Fruitcake


How many of you have already received one of these this Christmas Season?  A fruitcake.  How many of you have one of these in your cupboard from Christmas’ past?  The ghost of Christmas past is the fruitcake.

But let me give you some fruitcake facts because I know you are so excited about that.  The fruitcake was first invented in Roman times.  The oldest reference is to a fruitcake that was made of pomegranate seeds, raisins and pine nuts. Then in the early 18th century the fruitcake was actually outlawed all throughout Europe. It was considered too sinfully rich, completely banned. The fruitcake was banned. I wish it was that way today.

There was a custom here in England years ago where an unmarried wedding guest would take a slice of fruitcake and place it under the pillow at night and it supposedly enabled them to dream about who their future mate would be.

I don’t know if that would work or not, but Chuck Swindoll wrote about something that really did work.  He said there was a recently married woman in his church who had been single for years and she said, “Pastor, I just want you to know that for a year I’ve been praying for my future husband and God just led me to him and here’s what I did. Every night I would hang a pair of men’s pants beside my bed and I would pray this prayer. Oh dear God, please hear my prayer and answer if you can. I’ve hung a pair of trousers here. Please fill them with a man.” God came through. Chuck Swindoll told that story to his church and they all laughed like you did except for one teenage boy on the front row who was dead serious. He had a serious look on his face and then later that week Swindoll got a letter from that boy’s mom saying, “I’m not sure whether I should be concerned or not, but my son has hung up a bikini by his bed.” I’m not sure that will work guys, but you will have to deal with what I call fruitcake people this Christmas season.

Fruitcake people are those people that annoy us, that irritate us, that frustrate us.  They are hard to get along with. I looked up the ingredients to the fruitcake and it says this. It’s a mixture of fruit and nuts with just enough batter to hold it all together. How many of you know someone just like that? A mixture of fruit and nuts with just enough batter to hold it all together.

In some obscure place in America every January they have what they call the Great Fruitcake Toss where people bring their creations, these launchers that they’ve invented and try to toss a fruitcake as far as they can. The record was set by a group of eight Boeing engineers and they built a piece fuelled by compressed air pumped by an exercise bike that actually launched a fruitcake 1,420 feet.

Now how many of you know someone in your life that you would like to launch out of your life, but you can’t because you’re stuck with them? We all have fruitcake people in our lives and we can’t get rid of them and you’re going to spend some time with them this Christmas.

Maybe it’s a workmate or a boss or a relative or maybe you’re sitting next to them right now. Don’t look at them. That’s not going to be good for you. Don’t look at them.

Some of you are going to be dealing with them over the holidays as you do each and every year so how do you get along with fruitcake people?

The good news is Christmas is all about relationships. It’s all about peace in our relationships, harmony in our homes.

We get so busy during the Christmas season we forget what’s most important. People around us.  So how do you get along with people around you?  I want you to open your Bibles to Luke, Chapter 2.  “But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; He is Christ the Lord.  This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.’  Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom His favour rests.'”

Lord, I pray today that You would give us peace in our lives, peace in our hearts, peace in our marriages, peace in our families, peace in our relationships as only you can. I pray that we would allow You, the Prince of Peace, to rule in our lives this Christmas. In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

I want you to underline that word peace in that passage because Christmas is all about peace.  It’s all about peace in our lives and in our relationships, but for most of us at Christmas we’re so stressed our relationships become strained and we have no peace.

There is no harmony in our homes. There is no peace in our relationships. I want you to underline the phrase all the people that appears in the first part of the verse because Christmas is for all the people.

God wants all the people to have peace. God wants you to have peace this Christmas. God came to bring us peace in our lives and it’s for all the people. The angel appeared to the shepherds, the outcast of society. They were the ones who were so rough around the edges, no one liked to hang around them, they just had to hang around the sheep all the time.

Then they also came to tell the wise men and a star led the wise men, these refined, educated, wealthy intellectuals. Christmas was for the lowest of the low and the richest of the rich and everyone in between and I’m so thankful for that.

Christmas is for all of us, for all the people.  Now, sometimes, people say to me, “Mark, I thought the angel said there will be peace on earth after the first Christmas and there has never been peace on earth, but that’s not what it says.

Most people just think that’s what it says, but they don’t look very closely. Look what it says.  Verse 14 “And on earth peace to men on whom His favour rests.”

What it’s saying is there will never be peace in your life until the Prince of Peace rules in your heart. There will never be peace in your relationships until the Prince of Peace is Lord of your relationships. There will never be peace on this earth until the Prince of Peace rules and reigns on this earth.

