Being Fruitful

When we become followers of Jesus he asks us to produce good fruit. Paul in Philippians 1:22 says, “Yet if I live, that means fruitful service for Christ.”

 So what is it that Jesus and Paul want from our lives?

What does it mean to be fruitful?

Are we living up to the standards that Jesus requires of us?

I believe there are three things to consider when God requires us to live a fruitful life.

  • Transforming your own Character
  • Discipling new believers
  • Being salt and light in all aspects of our life
When we come into a life changing relationship with Jesus, the expectation is for our life to actually change. Jesus does not want us to remain the same old person, stuck and unable or unwilling to change our heart soul and mind. When we allow the Holy Spirit to soak our whole being, then our character naturally produces what the bible calls the ‘Fruits of the Spirit,’ mentioned in  Galatians 5. 
It is vital that we produce good fruit within ourselves, before we have the right to call ourselves disciples of Jesus.  When we live out the new character traits of the fruits of the spirit such as love, joy peace and gentleness, then others around us will feel the presence of Jesus and see him lived out in our everyday lives.
Are the Fruits of the Spirit lived out at home with your wife and children?
Are the Fruits of the Spirit lived out in the workplace or at school or college
Are the Fruits of the Spirit lived out whilst queuing up in the supermarket
Do we stand out from the crowd because we are producing good fruit?
When we allow God to do his life saving character change within us, then we do everything in our power to help others receive this new fruit for their lives. When we produce good fruit within ourselves, it will produce good fruit in others around us.
Our lives must be all about fruitful service to Christ. This one little statement is so helpful for us to remain focused on being salt and light. Everything we do is not for our glory but for the glory of Christ. When you feel like giving up or find it hard to change, think of Jesus, the one who died for you. Everything is for him. Your new character is for him. Your work is for him. Your new life is for him.

When we focus on Jesus we produce a life that reflects the Fruits of the Spirit

 

Being fruitful is a command from God. However it is a command that will transform our lives to be more like Jesus. It is also a command that will ensure that we are true followers of Christ building up his Kingdom here on earth.

The Key to Success?

What type of year has 2011 been for you?

How would you measure your achievements?

What have been your disappointments?

What things do you need to change for 2012?

How do we unlock our mind to find the real meaning of success?

Its the time of year when I reflect on what I have achieved over the last 12 months. Now each one of us would have  different thoughts on what achievement and success really mean. It could mean getting a promotion at work.  Earning more money. Moving into a bigger and better home. Gaining further qualifications. Flying off to exotic locations for the first time. Sometimes we cannot avoid defining success, by the enormity of the achievement. We can easily lose sight of how Jesus views success.

 When we define success by the world’s standards we lose sight of real success by Jesus’ standards

When I first look back at 2011 with the world’s eyes, I can easily make the assumption that I have achieved nothing and therefore wasted another year of my life. Thankfully God looks at success differently. Jesus says “I came to be servant to all.” He also said, “When you serve the least of these brothers or sisters, you are serving me.” God ultimately sacrificed his only Son, so we may be forgiven and gain a new life.  These commands and sacrificial living takes us away from ‘Me Success’ to ‘Helping others find success.’

When we look at the past year with different eyes, Jesus eyes, success looks very different. When we serve our friends with a humble heart. When we spend time with someone going through difficulties. Praising someone who never receives praise. Encouraging someone who never feels encouraged. Buying a present to cheer someone up. Sharing a kind word to lift someone’s spirits. Being there when someone feels lonely.

We find success when we focus our lives on others

However our motivation should never be about success. It should always be motivated because of the love we have for our God and our neighbour. But when we look at success with different eyes, it helps us to focus on how Jesus lived. When we can do this life has new meaning.

So as we move into 2012 do not be caught up in what the world says about success, but instead focus on the success of living a life that Jesus asks us to live. 

 

The G-Word

What can the G-word be that is so important that I need to write about it today? Well it is inspired by a beautiful story from Luke 7:36-50. The word is GRATITUDE which is seen in all it’s glory by the prostitute who washed Jesus’ feet with expensive perfume. How grateful are we to the one who paid the ultimate price on the cross and forgave us of our sins? As a consequence of this ultimate sacrifice, do we show our gratitude by honouring the so called outcasts in our society the way Jesus did? Well for inspiration look no further than the encounter between Jesus and this immoral woman.

Jesus has been invited as an honoured guest to Simon’s house, who we are told was a religious leader. However Jesus is far from being honoured; in fact he has been shown the most disrespect a man could ever be shown, due to Simon’s apathy towards his guest. In those days an honoured guest, such as Jesus, who was known as a Rabbi, would normally have been greeted with a kiss on the cheek. As an honoured guest Jesus did not receive anointing of olive oil on his head. As an honoured guest Jesus did not receive any water to wash the dust off his feet. All these three things would normally be afforded to such guests but Simon offered absolutely no honour or respect to Jesus. People in the room would have seen this and seen that Jesus was ridiculed in public.

However Jesus did not come to play games of etiquette with the righteous and proud. He came to give life to the vulnerable and humble. Do we play games to look good in certain circumstances at the expense of caring and showing a deep love to those who are on the outside of our so called ring of influence?

