Friday, September 2, 2016

2 September 2016
“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will know them by their fruits. Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?’ Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.’” Matthew 7:15-23 (NRSV)
“…but no one can tame the tongue. It is restless and evil, full of deadly poison. Sometimes it praises our Lord and Father, and sometimes it curses those who have been made in the image of God. And so blessing and cursing come pouring out of the same mouth. Surely, my brothers and sisters, this is not right!” James 3:8-10 (NLT)
            Good morning, welcome. Today we consider the contrast begun in vs.13-14, the two ways. In vs. 15-20 Jesus warns against false prophets. Verses 21-23 are generally considered to refer to false disciples or self-deception. I’m thinking they may be a continuation of 15-20 and refer to false prophets as well, but I wouldn’t argue too strongly in favor of that position. Jesus may well have had both in mind here-false teachers and false disciples.
            The warning in vs. 16 is clear-you will know them by their fruits. The question then becomes ‘what is good fruit, and what is bad fruit’? If vs.21-23 also refer to false teachers, fruit may not necessarily be the same as works. Casting out demons and deeds of power were supposed to be confirming signs of the Kingdom presence; Jesus is saying maybe not. He says ‘the one who does the will of my Father’-just as He Himself will do-is the sign of His presence. Remember, Jesus is not referring to Himself here-He will go on to demonstrate the Kingdom in all manner of miraculous ways. This is a warning against what will come. So now, the question becomes how do we know the will of the Father when we see it?
            First, let’s consider fruit. Paul gives us a fairly comprehensive list in Gal.5:22-23: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. If these sound familiar, it is because they are the very character traits we have been discussing in the Sermon-there is no faking them, at least, not for very long. Peter adds faith, goodness, knowledge, self-control, endurance, godliness, mutual affection, and love to the list (2 Pe 1:5-7). Finally, Jesus Himself teaches in John 15:1-17 fruit comes from abiding in Him, as the branch abides in the vine. With all this in mind, we may be safely conclude fruit refers to Christ-like character, and Christ-like character comes from a personal, on-going relationship with Christ Himself.
            Rick Warren tells an interesting little story that helps illustrates this point. I think I read it in Purpose Driven Life, but I could have seen it somewhere else. Anyway, Rick describes his test for hiring prospective leaders. He takes the prospect out for a meal and watches how that person treats the server. If the prospect treats the server with respect and consideration they are more likely to get the job; treating the server poorly or looking down on them is pretty much instant disqualification. Actual details may vary but you get the point. We are looking at works in terms of character, which has only one source. We are not looking to judge, nor are we expecting perfection. This is important-this is about discernment; recognizing when the Father is speaking or acting in another, and when He is not.
            And speaking of character, James has some wise words for us which are particularly relevant in today’s highly divisive climate. He gets right to the heart of things when he says “With [the tongue] we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God James 3:9 (NRSV, Italics mine). This is a telltale sign, and, I believe, a very big one. Huge. I think there is much being said and done today in the name of Christ that might be called into question. It is not only what we say; it is not only what we do; it is the interaction between the two. Do they complement, or contrast?  
            Again, we must be careful here. We are listening (and acting) with discernment. This is not about minor differences in theology, it is about learning to sense God’s presence. And, of course, the best way to sense God’s presence in others is to spend time in God’s presence ourselves. It’s like learning to recognize counterfeit money by becoming thoroughly familiar with real money. Which leads directly to our next point.
            Assuming vs.21-23 apply to would-be disciples (that’s us), the above principles (particularly the James passage) apply to us as well. Remember our discussion of examen? Well, here is a good place to start. As Paul says, “Examine yourselves to see whether you are living in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not realize that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless, indeed, you fail to meet the test!” 2 Corinthians 13:5 (NRSV). It seems a bit of a paradox-what we do is important, but not important enough to get us into heaven. Maybe that’s because we can’t earn our way in. Maybe these people (the false teachers and disciples) were asking God to bless their plans when they should have been asking Him to reveal His plans. Maybe they didn’t Know God at all or, worse, had no desire to know Him. It’s not so much learning to think God’s thoughts but rather, I think, learning to remember God; to be aware of His presence minute by minute. Practicing His presence, as Brother Lawrence puts it, in his classic book, Practicing His Presence.
            If it seems to you that all of a sudden this discipleship business got really complicated, don’t worry. We are, after all, in it together. Remember, God grows our character the same way He grows our bodies-slowly, little by little. Sometimes we just need to take the Psalmist’s advice and “Be still, and know that I am God” (Ps. 46:10). Sometimes, just being with God is enough, for us and for Him. It is a wonderful, peaceful place to be.
            Tomorrow wraps up the Sermon on the Mount. I pray God spoke to you in some small way. I’m not sure what’s next; I’m thinking the Psalms but nothing’s etched in stone. If any of you have something else in mind, leave me a comment. By the way, I’m writing this from the Florida Panhandle; looks like our brothers and sisters south and east of us had some weather last night; remember them in your prayers. Pray for me as well, that I may not lead any of you down the wrong path.
May the Lord bless you and keep you this day. JRG


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