The Quality of Our Fruit


Matthew 12:33

“Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit.”

I am not a farmer, but I come from a farming family. You probably have someone in your family who is a farmer or has that green thumb gardening gene. Maybe it’s you?

I don’t know how to make a good tree or a bad tree, but even this citified non-gardener knows a tree needs water, sunshine, and soil to grow. I know that the ficus tree in my front yard will never look like the orange tree in my backyard or vice versa.

But how do I know the difference between my orange tree and my ficus?

It’s the fruit! My orange tree produces oranges because it is hard-wired by God to produce oranges. My ficus tree just produces shade. (While shade is not edible, it should not be discounted in our Arizona summers.) Nothing I could do would ever cause my ficus tree to produce oranges. It is the orange tree’s gift to the world to bear oranges.

Like the trees, God wants all of us to bear fruit. And, like the trees, we are also hard-wired to produce a particular fruit.

Galatians 5:22 says: “… the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”

So just like the tree needs certain elements to grow, so do we.

For us to produce our fruit, we need to grow. Our fruit won’t appear until we have a level of maturity that primes us to bloom.

What do we need to produce fruit?

  • We may need to pursue education and on-the-job training.
  • We may need to find a mentor.
  • We may need to forgive.
  • We may need to trust. Again.
  • We may need to flee toxic environments.

We need God to be our gardener. The way we interact with Him and allow Him to tend to us determines the quality of our fruit.

Thought for the day: John 15:1-2 says “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.” If you are in a pruning season, you may feel cut off or exposed. That was the bad fruit… for you. Rest assured that God has a plan for the good fruit you will bear in His timing. He has already set up people who need your gift to the world. It may not be today because you are still growing. Keep growing until it is your season.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, sometimes we forget that You are the Gardener, not us. We pray that we grow strong branches from the vine of Jesus. We ask for more of Your love so our fruit—our gift to the world—is heavy on Your love. And may the world outside the kingdom of God see a glimpse of your love in our good fruit. We pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

God’s Chosen Savior


Matthew 12:15–21

Jesus, aware of this, withdrew from there. And many followed him, and he healed them all and ordered them not to make him known. This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah:

   “Behold, my servant whom I have chosen,
       my beloved with whom my soul is well pleased.
   I will put my Spirit upon him,
       and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles.
   He will not quarrel or cry aloud,
       nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets;
   a bruised reed he will not break,
       and a smoldering wick he will not quench,
   until he brings justice to victory;
       and in his name the Gentiles will hope.”

For centuries, God’s people were waiting for the arrival of the Messiah. Old Testament prophets, like Isaiah, wrote about the one God would send to bring hope and freedom. Given the centuries of oppression God’s people had faced, many of them were desperate for freedom and peace in a very real and tangible way. They had faced famine, slavery, and homelessness, so the idea that somebody would come and give them the life they’d always hoped for was the best news ever.

Enter Jesus, who was born to a teenager and her fiancé. Jesus, as He grew up, began speaking about the very hope and freedom that God’s people had been waiting for. He loved and cared for the hurting, healed the broken, and challenged the common way of thinking. He taught that those who are hurting, poor, and oppressed are still blessed—and that, through Him, there’s reason for peace, even on our hardest days.

Jesus, through his grace, flipped the idea that they had to live a certain way to work their way to God. He, through His life, death, and resurrection, worked His way to us. He showed us that, even in the hardest times of life, God is with us. For a group that had to work hard to earn the approval of each other, the government, and God, this was good news. It was freedom from a peace that was dependent on their own efforts, and the introduction to a reality where peace was something they could receive.

Thought for the day: Are there any areas of your life that you lack peace? Even in those areas, Jesus says we are blessed. He came to bring the peace we long for, and to remind us that we’re not in this alone.

Prayer: Jesus, thank You for being the savior that was promised long ago. Thank You for flipping the means of gaining a relationship with God, and for working your way to us. Help me to live in the freedom of what You’ve already done, as opposed to feeling like I have to earn my way to You. Because of the great love You’ve shown me, help me to live a life that is defined by the way I love others.

Love vs. Judgment


Matthew 12:9–14

He went on from there and entered their synagogue. And a man was there with a withered hand. And they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”—so that they might accuse him. He said to them, “Which one of you who has a sheep, if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not take hold of it and lift it out? Of how much more value is a man than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And the man stretched it out, and it was restored, healthy like the other. But the Pharisees went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him.

In the time of Jesus’ ministry, religious leaders known as Pharisees held the law and traditions of the Old Testament in high regard. Over time, respect for tradition turned into a legalistic lifestyle. They began to view and judge other people based on how well they performed in light of the laws. This caused religious leaders to develop a system of rules that made it almost for people to have a real relationship with God.

One of the themes that Jesus regularly spoke to in His interactions with the Pharisees was that, in light of trying to follow God’s rules, we can’t treat other people differently than God wants us to.

In this story, the Pharisees were angered with Jesus for healing somebody on the Sabbath. The Sabbath, or day of rest, calls back to the early Old Testament and a commandment from God for His people to prioritize margin in their lives. When the man with the withered hand approached Jesus for help, the Pharisees believed the right thing for Jesus to do would be to excuse the man, because the Sabbath mattered more than the man’s needs.

