Presented on The Lutheran Hour on May 10, 2015 By Rev. Gregory Seltz, Lutheran Hour Speaker (How Do You Bear Fruit As A Christian?) Copyright 2015 Lutheran Hour Ministries
Text: Acts 10:34-38
Then Peter began to speak: "I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism 35 but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right. 36 You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, announcing the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all.
Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! And we need His relentless compassion more and more each day. Amen.
We don't want you here. Have you ever faced that kind of attitude in your life? It can be brutal. Maybe you went to a party where everyone made you feel about as uncomfortable as you could be, trying to get you to leave. Or, maybe you went to a business where no one, I mean, literally no one, was willing to wait on you. Or maybe it was at a restaurant where the employees acted like they didn't want you to eat there.
Do places like this exist? Sure they do. But have you heard about the restaurant that prides itself in just that kind of sassy service?
It's called Ed Debevic's in Chicago. Its motto is "Sassy servers, tasty burgers." This retro-themed diner publicizes its philosophy by saying: "Don't expect this diner to be a 'Please and thank you, sir' kind of place. The servers pride themselves on snarky remarks and even drop their trays to do choreographed dance numbers on the soda counters!"
The owner of Ed's was trained as a short-order cook in another small town diner where that owner's favorite phrase was, "If you like what you're eatin', order more, if you don't, there's the door." She also believed customers should "eat and get out." No lingering was allowed. So Ed created a place just like it, a place with good food and a side of sass. People flock to the restaurant for a unique and humorous dining experience.
Okay, okay, maybe Ed Debevic's place isn't the example I was searching for. That's tongue-in-cheek disrespect with a little fun. That's sassy, snarky service, with the purpose of actually drawing people in! But you know as well as I do that some restaurants repel customers and they might not even be aware of it. These days an establishment is done for if bad service, rude treatment, or poor products find their way onto online ratings. One story about getting snubbed by a server or finding a hair in your soup could be devastating. There are places that pretend to try to keep people away, and there are places that keep you away without even knowing it.
And it's not just restaurants. You and I, we can be the same way. You and I are capable of treating people poorly, being thoughtless toward others, and creating barriers that keep people out of our lives. You and I can overlook people we don't want to see or interact with. Even worse, we can discriminate against other human beings because of superficial critiques, uninformed judgments, and fear-based conclusions.
On this Mother's Day it strikes me that our sinful tendency to keep people away and to limit the showing of love is the exact opposite of what a mother's love is supposed to be about. But even in the midst of celebrating some warm-hearted, heroic, and self-sacrificial mothers, there are even some children who have been wounded by rejection from their moms. There are some mothers who struggle because they've been pushed away by their kids. The sinful tendency to reject others can even be found on Mother's Day in families, and it's not fun, it's no joke.
Please know, dear friend, amidst the brokenness in life, that God does not reject you. In fact, returning to Him in repentance is the answer to our deepest needs. His love covers a multitude of sins. His love heals hurts caused by our flawed love. Even when our hearts are hardened to His love, His compassion for you is relentless--seeking to turn you again to Him. The Bible says it this way, "Even while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." You are not rejected today. In fact, God wants you to return to Him to receive His merciful embrace. He forgives you, He comforts you, He encourages you, indeed, He saves you. That's what He wants for you, now and forever!
It's true that our sinful world is filled with hate and rejection. In our lesson today, even Peter, an esteemed follower of Jesus, even a leader in the early church, he still harbored the bigotry of his culture towards others, thinking that God could love him, but surely He couldn't love people "like Cornelius, a Gentile." You see, Cornelius had come to faith in Jesus and God wanted to confirm that joyous event by sending Peter to him. But somehow, Peter couldn't see how God's love could be for someone like Cornelius too. That's the evil of judgmentalism. That's the evil of failing to see things as God sees them, seeing things only through our faulty, sinful perspective.
Judgmentalism. It's an ugly word. It's a negative word. The dictionary says it means "a tendency to judge harshly." Synonyms listed are words like faultfinding, hypercritical, and rejecting. This is a word and an attitude that says, "I don't want you here."
