2008-09-09 – “A Fruit-Bearing Purpose”
1 I will sing for the one I love
a song about his vineyard:
My loved one had a vineyard
on a fertile hillside.
2 He dug it up and cleared it of stones
and planted it with the choicest vines.
He built a watchtower in it
and cut out a winepress as well.
Then he looked for a crop of good grapes,
but it yielded only bad fruit. (Isaiah5:1-2)
I’m interrupting the series on “Calls to Worship” because we are having three weeks of a “Big Idea” at Church. For three weeks we are concentrating on “Bearing Fruit”:
- The Fruit of the Spirit
- The Fruit of Disciples
- The Fruit of Transforming Society.
Our sermons, Bible Studies, Fellowship Group and even the eDevs are going to follow this theme. So, here goes….
Isaiah is writing a lament song about Israel – about God’s People – about the Church. In the song, God is portrayed as the Gardener. This is an image the New Testament will pick up too.
God’s people are portrayed as a Vineyard for which the Gardener goes to a lot of trouble: He cultivates, equips and protects. He is expecting a harvest of good grapes which is not an unreasonable expectation considering the effort He has put in, but there is only bad fruit.
But bearing good fruit is our purpose:
1. We’ve been created to bear good fruit. This is the logical expression of our being made in the image of God. If God’s goodness is the “DNA” with which we were created, then good fruit can and should grow out of our lives.
2. Good Fruit glorifies God. God doesn’t _need_ to be glorified – otherwise He would be narcissistic – but He _is_ worthy of our praises. Good fruit reflects the goodness of God.
3. Bearing good fruit is good for us. It’s not that God _needs_ our fruit – He is God – He is completely self-sustaining. The fruit bring Him glory and the fruit bring us fulfillment. When we bear good fruit, we also find peace and fulfilment
Bearing Fruit is one of our key-purposes. How, one the scale of 0-10 would you describe your life at the moment?
0=Bearing only bad fruit
5 Some good fruit, some bad fruit
10 Bearing mainly good fruit
2008-09-11 – “Discouraged Branch?”
4 So, my brothers, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit to God. 5 For when we were controlled by the sinful nature, the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in our bodies, so that we bore fruit for death. 6 But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code. (Romans 7:4-6)
I ended the previous devotion by asking you to rate your “fruitiness.” Many of you probably felt that it was a bit abrupt and direct and many probably felt a little discouraged.
Bearing fruit is very hard for us. We _want_ to bear good fruit (well, most of the time we do…) but we don’t always succeed. Either our impatience, our irritability, our selfishness or our pride gets in the way.
The problem is our inner nature which is sinful. When it dominates us, then bad fruit prevails. Paul puts it like this: Although God’s Law is there to point us toward good, the truth is that our sinful nature causes us to rebel against the law. So, the law (which is good) becomes something that arouses and provokes our bad-fruit-genes.
But there is Good News!
Christ has raised us from the deadness of our slavery to the sinful nature and the consequences of that behaviour.
He has given us a new option – we can live by the Spirit.
We can bear fruit to God, not by trying to get the corrupted DNA of our sinful nature to produce good fruit, but by allowing the Spirit to save us, heal us, live in us, guide us and produce good fruit in us.
The only way to produce good fruit is to collaborate with the Holy Spirit.
We have to allow Him into our life-garden.
We have to allow Him to uproot our weeds.
We have to allow Him to fertilize us with God’s goodness.
We have to allow Him to aerate us with truth.
We have to allow Him to water us with forgiveness and grace.
A Good Farmer can produce good fruit our of bad soil…
2008-09-12 – “What the fruit looks like…”
8 For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light 9 (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) 10 and find out what pleases the Lord. (Ephesians5:8-10)
John 15 tells us that if we are grafted into the Vine (Jesus) then we bear fruit.
What does that fruit look like?
* Galatians 5:22-23 tell us that the Fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (I think Paul is describing a fruit with Nine Segments) a fruit we could summarise as Christ-like LOVE.)
* Here in Ephesians the fruit is described as the fruit of light: Goodness, righteousness and truth. (I summarise this as INTEGRITY)
* Hebrews 13:15 describes another aspect of fruit-bearing: a sacrifice of praise–the fruit of lips that confess his name (I call this WORSHIP.)
When we are truly grafted into the Vine then the “sap” of the vine (the power of the Holy Spirit) flows through us and manifests in our lives. We don’t produce the fruit on our own – it is the result of our being connected to the Vine.
