Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Results and Fruit

I had a great conversation with a friend today about how we go about measuring things in this Christian sub-culture we inhabit. We tend to be very fuzzy about what we think success is unless it involves attendance or finances. How do we really measure Christian growth or church health?

When we say "I really enjoyed that church service" what does that really mean? Does it mean that it made me feel good? Or that it was better than last week? Or maybe it's that they sang all my favorite songs? Or that I liked the stories the preacher told? It may be more well thought out and involve a new insight or a sense of connecting with God or maybe an answer to prayer.

Those things might all be true but what is the lasting result of a good service? I believe we need to measure these things by what type of action or result it produces. Spiritual things are notoriously hard to define - and not just for Christians. People sometimes say to me (in the context of arranging a funeral service) "I'm not really a Christian but I'm very spiritual." When I ask them how they would like me to help them express their spirituality, they usually have no answer or give me a "Christian" answer (like read Psalm 23 or say the "Lord's Prayer"). Most people feel that they are spiritual but don't really know what it means to live out that spirituality. They don't really know what a spiritual person is supposed to look like.

We sometimes don't know what a Christian is supposed to look like either. Sure we have some traditional descriptions that made sense when holiness was measured by what you didn't do (smoke, dance, drink or go to movies). But when we describe a mature follower of Jesus, a disciple - what does he or she really look like?

When Jesus talked about results He sometimes used the word "fruit" like in Luke 6.

43"No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. 44Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers. 45The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.

But in this passage Jesus is kind of vague in helping us determine what good fruit is. It is certainly the fruit of the Spirit mentioned in Galatians 6:22 and the fruit of people coming into the kingdom, and I suppose the fruit of righteousness and right living (holiness). John the Baptist actually gives some very specific examples of what fruit looks like in a few specific examples earlier in Luke (Luke 3).

8Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father.' For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. 9The axe is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire."
10 "What should we do then?" the crowd asked.
11 John answered, "The man with two tunics should share with him who has none, and the one who has food should do the same."
12 Tax collectors also came to be baptized. "Teacher," they asked, "what should we do?"
13 "Don't collect any more than you are required to," he told them.
14 Then some soldiers asked him, "And what should we do?" He replied, "Don't extort money and don't accuse people falsely—be content with your pay."

John the Baptist gives some tangible actions that result from a spiritual activity (repentance). Those actions fall into the category of Justice - helping those less fortunate than yourself, being fair and equitable, being content with what you have. Those are good fruits? Apparently so.

My point is not that acting justly is the only fruit (or tangible result) of hearing and obedience. Rather it is that we should be seeing and being able to measure the result of our life in Christ - as a result of attending 50+ "worship services" a year, after reading through the Bible in a year. What is the fruit and where is the fruit? Disciples bear fruit.

John 15
8. This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.
16. 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.

P.S. This actually is challenging me to do a deeper study into what it means to bear fruit and the nature of fruit in the Bible. There may be more to come.

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