Work 5

Matthew 7:15-17

There are many plants in the world that have beautiful leaves and flowers and berries that may seem very attractive to the eye, but which are in fact very bad for us. I think immediately of the rhubarb plant. The stems and roots are good to eat but the leaves are poisonous, even if they are showy and impressive.

Unfortunately the same can be said of people who dress themselves as Christians, but who are in fact quite malicious. It is this type of person Jesus warns about in Matthew. What is his warning? How will we know good people? What will a truly devoted Christian produce?

Most everyone is familiar with the expression of a “wolf in sheep’s clothing.” The concept is that outwardly the person looks nice and friendly, but on the inside there is wickedness and corruption. Although Jesus was talking specifically about those who teach about faith, the same can be said of many people who fill the pews on a Sunday morning.

By appearances one might say this person or that is a Christian, but we must look beyond the outward appearance and examine the fruit – the actions and attitudes. It has been said that sitting in a church pew doesn’t make you a Christian any more than sleeping in the garage makes you a ’57 Chevy.

To be a Christian we must believe as a Christian, think as a Christian, and act like a Christian. We must guard against allowing ourselves to be like the false prophets. We must guard against our faith being superficial – merely attending church and toting a big Bible.

To be Christian we must look intently into the perfect law of God, keep ourselves firmly rooted and directed by the teachings of Christ, and follow the example of service and care that Jesus has set for us.

Living a life as a Christian – showing mercy and care for others, sharing the love of God to others, having a truly compassionate and caring heart, being willing to sacrifice for others – will ensure that we bear good fruit for God’s kingdom.

DAILY CHALLENGE: Examine the fruit you produce. Is it good fruit? How do you know?

Work 4

John 13:14-15

Becoming a Christian doesn’t happen overnight. We may have a conversion of the heart that changes us in an instant. We may turn our souls over to God and let Jesus into our hearts so the Holy Spirit will work within us, and that only requires a moment, but to become mature in our faith requires time and learning.

I think back on all the people who have influenced me over the years. My desire to be in ministry, to focus on outreach and mission, to show compassion, to teach have all been developed by the example of other Christians. Watching and learning and imitating the good work of others may make us into strong and “fruitful” Christians ourselves.

In John’s account of the Last Supper Jesus wraps a towel around his waist, gets a large bowl of water, and washes the dirty feet of his disciples. It was a moment of caring, of offering cool refreshment and cleansing to those he cared for. What did Jesus want his disciples to learn? What had Jesus done? Does his lesson go beyond dirty feet?

In that time of foot-washing Jesus set an example for his disciples. In that moment he humbled himself to them, taking on the position not as Lord and master, but of a lowly servant. He met their physical needs through his own work. Then he commanded them to do the same.

The lesson was not that these followers should go about washing the dirt from everyone’s feet, although that may be required now and then. The bigger lesson was that true followers of Christ would imitate the attitude.

If we will follow Christ and live out lives as Christians, then we need to be humble enough to be willing to serve other people in their need, even if that means doing some dirty work. It means that we should find the need and then answer that need, correcting the problems and helping in very practical ways as well as in spiritual ways.

It also means that we should be the ones doing the work. We don’t identify the dirty feet and suggest that they be cleaned. We should be the ones who kneel and wash. We should be the ones who put our whole selves into the service of others.

DAILY CHALLENGE: Can you identify “dirty feet” that need to be washed? How will YOU do it?

Work 3

John 15:5

Clearing away clinging weeds in our garden several years back I was struggling at getting all the tendrils and branching vines pulled from the plants we wanted to keep. Then it dawned on me that all I needed to do was pull out the root of the weeds – easy to find – and that would kill the weed, even all the vines that were intertwined among the good branches of the plants.

Without the source of food and strength in the root the rest of the plant could not survive. And so it goes with our faith.

What comparison does Jesus make of himself? What happens with the faithful person who remains rooted in Jesus? What happens if we do not keep our faith in Christ?

It is a simple fact of nature that a plant draws its strength and nourishment from the root system. It is the root that gives the food and energy, and therefore the ability, to the rest of the plant. With strong and functioning roots a plant may produce a great deal of fruit.

