Jesus talked about judging a tree. Here’s some stuff he didn’t say:
“Want to know what kind of tree you’re dealing with? Just ask the tree. If it talks a good game, you can trust it.”
“You know what kind of tree you’re dealing with, if the tree leads an awesome ministry. If it does that, it must be an awesome ministry tree.”
“If the tree is kind of a big deal, if it’s got a Christian record deal, it’s legit. Take it to the bank.”
Nope. He says you look at the fruit. That’s what falls out of the tree when you shake it.
Of course, we’re talking about people, here. What’s “fruit”, then? Not a Christian vocabulary. Not the position a person occupies in church culture. Even “ministry impact” is not fruit. (There’ve been many who’ve reached thousands for Christ who’ve been found out as utter frauds. In the Old Testament, God once spoke through a jackass, and He’s still doing it.)
Paul wrote that “fruit” from God is this stuff: Love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
So if you happen to bump into a tree – or shake it, bother it, or threaten it – see what falls. Was it love? Gentleness? Or something else?
I read about a man whose life is in jeopardy. He was a pastor imprisoned for his faith, and he had everything taken away from him: His beautiful kids. His beautiful wife. His freedom. His physical health.
His response? He hugged his torturers.
Bump into a tree, and see what falls. Sometimes it’s love and joy. Now you see what kind of tree it is.
A high-profile preacher has an associate whose speaking style is popular. It’s a threat to his attention and status. His reaction? He forces the associate out.
Bump into a tree, and see what falls. Sometimes, it’s jealousy, anger, and power-plays. Now you see what kind of tree it is.
Jesus was betrayed, abandoned, publicly humiliated, and while his life was being ripped from him, he prayed for forgiveness for the very people who were doing it. He intervened to defend them.
Bump into a tree, and see what falls. Sometimes it’s forgiveness, meekness, and self-control. Now you see what kind of tree it is.
I was told by a CEO of a high-profile Christian ministry that I’d slandered him on Facebook. I’d personally attacked him, he said, saying misleading and personal things. Sure, I might think it’s just social media, or I have a first amendment right, but his lawyer told him he’s got a great case now against me. And, he told me, he’d used his lawyer before to “crush” people, and now this was a legal matter.
I formulated a brilliant legal response, quoting here: “Uh… what?”
This was because I had no idea what he was talking about.
And, as he now presumably knows, I hadn’t written a single word about him. He’d been lied to by another ministry leader in the organization.
He’s decades older than me, and, one would hope, a mature believer. But when his reputation was seemingly threatened, he decided to attempt to intimidate. Never mind the scripture regarding suing a Christian brother, the lack of evidence, or the fact that such a thing would be profoundly out of character for what he knows of me.
Bump into a tree, and see what falls. Sometimes, it’s lawyers. Now you see what kind of tree it is.
Years ago, I had a boss who loved my work. But I told him I needed to make a move for my family, and then left for a “competitor”. In his mind, it was a major blow for his company. He told me he understood, but he was hurt. His reaction?
He blessed me. And in the years following, he wrote me encouraging emails, telling me how much my show still meant to his family – they were still listening! – and what God was teaching them through me. I’d left, but his encouragement kept going.
Want to know what’s in a tree? Bump into it, and see what falls. Sometimes it’s gentleness and kindness.
Now you see what kind of tree it is.
God help me, and help us all. It’s easy to feign spirituality in a culture that still offers worldly rewards for it. It’s easy, too, to re-define “fruit” to fit our religious resumes instead of, you know, actually being patient and kind.
But when someone bumps against us; when they zap us on Facebook, threaten us, throw us under the bus, or cut in front of us in line at CVS… here’s hoping what falls isn’t toxic.
Let’s hope it’s the life-giving stuff.