(By Bryan Corbin)
As a father, I care about what my children eat and as such, I’ve become a lot more attuned to what’s written on the packaging of the food I buy for them. One of the patterns that I’ve noticed is some of the interesting claims associated with items that are fruit flavored. One box proclaims in bold letters, “Real Fruit Flavors”, while a check of the ingredients reveals that it contains no real fruit. This of course begs the question, “where does the ‘Real Fruit Flavor’ come from, if not from real fruit?” Another good one is the drink that says “Contains No Pulp”, when the ingredients list clearly shows that there is no actual fruit juice used to make the drink. These examples sort of make me grateful for the factual label that boasts “Made With 10% Real Fruit Juice”; but it also makes me wonder when only 10% of the real thing became something worth bragging about. As I pondered these and other illusions to “real fruit”, I sensed the Lord begin to speak to me about the church that bears His name.
Indeed the scriptures are full of references to fruit and fruitfulness, and undoubtedly God means for it to be a key component of every believer’s walk. Jesus went so far as to tell us that He is the vine and we are the branches, and that any branch which does not produce fruit will eventually be cut off and thrown into the fire. Not only does this tell us that producing fruit is not optional, it also let’s us know that we don’t get to decide on the variety of fruit our lives will produce. After all, the branches don’t dictate to the tree what kind of fruit they will bear. I believe this is significant, because God isn’t interested in simply producing any fruit; He’s after a specific kind of fruit, which He describes in His word. John the Baptist challenged the Pharisee’s, who undoubtedly viewed themselves as being very fruitful, to produce the fruit of their supposed repentance. Paul defined for the Galatians the fruit of the Holy Spirit, which in essence is Christ’s character, revealed in His people. In today’s church there seems to be much that is considered fruitful, even though it falls nowhere near these orchards.
Recently I was in one of those jumping, shouting, church services, which we Charismatic’s and our Pentecostal brothers seem to enjoy so much. It was loud and there seemed to be a lot going on, when the man on the platform made the declaration that “Lives Are Being Changed!” As much as I hoped that was true, I sensed a check in my spirit; so I inquired, “What do you see Lord?” I immediately sensed the response, “Christmas Trees”. After wrestling with what that might mean for a few minutes, I sensed the words, “lots of gifts, no fruit”. As I prayed throughout the rest of that service, I felt like the Lord said that we often mistake motion for movement (i.e. genuine progress) and that we often settle for change (generally of our mood or circumstance) instead of seeking genuine transformation. Only true transformation has the potential to produce real fruit and only real fruit contains the seeds of reproduction. As I meditated on this lively scene, the Lord gave me a vision of a chicken running around without its head and He said that even though the chicken still gives the appearance of being full of life, it was truly dead the second it became detached from its head.
As I continued to ponder this issue of fruitfulness, a sister in the Lord gave me some interesting information on “hybrid” seeds, which I believe is pertinent to this discussion. A hybrid seed is one that is produced by artificially cross-pollinating plants and they were developed to improve the characteristics of the resulting plants (e.g. better yield, greater uniformity, improved color…). While in some ways this has been very successful, in other ways it has been counter productive. As opposed to natural seeds, hybrids tend to require a great deal of fertilizer, water, herbicides and pesticides to achieve the desired outcome; and more importantly most cannot be relied on to reproduce viable seed for a second generation of plants. That means that the farmer must buy new seed every year. As I think of how the church in America has in many ways compromised the gospel message, as it continues to strive to make itself relative to the culture, I wonder if the seed we’re trying to sow hasn’t inadvertently become a hybrid; one that is high maintenance and unable to reproduce itself.
Jesus told His followers that the way people would be able to differentiate them from everyone else would be by the way that they loved each other (i.e. the fruit of the Spirit); and I doubt that many would argue that the church in America is living anywhere near that standard. He later told them that the way they could differentiate between real and false prophets would be by their fruit; but in today’s church, giftedness & personality seem to be viable substitute for the genuine fruit of Christ’s character. While there is still much being done in the name of Christ, Jesus warned that not everything done in His name would be acceptable. He taught that it is only the fruit that is bore out of a direct connection to Him that really matters. We who proclaim the name of the Lord Jesus can tell the world that we have been grafted to the tree of life, but until they see some worthwhile fruit in our lives, our message will continue to be irrelevant to them.