Bearing Fruit

John 15:1 – 8 – “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunesa so that it will be even more fruitful. 3You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. 4Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. 5“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 6If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. 7If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.  


Often in life when we are faced with suffering, we assume it is bad.  We may pray for patience or perseverance to overcome whatever suffering we are dealing with.  However, for the follower of Christ, suffering also comes for the purpose of pruning.  Malcolm Muggeridge once said, “Supposing you eliminated suffering…what a dreadful place the world would be! Everything that corrects the tendency of man to feel over-important and over-pleased with himself would disappear. He’s bad enough now, but he would be absolutely intolerable if he never suffered.”

It is important to understand that the fruit we bear is intended for others rather than for ourselves.  The purpose of being fruitful it is not so we can have more or that we can enjoy life more.  Although the world tries to tell us otherwise, life is not about trying to manipulate God or others in order to get whatever we want to be happy.  When God blesses us, it done so that we can be a blessing to other.  Fruitfulness is about the way that we touch the world rather than how many material possessions we have.  Christians are the only Christ the world will see.  They do not see Christ without us.  However, this must lead us to ask the question (and to honestly assess) “What does the world sees in me?”  Do they see that we are following God as you profess to be?  If not, this contradiction leads the world to believe that having God in our lives makes no difference.  If Christ is everything that we say he is, shouldn’t he make a difference in our lives?  Shouldn’t we be different because we are connected to him?  I believe scripture tells us that we should.

So if God desires us to bear fruit, what exactly does that mean?  Perhaps you have been taught that the measure of our fruit bearing is computed solely based on the number of people you lead to Christ.  While bringing people is essential, I believe there are other marks that indicate a bearing of fruit.

So what else does Scripture have to say about the subject of fruitfulness?  In Galatians 5:22-23, we read that “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”  Each word listed describes the first mark of fruitfulness: our character (who you are).  Romans 5:3-5 describes the process of developing character: “We exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”

In Colossians 1:10, we learn that we are called to “live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God.” The second mark of fruitfulness in our lives is our conduct (what we do).  Every choice we make has consequences (some good and some bad).  The choices we make, regardless of how big or small they seem to us, matter to God.  Ephesians 2:10 reminds us that “We are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”  Although we are not saved by good works, but we were saved for good works.

In Philippians 4, Paul has been encouraged by the Philippians’ willingness to contribute financially to his mission to share the gospel with the world.  In his letter, Paul penned the words, “Not that I seek the gift [money], but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit.”  The third mark of fruitfulness is our contributions [what we give].  Matthew 6:24 says, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”  When we give of our money freely to help others, it reveals that we are not tied to our money.  This can often be a big mark of fruitfulness because so many of us tie our sense of security to the financial resources we possess. We often live in dread of the thought of being asked to give up our possessions much like the rich, young ruler probably did when Jesus commanded him to.   In addition to this, I am also more and more convinced that being willing to contribute our time to the growth of the Kingdom of God is a big mark of fruitfulness that is often lacking in the American church.  How often are we unwilling to give of our time with the purpose of bearing more fruit?

The fourth mark of fruitfulness is communication [what I say].  In Hebrews 13:15, we read “Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name.”  Do you find yourself eager to worship God on Sunday mornings?  Do you find the nature of your speech to be seasoned with grace?  How would others describe the way you speak to, and about, other people.

The last mark of fruitfulness is converts [who I win].  In Matthew 28, Jesus commands us to “Go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”  Does the realization you have been saved entirely by the grace of Jesus Christ cause you to show more grace to others?

Does the new life that you have in Christ cause you to long to see others share in the same experience?  Are you so passionately in love with the Father that you can’t help but crave to bring others to the feast that has been prepared for us in heaven?  When I think about this, my mind always naturally goes to the arena of sports and music.  People will spend of dollars to be at a concert or a game (perhaps far enough away where they need binoculars to see), because they are so excited about the atmosphere.  I have even experienced times where friends have invited me (and even paid for the tickets) because they are so excited for me to experience what they have already experienced.  Does the saving grace which Christ freely extended to you cause you to desire to share the gospel with others or do you allow feelings of timidity or fear of rejection to stand in the way of leading others to Christ?  Consider the prayer of a man who, having just been named a pastor of a church, realized he didn’t truly know how to share the gospel: “Lord, I know that this [sharing the gospel] is what you want me to do, I don’t have any clue what I am about to do, but if you’ll help me, I’ll do it.”  God helped cultivate this man’s heart towards seeing the importance of helping to show the world Christ.  In response, he practiced interacting with the world ahead of time to try to be as prepared for them as he could while also allowing room for the Spirit to lead.

