Sunday, October 12, 2014

Faith

Faith (Oct 2, 2014) 1 Cor 13: 13 says “Now these three remain: faith, hope and love, but the greatest of these is love.” Well, the greatest might be love...but the first of them is faith. And we are going to talk about faith this morning. :-)


Now, in this morning’s key verse we see three important concepts: faith, hope, and love. These are the bulwarks of God’s Kingdom. These are the sacred elements of the gospel. Elsewhere in the Bible, we read that “the only thing that matters is faith expressing itself in love. [Gal 5:6]” Can you imagine? “The only thing that matters!”? Faith, hope and love must be exceedingly important to God. But whenever something is important in God’s economy, you can be sure that the enemy has a strategy to undermine it. So it is no surprise that the enemy either attacks the church where love is concerned or he attacks the church where faith is concerned. How does this happen? Very simple: the enemy would like to deceive us into thinking that we aren’t being loving when we really are, or that we are being loving when we really aren’t. Of course, this happens all too often. Similarly, the enemy would like to deceive us into thinking that we aren’t exercising faith when we really are, or that we’re exercising faith when we really aren’t. Isn’t that devious? It isn’t a “fair fight” at all. Instead, the enemy wants to undermine the things that are important in the church to render us ineffective in the world.


So it should come as no surprise that even the definition of faith is so often mangled. Faith is so misunderstood. But this is partly the fault of the church! If we let our enemy define the terms that are so valuable to us, we’ve already lost half the battle! Here are some bogus definitions of faith that seem current among some people today...

"Faith: belief in the absence of evidence - perhaps even in opposition to the evidence" - Richard Dawkins. Here is someone who defines faith in the absence of evidence, perhaps even in opposition to the evidence, but he believes his own definition anyway.

"Faith: pretending to know what you don't know" - Peter Boghossian. Here is someone else who pretends to know how to define faith, when he really doesn't.


Instead of that nonsense, let’s find out what the Bible tells us about faith. But before we go there, I’d like to tell you what the English language means by the word, and in order to get there, I’d like us to look at a related word: the word “faithful”. After all, the Bible introduces “faithfulness” long before it introduces “faith”. So my strategy this morning is one that I share with the Bible -- the Bible uses the word “faithful” 170 times before it uses “faith” three times! So what do we mean by the word “faithful”. Oxford and Webster agree on three meanings or three senses of the word. Originally, these three senses of the word were very close together, but over centuries, we now think of them differently. So today, we’re doing a bit of linguistic archaeology. By tracing the divergence of the word “faithful” back - by seeing the intersection of these three different meanings, we can get a better understanding of the word “faith”. These three senses (or meanings) of the word “faithful” are: tenacious -- “loyal”/“dependable” true -- “genuine” trusting -- “full of faith” The first definition is perhaps the most common one in use today, and the one in play when we say the phrase “faithful to the end”. It indicates that being faithful involves never giving up. It means that you can be counted on the make it to the end of the course. And in Greek, the end of the course is an idea very closely resembling the “purpose” of it all. So to be faithful is to be tenacious for a purpose. How about that second definition? Well, when a movie-maker turns a book into a movie, and she takes care to be true to the original material, we say that the movie is “faithful to the book”, don’t we? This sense of the word tells us that faith is being true to the source, or the author. So to be faithful is to be true to a person. Now the final definition isn’t in common use anymore, but most good dictionaries still include it. And this definition reminds us that faith is closely related to trust, as we all know. In the first century, when the New Testament was written, the most common context for “faith” was the faith that one had toward a patron. It represented a relationship between a lesser person and a greater person. The lesser person received favor from the greater person, and in return pledged faith toward that patron. It was an expression of faithfulness to look to one’s patron for help. It was also an expression of faithfulness to provide service to one’s patron. Remember how we started? “the only thing that matters is faith expressing itself in love.” Love is the service appropriate to our faith-relationship with God. These faith-relationships were part of the fabric of society when the New Testament was written, and everyone understood it back then. Unfortunately, we’ve lost sight of this fact: Biblical faith always involves a relationship. To be faithful is to be trusting in a patron. So let’s summarize: Faith is trusting in a patron. Faith is being true to a person. Faith is being tenacious for a purpose. Before we continue, let me just point out that faith is never “alone”. We do not have faith in faith. According to the original understanding of the word, we always have faith in someone. Each of these definitions requires its object. Trusting doesn’t make any sense on its own. The obvious question is “In whom are you trusting?” And being true doesn’t make any sense on its own. The obvious question is “To whom are you being true?” And being tenacious doesn’t make any sense on its own. The obvious question is “For whom are you being tenacious?” With this in mind, let’s turn to the verse in scripture that tells us the most about faith. Of course, I’m referring to Hebrews… chapter… twelve! (and verse 2). (If you thought this was going to be chapter eleven, don’t be too hard on yourself -- you were just one chapter off): “...let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (version?)


