Make Pure Fruit

February 28, 2011

Friends,
I am amazed that some “Christian” people, including teachers of God’s Word, do not watch their words with all diligence. Jesus says in Matt. 12:33 that “a tree is recognized by its fruit.” And what is the context? It’s about words. For in the very next verse, Jesus says, “You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.” Then verse 35: “The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him.” What are these evil things? The next verse lets us know it is any careless word. And in verse 37 Jesus warns that our words will either acquit us or condemn us.

For as Jesus teaches us in Matt. 15:18, “the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man ‘unclean’.” If someone is unclean, then he has not been washed by the blood of Jesus, and he is still in his sinful state, headed toward condemnation. “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.” (v. 19) Let’s note that Jesus equates slander with murder and the rest, for the wage of any sin is death and Hell. (Rom. 6:23 & James 2:10)

What is Jesus telling us to do about this? He is telling us to “make” the tree (us) good. This is how He begins Matt. 12:33, for He says, “Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit.” In both of these chapters, Jesus is particularly rebuking the Pharisees and giving warnings to others not to be led by them. The same is the case in Matt. 3:7-10 when John the Baptist speaks about trees: “But when He saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees [both groups were religious teachers] coming to where He was baptizing, He said to them: ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance… The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”

We know that good fruit is preaching the Gospel, evangelism, kind deeds, praising God with our lips, and showing Christ-like character. All of this is displayed through our actions and our words; but these in turn, come from “the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Heb. 4:12) which will be judged by the Word of God (same verse) and “laid bare before the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.” (v. 13)

Consequently, it would be good if we then heeded Prov. 4:23: “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” Do we hear this: “Above all else…”? What are we to do above all else? It’s to “guard your heart.” We need to understand that it is we, not God, who are to take action. God has already taken action. He already sent Jesus to be “the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but for the sins of the whole world.” (1 John 2:2 & see also 1 Tim. 2:3-6) He holds out His hands to all (John 12:32), inviting them to repent and believe the Good News (Mark 1:15), to participate in the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4), and to walk as new creations in the power of His Kingdom. (Gal. 6:15 & 1 Cor. 4:20 & Matt. 11:12 & Luke 17:21) It is we who are to guard our own heart. The Lord will help us, encourage us, and exhort us, but it is our choice. –Our choice to make the tree good. Our choice to make the heart good. Then we will be recognized by our good fruit, for good fruit will grow naturally from a good heart. The fruits will be good deeds and clean words.

Let’s take note that the verse that follows this exhortation about guarding our heart is one about words. For Prov. 4:24 says, “Put away perversity from your mouth; keep corrupt talk far from your lips.” Eph. 4:29 confirms this by saying, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” So, let’s see… Does slander benefit others? No, it tears them down behind their back, and can even devastate a life. How about perverse words? Are expletives like “pi–ed off” or “cr-p” necessary? Are they beneficial for listeners? No, they sound low and vulgar. If anyone disagrees, then they should ponder this: If someone was being interviewed for a job, would he use such words to impress the interviewer? Of course not. Then why do numerous so-called “Christians” seem to think they can use vulgar words which mean “to urinate” or “sh–” and at the same time claim to be “in Christ”? How can they claim that they fellowship with the Holy pure God? They are either lying (1 John 1:5,6) or they are ignorant of God’s holy requirements. (Heb. 12:14)

It’s sick that I should even have to mention this shameful perversity of fellow “Christians”. Cannot they discern for themselves that these words, as well as many others they use, as well as many crass jokes, as well as many slanderous conversations, as well as many insults… are repulsive to our God? Do they not remember Jesus’ warning that every one of our careless words will help to condemn us? (Matt. 12:37) Do they not take seriously the many exhortations in God’s Word to “put to death whatever belongs to the sinful nature”? (Col. 3:5) For God’s wrath is indeed coming on all those who participate in the sinful nature. (Eph. 5:6 & Col. 3:6)

In view of these warnings, let’s heed this one: “But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other…” (Col. 3:8,9) Let us note again that this says, “…you must rid yourselves…”, meaning it is our job to do so. We do so by obedience to God’s Word –filling our minds and hearts with it, believing it, and putting it to practice on a daily, hourly, basis. And by thinking on all things noble, pure, lovely, etc. (Phil. 4:8)

This is the way to make ourselves have pure hearts, thus pure mouths, and be labeled by Jesus as “good trees” –producers of pure and good fruit.