While we don’t consider ourselves modern-day Pharisees, we all have the tendency to judge others based on performance. If somebody has a different struggle, viewpoint, area of gifting, or background than us, it’s a common struggle for us to judge them. Jesus shows us that all that matters is God and people. If we become more focused on how people act and less focused on how we love them, we’re missing out on God’s best for our lives. Jesus loves us as we are, not as we should be, because none of us are as we should be. We all miss the mark, but Jesus, through His grace, gives us a second chance and the opportunity to follow Him.

Thought for the day: Are there any places in your life where you struggle with judging others? What are some practical ways you could show them love versus judgment?

Prayer: God, show me the areas in my life where I struggle with judging others. Give me the eyes to see people the way You do, and to love them accordingly. Thank You for loving me as I am, not as I should be. Amen.

Rest for the Weary


Matthew 11:28-30

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.

You are probably asking, “what is a yoke?” A yoke is a heavy wooden device that was fitted on the neck of two or more animals (generally oxen) for the purpose of joining them together to aid in pulling heavy loads and plowing fields—which is tough, physical work.

In this passage, Jesus was not speaking about our physical burdens. He was addressing the heavy burden of trying to live under the works-based religion system of law-keeping that the Pharisees laid on the backs of the Jewish community.

You may have heard the saying, “rules without relationship leads to rebellion.” It is so true. The Pharisees, which from Hebrew translates to “the separate ones”, were a group of mostly middle-class businessmen and synagogue leaders that were known for being self-righteous, legalistic, and prideful. The Pharisees’ teaching was at odds with Jesus’ teaching. The Pharisees and their converts were described by Jesus as “children of hell”, primarily because they rejected God’s provision for their salvation and attempted to justify themselves through their own righteous deeds. In so doing, they “shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces” (Matthew 23:13).  

In contrast, Jesus’ yoke of discipleship brings eternal rest to our soul. Jesus invites us to come into a personal relationship and trust, learn from, and follow Him. As one of God’s children, a life lived by faith and with humility is a much easier burden to carry than the heavy, burdensome yoke of self-righteousness. Some continually strive to make themselves acceptable to God through works. As the apostle John says, “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.” (1 John 5:3)

Thought for Today: Jesus is speaking to everyone who is exhausted, overworked, overextended, and overburdened. Is that you? Do you feel like you are on a treadmill and can’t get off? Jesus already knows. He is waiting for you to accept His invitation and to rest in Him. Will you trust Him with your burdens?

Prayer: Heavenly Father, I confess that too often I carry burdens and have anxieties that bring me to the point of exhaustion. I have not taken Your yoke upon me but have instead tried to overcome my trials and anxieties on my own strength. Please forgive me. I accept your invitation to take Your yoke upon me and to learn from You. Thank You for loving me as I am, not as I should be. Father, I pray that your peace which surpasses all understanding will guard my heart and mind in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Finding True Life

GC-Devo-7.16Matthew 10:38-39

“Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.”

What does Jesus mean when He says “…whoever loses their life for my sake will find it”? How can you lose your life and also find it? This seems like such a contradiction. But that’s exactly the point Jesus is making. From the very beginning, life started off rooted in sin. When sin first entered the world at the beginning of creation, humankind was destined from that point on to be born into sin. Sin is part of our nature and therefore something we will always battle until we get to Heaven. That’s why we need Jesus so much. Jesus is everything that we are not, and He is the reason that we have full and complete access to God.

When we say “yes” to Jesus, we receive the Holy Spirit and not only does His Spirit wipe away all our past, present, and future sin, but Ephesians 1 says it is our deposit guaranteeing our inheritance in God’s Kingdom. And what an inheritance it will be!

“And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.” (Ephesians 1:13-14)

But, how do we unpack what Jesus is saying in Matthew 10?

The truth is saying “yes” to Jesus is just the beginning. As long as we are living on this earth, there will be a battle going on between our sin nature and the Holy Spirit we’ve received.

Jesus is asking us to die to ourselves—our sin nature—and put God first. Sometimes this is a daily task and sometimes it’s moment by moment—through praying, studying his word, and worshipping Him. The more we press into the Holy Spirit and claim the power of Jesus as the authority over all areas of our lives, the more we will be aware of what God is calling us to do and less likely to gratify the desires of the sinful nature. We will become more sensitive to His voice, be better able to decipher our convictions, and will more easily overcome the desires of our sin nature through the power of Jesus.

Thought for the day: Reflecting on this passage, what does “losing your life” look like to you? Are there areas of your life that you need to give authority over to God? How have you “found” your life since surrendering to Jesus?

Prayer: Jesus, thank You for being all that I need. Thank You for being my advocate to God and for bridging the gap so that I have full access to His inheritance. Help me to see areas of my life that I need to surrender to You so that I can fully embrace the life You’ve designed for me to live. Help me to trust You and Your perfect plan. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Servant Leaders


Matthew 9:36-38

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them because they were confused and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. He said to his disciples, “The harvest is great, but the workers are few. So pray to the Lord who is in charge of the harvest; ask him to send more workers into his fields.”