One of the things we must remember is that “fruit has within it, the seeds of other fruit.”  This means that when you win someone to Christ, you have no idea what future fruit will result from the person you helped lead to Christ.  Take care not to forget that, just as a branch does not bear fruit apart from the vine, we do not bear fruit apart from God.  The secret to fruit bearing is to abide in Christ.

In closing, it is important to remember that God has not called us to a life of ease.  The Christian life is not simply a walk in the park.  We have not been saved just so that we can sit back in an easy chair and relax all the way to heaven.  I believe that God is calling us with a spirit of urgency to reach out to the world with love, kindness, and the message of an almighty God who gave his son for us so that he can be our Lord and Savior.

Blessings of a Sleepless Night

Last night at around 3:30, I heard my oldest daughter, Aliza, screaming out from her room.  This had never happened before as she is normally our dependable sleeper.  I walked into her room and I quickly noticed that she had twisted her body so that she was laying perpendicular to the way the bed was designed to be slept in.  Her tiny foot was draped over one of the side rails of her toddler bed trapped between the rail and the wall.  Upon seeing this, I hurried over and helped remove her foot.  As a parent, one of the worst sounds in the world is an anguished cry from one of your children.  I calmed her, down but I quickly ascertained that the best choice was for me to spend the rest of the night in the room to help keep her comforted…and hopefully sleep.

I laid my pillow and blanket on the floor.  Before long, I began to hear the sound of deep breathing. I began to hope that she would sleep as I did not look forward to the thought of spending my day off with a crabby child.  However, every few minutes, I would hear her say, “mommy” or “football” confirming that she was not yet asleep.  I rolled over and looked away from her hoping to provide a non-verbal cue that it was time for sleep.  I laid on my side until it got to be uncomfortable.  As I rolled back over, much to my chagrin, I saw her sitting up in bed, smiling as she stared at me as if to say, “I don’t need any sleep!”  I helped talk her back into laying down as I closed my eyes.  About 5 minutes later, I feel something soft hit my head.  I opened my eyes to see that she had tossed her stuffed football at me.  I could barely keep myself from laughing.

I decided at that moment, that it might help to have her lay down on the floor next to me and sleep there.  I helped her out of her bed and onto the floor, gently tucking her in.  I laid back down and closed my eyes again, listening for the sound of sleep.  I smiled as I once again heard the sound of deep breathing for 5…then 10, and then finally 15 minutes.  I started to relax when all of the sudden, I felt the not so soft poking of her fingers first on my temple and then on my shoulder.  She was giggling as she was enjoying her game of keep daddy from sleeping.

I share this story for a reason beyond just telling you about an event in my life.  I spent the day with my two girls.  As I pushed them in the stroller, I replayed the previous night in my mind.  It made me think about how, when people are in the midst of pain or suffering, it causes many of them to become very reflective about their lives.  They think about the time that they wasted and about how to best use the time they have left.  However, the pain was not my own in this case.  Even though the pain was minute, I couldn’t help but find myself again reflecting on the time I had spent with this little angel of mine.  I quickly found myself in that same reflective place.  Have I valued the limited time I inevitably have with her?  Did I take time to enjoy the moments in her life that could seem mundane?

It is human nature to reflect on the tenuousness of life when a tragedy strikes those around us.  One must only think about Columbine…9/11…or, more recently, the school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary.  It caused many people to re-evaluate what was important in their lives.  My thoughts took me next to the power of the image of Jesus hanging on the cross.  He was in pain by no fault of his own.  His pain was a reminder that my life matters…every single second.  Am I grateful for all that God has done for me, even in the things that seem mundane…or am I to busy being frustrated that things may not have gone the way I wanted them too?

