Roots and Fruit

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It’s the twenty-first century and everybody has an opinion and a platform from which to share it. Which is good because all opinions are equally valid – even if they contradict one another. (Except Christians of course.) How do we know who’s right and what’s wrong? Jesus has some pretty sound advice for us in the Sermon on the Mount. “By their fruit you will recognize them” (Matthew 7:16). He said a good tree will produce good fruit and a bad tree will produce bad fruit. It’s a horticultural fact: the fruit proves the root. The Bible even tells us how to discern the difference between good and bad fruit. Ready to go to the orchard?

Bad fruit is full of false hopes and self-made visions; good fruit offers real hope and visions from God. Bad fruit is heretical, denies the sovereign rule of God, leads many astray, questions the truth, and exploits believers. Good fruit is truthful, submits to God, leads by following Christ, upholds the truth, and builds up believers. Bad fruit is the product of liars who walk in darkness. Good fruit is truthful because it grows in the light. Bad fruit hates fellow believers. Good fruit “loves one another.” Bad fruit denies that Jesus is the Son of God and rejects the truth of His human nature. Good fruit acknowledges that Jesus is fully God and fully man. Bad fruit rejects the message of God and speaks from a worldly viewpoint – and the world listens. Good fruit listens to God, speaks from His point of view, and those who love God listen. John summed it all up this way: “This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God; nor is anyone who does not love his brother” (1 John 3:10). Righteousness and love are the good fruit. You can trust that tree. You can trust that person.

When it comes to your faith life you need to be certain the messages you are hearing are right and true. You need to be sure you are chewing on good fruit that comes from good trees. Who is feeding your mind and heart? Beloved, you need to be a fruit inspector.

Godly People in an Ungodly World

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“Be wise about what is good and innocent about what is evil” (Romans 16:19). Turn on the television, open a newspaper, log onto the internet and you are face-to-face with evil. You don’t even have to look for it; it’s on roadside billboards, flashed in commercials, and reported daily in the news. Satan rules the world – for now. Yet believers are called to live godly lives in an ungodly world. How?

Jesus said, “Be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16). I love this verse and the two contrasting words. “Shrewd” means “wise, sensible” and comes from “thinking and understanding.” Simply put, we need to think, then make a wise determination. Let’s be honest – we can become mentally and spiritually lazy – accepting as truth whatever we are told. If you don’t believe me, spend a day on Facebook. We need to be discerning about everything our minds take in. Because we must live in this world, Jesus tells us to “think and come to a sensible conclusion.”

In contrast to being shrewd, Jesus commands us to be innocent which means pure, not mixed with evil. His command here is to not allow ourselves to be mixed up with the world’s philosophies and ideas; to not allow them to be poured into our minds and hearts. In the Old Testament, the people of Israel tried to compromise with the Lord and the world, believing that they could dabble in paganism as long as they continued to also follow the sacrificial Law of God. They “poured” paganism into with their worship of God Almighty, and in their dulled minds, believed they were still being obedient to the Lord. Despite what the bumper sticker claims, God’s people cannot “coexist” with ungodliness. It didn’t work for Israel and it won’t work for you and me.

We must let the Word of God be the determining factor in everything we do and say and think. The world will not tell you the truth. The Word will never tell you a lie. Beloved, be wise – consider everything through the lens of Scripture. It will never steer you wrong. Be innocent – keep your mind and heart pure from the world’s philosophies and attitudes. It might help to turn off the T.V., put down the newspaper, and log off of the internet. That’s how we live “in the world,” but not “of the world” (John 17:15-16).

Just One Minute of Sin

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I love a good, hot shower. One recent chilly morning as I was getting ready to go to work, I thought, “I’ll just crank up the hot water and stay for a minute.” It felt so good! The next thing I knew I had stayed for almost 10 minutes. I just couldn’t bear to give it up.

Sin is like that. It beckons us with promises of how good we will feel. We vow to ourselves, “I’ll only stay a minute.” That’s when Satan sets his hook in us and that minute turns into ten minutes, a day, a week . . . a lifetime. We just can’t bear to give it up. I don’t recall who said it but it’s so true, “Sin will take you farther than you meant to go, keep you longer than you meant to stay, and cost you more than you meant to pay.” I know this is true from personal experience, and I’m not just talking about a hot shower.

