Could it be that bearing fruit is really about looking up?


John 14: 15  – 17 “If you love me, you WILL (emphasis mine)  keep my commandments.

And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper,  to be with you forever, (that is) the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.”

Do you know what happens to the ‘Dauphin’, the Heir Apparent, when his father the King dies and he is still too young to rule?  A wise, strong and capable regent is appointed to work with the young monarch.  This is what happened to the Sun King when his father, Louis XIII died.  Louis XIV was not quite 5 years old at the time that he assumed the reins with the Cardinal Mazarin at his side.

King Louis XIV as a boy

What does that have to do with us as believers obeying God and having the Holy Spirit as a counselor?

Today, I glimpsed a different way of looking at those verses in John 14.  I’ve always viewed them as an evaluative test of whether (or how well) I actually loved God.

  • You think you love God?
  • Then prove it!!!
  • Be obedient to all his commands.

Talk about discouragement!

I can’t even be ‘good’ for five minutes!

But what if we interpret the verse following the following logical flow of good news for believers in Christ

  • God loved us, so we are now capable of loving (1 John 4:19 – we love, because he first loved us)
  • If we love God, then we are guaranteed power to keep his commandments
  • Since once we are born again, we are babies in Christ.  It follows that we need a regent, a counselor
  • Jesus promised and then DID send the Holy Spirit to act as counselor
  • We look to King Jesus and we rely on our counselor’s prompting and we grow up in our faith.
  • We start to produce good fruit
  • But…if we take our eyes off of King Jesus and we look at the roiling waters, we sink at the impossibility of doing the very thing we are carrying out!

What good news!  We don’t have to prove something that we know for a fact is not true.  If you’re anything like me then you will probably agree that we don’t keep God’s laws and we don’t love him with a whole heart.  But we don’t have to – in our own strength.  We’re WELL encompassed by expert counsel and have the King’s favor.  He’s training you & me to be capable royal sons and daughters who will one day rule with Him.

What’s the take-away?  We WILL produce fruit to the extent that we keep looking at the King and relying on the Holy Spirit for wisdom, direction and power to grow into our role as a royal and holy priesthood.

Shoo away that horrid American philosophy, “If it’s to be, it’s gonna be up to me!” 

Greek Grammar – insight and rest

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Grammar is often bypassed these days, whereas in the past, it was presented much more explicitly.  I teach French using a methodology that focuses on helping students naturally acquire a second language through lots of meaningful and comprehensible input. We converse (in French that they can understand) about what is going on in the world and in THEIR lives, just as I do with my friends.  We also create oral stories together and we read, savoring and teasing out information we glean from the content.  Language flows into their brains and out of their mouths almost effortlessly.

I view grammar in my classroom as a condiment, to be used sparingly.  Meaning is what drives the communication.  Grammar is used to clarify and clear up confusion (“the –ent on the end of the word means more than one person is doing the action”)

Yet in my personal life, I LOVE grammar.  My daily Bible study recently got a boost, thanks to some grammar observations.

My Bible is the Hebrew-Greek Key Word Study Bible (NASB translation, published by AMG, edited by Spiros Zodhiates).  I supplement that with The English-Greek Reverse Interlinear NT, ESV version.

Here is one recent observation:

Galatians 2:20 – in the NIV reads:

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

But the KJV translates the underlined part as by the faith of the Son of God

There’s a huge difference between IN and OF.  So I looked at the Greek.  Sure enough – it’s ‘of’ – and the case of the Greek word is annotated ‘GENETIVE’.  That indicates possession.  It’s not MY faith that I have to ramp up and put in the Son of God.  It’s HIS faith given to me by the virtue of my new nature.

{When someone is regenerated, she/he gets a new nature. For example, I am no longer Maria – I am Christ-in-Maria.  Here is a poor analogy, but you can catch the drift: As a human born into sin, I was dying as just Maria…think carbon-monoxide…and then Christ infused His super-natural life into me (added another oxygen atom to make carbon-DI-oxide) and now I am completely different – alive.}

Back to looking at WHOSE faith it is. Since the faith in me is not MINE, but HIS, I don’t have to worry about FEELING strong.  It’s no longer a matter of strong or weak, but possession.

Here’s another place where we are led to think the effort and responsibility for sanctification depend on us, despite consistently translating the preposition ‘of’ to indicate possession.

Consider the famous ‘fruit of the spirit’ passage further on in Galatians 5:22-23a:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness and self-control…


1)    The fruit does not come from my labor – I don’t have to ‘woman or man up’.  I RECEIVE God’s love and 8 blessed outcomes of that AGAPE when my eye is on Jesus, when I’m not out earning and working for the fruit.

2)    I used to think I had to work at those 9 qualities, with God’s help of course, because I’m a Christian.

3)    Trees and bushes and branches don’t work, they just stay connected.  I know that branches don’t have a mind of their own, but we human kind of branches do! And our thought life can cut off the life-giving, fruit-providing HOLY SAP.  Eyes on us, focused on our work and our plans, we cut off the conduit to the Holy Spirit flow.  And we wonder why we get so tired, lose our peace and energy and gentleness with others!   The Good News is that we can lift our eyes back to Jesus and rest in His provision.

