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Friday, January 27, 2017

Ye Are Christ's

Ye are Christ's”

1Co 3:23a    And ye are Christ's...

Something I've noticed over the last few years is that many people today... when they look at history... they tend look at it with a judgmental eye. In other words, they evaluate the past... and stand in judgment over a person... or an entire civilization which lived years or even centuries past... by the standards we hold today.

A primary example of this would be slavery. It's a practice that's been around for millennia... probably since the beginning of time... and it's only fallen into widespread disfavor within the last 200 years or so.

Every people group on this planet has practiced slavery at some point in time... but it seems like all we hear about today is how it was practiced and what it was like... here in America... as if we're the only country that ever did this.

And please... don't misunderstand me here... Slavery is horrible! It was an institution that rightly died in America in the early part of the 19th century... and it's a practice that's just as detestable to us today as it was to all those men and women who laid their lives on the line, fighting against it way back then.

But I will not try to resurrect the long dead and stand in judgment over them using our standards today. For example... the very idea that we should expunge the history books... or remove statues... in order eliminate the historic achievements of certain people, simply because they owned slaves is ludicrous. Some of the greatest men and women in American history were slave owners... but they were subject to the laws and the customs of their own time... not ours.

Why not instead concern ourselves with those places and cultures where slavery is still practiced? All over Africa... and especially South Africa... sex slavery is a real problem. Sex slavery is also a problem here in America... only, we give it a little bit of whitewash call it prostitution now.

Within Islam... women are nothing more than property and are subject to extreme punishments for something as simple as driving a car... or leaving a house without a male family member present. Elsewhere in the Middle East... any young girls who are captured by ISIS are either turned into sex slaves... or they're brutally murdered if they don't comply.

Folks... human slavery has not been eliminated. The various forms of it we see in our world today are just as bad... if not worse... than it was in history past. Now, some of today's slavery (like sex slavery or actual physical bondage) is blatant and in your face... While other forms of it (such as financial and economic debt) are more subtle... or given a veneer of acceptability so that as a society... we can be comfortable with simply overlooking it.

But slavery is slavery... and as Christians we should do everything we can to fight against it wherever we see it... whether it be physical, mental, financial or even spiritual.

However... there is a form of slavery, which we as Christians... find totally acceptable. Matter-of-fact... we not only find it acceptable... but we freely give ourselves over to it... and encourage others to follow us in it...

Our verse says in... 1Co 3:23a    And ye are Christ's...

We belong to the Lord Jesus Christ. We are His. He is our Master... our Lord... and our Sovereign King! One of the Apostle Paul's favorite designations for himself was that he was the “duolos” of Christ.

Now... wherever you see Paul making mention of being a “servant” or a “bond servant” of Christ in the NT... the word he uses is “duolos”... which means... slave!

He was wholly and completely owned and possessed by His Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Though he possessed a will of his own... it was in total submission to the will of His Master. As the “duolos” of Jesus Christ, Paul was the possession of the Lord and was completely dependent upon Him.

And this is God's design for all who believe in Jesus Christ... 1Co 6:19-20  What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?  [20]  For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's.

God is in us... we are not our own... we've been bought with a price... and we belong to God!

We... as believers in the Lord Jesus Christ are the sole possession of our Master... and we were given to Him by the Father. And I know that as Americans... it's difficult for us to wrap our minds around this concept. We're so used to having “inalienable” rights and being “free” as a people and the beacon of “freedom” to the world.

But the God's honest truth is that if you are truly a Christian... then you are the property of the Lord Jesus Christ. He owns you and you not only should... but you will submit to Him as your Lord! And if you don't... then you aren't!

From eternity past... as the property of the Father through His creative act... He gave us to the Son...

I. By Donation

Joh 17:6   I have manifested thy name unto the men which thou gavest me out of the world: thine they were, and thou gavest them me; and they have kept thy word.

There is this unwritten law in the universe that when someone creates something... that thing which is created belongs to its creator. When God created everything... including man... man became God's possession to do with as He wished.

The prophet Isaiah... speaks of the relationship between man and God in terms of a Potter and the Clay.

Isa 64:8  But now, O LORD, thou art our father; we are the clay, and thou our potter; and we all are the work of thy hand.

Now... I minored in Art when I was in college at Wayland Baptist University. And because of that minor... I took a lot of Art Classes... one of which included Pottery. In that class I learned how to “throw” clay... which simply means how to shape a lump of clay into something while it's turning on a wheel.