Sincerely,
with love,
Rachel

Friends,
It was over ten years ago… I sat perched upon the wooden fence, gazing over the flowered grassy pasture, our herd of paint horses grazing contentedly under a fading sunset. “Hmmm… bliss…” I mused. “I am so happy. I’ve come through my trials, God has rewarded me, none of my loved ones are experiencing any tragedy, my husband and I are in harmony and we both have good jobs…” And I thanked the Lord over and over, so grateful for His mercies and love, as well as His presence which I could almost tangibly touch.

But what have I learned since then? Well, a ton, but one thing has been this: That no matter how lovely my life, no matter how spectacular the scenery, no matter how peaceful the dwelling, no matter how full the bank account or the list of friends… –no matter how enormous the blessings– we soon enough feel that same empty void trying to creep in upon our spirits which continuously attempted to do so in our days of distress.

What is the antidote for this enemy of our souls, our lives, our happiness? It is to spend much time fellowshipping with the Lord. For it is the Lord who dissolves all wretched things… yes, –all. For being in His presence, communing with Him Spirit to spirit, is what makes any fear, any unrest or boredom, any sadness or despair, any pain… either evaporate in the light of His joy and comfort, or become a thing to rejoice in even if it continues to linger.

Besides, no matter how good it is at one point in our lives, we need only wait, and trials will soon come along again (though we can wait again, and “these too shall pass”). This is why we need a steady faith, as well as a certain disregard for this world and all things in it –even loved ones. For more important than our most cherished earthly treasure is to have unbroken communion with God (which comes by acting upon His Word in obedience). For only as we abide in Him, are our spirits truly walking in deliverance from all evil. (1 John 5:18)

Indeed, only as we remain clothed in the Lord’s peace, can we hear frightening reports and remain calm and trusting. Only as we keep our eyes straight on His glory and splendor, can our minds hold fast to the knowledge that His goodness and power never fail as He reigns over all with perfect ease. Only as we listen closely, with humility and purity, can we hear His voice of reassurance, “Don’t be afraid, Child. I am your shield, your very great reward.” (See Gen. 15:1) Only as we believe this Word, can we then trust that, yes, “He is a shield for all who take refuge in Him.” (Ps. 18:30) Only as we abide in His words, through the Spirit, can we flourish as a healthy, joyful branch of the Vine, produce fruit, and ask whatever we wish. (John 15:1-11)

I agree we don’t always understand how to pray, what to pray, or which concerns to focus on as priority. However, we are to “pray in the Spirit on all occasions.” (Eph. 6:18) For “the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what / how we ought to pray, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express… because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.” (Rom. 8:26,27) This, then, especially when we feel weak, ignorant, or ill-equipped spiritually, is how we build ourselves up (1 Cor. 14:4 & Jude 1:20) so that we can pray with faith, becoming confident that God will work out all things for the good of those called to His purpose (Rom. 8:28), that many may be conformed to the likeness of His Son. (v. 29)

Right now, besides my own family’s immediate concerns, I am burdened for more than I can count. One is my friend who is battling cancer, plus her affected household. One is in regards to a friend from childhood who lost the cancer battle earlier this month, leaving a husband and five children. Other petitions to God involve those who are living in sin, abuse, unnecessary guilt, poverty, loneliness, enduring the effects of inevitable divorce and financial ruin, or who are continuing in spiritual blindness –all desperate situations until the Lord intervenes.

On top of all this, I got news today that my brother, who has taken a trip to our childhood village overseas, had to this morning take numerous people (mostly children) to the small and not-so-sophisticated hospital nearby; and that the problem may likely be an epidemic of measles. This is extremely distressing news, for we’ve already been in turmoil about the attempts being made to steal the land rights of these already impoverished and unfairly-treated village people.

Well, so what do we do when we feel that we’d like to crumple on the floor in hopelessness and shut our ears to anyone else’s woes? We pray in the Spirit. But we also praise. We exalt God for His power, His compassion, and His ability to save. We lay the names, the situations, before the Great Throne of the Most High Almighty God, and we petition Him, but in a spirit of faith and thanksgiving. Then we recognize that we’ve cast the cares to Him, we believe that He’s heard, and we accept that we’ve left them there –in HIS hands, in HIS control. We don’t take the concerns back, but we do continue to thank the Lord for what He’s doing concerning that which we laid in His care and for the deliverance which is on its way.