2 verses to underscore this glorious truth:

Hebrews 3:1 – Therefore, Holy brothers who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus…..

Isaiah 30:15 – In repenting/ returning to Me and in rest you shall be saved;
in quietness and in trust shall be your strength….

So where have you found a new nugget of understanding through studying the words and how they are structured?  Let us DIG ON for God’s gold.

Not thinking about myself – what a relief

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I was listening to Tullian this morning.  His sermons are balm for my battered soul. Do you know that critical über-nanny who has perfected the knack for getting one to feel bad? Her thinks she lives in me – her name is ‘old slave-driver SELF’. I forget to keep kicking her out, now that the Holy Spirit lives in me.  Apparently the HS is such a gentleman that He waits for ME to act as a proper hostess should and show the ‘no-longer-welcome previous resident’ the door.

Anyway, Pastor Tchividjian loves to talk about Grace and I love to hear podcast sermons about Grace.  I can’t get enough of this topic.  I feel like a perpetually starving man whenever I am fed Gospel Grace.  I think it’s because I have lived so long in the Land of Law: “ Do this! Do that!” to be an okay Christian.

But what I heard this morning set me free…..for a spell.  Tullian was talking about how fruit is produced.  You don’t exhort a small apple tree seedling, “Grow some apples!”  Instead you water and fertilized the roots.  Likewise (per Tullian’s analogy), we shouldn’t command…..manipulate…… guilt……or browbeat ourselves OR other Christians into producing fruit (good works of joy, love, service…..).

Instead we should feed the roots of faith with the truth of the Gospel – the account and details of what Jesus has already done.

Tullian said that the more we examine ourselves to see if we are growing, we actually DON’T grow.  Christian growth happens when we take our eyes OFF of us and put them on Him!

All of a sudden I FELT the lightness of relief.  I actually HATE thinking about myself.  I get SICK of thinking about myself.  I spiral down DEPRESSED thinking about myself.

Then it occurred to me:  Maria – you don’t HAVE to think about yourself.  In fact it’s biblical NOT to.  Paul says we are to think about things that are “TNR PLA EP” (I actually say out loud – ‘tenor play, extended play’ to remind myself to think of topics that are True, Noble, Right, Pure, Lovely, Admirable, Excellent and Praise-worthy)

Recalling those attributes of topics worthy of meditation, I immediately responded, “Well, I’m certainly not Pure – only Jesus is – that’s a no-brainer!”

Then I realized, “then I don’t even QUALIFY to be on the hot topics list– whew!”

The last category of items to ponder is praise-worthy.  That fits well with the book I am slowly savoring, “one thousand gifts” by Ann Voskamp (read the book!)   Filtering my thoughts to allow only what is praise-worthy eliminates criticism and complaining and sets my eyes to look for beauty, blessings and miracles.

And what about problems, people and events about which I’m concerned and obviously have no control?  Paul has that covered.  We’re to cast them in our Father’s lap, thankful and confident that He can take care of all of them. We delegate them to God and look for His guidance and direction for action steps we are to take today.  If we are unsure, we talk to Him as we make the wisest choice for the moment, confident that He IS directing us to take the proper actions necessary for right now.

It’s far simpler than I make it out to be.  Here are some Gospel facts I want to swim in:

  • Keeping my eyes on Jesus, the blessed controller of all things
  • Christ in me, the hope of Glory
  • Forgetting all that is past….since there is now no condemnation
  • Walking and following the author and perfector of my faith
  • Setting my mind on things above where Christ is
  • Washed clean, no more robes of SELF, in my new birthday suit, clothed comfortably with HIS robes of righteousness, held in place with the belt of truth. (any lingering layers of self-righteousness just make the belt TIGHT)
  • Boasting only in Christ
  • Overflowing with thanks for having been chosen from before the creation of time
  • Qualified before time to be an inheritor of the eternal, imperishable treasure

What do you find praise-worthy?



What’s a grape to do?

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But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Galatians 5:22-23a

For every tree is known by its fruit. For men do not gather figs from thorns; nor from a bramble bush do they gather the grape. Luke 6:44

I am the Vine, you are the branches. When you’re joined with me and I with you, the relation intimate and organic, the harvest is sure to be abundant. Separated, you can’t produce a thing. John 15:5 (the Message)

So how do you grow, if you are a piece of fruit? I’ve bounced back and forth between thinking that to grow fruit, you have to work at it:  you know, the whole sanctification process.  Sure God is the one who regenerated me, but now it’s up to me to lead the life of a disciple.  That means I have to work at and make a conscious effort to read my Bible, do acts of unselfish charity for those around me, sign up for committees at church ( no matter my interest ), all in hopes of becoming more Christ-like.  However, once in a while, I catch a whiff of a much easier way, the way of simply resting in what God has done through Jesus on the cross.  After all, fruit doesn’t do anything but simply sprout and hang onto the branch.  Almost convinced, I’ll start to think about how joyous and liberating that would be, if it were true.  That would TRULY be good news.