While the wheel would spin... I'd use my hands... fingers... or any other tool I desired... to fashion whatever it was I had in my mind... which was usually a pot, or a vase or an ashtray. Something simple... because I was a novice. But anyway... I'd work at it until I got it to look however I wanted... and then if I didn't like what I made... I'd smash it and add a little more water... and start all over again.

Once the pot or ashtray was finished... I'd fire it in the kiln. If it didn't explode because of air bubbles... the finished product would be mine to do with as I wished. I could keep it and use it. I could throw it up against the wall if I desired. Or, I could give it away to whoever I wanted... because it was mine.

In the same way... God took the dirt of the ground and fashioned man from the mud. He then took a part out of that mud... that clay... and fashioned a woman from the man for the man.

We are His by the law of creation. And He can do with us as He wishes. And because of His great love for us, His creation... He determined that all those who believed in the Son... would be predestined to be given to the Son as a love gift from Him.

2Ti 1:9  Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began

And because the Son loves the Father and the gift that He received from Him... the Son kept us... and saved us... and called us with a holy calling. We didn't do anything to earn it... It was all according to His own purpose and grace.

But there was a difficulty with the gift... because it rebelled against its creator... In essence... the clay vessel believed the lie that it could become it's own potter. That it could become like God... So sin entered the gift, making it flawed and sinful... no longer perfect. Rom 5:12  Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned:

And because of that sinful rebellion by Adam... sin passed through him unto all his seed. So that now... the gift from the Father to the Son... must also become the Sons possession...

II. By Purchase

Psa 34:22  The LORD redeemeth the soul of his servants: and none of them that trust in him shall be desolate.

Tit 2:14  Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.

You know... I can remember as a kid back in the 60's... going to the store or the gas station to buy a soda for a dime. A pack of gum was around a nickle... For a dollar and a half you could buy a hamburger, fries and soda at the Tastee Freeze. A dollar's worth of gasoline would keep the car going for quite a while because gas was only 25-30 cents a gallon.

Over the years the price of everything has gone up. And in many cases... the price of goods have out-paced any rise in personal income. Our purchasing power has fluctuated over the years from inflation... depression... and erratic swings in the market... The value of the dollar truly isn't what it used to be.

But the value of the blood of Christ isn't affected by any economic fluctuations. It's purchasing power remains the same wherever or whenever you are in the world. It's unaffected by the color of a persons skin... their sex... or what decade or century they lived...

Now because of the sin of Adam... as our federal head... sin has passed to all of us too... Adam made all of his offspring sinners. So now... that death that God spoke of when He told Adam that if he ate of the tree... Gen 2:17  ...thou shalt surely die. That curse also passed to all of us.

So now as sinners... under the curse... we're face to face with the justice of God. He can't simply sweep that curse, or that debt under the rug... If He were to do that... if He were to simply give sin a pass... He wouldn't be “just”. No. This debt has got to be paid.

Martin Luther said that as God, He couldn't die, so He became man in order to die. On the cross, He accepted the sin of man against Himself. As the Bible says in... 2Co 5:21  ...he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.

In other words... our sin was imputed, or credited to Christ on the cross. And when He died... in a sense... our sins died with Him. Our debt was paid... The curse was lifted.

The blood that He shed for us on the cross... was the purchase price of our freedom. And folks... don't ever let anyone tell you that He paid this price to the Devil. No! We may have been in bondage to sin... but the debt we owed was to God, for breaking His law. Not Satan.

Rev 5:9  And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation;

We were redeemed to God... not the Devil.

We were given to the Son by the Father. The Son then redeemed (or purchased) us back to God by His blood. And now we have standing in His family as sons...

III. By Adoption

Rom 8:15  For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father.

Gal 4:5  To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.

When we think of that word... adoption... I'd be willing to bet that you visualize the common practice of bringing someone who's not your child into your family and making them your legal child. Though they aren't your flesh and blood... to all intents and purposes... they become your child in every other possible way.

But the Christian experience of adoption is different in that we don't enter God’s family by adoption... but by regeneration. Jesus told us that... Joh 3:3b  ...Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.

And then He goes on to say... Joh 3:7   Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.

So... we become children of God by faith in Christ. We're born into God's family. But every child of God is automatically placed into the family as a son... through adoption.

