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Faithlife

Make It Count

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Only one life, twill soon be past-- Only what's done for Christ will last.

 

““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, and I will 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 a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not remain in me, he is 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 given you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. This is my command: Love each other." (John 15:1-17, NIV) [1]

What did you do yesterday?  Not many of us would respond with a minute by minute recital of our activities for the day.  That’s a good thing too.  Usually, when I am asked the question, I look for something that represented the most important or significant part of my day.

There are days that go by when I discover that I have been extremely busy or distracted with things that don’t really matter or at least are secondary.  I have a designation on my Palm Pilot to assign a priority number to the things that I put on my “To Do List”.  To my shame I rarely use it.  Everything that I put on there becomes a number one priority when in truth it is not.  It’s not that they represent time wasted but time spent in ways that don’t match what I consider to be the priorities of my life and calling.

I have discovered that the more I give myself to the things that are of primary importance, the more fulfilled I am and the greater degree of peace I experience in my life.

Our struggle to put first things first can be characterized by the contrast between two powerful tools that direct us:  the clock and the compass.  The clock represents our commitments, appointments, schedules, goals, activities -- what we do with and how we manage our time.  The compass represents our vision, values, principles, mission, conscience, direction -- what we feel is important and how we lead our lives.

 

The struggle comes when we sense a gap between the clock and the compass -- when what we do doesn't contribute to what is most important in our lives.

It is easy to lose consciousness of the Christian calling.  One day melts into another and we look back on another week past to ask ourselves what we did for the sake of the kingdom of God.  Important things get lost in the shuffle and we inadvertently miss the wonderful opportunity to change our world as we live our lives in step with the Spirit, by God’s priorities

Jesus addresses his disciples in John 15 on the necessity of “fruitfulness”.  I’d like to look at His words today and evaluate our own commitment to “First Things”, the things that really matter.

1.   God is displeased with spiritual “barrenness”.

 

He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit . . .”

There is an expectation that God has for us to bear fruit.

Biblical Review of Fruitfulness

·       Parable of the Talents – We need to have something top show for what God has given us. (Matt. 25:14-30)

·       Quality of Each Man’s Work – Some of our good will not stand the test. (1 Cor. 3:13)

·       Witness of Works -- Let your light so shine.  Causes people to glorify God.  Everything points to Christ.  (Matt. 5:16)

·       Make Every Effort – “possess these qualities in increasing measure” (2 Peter 1:5)

·       Fruit of the Spirit(Gal. 5:22)

·       Quiet Life(1 Thess. 4:11)

2.   God is determined to make fruitful followers, “maximally” fruitful.

“ . . . while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.”

You do not have to be perfect to bear fruit.  A life surrendered to God in all its imperfections is immediately usable for kingdom purposes.  I think it is a lie of the devil himself to make us think that unless we can do it perfectly we should not come to him.  In that state of surrender God is free to prune away the parts of us that limit our fruitfulness.

3.   Fruitfulness is related to our “connection” with Christ. 

“You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, and I will 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 a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”

We forget that we cannot produce fruit – we can only bear it.  We can be the one who is involved in the process of another person coming to embrace Christ but their salvation does not rest on our shoulders.  We can’t do it on our own.  A greater depth of relationship with God will make my life more fruitful.  The more I pursue that relationship, the more fruitful it will become.  I believe that as I draw close to God I am drawn close to men.  Not just brothers in Christ but those who need to find Him.  As my love for God increases, so does my love for the lost and the found.  Therefore the depth of spiritual understanding is related to my ability to relate to the condition of men.

It is impossible to be unfruitful if we are connected to Christ.  The clear conclusion that we draw when there is no obvious fruit in a person’s life is that there is no connection – no relationship.  Bad fruit and barrenness tell the same tale.

4.   Our fruitfulness creates a “privileged” relationship.

“If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you.”

I am going to have to tell you that I don’t understand this promise.  I don’t believe that God gives us everything that we ask Him for.

Some of the things that we want will cause us spiritual harm or shipwreck.  He will not give us that which may harm us. 

Some of the things that we want, we are not ready to receive.  There is a further work that He wishes to do in us before we are able to receive.

