Word of the Day

The Choice Fruit

Matthew 7: 15 – 20

Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes, nor figs from thistles, are they? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit; but the bad tree bears bad fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will know them by their fruits. 

Jesus spends a rather significant amount of time explaining this problem with false prophets so it is probably wise for us to attempt to comprehend the fullness of the problem he perceived. First, these false people will come dressed in sheep’s clothing. What does that mean? They will confess to be Christians. They will even be many who are in Christian leadership positions. So, if they go to church every Sunday and Wednesday, carry their Bible, and sing in the choir how are you going to know they are wolves who seek to devour you? Jesus said, “You will know them by their fruit” but what is this fruit he keeps talking about? We need to look at Galatians 5: 22 for the answer. Paul wrote, “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” Now appreciating that none of us is yet perfect still we should as a matter of course be demonstrating these character traits.  

First of all, I would strongly recommend that you not take advice from a person who is not demonstrating these characteristics. Secondly, don’t follow a person or their teachings if this fruit is not demonstrated in their lives. At best they are immature Christians but at worst they are actually agents of Satan sent to deceive God’s people. You are going to find elders whose fruit is rotten and even ordained ministers but Jesus has forewarned us so that we need not stumble over these people.  

Do you know someone who is thorny? You cannot get sweet, succulent grapes from him. Jesus is clearly teaching that you cannot get good fruit from a bad tree. If you check the fruit and the fruit is bad, then the tree is bad for “every good tree bears good fruit; but the bad tree bears bad fruit”. Hear this well!   If a person (the tree) is not consistently demonstrating love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control as the expression of who he is, then he is a bad tree. If you eat of this tree you will be poisoned and will suffer, even die from it. I know this may sound a bit hard but Jesus spent so much time emphasizing this point because he knew that there would be people in our sphere of influence who attempt to lead us astray and if we get led off of the path of Jesus there is nothing out there but death. So because someone says he is Christian or just because they can quote scripture means nothing. Satan quoted scripture to Jesus. That didn’t make him a Godly influence.

I must tell you the rest of the story even at the risk of ruffling your feathers, but don’t get mad at me for telling you the truth because I know that only the truth will set you free and I care about you. Notice specifically what the fruits of the Spirit are. At the same time, note what they are not. The fruit is not donating to the food drive, working at the homeless shelter, organizing the bake sale or even going on mission trips. Those are all wonderful and we wish that everyone would participate. The truth, though, is that all of those things are external. They are just acts and can be forced and contrived. The fruit that Jesus is speaking of is that which issues from the heart and cannot be faked or covered up. An impatient, unkind person can do all of the right things but have a black heart. Jesus did not call us to be doers of works but rather followers of him, behaving as he behaved. He only gave us one command; love one another as he loved and if you look at the fruit of the Spirit you will recognize at once that all of the enumerated fruits issue from love. That is Christianity; that is the Christian way, so do not follow anyone who is not operating in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control nor take their advice. Otherwise you will find trouble. 

Following a Decoy

John 3: 1 – 2

Nicodemus … said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.”

Beware; lest you be led astray. We are to follow fruit rather than signs. People will come, false prophets, empowered through the enemy by a perversion of God’s spiritual laws and will lead away many. People will follow these false prophets unto death. Jesus warned us of this saying, “False Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect” (Matthew 24: 24). You see, they will lead away the uninitiated but their higher purpose is to deceive and hence, mislead the elect, the chosen. That is you and me.

Jesus came is signs and wonders and we should do the same. Signs testify of Jesus. We are to lay hands on the sick so that they recover, cast out demons, raise the dead and all the rest. As a matter of fact, Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do, he will do also; and greater works than these he will do; because I go to the Father” (John 14: 12). We are actually supposed to see greater works at our hands than even those Jesus performed. I know that sounds like heresy but Jesus is the one who said it so take it up with him. So, I am not arguing against signs and wonders, far from it. I want you to be the point of origin for amazing signs and wonders but I do not want you to follow signs and miracles in order to follow Jesus because there will be counterfeit prophets who will penetrate even our innermost sanctum. We are to follow fruit.

If you would follow a person, follow their advice or their teaching then first look to their life. Are they givers? If they are not, stop right there. You need no other evidence. They are either of the enemy’s camp or they are immature Christians. You cannot follow God, be like God and have God expressing Himself within you without becoming a giver personally. It just cannot happen because God is foremost generous in His giving. Most of us know John 3: 16. What does it say? “For God so loved the world, that He gave ….”  