When a sinner trusts Christ and is saved, his condition is that he's is a “spiritual baby” who needs to grow up. But positionally... he's an adult son who can not only draw from the Father's wealth... but can also exercise all the rights and privileges of sonship.

The adoption of sons” has to do with our standing in the family of God.
So... we enter the family by regeneration... but we enjoy God’s family by adoption. The Christian doesn't have to wait to begin enjoying the spiritual riches he has in Christ... because... Gal 4:7  ...thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.

* * * * *

Folks... by God's grace, through faith in Jesus Christ... we are saved and born again. And that new birth... means exactly what it says. It means... truly born again... given new life! Taking that which was dead... and putting new life within it. It's not my old life resuscitated. It's brand spanking new.

Now according to Romans chapter 6... our old man was nailed to the cross and was crucified with Christ. So he's dead and gone. But because Christ rose from the dead... we also have risen from the dead in Him.

Rom 6:11  Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.

This is a brand new start. A new lease on life. A do-over. Have you ever wanted that? To just wipe the slate clean and start all over again?

Well... you can do exactly that today.

2Co 5:17  Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.

Repent of your sins... Trust Jesus Christ and confess Him as Lord... Believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead.

And you will be saved. You'll have that do-over!

Friday, January 13, 2017

Wait Upon The Lord

Wait Upon The Lord

Psa 27:14  Wait for the LORD; Be strong and let your heart take courage; Yes, wait for the LORD...

Contrary to popular belief... or what my wife might tell you... I really am not a very patient person. Now, I know that may be surprising to some... since I've acquitted myself in this so well over the years... but the truth is... I'm not a very patient person.

For example... I absolutely detest standing in lines. I can't think of how many restaurants I've not eaten at... or opening night movies I haven't seen... simply because there's a line waiting to get in. I have never been to a Black Friday sale in my life because one thing I dislike more than standing in lines... is standing in a loud, pushy, and rude crowd of people jockeying to get in the line to get in the door first.

When I go to the store... I try my best to find a checkout lane that doesn't have any customers in it... or at least just one or two that only have a couple items in their baskets... in hopes they'll get done quickly. You know... checkout lines and walking around “shopping” at the store is one reason I do so much more online shopping now... but then... I have to wait for my purchases to arrive in the mail.

Now... being impatient can be a problem living in the Texas panhandle... because here, we tend to measure distance by the amount of time it takes to get somewhere. Everywhere, other than where you're at is far away. It's going to take time to get anywhere. We might try to lessen this time by exceeding the speed limit... but it still takes time... and a measure of patience.

Oh... and don't even get me started on Doctor's offices! More than once I've thought about sending them a bill for every ½ hour I've had to wait past our appointment time. I've walked out of more than one waiting room without ever seeing a doctor... simply because they kept me waiting past my endurance.

Yeah... my patience leaves some to be desired... and I should probably be in prayer about it... but I'm afraid He might answer my prayer by making me wait in even more things... like lines... or doctor's offices...

But you know... one thing I've found in reading my Bible... is that I'm not the only impatient person that God knows. Nor am I the only impatient person that God has continued to use despite their flaws in this area.

For example... Abraham's impatience brought Ishmael into the world... and the following generations of hatred between the children of the flesh and the children of the promise. Tamar's impatience guaranteed her place in the lineage of Messiah. Saul's impatience gave rise to a new royal blood line in David.

And Peter's impatience took him fishing... and then to a seaside conversation with our risen Lord where he was told to... Joh 21:15  ..."Tend My lambs."

Now, we know that the Lord works all things (including our impatience) together for the good of those who love Him (Ro 8:28)... So, those who love Him... should exhibit patience... because... 1Co 13:4  Love is patient...

And the truth of that statement is clearly displayed to us each and every day, through the Father's loving patience with us. Though we sin all the time, and fall short of His design for us... His love for us, is demonstrated through His patience with us.

Psa 103:8, 10  The LORD is compassionate and gracious, Slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness. [10] He has not dealt with us according to our sins, Nor rewarded us according to our iniquities.

Now... our opening verse tells us to... Psa 27:14  Wait for the LORD; Be strong and let your heart take courage; Yes, wait for the LORD...

And many times, when we think of that verb “wait”... we also tend to think of adjectives that so often go along with it in a sentence... such as “patiently”, “calmly” or “continually”. That's why I spoke so much about my patience... or lack of it... in relation to “waiting” in lines or doctor's offices.

