Fruit Killers: the green eyed monster goes both ways!

 By this is My Father glorified, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples. John 15:8

When you think of "fruitful Christians", who comes to your mind?  Billy Graham? Mother Teresa? Beth Moore? John Piper? Ann Voskamp? Others?

Mother Teresa, painting by Elizabeth Loyd Filson

What is it about them that makes them fruitful in the John 15 sense of the word? displaying godly character? doing good works? teaching the Bible?  leading many to Christ? having  lots of followers in social media?

My guess is that the main reason they are fruitful is that each has allowed the Lord to live through his/her unique life in His unique way, despite criticism, opposition, and perhaps even jealousy by others.

And I think it's the same for us too!  The Lord wants to show forth His glory in a unique way in each of our lives:

The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. Gal 5:22-23

As each one has received a special gift, use it in serving one another, as good stewards of the manifold [multi-faceted, multi-colored, variegated] grace of GodWhoever speaks, let him speak, as it were the utterances of God; whoever serves, let him do so by the strength which God supplies, so that in all things, God will be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. 1 Peter 4:10-11

But there are hindrances to the fruit-bearing process.  One of the biggest "blockers" to unique fruit-bearing is jealousy...and related evils, like comparison and competition, one-up-man-ship, expectations, holding offenses, and the like.  All of these will kill the fruit the Lord wants to produce in our lives.

Think about it!  If we are always comparing ourselves to other branches, we have our attention off of the Lord and what He may be doing in and through our lives.  What a waste of precious time and energy...much less spiritual fruit!

A few years ago, our pastor gave an amazing sermon on jealousy and competition from John 3:22-30.  He said that jealousy minimizes what we have and exaggerates what we don't have.  Quoting Rick Warren, he pointed out, "Envy is resenting God's goodness to others and ignoring God's goodness to me."  What a sin against our Creator and Redeemer!

But there's also a flip-side to this issue.  What if it's obvious to you that someone is jealous of you and competitive toward you?  And that someone is important in your life, like a sister or brother or spouse or friend or in-law or co-worker or neighbor? How do you handle that?  Do you shrink back from what you feel God is doing in and through your life so as to not cause problems or so they don't think you are showing off.  Or do you continue to live your life, focusing on the Lord despite criticism and emotional walls that may go up toward you in those relationships?

At one time, I was struggling with this very issue.  It was when our son was a student at University of Dayton.  Jeremy was being inducted into an honor society, and there was, of course, a ceremony with speeches etc.  I was happy to be there but somewhat dreading having to sit through long speeches.

Wow! Was I surprised!  God in His grace used the short, but pointed, speech of the college chaplain to speak to my heart.  I don't remember what he said, but I do remember two quotes he used which changed my life that very day.

I'll close with these quotes and with the prayer, dear sisters and brothers, that the Lord would set you free to be His unique abiding branch.  Then you will bear His unique fruit to the glory of the Father!

People are often unreasonable, illogical and self-centered. Forgive them anyway. If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Be kind anyway. If you are successful, you will win some false friends and some true enemies. Succeed anyway. If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you. Be honest and frank anyway. What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight. Build anyway. If you find serenity and happiness, others may be jealous. Be happy anyway. The good you do today, people often forget tomorrow. Do good anyway. If you give the world the best you have, it may never be enough. Give the world the best you have anyway. You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and God. It was never between you and other people anyway.

Often attributed to Mother Teresa of Calcutta

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us… And as we let our own light shine, we give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

Nelson Mandela 1994 Inaugural Speech

Hebrews 13: Living an Unshakable Kingdom Life

unshakable kingdom
unshakable kingdom

...we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken...Hebrews 12:28 NIV

Ah, the Unshakable Kingdom! And it's ours!  It's the promise of Jesus in the New Covenant.

Hear our Lord's words,

Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom.  Luke 12:32 NIV

But what is the New Covenant?  What is this "ticket" so to speak, into the Kingdom?

The New Covenant is all about the finished work of Christ through His death, burial, resurrection, and ascension.  It's all about total forgiveness of sins, a new heart that is fixed on loving God, and the indwelling Holy Spirit who causes us to walk in HIS ways...and so much more!  All received by grace through faith, not striving and working!