As my mind shifted back to Aliza, I quickly realized that although, I hated to see Aliza in pain, I was grateful for the previous night’s events.  I am thankful I did not pass up the opportunity to go in there to comfort her, but also to experience the joy of a 2-year old fully on display during a time I normally don’t see her.  I also thanked God for helping me to see the good when I could have easily been upset that I lost some sleep.  It left an indelible memory that I undoubtedly will cherish the rest of my days!

May God bless you and may you allow Him to help make your paths straight!

avd

We Were Made To Flourish

Although I will not take the space to post the entire passage here, I would greatly encourage you to click here and read all of 1 Corinthians 12 before you move forward in reading this post.

Paul opens chapter 12 by emphatically emphasizing the importance of believers being informed about spiritual gifts.  Paul proceeds to inform the readers that even though there are different kinds of gifts, service, and working, they all come from the same God.  Therefore, we ought not to consider our spiritual gifts to be any more, or less, important than anyone else’s gifts.  We should seek to uplift and encourage the use of gifts by all members of the body.  As Paul says, “the manifestation of the Spirit [in each of us] is given for the common good.  That is to say, the gifts that I have, I should be using to glorify God and to encourage spiritual growth in those around me.  You are called to do likewise.

It is important to remember that God made each of us with unique gifts to be used rather than wasted.  I am in the middle of reading Restless by Jennie Allen.  She talks about how she initially struggled to use her gift of leadership, because she feared she would come off as prideful.  At the time, Allen was leading a group of younger women in a Bible study.  She remembers telling herself “‘I will humbly sit in the back and give other people the chance to lead.’  It sounds good.  But I was completely disobeying God.  And I wasn’t playing the part in the body of Christ that God has designed me to play. Because by using my gifts, others would be released to use their gifts.  We need to quit apologizing for using our gifts but start apologizing for not using them.”  

Several things strike me from her quote.  First, many people, myself included, see some good in Allen’s original thought process because she was trying to allow other people to lead.  I do believe that this space is needed at times.  However, the reality is that God did not design everyone to lead.  In fact, if this were so, the results would be catastrophic.  Imagine an army battalion where everyone was trying to be the leader.  It would not take long before the group became ineffective because everyone would be trying to do their own thing.  Allen felt that by not using her gift of leadership, she was disobeying God.  She felt strongly that God had designed her with the gift of leadership for a specific purpose: to lead others.  I am inclined to agree with her thought process.  Much that I have learned about becoming a leader came from watching other effective leaders.  Often times, we talk about growth in numbers.  However, numerical growth does not necessarily equate to the healthy growth that a church needs.  Allen goes on to say that by using her gifts, others are released to use their gifts.  When one part of your physical body is weak or wounded, your body allows us to compensate for a short period of time.  At first, things seem fine.  However, eventually the body begins to breakdown because our bodies are designed to function optimally when each part plays its prescribed role.  In the same way, it is so vital that we pray for, but also act upon, understanding of how God has gifted us.

Secondly, Allen reminds us of that God has designed each one of us to play our part in the body of Christ.  Being from Michigan, the NFL team I root for is the Detroit Lions.   One of their players, Calvin Johnson, is one of the best receivers in the whole league.  When he plays his part, he greatly increases the likelihood of the Lions succeeding.  But what if he woke up one morning and decided that he was going to play like an offensive lineman?  Instead of running routes and catching passes, he would be trying to block on every play.  While this might help the team at times, it would inhibit the team from unleashing its full potential.  The same thing happens when we don’t use the gifts we have been given by God to build up the body of Christ.  When people are not using their gifts for the church, it can lead to unnecessary strain.  Some become stretched thin by all that they do which often leads to weariness, while others feel disconnected because they don’t, or can’t determine how, to best use their gifts to play their part in the body.  For the body of Christ is made up of many parts, each one of them necessary for the church to function to its full potential.

