Examination – Appearances Or Fruit?

Abide in me, and I in you.
As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine;
so neither can ye, except ye abide in me.

I am the vine, ye are the branches:
He that abideth in me, and I in him,
the same beareth much fruit:
for apart from me ye can do nothing.

(John 15:4-5 ASV)

Jesus’ words search me in various ways here:

As one branch connected to the Vine, I desire to look good, with lots of healthy green leaves. But God is not concerned with looks. He did not plant the Vine for decoration but for fruit. Am I concerned with appearances, or the goal at hand?

Assuming I desire fruit, why do I desire it? The Father placed me in Christ so that I would bear much fruit for Him. Is my desire to satisfy myself or get the admiration of others, or is it purely to satisfy God?

Twice Jesus stated the absolute necessity of abiding in Him to produce fruit. I can do nothing without Him. But do I really believe this? How essential do I view my connection to Christ for hour-by-hour living?

Awareness of my need to abide in Christ is good, but am I really abiding in Him? It is very easy to fool myself here. Abiding in Christ is not just listening to Him or agreeing with Him but doing what He says. Do I do what He says?

Examination – Sowing To My Flesh Or The Spirit?

Be not deceived;
God is not mocked:
for whatsoever a man soweth,
that shall he also reap

(Galatians 6:7 ASV)

As any farmer knows, if you want to harvest wheat, you need to sow wheat. You can’t sow one thing and expect something else to crop up. This God-given law has been in effect since the beginning of creation and it can’t be circumvented.

For he that soweth unto his own flesh
shall of the flesh reap corruption;
but he that soweth unto the Spirit
shall of the Spirit reap eternal life

(Galatians 6:8 ASV)

Another sure God-given law is presented in this passage. I can sow to my flesh, or I can sow to the Holy Spirit. What I sow to determines what I reap. It matters not what I intend to reap or desire to reap or think I will reap. If I sow to the flesh (i.e. my desires) I will reap corruption. If I sow to the Spirit (i.e. His desires), I will reap eternal life (which is the kind of life, not just the length). I believe there is no way around this law; it is just as sure as the law the farmer relies on.

When it comes down to it, sowing to the flesh is no different than sowing thorns. So why do I still sow to my flesh at times? I don’t know. I may do many good things for the right reasons, but if I also cater to my fleshly desires, why should I expect a good harvest?

Thorns are whatever I do that hinders the life and work of the Holy Spirit in me, and they must be dealt with right away. Thorns start out seemly innocent enough, but as time goes on they grow harder and become more entrenched – more difficult and painful to pull up. I must pull them up anyway by denying myself in those areas that grieve the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 4:30). And I must sow to the Spirit instead.

Examination – Thorns Or Fruit?

And others fell upon the thorns;
and the thorns grew up and choked them…

this is he that heareth the word;
and the care of the world,
and the deceitfulness of riches,
choke the word,
and he becometh unfruitful.

(Matthew 13:7,22 ASV)

These words of Jesus are frequently on my mind. The “cares of the world” and the “deceitfulness of riches” are the things that the world is concerned about: food, clothing, family, employment, a good retirement, entertainment, comfort, pleasure, happiness. These are not evil in themselves, but they become evil when they form the basis of my goals, desires and motivations. This happens all too often, and when it does, Jesus ends up taking the backseat in my life. Then I find it more difficult to hear Him speak to me. This hinders my growth in Christ to the point where it becomes impossible to bear fruit.

The fruit that love of the world prevents is the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:16-24), which is headed up with love. So love of the world prevents the love of the Spirit. If I allow the world to attract me, I shouldn’t wonder that I’m not making progress in loving my enemies, growing in patience towards those who irritate me, growing in my relationship with the Lord, and so on.

What thorns have I allowed, and even now am allowing and nurturing, in my life? (It’s time to do an inventory!) The cares of the world and deceitfulness of riches are the number one cause for stunted spiritual growth. God only knows how much spiritual fruit I’ve already dropped prematurely due to the thorns in my life!

Examination – Love Of The World Or The Father?

Love not the world,
neither the things that are in the world.
If any man love the world,
the love of the Father is not in him.

(1 John 2:15 ASV)

I like to think I don’t love the world. But when it comes down to specifics, there are some things in the world I do find attractive and pleasing: certain foods, books, songs, movies, TV shows, philosophies, … rollercoasters.

But Jesus presented an exclusive choice. I can either love the world, or I can love God. I can’t do both. I don’t even have the option of loving the world less than God. I am not to love the world at all. (I’m talking love here, not the mere use of the world’s things. We can’t isolate ourselves from the world. We have to be in the world, but not of it. …just as Jesus was.)