In particular, I’d like to focus on those eleven words (in English - seven in Greek) underlined above. We fix our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. The first thing to notice is that the focus of our faith is our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Indeed, he is our patron in a faith-relationship. We pledge faith to him, and on his part he offers us salvation.


But what about the rest of that underlined phrase? Isn’t that an interesting expression? What does it mean to be the pioneer of ...faith? What does it mean to be the perfecter of ...faith. Well, if we look at the Greek words, they can mean other things that can help us understand. The word for “pioneer” can also be translated “author” or “source”! Similarly, the word for “perfector” can also be translated “completion” or “purpose”!


So do you see what this verse is telling us? Jesus is simply the object of our faith in literally every sense of the word. Jesus is the patron in whom we trust. Jesus is the person to whom we are true. And Jesus is the purpose for whom we are tenacious. This Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, is the source of all trustworthiness. So naturally it is sensible to trust in him. He is also the Truth. So naturally it is sensible to be true to him. And he is not only the Creator, but he is the ultimate purpose of creation. So naturally it is sensible to be tenacious in our loyalty to him! Every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.  


And please also notice the example that Jesus sets for us. We trust him with the fragmented details of our lives because he promises to put together all the parts worth keeping. He promises to give us wholeness, and peace, and eternal life. And he demonstrated his ability to keep this promise by his exceptional insight into the human condition, by his remarkable compassion on those he healed from all manner of ailments, and by his rising bodily from the dead, blazing the trail for us! This Jesus, for the joy set before him, endured the cross, despising its shame, and sat down at God’s right hand -- so we must not grow weary or lose heart if we trust in him.


But this, of course, is the reason that tenacity is so important. You see, when we come to Jesus as our patron, we acknowledge his right to address our problems in any way he chooses. If we have Biblical faith, we give up the right to call the shots. Instead, we accept God’s salvation on His terms. The bad news is that those terms often involve trials of many kinds. But the good news is that it is always more than worth it in the end. What does the Bible say? “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” So here is the Biblical definition of faith: Tenacious trusting in the Truth (that is, Jesus). Unfortunately, we live in a day and age that isn’t very open to this message. And it might be valuable to consider why this is. You see, a large chunk of the world feels that all its needs are met by another patron -- a different patron. But there is nothing new under the sun. In Jesus time, the alternative to worshipping God was worshipping idols. And the same is true today. The only difference is that back then idols were physical. Today, not so much. As back then, most people today worship the creation rather than the Creator. And just like in Jesus day, people today are willing to sacrifice a great deal for the sake of their idols. What are the big competing idols in 2014? Some are as old as civilization itself. To identify them, one simply needs to ask, “Where do people look to solve their problems?” Some people look for solutions in economics. Typically, these are the people who are insecure about their wealth -- often very wealthy, but insecure nonetheless. Some people look to government. These feel weakness, and they are really looking for power. Others place their faith in education, feeling that knowledge addresses their problems. Still others trust in technology, wanting more control over their environment. And many, of course, think that fulfillment can be found in experience, often involving sex or substances -- revealing an insecure desire for pleasure. Finally (at least finally for this slide, I’m sure there are others that I missed), some have faith in medicine, because they feel that their health is the greatest good.