That's how the Apostle Peter acted toward Gentiles. In fact, most Jewish people in the first century acted that way toward the people who weren't part of their religion and ethnicity. The word for "Gentile" in the New Testament is the word "ethnos." It means "nations." In that word you can hear our English word "ethnic." It refers to nations who were not part of the chosen people of Israel. But, to be completely honest, the Gentiles weren't very welcoming of Jewish people either. There were major ethnic and religious divides during Biblical times. In fact, people were repulsed by each other's habits, customs, beliefs, and worships practices. They were not only repulsed; they often hated each other. They would rather see each other die than shake another's hand or look another in the eye. It was a toxic environment of false judgmentalism.
Incredibly, even Peter was swept up in the exclusionary, rejecting spirit harbored by his people. Even worse, somehow Peter convinced himself that the Good News of salvation in the risen Savior Jesus Christ shouldn't be shared with those Gentiles. He never even wanted to step foot into their houses or be in their presence. Those people shouldn't be included, he thought. How could they be forgiven and accepted by God? Wow!
Let's fast-forward to our own day and age, though. I wonder, who do you think should be excluded from hearing the Gospel of Jesus?
You may respond by saying, "I think everyone should be able to hear it! No one should even be left out!" But do your actions back up your words? Do our actions as the church back up what we claim? Do we practice what we preach?
A friend I know worked in an exclusive clothing store. Men's suits were priced in the thousands of dollars. The person who worked there said, "The suits are priced high in order to appeal to a certain clientele. They also keep a certain clientele away."
The salespeople in the store were very kind. The doors were open for anyone to walk in. All were welcome. But only some were truly welcome. The prices kept certain people away.
Human beings seem to do this all the time. As sinners, our tendency is to overvalue ourselves, as we devalue others. But God's love won't stand for that. Why, because we are all sinners who are undeserving of God's mercy, His love, His grace. And, we're all called to repentance. As God's people, we realize, then, that our joy and life are gifts from God who comes to us and calls us to repentance and forgiveness, as He does for all, just as He is doing to you today, my friend.
God's relentless love, His relentless call to repentance and faith....it even targeted someone like Peter. Yes, Peter, the very leader of the followers of Jesus. He walked with Jesus. He witnessed miracles. He heard Jesus' words of outreach. He was with Jesus when the Savior mingled with both Jews and Gentiles, with both clean and unclean. He saw Jesus die and he witnessed the resurrection of his Savior. Everyone was included in Jesus' saving work. But it took God's special intervention to really get through to Peter about how gracious and merciful God's love was for him and for all.
Here's the point; don't you call something unclean that God has cleaned up! God gave Peter a vision as he prayed one day. It was a vision of the unclean animals that his Jewish customs forbade him from eating. But a voice from heaven said, "Kill it and eat." Peter resisted. But three times the voice made it very clear that Peter could not call anything impure that God had made clean. Peter was then directed by the Holy Spirit to accompany a Gentile visitor to his home. This, too, was strictly forbidden. No Jewish person would ever enter the house of a Gentile, but Peter obeyed God's direction. Peter entered the home and spoke these startling words. He said, "I now truly grasp that God does not show favoritism."
The phrase "not showing favoritism" is about not taking people at face value, not making surface judgments, caring not about the outward appearance, but about people's hearts.
That's right in line with the way that God describes Himself. He told the prophet Samuel, "The LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart" (1 Samuel 16:7).
Peter went on to say; "In every nation anyone who fears him (God) and does what is right is acceptable to him" (Acts 10:35). In other words, everyone who repents of their sin, trusts God and follows Him, is welcome, is accepted by Him. Everyone.
God doesn't show favoritism. All people are sinful, undeserving of His love, but all are offered His forgiveness and grace as a gift too. Peter finally learned it. We need to learn it as well. Yes, God makes judgments but for our good, out of His love. He calls for repentance of all, true sorrow for sin and a desire to be turned back to His ways. He calls for faith in Him and a reliance on His forgiving and restoring love in Jesus Christ in one's very life. He lets you know that you are dead in your sins and brokenness and you can't get out of it by yourself. You need to be made alive by His grace through the death and resurrection of Jesus. That is God's gracious ruling and judgment and He sees the heart. He sees your heart. On your own, guilty; but, because Jesus Christ paid the penalty for you, not guilty. And that verdict is for all people! Even Peter had to learn that again and again and again. Can you and I learn that again today? Even more, can we believe it for ourselves and for others?