Imagine a teacher who doesn’t care about you or your work. All he wants is the class to follow the rules, stay quiet, and leave when the bell rings. This teacher doesn’t provide a syllabus for the semester, doesn’t help with projects, and doesn’t allow time for questions or brainstorming. All he cares about is his title, being known for how smart he is, and getting another year of accolades from colleagues. Students feel alone and without guidance. They ask themselves why they’re in the class and their next steps are clouded. How disheartening! They may as well try to run the class on their own, or… seek out a teacher that cares about their education and well-being.

In the ninth chapter of Matthew, it describes how Jesus had been surrounded by people that day, and there were a lot of them. Among them were His disciples, the Pharisees (experts in Jewish law), and the needy, sick, and lost. He took the time to address each type of person, whether it was teaching a lesson, responding to criticism, or meeting physical needs. Can you imagine what it might’ve been like for the Creator to mingle with His creation? How does your heart feel when you watch your children struggle?

After a day full of interacting with different people and attending to various needs, Jesus looked around and His heart broke. These people had only known bondage to the law—something they could never get right. The Pharisees, priests, and scribes of that day were always pointing out what others did wrong and how unclean they were. Jesus wanted better for them. He viewed them as the class of students with the selfish teacher. The people received no empathic understanding; no tender leadership; no one to show the best way.  

Deep down, all that these religious experts wanted was fame and applause for being super “holy”. You can see why the people may have felt lost. They never received any love, grace, or encouragement from their spiritual leaders. Have you ever felt as these people did? Different versions of the Bible say the people were:

  • Weary
  • Scattered
  • Confused  
  • Harassed
  • Helpless
  • Distressed
  • Dispirited

These feelings come from the combination of constantly falling short of expectations and never receiving positive guidance or encouragement. When we lack personal connection, we question whether our life has value. We don’t know what path to take and why it matters.

Enter: Jesus.

Their Almighty Creator steps onto their turf in human flesh and sees them as lost sheep needing the care and guidance of a caring shepherd. This broke Jesus’ heart because He loved the people and wanted them to experience true leadership that would motivate the broken toward wholeness and purpose.

Isn’t that what we all need? Jesus wants to see us healthy and using our talents for his kingdom. He wants us to feel cared for and confident in the guidance He offers for our remaining days on earth. He doesn’t want us to be bogged down from trying to attain perfection. Instead of the list above, imagine living:

  • Empowered
  • Unified
  • Focused
  • Protected
  • Purposeful
  • Peaceful
  • Inspired

To discover and develop the sincere care and guidance we all need, God wants to use us to help each other. In today’s passage, Jesus expresses His compassion by turning to His disciples and telling them to pray for more willing workers to reach people that need to experience His perfect love and the hope of His eternal plan. He tells us to ask God to provide leaders that will guide with love and hope, not guilt and criticism.

Who among us is willing to pray for more workers? Who among us is willing to take it a big step further and love people? Let’s adopt the passion Jesus has for us. Every person matters and needs hope. At Sun Valley, we say we exist for those who aren’t here yet. Whatever our different roles, let’s open our hearts to God’s eternal plan of grace. Look around—the harvest is great.

Thought for the day: When you observe your community, how do you view the people you see? Are they annoying and not worth your time? Or do you see them through the eyes of Jesus—confused, discouraged, in need of a shepherd?

Prayer: Father, thank You for valuing every life and giving us purpose through your love and mercy. Give me the eyes and heart to see people as You do. Love them through me. Help me to show Your hope and joy as I live my life so those watching will desire to follow a Leader who cares about their soul. You are amazing. I praise You for seeing our need for guidance and showing us how to carry out your plan of grace for one another. May You be glorified in my life today, Lord. Amen!

Trusting in His Power


Matthew 9:19-21

And Jesus rose and followed him, with his disciples. And behold, a woman who had suffered from a discharge of blood for twelve years came up behind him and touched the fringe of his garment, for she said to herself, “If I only touch his garment, I will be made well.”

Not only was this woman’s health keeping her from living a full life because of her physical weakness, the social implications were even grander. As she bled, she was considered unclean and unwelcome. Others didn’t fraternize with her for fear that they’d also be outcast. You can imagine how lonely and ashamed she must have felt after over a decade of isolation and disregard.

From the context of other gospels that recount this story we know she had seen countless doctors and had spent all that she had, only to still be stricken with her ailment. She didn’t know Jesus, but she heard there was a man who had healed many and she traveled 30 miles to Capernaum in faith that He might also heal her.

The instant she reached out to Him, she was immediately healed. Jesus publicly lauded her for her faith and, in the only instance recorded in the Bible, called her “daughter”. Can you imagine the shame, burden, and pain that lifted at that moment as He folded her back into society and into His love?

Thought for the day: Do we know and trust that Jesus has the power to heal us – even the parts of us that bring us the heaviest burden, the most physical pain, and the darkest shame? God is in the business of miracles and gets all of the glory for doing big and seemingly impossible things.

Prayer: Dear God, thank You for caring for us as You cared for the woman in this story. Increase my faith that You can do big things in my life as well. Amen.