Friday, 31 March 2017

FAITHFUL AND FRUITFUL

Why being faithful means we have to be fruitful

                                                                   
Fruit-bearing is the product of regeneration. When people are born again, they naturally want to bear fruit. If people profess to believe in Christ but fail to bear fruit, it makes us wonder whether their conversion experience is genuine or not.

There is a strong association between faithfulness and fruitfulness. In John chapter 15, there is an allegory about the vine and the branches, where the former is Jesus and the latter are believers:

“I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit. You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned. If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples.
(John 15:1-8)

The secret to bearing fruit is to abide in Christ; for without Christ we can do nothing (John 15:5).

Believers who bear much fruit bring glory to God and prove that they are true disciples (John15:8).

Fruit farmers sometimes get disappointed when fruits, which appear promising at first, are shed off prematurely. Similarly, God is displeased if believers bear “fruits” that don’t last such as fame and power, instead of character and godly influence. Christ taught that believers have been appointed by God to bear fruit, the kind of fruit that lasts (John15:16). This means people around us are permanently impacted and transformed as a result of our “sowing, watering or reaping”. Our lives must touch the lives of those around us. We must leave a lasting legacy for succeeding generations.   

Some believers may be impatient to bear “fruit”. When we sense God’s calling, we want to quickly fulfill it. But God may have other plans. He may send trials to prepare us before He launches us into ministry. For every branch that bears fruit, the vinedresser (God the father) prunes so that the branch (believer) might bear more fruit (John 15:2b).


                                                                    
What are the types of “spiritual fruit” God expects us, as believers, to bear?

There are various types of “spiritual fruit”:

Fruit of good works (Colossians 1:10)

Fruit of righteousness (Philippians 1:11)

Fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5: 22-23)

Fruit of evangelism—lives impacted by Paul’s ministry (2 Corinthians 3:2)

Fruit of lips—praising God (Hebrews 13:15)

Why is fruit-bearing associated with genuine faith?

In sounding out the warning to believers about false prophets, Jesus taught that we can discern whether leaders are genuine or not by the type of fruits they manifest:

“Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit.”
(Matthew 7:15-18)

‘Good fruits’ are included in the list of characteristics of heavenly wisdom.

“The wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.”
(James 3:17).

Is fruitfulness or productivity the most important criterion in God’s eyes?

In the Parable of the Talents, the men with two talents and five talents each made a 100% return on investment for the master. Here, we notice that productivity is not the only criterion by which God judges man; faithfulness in managing the talents given to man is the main determinant. God is being fair in the way He dishes out rewards. He does not expect the two-talent man to be as productive as the five-talent man. Neither did He reward the latter much more than the former. Both these servants received the same commendation: “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master” (Matthew 25: 21,23).

Fruitfulness, in itself, will not please God if there are ulterior motives behind our good works. If we serve God with a personal agenda in mind, then our good works will be burnt up on judgment day.  http://bit.ly/1LKKiAg

Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— each one's work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone's work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.
(1 Corinthians 3:12-15)

Thus, believers are not judged based on our fruitfulness per se. God also looks into areas such as our faithfulness and sincerity of motives.

What are the consequences if a believer fails to bear fruit?

There are several warnings directed at believers who take their faith lightly and fail to bear fruit.

“Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”
(Matthew 7:19)

While abiding in Christ (the vine) enables us to bear fruit, failure to abide results in fruitlessness and consequently God’s judgment.
“I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned.”
(John 15:5-6)

Similarly, John the Baptist warns that repentance must be evidenced by fruits and warned of judgment if no fruits are seen.
 Bear fruit in keeping with repentance; and do not suppose that you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham for our father’; for I say to you that from these stones God is able to raise up children to Abraham. The axe is already laid at the root of the trees; therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
(Matthew 3:8-10)

In the Parable of the Talents, Matthew 25:14-30, while addressing His disciples, Jesus warned that fruitlessness will incur God’s judgment. Jesus condemned the one-talent man who buried his talent and failed to multiply it: “You wicked and lazy servant!” (Matthew 25:26). What happened to him? He was cast into the outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 25:30). In contrast, the two servants who multiplied their talents were commended and given fresh responsibilities.