There is the kiddie’s song that goes: “Joy/Love/Peace is the flag flown high in the castle of my heart when the King is in residence there.” The song hearkens to the tradition that the flag is only flown at the castle when the king is there.
The song is very helpful: If I have truly allowed myself to be IN the Vine and if I remain in Christ and His Words remain in me, then the “flag” that indicates His presence is the fruit:
The fruit of Love, Integrity and Worship.
If these fruit are constantly absent, then I must wonder if the King really is resident.
2008-09-16 – “Wise”
The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life
and he who wins souls is wise. (Proverbs11:30)
This passage was a key part of the sermons on Sunday. It is Hebrew poetry and has the typical parallel-line format. Hebrew poetry doesn’t rhyme but reinforces ideas by parallel repetition or contrast.
The bottom-line on the parallelism in this particular proverb is that the fruit of the righteous = winning souls. In John 15, Jesus talked about being the vine on which you and I can grow as branches and it leads to the ultimate purpose: bearing fruit that will last. I can’t think of a longer lasting fruit than leading someone to Christ and knowing that they have Eternal Life!
But how do we lead people to Christ? Our text gives us some pointers:
- We must bear fruit. The picture is that people will like what they see growing in our lives and that they will “taste and see that the Lord is good.” This is the link between our devotions last week and where we are going this week. If love, joy, peace… are the “flags” flown when the King is in residence in our hearts and if we are bearing the fruit of LOVE, INTEGRITY and WORSHIP (see last Friday’s edev) then people will look at our lives and pick some of our fruit to sample.
- We must be righteous: We need to be people who walk our talk and live our beliefs. We may not be perfect, but we should strive for excellent Godliness in our lives so that our fruit is real and not wax-fruit (Wax fruit is good to look at but not nice to eat!)
- We must _win_ souls. Reaching others for Christ is not a passive activity – we reach people around us through prayer and persistence. We must win them over by living a life that is genuinely attractive so that they want what we have.
People are picking fruit off the branches of our lives. Our own fruit is either wax, bitter, rotted or unripe and has no eternal significance. Christ’s fruit in us will bring others to eternal life!
2008-09-17 – “The proof of the pudding…”
15 But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander (1Peter3:15-16)
If we really have allowed Jesus to be the Lord of our lives, then witnessing will be more of a response than an initiative: If we are really living with Christ at the centre of our lives then people will be asking us about our faith and we will simply respond to their queries rather than having to find ways of starting evangelistic conversations.
Many people think that faith-sharing is always a confrontational thing. There _are_ some examples of confrontational witnessing in Scripture and we should not exclude the need to `get into people’s faces.` However, we should be living alongside people in such an attractive way that they come to us because they like what they see.
The text gives us some clues about how to do this:
1. Christ must be Lord in our own hearts. We can’t give away what we don’t have. Sharing our faith comes from the warm and vibrant reality of our personal relationship with Jesus. But Peter says more… His language is very specific: _Set_apart Christ as LORD. Jesus in not just our Saviour and God-when-we-need-Him but our Lord (the Greek Word used means Master/Boss)
2. We need to live lives that model hope – so that people will ask us about it. This does not mean that we put on a false veneer of `positive thinking.` The world is tired of that. Our hope needs to come from a deep conviction of God’s love for us and His plan for our lives.
3. We need to be ready and willing to give answers. Sometimes being ready will require knowledge and sometimes it will require thoughtfulness. Sometimes we will need to take time and sometimes we will need to have the basics together so that we can give coherent answers. We don’t need theological degrees, but we do need to grasp the basics of the faith.
4. We need to be gentle and respectful. The arrogance of Christians has been one of the biggest stumbling blocks in the spread of the Gospel. Just because we believe that we are right doesn’t give us the right to drive steam-rollers.
5. Our example is paramount. We are wasting our time speaking if we live badly.
Can people “Taste and See that the Lord is GOOD” from our lives?
2008-09-18 – “Salty Speech”
6 Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. (Colossians4:6)
Salty speech is sometimes related to sailors who can cuss and curse(!) but this is not Paul’s drift here… Paul has been asking the Colossians to pray for him that he may proclaim the gospel clearly and now he urges them to also count their words and use them wisely.
