Tag Archives: fruitful

Step Back to Step Forward in Christ

A message text from Melvin Gaines for Sunday, August 17, 2014:

This past week, I was able to take the opportunity to use a paid day from work as a volunteer at a charity of my choice.  I selected The Emergency Assistance Center in Northfield Center, which is the largest food pantry in northern Summit County.  I was able to meet Joyce Hunt, the Executive Director, Lori, one of the staff members, and a group of volunteers.  The ministry there has grown in the last couple of years since Joyce came on board, and they have extended their footprint beyond the Nordonia Hills area.  They also serve the needs of residents in Twinsburg, Richfield and Boston Heights.  The need has grown over the years where they are servicing over 700 clients per month who are in need of food, clothing or even hygiene products, and they always serve every person who comes through the door with a smile and the love of Jesus Christ.  A person can select what they want according to guidelines established, and they also get free meats and bread.  The Emergency Assistance Center has partnerships with churches in the area and businesses throughout Greater Cleveland—and all without one dollar of government grants or assistance.  It is all done through donations and the selfless efforts of 60 volunteers.  They are making a difference in the community to thwart hunger and provide a lifeline to overcome poverty.  Joyce and the staff readily admit that without all of the volunteers, they could never keep up with the demand and maintain the ministry, and they absolutely believe that God is in the midst of all of it—and that He is to be glorified.

Here is one more way that kingdom work is going on for the glory of God—and giving credit where credit is due…to God and for His glory and purpose.  The testimony to others is in the sharing of the love of Christ.

Notice how all of the heart and soul of ministry certainly begins with our collective efforts of service and duty for the kingdom, and yet we see how people sincerely attribute their efforts, and especially our successes, to God.  When we see testimonies like this, know that God Himself is at the very center of our Christian faith and ministry.

In order to be able to see God truly at work in your life, you need to take a step backward in order to move several steps forward.

James 4:10

Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will exalt you.

 

Exalt you in what way?

By giving you fame and fortune? Maybe—but it’s highly unlikely.

By giving you a bigger house and car? Maybe—but it’s highly unlikely.

If you’re entertaining these thoughts, you are missing the point.

In the context of the verse, the act of humbling yourself in the book of James chapter 4 means having a serious approach to who God is when you consider your overall unworthiness before Him.

James 4:1-10

1 What is the source of wars and fights among you? Don’t they come from the cravings that are at war within you?  2 You desire and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and don’t receive because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your evil desires.

Adulteresses!  Don’t you know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? So whoever wants to be the world’s friend becomes God’s enemy. Or do you think it’s without reason the Scripture says that the Spirit who lives in us yearns jealously?

But He gives greater grace. Therefore He says:

God resists the proud,
but gives grace to the humble.

Therefore, submit to God. But resist the Devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, sinners, and purify your hearts, double-minded people! Be miserable and mourn and weep. Your laughter must change to mourning and your joy to sorrow. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will exalt you.

 

God wants to see more from you than someone who talks a good game.  He wants to see how you are truly following Him, and it’s not in what you say or in how much you are doing for Him.

Ecclesiastes 5:1-3

1 Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. Better to draw near in obedience than to offer the sacrifice as fools do, for they ignorantly do wrong. Do not be hasty to speak, and do not be impulsive to make a speech before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few. For dreams result from much work and a fool’s voice from many words.

 

1 Samuel 15:22-23

22 Then Samuel said:

Does the Lord take pleasure in burnt offerings and sacrifices
as much as in obeying the Lord?

Look: to obey is better than sacrifice,
to pay attention is better than the fat of rams.
23 For rebellion is like the sin of divination,
and defiance is like wickedness and idolatry.
Because you have rejected the word of the Lord,
He has rejected you as king.

 

Note that your success in Christ has nothing to do with your own thought process, your own ways of thinking or reasoning—all of these originate in the flesh.  In order to take steps forward in your faith and in your ministry before others, you need to take a step back and humble yourself before Him.  If you choose not to humble yourself, you render yourself useless within His kingdom.

Here’s a point of controversy, for sure—I’m not saying that you can’t do anything without Jesus.  You can do a lot of things without Jesus.  In fact, you can do many things and even see results, but be sure that you understand what those accomplishments mean according to His ways and His standards.  You may have your own standards, but how do they stand up to God’s standards?

Isaiah 55:8-9 (ESV)

For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.

 

You can do something without Jesus, but in the end, it amounts to nothing.

Isaiah 64:6 (ESV)

We have all become like one who is unclean,

and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.

We all fade like a leaf,

and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.

