I’m still kind of reeling from yesterday’s church service, because it? Was awesome. Preacher laid it down like no other–left me with goosebumps and whatnot. The message was based on this gem found in Matthew chapter 7:
“Beware of false prophets who come disguised as harmless sheep but are really vicious wolves. 16 You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act. Can you pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 A good tree produces good fruit, and a bad tree produces bad fruit. 18 A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit. 19 So every tree that does not produce good fruit is chopped down and thrown into the fire. 20Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions.
Ung. Just when you think you can be a thistle fig, Jesus shuts you down. But wait, there’s more!
21 “Not everyone who calls out to me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter. 22 On judgment day many will say to me, ‘Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.’ 23But I will reply, ‘I never knew you. Get away from me, you who break God’s laws.’
If that paragraph doesn’t give you chills, then you, my friend, are a human fireball. Take from all that what you will. I don’t want to be one of those people who go before Jesus one day only to hear the words “Dude–I never knew you. Who is this guy? Get him out of here.”
For the small fraction of the fake computer people who read my blog that don’t already know, I was raised in a Catholic Church, where my focus was on memorizing prayers, eating styrofoam bread at mass on Sundays, and being a good person in general. It was the best. I loved it.
But at some point I started visiting other churches with my friends and I got a whole new spin on what being a Christian actually meant: “Hey, friend! Come on down here to the altar, pray a special prayer and cry in front of a room full of people–boom! Saved forever! Heaven-bound! Just like that. Welcome to God’s Kingdom, certified fellow Christian!”
If that idea sounds a little fishy, that’s because it is. In the Baptist church I was visiting, it seemed any Joe-six-pack could go to heaven if he teared up and admitted to being a sorry sack. And while any Joe-six-pack indeed can go to heaven, something didn’t seem quite right with how things were going down. If all these people were really Christians, then why were they always cussing and drinking and sleeping around and being hateful and spiteful and miserable? Why weren’t they helpful or compassionate or nice or happy?
My mother had the same doubts, even though I tried to repeat to her what I had heard over and over: that deep, deep, deep down in their hearts, they believed that Jesus died for their sins. And maybe it was true: maybe they really did believe. But maybe they didn’t. And it wasn’t up to me or anyone else to be the judge of that.
I was getting pretty confused on issues of religion. The Catholic Church seemed boring–full of good works, sure, but empty of heart. The Baptist Church was the exact opposite: One big emotional response to a 20-minute touchy-feely message and a bass-thumping song. What came next?
I bounced back and forth between the two churches for the next few years. The basics were essentially the same, so I felt God in my heart at a Baptist church, and I did my good deeds at a Catholic church. I was a dabbler. I wasn’t producing much good fruit. Then life happened with a vengeance, and my heart declared spiritual anarchy.
I need not go into how I managed to pick up where I left off with the church, but when that finally happened, I was more ready than I realized.
Now that you have the back story, here’s the main point I’m trying to make by writing this big giant blog: yesterday, God answered a longtime prayer of mine and tied up some loose ends. (More explanatory paragraphs to follow.)
The first big YES! moment of my church life came when I was 19 and sitting in Sunday mass with my entire family. Our little old Irish priest began his sermon with a joke (the one about Baptists thinking they were the only people in heaven) that left the congregation roaring with laughter. He went on to talk about the play “Death of a Salesman”, and he concluded with this, and I’ll never ever forget it: “Those Baptists do have a point. Why go through the motions? Why bother with works, why are you even here today–if you don’t really believe in your heart that Jesus died for your sins?”
Thank you, Jesus, for delivering that message through that man that day.
The second YES moment came yesterday, when our pastor hit us with this little chestnut: “Not to make you question your salvation, but if you’re a Christian who isn’t producing good fruit, it might be time to re-examine your relationship with God.” You can’t just parrot a prayer and get into heaven–a true follower of Christ will naturally be producing yummy figs.
You could say my church is full of fruits. God led me to a place where I could feel him in my heart–and in the hearts of people all around me. Faith with works; works because of faith–it’s a beautiful thing. It’s what God wants; it’s what the world needs.
God reveals things to us in many ways. This lesson–though somewhat warning in tone–felt so good to learn. I do love it when He teaches us by way of full circle.
Another lesson God just taught me? Don’t blog while the children are awake. My living room is covered with potting soil. Peace out y’all.