Inspecting Fruit

workers inspecting blueberries

How good are you at inspecting fruit? No, I don’t mean your ability to pick out a watermelon at the grocery store that is at peak ripeness and not yet going bad. Nor even whether or not you can handle commercial fruit packing. I spent a summer working in a blueberry packing shed doing commercial fruit packing. You quickly develop an eye to notice a bad berry in the midst of a sea of good berries slowly crawling by on the conveyor belt. The most stressful times where when the inspectors would show up to check the quality of the blueberries going out. Each pint of blueberries is only allowed to have so many non-optimal berries—still a little green, a little past ripe, etc. Whenever the inspectors showed up, suddenly the sorting lines needed to go extra slow and everything needed to be done extra carefully. While no one does a perfect job at inspecting fruit like this, you can be thankful that it happens; the fruit you get to buy at the grocery store is better for it.

Inspecting spiritual fruit

Inspecting fruit for eating is useful, but I’m thinking more about fruit inspection in the sense that Jesus talks about in the Sermon on the Mount. In Matthew 7.15-20, he puts it this way:

15 “Beware of false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravaging wolves. 16 You’ll recognize them by their fruit. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes or figs from thistles? 17 In the same way, every good tree produces good fruit, but a bad tree produces bad fruit. 18 A good tree can’t produce bad fruit; neither can a bad tree produce good fruit. 19 Every tree that doesn’t produce good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 So you’ll recognize them by their fruit. (HCSB)

The image here is clear—good tree gives good fruit, and so forth. But what is good fruit? And what is bad fruit? Within this parable, there is no definition of what sort of fruits in life are good or bad. We have an intuitive sense of what good and bad fruit in peoples’ lives must be, but are those intuitions right? Maybe we have become a little sub-optimal as fruit inspectors because our apprehension of what makes fruit good or bad has gotten a little skewed.

Over this past year, I listened to a significant podcast from Christianity Today called The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill. It is a long form journalistic investigation into the rise and fall of Mars Hill church out in Seattle. In general, I stay away from the world of celebrity pastors, but when I saw this production voted as one of the 10 most significant Christian news events of the year, I thought it would be worth checking out. And it was. One question which came up over and over again in many different forms throughout the podcast is this: has the evangelical church in America become confused about what good fruit is?

All that looks ripe isn’t

If you glance back at the passage above from Matthew, note that it is a warning about people coming into the church who look and talk like they belong there, but who are really wolves. It is not a warning to avoid whackos and nut jobs; rather, a warning to avoid intelligent, savvy, charismatic leaders who, on first (and second, and third) glance look like just the kind of people who should be leading churches, bible studies, and ministries of any sort. These are the sorts of people who get resourced, who become famous, who become influential, who move audiences, who move product. But, they may not be the best people. The fruit that they bear may not actually be good fruit. Maybe we just fool ourselves into thinking that results must be good fruit.

Maybe we are so hungry to see fruit of any sort, that we don’t really care to look carefully and judge whether the fruit is good or not.

Good fruit—living in the pattern of Jesus

Within the context of the Sermon on the Mount, I must conclude that the good fruit Jesus has in mind is the pattern of life and obedience which he is laying out in the sermon. In other words, the good fruit we should look for in the lives of leaders and influential people—as well as in our own lives—is primarily a set of character traits that we might sum up under the term “Christlikeness.” 

We are all involved in following other people. Many other people speak into our lives about how to live and who we should be—by words or actions. A central skill for us to develop is “fruit inspecting.” There will be many people who step into our lives claiming they know the path towards the good life. To decide whether they are worth listening to and following requires some fruit inspecting. We should be watching for people whose lives show growth in Christlikeness—the fruit which Jesus calls good—and follow along with them. No one this side of eternity will get it all right. But we can look for others who are walking in the right direction and walk with them.

Welcome to the pastor’s blog

digital heart formation

Digital discipleship

Digital discipleship.

Maybe that is a new term. So let me explain it briefly by way of a few observations. According to a recent study by eMarketer, the average US adult spends close to 8 hours looking at a screen of some sort each day, including 2 hours of watching streaming videos (TV shows, YouTube, movies, etc.) and 1 hour on social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, etc.). Of course, many of us spend a good deal of our time working looking at a screen as well. On average, over 3 hours of that 8-hour total is with a smartphone.

To put that in perspective, on an average day the average American adult spends more time looking at screens than sleeping. That is a first in world history! I don’t know where you fit into that statistic—less or more screen time—but increasingly few people in our culture don’t fit into this statistic.

This is not meant to be alarmist—though aspects of it are certainly alarming—but realistic. We are an increasingly digital people.

Along with the increase in digital input, the amount of time we spend fellowshipping with other believers—indeed, other people in general—tends to keep decreasing.

For those who care about faithfulness to Jesus, we have to ask ourselves how all that screen time is forming our souls. Because it is.

The world of Google, Facebook, Amazon, cable news, streaming music, and any other digital platforms does not exist to just offer us some useful tools, but to convince us of certain things. Browsing through websites is an experience of discipleship. We are being taught in a million different little ways to desire certain things, to believe certain “truths” about life, and to understand ourselves and others in certain ways. No technology—from the humble garden rake to the most advanced computer system—leaves its user the same as when they came to it. We use tools because they help us, but we also need to be mindful that they change us.

Enter digital discipleship. This blog is an effort at digital discipleship. Through it, I am hoping to inject some more intentional Gospel hope, spiritual challenge, and Christian influence into your digital consuming habits. Many of us see each other only once a week, on Sunday morning. And worshipping together on Sunday morning is awesome. This blog is a way to further play the role of teacher in the church as we live life together.

What this blog is

In short, I will use this blog to further teach and process the world as I try to figure out what following Jesus faithfully looks like in a world of smartphones, genetic engineering, and the age-old specters which continue to haunt us in the form of poverty, hopelessness, pride, etc., many of which take on new faces in the new type of world we live in.

Sometimes I will write further thoughts on the text for a sermon, sometimes random thoughts on a given passage of Scripture, sometimes more extended reflections on pressing issues which face us as God’s people in the here and now. Some thoughts simply cover things which we don’t really have a good forum to discuss in other contexts yet are relevant in thinking about living as followers of Jesus. All of it is meant to be an invitation to see how the gospel of Jesus Christ should shape our lives, our thinking, and our action, day by day.

What this blog is not

As digital as we are becoming, we are actually analog beings. Better yet, we are flesh-and-blood beings that God created long before any human being had the slightest inkling of what electricity was. As flesh-and-blood beings, a huge part of what we need is simply to be together.

Technology enables many amazing things. Praise the Lord that the ability to stream church services allowed, and continues to allow, us to practice prudent safety in the midst of the covid pandemic. Who knows when such a response will be needed again? And, Lord willing, it will no longer be necessary in the near future.

What spending that time apart has shown us is that being apart is not the same thing as being together, even if we can still have a sermon, sing songs, and all the other things. God made us as people to live in community. God made us to love each other as we rub shoulders with each other in life. Digital community, while a real part of our lives and growing in its influence, is not enough. Digital community does not equal the church.

This blog is not meant to discourage us from being together. Digital discipleship is simply another avenue to talk Jesus to each other and the world around us.

In closing

I hope that this effort will prove helpful. I am convinced that in the world we live in, digital discipleship will become increasingly important. I am trying to figure out more how to do this well, whether through blogging or other means. And, I am trying to figure out how to best be a flesh-and-blood pastor ministering to flesh-and-blood people living here and now.

May God bless us as we move forward in following him in this brave new world with the same old brokenness and same old need for the saving grace of Jesus Christ.