Devotional

Look at the Fruit

1 October 2022, 12:00 am

“Will the real [person’s name] please stand up?” That’s the familiar line at the end of the game show To Tell the Truth. A panel of four celebrities ask questions of three individuals claiming to be the same person. Of course, two are impostors, but it’s up to the panel to discern the actual person. In one challenging episode, the celebrities tried to guess “the real Johnny Marks,” who wrote the lyrics to “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” The celebrities found out just how difficult it is, even with asking good questions, to figure out just who’s who. Impostors lie and finagle the truth, which makes for entertaining television.

Discerning who’s who when it comes to “false teachers” is a far cry from television game show antics, but it frequently proves to be equally as challenging and infinitely more important. The “ferocious wolves” often come to us in “sheep’s clothing,” and Jesus warns even the wise among us to “watch out” (Matthew 7:15). The best test in such cases is not so much good questions, but good eyes. Look at their fruit, for that’s how you’ll recognize them (vv. 16–20).

Scripture gives us some assistance in seeing good and bad fruit. The good looks like “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22). We’ve got to pay close attention, for wolves play by deception. But as believers, who are filled with the Spirit, we serve “the real Good Shepherd,” full of grace and truth (John 1:14).

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Where to Turn

30 September 2022, 12:00 am

Everyone in high school admired Jack’s easygoing attitude and athletic skill. He was happiest in midair above a half-pipe ramp—one hand holding his skateboard, the other stretched out for balance.

Jack decided to follow Jesus when he started attending a local church. Up to that point, he’d endured significant family struggles and had used drugs to medicate his pain. For a while after his conversion, things seemed to be going well for him. But years later he started using drugs again. Without the proper intervention and ongoing treatment, he eventually died of an overdose.

It’s easy to turn back to what is familiar when we face difficulty in life. When the Israelites felt the distress of an upcoming Assyrian attack, they crawled back to the Egyptians—their former slave masters—for help (Isaiah 30:1–5). God predicted this would be disastrous, but He continued to care for them although they made the wrong choice. Isaiah voiced God’s heart: “The Lord longs to be gracious to you; therefore he will rise up to show you compassion” (v. 18).

This is God’s attitude toward us, even when we choose to look elsewhere to numb our pain. He wants to help us. He doesn’t want us to hurt ourselves with habits that create bondage. Certain substances and actions tempt us with a quick sense of relief, but God wants to provide authentic healing as we walk closely with Him throughout the course of our lives.

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The Coffee-Bean Bowl

29 September 2022, 12:00 am

I’m not a coffee drinker, but one sniff of coffee beans brings me a moment of both solace and wistfulness. When our teenage daughter Melissa was making her bedroom uniquely hers, she filled a bowl with coffee beans to permeate her room with a warm, pleasant scent.

It’s been nearly two decades since Melissa’s earthly life ended in a car accident at age seventeen, but we still have that coffee-bean bowl. It gives us a continual, aromatic remembrance of Mell’s life with us.

Scripture also uses fragrances as a reminder. Song of Songs refers to fragrances as a symbol of love between a man and a woman (see 1:3; 4:11, 16). In Hosea, God’s forgiveness of Israel is said to be “fragrance like a cedar of Lebanon” (Hosea 14:6). And Mary’s anointing of Jesus’ feet (John 12:3), which caused the house of Mary and her siblings to be “filled with the fragrance of the perfume” (John 12:3), pointed ahead to Jesus’ death (see v. 7).

The idea of fragrance can also help us be mindful of our testimony of faith to those around us. Paul explained it this way: “We are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing” (2 Corinthians 2:15).

Just as the scent of coffee beans reminds me of Melissa, may our lives produce a scent of Jesus and His love that reminds others of their need of Him.

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Out of the Heart

28 September 2022, 12:00 am

A rescue mission nicknamed “Operation Noah’s Ark” might sound fun for animal lovers, but it was a nightmare for the Nassau Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. After receiving complaints about the noise and the horrid stench coming from a certain house, workers entered the Long Island home and found and removed more than four hundred animals from the neglected conditions.

We may not be holding hundreds of animals in filthy conditions, but Jesus said we might be harboring evil and sinful thoughts and actions in our hearts that need to be exposed and removed. 

In teaching His disciples about what makes a person clean and unclean, Jesus said it isn’t dirty hands or “whatever enters the mouth” that defiles a person, but an evil heart (Matthew 15:17–19). The stench from our hearts would eventually leak out from their lives. Then Jesus gave examples of evil thoughts and actions that come “out of the heart” (v. 19). No amount of external religious activities and rituals can make them clean. We need God to transform our hearts.

We can practice Jesus’ inside-out ethic by giving Him access to the squalor of our hearts and letting Him remove what’s causing the stench. As Christ uncovers what’s coming from our hearts, He’ll help our words and actions be aligned with His desires, and the aroma from our lives will please Him.

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