We want to follow people who are following God. In his first letter to the church at Corinth Paul made one of the boldest statements of the New Testament. He said, “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11: 1). Amazing! He was making this point that we follow those whose life is buried in Christ. I am not saying that you are looking for someone who is perfect but I do think we need to emulate people who are emulating Christ and that it is those people from whom we should draw advice and whose teaching we should follow with our eyes ever upon Jesus and that we will know these people by their fruit.

(See also: Matthew 7: 15, Matthew 24: 11, Mark 13: 22 and Luke 6: 26)

My Kingdom for a Leader

Proverb 13: 10, 13, 14, 18, 20                        NIV

Pride only breeds quarrels, but wisdom is found in those who take advice. He who scorns instruction will pay for it, but he who respects a command is rewarded. The teaching of the wise is a fountain of life, turning a man from the snares of death. He who ignores discipline comes to poverty and shame, but whoever heeds correction is honored. He who walks with the wise grows wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm.

I prayed many years for a mentor and when one appeared I learned a quick lesson. This learned and wise man suggested that I participate in a conference call which occurs weekly. Even as I clicked on reply to affirm my acceptance I realized something very important, I had already eliminated the option to say “No.” When you ask someone to mentor you or you ask God to provide you with a mentor, then “No” is no longer an option. This is called discipline and obedience and although they are very alien concepts in our modern culture, they are part of the bedrock of the Judeo-Christian ethic. We talk about discipleship a lot in Christian circles but one of the things it seems that we fail to realize, much less underscore, is that discipline is at the root of discipleship.

What do you think about when you hear the word discipline? Many of us think of punishment. I do not. I think of athletic prowess. Athletic competition taught me much about discipline, for which I am, to this day, grateful. When I hear the word discipline I think of the well-honed athletes that we admire. They have had to discipline and deny their flesh. They have had to discipline their minds, overcoming every negative thought, fear and impulse that would constrain them. And they have submitted themselves to coaches and trainers in order to become excellent in their chosen field. This, I believe, is an ideal model for discipleship.

No one attains any great level of success on their own. You may hear people claim that they are self-made but it is not true. When you pull back the veneer of their success you will find that they had mothers drive them to practices at ridiculous times in the morning, dads pitching the ball with them into the twilight hours and wives who have taken care of every detail of their lives so that they could focus on their one central goal. Neither do we become spiritual giants of our own merit. We must always lean on those who have gone before and we are just foolish if we try to learn it all on our own. Why spend 80 years of your life learning what the guy who went before you learned. First learn what he can teach you and then take that wisdom on to the next level. This is how it was meant to be. This text says that whoever walks with the wise will be wise. Why? It is because they share their wisdom with you so that you may avoid the potholes which cause misalignment and also because you get to stand on their shoulders. I remember when I was a small child and we went swimming, I would stand on my dad’s shoulders. All of a sudden the water wasn’t over my head. Instead I was well above it.

I can only think of two reasons why we do not subject ourselves to authority more readily, perhaps you can think of others. The first reason, I suspect, is just ego. We do not want to bow to anyone. That is pride and you know that nothing good comes out of pride. 

The second reason is fear. Anytime there is a spiritual problem if you look behind the curtain you will often find fear lurking. Fear comes from not having a full realization of the love of God. In here is weak self-esteem, anger issues and about everything else but including not being able to submit oneself to authority. It is hard enough to submit ourselves to our bosses and pastors who have legitimate positional authority over us. How much more difficult is it to willingly submit yourself to the authority of someone who does not exercise any substantive power over you. Fear makes you feel that you will be made small when you submit yourself to another but that is a lie. Willful submission to a mentor or intentional discipleship will make you stronger and wiser. Is there ever an occasion for a rebuke? Well sure. If your mentor loves you, they will correct you and correction is okay. It helps us to grow and to make right choices.

