The overflow

Read: Genesis 38-40, Matthew 12:22-50

Whether it’s intentional or not, things are going in and out of us all day every day. I’m not talking about food here. Or maybe I am. But it’s the spiritual sort. We read an article. We drive past a billboard. We watch a TV show. We have a conversation with a friend. We pass by a stranger. It’s all stimulation and it’s all being absorbed one way or another. And what goes in is what will come out.

Matthew 12:34

Since there are a lot of things that go in that we have no control over, the situation may seem hopeless. But, as we discussed yesterday, there is always hope. Just because we can’t control all of the bad things doesn’t mean we have no control whatsoever over the good things. We just have to make sure that the good stuff outweighs the bad. It may be as simple as changing the radio station in the car on the commute to work, or putting down one book in exchange for another. In some cases, it may take a little more effort.

For me, it’s getting up earlier than my schedule requires so that I know I will have time first thing every day to spend in the Word of God. I can carry that with me all day.

I have hidden your word in my heart
that I might not sin against you.

Psalm 119:11 (NIV)

Jesus said that a tree—that’s us—is recognized by its fruit. A good tree bears good fruit and a bad tree bears bad fruit. Every once in a while, it does us good to take a look at the kind of fruit we bear. We cannot assume that it’s always good. And, once we’ve determined our produce, we may need to take a look at what we’ve been feeding it. Even if you believe you have pretty decent fruit, keep in mind it can always be better, and the better it is, the less chance there is of it turning on you. Your fruit affects those around you even more than it affects you.

So, what’s your overflow?

Going through the motions

We all go through motions every day. There are things we do that we’ve done so many times that we don’t even have to think about what we’re doing—getting dressed, brushing your teeth, pouring a cup of coffee, work, even commuting. We go through our daily routines by rote. Little or no thought is required. It’s easy to slip into those kinds of habits. Even when it comes to God.

I hate all your show and pretense—the hypocrisy of your religious festivals and solemn assemblies. I will not accept your burnt offerings and grain offerings. I won’t even notice all your choice peace offerings. Away with your hymns of praise! They are only noise to my ears. I will not listen to your music, no matter how lovely it is.

Amos 5:21-23 (NLT)

Ouch! Here God is, telling Israel that He will not accept the very things He gave them. Why not?

Yaweh did not desire the slavish observance of ritual, he desired right conduct, which in itself is an act of true worship.

International Bible Commentary

At this point in Israel’s sin, notice that God no longer referred to the festivals and offerings as His own. The attitude behind the sacrifices had become so focused on the action that God had nothing to do with them anymore and the actions belonged solely to Israel.

God has given us so much, so many ways to praise and worship Him yet we, like Israel, can easily slip into habits where we go through the motions, but our hearts and even our minds are no longer engaged.

Instead, I want to see a mighty flood of justice, a river of righteous living that will never run dry.

Amos 5:24 (NLT)

Far more than mere actions of pious offering, God would have us live lives of perpetual worship. Fake it ’till you make it can only get us so far. Sometimes we just need to start, but if our entire lives become a series of hollow actions, God receives no glory.

And do not bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit by the way you live. Remember, he is the one who identified you as his own, guaranteeing that you will be saved on the day of redemption.

Ephesians 4:30 (NLT)

Let us all strive to produce a river of righteous living. Let us put meaning to our motions so that our works become our worship.

Daily Bible reading: Amos 4-6, Revelation 6

Fruit hurts

I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more.

John 15:1-2 (NLT)

I think most everyone could agree (or at least hope) that if you a bearing good fruit, pain should be the furthest thing from your mind. Many of us are under the impression that by living a good Christian life, we should be free from trouble, worry, and pain.

What if I told you that pain is good?

So long as you’re connected with Jesus—the true vine—you shouldn’t have to worry about being cut off. But that doesn’t mean you’re free and clear from some difficulty. God loves us so much that He’s willing to cause a little pain so that we can see even more fruit.