Economics, Technology, Government, Experience, Medicine, Education -- these are the things that people today look to for protection, for healing, or for fulfillment. And these things seem so much more accessible, so much more convenient, so much more popular than Jesus. Why, they might ask, would anyone prefer Jesus to iPhones, national health-care, and televised entertainment? Well, for starters, because none of these other things address the human condition in anything but the most superficial manner.


Sure: pleasure and power can distract us or help us feel better about ourselves. But history is full of stories of those who end up miserable because they found sex without love or power without friends. Sure: knowledge can stimulate us mentally and health can maintain us physically. But studies show that after subsistence, health and education do not correlate at all with personal well- being. Sure: wealth and technology have freed us from back-breaking work. But once again, they do nothing at all to address humanity’s deepest longings.


Here, I can’t help but be reminded of my daughter Grace’s experience. The summer that my oldest daughter was sixteen years old, she did a bit of traveling. Two of her weeks were spent in the Dominican Republic, a trip for which she is still grateful for your contribution. There, she worked on building projects and took care of children -- children who had barely enough clothes and food to survive. But after that, she flew to California, and spent some time with her cousins -- where everyone had an excess of everything. When she arrived home, she was fascinated by the contrast. In the DR, the children were always happy. They laughed, they played, they enjoyed the outdoors and relished in the small gifts that they were given. In California, on the other hand, nothing was ever enough. Even the newest and shiniest toys were obsolete in weeks, and they needed to be replaced by the next best thing.


A larger proportion of the world’s money has never been spent on education and medicine. But our society’s levels of depression -- to say nothing of asthma, diabetes, autism, heart and autoimmune diseases have never been higher and appear to be climbing. This is not to dismiss the successes of modern medicine or technology or education -- just to call into question whether they deserve their place in the world’s imagination as a replacement “patron” for the only true Saviour. Besides, as Jesus would remind us, “what good will it do you to gain the whole world if you forfeit your soul?”


At this point, however, even if a skeptic might be willing to concede that these substitutes may not be worthy of our faith, he would be well within his rights to call into question Jesus as an alternative. And while we do well to point people to the Bible to get a sense of the moral genius of Jesus, many have great prejudice against the Bible. Besides, people would be correct to think that if there were some truth to the Christian gospel, surely there should be evidence of its benefits. After all, while the gospel does point to a greater reality after this life, Jesus does call his followers “the light of the world” and the “salt of the earth”. If those aren’t just empty compliments, we should see evidence in the world today that at least suggests their value, right? Right! At which point, I’d like to show you a few maps… yes, really: maps!




First I’d like you to hold this image in your mind. Here we have a world map of major religions. The blue and purple countries here are those with significant (Protestant) Christian influence. Upper left; lower right... Most of these maps you will see are from wikimedia, available on the internet with presumably no political or religious affiliation. The one exception is from Freedom House -- a non-profit organization that ranks countries for personal freedom. Do you notice any correlation between those two maps? Top left; bottom right... Here’s another map: what are the best places to be born? Once again, notice the correlation? How about economic opportunity? Same deal. Education. Notice the pattern?

freedom
opportunity
education
economic freedom
status of women
life expectancy
corruption index

Well, the skeptic would say -- and quite correctly! -- that correlation doesn’t mean causation. He might suggest that freedom and opportunity are rather a result of education or perhaps of democracy or perhaps economic freedom. Sounds reasonable enough, but did you know there also appears to be a causal link between Christianity and democracy? It is true. In 2011, Robert Woodberry published a paper that shook up the world of sociology -- it was called “The Missionary Roots of Liberal Democracy.” And it showed, with all the appropriate mathematical tools and scientific rigour, that protestant missionary activity was, more than anything else, a predictive factor toward democracy in the third world. Check out this quote from his paper:

“Areas where Protestant missionaries had a significant presence in the past are on average more economically developed today, with comparatively better health, lower infant mortality, lower corruption, greater literacy, higher educational attainment (especially for women), and more robust membership in nongovernmental associations.”
Isn’t that remarkable?