 

Isaiah wrote about these so-called righteous deeds of the Israelites but he was stating, in reality, that they were nothing more than junk before God because of their hypocrisy.  This verse is commonly known as the “filthy rags” verse.  Gotquestions.org notes that the word filthy is a translation of the Hebrew word iddah, which literally means “the bodily fluids from a woman’s menstrual cycle.” This is how we are to see how God sees our self-centered approach to the good things that we think we are doing—namely, they are as useless to Him as a soiled feminine hygiene product. [1]

The things that we think we are doing for the Lord amount to nothing that is worth keeping around.  It all comes down to thinking more of yourself than you really are when you are outside of God’s will and live in disobedience to Him.

Jeremiah 13:1-11

1 This is what the Lord said to me: “Go and buy yourself a linen undergarment and put it on, but do not put it in water.” So I bought underwear as the Lord instructed me and put it on.

Then the word of the Lord came to me a second time: “Take the underwear that you bought and are wearing, and go at once to the Euphrates and hide it in a rocky crevice.” So I went and hid it by the Euphrates, as the Lord commanded me.

A long time later the Lord said to me, “Go at once to the Euphrates and get the underwear that I commanded you to hide there.” So I went to the Euphrates and dug up the underwear and got it from the place where I had hidden it, but it was ruined—of no use at all.

Then the word of the Lord came to me: “This is what the Lord says: Just like this I will ruin the great pride of both Judah and Jerusalem. 10 These evil people, who refuse to listen to Me, who follow the stubbornness of their own hearts, and who have followed other gods to serve and worship—they will be like this underwear, of no use at all. 11 Just as underwear clings to one’s waist, so I fastened the whole house of Israel and of Judah to Me”—this is the Lord’s declaration—“so that they might be My people for My fame, praise, and glory, but they would not obey.

 

Without obedience, your works amount to nothing.

If Jesus is not in it, it isn’t worth doing it.

If Jesus is not in it, you’ve received your prize for your effort.

Matthew 6:1-4

1 “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of people, to be seen by them. Otherwise, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So whenever you give to the poor, don’t sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be applauded by people. I assure you: They’ve got their reward! But when you give to the poor, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

 

God proclaims that your fleshly works, on their own merit, amount to nothing more than soiled products or ruined underwear.  Your works are only justified when you are justified in your humble relationship with Jesus Christ.  Your works will be seen as fruits of the Holy Spirit when you humble yourself before Him.  Only then will He exalt you, and it will be in such a way where you will see His fruits in your efforts and all that you will be able to do is proclaim, “He did it!”

How connected are you with your Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ?  Just as we cannot live without an air supply, we cannot be fruitful in the world, and even within the body of Christ, without the presence of the Holy Spirit.  One of the best examples of this is the study of the verses in John, chapter 15, of the vine and the branches.  It reflects the necessity of one very important element in our actions as we exist within a loving relationship with Jesus Christ, and it has everything to do with our obedience to His Word, His commands, and His will.

God wants you to see that He values your relationship with Him much more than your service.  Yes, the service is important, but not more important than Him.

If you choose to “do good with works” over a relationship with Jesus Christ, you should know that, at some point in the future, you can’t be fruitful without Him.  There is no substitute for Jesus Christ.  Your ministry depends completely upon the fruitfulness of the presence of the Holy Spirit, who enables you to minister to others.

 

John 15:1-8

 1 “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vineyard keeper. Every branch in Me that does not produce fruit He removes, and He prunes every branch that produces fruit so that it will produce more fruit. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in Me, and I in you. Just as a branch is unable to produce fruit by itself unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in Me.

“I am the vine; you are the branches. The one who remains in Me and I in him produces much fruit, because you can do nothing without Me. If anyone does not remain in Me, he is thrown aside like a branch and he withers. They gather them, throw them into the fire, and they are burned. If you remain in Me and My words remain in you, ask whatever you want and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this: that you produce much fruit and prove to be My disciples.

 

Whether you remain in Him (or not)—he will not desert you or forget about you—He encourages us, and even fortifies us with His very presence.

Hebrews 13:5-6

Your life should be free from the love of money. Be satisfied with what you have, for He Himself has said, I will never leave you or forsake you. Therefore, we may boldly say:

The Lord is my helper;
I will not be afraid.
What can man do to me?

 

Jesus is the vine that allows you to be fruitful in your ministry.

Without Him, you cannot bear good fruit.

Jesus will also prune you in order for you to be fruitful.  Pruning sounds a little painful, doesn’t it?