The immoral woman then enters the room. This would have been a massive deal for her. Being a prostitute and probably being well known in the town, it would have been unheard of for any man to have any contact with this woman; especially if they wanted to avoid being defiled by her sin. What she does next is heartbreaking. She kneels down at Jesus’ feet and kisses them. She then dares to look into Jesus’s eyes. This is the first time that she has loooked into someone’s eyes for may years; she has felt disgraced, shameful and dirty. This time instead of Judgement and ridicule, she sees for the first time in her life love. Then tears start to role down her face. But these are not tears of sadness, but tears of GRATITUDE  because Jesus offers forgiveness.

Jesus’s feet unwashed by Simon are wet from the woman’s tears. How does she wipe these tears. She lets her hair down to wipe the tears away. This is another shocking breach of etiquette. A woman always used to wear her hair up in public; again when she lets her hair down she is sacificing her repuation to serve the King with GRATITUDE. She then pours an expensive jar of alabastar oil and empties the jar. This is an act of significance because she will not use this oil again in her old profession for cleanliness purposes. She is pouring away her old life. She pours the oil on Jesus’s feet and kisses them what sems like a thousand times. The woman unashamedly pours herself out in adoration and Gratitude. The complete opposite to Simon’s actions. 

When we serve others do we do it with a hard heart like Simon or a soft loving heart like the woman

 Near the end of this story Jesus sums up why the woman shows him so much Love and Gratitude. Jesus says, “The one who is forgiven much loves much. The one who is forgiven little loves little.”  Here Jesus is summing up the greatest sin of all. Simon perceives himself to be righteous and a man with little sin compared to the woman. This is what makes it so hard for him to be overwhelmed by Grace.

John Ortberg puts it like this: “There is a great sin that defiles this room, but it is not the sin that Simon or us thinks. It is the sin that:

Lips that won’t kiss

Knees that won’t bend

Eyes that will  not weep

Hands that will not serve

Perfume that will never leave the jar

It is the sin of a heart that will not break, a life that will not change, a soul that will not love”

 

 

 

 

 

Heart of Stone or Heart of Love

What I love about Jesus is that he invested his heart on people that were hated and despised by the majority. You cannot love like Jesus unless you give away your heart. The challenge for us is how do we invest our heart on those people who are perceived as lost causes? Those people who are not like us? Those people who have hurt other people and themselves.

Dorothy Day challenges us with this quote: “I really only love God as much as I love the person I love the least.”

Jesus constantly challenges us on the same theme, such as love your enemies and love your neighbour as yourself. The crux of the challenge is that if we don’t love the very least of those we know, then we really don’t love God. In the Book of Isaiah God says to the prophet that all your superficial worship, religious prayers and pious talk are worthless unless you truly love the lost in society.

To help us to really live out this challenge in our life, I want to look at how Jesus invested his heart on the woman who was caught in adultery (John 8:1-11).  This woman is caught red handed and her fate is death by stoning. They ask Jesus what should be done to this woman. Here Jesus challenges every single one of us when he tells his audience, “Those who have not sinned cast the first stone.” No one could throw a stone at this woman and every stone was dropped.

Jesus wants us to realise that when you understand your own sinful nature, you will have a heart that reaches out to other sinful people. We often categorise Sins of the flesh, such as adultery, much worse than ‘Sins of the Spirit’. Every single one of us struggles with an unclean soul. These Sins have names such as pride, arrogance, self-righteousness and judgmentalism.

The people who were prepared to throw the stones thought it was possible to love God and despise people. They had no idea that their sin crippled their ability to love, which makes the Sins of the Spirit the most destructive sins of all.  Today what stones do we need to put down to help us to love?

CS Lewis wrote “The sins of the flesh are bad, but they are the least bad of all sins. All the worst pleasures are purely spiritual: the pleasure of putting other people in the wrong, of bossing and patronizing, the pleasures of power, of hatred. For there are two things inside me, competing with the human self which I must try to become. They are the Animal self, and the Diabolical self. The Diabolical self is the worse of the two. That is why a cold, self-righteous prig who goes regularly to church may be far nearer to hell than a prostitute.” 

I have often been challenged by God whilst helping people whose sin is out in the open for all to see. How do I invest my heart to really love these people? I must understand the power of forgiveness that Jesus constantly showers on me every single day on my life. I must remember to constantly drop my stones of pride, judgement, gossip and cynicism (just to name a few).

Jesus finishes the story by telling the woman that she has been forgiven, but then she must go and sin no more. We have been forgiven, but to truly invest our hearts in people’s lives, we must be willing to look in the mirror, drop our stones and accept that we are totally dependent on the loving heart of Jesus.

When you invest your heart in the least of these, then you can say you love God

Losing Loneliness

So many people in our community feel the pain of isolation and loneliness. For some it may be because they have never received love. For others it may be because they have been badly hurt. Or perhaps to some it is the inability to trust. For all these three reasons it can turn homes  into prison cells.