To comprehend and master these Truths is definitely our path to being conformed to Christ’s image –which is, conducting ourselves the way He did, thinking the way He did, and ministering the way He did. For Jesus, though He was fully human, relied solely on the strength of the Spirit of God; and so must we. However, we cannot do so if we’ve not spent time with Him but have instead been feeding ourselves with the world. For the storms will surely come, we’ll give way, and we’ll be swept away in the flood.

But… if we call Jesus “Lord” (Sovereign Master of the universe), and we walk in faithful obedience to His Lordship (see Luke 6:46), listening to Him and putting His words to practice (v. 47), then Jesus promises that we will withstand the hurricanes of life. For we will be “like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built.” (v. 48) Jesus is talking about being well-built spiritually, and that the only way to be so is to have built our lives on Him, the Rock, having done so by adhering to His words, and remaining grounded by faithfully obeying those words.

“But the one who hears My words and does not put them into practice is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. The moment the torrent struck that house, it collapsed and its destruction was complete.” (v. 49)

The Lord encourages us and warns us throughout Scripture. Will we listen and obey and still be standing firm at life’s end? For as Jesus warns in Matt. 10:22, only “he who stands firm to the end will be saved.”

Sincerely,
with love,
Rachel

Crises Turned Into Treasures

February 26, 2011

Friends,
I drove past a church sign this week that said, “Trusting God can turn a crisis into a treasure.” How true this is! And what an encouraging reminder about our powerful God who is also so kind, so merciful, so wise, and so compassionate.

Crises will come. That’s life in a fallen world. But we have hope –great hope based on faith. For “faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” (Heb. 11:1) God wants our undivided, whole-hearted trust, for He wants us to learn that He not only delights to do us good, but that He is abundantly able to do so. Yes, many of us are in a crisis now, or have been in the past, yet we look around at the treasures God has been forming out of the suffering, even because of it, and we see that He knows what He is doing.

So, because we’ve seen what God has done for us in the past, we can face new crises with confidence. We can quote Ps. 120:1 to Him, reminding Him that His Word does not lie: “I call on the Lord in my distress, and He answers me.” This is a promise (for those who are obediently abiding in Him) and we can therefore fully expect that God will deliver us from distress. This includes all distress –not just physical, but that which is gripping many people these days –mental, emotional, and spiritual– as confusion and anxiety harass minds and spirits. But God can bring peace to us even when the storm continues to rage, for He promises us a sound mind (2 Tim. 1:7), as well as a refuge under His strong and comforting presence. (Ps. 57:1)

Ps. 25:15 says, “My eyes are ever on the LORD, for only He will release my feet from the snare.” We should ask God to release us from our snares. Often “we have not because we ask not.” Or we ask without believing. (James 1:6) We should ask for wisdom every day. And in the name of Jesus, we should take every thought captive to obey Christ (based on 2 Cor. 10:5). We should daily put the armor on as Eph. 6:10-18 tells us to do. We do this by saying, “I put on… in the name of Jesus.” We also must take time to meditate on God’s Word and find there, through His Spirit’s instruction, what should be our course of action. (See Ps. 32:8) We should say, “God, I believe what You are saying here in Your Word. So I wait for You to instruct me.” We should also do much praising and giving of thanks to God because this paves the way for deliverance. (Ps. 50:14,15,23)

These are true steps to be taken, not just given a fleeting thought in our minds. Furthermore, we need to believe that when we cry out to the Lord in genuine trust, like a little child crying for help toward a tender-hearted parent, Ps. 34:17 is promised: “The righteous cry out, and the LORD hears them; He delivers them from all their troubles.” And: “A righteous man may have many troubles, but the LORD delivers him from them all.” (v. 19) –All! We can certainly remind God of His own Word here and launch out in faith to what He guides us to do.

So whatever our distress, we can know we have a God who saves, a God who deeply cares about each one of us, and a God who is all-wise and all-mighty. 2 Tim. 4:18 says, “The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to His heavenly kingdom. To Him be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” Yes, He is worthy of our trust, our praise, and our worship as we say, “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for You created all things, and by Your will they were created and have their being.” (Rev. 4:11)

Yes, “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!” (5:12)

Sincerely,
with love,
Rachel

Friends,
As usual, I had an absolutely wonderful time today at the bus stops giving out the Gospel. It seems many have grown in the Lord over the years and there seems to be an increasing number of other evangelists out there. Fantastic! –for God’s Word and His Kingdom is always advancing! (Matt. 11:12)

There are truly so many people who are eager to get a bite of spiritual food, and almost everyone acts appreciative. However, there are a few who desire to be antagonistic, but I want to mention one guy who particularly grieved me. I’ll call him “Joe”. He acted annoyed at first, but then became quite friendly, though he kept laughing and saying, “Well, I’m just so glad I’m Catholic.” This was in response to my exhortation to him to walk righteously. And he kept saying things like, “Oh, I’m just having so much fun. I get to sin and sin and sin all week long and then I just go to church / God and ask for forgiveness. Then I’m okay to do it all over again.” Good grief. Most people aren’t this blatantly honest. Most people don’t have this much lack of shame. Most people who claim to believe in God at least say they are trying to live honorably. Or even if they aren’t, most people loathe to admit it.