If we are to produce fruit in our faith – fruit such as love, joy, peace, patience and kindness (see Galatians 5:22-23) – then we must remain rooted in Jesus. Jesus is the vine from which we branch out. Following the teachings of Christ and acting in the same way that Jesus did allows us to grow as good Christians and enables us to produce the fruit of our faith.

When we look intently into the perfect law of God, when we study Scripture and spend time in study, fellowship and communion with one another and God, then we are able to live out a life as a Christian. We are strengthened in faith and ability.

Without Christ, without that spiritual root that gives us power in our faith and guidance in our actions, we can do nothing. And if we continue reading in this passage of John to verse 8 we will see that it is to God’s glory that we bear much fruit and show the world that we are truly deserving of the title “Christian.”

DAILY CHALLENGE: Are you rooted in Christ? What part of your connection to the Lord needs strengthening?

Work 2

James 1:22-25

Most of the time I am clean-shaven, but there have been occasions where I have grown a beard for various reasons. I must admit that during those times there are instances where I look in the mirror and I am momentarily startled to see the beard. I am so accustomed to not having one that I forget I am growing the beard.

Sometimes we can be that way about our faith. We forget that we are Christians and we forget what we are called to do as Christians. What instruction does James offer in verse 22? What comparison is made in verses 23 and 24? What encouragement is given in verse 25?

It may sound silly to hear that a person can forget what he looks like and be startled by his appearance in the mirror, but it does happen. Unfortunately, the same is true of our spiritual walk. It may sound silly to hear that a person can forget he is a Christian, but it happens all the time.

Too many people allow their faith to become dormant and stale. Too many people who call themselves “Christian” do not live or act as Christians. They have forgotten the teachings of the Bible.

If we will be mature Christians and truly devoted to serving our Lord we must look intently into the perfect law. The perfect law, of course, is the teaching and guidance of Jesus. We must invest our time and efforts, our faith, our whole hearts into being Christians – living out our faith and following the example of Christ.

As Christians we should not forget what we have been taught, nor should we forget the example of Christ. We are to live as Christians at all times and live so that our faith is evident to all. James also emphasizes not just remembering our spiritual heritage, but also putting our faith into practice. Verse 22 states that we should “Do what it says” in reference to the teaching of Scripture, a concept restated in verse 25 (“doing it”).

And what is the result? We will be blessed by living as Christians.

DAILY CHALLENGE: What teaching of Christ do you live out? How do you do it?

Work 1

1 Corinthians 13:12

Recently, while looking into the Book of James, it struck me that this letter tucked away near the end of the Bible was a great “how to” book. James seems to be an instruction manual on how to be a Christian. And so, I thought looking at how we can be stronger Christians might be a great way to begin a new year.

There are so many people and so many different approaches to worship all under the same umbrella of the “Christian” label. Is one group right and all the others wrong? What is the best way to be a Christian?

I am certain every person has his or her own answers to those questions. For myself, there are various degrees of Christianity – various stages of maturity. If we will be truly Christian, if we will truly follow the examples of our Lord Jesus Christ, then we must achieve some level of maturity and growth in our faith.

One important aspect of being a Christian is loving other people. Today’s passage comes from what has been labeled as the “Love Chapter” in 1 Corinthians. It talks about all the different aspects of love and how to show it and share it. What image is presented here? How is this a lesson for expressing love?

To be a Christian we must grow into Christians. And that requires that our faith must go beyond the simple confession of faith. It is essential that we believe in the sacrifice of Jesus and that we recognize Jesus as our Savior, but if our belief does not go beyond that point it is very shallow indeed.

All who know and accept Jesus are Christians. Those who work on their relationship with Christ are maturing. And those who are able to live out their faith, as is talked about in James, are more mature in their faith.

If we will show the love of Christ and share the work of being Christian, then we are doing more than looking into a dim mirror. We are opening our hearts and souls up to deeper understanding and inviting God to be part of who we are.

DAILY CHALLENGE: How would you rate your faith? What evidence can you offer others and yourself that you are at the level you see yourself?