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From his column Pressing On

pressing-on-11-13-1“How do I know this is real?” a teenager in my church asked, avoiding eye contact with me. He caught me off guard after Sunday morning worship as the congregation was disappearing through the door.

This? You mean God? The church?” I searched for clarification.

“Yes. All of it.” he said, relieved that he had gotten his point across without having to articulate further.

I affirmed his honest grappling and willingness to approach me. I encouraged him to ask such questions from inside, rather than outside, the context of the church. I then breathed a prayer asking the Holy Spirit to help me as several potential responses rolled around inside my head.

I have been this young man’s pastor for more than half of his life. Before I knew what to say, I clearly knew what not to say. I knew to not begin making a case for God. I could have lined up arguments for the existence of God or the deity of Christ, but I knew they would have been as effective as trying to peel a pineapple with a butter knife. He would have politely thanked me and continued doubting—silently.

Drawing from my own experience with questions and doubts, I thought about how I have come to believe, and then asked him, “How do you know if an apple tree is a real apple tree?” Now, he was the one searching for clarification. After repeating the question back to me, he replied, “Because it makes apples?” “And what about a pear tree? How do you know a pear tree is a real pear tree?” I prodded. His response came more quickly: “Because it makes pears.” “That’s true,” I affirmed. “You know a tree by its fruit. If you want to know if a tree is really what it is supposed to be, just examine its fruit.”

Jesus gave a similar response in the Gospel of Matthew. John the Baptist sent disciples to Him with the question: “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else? (11:3).” In other words, “How do we know you are for real?” Interestingly, Jesus did not lay out a series of proofs. Instead, he replied, “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor (11:4-5).” In other words, “Look at my fruit.”

Good fruit should be displayed. It is an indication of life. From the ample fruit in the garden of Eden to the luxurious produce of Canaan presented to Moses in Numbers 13, the presence of fruit has always been a sign of life—real life.

I explained to the teenager: “What is true for apple trees and pear trees, I believe, is also true for the church. If you want to know if God and His work through the church are real, then just examine our fruit. The best witness for God’s existence is the fruit of the church.” Knowing that this young man has held a long-standing relationship with a faithful, vibrant local church, I challenged him to keep his eyes peeled for our fruit: Are addictions broken? Are lives transformed? Are hungry people fed? Are needy people embraced? I urged him to pay attention and to “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8).

Jesus worked with this imagery in John 15: “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing… This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples” (15:5, 8). As branches, our first and greatest responsibility is to “remain” in the Vine. As we remain in Him, His life surges through us that we might bear His fruit. This fruit is then offered up to the world as witness to the reality of God and His Kingdom that has come.

I now live each day with greater awareness that at least one young person is observing me. He is paying careful attention to me and to the church. He is watching for fruit. My prayer is that he finds bountiful bunches. And that our fruit leads him to the Vine.

Daron Brown lives and pastors in Waverly, Tennessee. He is the author of Shift: How Nine Churches Experienced Vibrant Renewal.

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