Bearing Fruit (4/30/17)

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During the summer of 2000, a friend of mine, Harry, and I decided to attend the NASCAR race at Daytona, Florida. As we made our plans, Harry said, “I’ll print a map off the computer so we know which routes to take.” (This was before GPS.) When I picked him up to leave for the trip, I asked about the map. He responded, “I didn’t print one. We just head south don’t we?”

I didn’t agree with his philosophy. When you’re going from Point A to Point B, you need a map. Otherwise, you run the risk of getting off-course or, even worse, completely lost. I went back to my house and got a road atlas.

God is calling us to go on a journey with him. He wants to take our relationship with Jesus to the next level. Since we’re going from Point A, where we are now, to Point B, the place where Jesus wants to take us, we need a map. We have one. It’s called the Bible. If we want to be all that we can be in Christ, we need to believe it’s true and live according to its principles and teachings. If the Bible says something is sin, then it’s sin. If the Bible tells us to love, then we need to love. If the Bible tells us to submit to Jesus, then we need to submit to Jesus. If the Bible tells us to walk with the Holy Spirit, then we need to walk with the Holy Spirit.

Galatians 5:16-26 says,  16 So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.”

We’re called to produce fruit for the kingdom of God. However, this doesn’t happen simply because we want it to happen. We can’t fake Spiritual maturity or having Spiritual fruit in our lives.

For example, an apple can’t produce itself. It grows because of its natural relationship with the tree. The tree is what produces the apple. It starts off as a blossom and grows.

We’re just like an apple. We can’t produce fruit on our own. We nail our sinful nature to the cross (vs. 24) and then allow the Holy Spirit to produce it in us.

All of this happens because of our relationship with Jesus. In John 15:1-8, he says, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.”

There are two obvious things that might keep us from producing abundant, healthy fruit. The first one is the past. As God has been working in new ways over the past couple of weeks, I’ve heard several people say, “I’ve never seen this in a Brethren church before.” The simple truth is if these things had happened in the past, we’d already be at the next level in our relationship with Jesus. We have to realize God has the right to show us new things.

The second thing which might keep us from producing fruit is the fear that we aren’t good enough. Recently people have said things like, “God is still working on me” and “I know I’m a sinner.” While these statements are certainly true, they were said with an attitude of fear that “God can’t take me to the next level because I’m a sinner.”

I have good news. God knows we’re sinners. That’s why he sent Jesus to die on the cross for us. The sad truth is we’ll never lose our sin nature. We’ll struggle with it until the day we die. When we do sin, we repent, thank God for his forgiveness, and keep walking with Jesus. Don’t let Satan convince you God can’t take you to the next level.

Many of you have shared stories with me about how you’ve seen God working in your life during the past couple of weeks. It’s exciting to walk with God when these things are happening. This might not be happening to every one of you. There are several possibilities for this. Perhaps God is speaking to you and working in your life but you’re not recognizing what he’s doing. This could be because you’re young in your faith and are still learning to listen to God. Perhaps you have a narrow view of God and think he can’t work this way.

It’s possible you’re missing God because you have unrepentant sin in your life and it’s keeping God from working. We can’t have a close relationship with God when he calls us to let go of sin and we ignore him.

Don’t get discouraged if things are happening to other Christians but aren’t happening to you yet. Our faith is a lot like a rhubarb plant my wife and I planted last year. After we planted it, I faithfully watered it for a few weeks. Then, during the hottest and driest part of the summer, I forgot about if for a few days. Some of the young stalks died. Once I noticed this, I watered it faithfully but I didn’t know if I could save it. I wasn’t even sure it was going to come up this year. But it did. Right now, it’s a healthy plant that’s actually blooming. It’s still small but in time, it will be a large, productive plant.

Our relationship with Jesus can be like this. We become Christians and faithfully nurture the relationship with the Lord. Then life happens and we forget to water it for a while. It struggles to survive at times. But it does and at just the right time, it blooms.

Don’t give up if you’re struggling in your relationship with Jesus right now. It might be fragile but if you keep moving forward by opening yourself up to Jesus and the Holy Spirit, it will take root and grow.

When Harry and I were going to Florida, we knew our final destination – Daytona International Speedway. We arrived safely because we followed the map. I don’t know what our final destination is with Jesus. Only he knows that. However, we can’t be afraid to pick up the “map” and go on this journey with him.