The thing about Joe’s admission is that actually he is speaking for many OSAS “Christians” who have this same basic mentality. For out they go –to sin and sin– and then they go to church, ask God to be merciful concerning their rebellion (though they call it “issues”), and then go right back to gleefully partake of corruption.

I tried hard to reason with Joe with very loving concern. I tried to get him to see that no one –and most certainly not the all-knowing Holy God– would consider his Sunday confessions anything but disingenuous. And that to purposefully sin, and plan to sin, will only incur God’s wrath, not His mercy, at the Final Judgement. (Heb. 10:26-31) Sadly, Joe just kept saying, “Well, this is why I’m so glad I’m Catholic.” Huh? His reasoning did not even make sense. I told him that it doesn’t matter what we believe –for our belief is not what saves us– unless it is the Truth that we believe and then adhere to. He just kept laughing and shaking his head, disagreeing. Soon his bus came and away he went. I was very sad for him, but my sadness couldn’t stay because I realized that several people had been watching and listening in, and by what they then said to me, that the Truth had at least stirred their hearts.

Still, I can’t imagine how anyone could believe the way that Joe does. But so many do. It’s heart-breaking.

But… we do have hope. We can pray for these hardened hearts. We can pray that God will keep intervening, keep sending His message across their paths… keep wooing them by His Spirit and through His ambassadors.

For we can be assured that God wants no one to perish, but that all come to genuine, whole-hearted repentance. (2 Peter 3:9)

Sincerely,
with love,
Rachel

No Holiness = No Eternal Life

February 24, 2011

Friends,
God’s Word tells us in Eph. 4:22-24 that we are to put off the old self and put on the new self and “to be made new in the attitude of your minds.” (v. 23) This means that if we have truly clothed ourselves in Christ (Rom. 13:14) who is our New Self / New Creation (Gal. 2:20 & 2 Cor. 5:17), then we have changed. We’ve changed not just the outward appearance –the lifestyle– but are new in our attitude. Our attitude comes from our heart, mind, and spirit, and these must be cleansed and made new. (Ezek. 36:25-27)

A new attitude displays nothing close to that which the old displayed. The old was negative, angry, and untruthful. (See Eph. 4:25,26) It sought to steal, it was idle and useless, and it was full of unwholesome talk. (See v. 28,29) It consisted of bitterness, rage, fighting, slander, and malice. (See v. 31) We see these described again in Col. 3:8,9 as things we discard when having taken off the old self. And verse 10 says we then “put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.”

Having a new self is all about having an attitude of wanting to conform perfectly to Jesus –who “is the image of the invisible God,” (1:15) and the Creator of all things. (v. 16) And the main attribute of God that we are to conform to is holiness. As 1 Peter 1:15,16 commands, “But just as He who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy.'” This is a command to action on our part. “For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life.” (1 Thes. 4:7) And for those false teachers who think holiness –being holy in all we do– is optional, verse 8 has a sharp rebuke: “Therefore, he who rejects this instruction does not reject man but God, who gives you His Holy Spirit.” In other words, if we claim we’ve been given God’s HOLY Spirit, then we are “to live a holy life”! Why? –Because “without holiness no one will see the Lord.” (Heb. 12:14)

That does mean this: Lack of holiness in your life = shut out from the Lord’s presence forever. (2 Thes. 1:8-10 & Matt. 25:26,30)

“Since, then, you have been raised with Christ [becoming a new creation], set your hearts on things above, where Christ is… Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died and your life is now hidden with Christ in God… Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature [your old self]: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming.” (Col. 3:1-6) And back to the Ephesians passage: If anyone continues to engage in the practices of the old self, then these disobedient individuals will come under the wrath of God (5:6) and will not have “any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.” (v. 5)

Practical, actual, lifestyle, heart-mind-attitude holiness is a must in order to enter eternal life. Read God’s Word; it’s warned about all through its pages.