In fact, the strong evidence is that Jesus is more responsible for freedom, opportunity, education, economic stability, human rights and civilization than anyone or anything else in history. The most effective programs for criminal rehabilitation, for troubled teens, for alcoholics, and for drug abusers all have foundations on the person of Jesus. Study after study shows that faith in Jesus makes people experience better relationships, and live longer, healthier, more enjoyable and generous lives.


In fact, any honest appraisal of society or history gives lots of room for the truth of the Gospel. And if I had time, I’d love to show you the research on modern miracles. I’d love to call your attention to the many prophecies concerning Jesus that were fulfilled. I’d love to try to convince you of the historical fact of Jesus’ Resurrection from the dead, and the strong evidence for that. I’d love to tell you stories from my own life that indicate that Jesus is alive and active in the world today. And I’d even love to try to convince you that any honest appraisal of the state of modern science also begs for a Creator of beauty and truth and goodness and language and love. And this is Jesus -- the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.


This Jesus is the patron, who, offering us so great a salvation, deserves our trust. This Jesus is the person to whom we should be true. This Jesus is the purpose for which we engage in faith -- that tenacious trusting of the Truth.


You see, as the Bible teaches, there isn’t any good thing we have that hasn’t been given to us by God. And all those good things -- power, health, wealth, pleasure, knowledge -- they come to us most genuinely when we receive them through the generosity of God. It is when we put our faith in other sources to supply these things that we get into trouble.


Of course, there are no promises in the Bible that we will have as much of these things as we want. But we are told that “our God will meet all our needs according to his riches in glory.” We are also told that “godliness with contentment is great gain”. These are only some of the “great and precious promises” that our Patron offers to us. But please don’t misunderstand. Those aren’t the reasons we trust in Jesus. Those are the results of our trusting in Jesus. If we focus on all those things - health, wealth, knowledge, pleasure - we lose our bearings, and they would become our idols. Instead, if we seek first Jesus’ Kingdom and Jesus’ righteousness, then all these things will be added to us as well. But more than that, we are told that by these same promises we can even participate in the divine nature -- that the Holy Spirit of God comes and takes up residence in our lives. This is our hope of glory: Christ in us -- and if we are in Christ, we will not only share in his righteousness, we also share in his resurrection. What glory!

This morning, I’d like to close with a question. It is a question from Jesus own lips. “When the Son of Man returns, will he find faith on the earth?” - Luke 18:8 Will he? I hope so!

Sunday, August 10, 2014

What kind of person are you?

“What kind of person are you?” – Now you might be thinking, “Hello! What’s all this ‘what kind of person are you?’ business? I thought this sermon was supposed to be all about kindness!” Well, if you’re the person thinking that this morning, let me just remind you that last week’s sermon was all about… patience! :-)

Yes: this morning is the fifth sermon in a series on the fruit of the Spirit. So let’s start with a bit of a review as to why this is such an important topic. Here are the words of Jesus: 
“Every good tree produces good fruit, but a bad tree produces bad fruit. A good tree is not able to produce bad fruit, nor a bad tree to produce good fruit. Every tree that does not produce good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Matthew 7:17-19)

What kind of person are you this morning? That’s what Jesus is talking about, isn’t he? Two different kinds of trees; two different kinds of people. Two different kind of fruit; two different kinds of behavior. 

A tree’s fruit simply reveals the true nature of the tree – what kind of tree it is. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot product good fruit. Similarly, a person’s behavior simply reveals the true nature of that person. And that bit about being cut down and thrown into the fire? Not exactly sure about the details of the analogy here, but it is a safe bet that it is something that we would do well to avoid.

