. He is the Father in the story of the prodigal son. He just wants us to come home and love Him and allow Him to love us. This is the will of the Father. If you will open your heart and receive His love and allow Him to set up residence in your heart then He will receive you into the Kingdom of Heaven. And if you really want to see this in its fullness, once He has established His residency within you and you are living in Christ rather than in the flesh He has no way to stop you from entering the Kingdom of Heaven because you are in Christ and He in you, the Father in you, you in the Father and there can be no separation. You will never be separated from Christ or the Father for there is no power that can separate you from the love of the Father so you will have automatic entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven, which you will just call home.