And though “patiently waiting” is implied in our verse... it also goes beyond that and actually speaks of “eagerly”, “expectantly” and “hopefully” waiting.

In other words, we are to “patiently” and “expectantly” wait on the Lord. Not just calmly and stoically sit back and wait for Him to do whatever... No! Our waiting is filled with anxious anticipation of His revelation.

And there are several other strands of meaning behind the biblical thought of “waiting” on the Lord. Strands such as...

I. Our Dependence on Him

Act 17:28  for in Him we live and move and have our being...

Just as the newborn baby waits on his mother for life and sustenance... and as the patient waits on the skills of the surgeon to give him the hope of life... so also we wait on the Lord because our very existence is dependent upon Him.

He is our original fountain of life... and He upholds us each and every moment... in the palms of His hands. The fact that we live at all is his gift... That we have power to move is his gift... And our continued and prolonged existence is also his gift.

Now... there is a sense in the Scripture where this waiting on the Lord is a universal thing. Psa 145:15  The eyes of all wait upon thee; and thou givest them their meat in due season.

But this is an inescapable and unconscious dependence. In other words... all of creation is dependent upon the Lord... whether it's conscious of that dependence or not.

But our verse speaks of dependence that's a conscious and hopeful anticipation of the Lord's providence. We wait on Him because we know that in Him we live and move and have our being. Our minds have been wakened to the knowledge that on Him... hangs every beat of our heart... and breath that we take.
We gain strength in that knowledge... and it produces a courage within us beyond what would be possible if we were dependent upon ourselves.

Waiting on the Lord speaks of our dependence on Him... but it also speaks of...

II. Our Obedience to Him

Psa 123:2  Behold, as the eyes of servants look unto the hand of their masters, and as the eyes of a maiden unto the hand of her mistress; so our eyes wait upon the LORD our God, until that he have mercy upon us.

To wait... is another term for service. When we go to a restaurant and sit down at a table... the person who's there to supply our wants is distinguished by the title of waiter. But in biblical times... this service was supplied by servants... or actually, slaves who were so attentive to their master's desires that every minor gesture of the hand would bring them to his side to supply whatever his want or desire was.

This servant's position couldn't be filled with the idle or lazy... because it required the utmost attention to detail, and demanded the highest level of energy. Every flick of the wrist... wink of the eye... clearing of the throat would cause a flurry of activity designed to fulfill the master's need.

And so... when we wait on the Lord... it doesn't mean a cessation of activity because the thought of service runs right through the word. Our eyes remain focused on Him every time we help a brother or sister in need... and do it lovingly for Jesus' sake... expecting nothing... and wanting nothing in return.

We wait on the Lord when we teach our Sunday School class faithfully... or every time we go out of our way to bring some joy to a heart that's in need of cheering up. The servant who works in the kitchen waits on the Lord when they do their job faithfully and to the best of their abilities... for His name's sake.

You know... this reminds me of Kairos Prison Ministry. On the men's units... like the Jordan unit in Pampa... it's only the male volunteers that get to go inside and work with the inmates. So... the only faces of Kairos the inmates see throughout the weekend... are the faces of the male volunteers that go inside. It's only on Sunday, for about and hour or two... that they ever see the other faces that are involved in the ministry. The ones that do all the real work, outside, in the kitchen.

Those women... but there are some men outside too... are waiting on the Lord by faithfully doing all those things that are necessary for the smooth functioning of the whole weekend inside!

Don't forget though... that just as the servant who's faithfully performing their duty for the Lord's sake, is waiting on the Lord... so also is the master or mistress of the house waiting on the Lord when, for His sake, they are faithful and kind and observant of the servant.

We're prone to limit the thought of waiting on the Lord, in this regard, aren't we? It's easy for us to think in terms of servants serving... but the notion that the master can serve too... seldom even enters our thoughts. But the fact is... that our Master is the example of serving... of waiting on the Lord... to all people... whether high or low.

Waiting on the Lord speaks of our dependence on Him and our obedience to Him... but it also speaks of...

III. Our Love for Him

Love... 1Co 13:7  bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Intrinsic to the idea of waiting on the Lord is the notion of our love for Him. I mean, think about it. We won't wait for things we don't like or love, will we? I don't like going to the doctor... so it's difficult for me to wait past my appointment time. But those things that have great value to us... those things that we love... we will anxiously wait for... won't we.