So this is my suggestion, if you are the locomotive of your train, find someone who can be a leader and an advisor for you. The people following you need for you to be a good disciple to someone else so that you can be a good leader to them. Leadership always begins with followship (if you will allow me to coin that word). If you have never allowed yourself to be led, mentored or discipled today is a great day for you. Do not delay. First ask God for a mentor. Second, recognize that one may appear quickly and humble yourself. Do not let the fear that they may take advantage of you or “Lord” it over you prevent you from receiving that person and their wisdom. Just keep your mouth shut and learn everything they know. If you outgrow their knowledge, God will assign you a new mentor. Just remember, if he has not yet assigned you a new leader then there is still something that He wants you to get from the one you have. The person that God wants you to shadow may be in your life right now and in fact, probably is. They won’t be perfect so stop looking for the perfect but they have something you need.

Lastly, if you perceive yourself as the leader of your group I suggest this little exercise. Stop leading for a moment. Turn around and see who is behind you. Who is following you? If your following is not what you want it to be or expect it to be, then run quickly to find your mentor. Submit yourself to their direction. Never let yourself be a leader without a leader. Make sure that as you lead others there is someone leading you. Foremost that is Christ but God has also provided people to disciple and mentor us. If you do not have someone filling that role in your life, pray to the Father for your leader and make it your determined goal to receive that person. 

Wisdom, honor and success accompany discipline.

From Sling to King

1 Samuel 17: 45

Then David said to the Philistine, “You come to me with a sword, a spear, and a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have taunted.”

Imagine being on the sidelines the day that David entered the battlefield against the giant, Goliath. As you look upon the mammoth Goliath not only would you be impressed by his towering physique but also his armor and weaponry which must have been quite impressive. He was armed with a sword, a spear and a javelin. I strongly suspect that all three were exquisite as far as weapons go. As if that was not enough, Goliath also had someone trailing him who carried his shield.

You turn your attention to the other end of the field where enters a youth, just a boy, who is clothed in shepherd’s garb. He has neither fancy armor nor fine weapons. Suspended from the cord tied around his waist you see a pouch and a sling; in his hand, a stick. In vain you continue to search for a viable opponent who will separate himself to fight Goliath. No, the only one moving forward is the boy.

The giant is insulted that Israel would send a runt armed with a stick to face the mighty Philistine warrior and so he hurls insults and taunts at the young defender of Israel’s pride. It is surprising, is it not, that King Saul and the strong, brave commanders of the Israelite army would even allow a young boy to face the champion of Philistia but no one other than the youth seems to respond to the insults of the Philistine. David boldly answered Goliath saying, “This day the Lord will deliver you up into my hands, and I will strike you down and remove your head from you” (v. 46). Goliath must have been amused and perhaps even the soldiers of Israel thought David’s statements ludicrous because no one was taking into account David’s real weapon. He declared it from the beginning mocking Goliath as he did so. “You,” he said, “come to me with a sword, a spear, and a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts. ” 

More powerful than any weapon ever forged is the name of the Lord. More devastating even than modern armament is the glorious name of our Lord. David knew this. He wasn’t just hoping. His was not just an empty boast. He knew that our God is awesome and a mighty force who is always on our side and able to overcome any adversity. So convinced was this diminutive warrior that when Goliath drew up to the battle line he actually ran quickly to meet his adversary (v. 48). David was not afraid. Wow! He was bold, courageous and convinced of God’s potent assistance. So, I ask you, who really was the giant that day? I suggest that the little Israelite shepherd boy was a great giant of faith.

What are the giants in your life? Of what are you afraid? Are there things in your life that threaten to overcome you, even annihilate you? You need to take a page out of David’s book. There is a reason he would later write so many psalms about the Lord being a refuge and a strong tower and about trusting the Lord. He witnessed time and time again the saving power of our God. He proclaimed in the face of his adversary the outcome declaring boldly that God will win the day. His confession preceded his victory because he steadfastly believed in our God. 

I, therefore, encourage you today. The same God is standing beside you. You have as much right to the name of the Lord as did David. As a matter of fact, your covenant with the Almighty is actually better than David’s but he understood his and he relied on it. He became the greatest king of Israel, his throne enduring throughout eternity because he knew how to trust God. It wasn’t the rock that killed Goliath. It was faith in the name of our Lord. It was the mighty hand of the Lord that delivered Goliath into the David’s hands and God will do the same to your giants too. David was not focused on his might and his ability with a sling. Instead he relied on his God and he prevailed against overwhelming odds. You can too.