James described the step-by-step progression of sin: “Each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death” (James 1:14-15). The key word in this passage is desire. The desire for sin is already present in us; Satan knows that it and he tailors the temptation to meet our desire. All it takes is one look in the direction of that sin and we are captivated and captured.

No, that moment of pleasure is not worth the chains that remain. You and I must get serious about sin. It is not something we can play around with, even for a brief moment. We must run away from temptation the moment it raises its enticing head. And we must make God the desire of our hearts. Because when you love God with all your heart, there is no room left to desire sin.  Beloved, don’t give sin any place in your life, not for even a minute.

REPENT! THE END IS NEAR!

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He stood on the corner of a busy intersection in Tallahassee holding signs that read: “REPENT! THE END IS NEAR!” “JESUS IS COMING AGAIN! ARE YOU READY?” People gave him the middle finger salute of ridicule.  I doubted that his methods were very effective, but I knew that he was not wrong. The end is near. Jesus is coming back. Soon. But this has been said in every generation since the Apostle’s day. Before the dust had settled at the empty tomb, Peter and Paul were watching the eastern skies. Maybe I’ve just become very cynical in my “old age,” but I believe the signs are so prevalent that we really are in the last days.

Let’s consider Paul’s words in the context of our world today: “Mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves (the ‘selfie’ generation), lovers of money (how high did the latest lottery get?), boastful, proud (entertainers and athletes), abusive (people punching out random strangers), disobedient to their parents (ever raised a teenager?), ungrateful (see the previous), unholy (sexual deviants in church leadership), without love (mass shootings), unforgiving (how high is the divorce rate?), slanderous (politics in general), without self-control (how high is the illegitimate birthrate?), brutal (Antifa), not lovers of the good (Washington, D.C.), treacherous (I refer you back to politics), rash (daily shootings), conceited, (refer back to boastful and proud ), lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God (pretty much the world in general), having a form of godliness but denying its power (the Western church). ” (2 Timothy 3:1-5, adapted).

Globally many things are coming together according to prophetic Scriptures of the end. Nationally, evil rules the day from the highest office in the land to the decisions of the local school board. Jesus spoke of the end of the age with an increase in war, natural disasters, famine, persecution of Christians, unholiness in holy places, and an increase of wickedness and a decrease of love. If you don’t recognize these things in the world today, you need to put down your phone.

But there is still time – at least a moment – before the end.

Do you know Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior?

If Jesus is your Lord and Savior, are you spreading the gospel?

Beloved, it is time to repent because the end is near. Jesus is coming back. Are you ready?

Real Love

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This is the week building up to Valentine’s Day, and I plan to write about love all week. Not sappy, “Hallmark movie” love, but the love that is true and perfect and eternal.

I’m intrigued by a verse in 1 John: “Everyone who loves the Father loves His child as well. This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and caring out His commands” (5:1-2).  I expected that John would have said “This is how we know that we love the children of God: by caring for one another, meeting needs, sharing the blessings of God, etc.” But he says that love for one another is revealed in our love for God and our obedience to His commands. That seems strange until we realize that love for God will always manifest itself in love for people. A heart that loves God will love what God loves.

The heart and soul of true love—of agape love­—is the love of God. This is perfect love (1 John 4:18). And it is nothing like the “love” this world desires. In our culture today, “love” means “anything goes.” Love, in the modern sense, is unrestrained permissiveness. If I claim to love you, I should never stand in the way of you fulfilling your desires. But what if I know that your desires are self-destructive? If my granddaughter desires to run into the middle of the street (and she does), does love demand that I allow her to do so? No! Because grandmother love has a greater demand: that I do what is in Joy’s best interest. So even though it made her very angry, I stopped her before she reached the end of our driveway.  Should I be any less concerned when I see someone blindly following the whims of this sin-sick world into self-destruction? Real love cares enough to say “This will destroy you.” Paul said that love “always protects” (1 Corinthians 13:7). Is it protective to say, “Because I love you, I approve of your sinful choices.”? Real love doesn’t turn a blind eye to sin.

God is the source of real love. 1 John 4:7 says, “Let us love one another, for love comes from God. Real love is holy love. And because He is the definition of love, anything outside of God is not love. Beloved, it is time for us to speak the truth in love while we also speak the truth about love.