Of course, it’s easy to say “I love God and not the world”, but what do my actions show? What kinds of thoughts do I find pleasing? What motivates me? If I examine myself according to my thoughts and actions, will I find I love the Father or hate Him?

The Examination Of The Scriptures

Search me, O God, and know my heart:
Try me, and know my thoughts;

And see if there be any wicked way in me,
And lead me in the way everlasting.

(Psalm 139:23-24 ASV)

It is good to regularly take time to examine the Bible, but it is far better to let the Bible take time to regularly examine us. The former gives us knowledge of the scriptures that can puff us up. The later gives us knowledge of ourselves that humbles us, opening the door to repentance and the building-up that is of God. The former happens as we read and study the scriptures. The later happens afterwards as we take time to meditate on what we have read and studied.

The Bible is not a religious textbook or doctrinal repository. It is the word of God: living, active, powerful. It has the power to probe our minds, our hearts, our inmost being (Hebrews 4:12). But the benefit is only experienced by those who submit to its scrutiny

This examination of the scriptures is usually painful. Knowing this, I don’t let God’s word examine me as often as I should. I expect this is due to fear of what it will reveal. A quote from The Neverending Story comes to mind:

“Confronted by their true selves, most men run away, screaming!”

I already know there’s bad stuff deep inside me, but I’m comfortable keeping this knowledge as general or theoretical as can be. I don’t want to be confronted with the specifics. However, avoiding the doctor for fear of his diagnosis of cancer will do serious harm if there really is cancer. There can be no cure without there first being a diagnosis.

Regardless of how God’s word makes me feel, it is always a good thing to submit to His probing of the deeper recesses of my heart. How else can those fleshly strongholds I’m only vaguely aware of be fully revealed in all their ugliness and torn down? It is those very areas that have hindered my walk with the Lord since I’ve known Him. Why should I let them continue to hinder God’s will for me?

In the following posts I’d like to share a few of these painful, probing scripture passages that have been on my mind lately. You will probably find them very familiar and not painful at all, especially if you just give them a quick read-through and forget about them. But the more I let them examine me, the clearer I see the true condition of my heart. I find myself becoming more desperate for the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit to work in me God’s cure.

Another relevant post: Two Signposts for Diagnosing Your Heart (michaelkelleyministries.com)

The Greater Miracle

(I’ll be posting the full version of this later.)

Seeing their faith, he said to him, “Man, your sins are forgiven you.”

– Luke 5:20 (WEB)

There were two miracles when the paralytic was lowered through the roof into the room where Jesus was teaching. One was obvious: the man was healed of his paralysis. He took up his bed in full view of everyone and went home. The second was not obvious. Nobody in the crowd noticed it. But it was a far greater miracle. The man’s sins were forgiven.

Here are four reasons why forgiveness of sins is a greater miracle than any physical healing:

Forgiveness is eternal. If you get healed physically, it’s a great thing. But that healing is only temporary. It only affects your life here on earth. If you get the use of your legs back, you still might having something else happen to you later on. You could go blind, get cancer, or lose your mind. Even if you retain your health for the rest of your life, you’re still going to die anyway and face the judgment. But forgiveness of sins (not just “a” sin but all sins) is much better. It is eternal. It is a miracle for which the consequences continue long after death into eternity.

Another thing that sets forgiveness of sins apart from other miracles is with our relationships. Forgiveness restores our relationship with God. Physical healing can restore relationships with our fellow man. For example, those Jesus healed of leprosy no longer had to live apart from the rest of society, and the healed paralytic could go for walks with his friends. But forgiveness of sins restores man’s relationship with God. Sin is like a spiritual leprosy. In sin we have to live apart from God because we are “unclean”. But when God removes our sin and cleans us up, we have fellowship with Him, and He with us. That is why Jesus could say, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” And that is why the Holy Spirit can dwell in us.

Third, the scriptures mention only one emotion in heaven over what happens down here on earth. We read nothing about heaven’s response when Jesus raised the dead or gave sight to the blind. But we are told there is more joy in heaven over one repenting sinner than over 99 that don’t repent. The angels rejoice when one sinner repents and receives forgiveness of sins! Forgiveness brings more joy to heaven. I think that goes to show what heaven thinks is more important. (True, Luke 15:7 doesn’t mention forgiveness, but it is implied. Why would the angels rejoice over a repentant sinner if he’s going to go to hell anyway?)

Once more thing that makes forgiveness a greater miracle: We all need it. Not all of us need our sight or hearing restored, or cancer removed, but we’re all sinners with the need for God’s forgiveness and He offers it freely to anyone who asks. Jesus fed thousands of people at one time, and they eventually got hungry again. But millions have received God’s forgiveness, which lasts for eternity!

Can you think of other reasons why forgiveness is a greater miracle?