Over and over again the Word of God's love comes for all. Peter said that day, "God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went around doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him" (Acts 10:38). Not some who were oppressed by the devil, but all who were oppressed. This was God's plan from the beginning.
Jesus says it too. He says, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but the sinners" (Mark 2:17 NIV). And even better, He invites you and me today too when He says, "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" (Matthew 11:28-29). All, not some. All.
Jesus didn't just say it, He demonstrated that attitude too. People were shocked that He reached out to public sinners, despised tax collectors, but Jesus reminded them all, "The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost" (Luke 19:10). And this salvation, this promised grace is for all. As the Bible says in Acts 2,"The promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself" (Acts 2:38-39).
If you're feeling excluded today, far off from the beautiful news of God's love and grace, please hear God's own Word. You are not left out. You are the one He sent Jesus to save and befriend. You are included in new life, a new beginning, and eternal hope. God does not show favoritism. God shows relentless compassion to you and to all people. To everyone. Everyone.
Peter learned that when he said, "I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right. He goes on to say, You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, announcing the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all."
God is a God of relentless compassion. So, who is being excluded from God's love today? Who is on the receiving end of judgmentalism, fear, and meanness?
It's a question that causes some discomfort, I know, but it is a question that we need to ask, especially ourselves, because we, even as God's people, can create unnecessary barriers for others to receive His grace. We need to wrestle with our fears, be honest about our blind spots. We need to remember that God risked everything to save us. We also need to take the risk of reaching all people with the love of Jesus.
So, who's being left out who should be in? Who's being judged by outward appearances and, consequently, being excluded from our prayers, our kindness, and our action to share the hope we have in Jesus?
Are people we judge as worse sinners than us being excluded? How about people we view as different or hopeless causes? What about rich people or poor people? Are we rejecting people because of outward appearance when their hearts have repentantly changed?
When you are saved by grace alone from the struggles, temptations, and sin in your life, how can you not but seek each day to show God's relentless compassion like Jesus did for us when He gave His life for us?
A few years ago, a sixth-grade boy named Ty Smalley ran into trouble at school. Kids were picking on him. Maybe they thought he wasn't cool enough or tall enough. Maybe they thought he didn't wear the right clothes or fit in with the right groups. But hurtful words and critical comments were hurled at him. Kids at school intimidated him and were mean to him. They made fun of him and made him miserable. If you've ever been bullied or had a child who endured bullying, you know the anxiety, the sadness, and the pain that's brought home every day.
Finally, Ty couldn't take it anymore. He lashed out at one of the boys who was bullying him and was suspended from school. Feeling helpless, defenseless, hopeless, and despondent, Ty went home and he ended his life.
His devastated and crushed parents knew that the only thing they could do was to try to stop the destructive cycle of bullying among children. Friends helped them start an effort called "I Stand for the Silent." Laura and Kirk Smalley visited schools and talked to children. Their weapon against bullying is a pledge. It is a pledge to be relentless about showing respect and compassion to others. It is a pledge to love people, not hate them just because of what they look like.
Someone needs to speak up. Someone needs to stand for the silent, the people who are being unfairly excluded or physically mistreated. The inclination to hate, to exclude, and to be mean is one that can commandeer each of our hearts. The temptation to be afraid and withhold the love of God is one that can take control of all of us too.
But, as the Apostle Peter found out, God has a different and much better plan. He could have judged us and left us in our hopelessness. He could have destroyed us in our failure and frailty. But, instead, God decided to love us. He became a friend of sinners. As the Bible says, "God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him" (John 3:16-17).
God showed you, He showed me His relentless compassion when He entered our world to overcome all that was against us. To the overlooked, to the outcast, to the broken hearted, hear this! God's relentless compassion and love is for you because of Jesus. And all of us who believe in Him, we want you to know for yourselves that relentless love is here for you too, now and forever!
