Holy Roots

“And since Abraham and the other patriarchs were holy, their descendants will also be holy—just as the entire batch of dough is holy because the portion given as an offering is holy. For if the roots of the tree are holy, the branches will be, too.”
Romans 11:16 NLT

Paul made a controversial statement in our verse today, which perhaps we could take issue with. Did he mean that the Jews could claim to be holy in God’s sight just because they had Abraham, or one of the other patriarchs, as their ancestor? To bring it up to date, just because I had Christian parents, does that mean my salvation in God is assured? But we can’t take this verse in isolation, because, as we find out later in this chapter in Romans, the link can be broken by personal choice.

Paul uses two analogies – branches and dough. Analogies that Jesus used as well. One of the well known, go-to, Scriptures about branches can be found in John 15. Jesus very clearly sets out a scenario based on a grape vine. Perhaps He was standing next to one as He taught His disciples. But we read in John 15:1-4, “I am the true grapevine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more. You have already been pruned and purified by the message I have given you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me”. Jesus portrayed Himself as the grapevine, a vibrant and vigorous bush that was deeply rooted into the soil and which sprouted many branches, from which the grapes were picked. The grapevine produced all the nourishment needed for the branches to survive and grow the fruit intended. But to the people of His day, they knew it was important that a branch was connected to the vine to maintain its life and health. But Jesus made it clear that if a branch doesn’t produce the fruit, His Father, portrayed as the Gardener, would remove it. It would be cut off and burned. And those branches that do produce fruit would find themselves pruned so that their fruit harvest gets even better. 

Some years ago, as the Charismatic renewal was flowing over the UK, I remember a conference speaker warning the Christians caught up in the excitement of the Holy Spirit visitation. He used the grapevine scenario to provide a picture of the branches producing lots of leaves, green and succulent. But there was no fruit. God, he said, wasn’t looking for leaves. It was fruit He was after. And branches producing no fruit would end up cut off and burnt. A warning, timely and relevant. Perhaps we can ask where so many of those Charismatics are today? Jesus gave another illustration through the parable of the wicked farmers, and He ends it with this verse, “I tell you, the Kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation that will produce the proper fruit” (Matthew 21:43). 

Well, fellow pilgrims, how fruitful are we? What fruits are we producing? We mustn’t forget that there are good fruits and bad fruits, and, because of sin, the latter is more common. But we can read Galatians 5:22-23, “But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things“! This is the fruit that God is looking for, and, for most Christians, fruit takes a long time to grow. But as we allow the Holy Spirit to gently, but persuasively, work in our lives, fruit will grow. Our faithful Father loves us too much to allow otherwise.

Dear Heavenly Gardener. We pray for more of You in our lives, as we walk on in our journey to Glory. We know that we will encounter all sorts of obstacles but through them all, the encounters will help in growing and ripening our fruit. Please help us. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Roman Fruit

“I want you to know, dear brothers and sisters, that I planned many times to visit you, but I was prevented until now. I want to work among you and see spiritual fruit, just as I have seen among other Gentiles.”

‭‭Romans‬ ‭1‬:‭13‬ ‭NLT

Paul was a worker. He laboured unceasingly in doing what God, through Jesus, had asked him to do, ever since that encounter on the Damascus Road. His desire was to disciple, to teach, to encourage, all to build up the Christians in Rome and see the spiritual fruit that comes from the Holy Spirit start to ripen and mature in their lives. Paul knew it was possible, because he had seen other Gentile Christians blossom in the light of the Holy Spirit.

