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Asking questions: Are we allowed to judge?

By Nathan Decker

I don’t like blackberries. It has nothing to do with the taste or texture. I’ve had sour ones, sweet ones. I’ve had blackberry cobbler, pie, muffins. But still I do not like blackberries. And it’s my Aunt Shirley’s fault.

When I was a kid a lot of times we would be at relatives houses in the summer months. One such occasion we were visiting my Aunt Shirley and Uncle George. Being a kid, I went around barefoot a lot in the summer. After a morning of playing, Aunt Shirley gathered my cousins, sister and I to go and pick wild blackberries. In case you don’t know the difference, wild blackberries and tame ones are the same except two painful facts: thorns and chiggers! By the end of the morning, my fingers were raw, my feet were red and my body was covered in bites. And to this day, when I eat blackberries, no matter how good they may taste, I don’t like them. I judge them. They are from the devil.

We’ve all heard the Biblical command, “thou shall not judge lest ye be judged.” It comes from the sermon on the mount, same place as this Scripture. It is Jesus speaking, teaching us to be disciples, same as this passage. In fact it is the beginning of chapter 7, just 14 verses above this one. Jesus says we are not to judge one another. He gives the example of someone picking on another for a speck of sawdust in their eye while ignoring the 2×4 in their own eye. The teaching of do not judge has to do with hand picking specific sins and casting them as if they are the abomination of all things Godly. We are called to love, not judge.

But in Matthew 7 Jesus expands that Leaders need to be held accountable by fruit inspection. Doves don’t have teeth. Serpents aren’t great caregivers. And poor leaders produce poor fruit.

I bought the most expensive apple I ever have when I was in France. I went to the market where there were different boxes of apples with different prices. The lower the price of the apple, the less shiny, more bruised, more bug bitten they seemed to get. The higher the price of the apple — the more shiny, perfect shaped and juicy they appeared.

Good leaders are willing to pay the price to be the best version of themselves they can be. They are themselves — authentic. They take time to discern a path and take it — visionary. People follow good leaders not because of what the leaders give them, but because of how the leaders empower them — servant leadership. Jesus teaches us that good trees produce good fruit.

So pastors and preachers that do amazing sermons, heal people with the laying on of hands, and perform miracles like taking a small town church to megachurch status, right?

Benny Hinn is famous for miracle revivals in which great healings take place. Missionary Sam Harrell told me about when Benny Hinn came to Nairobi, Kenya. The hospitals emptied. People who were on life support or in the ICU left the hospitals against medical advice to attend the healing services of Benny Hinn. One third of them died before they even got to the revival tent. Others made it back to the hospital after the revival was over, still suffering from their maladies. Sam asked those of us on the trip one question, “Is this what Jesus meant by being fruitful?

What does Jesus mean by fruit? How are we called to be fruitful? Is it miracles, great sermons, success in numbers? Or does it have to do with who we are? We don’t find lemons on apple trees. We don’t go to grape vines looking for oranges. And we don’t dig in peanut fields looking for potatoes. Each tree has a unique fruit divinely designed to be born of that tree. Each of us are unique people who have authentic talents and gifts divinely designed with a loving purpose for this world. We have to be ourselves in Christ to be fruitful.

Let me tell you a secret … I am not called to pick blackberries. I would be the worst blackberry picker ever. I would be sorely unhappy. I would hate going to work every day! I am called to be a Christian. I am called to see the world through the lens of faith. I am called to be fruitful by being the best version of myself in Christ.

We are called to be the best version of ourselves in Christ. We are not called to bear imitation fruit by copying others. We are not called to have plastic fake fruit for show. We are called to be who God created us to be. Once we find our place in God, we become fruitful. We have to inspect our own fruit.

If we are the most authentic, original God created version of ourselves we will produce good fruit. If we live into our God-given strengths rather than our weaknesses, we will find more success and contentment. If we spend more time examining our own hearts for seeds of compassion, we won’t have time to worry about judging others. We’ll be too busy loving them. Fruit inspections: After all, it’s what Jesus would do.

NATHAN DECKER is the pastor of High Street United Methodist Church. Contact him at 562-3367.