But then I’ll hear a sermon, or spot the title of a new book or read something about a super-duper Christian and I’ll go back to thinking: ‘No, it can’t be that easy. It’s all about self-denial, picking up my cross and leading a painful life.’

Fortunately, there are two facts that keep me coming back to the notion of rest and NOT having to do anything.  First of all, there is the nature of fruit.  Fruit is a by-product of a healthy tree.  Fruit sprouts automatically.  Jesus, himself, gives his disciples a Botany 101 lesson. Picture this scene as the guys are walking across the countryside:


Jesus:  Hey, fellows, look at these olives, what kind of tree do you think this is?

Precocious Peter:  could it be….an olive tree?

Jesus:  Spot on!  Wow.  How about these pinecones?   Where did they come from?

Tentative Thomas: maybe a pine tree?

Jesus:  Bingo! and they said you guys were just dumb fishermen! 

Eager Matthew:  Jesus, remember those rotten figs back in Jerusalem?  What about them?

Scornful Judas:  that’s easy, Dufus!  They’re rotten because the tree is dying.  It’s too close to the Temple Outhouse…..


It’s obvious; fruit doesn’t do anything but stay connected to the vital, sap-rich, nutrient-providing tree.  Given the right food and weather and protection from pesky bugs, the tree will grow and do what trees do naturally, sprout fruit.

Even Jesus found it axiomatic (i.e. – you don’t have to prove it) that good trees produce (after their own kind) good fruit.

The second argument for choosing the simple yet liberating concept of just hanging onto the branch comes from Jesus’ response to a crowd.  Recall a lengthy and difficult teaching by Jesus to the ‘always hungry’ 5000.  It’s the day after the miraculous fish and loves meal and the curious want more food.  Jesus advices them not to work for food that will be quickly eaten and digested, leaving them still hungry.  So they ask the reasonable follow-on question, “Well, if we can’t count on you to feed us like yesterday and if we don’t work to support ourselves in the traditional way, what kind of work are you talking about, Mr. Spiritual?”

Jesus stunningly shoots back in John 6:29, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”

That’s it?  That sounds so simple, too minimalist and easy.  But the more I understand God’s grace and His good gifts and all that Jesus has DONE; I believe THIS is exactly what God calls us to do!  Just believe.  “Well, well, what about good works?  Where do they fit in?” you might be sputtering.

It’s a good question.  The Christian life DOES involve good works, just like trees produce fruit.  But look at the role of the fruit and the trees.  The fruit naturally appears and grows, just by hanging on and having the ‘good fortune’ to be part of a healthy tree.

If you believe the TRUE biblical Jesus (not the Jesus you make up), trust Him, cling to Him, and absorb the truths He teaches from Genesis to Revelation, then you will grow naturally.  And if God wants you to be a grape that ends up in Kellogg’s Raisin Bran or a grape that floats and sloshes around with other fermented grapes in a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon, that is up to God.

Experientially, I know this is true.  I am not someone who has set out to DO Christian works.  I have followed my passions as they have grown naturally from being fed good food (true Bible teaching).  Remember making those pencil marks on a doorframe, measuring your growth as a child?  When you look back, you can see the proof of your change in height.  Yet all along, you probably were unaware of the lengthening of your skeletal structure. So it is in the Christian journey.  Fifteen years ago, I met a fellow mom who struck me as one of those ‘goody-two-shoes Christian ladies’, totally unlike me and certainly not someone I aspired to copy.  Then I joined Bible Study Fellowship (BSF) and started to study the Bible for the first time.  One day, with a start, I realized that God had changed me.  I no longer found this gal off-putting.   We were actually pretty similar.  It was I who had been transformed, all due to that Jesus life-sap I was soaking up as a connected piece of fruit.

Recently, I have spotted another change in me, one that is very encouraging.  I did nothing to work on it, no new DISCIPLINED habit .  Six months ago I read a book about initiating Gospel conversations with people one encounters naturally throughout the day.  My first reaction was how selfish I am STILL.  Unlike the author, I had no desire to make my day be about looking for opportunities to talk to people about ultimate, eternal matters.  After all, my day is about how much time I can cull for Maria to listen to podcasts, read books and exercise.

But thanks be to God who changes our desires.  I wrote last week about Caitlin, my student from school.  She is the teen who has taken up the challenge from this same book and has been initiating conversations with Wal-Mart clerks and gas station cashiers.  I was shamed into actually taking the plunge out of my comfort zone.  Astonishingly, I have been having fun!  This is evidence that I am not the same Maria.  But why should I be surprised?  Paul tells the Corinthians that once they have been regenerated, they have an entirely new nature.

Bottom line – the Gospel continues to be great news.  Just hang on to the right branch and soak in His word and let God do His gardening thing.  He has already done the hard part of grafting you into the right tree: the rest will follow.

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