Idolizing God

During the years Israel was in Egypt, they all but forgot Yahweh. I’m sure they heard stories of how God appeared to their forefathers in the distant past, and how He made promises to bless and multiply them. But 400 years of silence had turned all that into legends. When God appeared in a burning bush, Moses had to ask His name so he could tell his people which diety was going to deliver them.

Then God revealed Himself to His people by delivering them from their oppressors through great and mighty works. There were the plagues, the death of the first-born, the parting of the sea, the water from the rock, the manna and the quail. By the time the children of Israel reached Sinai, they knew a lot about God from what He did. There was no mistaking Who did all of these amazing things. And yet they didn’t know Him.

Moses went up the mountain to receive the Law, and by the time he came down, the people had made an idol in the form of a golden calf. This wasn’t any idol. According to Aaron, this was supposed to be what Yahweh looked like.

He received what they handed him, and fashioned it with an engraving tool, and made it a molten calf; and they said, “These are your gods, Israel, which brought you up out of the land of Egypt.”

– Exodus 32:4

Obviously, after all they experienced, Aaron wasn’t saying some other god saved them out of Egypt. They knew it was Yahweh. They were first-hand witnesses. And yet, they got it all wrong on the nature of their God.

One definition of an idol I hear today is “anything that takes the place of God in your life”. This is a good definition, but it is not the only one. As this account shows, an idol can also be any false or incomplete (one-sided) representation of the one, true God. I think even as believers, we probably idolize God to some degree or another in this way without knowing it.

None of us can fully comprehend what God is like. Pick any one of His attributes (i.e. omniscience, omnipresence, holiness, love, etc.), make it your life’s work to study that attribute, and you will only barely scratch the surface in understanding Him in that way. Yet, even if you could comprehend one attribute of God, you would idolize Him if you ignored the other attributes. God is love, but He is not only love. God is holy, but He is not only holy. God is good, but He is not only good. It is a deceptive and dangerous thing to focus on only some of God’s attributes while ignoring His others.

I encourage you to seek to know God in all His fullness. Don’t focus on one or two of your favorites sides of God’s character and nature. Know your whole God, not just a subset. Avoid making an idol of Him.

Derailing God’s Purpose?

…you will conceive and give birth to a son. You must never cut his hair, because the boy will be a Nazirite to God from birth, and he will begin to save Israel from the power of the Philistines.

– Judges 13:5 (HCSB)

Then his brothers and his father’s family came down, carried him back, and buried him between Zorah and Eshtaol in the tomb of his father Manoah. So he judged Israel 20 years.

– Judges 16:31 (HCSB)

Sandwiched between these two verses is the story of the life of Samson. It began with a promise that God would use him to start to deliver the Israelites from their enemies, and it ended with the destruction of the rulers of the Philistines after having judged Israel for 20 years.

Samson was a miracle child, given to Manoah and his barren wife. He was to be holy, a Nazarite, dedicated to the Lord all the days of his life. His physical strength, supernaturally given to him by the Lord, was tied to one aspect of his dedication: his hair was to remain uncut.

According to Numbers 6:1-21, a Nazarite was someone who made a special promise to the Lord, and lived for a time in a manner that set himself apart to God. He (or she) could not eat or drink anything of the fruit of the grape vine. He could not come near a corpse, and he had to let his hair grow the entire time of his separation. When the term of his vow was complete, he would shave off all the hair of his body, which would then be offered as a burnt offering, symbolizing the giving over of that period of his life to the Lord. If something happened to interrupt the vow, such as inadvertant contact with a dead body, then the Nazarite’s hair would have to be shaved off, a sin offering and burnt offering made, and the time of the vow started over again from scratch. (Think about the Philistines cutting of Samson’s hair in light of this.)

As a Nazarite, Samson was unusual. He was born into the condition involuntarily – he made no vow, and the term of his separation was for his entire life. Considering how he lived, I wonder if he despised being set apart from birth.

Samson was to live in a manner holy to the Lord – his strength depended on it. And yet, in some ways he was worse than the countrymen he was intended to save. He lived for his own pleasure. He ate honey out of a lion’s corpse. He married a Philistine woman against the advice of his parents. He slept with a prostitute. He let another Philistine woman seduce him into compromising the secret of his strength. Samson lived a very unholy life. It appeared that God’s purpose for Samson had been derailed. And yet, in spite of Samson’s failure, God’s purpose was fulfilled – not just at the end, but throughout his whole life.

We are told in Judges 14:4 that it was of God that Samson demanded to have a Philistine woman as wife. God was “seeking an occasion against the Philistines” – to cause them trouble. The honey incident was an integral part of God’s plan, for it formed the basis of the riddle Samson gave to his enemies, eventually leading to his killing 30 Philistine men under the Spirit of the Lord (Judges 14:19), then causing more trouble for them throughout the next chapter.

