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Good Fruit

red apples on white ceramic bowl
 
“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 So, 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. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.”  Matthew 7:15-19
 
When hunger strikes and I am craving a healthy snack (normally I prefer the sweet and the salty!) I look for fruit.  Bananas, apples, cherries, blueberries, and grapes are all amazing!  However, after a few days (or sometimes weeks) on the counter or in the fridge, that beautiful fruit can become a bruised, fuzzy, or smooshy substance that looks anything but something I would want to put in my mouth!  
 
Bad fruit is easy to spot.  In our life of faith we are to keep our eyes wide open identifying bad fruit, in this case it is the actions and words of false prophets.  False prophets are sneaky and appear, at first glance, like every other Christian.  Jesus describes them as “coming to you in sheep’s clothing, but are really ravenous wolves.”  Deceptive, false prophets, are hard to spot.
 
How can we tell a wolf from a real sheep?  We look to their fruit.  A bad tree bears bad fruit.  To determine truth, we compare the new prophet’s thoughts with the teachings of Moses, Paul, John and the other apostles, prophets, and evangelists whom God inspired to write the 66 books of the Bible.  If it matches… good fruit… listen.  If it does not match… bad fruit… wolf located… BEWARE!  The Apostle Paul says in Galatians 1, “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.”
 
The good news of Jesus does not change.  Good fruit points us to Jesus. Jesus is the messiah.  Jesus died in our place.  Our sins are forgiven through Jesus.  You are saved by grace.  Jesus is the way, truth, and life, there is no way to the Father except through Him.  That’s Good Fruit… and Good news.
 
Prayer:  Good shepherd, we praise you for watching over us and pointing us to the good fruit of your Word.  Keep us alert and focused that we may not be led astray by false prophets or bad theology.  Teach us to discern bad fruit from the awesome goodness of your mercy and grace freely given to us through Jesus Christ.  It is in His precious name that we pray.  AMEN!

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Season of Change (Part 1)

assorted-color lear hanging decor
 
“Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not be conformed to this world” Romans 12:1-2A
 
It’s about this time of summer that we begin saying things like, “It’s starting to feel like fall” and “It is getting dark sooner, did you notice?” I hope that there are still many warm days, but, let’s face it, the signs of fall coming are all around us.  Next Monday is Labor Day and that’s come as late as possible this year.  Our chokeberry bushes are starting to turn red and the hydrangeas are turning from white to pink. I haven’t seen a red maple turn yet, but there’s a leaf somewhere that’s working on it.

So how do you feel about the change to fall? Maybe you’re a summer person and you’re going to wear those shorts right into late October. Or, maybe you’re a fall fan and you’ve already got your favorite sweatshirt and sweater ready to go. You’ve worn those summer T shirts plenty and are more than ready to put them away.

That’s the spirit that Paul is thinking of in our text. He is describing our old nature, our fallen world, and is saying, in essence, “It’s time for change!”  He tells us to recognize that we have been conformists to the old ways of this world and the old ways of our fallen nature. Oh, we have plenty of company in these ways. Anger? There’s plenty of anger all around us. Remembering grudges and old injuries? Tell someone your story of hurt and they are sure to top you with their story of something worse. Despair? Just look at us and even with masks on, we can see the worries and frowns on our faces.

But Paul says it’s time for change. Recognizing the old patterns of the world is the beginning of that change. Paul is going to tell us that God makes the change within us. The beginning is that familiar step of saying to God, “I need a new pattern, a new season in my life. Lord, I’ve been in this summer way of anger, fear, and worry too long. I want a new direction and it can only come from you.” That is the intention and gift of God for us as he moves us to a new place. Fall might not come right away today, but his invitation to change is here now.
 
Prayer: Our Heavenly Father, we need a new season in our lives. Move us out of the old steps and let us not be conformed to this world’s steps. Give us your direction and walk with us in a new season. We pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.

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Missionaries

grayscale photography of clock

“Brothers and sisters, pray for us that the message of the Lord may spread rapidly and be honored, just as it was with you.  And pray that we may be delivered from wicked and evil people, for not everyone has faith.  But the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen you and protect you from the evil one.”  2 Thessalonians 3:1-3

There is a cosmic clock ticking, but you and I can’t read it.  The clock is ticking down to the Lord’s return and the meltdown of this world contaminated by sin.  The apostle Paul heard the clock ticking.  He’d been driven out of Thessalonica by mob violence, cutting short his ministry there.  Now he was in Corinth, where a different set of obstacles confronted him.  There was the pagan culture with its overt sexual immorality and philosophical disdain for anything as simple as the Gospel.  There were fractures in the fellowship of believers in Corinth and an undercurrent of opposition to the apostle himself. In the first chapter of this letter to the Thessalonians Paul wrote: “We constantly pray for you.” Now, near the end of his letter, Paul asked the Thessalonians to pray for him and his mission, in view of the end of all things.

“Pray for us that the message of the Lord may spread rapidly.”  Then as now, there were political obstacles to the spread of the Gospel: governmental attitudes and policies, closed borders that make mission work difficult. Then as now, there were cultural barriers to the mission: language barriers, social mores and relational networks that can take years to navigate with the Gospel.  Then as now, there were insufficient funds to move missionaries, produce Christian literature and demonstrate Christian love with humanitarian aid.  But the biggest obstacle is inside the church, indifferent Christians and discouraged missionaries.  When Jesus urged prayer for mission work, he said: “Ask the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest field.”