We have a choice. We can allow the Prince of Peace to be first place in our lives and relationships this Christmas. God wants to bring harmony to our homes, but we have to learn to get along with all the people. God wants us to have peace with all the people in our lives. Now that’s not always possible because there are some people that just won’t allow you to have peace with them.

But you are to do everything you can, I’m going to do everything I can to be at peace with the people in my life. I’m going to do everything I can to get along with the fruitcake people that are hard to get along with.  So how do I do that?

First

DEVELOP A NEW PERSPECTIVE ON PEOPLE.

I need to take a fresh look at the people in my life and see them the way God does. Because usually I just look at people on the outside. I just see the shell and that shell is what irritates us and annoys us and frustrates us. There are some hard nuts to crack out there. When you just look at the shell you are going to have conflict.

You have to lift up the shell and look into their heart and you have to see what’s really going on in their life. You have to lift up the shell and see what God really wants to do in your life because God has allowed some nuts into your life.

Fruitcakes are made up of fruits and nuts and batter to hold it all together. I want to talk about some of the nutty people you are going to run into and have to try to get along with this Christmas, okay?

So what I want you to do, I’ve given you some space in your notes.

Write down some of these types of people and then I want you to write beside it the name of that person in your life.  Don’t show it to anyone, okay?  But just to let you know I have built into the paper an alarm that will sound if anyone writes my name down ok.

This is just for your personal therapy. First is what I call the hard-shell nuts. We all have a hard-shell nut in our life. These are the people who are grumpy and all the time. They are bristly and hard to get along with. It’s really hard to get beyond their outward shell. They are just tough to get along with. Sometimes they have outbursts of anger. Just hard to be around. How many of you know a hard-shell nut in your life? Yeah.

Then there is what I call the soft-shell nuts. You always have to walk on eggshells around them. They are overly sensitive. They are always getting their feelings hurt and you never know what you did to hurt their feelings.

How many of you have some soft-shell nuts in your life? Sure.

Then there are the dry-roasted nuts. They are hard to read. They are dry personalities. They are very unemotional on the surface, but you have to take the time to really dig down and get to know them and, if you do, I’ve found that most dry-roasted nuts have a lot of substance under the surface. It’s just that many times we don’t take the time to really get under the surface.

Then there are the honey-roasted nuts. These are the syrupy, sweet people to your face, but they will stab you in the back. These are the people that are always smiling and syrupy and don’t really tell you what they think about you.

They are passive aggressive. How many of you have some honey-roasted nuts in your life?

Raise your hand.

These are really hard people to get along with because it’s hard to deal with the real issues because they don’t talk about it.

Then there are the mixed nuts. These are the people who can’t make up their minds. One day, they are into A the next day they are on to something completely different.

They are totally committed to one thing one day, and then they’ve forgotten all about it the next day. They are half-heartedly committed to a hundred different things instead of being completely committed to just a few things.  They can’t really make up their mind. They just jump from thing to thing to thing. They are really hyper about something one day and then they are on to something else the next. How many of you have some mixed nuts in your life?

Raise your hand.  Yeah.

Then there is what I call the beer nuts. These people are the life of the party. They are loud, expressive and sometimes offensive. How many of you know a beer nut?

Then there is what I call the health nuts. They make you feel guilty for eating that extra portion of pecan pie on Christmas Day.

The health nuts I’m talking about here are the ones that are always trying to force what they do onto you. They are always trying to tell you how to eat and what you need to do.  How many of you know a health nut? Raise your hand.  Yeah.

Then there is what I call the glazed nuts. These are the people where the lights are on, but nobodies home. Glazed over. A few of their bulbs are out on their Christmas tree lights, you know what I am saying?. How many of you know some glazed nuts?

How do you get along with all these people?  How do you get along with all the hard to get along fruitcake people in your life?

Well God has placed them in your life for a reason and I need to get a new perspective on people and when I see that God has put that person in my life for a reason it changes everything. In Romans 5 it says, “We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they are good for us–they help us learn to be patient. And patience develops strength of character in us and helps us trust God more each time we use it until finally our hope and faith are strong and steady.”

Problems, pressure and people are in your life for a reason.

Every person that comes into your life, God’s allowed them into your life for a reason. Even the fruitcake people. God uses them in your life to build your character, to teach you patience.

When you want patience what do you pray?  God, give me patience and give it to me right now.  What happens when you pray for patience God never just zaps you with patience instantly.  What He does when you pray for patience is God will bring some really irritating and annoying people into your life and tell you that you need to learn how to get along with them and you’ll have to because they are in your life.

You can’t launch them out. There are some people that we can launch out of our lives, we don’t have to hang around, but there are some people you have no choice. Some of your relatives. Some of your co-workers. You have no choice and you’ve got to learn to get along with them.

