By Adam Chaney
Last spring, a man in a pickup truck pulled into my driveway while I was mowing my lawn. He greeted me with a wave and introduced himself. He then pointed to two tall, but sickly-looking trees that were leaning into the west side of my house. He asked if I were interested in having the two trees taken down. Indeed, the trees concerned me, but I had successfully ignored them for years.
Both are “scrub tress,” a kind of weed that springs up quickly with a relatively short life span. These trees were admittedly dangerous and produced less and less shade with each passing year. Yet, I love trees and I hate when they are cut down. I have a very limited number of trees in my yard and I just didn’t want to see them go.
I almost turned the man away, until he asked, “you got youngins?” I said, “yes, two children.” He replied, “Well, I bet one of ‘em is sleeping in that room under those trees. A good strong wind could make you regret not doing something about it.” He was right! Those trees could produce some bad fruit if left alone.
That afternoon, the man in the truck cut down both trees. When they came down, the stumps revealed that the trees were barely hanging on by a thin exterior shell. The trees were rotten through the core and hollow deep into the ground. They were on the verge of producing awfully bad fruit in our lives.
In a similar way, many people attempt to live with a thin exterior shell, which gives off the appearance of fruitfulness and faithfulness to Christ. Yet, on the inside, at their core, they are hollow, barren, and unable to yield good fruit.
The sixth chapter of Luke’s Gospel includes Jesus’s “Sermon on the Plain,” in which, Jesus tells us what the Kingdom of God is like, on earth as it is in heaven. He says, “No good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit; for each tree is known by its own fruit. Figs are not gathered from thorns, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush. The good person out of the good treasure of the heart produces good, and the evil person out of evil treasure produces evil; for it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks. Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I tell you?” (Luke 6:43-46)
Devotees of Jesus always become increasingly like Him, they become Christ-like. This is because life in the Kingdom of God is not based on intellectual ascent or moralistic rule following, but a covenantal relationship with the living God. The Kingdom is at work in a person’s life when they are yielded to the Lordship of Christ and daily choosing to follow the leading of the Spirit. That is when good fruit is produced.
What we say, what we do, and who we are cannot be separated. Our words and actions are the fruit that is extended out to the rest of the world, but the quality of that fruit is dependent upon the character of the tree. Our decisions, actions, practices, and behaviors tell a story about who we are and what we believe.
We can claim to be disciples of Jesus. We can say He is our Lord. But, the way we proceed through each day reveals whether or not it is true. Jesus concludes the Sermon on the Plain talking about the devastating effects of calling Jesus Lord without truly submitting to his Lordship. When we hear his voice and ignore his word, we are building a structure in our lives that is destined for destruction.
What type of tree are you? What type of fruit does your life produce? Are you attempting to stand against the winds and waves of life with only a thin exterior shell grounding you? Is the core of your life hollowed out or abundantly full?
Adam J. Chaney is the pastor of First Baptist Church Riesel, Texas. He is a CBF Leadership Scholar pursing an M.Div. in Theology from George W. Truett Theological Seminary at Baylor University. He received his B.A. in Christian Theology from Houston Baptist University.