And as we come to the end of the letter to the Hebrews, we see that living from who we are as partakers of the New Covenant has certain qualities about it:

1.  It's a life of stability (12:15-29). We are receiving a Kingdom that's unshakable, that can't crumble to the ground or be taken over by someone stronger!  And it's right here, right now!  And this kingdom is characterized by grace and freedom and peace...not fear and dread!  It's a kingdom where Jesus is King, and we are His people!

But it's also a kingdom that's not yet!  There will be a time when all will be set right; a time when...

...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. Phil 2:10-11 ESV

2.  It's a life of brotherly love (13:1-4). We graciously receive and welcome "strangers" -- the invisible, neglected, unknown.  We remember prisoners...those physically incarcerated, as well as those imprisoned emotionally and spiritually.  Hebrews 13:2 says that we may be receiving angels unaware.  But actually, according to the gospels, we serve Christ when we serve the needy. (Matthew 25:31-45)

Phil Yancy, in his book The Jesus I Never Knew, tells about a conversation between a rich American visitor and Mother Teresa.  The American couldn't comprehend Mother Teresa's "fierce commitment to the dregs of Calcutta."  In response to his confusion, she told him,

We are a contemplative order.   First we meditate on Jesus, and then we go out and look for Him in disguise.

Where is He in disguise in our lives?

Mother Theresa with child
Mother Theresa with child

Maybe He's in disguise in our marriages.  Kingdom, New Covenant living is where we do the old-fashioned thing by honoring marriage as God's design...and by treating our spouses as brothers/sisters in the Lord and as friends (S of S 4:9-12;5:1,16).

3.  It's a life of contentment (13:5-6). We live free from "devotion" to money...why?  Because God Himself is our true Treasure!  He says..., so we can say...!

And what does He say?

I will never leave you nor forsake you.

So we can say,

The Lord is my helper;I will not fear;what can man do to me?

4.  It's a life of remembering & imitating  (13:7-8). We remember, and even study, the "exit" from this life of our spiritual leaders.

As John Piper says,

Beware of living heroes; prefer dead ones...Get heroes, especially dead ones.

Why?  They have already heard the Lord's "Well done!" They've made it to the finish line!

So then we can...

...imitate their faith.  Why?  because...Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

He was faithful to them in the past.  He is faithful to us in the present.  And He will be faithful to us and to our children and future generations on into the future!

5.  It's a life of identification (13:9-14). New Covenant living is not dependent upon religious rituals, foods, feasts, etc. (See Colossians 2:16-17).  Our "altar" is the Cross, the finished work of Christ.  And what do we "eat" there?  We eat Jesus by faith (John 6)  and get in Him:  forgiveness, righteousness, joy, peace in the Holy Spirit, hope, and so much more (Romans 14:17; 15:13).

And just as Jesus died outside the "camp" (Jerusalem and the religious establishment of His day), so we are also willing to go against the ways of the "camps" we may be part of, when they conflict with the ways our Lord and King are leading us.

What "camps" are you part of today?  Your church? your friends? your family? a relationship? your workplace?  Do you have to "sell your soul" in order to fit in and feel part of the in-crowd?  I'm here to say, DON'T DO IT!  Go to HIM outside the camp and be willing to bear HIS reproach...no matter what that may mean!

My husband and I have been part of various, what I call, Christian camps -- different traditions, from very conservative to somewhat chrismatic*.  I remember one time moaning and complaining to the Lord,

Lord, I don't fit anywhere!

The Holy Spirit said to my heart,

Congratulations!  You can fit everywhere, because you don't fit anywhere! [Read that a couple times slowly!]

Then He reminded me of Jesus who had no place to call His own, who died rejected and abandoned by even His own.  And I remembered Jesus' "healthy detachment":

Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name, observing His signs which He was doing. But Jesus, on His part, was not entrusting Himself to them, for He knew all men, and because He did not need anyone to testify concerning man, for He Himself knew what was in man. John 2:23-25 NASB

So our expectations of fitting in can actually lead us to quench the Spirit in our own lives.  So again I say, don't do it!  "Go to Him outside the camp"...and the delightful surprise may be that there are others outside the camp...maybe waiting for YOU!

outside the camp
outside the camp

6.  It's a life of sacrifices (13:15-16). Jesus did the once for all sacrifice!  But we as believer-priests (1Peter 2:4-5) offer up spiritual sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving.  We are not afraid to acknowledge His name and give Him the credit that is due Him.  As Hosea so colorfully says,

We... offer our lips as sacrifices of bulls.  (Hosea 14:2, alternate trans)

So we put our lips on the altar and let them pour out with praise and thanksgiving and glory to our great God.