So the trees that Jesus talks about are us and the fruit is our behavior. Here’s what Paul has to say about that:
“The first way to please God is to bear fruit in good work.” (Colossians 1:10) 

There it is in scripture: good fruit is good work

In fact, the Bible says that our good work are the very purpose of scripture itself, doesn’t it:
 “All scripture is God-breathed… [and is given] so that you may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16,17)

We are also told that our good work are the goal of our salvation:
“[We received salvation] in order that we might bear fruit for God.” (Romans 7:4) 
 “we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good work” (Ephesians 2:10)

Now at this point, you may well be questioning my theology: after all, as participants in a Bible believing church, talk about good works makes us nervous – because we all know that we are saved by grace, and not by works. Well, that’s true. But let’s put those verses together:
 “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is a gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works.” (Ephesians 2:8-10)

You see, it isn’t that the gospel sets good works aside. It simply puts them in the right context – they don’t come before our salvation; they come after. We don't work for our salvation -- we work out our salvation. But they are no less important being after! The fruit simply reveals the true nature of that tree. And good fruit proves that the tree is good, after all. 

So given the importance of good works in the Christian life, it should be no surprise at all that the passage that our sermon series comes from is all about good works, too:
 “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22) 

Now, if you really wanted to, I suppose that you could pretend that some of these are inward and personal – not sounding very much like good works at all! You could imagine that joy and peace were in our hearts between us and God. You could imagine that love and patience were things we experience to ourselves. But it would be a big mistake to think that way. You see, thinking that way takes privacy and personal space for granted – but those things are modern inventions! Back in the time that this was written, everyone would have known that all of these fruit were precisely the “good works” that Paul writes about elsewhere.

Patience and peace result in much less stress and anger – and those around you will surely notice that in your behavior. True love and true joy can only ever be shared – and Paul’s readers should know that. Don’t make the mistake of treating the fruit of the Spirit as anything but a description of how we need to interact with each other. 

So after love, joy, peace, and patience, this morning we will look at kindness! I’m sure that we all appreciate that kindness is something that is expressed in good works.

Here is where kindness is situated among other Biblical words: it happens here – at the intersection of love and grace and goodness. But the English word kindness has an interesting story that I’d like to tell you about.

What’s obvious is that kindness (n. – that is, benevolent behavior) is the quality of being kind (adj. – that is, benevolent). But what isn’t obvious is that being kind (adj. - benevolent) comes from exactly the same source as the words “kindred (n. – relatives)” and “kin (n. – family)” and… “kind (n. – of the same nature)”. You see, to be kind is to treat someone else as if they are of your kind. Whenever we have the opportunity to show kindness, we demonstrate by our actions what kind of person we are. Or to put it another way, kindness is simply treating someone like family. Seriously! This is what the etymological dictionary says about the word “kind”:

kind (adj.)
"friendly, deliberately doing good to others," from Old English gecynde "natural, native, innate," originally "with the feeling of relatives for each other".

Kindness is simply treating someone like family.

Now it is possible that some of you might be thinking: “easy for you to say!” After all, when James Watts was here a few months ago, he asked us to think of a word to describe our families. It was my son’s voice from the balcony that offered “dysfunctional” as a description of my family. And while that might indeed describe my family… at least Nat (my son) puts the “fun” in dysfunction. :-)

Sure: if the bar is set low for someone’s family, it isn’t so hard to treat other people like family. But if the family bar is set higher (and I know that the bar can be set very high: in fact, I grew up in one of those very-functional families)… if the family bar is set high it is VERY much more difficult to use “family treatment” as a standard of kindness. I get that. But it is almost as if Jesus anticipates that objection – this is what he says: 
Luke 12:48 – "From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked."