Some of our requests are purely self-centered and these He denies.  (James 4:3)

I think that He gives those things to us that serve the primary purpose of kingdom interests and that will cause further growth and development in us.  As a Christian matures they learn to leave their requests with an eternal Father whose pleasure is to “give”.  When he says “no” it is for our best.

5.   Our fruitfulness is a means of bringing “glory” to God.

“This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.”

I think that God loves to make us win.  He loves it when, against the odds, we prevail.  When a long time critic is won to Christ by the consistent witness of a co-worker, this is incredibly glorifying to God.  He does these things through people who “abide” in Him.  People who are willing to suffer in the short term for victory in the long run.  Not all of our victories are immediate.  They are the result of the consistent investment of our energies over a period of time.

6.   Our fruitfulness is the “evidence” of discipleship.

This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

True disciples are fruitful.  There are certain signs that we cannot misinterpret.  This is one of them.  Tied closely to the necessity of loving one another this is undeniable evidence of discipleship.  When we please God there is individual growth, there is church growth and it is a clear testimony to the blessing of God upon the life of the Christ-follower.

7.   Our fruitfulness is a source of personal “joy”.

“I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.”

I don’t know a person whose life is bearing fruit in the kingdom who is “down-in-the-mouth”.  It may be simplistic but a little obvious fruit will go a long way toward lifting a downtrodden individual.  I don’t know of anything that does more for me spiritually than seeing someone come closer to Christ because of some direct or indirect influence that God has allowed me to have in their process.

Barren Christians (an oxymoron) are “cut off” from God’s supply and their experience with God is painful.  They search for answers to find reality and miss the most basic symptom of disconnection.  No power, no connection – no fruit.

"Word Perfect Technical support; may I help you?"

"Yes, well, I'm having trouble with WordPerfect."

"What sort of trouble?"

"Well, I was just typing along, and all of a sudden the words went away."

"Went away?"

"They disappeared."

"Hmm. So what does your screen look like now?"

"Nothing."

"Nothing?"

"It's blank; it won't accept anything when I type."

"Are you still in WordPerfect, or did you get out?"

"How do I tell?"

"Can you see the C:\ prompt on the screen?"

"What's a sea-prompt?"

"Never mind. Can you move the cursor around on the screen?"

"There isn't any cursor: I told you, it won't accept anything I type."

"Does your monitor have a power indicator?"

"What's a monitor?"

"It's the thing with the screen on it that looks like a TV. Does it have a little light that tells you when it's on?"

"I don't know."

"Well, then look on the back of the monitor and find where the power cord goes into it. Can you see that?"

....."Yes, I think so."

"Great! Follow the cord to the plug, and tell me if it's plugged into the wall."

....."Yes, it is."

"When you were behind the monitor, did you notice that there were two cables plugged into the back of it, not just one?"

"No."

"Well, there are. I need you to look back there again and find the other cable."

....."Okay, here it is."

"Follow it for me, and tell me if it's plugged securely into the back of your computer."

"I can't reach it."

"Uh huh. Well, can you see if it is?"

"No."

"Even if you maybe put your knee on something and lean way over?"

"Oh, it's not because I don't have the right angle-it's because it's dark."

"Dark?"

"Yes-the office light is off, and the only light I have is coming in from the window."

"Well, turn on the office light then."

"I can't."

"No? Why not?"

"Because there's a power outage."

"A power... A power outage? Aha! Okay, we've got it licked now. Do you still have the boxes and manuals and packing stuff your computer came in?"

"Well, yes. I keep them in the closet."

"Good! Go get them and unplug your system and pack it up just like it was when you got it. Then take it back to the store you bought it from."

"Really! Is it that bad?"

"Yes, I'm afraid it is."

"Well, all right then, I suppose. What do I tell them?"

"Tell them you're too stupid to own a computer."

No joy?  There may be a very basic issue.  No connection.

8.   Fruitfulness is the path to “friendship” with God.

 

“You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.”

I really believe that many people who would follow Christ are barren because they are following Him against their will.  They feel that it’s a “do-it-or-else” scenario.  They just plain wouldn’t be involved in the church if they could get away with it.  Grudgingly they give.  Sparingly they invest and they reap marginal returns if any.  People looking at these folks are as turned off as they could possibly be.  They relate to God as slaves – they have no alternative.  They believe that hell is something that God is going to do to them if they don’t cooperate rather than something that they are being spared from through Christ’s sacrifice.  They resent God to a degree because they think that He is trying to take something away from them.  They feel that left alone they can do a better job of finding their way and feeding their own pleasures.