                                                               
To recapitulate, here are the main points about faithfulness and fruitfulness:

Believers are called not only to bear fruit but abundant fruit, the kind of fruit that lasts. And it is only by abiding in Christ that we can be fruitful (John 15: 5, 8, 16).

Inasmuch as fruitfulness is associated with faithfulness and God’s favour, fruitlessness results in loss of reward and God’s judgment. http://bit.ly/1MA1h8F

So let us bear fruits consistent with our membership in the kingdom of light, forsaking the fruitless deeds of darkness (Ephesians 5:8-11).


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FAITHFUL TO OUR CALLING
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FAITH PROVEN BY ACTION
Christians are all sinners saved by God’s grace. This happens when we put our faith in Christ, whose blood cleanses us from our sins (Ephesians 2:8-9). However, faith is not merely intellectual assent. We must act out our faith. Faith has to be matched by action.

DANGER OF PERFORMANCE CULTURE
In our eagerness to perform, have we lost out in that which is most essential?

LOSS OF REWARDS VS LOSS OF SALVATION
Some believers may lose their eternal rewards BUT, eventually, they are saved. In the Parable of the Ten Virgins, did the foolish virgins merely lose their rewards or much more

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

PRAYER AND GUIDE

How the Lord’s Prayer can become our guide to life.

                                                            

The Lord’s Prayer
“Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
    on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts,
    as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
    but deliver us from evil.
 (Matthew 6: 9-13)

Here are five ways whereby the Lord’s Prayer guides us along the pathway that leads to life:

Our lives must reflect God’s holiness
“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name” means ‘may your name be kept holy’. So at the beginning, the foundational truth is being laid.  If we profess to bear God’s name, we must honour His name. That means we must fear God and live righteously.

The sad state of affairs today is that people prefer a God who is kind, loving and merciful but conveniently downplay or ignore that part of Him which is just, righteous and holy. And they look for liberal teachers who tell them comforting half-truths to soothe their itching ears.

To emphasise God’s love alone but not His holiness is tantamount to worshipping a false God. “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; steadfast love and faithfulness go before you” (Psalm 89:14).

God not only loves us but requires us to align our lives with the truth found in scriptures. It is crucial to know that ‘grace and truth’ came through Jesus the Messiah (John 1:14, 17). It is essential, therefore, that we embrace grace with truth rather than grace alone.

Thus, to call upon a holy God is to be identified with His character: Be holy, for I am holy. “Let everyone that names the name of Christ depart from iniquity” (2 Timothy 2:19).

God’s will is more important than personal fulfillment
Notice that “your kingdom come” appears before “give us this day our daily bread”. God’s kingdom is more important than earthly matters, like career and putting food on the table.

While there is nothing wrong with working hard, enjoying the fruits of our labour and attaining personal fulfillment, we must not put the cart before the horse. Doing God’s will and advancing His kingdom should take priority in the believer’s life.
  • “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.”
          (Colossians 3:1-2)
         
  • “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”
          (Matthew 6:33)
         
In contrast, today’s ‘prosperity gospel’ places our blessings, happiness and comfort above kingdom concerns. This man-centered, self-serving gospel uses “faith” as a means of getting what we want in life. In effect, God becomes our servant and “faith” becomes a tool to help us achieve our dreams and desires. And the ‘name it, claim it’ mantra, so central to this false gospel, is used to get what we desire in the name of “faith”.

Our relationship with God the Father is most important
Notice the heart’s cry, Our Father in heaven, in the prayer. Let’s pause and think for a moment.  We are calling the almighty God of creation, our heavenly Father. He is so awesome and glorious up there, yet He can be so intimate and personal—if we know Him.

