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Your Fruitless Friends

“(Jesus) spake also this parable; A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came and sought fruit thereon, and found none. Then said he unto the dresser of his vineyard, Behold, these three years I come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and find none: cut it down…And he answering said unto him, Lord, let it alone this year also, till I shall dig about it, and dung it: And if it bear fruit, well: and if not, then after that thou shalt cut it down.” (Luke 13:6-9)
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Our first reaction to fruitlessness in a Christian is to cut him or her down, but have you ever stopped to consider that this brother or sister in the faith just might be your responsibility?
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Three Things to Consider
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1) Do you know this person?
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It’s amazing how quick we can be to notice a lack of productivity or spiritual growth in a person we just met. I have done it to others and I have had it done to me and it’s shameful, arrogant behavior. Having said that, is this a friend, a close acquaintance, or a family member? If so, the Bible reminds us, “[I]f a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted.” (Galatians 6:1)
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2) Have you dug around them?
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What have you been doing this past year? You prayed for them? Have you attempted to dig into deeper conversations? Have you removed stones and thorns, loosened the soil, and exposed their roots so they could better receive nutrients?

For whatever the reason, many Christians reject this type of work. Don’t you be one of them. Remember: it’s not about how you feel and it’s not about growing fruit – it’s about honoring and pleasing God with our submission and obedience. If there be blessings or fruit as a result, they are byproducts of spiritual compliance.

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3) What are you spreading?
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Cultivating the soil is not enough. Just as plants need nutrients to grow, so do Christians. The best thing for plants is manure, but not so with people. Keep your manure to yourself and spread liberally prayer, the Word of God, encouragement, and correction when needed. While I don’t believe you can pray too much, be aware of applying too much Bible, especially in the beginning.  If you’re in prayer you’ll know how much fertilizer to use and when to use it.
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After One Year
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If you don’t see fruit, should you cut the person down?

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The short answer is no. This person, as with the fig tree in the parable, does not belong to you. In due time the Lord will deal with them. But having said that, if you’ve been in prayer and in His Word, the Lord likely show you something about this individual that will guide you in how you should proceed. The truth of the matter is that if this person has allowed you to pour into to them for a year, they are probably maturing in their faith and the fruit will be evident.

So the next time you notice a Christian without fruit, don’t be so quick to assign blame without first asking yourself, “Have I done my part?”

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“But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed.” (James 1:25)

 

In Bill Hybels opening talk at this year’s Global Leadership Summit (GLS), he listed 10 Rules of Respect, adding that they are great words for leaders to live by. Really?

The first thing that jumped off the page is that Hybels makes no mention of God or Bible Scripture. Does Bill Hybels actually believe that he can say it better than God?   I’m absolutely sure that he cannot.

PROOF

 

Here are Hybels ’10 rules’ followed by Bible Scripture. You decide who said it better.
1) Hybels: “Set the example of how to differ with others without demonizing them.”
GOD: “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” (Ephesians 4:29)
2) Hybels: “Model how to have spirited conversations without drawing blood”
GOD: “Let your speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man.” (Colossians 4:6)
3) Hybels: “Never interrupt others who are talking and do not dominate the conversation.”
GOD: “Hear counsel, and receive instruction, that thou mayest be wise in thy latter end.” (Proverbs 19:20
4) Hybels: “Limit your volume level and refuse to use incendiary or belittling words that are guaranteed to derail a discussion.”
GOD: “He that keepeth his mouth keepeth his life: but he that openeth wide his lips shall have destruction.” (Proverbs 13:3)
5) Hybels: “Set the example of being courteous in word and deed
GOD: “And whatsoever ye do, in word or in deed, [do] all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Colossians 3:17)
6) Hybels:”Never stereotype.”
GOD: “Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment.” (John 7:24)
7) Hybels: “Apologize immediately when wrong instead of denying or doubling down.”
GOD: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)
8) Hybels: “Form opinions carefully and stay open minded if better information comes along.”
GOD: “He that answereth a matter before he heareth it, it is folly and shame unto him.” (Proverbs 18:13)
9) Hybels: “Show up when you say you’re going to show up and do what you say you’ll do.”
GOD: “If a man vow a vow unto the Lord, or swear an oath to bind his soul with a bond; he shall not break his word, he shall do according to all that proceedeth out of his mouth.” (Numbers 30:2)
10) Hybels: “Set rules of respect for everyone in the organization and enforce them relentlessly.”