What spiritual fruit would Paul have expected to see? In several places in his letters, Paul takes on misdemeanours manifesting themselves in the local congregation. For example, in the Corinthian church Paul was concerned about disunity. We read in 1 Corinthians 1:10, “I appeal to you, dear brothers and sisters, by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, to live in harmony with each other. Let there be no divisions in the church. Rather, be of one mind, united in thought and purpose”. In the same church, sexual misconduct was also his concern. We read in 1 Corinthians 5:1, “I can hardly believe the report about the sexual immorality going on among you—something that even pagans don’t do. I am told that a man in your church is living in sin with his stepmother”. So there was probably some basic “spiritual fruit” potential at the back or Paul’s mind, dealing with issues that he had heard about on the early church grapevine.

On a more positive note, the early Christian church everywhere suffered persecution, and Paul would have encouraged the Christians to respond in a way that amplified the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Gifts such as wisdom, helping them to deal with difficult situations. Or discernment, enabling them to change course perhaps in the face of societal difficulties. But they found out something about persecution that may be foreign to us Western pilgrims. It refines our faith and commitment. There are no half-hearted, lukewarm Christians around when persecution is present. 

So, on arrival in Rome, Paul would have immediately been able to put his spiritual finger on the issues of immaturity that perhaps were present in the Roman church, and he would have encouraged growth in those areas needing his support and teaching. Also, if anyone knew how to live with persecution it was Paul. Paul’s work amongst the Christians in Rome would have been invaluable and life changing to those in the congregation.

Have we ever noticed our human tendencies to rationalise or fail to focus on the right issues? Where even our pastors teach one thing but, really, we need teaching or guidance on something else? That is where an apostolic visitation can sometimes help; an external prophetic voice is often able to put his or her finger on the important issues affecting a local church and bring a new perspective, turning the church, and all those within it, around and back on track. We pilgrims must always pray that we stay on the narrow path, and don’t get diverted into dead ends and, worse, back on the broad way that leads to destruction. But we must also be thankful for the men and women of God, who He sends our way to help us grow, to bear the spiritual fruit so beloved by Paul.

Dear Father God. You are so faithful. You lead us into green pastures as we follow our Heavenly Shepherd. We are so grateful. Amen.

The Real Greens

“But the godly will flourish like palm trees 
and grow strong like the cedars of Lebanon. 
For they are transplanted to the Lord’s own house. 
They flourish in the courts of our God. 
Even in old age they will still produce fruit; 
they will remain vital and green. 
They will declare, “The Lord is just! 
He is my rock! 
There is no evil in him!””
‭Psalms‬ ‭92:12-15‬ ‭NLT‬‬

Are there any palm trees and cedars amongst my readers today? Godly people, flourishing and strong? The Psalmist is comparing the life of a Godly person to the growth and stature of Middle Eastern trees that exemplify life as it should be – fully functioning as designed. And he goes on to say that the godly person flourishes, living a life as designed, in God’s presence. Because it is from Him that their life comes from. There are no spiritual deserts in God’s presence, stunting and even eliminating growth. In God’s presence there is an unlimited supply of all the nutrients needed to maintain life, as He designed it. 

But the Psalmist goes on to say that the flourishing taking place is not just for the early part of life – the vitality of the person continues until they take their last breath. Producing the fruit of a Godly life. Across the road from me there is a Rowan Tree. It has faithfully produced berries and green leaves for nearly fifty years from when it was first planted. But sadly, it’s days are numbered because a split has emerged in its trunk and the wood inside has started to rot. It is grimly hanging on but it is no longer as vital and green as it once was. Is that how we will end our days? Rotten and bitter inside, no more fruit, grimly hanging onto life? The Psalmist’s view of senior citizens in God’s presence is one of a different person. There may be a few wrinkles. They may be a bit stiffer and less able. But still living a fruitful life, doing God’s work in these godless days. Still with a twinkled eye. Still allowing God’s spiritual nutrients to flow through verdant and vital veins. 

And the oldies finish these verses with a timeless statement about God‘s justice, righteousness and dependability. Such sentiments are the fruit of a life that doesn’t end but transitions into God’s presence, continuing to produce fruit. Continuing in a green vitality. Continuing with God forever. The real Greens. God’s Greens.