Tag Archives: Fruit

Judgment, Fruit Inspection, and Mixing Metaphors

“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.”
Matthew 7:15-20 (NIV)

For over 25 years I have been in the business of the behavioral analysis of human interactions (e.g. “Your call may be monitored for training and quality assurance purposes“). One time the Quality Assurance (QA) manager of a client told me that she gave an agent a score of “0” on her call. There were about 30 behavioral criteria analyzed in a given call so that the score reflected a generally accurate picture of what the customer did and didn’t experience in the interaction. To get a “0” an agent would almost have to pick up the phone and immediately stroke out, but even then the agent would be credited for not rushing the caller off the phone. Getting a zero is practically impossible if the agent had blood pressure and a pulse.

As I asked a few questions I soon discovered that the manager didn’t particularly like the agent who took the call she scored “0.” I suspect there were other employment or personality issues between the two. When the agent did something the manager didn’t like on the call, the manager took the opportunity to exercise her power and dismiss the agent and her performance as utterly worthless.

In today’s chapter Jesus continues His famous Sermon on the Mount with a direct command not to be judgmental of others. He goes on to illustrate what he means by describing those who will find a “speck” of something wrong about someone else which they use to justify their judgment, grudge or dismissive attitude towards that person. The judgmental person is, of course, ignoring the glaring 2x4s of their own personal flaws as they do this.

Later in the chapter Jesus is speaks specifically about “false prophets.” In Jesus day there were all sorts of religious teachers, cult leaders, and false prophets making all sorts of religious claims. One of the things we fail to realize is that teachers and preachers claiming to be the Messiah were quite common in Jesus’ day. Just like televangelists and cult leaders in our current era, it was a lucrative gig to convince the crowds you’re the Messiah.

Jesus then gives a word picture to help his listeners be discerning and objective in their Quality Assurance assessment of these “false prophets.” Look at the fruit of their teaching and ministry. Is it the things of God? Goodness? Humility? Generosity? Repentance? Reconciliation? Changed lives? Or is it the things of this world? Wealth? Arrogance? Pride? Power? Control? Hatred? Look at the outcomes and results of these prophets and teachers. That’s the way to know if they are servants of God or servants of themselves.

Along my life’s journey I’ve run into many of my fellow followers of Jesus who will proudly and loudly proclaim: “I’m not supposed to judge other people, but I am called to be a fruit inspector!” These individuals then quickly find a “speck” on the “fruit” of another person’s life and feel perfectly justified in claiming the power and authority to dismiss or condemn the whole tree for quality issues. They use Jesus’ call to be “fruit inspectors” of false prophets to justify their judgement of anyone and everyone’s “specks.”

This morning I’m thinking about the ways we mix up Jesus’ metaphors and twist His teaching to justify the very things he commands us not to do. Even as I write this I’ve got my own 2x4s staring me square in the face. I’m praying for mercy this morning, and confessing my own critical and judgmental attitude towards others. God’s Message tells us that the “fruit” of God’s Spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness and self-control. In order to consistently produce a good crop there is regular regimen of cultivating, watering, tending, and pruning. I’ve been following Jesus a long time, but I constantly have some pruning to do.

Lord, have mercy on me.

 

“You Seem Incredibly Zen”

You will keep in perfect peace
    those whose minds are steadfast,
    because they trust in you.
Trust in the Lord forever,
    for the Lord, the Lord himself, is the Rock eternal.
Isaiah 26:3-4 (NIV)

In the late evening of November 2nd, when the Cleveland Indians had inexplicably rallied with two outs in the bottom of the 8th to tie game seven of the World Series, there was a high degree of angst in the family room here at Vander Well Manor. It seemed like it was all going to fall apart like it had done so many times before. Then came the rain delay that has already gained legendary status. Wendy and I had a chance to catch our collective breath along with the rest of the nation.

You seem incredibly zen about this,” Wendy said to me, observing the lack of emotional angst in my affect. I have written ad nauseam about our devotion to the Chicago Cubs over the years, so no need to expound on how momentous of a moment this was, nor how nervous I should have been.

The truth is, I was feeling an inexplicable sense of peace in that moment that I’m not sure I would have been feeling a year ago. I certainly would not have been feeling a sense of peace in this moment  five, ten, or 20 years ago. That night, I was.

When I was a young man, I memorized the words the ancient prophet Isaiah penned, pasted at the top of this post. At this waypoint in my life’s journey I’ve come to realize that peace is a relatively rare human experience on life’s road. This is especially true in the extra innings of World Series game 7, an unforeseen tragedy, an unexpected election result, or a painfully blank ultrasound reading.