Back in the early 90's... Southern Baptist's came up with a program for youth and college students... called “True Love Waits”... The program promotes sexual purity and abstinence before marriage... You see... God has designed man and woman to share this physical union inside the boundaries of the marriage covenant. So the person who truly desires to follow the Lord will wait until after marriage to share that gift with their spouse...

But so many today no longer see value in waiting... for anything. Our society has so warped our sense of morality to the point that instant gratification is now considered right and normal... and waiting for anything... whether it be sex or a new set of golf clubs... is just so archaic!

But the biblical notion of love waiting... still holds true... regardless of what the world may say. Out of his great love for Rachel, Jacob worked 7 years for his bride... and then worked another 7 years after being tricked by his father-in-law. Can you imagine anyone being willing to do that today?

And what is it that makes a mother rise from her bed when she hears her child cry? Love. Even if she's exhausted... sick... or frail herself... she will still pull herself out of bed to bring comfort to her baby. Because love waits on and love waits for... the object of its affection.

You know... it must have been hard, under the old covenant... to wait upon God. He must have seemed so far away back then... shrouded in darkness and clouds... thunder and lightening surrounding His throne.

But now... under the new covenant... access to the throne of grace is within reach and open to all who believe in the Son! Eph 2:13  But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

Heb 4:16  Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

And because we've drawn near... and He's extended His grace and mercy toward us... we love Him. And because of that love... we wait upon Him. And that waiting also speaks of...

IV. Our Expectancy of Him

Why does anyone “wait” for anything? When we “wait”... aren't we usually waiting “for” something?

For example... I've got two dogs, and every time I go into the kitchen... they come into the kitchen and plop themselves down... and wait on me. But they're not simply passively waiting... they're expectantly waiting. They know that the kitchen means food, and they follow me in there and wait... expectantly. Will I toss them a bite or two of something to eat?

Or... if I've made myself a plate for dinner and go into the living room and sit in the recliner to eat and watch some TV... they'll follow me to my recliner... and will sit down at my feet and remain at the ready... staring at me... hoping that I'll share something with them. They “expect” something from me.

The accused waits upon the verdict of the judge and jury with an expectancy that can border on the painful. The prison inmate waits upon the parole board in anticipation of being granted an early release. The young man waits upon the young lady with an eager expectation of her response to his request of marriage.

To wait upon the Lord is to wait with expectancy. There is no waiting without it... because waiting without expectancy is waiting without faith! Heb 11:6  But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.

So in faith... we wait upon Him for His guidance... His instruction...the fulfillment of His Word... Whatever it is... we wait for it with an eager expectation.

And in faith... we wait for His mercy... His pardon... for His salvation... which He has promised to all who will trust in the Son...

The Bible tells us... Rom 10:9-10  that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.  [10]  For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.

Waiting upon the Lord implies waiting for something that lies in the future... something that we will receive one day.

His salvation however... is something you can quit waiting for... right now... by receiving Him as Lord and Savior.

Confess with your mouth... Believe in your heart... You will be saved.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Faithfulness and Fruitfulness

* Frank Jenner video.

Faithfulness and Fruitfulness

Joh 15:5   I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.

Joh 15:16   You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide...

Have you ever felt discouraged in your Christian walk... or ministry? Have you ever wondered... “Am I bearing fruit?” Or, have you ever asked yourself... “How do I know that my labors for Christ have been fruitful?”

You know... I can think of many times when I've questioned myself in this way. I haven't seen people coming to Christ as I would like. You know, you always hear these great stories about people winning many to Jesus... but when you don't experience even a trickle of converts yourself... it's easy to begin to wonder if something's wrong. After years of ministry... what would appear to be a lack of fruit in soul-winning... can begin to wear on you.

Think of what Frank Jenner felt. Never knowing if your faithful labor for Christ ever bore any fruit!

And after thinking about this... I've come to understand that part of the problem is a misconception of “fruit”. Soul-winning isn't the only fruit hanging from the limb. Matter-of-fact... it's not even listed in the Apostle Paul's passage about the fruit of the Spirit.

Gal 5:22-23  But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  [23]  gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

And because many people have this misconception about bearing fruit... then I think it'd be a good idea to take a look at the biblical idea of fruitfulness.