There is very little that is more amazing, or beautiful, to witness then a church where the members intricately weave their diverse set of gifts together to create a unified church.  No one is focused on how much attention their gifts garner.  Everyone seeks to use their gifts to help the church accomplish meaningful work.  Tim Keller defines meaningful work as “taking the raw material we were given and assembling them in a way that causes other people to flourish.”  For instance, a gifted composer takes individual notes that alone just sound like noise until she assembles them into something beautiful that causes others to flourish.  An author takes words and does the same. An artist takes paint or clay or charcoal and does the same.”  In the same way, every church needs its members to use their gifts in a way to help cause other people to flourish.  By working together in the attempt to help other members flourish, we are better able to keep the focus on displaying Christ to those who do not yet know him.  As you continue on in your day and in thought about how you can be involved in the life of Peace consider Paul’s words in verses 25 and 26: “Its parts should have equal concern for each other.  If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.”  Consider how your gifts can be used to help Peace, and those involved, to flourish.

Overcomer

32 “A time is coming and in fact has come when you will be scattered, each to your own home. You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me. 33 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” -John 16:32-33

As you read this post, provided that you have your sound turned up and you clicked play on the video above, you are hearing Overcomer by Mandisa.  It has been an extremely popular song ever since it was first played.  In the song, she talks about the fact that all humans have times where we feel down and are looking for a glimmer of hope.  We can all relate to this because we have all felt times of hurt and despair; unsure of how we can move beyond circumstances in our life that have caused us grief, perhaps even to the point where we feel crushed beneath the intensity of the pain we have experienced.  We are all looking for hope in what can seem to be a dreary world at times.  Many look for “hope” from within themselves, others hope to find it in worldly things, still others promote an ideology that promotes the lack of purpose and hope there is for mankind.  While these attempts might provide short-term relief from the pain, over the long term these “benefits” will dissipate away leaving them bitter and confused.

In her song, Mandisa goes on to say that we are overcomers.  However, John reminds us that it is Jesus, not us, who is the overcomer.  Just as the disciples were on the cusp of experiencing worldly troubles for themselves soon after Jesus says the words above, we too, face troubles from the world in the present time.  Praise God that that Jesus doesn’t stop there!  In the same way, we should not let all of the trouble that we see in our world burden to the point where we struggle to find any hope.  Jesus follows it up with the encouraging, “But take heart.”  However, we are not to take heart because of anything we as humans have done or can do.  We can take heart because Jesus has overcome the world.  Had He not overcome the world, there would be nothing to find hope in!

Activating Your Membership Card

Last week, I opened up my mailbox to see what new mail had arrived.  There were a couple of birthday cards for my wife, some catalogs for me to look at for work, and bills. However, it was the envelope at the very bottom of the stack that caught my attention.  It was from a credit card company.  Once inside the house, I opened up the envelope which contained several typed out pages and 2 credit cards.  The printed pages informed me that the cards were replacements for the cards I currently held which were about to expire.  However, even though I was currently an active Visa member, I was unable to simply rip the cards off of the page and use the cards.  On the front of the cards there was a sticker that told me to call a number to activate my cards.

As members of God’s family, we, too, need to activate our membership.  God has not called any of us to simply gain membership and to leave our lives inactivated.  When we become a member of any group, there is a certain level of time, energy and resources required to invest in that group.  In what ways can you involved yourselves into the life of a church and each involvement look like?

The first thing you can do is invest in the body of Christ (Acts 2:42-47).  We find that the Acts 2 church studied God’s Word together. They did life together.  They took communion together.  They prayed together.  Perhaps you have done, or are doing these things.  However, we need to remember that as a church body, it doesn’t end there.

I remember when I first started playing basketball at the school I taught in.  Although we did not have an official membership, I was there every Tuesday night and Saturday morning.  It was so much fun, I invited other people that I knew to come join me.  The people I invited often came because the enthusiasm I had for going to play was extremely evident.  As was the case with me, when we become a member of a group that we enjoy, we often desire to invite others to join us to share in the experience.  Do you find yourself filled with overflowing enthusiasm when you talk to others about church?  What about when you share how you are involved in the life of the church?  Do you find that others you invite to Peace often come?  You may have guessed it by now, but like the Acts 2 church, we are called to invite others into the body of Christ (Acts 2:47).  We see that the Acts 2 church was extremely successful in this because they lived an attractive life.  They also lived in reliance on God’s power.  Finally, they lived to tell everyone about Jesus. Do you find that you are dying to share the hope you have in Christ with others? Who might you know who you could invite to your small group?  To church?  How can you live out your faith in a way that draws people to Christ.