Similarly, the Apostle Paul exhorts believers in Romans 8:15 to address God as ‘Abba’ (Aramaic for ‘Daddy’). It is an endearing word that a child would use to address his or her father

Believers enjoy a most blessed and intimate relationship with God. God is not just a taskmaster with a big stick who beats us into submission but a loving Father, like our earthly father, who cares for us and wants to bless us (Luke 11:11-13).

As God is our Father, He promises to be with us through all the ups and downs of life. If we face any trials in life, we can call upon our Father for wisdom, strength and comfort. If we go astray, we know that the Holy Spirit will convict us of sin and draw us back to our heavenly Father.  If we need guidance, we can count on the Spirit—and scriptures—to lead us along the pathway of life.

However, the danger arises when we become complacent and take our relationship with God lightly. We may even say and do all the “correct” things expected of believers but miss out on heaven. The most harrowing experience, after going through the motions, is to hear these words in the afterlife: “I do not know you.” 

“Not everyone who calls out to me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter. On judgment day many will say to me, ‘Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.’ But I will reply, ‘I never knew you. Get away from me, you who break God’s laws.’
(Matthew 7: 21-23)

All these things—attending church, serving in church, rubbing shoulders with big names in church, working miracles, having impressive theological qualifications—are praiseworthy and positive.

But some questions still remain:
  • Do I have a relationship with Him?

  • Do I seek His face (seek Him for who He is), not only His hand (what He has to offer)?

  • Do I seek to know His will for my life?

  • Do I obey Him?

Loving God means loving man as well
The part of the prayer that says “forgive us our sins (debts) as we have forgiven those who sin against us” reminds us that in line with our restored fellowship with God, we have to make peace with others—whether we been hurt or we have hurt others.

We cannot claim we love God but hate our brothers or sisters.
“If someone says, I love God, but hates a fellow believer, that person is a liar; for if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see? And he has given us this command: Those who love God must also love their fellow believers.”
(1 John 4:20-21)

Even though we may profess faith in God, any bitterness and unforgiveness on our part show that we are not truly saved.
“If we love our brothers and sisters who are believers, it proves that we have passed from death to life. But a person who has no love is still dead. Anyone who hates another brother or sister is really a murderer at heart. And you know that murderers don’t have eternal life within them.”
(1 John 3:14-15)

When we harbour grudges and refuse to forgive others, we cannot expect God to forgive us.
“If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.”
(Matthew 6:14-15)

Christ has paid a heavy price for our sins. He has canceled our debts. Are we like the servant in the parable who, after being forgiven of huge debts, choked a fellow servant who merely owed him a small debt (Matthew 18:28)?

Life is a constant battle against the world, our flesh and the devil
This prayer ends on a sober note. It is a cry to God for help against temptation and deliverance from evil. If we think that the Christian life is likened to a walk in the park, and discount the reality of evil, we are seriously mistaken. There are serious holes in our worldview if we think that we merely live in a material world.

Satan works hand in hand with worldly delights—lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes and the pride of life (1 John 2:15-17)—to tempt us and cause our downfall. Temptation, in itself, is not sin; we sin only when we yield to temptation. If we submit to our fleshly desires, we become slaves to evil and become the devil’s captives.
  • “Those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.” 
           (Romans 8:5)
  • “Walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” 
          (Galatians 5:16)

And evil is not only a force; it has a face. Satan, evil personified, is variously known as the Father of lies, accuser of the brethren, great deceiver and tempter.

As such, we have to be vigilant as evil is lurking. “Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). We do not wrestle against flesh and blood but against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places (Ephesians 6:12).

                                                             
Though the Lord’s Prayer is a model prayer, it is also a guide to Christian living:
  • Our lives must reflect God’s holiness

  • God’s will comes before personal fulfillment

  • God the Father loves us but we must not take His love lightly

  • Loving God means loving man as well

  • Be alert as life is a battle against temptation and the devil.

As we meditate on this prayer and declare it, let it resound in our hearts and minds, reminding us how we should live our transient lives on earth.


RELATED POSTS

GROWING IN GRACE
Receiving God’s grace is merely the first step in the life of a believer. The difficult part is to continue growing, keeping ourselves under God’s favour and impacting the world. 