For example... when John was approached by the Pharisees about baptism... he told them to... Luk 3:8  Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ You see... they wanted to be baptized... but there wasn't any evidence of repentance. Instead... they trusted in their descent from Abraham. The implication here is that true repentance produces fruit that can be seen.

And then Jesus told us in... Mat 7:17-18   ...every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit.   [18]   A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit.

Simply put... Good trees = good fruit. Bad trees = bad fruit. Good trees don't produce bad fruit... and bad trees don't produce good fruit.

He also told us that when the seed of the Word of God is sown upon the repentant and regenerate heart... it will bear fruit.

Mat 13:23   As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”

We can see from his letter to the Philippian believers... that the Apostle Paul was concerned about the fruitfulness of his ministry, when we read... Php 1:22  If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me.

But we see that he was also deeply concerned about the fruitfulness in the lives of believers throughout Colossae and the whole world...Col 1:6 the whole world it is bearing fruit and increasing—as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth

So what is it that determines the nature of fruitfulness? Is my fruitfulness measured in direct proportion to my own labors? Or am I to simply remain faithful and let whatever happens... happen?

Well thankfully... the Bible gives us a lot of information concerning this relationship between faithfulness and fruitfulness... and the first thing we need to understand is that even though we are Christ's ambassadors on this earth... the work isn't “our” work... it's...

I. God's Work

Joh 15:5   I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.

1Co 3:6-7  I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.  [7]  So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.

As tempting... and as easy as it is... we simply cannot think of fruitfulness like a bank account. We can't think along the lines that if I put some away... here a little... there a little... then eventually I'll have X amount, or I'll be able to produce x, y, z results.

Nor can we think that, “Okay... I need more love.” And then I work on getting more love that I can demonstrate... But then, because I spent so much time working on love... my peace began to slip. So now I have to work on getting more peace. But as I work on that... I discover my patience is disappearing. So now I've got to concentrate on that.

Can you see the cycle that I'm getting at here? These are simply false notions concerning the nature of fruitfulness. It's not something that I can do... but it's what God does in me and through me. Any fruit that I produce on my own... is only plastic fruit. It's useless. It may look good from a distance... but the fact that it isn't real is easily seen upon closer inspection.

Good fruit though... isn't created through my own efforts... The Bible says that all my efforts... all my own righteous acts, only amount to dirty, filthy and nasty rags. No... good fruit is produced through me because I'm attached to the Vine. I'm one of the branches and therefore I get my nourishment from the Root... which is my Source.

The Root provides me with everything that I need to remain faithful and fruitful in this life. And when I come to understand this truth... my Christian walk becomes just that much easier... because my focus has changed from me... to Him.

And when Christ becomes the focus of your life... then things becomes less about “you”... and more about being committed to Him, and willing to be used by Him in whatever way He pleases.

So... fruitfulness is ultimately God's work. But we must also understand that we do play a part in His work... by giving Him our...

II. Due Diligence

Pro 12:24  The hand of the diligent will rule, while the slothful will be put to forced labor.

We simply can't fall into the trap that says, “Since it's God's work... it doesn't matter what I do... or if I do anything at all.” God does His work... through men and women. We are His hands and feet and voice in this world.

Keep in mind that the same Apostle who wrote... 1Co 3:6  I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.

Also wrote... 1Co 15:10b  ...On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.
Our almighty and all-powerful God can do whatever He wants... through any ways or means He desires. Just as He spoke a word and all things came into existence... He could just as easily cause all people to simply believe the gospel. He chose however, to save those who believe... 1Co 1:21b  ...through the folly of what we preach...

And this has been His method from the beginning. His truth has always been proclaimed to mankind through mankind. From the OT patriarchs and prophets... to the NT apostles and saints... God has used the careful and persistent work of men to spread His truth to the world.

Yes... this is God's work... but He does it through the due diligence of those who believe. So... give it all you got... knowing that without Him, you can do nothing!

Now... another aspect of faithfulness that leads us to fruitfulness is our...

III. Gifted Skillfulness

Rom 12:6-8  Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith;  [7]  if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching;  [8]  the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.

All too often we tend to view our fruitfulness in comparison to others. Remember what I said earlier about all the great stories of other people winning multitudes to the Lord... but not seeing those same kind of results in my own life and ministry? Can you see where that's using someone other than the Lord as my standard.?

2Co 10:12b  ...But when they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding.

You know... there are a lot of things in this world that I'd love to be able to do... but I'll never do them because God simply hasn't given me the gifting or calling to do them.