Breaking this cycle of loneliness is one of the hardest challenges for any person to undertake. Mother Teresa said this about it, “Loneliness is the leprosy of modern society.” And no one wants to know they are a leper. How can God’s people, His Church, help lonely people. First,  I believe it is important that every follower of Jesus understands the importance of community.

Writer, Edward Hallowell says that for most people the two most powerful experiences in life are achieving and connecting. Connecting has to do with our relational world, such as falling in love, forming great relationships, being cared for when we are sick, or receiving deep words of love and encouragement. Achieving on the other hand has to do with our accomplishments. Hallowell points out that our society is increasingly devoted to, obsessed with and enslaved with achieving. It is increasingly bankrupt  and impoverished  when it comes to connecting.  

However we should know that it isn’t accomplishments that keep us happy and together for the long haul, but connectedness in meaningful and loving relationships. I will ask you a question. Have you ever met anyone who succeeded in relationships, who cultivated great friendships , who was devoted to their family, who love to give and receive love, yet had a bad life?

In the creation story of Genesis, we see that God created man in his own likeness. However man was alone and God says, this is not good. Man needed fellowship. This is an important observation to understand that every human being needs human relationships.

John Ortberg says this, “Community is what you were created for, It is God’s desire for your life. It is the one indispensable condition for human flourishing.”

One of the most thorough research projects on relationships is called Alameda County Study headed by Harvard. Social scientists tracked the lives of 7000 lives over 9 years. Researchers found that the most isolated people were 3 times more likely to die. People who had bad health habits but great relationships lived significantly longer than people with great health habits but were isolated.

It is better to eat chocolate with good friends than to eat broccoli alone

The brilliant writer Dallas Willard sums it up like this, “God’s aim in human history is the creation of an inclusive community of loving persons with himself included as its primary sustainer and most glorious inhabitant.”

If we as church grasp the importance of community and connecting we can help knock down the prison walls of isolation and loneliness in people’s lives.

Spiritual Pathways to God

How much importance do we put on a real close spiritual connection with Jesus? Everything we do should stem from this relationship. In John 15:5 Jesus says this, “I am the vine you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit.”

Everyone of us has different personalities and combinations of gifts, and likewise we have many different spiritual pathways to connect us with God and deepen our relationship with him. I recommend the book by author Gary Thomas ‘Sacred Pathways’, which I believe is a very profound and helpful book to understand our own spirituality, which helps us connect with God to impact the world. I want to cover seven of these spiritual pathways and I am sure one will speak to you.

The Relational Pathway:  For these people, solitude feels like solitary confinement. However when you inject a strong dose of relationship into their pursuit of God and almost immediately these individuals begin to thrive spirituality. When they pray with a group of people they can feel the presence of God physically. Their primary pathway to God is relational. My wife always feels the presence of God most when she is with others and relating to people in all different circumstances.

Intellectual Pathway: People who thrive on the intellectual pathway are those whose minds must be fully engaged before they can make significant spiritual progress. They read and always carry several intellectually stretching books with them wherever they go. Why? Because they know that their hearts will never fully engage until their minds are filled with truth. Exampes would be people such as Martin Luther, Dietrich Bonheoffer and John Calvin. When these great theologians intellectually grasped the truth look how they impacted Christianity.

The Serving Pathway: Some people can only catch their spiritual stride and feel consistently close to God when they are  labouring and serving for the Kingdom of God. When it comes to thinkers and doers, these people are the doers. They feel closest to God not at worship services or prayer times, but when they are serving and helping people in need.

The Contemplative Pathway: These people can spend almost unlimited time in solitude. Give them a bible, a good piece of literature, a poem and a journal and they’ll disappear for days. These people thrive on the contemplative pathway. For them just being alone with God is enough.

The Activist Pathway: Unlike contemplatives they revel in a highly challenging environment that pushes them to the absolute edge of their potential. It’s when they’re right on that edge that they feel closest to God. They feel God’s presence when they are thinking up new ways to transform societies and stand up for justice issues.

The Creation Pathway: These people tend to grow best and relate to God most closely when they’re surrounded by nature. My fellow leader and friend is such a person. When she goes out for walks and looks at nature she feels the presence of God in a very powerful way. For such people, being in a natural environment dramatically increases their awareness of God.

The Worship Pathway: These people feel closest to God when they are in the presence of God-honouring worship through song and music. We could say that King David, the author of many of the Psalms, was someone whose primary pathway to God was worship. Some people feel closest to God and most fully alive when they are worshipping. My friend who serves with me at the youth club we help run, loves to sing and play the guitar to our young people. When he does this you can see that he is in the presence of God in such a close and dynamic way.

After studying this I have come to realise that it is important to understand that when it comes to our spiritual pathways we are all very different. I would advise that you identify your spirtual pathway and once established lean into this pathway going deeper with your relationship with God.

It is also important once in a while to try out the different pathways, even though certain ones may be a stretch for you. Why? Because they all offer opportunity for growth. Finally it is important to help others to identify their pathways. When people begin to understand that there is at least one pathway that will enable them to relate to Christ more closely, they will be thankful for a lifetime.

Spiritual Pathways will help unleash the presence and power of God in peoples lives