Most of the things Samson did were very wrong, and yet God still worked through him to accomplish His purposes. More than that, God knew the kind of life Samson would live, and yet He still chose him from the beginning. God used Samson in spite of his weaknesses.

Samson was not unique. What I learn from this story and others is the absolute surity of God fulfilling His purposes, even though He uses the most imperfect people. Just think about the weaknesses of the patriarchs, or even Jonah. Nothing they did thwarted God’s plan to the slightest degree.

Bringing this truth forward to the present, I know that there is nothing I can do to screw up whatever purposes God has planned for me. He always gets His way. I may suffer the consequences of my sins, and others may suffer wrongly for my sins, but no matter what I do, I can’t derail God’s purpose.

When Repentance Happens

It really bothers me when I see no results after putting a lot of time and effort into something. As an electronics technician, I have to troubleshoot various electronic equipment problems. I enjoy doing this so long as I make some kind of headway. But if I spend weeks working on an especially stubborn problem with little or no progress, I get frustrated as I run out of ideas and energy.

Sometimes I forget that success, in any area of life, belongs to the Lord.

One of the things many pastors desire to see for their communities and congregations is people coming to repentance. Ceasing from sin, and humble submission toward God are great things to see, and very beneficial to the church as a whole. But many pastors get frustrated when they see little or no results after investing much time and effort into preaching repentance. Instead of fruit, the people get hardened to the message, and the pastor gets burned out and depressed.

Lately, I’ve been mulling over some examples of repentance in the Bible, thinking about the events that led to the change of heart. I’ve discovered that sometimes repentance happened seemingly out of the blue. A chief tax-collector repented after Jesus invited Himself over for dinner at his house. A prostitute showed up at a Pharisee’s house ready to wash Jesus’ feet with her tears. And Peter was suddenly convicted of sin in response to an unexpected blessing…

When he {Jesus} had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and lower your nets for a catch.”

Simon answered, “Master, we worked hard all night and caught nothing! But at your word I will lower the nets.”

The fishermen were cleaning their nets after a sleepless and fruitless night. They were fatigued and disappointed, and looked forward to just going home and getting some rest. But Jesus had another idea: “Put out into the deep water and lower your nets for a catch.” Exhausted, that was the last thing they wanted to hear.

But even though they had no hope for success, Peter decided to humor his Lord to prove the fish were elsewhere. But when he did, the unexpected happened!

When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets started to tear. So they motioned to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they were about to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!”

– Luke 5:4-8 (NET)

Suddenly, it seemed the sea was full of fish! As the nets filled, the men forgot their fatigue. They whooped it up, while straining with all their might to bring the catch into the boats. Jesus didn’t just provide an adequate haul of fish, but an overabundance of fish – to the utter limit of what both boats would carry. All of the fishermen rejoiced… except Simon. He had a different reaction. He fell at Jesus’ feet and said, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, Lord!

Now this is not the reaction I would have expected. Of all the times Peter could have been convicted of sin, why did it happen at this time?

As much as preachers and evangelists would like, most people don’t truly repent when called to. It does happen sometimes, but not that often. Job repented (Job 42:6), but not because God told him to. Isaiah repented, even though nobody said, “You are a sinner!” (Isaiah 6:5). Even the prodigal son didn’t have a change of heart due to an encounter with the message of repentance.

Not that preaching repentance is unnecessary. I believe it’s very necessary. The way I see it, preaching the message of repentance is like sowing seed. You scatter the seed everywhere, but you shouldn’t expect a harvest right away. Instead, after scattering the seed, you let it sit for a while. The message needs to remain undisturbed for a time so it can sink in. You can carefully water the seed or even sow more, but after sowing, you don’t plow the soil (i.e. aggressively push for a decision), otherwise you have no reason to expect any harvest!

The important thing to remember is that God is in control of the harvest. He is the One who grants repentance (Acts 5:31, 11:18, 2 Corinthians 7:10, 2 Timothy 2:25, Ezekiel 36:26). It happens when God brings about some circumstance that triggers germination of the seed that was sown earlier. That circumstance is supernaturally engineered to bring the message from the head to the heart. It may not make sense to us, but it doesn’t have to.

In Peter’s case, the seed was sown in his life through the message he heard from John the Baptist and his own Master: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” Jesus engineered the miraculous catch of fish as the trigger for the message to cut to Peter’s heart. I can’t explain how this event had such a powerful effect on one disciple, not on the others. But I do know God knows what He is doing. He accomplishes what He sets out to do.

Sow the seed, but rely on God for the harvest. Only He can open the eyes and ears of the lost.