While a life well-lived and a good example left are important aspects of evangelism, our words are also vital. Our words are have a huge impact: not only the words that we speak about Christ and the church, but the way we speak about others, keeping the levels of negativity and cynicism down, and the trustworthiness of our utterances.
Paul urges the Colossians to speak well. He uses three qualifiers:
1. Full of grace: If you don’t have anything nice to say, be quiet. Currently I find myself easily dragged into negative and cynical conversations. I have to learn to bite my tongue. Learn to ask: “Is it fair? Is it kind? Is it constructive?” If not, be quiet!
2. Salty: I think this is best related to what Jesus said about being the salt of the world. If our words don’t purify, preserve or create thirst for the things of God, then let us be quiet. Also remember that food with too much salt isn’t good anymore. Like a good chef we must season our words with just enough truth so that people might want more.
3. We need to know how to answer. There are two parts to this. The obvious one is that we should get a handle on the basic truths of our faith. This does not mean that we’ve figured the creation-evolution debate and suchlike, but that we can express the basics. But the other part of this is that we have listened carefully. Many genuine seekers have been turned away because Christians have launched into “canned speeches” and have not really listened. We often give too much information – answer the question.
We can’t get away from the fact that at some point we must speak about our faith. When that time comes then three words are important: Grace, Salt and Answer.
2008-09-19 – “Starting at home”
18 As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him. 19 Jesus did not let him, but said, “Go home to your family and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” 20 So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed. (Mark5:18-20)
This is the story of the Gerasene Grave Guy (GGG) who became the Decapolis Disciple Dude (DDD).
Jesus cast the Legion of demons out of the man who had been prowling the graveyards and sent them into a bunch of pigs who promptly destroyed themselves.
The Decapolis was the name given to the Ten Gentile Cities on the other side of the Sea of Galile (a region also partly referred to Gerasenes). When Jesus revealed His incredible power over evil, the citizens of the regions asked him to leave.
The formerly demon-possessed man would have preferred to be in the comforting company of Jesus and share his testimony in the anonymity of the Jewish side of the Sea of Galilee but Jesus wanted him to start at home. “Go and tell your family how much the Lord has done for you.” If the man’s story was real, it would survive the family and close friends. If it was fake or put on, the man’s story would not impress the family and friends.
Jesus leaves the man to exercise courage and integrity. The man not only goes to his family, but embarks on a “ten city tour” telling his story so effectively that people were amazed.
Mark ch.7-8 tells us that when Jesus returned to the region, there were crowds who, commenting on the healings He performed, said “He has done all things well. He preached to the crowd who followed Him into the wilderness and He fed 4000 from 7 loaves and a few small fish. These are the same people who asked him to leave in ch 5.
The GGG became the DDD.
We don’t have to have been demon-possessed and living in graveyards before we can tell our story. This is not the secret of the man’s success. The man:
- started with the people nearest to him.
- told what God had done for him with courage and integrity
- the focus was on the mercy the Lord had had on him.
And great results followed!
I can imagine Jesus catching the man’s eye across the crowd, smiling and saying “You’ve been BUSY!”
2008-10-07 – “Wisdom, Fruit and Making a Difference”
But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. 18 Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.
(Two weeks late I’m afraid…)
We come to the third part of bearing fruit: Bearing Fruit in Society. This means that we are talking about dealing with issues of real life and this includes poverty, oppression and injustice.
Martin Luther wanted to exclude James from the New Testament because he thought it “an epistle of straw” because its Christology is understated, it says very little about the Holy Spirit and would _seem_ to promote works instead of salvation by grace. Fortunately Martin Luther didn’t get his way because James is very hard-hitting on the practical expression of real faith:
- He describes pure religion as looking after widows (1:27)
- Favouritism is challenged (2:1-12)
- Faith expresses itself in action and he uses an example of meeting a poverty-need. (2:14-26)
- The tongue cannot be used to praise God and then curse people (3:1-12)
- He nails the rich for their abuse of the poor (5:1-6)
James argues that if we live according to Wisdom (and I think he means the Holy Spirit) then there will be very social aspects to our faith expression: Purity, Peace-loving-and-making, Consideration, Submission, and Mercy. We will bear fruit that is impartial and sincere. The seed sown from our fruit will grow into righteousness.
How does your public life compare?
There are some real challenges for me: I’m not always considerate and I tend to want my own way all the time instead of being submissive to a bigger goal. I’m not always impartial and I’m slow to show mercy. There’s clearly lots of work left for me!