Out With the Old Man (and His Mouth)

“Who in the Bible do you most identify with?” the teacher asked. Most of the class said they are most like Peter, the brash, impulsive, reckless disciple.  In many ways, I think I am as well. In fact, I identify with several Bible characters for a variety of reasons, but I truly believe I am most like Paul in at least one way: Paul was under the grace of God but he still struggled with sin. He said, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do” (Romans 7:15). In that statement, he perfectly expressed the battle within me of the old (wo)man and the new. Though I am a new creation in Christ, the old me who lived for sin and self is still hanging around. That showed itself very clearly this week.

A few nights ago I had rocked my granddaughter to sleep and was carrying her to her bed when she shifted in my arms and whacked her head against my shoulder – the one I had surgery on just a few weeks ago. The expression that came out of my mouth was very un-Christlike – very much like the old man. The Holy Spirit quickly reminded me of Jesus’ words in Matthew 15:18: “The things that come out of the mouth come from the heart.” In other words, there is still some ungodly, impure stuff in my heart. Mind you, I am careful with my words  But it’s at my most unguarded moments – when I respond out of fatigue, pain, or raw emotion – that the ugly stuff comes out of my mouth. But the answer is not just watching what I say – the issue is much deeper than that.

My prayer since that night has been David’s prayer: “Create in me a pure heart, O God” (Psalm 51:10). Watching my mouth only masks the root of the problem. I need God to take my impure heart of stone and replace it with a pure, soft heart so that I speak worthy words at all times, especially when my guard is down.  My desire in those moments is that when I “open my lips, my mouth will declare God’s praise” (51:15). Even when pain rocks my body and my life.

Beloved, what do your unguarded moments reveal about your heart?

But I Like My Sin

“I know the Bible says this desire is wrong, but why do I have to give it up?  Doesn’t God want me to be happy?”  Yes. And no. Happy in God’s vocabulary isn’t the same as our 21st-century “it’s all about me” understanding. In the Bible, the word “happy” is interchangeable with the word “blessed.” Happiness is a blessing from God. It is not something you can attain from circumstances, pleasures, or emotions. And especially not from sin.

In the last half-century, the church has flung the doors wide open and said, “You don’t have to give up anything – just come sing a few songs and sip some coffee and God will make you happy.” That is nothing less than an outright lie. Before you throw your Bible at me – yes, God accepts us as we are, but His purpose in accepting us is to conform us into the image of His Son (Rom. 8:29).  One who has no love for sin. A more conservative answer is, “You don’t have to give up your sinful desire, just don’t act on it.” It is an attempt to live in the tension between the holiness of God and your flesh. Two things will happen:  you will withhold the most important part of yourself – your heart – from God, and you will eventually give up the pretense.

Here’s the deal, God isn’t after your cooperation, He’s after the desire of your heart.  I Chronicles 28:9 says, “The Lord searches every heart and understands every desire and every thought.”  He knows when your outward obedience masks a heart that still yearns for sin. Friend, the reason you and I fall back into sin over and over again is that we hold on to those fleshly, sinful, evil urges and don’t make Him the complete desire of our heart  That’s what the Bible calls “cherishing sin (Psalm 66:18).  It’s also called a divided heart.  And you can’t survive with less than a whole heart – physically or spiritually. Believe me when I tell you God is stomping all over my toes right now.

Beloved, you may think the sin you desire so much will make you happy, but that’s a lie. When God is your heart’s greatest desire sin cannot compare. When your heart delights in Him He will bless you. That’s true happiness.  

God Bless America

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For weeks leading up to the election, I prayed. I didn’t pray for President Trump to win. I didn’t pray for Biden to win. I prayed for God’s will to be done in America. Days after the voting ended we still don’t know whom the President of the United States is going to be in January 2021. To the consternation of the majority of Christians, it appears that Biden will take this election. I have heard the theories of stolen votes and impropriety by the Democratic Party. I’ve also seen and heard all the hand-wringing about the destruction of religious liberty under a Biden/Harris (or Harris/???) administration. That is a very real possibility. Why would God allow that to happen? Because it may very well be the best thing for His Church.

Acts tells the story of the birth and growth of Jesus’ Church. It wasn’t smooth sailing for the first-century Christians. Acts 7:54-60 tells the story of the stoning of Stephen, the first martyr of the Christian faith. Immediately afterward, “A great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria” (Acts 8:1).  God’s faithful people were running for their lives. Again, we ask, why would He allow that to happen? Because “Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went” (Acts 8:4). It was the persecution of the church that allowed the Christian faith to spread across the world.

