We Can Produce Good Fruit

For February 16, 2019
In this age of specialization, one has to have an exceptional level of specialized knowledge and/or skill to be considered competent in his or her profession. Yet there are those occasions when even the most adept of us can experience feelings of doubt and insecurity when challenged to perform a new task or assignment; despite having the ability and training to perform the task more than adequately.

In those moments of uncertainty, we can resemble the Moses featured in Exodus 3, who exhausted every excuse not to deliver the Children of Israel from Egyptian bondage when he and the Lord  were discussing his splendid qualifications at the burning bush. Because even after having successfully completing the assignment, feelings of inadequacy may emerge and cause us to pause–wondering if we performed everything to specification–instead of a celebrating our accomplishment.

To remedy any possibility of doubt in our quality of Christian service, Our Lord Jesus Christ used a fruit analogy to deliver this memorable lesson on Christian competence and service:

A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit. A tree is identified by its fruit. Figs are never gathered from thornbushes, and grapes are not picked from bramble bushes. A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. What you say flows from what is in your heart. Luke 6:43-45 (NLT)

In many ways I’m sad to say, I am old enough to remember when honesty and integrity stood for something. Now, lying, cheating, and stealing have become commonplace and accepted behavioral standards—even for some professing Christians—around the world. Yet I believe these duplicitous people are like a troubled sea, and there is neither rest nor peace for them as Isaiah 57:20–21 declares.

Although many try to discredit the purpose and importance of producing good fruit, God never has. His eternal purpose is to create offspring who will do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with Him each day. (Micah 6:8) Also, Jesus declares that He is the light of the world, and anyone who follows Him will not walk in darkness; we will have the light of life instead. (John 8:12) Thus, He affirms His moral competence and that of His followers.

As the Lord demonstrated, strength is not always defined by how much physical force we can exert on others. Respectable moral character also defines it.  As the Lord’s branches, we can yield moral fruit consistently, just as He declares, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)

Our faith-driven, Spirit-powered, and Christ-centered life of moral excellence produces lasting good fruit that contrasts the prevalent, sinful bad fruit of those who celebrate pretense and reward dishonesty. We share a compelling Christian witness to those we encounter in our personal and social lives.

Our personal lives are spent not trying to please or impress others in sanctimonious exhibitionism. Instead, we covenant with the Lord daily by choosing to walk after His Spirit and not our sinful impulses. Our moral strength flows from the power of the Holy Spirit within us so that the “who we are when no one is watching us” can interact with God, others, and ourselves safely and appropriately.

In other words, without Christ, we were villainous; with Christ, we are virtuous. Before Christ, we practiced deceit; after Christ, we practice sincerity. Once duplicitous, now we act and speak with integrity at all levels. With His Spirit-driven distinguishable lifestyle, we now can keep our word, speak the truth in love, and ask for help when needed.

Also, we seek spiritual, emotional, and psychological harmony by growing in wisdom, stature, and favor with God and others as the Lord did. (Luke 2:52) Confiding in a pastor, a trusted mature Christian friend, or in a qualified professional can be invaluable to us as we seek to attain spiritual and moral balance. 1

Now on those occasions when we experience temptation and fall into sin, we do not mask our immorality with blame and excuses. Instead, we ask God for forgiveness, reconcile with the offended person (or persons), and practice an improved moral and spiritual lifestyle.

In addition, we strive for emotional security and are not afraid, threatened, or intimidated by the status, abilities, accomplishments, or possessions of others. Envy has no place in our hearts when we interact with other people. Because we understand that it is the Lord who causes people to rise or fall, and we should not waver from trusting His infinite wisdom and providence.

Here, we are never proud, boastful, or haughty over our position, abilities, and possessions, we view ourselves as God’s stewards. He blessed us with resources so that we can be a blessing to others, and He has every right to expect us to be faithful in our stewardship.

We also protect, preserve, and strengthen our bodies through adequate rest, exercise, and diet. We reduce unhealthy levels of stress, abstain from drug and alcohol abuse, and engage in physical activities that honor Christ. We also provide a positive witness to others as good winners or losers because He is at the center of everything we do.

Since our goal is to grow closer to the Lord, passivity is not an option for us. We strive for spiritual maturity by saying no to sin, Satan, and self, while saying yes to fasting, praying, reading God’s Word, attending church, and serving others.

Socially speaking, our good fruit will advance the cause of others as we treat them with the respect and dignity they deserve. We treat all people with sincerity, honor, and respect, regardless of class or gender, and we interact with them without expressing bigotry and prejudicial lawlessness; because we understand that God created all people everywhere in His image–as equals.