MOTHER OF ALL BATTLES
A clear understanding of the ongoing battle between the “old man” and “new man” is essential before we can walk in victory.


SPIRITUAL BACKLASH
Spiritual backlash when we attempt to serve God and extend His kingdom is a grim reality. But believers must be bold and persevere in spiritual warfare, not easily intimidated by satan’s devices.


EXTERNAL LINK
Abba Father let me be, yours and yours alone
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_NZ4VNY6pvk

Thursday, 9 March 2017

THE POWER OF THE SPOKEN WORD

Speaking forth and declaring the truth in spiritual warfare

Learning from Jesus’ example—how He overcame the devil’s temptation

                                                              
How did Jesus overcome the wiles of the devil when He was tempted in the wilderness? He countered Satan’s lies by proclaiming the truth found in God’s word.

When Jesus was tempted in the wilderness, he drew the Sword of the Spirit (scriptures) to fight against the devil. Physically he was at His weakest moment after a forty-day fast when Satan tempted Him (Matthew 4:1-11).

                                                                       
There were three different attempts by Satan to make the Son of God fall. He challenged the Son of God to:
  • Command the stones to turn to bread.

  • Jump down from the highest point of the temple.

  • Fall down to worship the devil in exchange for all the kingdoms of the world.

For each of Satan’s attempts, Jesus overcame the attacker with the Word of God. Jesus rebuked Satan by quoting three times from the book of Deuteronomy:
  • Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. This was directed at Satan’s call to Jesus to command the stones to turn to bread” (Deut. 8:3).

  • You must not test the Lord your God. This was directed at Satan’s call to Jesus to jump down from the highest point of the temple (Deut. 6:16).

  • Fear only the Lord your God; you shall worship him. This was directed at Satan’s call to Jesus to fall down to worship the devil in exchange for the all the kingdoms of the world (Deut. 6:13).

Even as a boy, Jesus had a firm grasp of scriptures. His parents found him sitting in the temple, learning from the teachers and asking them questions beyond his age (Luke 2:46). Later, after His resurrection, while talking with two believers who were walking towards Emmaus, He confidently referred to the ancient scriptures alluding to Him, beginning with Moses and all the prophets (Luke 24:25-27).

Of course, it is not head knowledge of scriptures which will stand us in good stead against the devil. We also need to be in a right relationship with God, “having girded our loins with truth and having put on the breastplate of righteousness” (Ephesians 6:14).The saints defeat the devil by the blood of the Lamb and by their testimony. None can testify with conviction and power unless they are righteous before God, having been cleansed by the blood of the Lamb (Revelation 12:11). We must give no opportunity to the devil by sinning (Ephesians 4: 27).

We need to bear in mind that, in the second temptation, Satan can even quote scripture: “Throw yourself down and God will send angels to bear you up.” But Jesus withstood Satan's suggestion by saying, "You must not test the Lord your God."

If the devil quotes, “It is written …” we must rebuke him by saying, “It is also written ...” That was what Jesus did. He countered lies with truth. So we, too, must not allow Satan to twist scriptures. We must not only be equipped with the Word but also know how to rightly handle the Word: “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).

These temptations happened before Jesus embarked on His ministry. Even so, we have to be proven faithful before we are called to do God’s work. Like Joseph, we have to demonstrate our ability to overcome trials and testings before we are given the honour of serving Him.

Jesus knew exactly how to wield the Sword of the Spirit when faced with each of the devil’s temptations. If Jesus needed the Word to be victorious against temptation, how much more we, weak mortals, need to be well-equipped with knowledge and understanding of scriptures.

In spiritual warfare, we employ defensive weapons such as the helmet, breastplate and shield, which merely protect us and keep our enemy at bay. While having a solid defense is good, we must not forget to take the offensive. We must learn how to wield and thrust the weapon of offense—the Sword of the Spirit—which is the Word of God (Ephesians 6:10-18).