When was the last time that Jesus used His pruning shears on you?  Was it a moment of discipline?  Believe it or not, you should be encouraged by the fact that you were indeed shown the way to repentance, for repentance means that God loves you and desires to draw you back into fellowship with Him.  Your return to fellowship means that God is pruning you to return you to fruitfulness.

Hebrews 12:3-11

For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, so that you won’t grow weary and lose heart. In struggling against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And you have forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons:

My son, do not take the Lord’s discipline lightly
or faint when you are reproved by Him,
for the Lord disciplines the one He loves
and punishes every son He receives.

Endure suffering as discipline: God is dealing with you as sons. For what son is there that a father does not discipline? But if you are without discipline—which all receive—then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Furthermore, we had natural fathers discipline us, and we respected them. Shouldn’t we submit even more to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time based on what seemed good to them, but He does it for our benefit, so that we can share His holiness. 11 No discipline seems enjoyable at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it yields the fruit of peace and righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

What work does Jesus need to do in your life to make you more fruitful?  Does he need to do some minor pruning—or more than that?

With the knowledge that obedience to Jesus Christ keeps you fruitful, you can now see God working in your life of fruitfulness by showing the love of Christ to others.  He chose you to do the work.  What an honor it is to serve the Lord Jesus Christ!

 

John 15:9-17

“As the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you. Remain in My love. 10 If you keep My commands you will remain in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commands and remain in His love.

11 “I have spoken these things to you so that My joy may be in you and your joy may be complete.12 This is My command: Love one another as I have loved you. 13 No one has greater love than this, that someone would lay down his life for his friends. 14 You are My friends if you do what I command you. 15 I do not call you slaves anymore, because a slave doesn’t know what his master is doing. I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything I have heard from My Father.16 You did not choose Me, but I chose you. I appointed you that you should go out and produce fruit and that your fruit should remain, so that whatever you ask the Father in My name, He will give you.17 This is what I command you: Love one another.

Your work in Christ will show the love of Christ to others.  You were selected to do the work for His glory.

1 Corinthians 6:19-20

Don’t you know that your body is a sanctuary of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God?  You are not your own, for you were bought at a price. Therefore glorify God in your body.

 

Colossians 3:17

And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

 

1 “Why are all of our righteous acts considered filthy rags?” (n.d.). Retrieved August 12, 2014, from http:// http://www.gotquestions.org/filthy-rags.html

 

Copyright © Melvin Gaines

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Expert Living For Christ

The following is the text of a sermon presented to Akron Alliance Fellowship Church on October 12, 2008.

In our society, people who claim to be very knowledgeable in the handling of certain tasks and abilities are all around us.  We have skilled laborers who can build massive structures, bridges, and roads.  We know that there are talented carpenters and tradesmen, and there are people who are experts with white-collar jobs and responsibilities, including doctors and lawyers.  These are all descriptive of some form of expertise that is a valued part of our society and that allows it to function and perform at a high level.  We rely upon experts to perform jobs and tasks in our society because of the output or quality of the work that is expected when the experts are involved.

Whether or not we realize it, we are also experts, but perhaps not in the way you might realize.  This has little to do with the level of your education or your chosen profession, if none at all.  In order to become an expert at something, it involves regular practice and repetition.  Please keep this in mind, as we will be exploring where are expertise is, and where we all should have a desire to be if we are truly following God’s heart and will for our lives.

We discussed recently how life can move along as expected, and in many ways predictably, but then a sudden, unexpected event would take place that has an effect on us.  The event now turns what was routine into a time of our lives where we are thrown off a little and somewhat knocked off balance.  We realize that these events are part of life and are not really unusual.  We are given guidelines from God’s Word on how to deal with both the routine and the unusual events of our lives.  God calls for us to remain consistent in our approach and to always focus on Him in all circumstances.  Proverbs Chapter 3 has a select group of verses that we often refer to, but let’s look at the first part of Proverbs in its entirety for an even clearer picture of where our focus will be:

Proverbs 3:1-7

My son, don’t forget my teaching, but let your heart keep my commands; for they will bring you many days, a full life, and well-being.  Never let loyalty and faithfulness leave you.  Tie them around your neck; write them on the tablet of your heart.  Then you will find favor and high regard in the sight of God and man.  Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own understanding; think about Him in all your ways, and He will guide you on the right paths.  Don’t consider yourself to be wise; fear the Lord and turn away from evil.