On the night that Jesus was arrested, submitted to kangaroo court, beaten, scourged, nailed to a cross and mocked by the on looking crowd He looked at his followers and said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” 

The testimony and stories of Jesus followers in the following hours and days were not stories of peace. They scattered and fled to avoid arrest and gathered clandestinely behind locked doors. The betrayer committed suicide. Their leader, Peter, followed Jesus at a distance, but three times fearfully denied any knowledge of the Man he’d earlier hailed as Christ. While the female followers of Jesus risked going to the tomb to anoint the body after the sabbath, the men remained fearfully hidden. Not exactly a picture of peace.

Tradition and history tell us, however, that something happened in the days and years that followed the tragic events of that fateful night. Something had been transformed in these same fearful, peace-less followers. They encountered a resurrected Christ. Forty days later they fearlessly proclaimed the risen Jesus to public crowds. They peacefully accepted arrest, imprisonment and trial. They scattered once more, not in fear but with a mission to share the Message with the known world. With the exception of John, who died of old age, the rest peacefully accepted the brutal death of martyrs.

This morning I am reminded that the peace that Jesus promised His followers did not come instantly. It budded, it took root, and it grew to fruition. God’s creation is a growing, expanding, organic cosmos. Miracles happen, but most of the time things take time to grow before you experience the fruit.

So it was on the evening of November 2nd Wendy noticed my zen-like peace during the rain delay. I think I’m finally hitting a stage of the journey in which I’m enjoying the fruit of peace after many years of steadfast seeking. Peace in the knowledge of a Divine Dance that is so much bigger, deeper, and greater than I’ve ever fathomed. Peace that comes with faith in the Great Story being told by the Author of Life. Peace with my place and role in that Story. Peace in the knowledge that our journeys are all full of bitter defeats and disappointments, but also include rare moments of satisfying victory. I’m increasingly at peace with the knowledge that I will certainly endure the former as I always have before, and might even gain a little wisdom in the experience. I will also enjoy the latter when it comes, even more fully in proportion to the measure of defeat that preceded it.

chapter a day banner 2015

Featured photo: kudumomo via Flickr

Reason, Creativity & Metaphor

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
    from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—
    the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
    the Spirit of counsel and of might,
    the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord
and he will delight in the fear of the Lord.
Isaiah 11:1-2 (NIV)

The language of God is metaphor. Throughout God’s Message He speaks through word pictures: poetic word pictures, word pictures in parables, typology, foreshadowing, metaphorical names, dreams, visions, and prophecies. God is a creative artist. God is the Creator Artist. The intricate, mathematical design of all creation is balanced by the Creator’s artistic flair in communication and story telling. We are made in God’s image. Left brain and right brain. Reason and creativity.

I have found that many people get perplexed and confused when approaching the writings of the ancient Hebrew prophets. Reading the prophets can be a head scratcher. There is no doubt. This is especially true considering that we are reading an English translation of the original Hebrew text. The original Hebrew is much like the balanced reason and creativity of Creation. It can be very left-brained in its intricate (even mathematical) poetic structure and very right-brained in its metaphorical content.

This morning’s chapter begins with a Messianic prophecy. If you delve into the word pictures, you begin to unlock the full meaning.

Jesse was the father of King David. King David was told by God that his throne would be established forever (e.g. the Messiah would come from the line of David). During the time of Isaiah’s writing, the line of David was still sitting on the throne of Judah in Jerusalem. Alive and bearing generational fruit. But, within a couple of hundred years of the writing the monarchy of Judah would be cut-off by a series of occupational empires (Babylonian, Persian, Roman). There would be no king in Jerusalem. The family tree of Jesse’s royal lineage would become a lifeless stump.

From that dead, life-less stump comes a shoot, that will develop into a branch which will bear fruit. Life will spring out of the seemingly dead line of Jesse. That’s why Matthew and Luke are both careful to record the family tree of Jesus in the telling of the Jesus story. Jesus was a descendent of Jesse, born in the town of David, the town of Bethlehem.

And what does Isaiah’s prophecy communicate about this new shoot of life?

Spirit.
Spirit.
Spirit.
Spirit.

Consider Jesus’ own words:

“No one can enter the Kingdom of God unless they are born of both water and spirit.”

“Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.”

“God is spirit, and his worshippers must worship in Spirit and truth.”

“The Spirit gives life. The flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you – they are full of Spirit and life.”

Jesus even took this same word picture of trunk, branch and fruit and passed it on to His followers (see John 15). How cool is that to see the manifestation of the word picture the Creator planted in the design of creation: Trunk give birth to branch which bears fruit that falls to Earth and “dies” and is buried, which then gives birth of Life to a new tree which develops branches and bears fruit. God’s intricate, creative design speaks God’s language: metaphor.

This morning I’m inspired thinking about the depth and layers of meaning in Isaiah’s prophetic writing. There were layers of meaning Isaiah himself could not possibly comprehend as he wrote the verses 700 years before the “Shoot of Jesse” would spring to Life. I am thinking about design and creativity. Words and word pictures. Spirit and Life. I’m praying that I perpetuate the word picture; praying that Spirit and Life is bearing fruit in and through me today.