What is God’s will? Is it the preservation of the United States of America? Or the preservation of His people, the Church? Around the world and throughout human history, the church has experienced the most growth – not just numbers, but growth in faith and strength – where she is being persecuted. Where the church was accepted and approved, the numbers may have increased, but the quality of faith suffered. Nothing spells the downfall of Christianity more than popular acceptance. This nation was founded largely by Christian men on Judeo-Christian values. But this nation is not a Christian nation and has not been for a very long time. Church membership was expected for generations, and like the church under Constantine, the moral value diminished greatly. I believe with all my heart that the church will undergo persecution in the coming days. And it will be a purifying fire. Those whose hearts are not devoted to the Lord will flee to save their skins. Those who remain will be the unshakable core that God will preserve and strengthen. Church buildings may be shuttered, but the Church will be healthier than ever. Beloved, do not fear what is to come. God is at work, and His work never fails.

What’s the Desire of Your Heart?

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A couple of years ago in the Seedbed Daily Text, One of my spiritual mentors, J.D. Walt, said “Too often my sin is a secret lover rather than a mortal enemy.”

Mind. Blown. Heart. Convicted.

Sin and holiness are often at odds in my heart, and if I’m being honest, sin is often my heart’s desire. It is like an old friend who knows to use the “back entrance” to my heart because that door is never locked. And sin has access to my heart because I haven’t lost my desire for it. I know the only way to eradicate sin is to desire God more than I desire that sin. It is my desire that directs my actions and behaviors and my life.

James said it like this: Each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed.  After desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth do death” (1:14-15).  So the root of my sin problem is a deeply-rooted desire-problem. There is much work to do in my heart, where my desires grow.

But is it possible for me to change my desires? Yes and no. Yes because what I expose myself to feeds my desires. Music, T.V., movies, books, magazines, the internet, conversations, and, yes, even relationships. And no because God has to do a root-level work in me to redirect the desires of my heart. Transformation is the work of the Holy Spirit. My part is to seek it, to ask for it, and to cooperate with it. Which might just mean locking that back door and handing Him the key.

But wait – I’m going to correct myself. I said that the only way to eradicate sin is to desire God more than I desire sin. That’s not quite right. Truly, the only way to eradicate sin is to desire God instead of desiring sin. It’s not a competition between who gets the greater portion of my heart. It is full surrender.

Did God Really Say . . .?

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“Did God really say . . .” (Gen. 3:1)

Why do I have so much trouble driving the speed limit? The speed limit is 70 MPH – so I go 75 or 80. It’s 55 on my way to work, so I set my cruise for 62. Oh, don’t you judge me – you’re doing it too. Some of you are flying past me like we’re on a NASCAR racetrack. What makes us want to try the boundaries?

I recently wrote a paper on Genesis 3:1-7, the account of the fall of humanity. You know the story, perfectly innocent couple in a perfect garden home enjoying wondrous fruits – until a sneaky, lying snake approaches the woman. “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden?” The woman responded, albeit not entirely truthful and he comes back with, “You will not surely die . . .” (Gen. 3:4). There is an interesting play in the serpent’s words in verses 1 and 4. The word “really” (‘ap) is an adverb that essentially asks the question: “Is it even so that God hath said?”[1] Combined with the serpent’s rejection of the consequences of eating the fruit, it appears that in verse 1 the serpent was not asking Eve, “Did God truly speak these words?” but rather, “Do you think God meant what he said?” That’s why I push the speed limit – I don’t think they are serious about it. One can almost see the serpent wave his hand with a “Pshaw – You will not surely die!” The serpent was casting doubt in Eve’s mind about God’s truthfulness. Does He really mean it? Will He do what He claimed He would do?

That is one of the enemy’s favorite tools – causing us to doubt God’s integrity – whether it is questioning God’s willingness to punish sin or His willingness to save us, protect us, provide for us, and deliver us. And it has infiltrated the church. “No, God won’t punish this wicked desire of yours, He is all love, love, love!” Paul said we must become wise about the devil’s schemes. Beloved, In case you ever wondered – you can absolutely, 100 % trust what God says – about punishment and blessings. The devil is a liar.

[1]. “Lexicon :: Strong’s H637 – ‘aph,” Blue Letter Bible, Accessed September 19, 2020, https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=H637&t=NIV