Once aliens, we were reconciled to God when He called us out of darkness into His marvelous light. Using His example as our model, we can extend ourselves to others to form and nurture meaningful working and learning relationships that will honor God while improving our social condition. Thus, we obey the laws of the land, and we submit to and pray for our civic leaders regardless of party affiliation

Good fruit is the byproduct of our reverence toward God and His penetrating Spirit within. We can live out a pure religion that is undefiled before God and keep ourselves unspotted from the world while refraining from practicing a sinful lifestyle. Such embodies our Lord’s work in us, and His will for us.

Most of all we love God, and we want to do all we can to please him; because it is the right thing to do.

Continue producing good fruit.

 

 

 

Who Do You Say I Am?

For February 15, 2019
In Matthew 16, the Lord and His Twelve Disciples are in Galilee near Caesarea Philippi, where He asks: “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”

Their responses were varied: “Some say you are John the Baptist; others say Elijah; while others say you are Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

Not concerned with public opinion. Jesus asks a question that is far more pertinent and personal: “But what about you?” or “Who do you say I am?

 

Peter’s response, although impulsive, revealed his understanding of the Lord at that time in his life: “You are the Christ (the Anointed One, the Messiah) the Son of the Living God!”

With that, the Lord replies:

 

“Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it” (Matthew 16:17-18 NIV).

I am glad Jesus Christ is never concerned about satisfying the latest public opinion poll regarding His identity. Even today, some refer to Him as a prophet or a great teacher; others say He was a good man who died a horrible death on a cross.

Chatting with a friend recently, I was reminded of the many poignant discussions about the “Who is Jesus?” question, which occurred over the course of my life. Upon reflection, these discussions seem to be variations of one central question: “How could anyone believe in a dead man’s religion?”

Those who ask this question are looking through the prism that views Jesus only as the Son of Man, who died on a cross between two thieves one fateful Friday afternoon. But if all we knew about Jesus Christ was His tragic death, then as 1 Corinthians 15:19 (KJV) reads, “we would be most miserable!

But thank God; death is not all that we know about Jesus Christ!

There is also the Son of God, who arose on that glorious Sunday morning leaving us with a tomb that remains empty today. Objectivity demands that this historical event has to be acknowledged and considered as well.

When we consider both (i.e., Jesus’ death and resurrection) equally and objectively, everything about Him as the God-man becomes crystal clear. Like Peter, we too can understand and acknowledge He is more than just a person who suffered a tragic death on a cross. Also, He is our:

Advocate, Alpha and Omega, Bread of Life, Bridegroom, Christ, Deliverer, Faithful and True, Friend, Good Shepherd, Great God, Great Physician, High Priest, Immanuel, Intercessor, King of Glory, King of Kings, Lamb of God, Light of the World, Lion of Judah, Lord, Lover of Our Soul, Mighty God, Mediator, Messiah, Prince of Peace, Redeemer, Resurrection and Life, Righteous Judge, Rock and Fortress, Savior, True Prophet, The Truth, The Way, and The Word.

Isn’t it amazing how God is not too big to care for each of us individually? He is omniscient, having “all knowledge” of every detail of our lives including the exact number of hairs on our heads as promised in Matthew 10:30. Yet He is small enough to care for us personally by asking even today: “Who do you say I am?”

Ultimately, He wants us to trust in Him completely (by giving Him our hearts as it were). Then He can perform His perfect spiritual work inside us that will forever resolve all false assumptions and presuppositions about Him, and give us fellowship with Him that lasts forever.

What a wonderful Savior!

Stop! Save a Precious Life…Yours!

For February 13, 2019
Chapter nine of Mark’s gospel narrative has fascinated me over the years. It contains two heart-wrenching stories that evoke poignant visual images that yet resonate with me.

First is the account of the man who asked Jesus to heal his son, whose violent seizures and muted condition threatened his life. When the man asked the Lord to heal his son, the Lord told him that faith would make it possible.

Instantly, the man was overcome with tremendous fear and anxiety because he realized if healing was to occur, he could no longer trust his senses. Instead, he had to rely upon a spiritual reality that could not be proven scientifically or explained logically. This was a state of being totally unfamiliar to him at that moment.

In other words, the man had to put his faith in what he could not see, feel, touch, taste, or smell. But like any loving parent, he wanted his child restored to perfect health. In tearful reverence, he cries, “Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.” (Mark 9:24 KJV) That day Jesus healed the son’s body…and the father’s faith.