First, we are encouraged to remember His teaching, which is the instruction that comes from reading, hiding it in our hearts and meditating on it as well as instruction that we receive in Bible study and other settings where God’s Word is being shared.  To keep His commands is to read what is stated, note them and follow them.  With this learning, we are called to remember his teaching.  To remember something is to bring to the forefront of our minds and act upon the information.  Our minds have the capacity to take in a tremendous amount of information, and we sometimes may remember something from months or years ago because of a stimulus that we experience.  On the other hand, it is also natural for us to forget, or fail to remember something.  We can get annoyed with ourselves because we can get up and go to another room and then forget what we were getting up to get in the first place, or we may remember something that is complex in nature but another simple thing just slips our mind!  It is also natural for us as human beings to forget, or not remember to think about the things of the Lord under normal circumstances.  In fact, it is easy to conclude that, as we are human beings that live in a fallen world, sometimes the things of God are the furthest things from our minds.  While we know that we should follow Christ in all that we do, as the Scripture states, and that we may even have the desire to do so, it is not a natural act for us to do so.  This is not a trivial matter.  The mind is very powerful, and Jesus knows the carnal tendencies of the human mind and addresses it in Matthew 5:27-28:

Matthew 5:27-28

You have heard that it was said, “Do not commit adultery.”  But I tell you, everyone who looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

James 1:14-15

But each person is tempted when he is drawn away and enticed by his own evil desires.  Then after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and when sin is fully grown, it gives birth to death.

We can fall into sin very easily and quickly, because, to be succinct, we are experts in the practice and execution of sin.  Our expertise comes from our being born in sin and from the regular and consistent practice of sin in our lives.  This is not meant to be anything other than a declaration of truth that God already knows about us.  We do what comes naturally to us, and in many ways without giving it a conscious thought.  Our acts of sin in our lives have been developed from childhood.  Listen to how Paul expresses frustration over how he struggles with sin even as a mature adult:

Romans 7:18-19, 22-25

For I know that nothing good lives in me, but there is no ability to do it.  For I do not do the good that I want to do, but I practice the evil that I do not want to do.  For in my inner self I joyfully disagree with God’s law.  But I see a different law in the parts of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and taking me prisoner to the law of sin in the parts of my body.  What a wretched man I am!  Who will rescue me from this body of death?  I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord!  So then, with my mind I myself am a slave to the law of God, but with my flesh, to the law of sin.

What is Paul saying here?  It is very easy to commit sin, but we all have to look to Christ as our Savior, who not only died on the cross in our place to take upon our lifelong sin and to forgive us for our sins and our sinful nature, but ask for Jesus Christ to renew our minds and give us the desire to want to learn more about Him and about how to truly hide His Word in our hearts.

Ephesians 4:22-24

…you took off your former way of life, the old man that is corrupted by deceitful desires; you are being renewed in the spirit of your minds; you put on the new man, the one created according to God’s likeness in righteousness and purity of the truth.

In Proverbs 3, it is the focus on God’s Word that preserves us with a long, happy and fruitful life.  A life of sin, on the other hand, can be both physically and mentally debilitating.  The verse that summarizes the consequences of sin after making choices to follow your own desires rather than what God desires:

Romans 6:23

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

In addition to seeking God and His Word in the process of developing expertise in following Jesus Christ and overcoming our expert dealings with sin in our lives, God wants us to practice living in such a way that Proverbs 3 states very eloquently in verses 3 and 4:

Proverbs 3:3-4

Never let loyalty and faithfulness leave you.  Tie them around your neck; write them on the tablet of your heart.  Then you will find favor and high regard in the sight of God and man.

For all of the discussion about faith, we must never discount the effect that we, as believers of Jesus Christ, in our ministry, have a profound effect on those around us by our actions in Jesus Christ.  We can become experts for Christ in how to show others how to live for Christ and to show ourselves as different, in fact, strangely different, in a world where sin is commonplace.  The act of showing loyalty and faithfulness is that where we are loyal, or consistent, with our commitment to Christ, and that we are faithful to Him.  In doing so, you will express these same qualities in your dealings with others.  They will be visible because of your commitment to Christ.  They will be “tied around your neck” figuratively, because everyone will see your actions.  You will have the thoughts of God “written on the tablet of your heart,” and others will see that in your behavior.   Your actions will reflect your attitude and your service for Christ.  Will you measure up?

James 2:14-15

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith, but does not have works?  Can his faith save him?  If a brother or sister is without clothes and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,” but you don’t give them what the body needs, what good is it?  In the same way faith, if it doesn’t have works, is dead by itself.

Note that these actions are all part of the greatest commandments of God’s Word!  God wants you to love the Lord with all of your heart, and to love your neighbor as yourself (Deuteronomy 6:5-9, Leviticus 19:18, Matthew 22:37-40).  In doing so, you will lay the foundation in your growing expertise of following Christ.