Let’s examine another occasion that illustrates the power of speaking forth and declaring the truth. The disciples were surprised that the fig tree had so quickly withered away as a result of Jesus’ curse. The Master then took the opportunity to teach his disciples the importance of faith and how to release that faith by “speaking to the mountain”.

Jesus told his disciples, “Have faith in God” (Mark 11:22). He seems to be telling them, “You may think that the mountain (obstacle or problem) you are facing is insurmountable but nothing is impossible when you have faith.”

“Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him” (Mark 11: 23).

Notice that apart from having faith, there is a need to declare the truth or expected outcome— speak to the mountain. We must speak out what we believe is true and in accordance with God’s will.

For positive results, our tongue must align itself with our belief. “Death and life are in the power of the tongue and those who love it will eat its fruit” (Proverbs 18:21).

On another occasion, Jesus exercised spiritual authority by rebuking the evil spirit in the demon-possessed boy: “You mute and deaf spirit, I command you, come out of him and never enter him again” (Mark 9:25b).

To be effective in the spiritual warfare, we need faith. As we diligently study God’s word, our faith (shield that protects us from Satan’s arrows) is strengthened. We know our rightful position in Christ—that Satan had already been defeated by Jesus at the cross. “He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him” (Colossians 2:15).

Believers need to know that we are stronger than the evil one because He who is in us is greater than he who is in the world (1 John 4:4). And when we submit ourselves to God and resist the devil, the evil one will flee from us (James 4:7).

Thus, we need to constantly embrace the fact that Satan is already a defeated foe. We do not fight for victory. We merely enforce the victory that Christ has already won for us.

                                                                    
Every believer needs to declare: “I am a conqueror and victorious. I am reigning with Jesus, seated in the heavenly places with Him. Satan is defeated and has no power over me.” (Romans 8:37, Ephesians 2:6, Colossians 2:15).

While praying and believing are important, we must also boldly confront evil by proclaiming the truth.

In spiritual warfare, being on the defensive is good. But we have to go on the offensive as well —declare the truth found in God’s word.

The stakes are high in spiritual warfare. And what is at stake is the eternal destiny of lost souls. The devil—the commander of the powers in the unseen world—is the spirit at work in the hearts of those who refuse to obey God (Ephesians 2:2). We do not wrestle against flesh and blood but against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places (Ephesians 6:12).

As God’s kingdom advances, it meets with resistance from the kingdom of darkness. For lost souls to be freed from the grip of evil, God’s servants have to be intentional and decisive in overcoming the forces of darkness. As believers, we must declare the truth in accordance with scriptures in order to withstand evil.

RELATED POSTS

SPIRITUAL BACKLASH
Spiritual backlash when we attempt to serve God and extend His kingdom is a grim reality. But believers must be bold and persevere in spiritual warfare, not easily intimidated by satan’s devices.

POWER OF WORDS
“Death and life are in the power of the tongue and those who love it will eat its fruit” (Proverbs 18:21).
What we say can edify, encourage or comfort others. Or it may discourage, condemn or make them feel inferior. Words often have permanent and far-reaching effects on its hearers. As such, we should pause to check ourselves before speaking. What are the possible consequences of our words? Once released, words cannot be retracted.

I BELIEVE, HELP MY UNBELIEF
How much faith is needed when we pray? What does Jesus mean when He says, "If you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move?"


EXTERNAL LINK

I AM A CONQUEROR AND VICTORIOUS


  Verse 1
  I'm a conqueror and victorious,
  I'm reigning with Jesus,
  I'm seated in heav'nly places
  With Him, with Him,
 
  verse 2
  And the Kingdom of God is
  within me,
  I know no defeat, only victory.
  For the Kingdom of God is
  within me,
  I know no defeat, only strength
  and power.
 
  Verse 3
  For He strengthens me, He
  strengthens me,
  With joy in my heart and peace
  in my soul
  He strengthens me.
  Yes, I'm a conqueror reigning
  with him,
  Secure as the blood of Jesus

  cleanses me within.