 

Kauai: Day 5

kauai-day-5-1

Every morning of our time in Kauai has begun around 6:00 a.m. I get up, put the coffee on, and then we walk out the patio to watch the sunrise. The sunrise is a daily event here. People line the ocean path and the various patios and balconies to watch God paint a new sunrise. There are always a lot of cameras. It is different every morning. Cloud formations change. The hues of pink, gold, orange and red are mixed differently against the backdrop of blue. It’s a wonderfully peaceful way to start the day.

The next few hours after sunrise are generally lazy. Drink coffee, have a bite to eat, and ease into the day. This morning Wendy and I ended up back in our bed just lying around. Lydia came in and climbed into bed with us. It was fun cuddling and playing with her.

On our first day in Kauai we had attended an orientation here at the resort in which different tourist vendors described things that you can do. They also held a raffle. Becky and Court won a two-for-one deal on a plantation train ride and walking tour and gifted it to Wendy and me. It happened to be the same plantation where we had eaten brunch on Sunday morning. So, the five of us returned to the Kilohana plantation on Monday morning.

At one time the sugar can plantation consumed some 40,000 acres of the area, but now takes up a very small foot-print. While sugar cane is still grown there, it is mostly a large orchard in which many varieties of fresh fruit are grown, along with some small barnyard animals for tourists to feed as part of the train tour.

The figure eight train route took us along side the orchards as our guide described the various varieties of fruits and herbs that are grown on the grounds. We stopped about half-way through to feed the animals. Wendy and I kind of stood back and watched. When you grow up in Iowa, the experience of feeding a goat, chickens and pigs is not a novel concept.

At that point our tour guide, Josh, met those of us who had signed up for the walking tour. He led us down into a deep valley on the back side of the property that had become a tropical canopy supporting a large variety of native plants. Josh took us down the narrow dirt trail, stopping to point out various exotic looking plants.

One of the cooler plants Josh introduced us to was the Hila Hila plant, which in Hawaiian means “bashful.” When you touch it, the plant closes up in an instant. We had a lot of fun finding the plant on the ground and then making it close-up. Josh also shared the homeopathic remedies that different plants were used for and would regularly reach out, pull a leaf off a plant and eat it as he described what it tasted like. He would also tell us what plants not to eat, like the one that was like Habanero pepper on steroids, which his friend once tried and spent two days in the hospital.

At the bottom of the valley was a stream by which we saw a giant mango tree that was 150 years old as well as a large banyan tree. We then made our way back up the valley. They fed us a sack lunch under a canopy while we let the regular mid-day rain shower pass over us. Desert was a fresh pineapple that Josh cut up and served to us. Wow. Talk about sweet. Josh was a native of the island and, as we ate lunch, he shared about growing up on Kauai, answered questions about Hawaiian culture and history, and kept us entertained with stories.

After lunch Josh led us into the orchards where he pointed out different exotic fruits they grow, as well as some of the regular. We got to pick fruit right off the trees and taste it. The train picked us up at the orchard and took us back to the station. We stopped at the sweet shop for a treat before heading back to the resort.

Everyone was pretty tuckered out, so we took naps in the afternoon. After getting up from our nap, Wendy and I decided to walk up the beach to a local restaurant and watering hole called Sam’s Ocean View. Our concierge had given us a 2-for-1 happy hour drink special coupon, so we decided to check it out. The restaurant is a house on the beach, but the ocean-side of the house has two giant garage doors that open so that the entire side of the house opens onto the beach and the incoming surf.

 

Wendy and I enjoyed a happy hour drink and made friends with the bartender who was absolutely fabulous. A local musician set up to play live music and I thought I recognized him as the guy playing at the Hanalei Farmer’s Market on Saturday. I asked him, and I was right. He played solo guitar and a mix of coffee-house standards. Wendy and I would have joyfully had dinner there and stayed all night. Our bartender told us they were closed every Tuesday and Wednesday but we promised to go back for a visit (or two) before we leave the island.

We walked back to the room. Dinner was homemade pizza while we watched a late replay of Monday Night Football. We enjoyed playing with Lydia and chatting before heading to bed.

Oak and Vine

In January of 2012 we had an unusually warm week and the dead vine in our backyard had enough life in it to sprout a single bloom.
In January of 2012 we had an unusually warm week and the dead vine in our backyard had enough life in it to sprout a single bloom.

The word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, how is the wood of a vine different from that of a branch from any of the trees in the forest?”
Ezekiel 15:1-2 (NIV)

I have written on occasion about the majestic old oak tree that stood sentinel outside our house in Pella. During our decade living there, Old Man Oak would occasionally drop a branch on the driveway. The branches were heavy and the solid wood would have been useful for any number of projects had I been a wood worker inclined to make something useful from the fallen limb.