And then of course, we have the sacrifice of doing good and sharing...signs of true faith.  As James says,

But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works...For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead. James 2:18,26 -- but check out all of James 2 ESV

7.  It's a life of submission (13:17-19). We follow God's chosen leaders and make it a joy for them, not a grief.   But we realize that they also have "feet of clay" as do their followers.  So we pray for them that they finish well!

As John Piper says,

If you're watching [living] leaders, pray like crazy that they make it to the end...that they finish well!

We all know of leaders who have "shipwrecked" later in life...let's support and pray!

8.  It's a life of enablement (13:20-21).

Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.

the Great Shepherd of the sheep
the Great Shepherd of the sheep

One of the richest and most beautiful of benedictions in Scripture tells us that it's not about our adequacy and ability to live this New Covenant life...it's about His equipping and working.  What a relief!  We are His vessels, His instruments.

Remember, the New Covenant basically says,

God does it; therefore, I do it.

Look at these other passages that say it well...and glory!

2Cor 3:5-61Cor 15:10Gal 2:20Phil 2:12-13

9.  It's a life of listening (13:22-25). So we come full circle.  This passage says to "pay attention" (NLT), to hear to listen.  Haven't we seen that throughout the letter?  It presupposes that when God speaks, we must listen...and so a closing reminder.  New Covenant, Unshakable Kingdom living is a life of listening to our Speaking God who has spoken in His Son (Heb 1:1-3)...let us HEAR HIM!

A Mighty Fortress

Our God is, a consuming fire, A burning holy Flame, with glory and freedom Our God is, the only righteous judge, Ruling over us with kindness and wisdom We will keep our eyes on You We will keep our eyes on You

A mighty fortress is our God A sacred refuge is Your Name Your Kingdom is unshakable With You forever we will reign

Our God is, jealous for His own None could comprehend, His love and His mercy Our God is exalted on His throne High above the heavens Forever He’s worthy... We will keep our eyes on You We will keep our eyes on You

We will keep our eyes on You We will keep our eyes on You So we can set our hearts on You Lord we will set our hearts on You!

HIMSELF  by A. B. SimpsonOnce it was the blessing, Now it is the Lord; Once it was the feeling, Now it is His Word. Once His gifts I wanted, Now the Giver own; Once I sought for healing, Now Himself alone.

Once 'twas painful trying, Now 'tis perfect trust; Once a half salvation, Now the uttermost. Once 'twas ceaseless holding, Now He holds me fast; Once 'twas constant drifting, Now my anchor's cast.

Once 'twas busy planning, Now 'tis trustful prayer; Once 'twas anxious caring, Now He has the care. Once 'twas what I wanted, Now what Jesus says; Once 'twas constant asking, Now 'tis ceaseless praise.

Once it was my working, His it hence shall be; Once I tried to use Him, Now He uses me. Once the power I wanted, Now the Mighty One; Once for self I labored, Now for Him alone.

Once I hoped in Jesus, Now I know He's mine; Once my lamps were dying, Now they brightly shine. Once for death I waited, Now His coming hail; And my hopes are anchored, Safe within the veil.

simpson-ab
simpson-ab

For the beautiful sermon connected to this poem by A.B. Simpson, a brother from the past, click here.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

For Ray Stedman's commentary on Hebrews 13, click here.Hebrews 13, Ray Stedman, Faith at Work

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Streams of Living Water, Foster
Streams of Living Water, Foster

For an enlightening description of the verious traditions of the Christian faith, readStreams of Living Water, by Richard Foster.  In that book, Foster goes into the biblical and historical backgrounds of the different traditions ("camps"), as well as the strong points to emulate and the pitfalls to avoid.