Tag Archives: Pruning

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.

 

Chapter-a-Day Jeremiah 5

Go down the rows of vineyards and rip out the vines,
   but not all of them. Leave a few.
Prune back those vines! Jeremiah 5:10 (MSG)

I often work with Customer Service teams for different companies. Through the years I’ve worked with teams who balk at the process of being assessed and coached. Often, there is a rebellious attitude throughout the team that keeps them from performing well and creates all kinds of stress for their supervisors and managers. I’ve learned that the best way to deal with this kind of situation is to prune the team. By moving people to different teams and bringing in new team members with different attitudes, you change the dynamic and those left have the opportunity to grow.

Pruning is such a great word picture for different aspects of life. We all need a little pruning from time to time. We need to prune back our commitments so we can have time and space for God to introduce new things in our lives. We could stand to prune back our ever increasing collection of “stuff” that clutters our homes, garages and storage places. Sometimes we need to prune back relationships that steal life and become self destructive.

What do I need to prune back today, this month, this year?

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and fui

Chapter-a-Day Isaiah 27

Still clinging. "At that same time, a fine vineyard will appear. There's something to sing about! I, God, tend it. I keep it well-watered. I keep careful watch over it so that no one can damage it. I'm not angry. I care. Even if it gives me thistles and thornbushes, I'll just pull them out and burn them up. Let that vine cling to me for safety, let it find a good and whole life with me, let it hold on for a good and whole life." Isaiah 27:2-5 (MSG) 

Jesus said he is the vine. I am this vine. I am Isaiah's vine. I soak up God's tender care, his life-giving water, and his faithful watchfulness. In return I've given Him thistles and thorns. So often I have rewarded his loving care with sour grapes. Nevertheless, He keeps loving, keeps tending, keeps watering, keeps pruning.

Still, I'm clinging to Him for safety. And, I'm finding goodness and wholeness. Seasons pass. Old things pass away. New things come. Each year is a new vintage.

God, let my life be a vineyard that produces the choicest of wines that, in turn, reflects your skill as the Master Gardener.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and hodge