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.

 

 

 

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!

Are We There Yet?

For January 22, 2019
While driving recently, I heard a question that brought back precious memories of a bygone era in my life. I was reminded of the times when I drove our children to church and school events and our family vacations when they were young. Weather the trip was one-half hour or several hours in duration. Invariably they always seemed to ask: Are we there yet? Apparently, they wanted to arrive at their destination much faster than I was driving at the moment.

We’ve all grown up since then. But now I find myself asking that same question when I look at my contemporaries, our nation, and the world around me today. Where is our sense of civility? Where’s our respect for human dignity and worth? What about expressing tolerance for the opinions of others—for the sake of the common good? Are we there yet?

The wisest man who ever lived, King Solomon makes this observation in Proverbs 14:34 (NLT):

Godliness makes a nation great, but sin is a disgrace to any people.

I am grateful to the Lord to live in this country, which He has greatly blessed with many opportunities we often take for granted: to freely worship, to express opinions without censorship, to elect our representation, and to travel where we want when we want. We also benefit from a capitalistic system that supplies us with goods and services that enhance our standard of living and improve our overall quality of life.

However, sometimes I feel embarrassed when I see adults acting like children having temper tantrums. I wonder if these men and women understand the gravity of setting such poor examples before their own children; whether natural or communal. Nobody wins when we sow seeds that produce proud, self-centered, morally reprehensible fruit that will affect us all in time.

I am also saddened by the heightening racial hostility in the US where civility and understanding should be expressed. All of us should understand and be willing to accept that one particular race did not “corner the market” on victimization, and that ours is not a perfect world. Exploitation and victimization happen everywhere around the globe, leaving us with the realization there is much work to be done…everywhere.

We can start by acknowledging God created us to help and support each other. Otherwise, our alternative is more victimization, repression, anarchy, hostility, and senseless violence.

None of us are “perfect” enough to encumber another person (or race) with the debt of hostility or unforgiveness because all of us are offenders by default. Our human propensity to sin ensures global injustice as long as we live on earth. In other words, all of us have committed sinful acts against God or each other, either directly by commission or indirectly by omission.

Daily we watch the tragic futility of those who seek fulfillment through wealth, sports notoriety, political power, corporate achievement, social status, academia, technology, and medicine. Our failures remind us that, although we are unfit for a glorious Heaven morally and spiritually, we are well suited for a tormenting Hell; because God has a “no riffraff” policy that remains in force today.

As Romans 3:23 teaches, all people everywhere have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory. For with all the technology, self-help, and other resources we have at our disposal, we can do nothing to correct our spiritual condition without God’s intervention. In fact, He must change us from the inside out as John observes in John 1:12-13 (NLT):

But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God.

Through Jesus Christ, we can  experience a complete, internal, spiritual transformation, have our sins forgiven, and we can have an intimate, eternal fellowship with God and each other as well.

Thus as forgiven followers of Jesus Christ, we can begin to exhibit a higher level of spiritual and moral acumen; one that accepts and embraces others so that we can enhance and preserve a civil society. Are we there yet? Unfortunately we are not!

But human lives can change drastically in the presence of the Living Christ, and drastically changed (Christ-centered and Spirit-controlled) human lives think, speak, and act in ways that are not detrimental to the health, welfare, or safety of others regardless of race, gender, culture, wealth, social status, or political affiliation.

We may not be there yet, but it is possible to change the world nevertheless—one person at a time—starting with you and me.

Eye Covenant

For October 9, 2018
While experiencing extreme personal adversity, the biblical personality Job made the following confession:

“I made a covenant with my eyes not to look with lust at a young woman. For what has God above chosen for us? What is our inheritance from the Almighty on high? Isn’t it calamity for the wicked and misfortune for those who do evil?” (Job 31:1-3 NLT)

Continue reading “Eye Covenant”