“And pray that we may be delivered from wicked and evil people.”  Some of those evil people were and are in positions of authority, where their demonic hatred for Christ threatens both mission and missionary.  Others, as Paul experienced in Ephesus, see Christianity as a threat to their way of life and react violently.  There were and are religious leaders powerful enough to create intense opposition to any belief other than their own – Jewish leaders in Paul’s day or Muslim leaders in our day.  When wicked and evil people find their way into a church, the havoc they wreak becomes a distraction that overwhelms the church’s mission.

Why pray?  St. Paul’s answer is, “The Lord is faithful.”  God was faithful to his promise to send a Savior for the world; and because Jesus died for all, the church’s mission is valid.  God is faithful to his promise to answer prayer.  He clears away obstacles to the proclamation of the Gospel.   He sends his angels to watch over those who witness and teach his truth.  He positions people who need to know God’s love in the path of those who are eager to share it.  He encourages missionaries and emboldens witnesses, all in answer to prayer.  So, let’s do it. . .

PRAYER:  For missionaries across the globe we pray, Lord, that they may be given open doors as well as encouragement and support.  For Christians with a faith to share we pray, that they may recognize opportunities and seize them.  For our nation we pray, Lord, that opposition to your Church will be blunted and a renewed sense of mission in the Church occur.  We pray all this because Jesus gave our mission content and authority.  Amen.

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A Place to Gather

view of ruins during daytime
 
13 The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. 15 And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. 16 And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.”17 His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” 18 So the Jews said to him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” 19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20 The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” 21 But he was speaking about the temple of his body. 22 When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken. John 2:13-22
 
This is not a great way to make new friends.

The little marketplace that had been set up in the temple courtyard was a money-maker for sure.  Pilgrims who travelled from far-away lands and needed either a sheep or – if the pilgrims were poor – pigeons for their sacrifices made for easy sales (with high profit-margin, no doubt!).  The money-changers got a cut from every exchange of foreign currency, too.

And I’m sure those running the temple got their share, too.

So when Jesus fashioned his own whip and started driving the animals out and overturning the tables, he was upsetting a lucrative little economy.

Because that’s not the point of the temple!   That very courtyard where the noisy, smelly animals were being sold was to be the Court of the Gentiles, a place where all people – even those not circumcised or part of God’s covenant people – could come in peace and pray to the one, true God.

Jesus’ one sacrifice for all people for all sins eliminates the need for exploiting people by selling animals for sacrifice.  And we don’t do a whole lot off currency exchange in the narthex. 

And yet, we do get distracted in the church by all kinds of things, don’t we.  Sometimes we forget that our relationship with our God in Christ– and inviting others into that relationship with our God in Christ – is what we’re all about. 

God help us to keep that focus in the church!

Gracious Father, You have provided us with a place to gather around Your Word and Sacraments in worship.  Help us to remember what the church is all about.  Help us to focus on Jesus alone as our Lord and Savior.  In His name, Amen. 

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Availability

two person holding papercut heart

“Leaving the next day, we (Paul, Luke and company) reached Caesarea and stayed at the house of Philip the evangelist, one of the Seven.”  Acts 21:8

How would you like to be remembered at your high school class reunion?  Jack the Jock, still talking about the game against Antigo because, well, that was pretty much the highlight of his life.  Or maybe Jane the Brain, 4.0, full ride to grad school, research chemist for some big pharma company out east, blah, blah, blah.  Maybe you’ll be remembered for how hot you were in high school, because you’re not anymore.  For what do you want to be remembered?

The early church remembered Philip as “the evangelist.”  That title is impressive because no one else in the Bible is called “the evangelist.”  Philip earned that title from the people whose lives he impacted.  A lot of things contribute to being an evangelist, like excitement for the Gospel and love for people and the ability to explain truth so that others get it.  But maybe there is a more important ability – availability.

We meet Philip first in Acts 6, when a rapidly growing church needed more staff.  Philip was one of seven chosen because they were “known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom.”  Now how would a church of several thousand people recognize that about Philip?  Well, he was always available, engaged in the discussion of Bible study groups, volunteering to tackle tough issues and meet hurting people’s needs.  He was Philip the Available.

When persecution drove Christians out of Jerusalem, some headed for Galilee and others to the Mediterranean coast.  Not Philip.  Acts 8 says that Philip went to Samaria and “proclaimed the Christ there.” The Samaritans were ethnic mongrels and religious heretics, hostile to Jews.  Still, when Jesus ascended, he gave the church this vision statement: “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”  Philip was available.

You may recall the story of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch, an African who was instructed and baptized by Philip. Do you remember how the story begins?  Philip is told by an angel to head south toward the Gaza strip.  There’s no indication that he was told why.  Philip was available.  “On his way,” we’re told, “he met an Ethiopian.”  Of course, he did; because Philip was always looking to meet people, to start a conversation that would lead to Jesus.

Will you be remembered for being available?  Sure, you’re probably overworked and tired.  Maybe you aren’t outgoing and you don’t think well on your feet.  But will you be available to the people God puts in your path?  Will you notice people no one else seems to, people who are different and people who are hurting?  Will you start a conversation with people you don’t know, listening to their story and then sharing what you know about Jesus’ story?  You can be an evangelist, really, if you’re available. 

PRAYER: Lord, help me to get beyond myself.  Show me how you can use me to be a blessing to the people in my life. Use the talents you’ve given me to connect with others.  Overcome my fears and weaknesses with your power and presence.  Make me available, for Jesus.  Amen.

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