GOD: “Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 7:12)

 

To make matters worse, every year Hybels adds a bevy of popular speakers who are typically outside the realm of the church. You won’t hear God or Bible Scripture from them either.

Here’s this years list:

1) Sheryl Sandberg, COO at Facebook, woman’s rights activist, believes abortion is ‘comprehensive family planning.’
2) Laszlo Bock, Sr. VP Google,“All it takes is a belief that people are fundamentally good.”
3) Fredrik Härén, business creativity expert, “I am rooted in the world!”
4) Bryan Stevenson, black activist, lawyer, BLM supporter “If you tell a lie, you’re not just a liar. If you take something that doesn’t belong to you, you’re not just a thief. And even if you kill someone, you’re not just a killer.”
5) Marcus Anthony Lemonis, CEO Camping World, “We are all entitled to our own opinion. Here is mine. I am my own man, with my own belief system.”
6) Juliet Funt, daughter of Allen Funt (Candid Camera), “Our teachings have impacted some of the top brands in the world including Nike, P&G, Wells Fargo, Hershey’s and Hyatt. We’ve enabled them to feel fueled, focused, and ready to create the spectacular.”
7) Marcus Buckingham, author, “Talent is the multiplier. The more energy and attention you invest in it, the greater the yield. The time you spend with your best is, quite simply, your most productive time…Spend the most time with your best people.”
8) Angela Duckworth, professor of psychology, author of “Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance.” Says grit is the key to success in work and life.

In Conclusion

Simply put, the Church does not need the likes of Bill Hybels or the Global Leadership Summit, but you know what?

GOD SAID IT BEST

“[T]he whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one.” (1 John 5:19)
“[D]o not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God…. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good.” (Romans 12:2, 9)
“Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world — the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life — is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever.” (1 John 2:15-17)
“Jesus answered, ‘My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here.” (John 18:36)
“Friendship with the world is enmity to God.” (James 4:4)

Be Ye Perfect!

Jesus doesn’t tell us to go out there and do the best we can. He said, Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48)

We naturally say, “Impossible!”

To which Jesus replies, “With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:26)

See the Bigger Picture

Without Jesus we cannot save ourselves, we cannot cleanse ourselves, we cannot heal ourselves, we cannot changes ourselves, and we cannot be perfect, but in Christ Jesus we can do all things through Him who strengthens us. (Philippians 4:13). That of course means all things that are pleasing to Him, bless Him, and are of His good will and pleasure.

But we lament, “We will fail.”

Two things: Making a mistake does not negate perfection, nor is making a mistake failure. Failure is when we make a mistake and refuse to learn from it. Failure is when we fall down and refuse to get up. Failure is when we make one mistake and think two good deeds will balance the scales. Failure is when we reject God and try to fix it ourselves. Failure is what negates perfection.

Perfection is Already Ours

“He has clothed (us) with the garments of salvation; He has covered (us) with the robe of righteousness.” (Isaiah 61:10) In other words, we are dressed to perfection. Yes, we are works in progress. Yes, we are being changed daily. Yes, we are being sanctified. But in all these things if we err, He has us covered. No longer should a brother or sister in Christ declare, “I’m not perfect,” because in Christ Jesus we are, so we should start acting like it.

Sharing Our Perfection

Our most perfect possessions are our salvation and the ‘Good News’ of the Gospel message. I suggest this is what we share.

“Go ye therefore and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.”