The second story contains some striking visual images concerning the destructive outcome of sin. Here Jesus teaches:

If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed, rather than having two hands, to go to hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched—where ‘Their worm does not die And the fire is not quenched.’

And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame, rather than having two feet, to be cast into hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched—where ‘Their worm does not die And the fire is not quenched.’

And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, rather than having two eyes, to be cast into hell fire—where ‘Their worm does not die And the fire is not quenched.’ (Mark 9:43-48 NKJV)

Jesus is not advocating self-mutilation. He is teaching that sin is a natural consequence of our fallen condition, which produces a lifestyle of self-gratification, rebellion, and death.

As Ephesians 2:1-3 describes, we are content to boldly and shamelessly live out our sinful practices 1; serving our master, the Devil as we follow the lustful yearnings of our sin-tarnished nature. In this condition, and by default, we are subject to God’s wrath—forever.

Jesus cites Isaiah 66:24 in His warning of an actual place called Hell. He uses the word gehenna, (or the Valley of Hinnom); located just outside Jerusalem where the wicked ruler, King Ahaz sacrificed his son in the fiery worship ritual to the pagan god Moloch some seven-hundred years earlier.2 This heinous act was prohibited and condemned by Leviticus 18:21.

Although this valley was used as trash heap during the time of Christ, this graphic metaphor presents a somber warning to those who continue to reject God and practice sin.

Because whether the term is Gehenna as used here, the Lake of Fire (Revelation 19:20, or the Second Death (Revelation 20:14), the outcome is the same: eternal separation from God is the final state of all those who practice sin, and there will be “weeping and gnashing of teeth” forever. (Matthew 22:13)

Although the warning here is most serious, Jesus provides comfort as well. We can have the power to resist sin’s dominance—if we turn to Him completely. Because He was victorious over sin, He supplies us with the power to resist whatever is causing us to sin (as if it were “cut off”).

Thank God for His patience. He is not willing that we should perish; but that we come to repentance as 2 Peter 3:9 promises. As Romans 5:8 assures us, God demonstrated His wonderful, all-encompassing love for us in this single defining moment in human history:

While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us!

The Lord performed on our behalf what we were unwilling and incapable of doing ourselves. He paid the price of sin by His death on the cross. As a result, the power of sin and Satan, the cares of this world, and our own inadequate strength no longer debilitate us as we operate under His unfaltering might.

We grow to be more like Christ and honor him in everything we say, think, and do. Our new Spirit-driven life is born out of a sincere faith that transforms us while providing us with the clean hands and pure hearts that God requires.

Are we perfect? Absolutely not—but He is!

The Lord provides us with the spiritual strength we need to live nobly for Him daily as holy, acceptable, living sacrifices. Thus, there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ; who walk not in the flesh, but in His Spirit. 3

We can represent Him in a manner that reflects His noble character. Like airplanes on a runway before takeoff, we will not achieve flight without our Eternal Pilot at the controls. With humble, reverent, and sincere faith in Christ, we are assured to reach our glorious final destination—eternal life—safely. What a wonderful Savior!

 

 

The Son Makes Us Free—Indeed

For February 9, 2019
The Christian faith has been described as a rigid system of do’s and don’ts; a dull and boring life that does not allow people to experience life at its fullest. To the casual observer, this position may seem to be reinforced by sacred Scriptures that appear to show how Christians are “strangers and pilgrims” on a mission:

♦ We are to be perfect even as our Father in Heaven is perfect (Matthew 5:48)
♦ We are in the world but not of the world (John 17:16), and
♦ We are bought with a price; no longer our own exclusively (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)
♦ We are to abstain from sinful desires that war against the soul (1 Peter 2:11)

Christianity may appear rigid, dull, and boring to some casual observers. But it is not! Jesus Christ promises an abundant life of absolute, all-encompassing, and eternal freedom saying: “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed!” John 8:36 (NLT)

Here are five freedoms we have in Christ that make the Christian life both exciting and fulfilling:

Free from sin’s bondage and dominion:
Sin’s corruption on everyone living on earth since the time of our ancestors Adam and Eve is most apparent when people attempt to acquire meaning, fulfillment, and satisfaction through sex, drugs, sports, power, wealth, prestige, work and religion.

And with each occurrence, we witness the tragic outcome of Jeremiah 2:13 with full and unmistakable clarity; we forsake God, who is the Fountain of Living Waters, and we replace Him with broken cisterns that can hold no water!