As a child... I wanted to be a Rock-n-Roll star. That never happened. I'd love to be a much better guitarist... but I don't have the time or desire to put in the time that it takes... I'll never be an astronaut... sports star... nuclear physicist... or brain surgeon. And the chances are pretty good that I'll never preach to thousands of people in stadiums like Billy Graham.

But you know what? With the exception of maybe that Billy Graham thing... I'm ok with all of this. I truly believe that I'm doing what I'm supposed to be doing... where I'm supposed to do it.

I look at it this way... God didn't call the Apostle Paul to bring about the conversion of Caesar... but rather the conversion of some of his prison guards... and some of his household (Php 4:22).

Our fruitfulness isn't dependent on circumstances or status. The gifts that we've been given will differ among us according to the grace, or the call... that's been given to us. I've been called to preach, teach and exhort... while someone else may be called to teach and serve.

Some are leaders... while others are servants and givers. The Lord may give us one gift... but more-than-likely He'll give us several giftings over the course of our lives and ministry.

But look what else he says concerning these gifts... Rom 12:6-8  ...let us use proportion to our faith Or... “according to the measure of our faith.”

Now what that means is that each of us will operate according to the measure of the ability that's given to us. Each of us has been given a measure of light, knowledge, faith, and experience. And by this measure... we are to live up to our gift and call, and should never set our marks short of it.

And when we remain faithful to what we've been given... the promise is that we'll be given more.

Mar 4:25   For to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.”

Now... one final thing I want to remind you about is that our fruitfulness comes at different...

IV. Times and Seasons

Consider once again the testimony of Frank Jenner. He evangelized for years without knowing the effect he had. We simply cannot know when spiritual fruit will appear.

You know... I've been involved in prison ministry for many years now. I've talked to many men about Christ. I've encouraged many more in their christian walk. Over the years I've tried to disciple them so that one day... after they got out of prison... they'd have the training and spiritual strength to remain faithful to Christ... find a church home... and continue living godly lives in Christ Jesus.

I've had many of these guys tell me over the years that they appreciated my efforts as a volunteer... while they were still in prison. However... after they got out... I never heard from any of them again.

Many times I've told the guys to call me... or get in touch with me somehow, to let me know how they're doing. And I promised to take them out to eat their first steak dinner... or I'd help them any way I could. But for years...I never heard a peep from any who had gotten out.

Until a couple years ago... I decided one day to take a part-time job at an Allsups in Canadian, TX. Now the job itself didn't last more than a few weeks because it just wasn't what I was called to do. But my first couple weeks there were real interesting.

You see... by the second week on that job... I had had two different people come up to me and ask if I was that guy who went to the prison in Pampa and played guitar, sang and preached. After telling them that, “Yes, that's me”... both of them told me that though I really didn't know them... they remembered me... and wanted to thank me for being faithful in that ministry. Both of them told me that I had a positive influence on their lives... and they just wanted me to know that.

Folks... I was on cloud nine. I had actually begun to wonder if anything I did made any difference at all. And you know... I'm not alone in this. For example... think of the saints that are listed in Hebrews 11... They all had different outcomes in their lives of faithful labor...

Some triumphed... while others subdued kingdoms. Some stopped the mouths of lions while others quenched the violence of fire. Some escaped the edge of the sword... while other suffered torture... scourgings and mockery.

There were those who wandered in deserts... and those who lived on mountains and dens and caves. They endured prison... stonings... and being sawn in two. None of them received the promise... but seeing it afar off... they remained faithful to it to the very end... thereby receiving the fruit of their labors in glory.

Christ will give to each of us who overcome... the victor's crown. And in the resurrection... along with all the other saints... we'll receive the full fruit of our labors for Him... And then we'll take those crowns and accolades that we receive... and lay them at His feet... because ultimately... all of our fruitfulness comes through our union with Him.

He is our life-giving and fruit supplying Vine. Apart from Him... we can do nothing. But with Him, we... Php 4:13  ...can do all things through him who strengthens me.

* * * * *
In closing... I want to ask you the same question that we heard Mr. Jenner ask so many people... but instead of just letting you walk away... you'll have the opportunity to respond during our invitational song.

If you were to die today... would you go to heaven... or hell? There are only two options here... The choice is yours... and the consequences are eternal.

Believe in Christ and you'll go to heaven.

Any other response... well...