So yes: I still claim that the kindness that God is asking of you is to treat others like family. But at this point, I suspect that there might be a bit of grumbling. After all, it is common among Christians to consider family to be sacred. In fact, it was only in the last few months that a godly Christian brother asked me: “our priorities, Doug – they should be God first, family second, and all other things after that – right?” It sounded right, and I agreed at the time… but in preparation for this sermon, I confess that I struggled to find ringing endorsements of our earthly families in the Bible. Instead, scripture has a lot to say about the family of God.
“Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believe in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” (John 1:12)
“So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God.” (Gal 3:26)
“You are citizens with everyone else who belongs to the family of God.” (Eph 2:19)
And my favorite:
“See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” (1 John 3:1)

That’s right: God’s kindness is an invitation to become part of his family – the family of Him who is the source of all Love, the family of Him who is the source of all Wisdom, the family of Him who is the source of all Joy. 

The Bible makes this invitation both for our hearts and for our heads. When the Bible wants to reach our hearts, it tells stories – when it wants to reach our heads, it gives us good theology.
First, let me remind you of the Bible story about kindness.

This story starts with someone whose heart was close to God wanting to show kindness to someone else. And the story ends with that someone else exclaiming, “Who am I to deserve all this?” Have you ever had that reaction to something? You see, there are kindnesses and then there are kindnesses. There are kindnesses to which the response is “aw”. There are kindnesses to which the response is “cool!” And there are kindnesses to which the response is “whoa!” And the one in the story I’m about to tell is off the charts. When someone shows you kindness outside of any expectation or without any deserving, that’s what we’re talking about.

At the beginning of our story, is David the King. And this story takes place right after the Bible says “So David reigned over all Israel.” At this point in history, he was the greatest man in the land. It is also interesting that the Bible situates this story as soon as possible after David’s armies had succeeded in bringing about peace in the land. The Philistines were defeated. The Moabites were defeated, The Syrians were defeated. The Edomites were defeated. And with this head of success and triumph, what does David do immediately? He says to his officials: “Is there still anyone left of the house of Saul, that I may show him kindness?” How do you like that? While other kings throughout history have made a point of executing the families of their predecessors – particularly when that predecessor invested years campaigning for your death as Saul did – David is looking for one of Saul’s descendants in order to be kind to him

So how does that work out? Well, they found somebody. Somebody with a tragic story: Mephibosheth, King Saul’s grandson, was crippled in both feet, having had an accident as a child. And as you know, being unable to walk has never been fun throughout history, but it was particularly difficult in ancient times. In fact, when word was put out to find this poor fellow, they eventually found him in a place called Lodebar, whose name means “land of nothing”. 

So Mephibosheth is brought to the palace, not knowing what David has in mind. Very likely he’s terrified. The Bible says he bowed down in front of David. But after saying Mephibosheth’s name, the first words out of David’s mouth were “Don’t be afraid.” And by the end of the day this cripple is given everything that belonged to his grandfather, King Saul. Saul’s old servants are now assigned to look after Mephibosheth. And what’s more, Mephibosheth and his son Mica are given permanent places at the king’s table. Can you imagine? This would be the closest thing you could ever get around 1000 BC to winning a lottery – and Mephibosheth hadn’t even bought a ticket. He starts the day in the land of nothing, and he ends the day in the palace in Jerusalem. He starts the day connected to the worst enemy the King has ever had, and he ends the day as a member of the King’s household. No wonder Mephibosheth’s response is so emotional: “Who am I?” he asks, “that you should even bother to notice a dead dog like me?” “Who am I to deserve this?” There really is nothing like experiencing this kind of kindness

But this is the kind of thing the Bible has in mind when it talks about kindness. Not just tit-for-tat kindness. Not just “what’s in it for me” kindness. Rather, an exceptional, free, and generous kindness. And an invitation into the King’s family is available to you, too, this morning. And the Holy Spirit really wants to get the message across this morning, because the story is backed up with teaching. What does the Bible say?