LUTHERAN HOUR MAILBOX (Questions & Answers) for May 10, 2015 Topic: How Do You Bear Fruit As A Christian?
ANNOUNCER: Now, Pastor Gregory Seltz responds to questions from listeners. I'm Mark Eischer. Pastor, a listener wants to be a growing and productive follower of Jesus. But what does it mean to bear fruit as a Christian?
SELTZ: First of all, Mark, our listener has already demonstrated one way to answer his question?
ANNOUNCER: Really? What's that?
SELTZ: He's an attentive reader of the Bible. When he uses that phrase "bear fruit," that comes directly from Scripture. The prophet Jeremiah used that phrase in chapter 17 of his writing when he said, "Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD... He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots to the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and it's not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit" (Jeremiah 17:7-8 ESV).
ANNOUNCER: And, Jesus brings that imagery back to us in John, chapter 15, when He says, "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" (John 15:5-6 ESV).
SELTZ: Right. So the first part of that answer for our listener is very clear: in order to bear fruit you need to trust in the Lord and stay connected to Jesus, the true Vine. And, the most basic way to stay connected is to read His life-empowering Word. Bearing fruit doesn't come from our own power, or ingenuity, or persistence; it comes by the grace of God through Jesus Christ.
ANNOUNCER: Before we talk about the results of a life that's following Christ, we should probably talk about the nature of that life especially as we live by God's grace and see that life as a gift from God.
SELTZ: I think we should; and the illustration of "bearing fruit" bears that out, too. Plants don't work out plans to make sure that fruit happens. That's the nature of the plant to bear fruit. It's part of its created nature. As new creations in Christ Jesus, then, we bear fruit. The Apostle Paul articulated that when he mentioned the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians, chapter 5. Remember he says, "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law" (Galatians 5:22-23 ESV). With the Spirit of God comes the fruit that God grows. This fruit is a gift; it's a blessing that grows out of the new life that God gives in Jesus.
ANNOUNCER: And you're saying that even the productivity of the Christian life is a gift from God.
SELTZ: I am. Remember the great verses in Ephesians, chapter 2: "We are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do" (Ephesians 2:10 NIV).Even our good works are gifts through the grace of God. And you know, Mark, there's something interesting about that phrase "bearing fruit" as well. The Greek word for "bear" means to carry--as in carrying something in your hands. So, when a Christian bears fruit, he or she is simply carrying what God produces and gives.
ANNOUNCER: But, is there any active role the listener can take in being a fruitful believer?
SELTZ: There is an active role. As I mentioned before, staying connected to Jesus means hearing His Word, reading it, letting it grow and take root in you. It also means doing the Word of God, practicing your faith and witness. I think of what Paul says in the book of Philemon. He says: "I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Jesus" (Philemon 1:6 NIV).
ANNOUNCER: And as you put God's Word to work in your life and you practice your faith, it gives you a greater understanding, then, of the fruit that God is bringing into your life.
SELTZ: Exactly. And that's why it's very important, then, to be a part of a community of faith, to receive and to practice what we believe. Like the book of Hebrews says, "Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting meeting together" (Hebrews 10:24-25 ESV).
ANNOUNCER: That brings to mind, also, something that every good gardener does; the cultivation of the soil, and bearing fruit calls for the healthy cultivation of a life of faith.
SELTZ: Yeah, absolutely. It also means understanding that bearing fruit doesn't always mean just doing things. It means being someone by the power of the Holy Spirit, being a child of God, being the presence of Christ in the world in which you live.
ANNOUNCER: Because Jesus said His followers are the light of the world and also the salt of the earth.
SELTZ: Right, and never underestimate what God does through you as simply as you live your life as His child. Martin Luther lifted up this principle as our vocation. Even in the small and seemingly insignificant parts of our lives, God bears fruit in us and through us by His grace.
ANNOUNCER: Very good. Thank you, Pastor Seltz. This has been a presentation of Lutheran Hour Ministries.
Music Selections for this program:
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.
"From All That Dwell Below the Skies" arr. Henry Gerike. Used by permission.
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