In the backyard of the same house was a climbing vine that would perennially climb a trellis set between our and our neighbor’s yard. It was gorgeous in the summer when it wove its way up the framework of the arbor and blossomed in fiery orange blooms. In the autumn, however, the vines died and became ugly brown sinews that had to be painstakingly cut and pulled from the trellis. The remnants of the vine were dead, ugly, tangled, and absolutely useless for anything other than nature’s own recycling system.

That is exactly the word picture Ezekiel makes about the people of Jerusalem in today’s chapter. God’s people had once been a fruitful vine but had grown spiritually lifeless, tangled up in idolatry, and useless. As such, the result was to be thrown on the burn pile – a prophetic word picture of the coming Babylonian siege of Jerusalem and its destruction.

I’m reminded this morning of Jesus’ own take on the same metaphor:

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” John 15:5-8 (NIV)

Today, I’m find myself a little introspective. Ezekiel’s prophecy and Jesus’ metaphor begs the question: “What good am I? Am I fruitful? Am I useful? Is there Life in the limbs of my existence, my labor, and my relationships?”

A Forest of Lessons

source: Google Earth
source: Google Earth

The tree you saw, which grew large and strong, with its top touching the sky, visible to the whole earth, with beautiful leaves and abundant fruit, providing food for all, giving shelter to the wild animals, and having nesting places in its branches for the birds— Your Majesty, you are that tree!
Daniel 4:20-22 (NIV)

One of the things that I am going to greatly miss here at VW Manor is our mighty oak tree which, we believe, has likely stood sentinel over this property since around the time the Dutch settlers put down their roots in the neighborhood. Each time I drive into the driveway I must be careful to skirt my way around the massive trunk. Its branches have given us shade from the heat of the summer sun. It has wordlessly whispered to my soul regarding permanence, strength, fidelity and my own relative transience.

God has a thing for trees. There was the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in the middle of the Garden of Eden. Psalm 1 kicks off that monster volume of lyrics by describing the blessed person as a “tree, planted by rivers of water, which bears fruit in its season, whose leaf doe not wither.” The book of Revelation describes, at the end of all things, the Tree of Life in the middle of a restored Eden.

This morning I am also mindful of the oak trees that once stood scattered around the yard of our lake house. Spindly and thin, they nonetheless offered a small forest’s worth of shade over the house and guarded those who traversed the hill down to the water’s edge. Over the course of a few summers, one-by-one, each one of them quickly withered and died. Their dead, bare branches stretched out but provided no shade. One by one we cut them down. It called to mind Jesus’ words:

[My Father, the gardener] cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.

Nebuchadnezzar was a mighty, prosperous, fruitful tree. Yet, he discovered that what takes years to grow can wither very quickly.

Today, I am asking myself, “What kind of tree am I?”

The Old Man in the Crowd

"If you want to feel young, hang around with young people. If you want to die young, try to keep up with them." - Carl Bales
“If you want to feel young, hang around with young people. If you want to die young, try to keep up with them.” – Carl Bales

Even in old age they will still produce fruit;
    they will remain vital and green.
Psalm 92:14 (NLT)

Most people that I find myself around are younger than me. Don’t get me wrong. I have a lot of friends who are my age or older. Most of the time, however, I find myself around younger people and I am the unmistaken “old man” in the room. Because my hair started to gray at an early age and I inherited the hearing loss gene from the Vander Well side of the family, it sort of puts the proverbial frosting on the cake. “Who’s that gray haired, deaf guy hanging out with those young people?” 

I’m exaggerating, but the truth is that sometimes I feel it acutely.

When I was young I often felt marginalized and dismissed by older people because of my youth. I memorized a verse from Paul’s letter to a young Timothy: “Don’t let anyone think less of you because you are young. Be an example to all believers in what you say, in the way you live, in your love, your faith, and your purity.” I worked hard to earn people’s respect and trust.

Now that I am older, I find that young people can just as easily marginalize and be dismissive of those who are older. I now look back at my younger self and realize that while I was feeling dismissed by older generations I was just as dismissive of them for being “out of touch” with my generation and the times.

Age is a funny thing. I’ve come to the conclusion that the suspicious dismissing of the young by the old, and the suspicious dismissing of the old by the young is a natural part of life. It will never change. The bottom line is that I want to cultivate life and produce good fruit every step of my earthly journey until I cross the finish line. Every generation has much to contribute and much to teach me if I’m willing to listen (and if I have my hearing aids in) and engage in life giving conversation. I can’t do anything about what other generations think of me other than be an example in my love and life. I can, however, act to appreciate and honor the generations that came before me and the generations that are coming up behind me.

I’m sorry. What was that you said?