“But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.” (Titus 3:4,5)

That’s right: those righteous things we had done were no more than filthy rags. Instead, our salvation depends entirely on the kindness and love of God. Here’s another passage with the same message.
“But God, … because of His great love made us alive together with Christ even when we were dead in our trespasses … and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us….” (Ephesians 2:4-7)

What great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! God’s kindness to us is demonstrated in the fact that the Son of God, the Creator of the universe, became our kind in order that we could become his kind. That’s what the Bible means when it says 
“God made Christ, who knew no sin, to be sin for us so that we might become the righteousness of God in him.” (2 Corinthians 5:21)

Here we see the “immeasurable riches of God’s grace.” And how can we respond? How should we respond? The only appropriate response is like Mephibosheth “WOW! How can I possibly deserve this?” The answer, of course, is that you can’t. We simply cannot do anything to deserve this! This is what the Bible says (Romans 5:10)

“We were reconciled to Him through the death of his Son while we were His enemies.”

That’s right: the kind of person that God is is the kind whose kindness extends to his enemies. Of course, that’s the kind of person God asks each of us to be, too:

“But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.” (Matt 6:35)

If we, too, are able to love our enemies – to be kind to them – then we are God’s children: we are part of His family. That’s the kind of good fruit that is revealed on good trees. And if we are part of his family this morning, then we’ll want to act like this [pic]. 

Here, a not-quite-two-year-old Nathanael has put on his father’s hat and boots. (Ephesians 5:1 – “as dearly loved children, be imitators of God”) If we even so much as had an inkling of the amazing love that God has for us, we would be doing our best to imitate him. And how would we go about imitating God? The Bible says that when we see him as he is, we will be like him. And this is what God says about how he is (in Jeremiah 9):

“If you are smart, let’s hope that you are smart enough to know that brains aren’t something to brag about. And if you are strong, don’t imagine that that is anything to be proud of, either. And if you are rich, don’t waste your time gloating about it.
But let me tell you what’s worth celebrating: throw yourself a party only if you understand and know me – the God who is and the God who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on the earth. For in these things I delight.”

God is the kind of person who exercised exceptional kindness. Have you experienced the kindness of God – who wants to treat us like part of His family? Have you felt that incredible “Wow! How could I deserve that?” feeling? If you have, then you, too, will want to show that same kind of kindness to others, too. Have you become part of God’s family? If you have, this kindness is that good fruit that will result. You see, just like fruit demonstrates what kind of tree bears it, your kindnesses demonstrate the kind of person that you are. 

But what defines the kind of person you are this morning? Are you defined by your job, by your race, by your sex, by your bank account, by your friends, by your education, by your heritage, by your language, or even by your family? If those are the things that define the kind of person we are, then our kindnesses will be limited by our understanding, our kindnesses will be according to our own rules, and they will be within our own space, within our own comfort zone. But if we find your identity in God, and in the kindness that He demonstrates to us through the work of Jesus… only then will we be capable of a kindness that goes beyond our understanding. And this is the kindness that is the fruit of the Spirit; this is the good fruit that God is looking for in our lives. 

“Do you love those who love you?” asks Jesus, “Well, what credit do you think you deserve for doing that? Anyone does that. And if you good to those who are good to you? Do you expect a reward? Anyone does that.”

Instead, Jesus is challenging us to take kindness to the next level. Are you up to the challenge this morning? If we’re not, then I’m afraid we simply aren’t the kind of trees bearing good fruit. So at a minimum we’re in need of a wake-up call! But more accurately, we’re really in need of a new nature – we need to be miraculously changed from the kind of tree that bears bad fruit to the kind of tree that bears good fruit.  The good news, of course, is that such a renewal is available to all of us in Christ!

“If anyone is in Christ he is a new creation” (2 Cor 5:17)
“just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” (Romans 6:4)

In order to bear good fruit, we need a fundamental change of nature, and thank God: that is exactly what He is offering to you this morning. Are you willing to become the kind of person God intended you to be? Are you willing to accept that invitation to become part of His family? If you are, then open your heart to Him. He will then reveal himself to you, and you will begin an amazing journey that will change the way that you look at the world; it will change the way you look at people, and it will change the kind of kindness that you exercise in keeping with the amazing kindness that you have received from Him. 

What kind of person are you, this morning?