Ultimately, the fleeting pleasures of sin can never satisfy our deepest emotional, physical, and spiritual longings as does a intimate, personal and  authentic relationship with Jesus Christ.

His Spirit not only transforms us, but He also supplies us with the strength to resist those lusts of the flesh, eyes, and the pride of life that imperil others and us. In addition, He makes His abode within us so that we can be “free” to live each moment to its fullest as we emulate His impeccable lifestyle consistently and follow His incomparable teachings willingly–for His glory and our collective benefit!

Free from past condemnation, guilt, and shame:
Jesus Christ secured our forgiveness though His death at Calvary. He now having been raised from the dead, we can enjoy true peace with God since our past misdeeds are no longer considered. In other words, although sin has consequences, it can no longer be used against us to condemn us before God.

We can “freely” function at full capacity with a clear conscience because God no longer views us from the context of our sinful past. Instead, He views us from the standpoint Jesus’ righteousness. Now He can love, accept, and value us as though we never sinned, and we are empowered to reflect His grace and love through lives that show everyone how grateful we truly are.

Free from all doubt and uncertainty regarding God’s acceptance:
Love from the world’s point of view is self-centered and exploitative. Its ultimate goal is to function in ways that secure the best interest of the giver–never the recipient–at all times. On the other hand, God’s brand of unselfish love will always function in a manner that secures the best interest of the recipient in every situation.

Through God’s unfailing love, we can experience true “freedom” from insecurity; because we have an eternal, fulfilling, satisfying love relationship with God, which the world can neither understand nor offer. While His love and acceptance costs us our faith and obedience. It cost Him His life at Calvary’s cross.

Free to share noble human characteristics that make life worth living:
Through Christ, we can “freely” feature many compelling examples of love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance, truth, righteousness, helping, giving, wisdom and other Holy Spirit-empowered attributes our world desperately needs to see reflected today.

In this way, we Christians can be the visible examples of Heaven’s glorious and eternal character, which the Lord is perfecting in us now and preparing for us later.

Because of the freedom we have in Christ alone, the Christian life is never rigid, dull, or boring. It’s truly abundant, fulfilling, and exciting. What a wonderful Savior!

Jesus Christ: The Son of God

For February 3, 2019
The level of crowd noise increased to a deafening roar as the frustration level of the angry mob heightened with every passing moment. They were infuriated by the audacity of a relatively young man—not quite 30 year old—claiming Abraham rejoiced to see Him.

They shouted at the Lord Jesus Christ: “You are not even fifty years old!” As they wondered how He could claim to have seen a person who lived about 2000 years before His birth.

Then the Lord stared intently into the faces of His critics, and without even batting an eye, He declares:

 

I tell you the truth, before Abraham was even born, I Am!    John 8:58 (NLT)

Stunned, offended, and outraged, the crowd collected stones to hurl at the young blasphemer who claimed to be God in light of the Old Testament Scriptures that declare Yahweh (or Jehovah) is God alone. Three familiar passages are:

• God replied to Moses, “I Am Who I Am.” Exodus 3:14 (NLT)
• Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Deuteronomy 6:4 (NIV)
• This is what the Lord says—Israel’s King and Redeemer, the Lord of Heaven’s Armies: “I am the First and the Last; there is no other God.” Isaiah 44:6 (NLT)

Jesus did not deceive His critics then…or us today. He was in fact 100 percent God in human flesh as He demonstrated an imposing mastery over His creation by walking on the turbulent sea; later calming it, turning water into wine, feeding the multitudes, healing the sick, raising the dead, and then by being raised from the dead Himself.

In addition, He ascended into Heaven, where He now intercedes for us. Moreover, He sent His Spirit to inhabit and comfort us while we await the fulfillment of His imminent return. Then He will establish His glorious, eternal Kingdom with us as His grateful subjects.

Jesus being God in human flesh is one of the greatest mysteries ever, because as such, He lived a perfectly balanced life of moral and spiritual excellence. And as the perfect human being, He chose not to yield to the lusts of the flesh or to selfish motives when He was tempted.

Instead, He humbled Himself so that He could satisfy all the requirements of the Old Testament Law on our behalf lovingly, willingly, and completely as Philippians 2:5-11 (NLT) teaches:

You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross. Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Today we can have the forgiveness of sin because a sinless Jesus Christ paid for them with His precious blood at Calvary. Now, we can confidently approach Him by faith with broken and contrite hearts, ask for His forgiveness, and experience a complete spiritual transformation that restores our fellowship with God and leads to an abundant, eternal life.

Let us take comfort in knowing that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.