(Matthew 28:19)

“For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread: And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me. After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come.” (1 Corinthians 11:23-26)
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I take “As often as you eat,” literally.
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Some say that the breaking of bread and partaking of the cup (Communion) is for the Body of Christ corporately and not for the individual, citing Acts 2:42, “And ‘THEY’ continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.”  they speaking to the communal aspect of communion. However, if you follow that logic then prayer and doctrinal studies is also (only) a corporate activity.
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That can’t be the case.
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I’ve also heard it said that if we do it too often, it becomes a meaningless ritual. Well it is a ritual, but if ‘remembering Jesus’ two or three times a day becomes meaningless to you, then you have other issues you need to deal with.
Together or alone, Communion is communing with God and the reason me and my house (together or alone), celebrate Christ’s sacrifice by remembering Him at every meal. It’s not a huge or elaborate affair, nor do we believe it should be. Simply put, we simply remember what Jesus did for us in prayer. That’s all Jesus asked and that’s all we do.
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How often should we remember Christ’s grace? 
Every time we eat and until He comes again.

Having said that, we have freedom in Christ and it would be legalistic for me to suggest that this is how Communion should be done every time, everywhere. Christians have the liberty to recall Christ’s atoning sacrifice as often as they please. If once a week or month is sufficient for you, who am I to argue.

“The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light. Let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness (adultery and lust), not in strife and envying. But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfill the lusts thereof.” (Romans 13:12-14)
 
sdMany people believe in parachutes. That is to say they know what they do and believe (for the most part) that they’ll perform as advertised, but they would NEVER put one on. Myself included.
 
And for many people, it’s the same way with Jesus. They believe Jesus is who God says He is, but they’re not going to ‘put Him on’ because to do so would mean to alter their lifestyle.
 
Some believe that they can put Jesus on just before they die. That’s like saying they’ll jump out of the plane just before it crashes, but having no idea when that will occur or that it’s happening now.
 
When the Bible talks about belief (or faith), it’s with the understanding that the ‘believer’ trusts to the point of obedience. In other words, if you truly believe (if your faith is real), you will do as Jesus (God) has commanded.

When Jesus had ended these sayings, the people were astonished at his doctrine: For he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. Matthew 7:28-29

In Chapter 5 of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus delivers His Sermon on the Mount, beginning with the Beatitudes. It was in the previous chapter that Jesus began to gather His disciples and gave them this promise: “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” So they followed Jesus all about Galilee, as He taught in the synagogues, as He healed the sick, and finally to a foothill where they would receive their first fishing lessons: ‘Ten Steps towards Salvation,’ more commonly known as the Beatitudes.

Afterwards it would be recorded that they were amazed at His teaching (probably) because these things had never been presented by anyone (specifically any Rabbi) before. I’ve heard it said that when the Rabbi’s taught, they’d preface their remarks with, “According to Rabban (our master) Gamaliel…” or, “As Hillel the Elder would say…” giving their authority and honor to their teacher. Jesus made no such prelude and as a result His astonished listeners took note that He spoke of His own authority. The doctrine Jesus presented was of His own making; it was new, it was provocative, and it was perfect.

It’s here that we identify the purpose of the Beatitudes as they are not merely ideals that focus on love and humility or even a moral standard by which folks should ascribe. No, there was a bigger picture being presented here, one that is characterized by a narrow path. It is the destination realized in the personal receipt of God’s grace via the redemptive of power of Christ’s finished work on the cross and I would submit that if we handle them in any other regard we are sidestepping their inherent worth.

As we expound briefly on each tenet, I’ll characterize the Beatitudes as drtsteps with the understanding that salvation is based upon faith alone, not works or steps. Having said that, in the Beatitudes we see a growth process that every believer goes through. Fundamentally these spiritual positions are the bases that an evangelist should broach, in this order, when sharing the Good News.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit”

If salvation in Jesus Christ is our ultimate destination (and it should be), then it’s clear to see that step one, “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” has less to do with worldly ideals or moral character, but rather it is the realization of spiritual poverty due to (our) sinful nature. I believe Jesus is conveying to His disciples that in order to lead a soul towards salvation, the lost need to take ownership of their spiritual depravity. When the Apostle Paul wrote, “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), this was the point he was driving home. It is no accident that poor in spirit is first in this sequence. It is in this vital first step that we first recognize that we’re not okay and move closer to discerning our solution in Jesus Christ and can begin to see the blessedness of the situation.