Sincerely,
with love,
Rachel

Test Ourselves Continuously

February 23, 2011

Friends,
Each one of us should ask ourselves several times a day one or more of these questions:

~~Am I walking in the Spirit right now? That is, have I –today, all day– been allowing the Spirit of God to control me? Am I obeying right now what He has been prompting me to do?

~~Am I following the commands of Christ right now?

~~Am I abiding in the Vine at this very moment… or have I detached myself from Him because of a sin I’m harboring?

~~Am I following Jesus and proving it by my obedience to His voice in my spirit? Can I even hear Him? –Because He does say that His sheep hear His voice. If I can’t hear His voice, why not?

~~Am I, in my heart and mind and lifestyle, clean and pleasing to God at this very moment, and have I been so all week and all month? If not, what have I done to eliminate those things which tempt me back toward sin?

~~Am I faithful to God, or have I committed spiritual adultery against Him this week? If so, have I wept over my sin and asked God to cleanse me with the priceless blood of Jesus that I again treated with contempt?

~~Have I obeyed Jesus’ words in Matt. 5:29 and “gouged out my eye” –not literally, but severed from myself the causes which tempt me to sin?

~~Have I –today– taken seriously Jesus’ words in Matt. 5:48 to be perfect as the Father is? Yes, that perfect?

Let’s use questions such as these to obey 2 Cor. 13:5 and continuously examine ourselves to see if we are in the faith. Do we pass? Or, do we fail this test? Failure means Christ is not in us, which means –unless we do some drastic changing– that we have no inheritance in the eternal Kingdom of God.

Sincerely,
with love,
Rachel

Whoever Serves Must Follow

February 22, 2011

Friends,
We serve Jesus, (who is God), because He commands it of us. And because He is the Rightful Ruler of the universe, we should wisely recognize this fact and submit to His rule willfully, even gladly.

Many people do try to do this. They declare their faith in Jesus and tell Him they are committing their lives to Him and trusting Him to save them from eternal damnation. After this, they engage themselves in some kind of service to God, usually a service that promotes the spread of the Gospel.

For the person who serves Him, Jesus gives a promise: “My Father will honor the one who serves Me.” (John 12:26) But let’s look at the beginning of this verse: “Whoever serves Me must follow Me.” Well, isn’t this obvious? At first glance –maybe. But this is why we are told to meditate on God’s Word. For if we read this statement a few times, carefully, we find that Jesus is not being rhetorical, but is implying that though the two actions should go together, they don’t always.

We begin to wonder, “Can a person serve Jesus, but not follow Him –or at least try to do the former without doing the latter?” For why would Jesus say this: “Whoever serves Me must follow Me.” –? If He had said, “Whoever follows Me must serve Me,” the emphasis would be on serving Him. But here, He is emphasizing the necessity of following Him –which means, I believe: “If you choose to sign up to serve Me, you must continuously obey My instructions. Don’t think you can serve Me any way you wish.” In other words, if we register to serve in Christ’s Kingdom, then He’s the Boss, He’s the One decreeing the assignments, and we are the ones who are to obey –and to keep obeying –faithfully. And that in doing so, we will be “in” Him. For as He says, “and where I am, My servant also will be.”

All my life I have been around people who have served Christ. Many have dedicated their whole lives to His service, the proclamation of the Gospel, the preaching and spreading of God’s Word and ways, and the support of others who also are doing so. They have tilled hard in foreign fields. They have endured sufferings. They have remained faithful at their posts, even when there were few listening to them. They indeed have served Christ. The question remains, though: Do all those who serve Jesus actually follow Him? Or have some run ahead of orders (2 John 1:9) or wandered off on their own trails, and thus made themselves disobedient servants? (Matt. 24:45-51) Because to follow Jesus means to keep in step with His Spirit. And to keep in step with the Spirit, means a person will show themselves to have the fruit of the Spirit, which also means a crucified Self. (Gal. 5:16,22-25) This death to Self is in the context of John 12:26 –see verses 23-25– for Jesus is glorified when we are crucified with Him, that through Self’s death we may produce many seeds –as did He through His death.

Here is what Jesus says in verses 23-26: “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” Now let’s note that the next verse informs us that Jesus is not just referring to His own death: “The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” Now here’s all of verse 26: “Whoever serves Me must follow Me; and where I am, My servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves Me.”

Considering what Jesus says here, may all of us who work for Christ, (who serve Him), be then doing so in obedience –that is, in line with the perfect will of the Father. For this is what it means to “follow Jesus.”

Sincerely,
with love,
Rachel