Copyright © Melvin Gaines. All rights reserved.


1 John 3:11-24: Love in Action

John always spoke to those who were followers of Jesus as “little children,” and related to them his command from God…”love one another.” John was bringing us to a place where he was teaching the followers of Christ how to live out their salvation. Life is more than just saying “I’m saved through Jesus Christ.” John taught that there is a unique difference in living a life for Christ.

One of the most difficult things in life is to truly love another. Loving God and life itself is much easier when there is no one else around! But we know better than that. “For this is the message you have heard from the beginning: we should love one another” (1 John 3:11). Note the following, far from conclusive, references to loving others:

Matthew 5:44 Love your enemies.
Matthew 5:46 Love has a reward.
Luke 6:35 Do good, even to your enemies.
John 13:34 Love as I have loved you.
John 13:35 All men will know you are My disciple if you love one another.
Romans 12:9 Love must be sincere.
Romans 12:10 Honor one another above yourself.
Romans 13:8 The continuing debt of love fulfilled the law.
Romans 13:10 Love does not harm a neighbor.
1 Corinthians 8:1 Love builds up.
1 Corinthians 13:4 Love is patient.
1 Corinthians 13:8 Love never fails.
Ephesians 4:15 Speak the truth in love.
1 Peter 1:22 Love one another deeply.
1 Peter 4:8 Love covers a multitude of sins.

If you think about it, love and serving one another is not easy! The acts of loving others must begin with our attitudes about loving God and understanding what that truly means. Loving Him means getting to know Him through His Word, trusting in Him, and being obedient to His commands. Loving God is not a selfish love…it is a self-sacrificing love.

Note, according to Scripture, the attitude that Cain possessed (Genesis 4:1-8). Cain’s flesh revealed how hatred can bring out hostility towards his brother, Abel, and to God Himself. It revealed selfishness, and it also reflects the unbeliever’s attitude towards those who follow God (1 John 3:12-15). The end result of hatred is murder. Hatred belittles and destroys life, while love, in it’s faith and obedience to God, cherishes and nurtures life. “By faith Abel offered to God a better sacrifice than Cain did. By this he was approved as a righteous man, because God approved his gifts, and even though he is dead, he still speaks through this” (Hebrews 11:4). When we speak here of unbelievers, we are not just speaking of those who are not followers of Christ, for even believers can behave as unbelievers in their actions when they are acting in selfishness and disobedience, and when operating outside of God’s will. Human nature is what it is. We still operate in the flesh and declare “I want things my way.” When we give way to our own selfish desires, it is only then when God can do His will in our life. It is how we can best love one another. We must crucify this flesh daily (James 4:1-3; 1 Corinthians 3:3; 2 Samuel 11:14-16). We are still growing in our relationship with God through Jesus Christ. We are still learning from Him, and He is still teaching us as we are still learning to trust and have faith in Him. We must overcome our own desires and remind ourselves that we are saved by grace, and in our relationship with Christ we are to continually reminded of God’s love for us–in that love we are to love our brothers and sisters (1 John 3:14; 1 Corinthians 13:4-7).

The example of true love is Jesus Christ (1 John 3:16-20). It is in how He lived His life and gave of Himself. He continually lived to meet the needs of others. “‘For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life–a ransom for many (Mark 10:45).'” True love is giving of yourself to others (Ephesians 2:10; Titus 3:8, 14). Service comes out of love for people. We were created to do His will and good works for not just believers, but for everyone! God, in your growing relationship with Him (namely, trusting in Him) will prepare you in your service to others.

When our heart is at rest in God, we have confidence in Him. His Word reveals to us where we can best use our talents and abilities and inspires us through the power of the Holy Spirit (1 John 3:21-24). We know we are in the truth because we believe in Him and He is operating within us! “I am able to do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13). God wants us to be people of action! We’re here to minister to the needs of others, in love. When you truly see God’s heart for people, you can’t help but give your life in service for Him. Remember how Jesus came and met us where we were for our own spiritual and physical needs. That work must continue through us in showing the love of Christ in service for others.

To be in Christ is knowing where we are by the Holy Spirit that He gave to us, through His influence in our lives as we have faith and trust in Him (1 Thessalonians 1:4-5). If the work is of God, He will meet every need! “‘He will glorify Me, because He will take from what is Mine and declare it to you. Everything the Father has is Mine. This is why I told you that He takes from what is Mine and will declare it to you'” (John 16:14-15).