Beholding the Lord

Revelation 1: 12 – 17

And I turned to see the voice that was speaking with me. And having turned I saw seven golden lampstands; and in the middle of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed in a robe reaching to the feet, and girded across His breast with a golden girdle. And His head and His hair were white like white wool, like snow; and His eyes were like a flame of fire; and His feet were like burnished bronze, when it has been caused to glow in a furnace, and His voice was like the sound of many waters. And in His Right hand He held seven stars; and out of His mouth came a sharp two-edged sword; and His face was like the sun shining in its strength. And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as a dead man. And He laid His right hand upon me, saying, “Do not be afraid.”

I had an imagination one night upon my bed when trying, unsuccessfully, to sleep. I saw in my mind’s eye myself preaching before an audience. In my message I implored the congregation to look upon Jesus. I thought how easy this would be if they could really see Him. Then I saw me direct the people’s attention to my right. I held my arm out as if introducing someone who was offstage and then I asked Jesus to come be with us, to make himself seen.

Don’t you know that as soon as Jesus would show himself the message would be over? There would be no need to teach anything. Even as I looked upon this meditation of my own mind I saw us all fall out of our chairs in the awe of the Lord Jesus, the Christ, the anointed one. I knew in that moment as I lay upon my bed that the fullness of every message any of us could ever preach, teach or proclaim is held in the visage of Jesus. Were he to actually appear in our congregations this weekend, I believe our services would be radically altered. No matter what we were doing I believe we would all shift immediately and without thinking into praise and worship. And even as I saw this happening in my mind, my body wanted to get up and go preach the glory of the soon coming Lord. 

Seeing the Lord appear showed me that there is nothing we need outside of him. He really is our all in all. Were he to come to church Sunday I do not think we would bombard him with a thousand questions even though I think that I want to. In reality I because he is truth we would be so filled with his glory that there would be no need for questions. The truth you behold is the answer to every question. We would lock our eyes on him and give forth praise heartily. In his presence we are filled so that there is no need except for the compelling need to honor him and give him praise. And even as we sing out his praises and glorify his name the glory of his presence would fill us even more.

Then the significance of this meditation befell me. This rumination is a model for how we should live our lives now and how we should worship him as we gather in his name. He is the glorious Lord yet sometimes we all fall into a habit of worship rather than a sincere offering of praise. Our services, if we are not careful, become dry and barren with no more life than the fourth business meeting of the day. You just want to get out of there. But being in the presence of the Lord is the most wonderful and glorious thing of all. There is nothing better! Endeavor to enter into his presence and make it a habit to meditate on his greatness.

Great Love

Psalm 89: 1 – 2              NIV

I will sing of the Lord’s great love forever; with my mouth I will make your faithfulness known through all generations. I will declare that your love stands firm forever, that you established your faithfulness in heaven itself.

In today’s devotional I am doing exactly what David wrote in these two verses, declaring with my
mouth the great love of God, shouting about his faithfulness and proclaiming that the love of God stands firm always and against every fiery missile of the evil one.

Love is the most powerful force in the universe. God is love. There is no challenge which is greater than our God; therefore there is no obstacle that love cannot overcome. I love in verse one that David sings of God’s great love. Is that a measure of quantity or quality? Perhaps it is both. God does not just love a little but His love is as big and as glorious as the entire universe. If you know that you are loved by a love that great how does that knowledge reflect in your life? What changes in your world when you come to know the fullness of love that God is and that He has towards you?

And god is faithful. That is no surprise. Love is faithful. You can count on the people that love you. You can count on God’s faithfulness every day. Faithfulness means that He is steady and reliable. He is not wishy-washy. Whatever He tells you, or has ever told you, He will do. He stands beside you and with you even on your bad days. Even when you do not deserve His lovingkindness He is right there with you confessing His great love for you.  

There is no one who loves you more than God. There is no one more faithful. David’s life sure proved that. God is constant. Even when David messed up really badly, God was there to pick him up. God loved him with an unfailing love even through the rough times and even when David did not deserve it. No wonder David testifies so loudly to God’s uncompromising love and faithfulness.

Do you have a need today? Is there something that has you down or perplexed? Look up. God has an answer for you and loving arms to soothe you. You are His delight and the joy of His heart. Wrap yourself in the assurance of His devotion and faithfulness towards you. Let His love penetrate those hardened layers and rest in His peace.