I’m not a parent, but I’ve heard that many parents have a difficult time disciplining their children. It’s not that they want their kids to continue misbehaving, it’s because they love them that they don’t want to be the cause of pain and tears. I’m quite certain God feels the same—and even more so—about us. He loves us enough to take things away, cut things off, and redirect our paths.

The resulting pain of God’s pruning isn’t bad news. In fact, it’s great news! It means that you have fruit to start with. And it means that God wants you to produce even more fruit.

There’s an orchard near my house that looks as though it was overtaken with blight several years back. Since then, the keeper has done absolutely nothing with it. The trees are all but dead and intruding vines are taking over what is left of the branches. The owner doesn’t even care enough to have it all removed. It’s gone to waste and is being overtaken by invasive plants. In order to bring back a fruitful orchard, even more work will be required than if the keeper of the trees had just cut it all down when the blight first attacked.

God isn’t going to allow blight or invasive brambles to overtake His orchard. He is going to attack anything and everything that doesn’t belong there because He wants the greatest harvest possible.

So don’t get upset when the things that prevent fruit in your life are taken away. Rejoice because you know that God truly does care and is watching out for your best interests.

I have told you this so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow!

John 15:11 (NLT)

Bearing fruit hurts. There may be a little pain now, but the payoff is more fruit in the future. The next time you feel you’re being pruned. Rejoice. God is working on you and He is working for you.

Daily Bible reading: 2 Chronicles 17-19, John 15

Proper fruit

Say you’re house sitting for your best friend and your friend asks that you keep an eye on the house and take care of the plants in the greenhouse.You are given a list of instructions on how to mind the greenery. Your friend leaves and, for a few days, you are diligent in heading over to the house, keeping an eye on things and tending to the plants. But as the days stretch into a week and into the next, you’re less interested in taking care of the plants. They’re just house plants after all. Don’t they pretty much take care of themselves? Why bother with this long list of things to do? By the time your friend is set to return from a bit of an extended vacation, you’ve forgotten about the plants. You go through the house to check on things one last time and notice the state of the vegetation. It’s not too bad, but it’s not all that good. You swipe up the dried petals that had fallen off, toss them in the trash, and cover the evidence so you friend believes you’ve taken good care of the “kids”. The friend returns and all is well. So you think.

Several days later your friend approaches you and asks if the plants bloomed. You sheepishly  nod and are forced to explain your lapse in care. While embarrassed about the situation, you don’t see what the big deal is.

As it turns out, your friend was eager to see the first harvest of fruit from the trees. Had you followed through with the care instructions, you’d have opened the greenhouse at the right time to allow bees and hummingbirds in to pollinate the buds. But you failed to followed the directive. The greenhouse remained shut up, the buds dropped off never having been pollinated. There will be no harvest.

The next time your friend goes out of town, you’re the last person on the list to watch the greenhouse.

In neglecting to follow your friend’s instructions, you’ve not only let yourself down, but you’ve lost your chance of being able to enjoy a harvest with one of the people you care for most. Did your friend stop being your friend over the whole debacle? No. But some faith and trust in you has been lost and the opportunity will not be offered to you again.

What I mean is that the Kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation what will produce the proper fruit.

Matthew 21:43 (NLT)

While, in this scripture, Jesus was talking to the Jewish leaders, it can apply to us all here and now. If you’re one of the ones who fails to produce good fruit, there will be someone else who can come up with good fruit. If you’re not bringing in a harvest where God has planted you, He will plant someone else.

I once heard a pastor of a large, successful church in a very un-churched area say that he wasn’t by any means the first person God called to the area. He was just the first person to say yes and not quit. 20 years later, they have one of the largest congregations in the city. Where others had failed to be fruitful, he was faithful to the calling and was able to produce fruit where others said it couldn’t be done.

Are you content with leafy trees or are you willing to be patient and tend to the buds in order to produce a fruitful harvest?

Daily Bible reading: Exodus 27-28, Matthew 21:23-46