It cannot be avoided: If we have Wisdom from above, then there will be social aspects to the expression of my faith. I need to bear peace-loving, mercy-giving, impartial and sincere fruit in my society.
2008-10-08 – “Angry Amos”
Do horses run on the rocky crags?
Does one plow there with oxen?
But you have turned justice into poison
and the fruit of righteousness into bitterness (Amos6:12)
The book of Amos is a righteous tirade against injustice in Israel. He protests against immorality, abuse of the poor, loss of proper respect, victimisation of the helpless, and agenda-hijacked-worship.
The verse here is significant… Even more so when one considers one of the translation possibilities for the second line: “does one plow the sea with oxen?”
The powerful point Amos is making is that justice is common sense. Horses don’t run on rocky crags and oxen can only plow in a field. This is not rocket science!
And yet they have perverted justice and righteousness! It would be bad enough if these keystones had been cast aside, but Israel has gone one further and abused justice and righteousness for their own ends, resulting in poison and bitterness. They have turned keystones into millstones which are dragging them down!
Unfortunately we are surrounded by examples in our daily lives where the kind of justice that is actually common-sense goes completely by the wayside and practices and viewpoints that don’t pass the test of obvious practical basic justice are adopted and promoted.
Our call is three-fold:
1- Check our own world-views to see that we are not trying to plow the oceans… That we are not perverting or defeating the ends of justice in our own lives.
2- Ask simple common-sense questions that expose corruption.
3- Speak up when we see injustice.
2008-10-09 – “Incredible Promise”
17 The fruit of righteousness will be peace;
the effect of righteousness will be quietness and confidence forever.
Righteousness is justice well lived-out.
The results, according to Isaiah, of living righteously are peace, quietness and confidence.
You might be tempted to spiritualise these benefits and say that for the individual who lives righteously there will be inner-peace, inner-quietness and inner-confidence, but a quick look at the context (included below) gives us another perspective:
1. In the midst of our broken world, the Spirit is poured out on us.
2. The Spirit causes Justice and Righteousness to spring up in unexpected places.
3. That righteousness bears peace, quietness and confidence – not only spiritually, but a peaceful, quiet and confident society.
4. Even though trouble comes, the righteous can continue to grow and bear fruit.
To sum up: It is the Spirit who brings forth righteousness in the world and in us, and when we co-operate with His work in us the results are peace, quietness and confidence in us and spilling over to our society.
So let’s start the revolution now and relentlessly pursue righteousness!
32:14 The fortress will be abandoned,
the noisy city deserted;
citadel and watchtower will become a wasteland forever,
the delight of donkeys, a pasture for flocks,
15 till the Spirit is poured upon us from on high,
and the desert becomes a fertile field,
and the fertile field seems like a forest.
16 Justice will dwell in the desert
and righteousness live in the fertile field.
17 The fruit of righteousness will be peace;
the effect of righteousness will be quietness and confidence forever.
18 My people will live in peaceful dwelling places,
in secure homes,
in undisturbed places of rest.
19 Though hail flattens the forest
and the city is leveled completely,
20 how blessed you will be,
sowing your seed by every stream,
and letting your cattle and donkeys range free.
2008-10-10 – “Who does it?”
He has showed you, O man, what is good.
And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah6:8)
At the recent Global Leadership Summit we were privileged to listen to a number of amazingly ordinary people who are being used in powerful ways by God.
* Gary Haugen is the founder of the International Justice Mission who among other things infiltrate child prostitution rings and free the children and have the pimps imprisoned.
* Catherine Rohr realised that the US prison system wasn’t giving offenders an opportunity to reform, but rather hardening into repeat offenders and so she got stuck in and started running an entreupeneurial coaching programme that is bringing about true change.
* Wendy Kopp realised that many schools in poorer areas were not providing a quality education and that something had to be done. She founded an organisation that allows top graduates to volunteer two years of their lives to teaching and she is transforming the education system in the USA.
These movements are now big movements, but they started small and they started with the realisation that justice is something we must DO!
Scripture is full of imperatives to live out practical one-by-one life-changing justice. From the king down to the devout citizen, justice is something that God cares about.
Another speaker on the Summit in commenting on some of the above speakers reiterated God’s desire for justice and then said: “And what is God’s Masterplan for implementing Justice in the World? Just us!”