“O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 7:24-25a)”

“Blessed are those who mourn”

Step two, “Blessed are those who mourn,” is the consequence of grasping step one; if there was sincerity in that first step, we will be mournful. It’s at this place where we may first recognize the blessing of Jesus as our comforter and healer. This is the circumstance we find the woman caught in the act of adultery in John 8:11. Jesus said to her (and He says to us), “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.”

The Apostle Paul wrote of this location as well: “[G]oddly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation (2 Corinthians 7:10).” We don’t get to this point unless we take ownership of the message presented in steps one and two.

“Blessed are the meek”

In step three, “Blessed are the meek,” we recall the maxim, ‘meekness is not weakness, but rather strength under control.’  In our Christian realm it speaks to submission to God (for) our own good, but more importantly for His good purposes. It’s here that God breaks us in the same way a rancher would break a wild stallion. Just as a broken vessel will give up its contents, so to in our brokenness we are emptied. In this place Jesus encourages us, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls (Matthew 11:29).” This is the blessing of the meek.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled” 

We have realized our spiritual poverty, we have mourned and been comforted, and we have been emptied. In this condition it is only natural we would desire replenishment. We are hungry! At some point during the process, the Holy Spirit has taken up residence inside us to guide and to give us understanding. We also learn that steps two and three are maintenance steps and if a daily spiritual routine is not established, we will regress in some fashion.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy”

Filled with His Spirit, we discover that the fruit of the Spirit is love and out of love grows mercy towards others. We recall Luke 7:47, “Wherefore I say unto thee, her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little.” If we have been attentive students through the previous steps, we will likely appreciate the great volume of sin that Christ has cleansed on our behalf. Aside from all the blessings we will have received up to this point, this fruit bears witness to the changes God is making in us.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God”

In step six we see the difference between the cleansed heart and the pure heart. All believers have been cleansed by the blood of Jesus, but a pure heart comes as a result of finishing the race, so to speak and step six speaks directly to the sanctification (or refinement) process. We see glimpses of God throughout our journeys, and of course we see Him more clearly when we are closest to Him, but it is when we finish well; our purified state, we shall see Jesus. In step six there is encouragement to continue on this narrow path.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God”

Step seven speaks to evangelism and sharing the great wealth that we have received in Jesus Christ. It should be obvious that when we share the Gospel, we’re sharing the Prince of Peace, therefore in every instance we are peacemakers. Zacharias said Jesus will “Guide our feet into the way of peace. (Luke 1:79)”

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake…Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you”

Steps eight and nine (and ten for that matter) are related and often listed together as the eighth Beatitude. There is some redundancy and I sense that Jesus repeats Himself not because eight and nine are somehow more important than the first seven steps, but rather to emphasize that these things will occur if we are faithful and obedient servants.  We could also argue that if Jesus had omitted this information, He would have not given us the entire story.

We also see that these two promises affirm that if they are occurring, then we are walking properly. In other words, it is a prophetic pat on the back from Jesus Himself that we’re on the right path. In contrast, if these things are not happening in our Christian walk it should give us pause. It could be that we haven’t been practicing our peacemaking skills or that our tendency is to only preach to the choir.

“Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

We plainly see that it echoes steps eight and nine, but it reminds us we’re in very good company. The lesson of step ten is to exercise the blessings that we have received as a result of our salvation and our ongoing purification, and that we are paying it forward. We see the Beatitudes as a series of road signs bringing us to very specific places of blessings. It’s here in step ten that Jesus proclaims if we’ve enjoyed the journey so far and joyfully anticipate what lies ahead, it should be reflected in our attitude and demeanor. Again, if it’s not, something is askew.

In conclusion, I believe that in teaching His disciples the Beatitudes, Jesus provided a checklist of the issues that needed to be addressed when sharing the Gospel message. In one sense it was coded (as were the Parables of Jesus) so the masses would not necessarily glean from them initially, but these lessons weren’t for them necessarily, but for those who would be sent out to share the Good News. We could also note that in the same manner that the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9) is a model prayer not to be recited word for word (necessarily), so are the Beatitudes a model to be recalled in sequence as a reminder to the bases we should cover when sharing the Gospel message, the continual discipleship process, and of course for periodic self-examination, as per 1 Corinthians 10:12, “Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.”

 

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