A person who abides in Christ is a person who has settled these questions.  They realize fully that regardless of how difficult it may be at times to surrender to Christ’s Lordship; this is where they will be most fulfilled.  And they willingly partner with God because they know his business at the heart level.

9.   Fruitfulness is the “destiny” of the Christian.

You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last.

Paul wrote it his way:

For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. [2]

The Christian presence in its culture should be a life-bearing influence.  I think that a life well lived for Christ is a life that creates interest in the hearts of others.  In the book of Acts this sort of impact was very real.

12 The apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders among the people. And all the believers used to meet together in Solomon’s Colonnade. 13 No one else dared join them, even though they were highly regarded by the people. 14 Nevertheless, more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number. 15 As a result, people brought the sick into the streets and laid them on beds and mats so that at least Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by. 16 Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those tormented by evila spirits, and all of them were healed. [3]

What are we lacking today?  Why are we hindered from presenting this sort of redeeming presence in our city?

The danger of lapsing into an unfruitful state is greater for those who have become acclimated to spiritual things.  The longer we settle for things that are less than they should be and could be the more normal it becomes.

It’s not a big deal in most of our churches.  We propagate programs that are unfruitful or no longer effective because they are warm and fuzzy, and we hold some sentimental attachment to them.

And we don’t care if people are barren.  No one chases you down or gossips about you because you may never have been involved in the process of someone else coming to faith in Christ. 

The message is clear that we will not tolerate the violation of our tradition and but we will accept barrenness as long as we are respectable.  Jesus says that dead branches are cut away in favor of fruitfulness.

I think that we go deaf when we find out that we are okay.  There is the danger that we lose concern for people who have not yet found Christ.  It is at this point that we become irrelevant and the culture is able to discard our existence.

The church cannot be shaped by the culture of the day

But the church must remain current with it’s culture. 

When we begin to linger in the past and fail to remain current then there is a problem.

The broad way and the narrow way are roads that run beside one another.  That is part of the deception.  They take us to different places even though they run side by side. 

They both lead to a river but the bridge is washed out on the broad road.  They both are taking people toward an eternal destiny.  One leads to death and the other leads to life. 

Both roads take people to God.  It’s not so much a matter of direction, this faith issue as it is a matter of destination. 

What lies at the end of the road?  Why does it seem to me that I am not that much different from the motorists that I can clearly see?  What makes me different? 

Only my relationship with Christ! 

It is not the fact that I behave better than people who do not accept Christ.  It is that fact that I have trusted his direction and that I am following the Way.  I have chosen to believe that the broad way leads to destruction. 

I think that we develop false ideas about righteousness when we think that saved and unsaved people are headed in diametrically opposed directions.  We all will stand before God.  This life takes us all in the same direction.  We are headed for an appointment with God.  Of course it looks like you are headed in the same direction as people who call themselves Christian.  You are.  But what lies at the end of the road?

For the Christian person, we stay away from people at times because we fear that we are somehow compromising our faith when we draw up alongside of a person who is on the wrong road – we think that we are wrong because we should be headed in the opposite direction.  We think that the closeness means compromise.  I don’t believe that.  The destination of the two roads creates the division.  You may be heading in the same direction to a different destination.

Carleton St. Bridge no longer will take you across the Saint John River.  It was fine bridge in its day and even a aesthetically pleasing part of the city.  We can’t wait for the bridge to reopen or lament its passing.  The evidence of it’s presence remains but that is all.

Victorious living and effective soul-winning service are not the product of our better selves and hard endeavours, but are simply the fruit of the Holy Spirit.  We are not called upon to produce the fruit, but simply to bear it.

   -- Roy Hession in The Calvary Road.  Christianity Today, Vol. 33, no. 13.


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[1]  The Holy Bible : New International Version. electronic ed. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996, c1984.

[2]The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 . Zondervan: Grand Rapids

a Greek unclean

[3]The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 . Zondervan: Grand Rapids

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