God has allowed them into your life for a reason, for your benefit, to help you grow in your character.

The fruitcake people in my life and you know who you are!! They are there to help me grow in the fruit of the spirit in my life.  Fruitcake people come into my life so that I can experience the fruit of the spirit in my heart.

Every person in your life is there for a reason, for your benefit, to help you grow. So you start saying God, why have You allowed this person in my life?

Maybe you have a hard nut you have to deal with.  God, why have you allowed that hard nut into my life? Maybe God will show you it’s because He wants you to learn how to stand up and be a stronger leader and not let them walk over you.

He’s building your character. He’s teaching you something. When you see it that way it changes everything. That those people are in your life for your own benefit, to grow you. But then secondly, I need to

DISCOVER THE ROOT CAUSE OF MY CONFLICT.

In conflict we usually just look at the shell that irritates us and annoys us and we never lift up the shell to see what’s going on underneath.  There are three root causes of conflict.

Whether it’s with fruitcake people or whether it’s with someone you consider a true, true friend.  Whenever you’re in conflict there are three root causes.

First is hurt. Whenever I get hurt, I get angry. If I’m hammering a nail and I hit my thumb I get angry. If you are hammering a nail and you hit your thumb what do you say?

Don’t tell me what you say. Let me rephrase that.  How do you react? That’s probably a better way to say that. How do you react?

Well, the way I react if I hit my thumb is I say hallelujah, praise the Lord. I’m a pastor and that’s what we do. I’m glad my kids aren’t here. No, I’m mad. I’m hurt and I’m angry. Whenever I get hurt I get angry.

The root cause of anger and conflict in your relationships is hurt. Whenever you’re hurt you get angry.

Frustration is the second root cause of conflict or fear, let me hit fear first. Fear is the second root cause of conflict. Whenever I’m afraid and insecure I get angry.  Whenever I’m fearful I get angry.  Maybe it’s fear of losing control.  Maybe it’s the fear of the future.  Maybe it’s the fear of not being accepted, but whenever you feel insecure and fearful you’ll get angry.

Frustration is the last root cause.  Whenever I’m frustrated I’m angry.  The reason why we get frustrated is because we have to wait.  We live in an instant society where we want instant gratification.  We want things right now and whenever I have to wait, I get frustrated and I get angry.

Really that’s just about losing control.  I’m a control freak.  I want to be in control and when I have to wait I’m not in control and I’m frustrated and I get angry.  So the three root causes of conflict in your life are hurt, fear and frustration.  The problem is usually when we have conflict we never deal with those.  We just deal with a shell, the outward issues and we say things like you make me so mad.

I hate it when you do that and that doesn’t deal with anything.  We’re just lobbing missiles back and forth and when you lob a missile the wall will go up so you put your wall of defences up and you don’t get anywhere in the conflict.

Conflict is essential in relationships, for your relationship to grow.  But conflict will either be productive or constructive.  It depends on what kind of conflict it is and how you handle it.  Destructive conflict is just dealing with the outward, the shell, and just fighting back and forth and never lifting up the shell to get to the root issue.

Productive conflict is when you say I feel hurt when you do that.  I feel insecure when you do that.  It makes me feel frustrated when you do that.

So you get to these root causes and you talk about the root causes and it’s not pleasant, you’ll still have conflict, but the conflict will be productive, it’ll get you somewhere, it’ll grow your relationship, you’ll come to new understandings when you deal with the root cause, but you have to know there’s even a deeper root cause than those three – hurt, fear and frustration.

The deepest root cause that’s been around since the fall of man and it’s imbedded in our DNA.  It talks about it in James, Chapter 4.  “What causes fights and quarrels among you?  Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?  You want something but don’t get it.  You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want.  You quarrel and fight.  You do not have, because you do not ask God.  When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.”

He’s saying that the deepest root cause below the hurt, fear and frustration of conflict is selfishness.  When you peel away all the layers it’s really just two immature people trying to get their way.  It’s two people fighting for control because we all have this selfish bent in our lives and that’s why it’s important to realise when fruitcake people are in your life, God has placed them there for your benefit to help you grow, but He’s also placed you in their life so you can be a minister to them.

So you can get your eyes off yourself and onto meeting their needs.  That God has placed you there to be a minister to them.  That really starts breaking down some of these selfish desires and the root cause of all conflict is selfishness.  Maybe you’re in the workplace where there are hardly any Christians.

Sometimes people say to me, Mark, if I could only work with all Christians.  I’m really praying that God will lead me to a place where it’s just all Christians and we just read the Bible during our work day and the boss is so sweet and wonderful and we sing praise songs all day and it’s just perfect.  Well there is no place like that.  But just maybe God’s placed you in that workplace because you’re the only Jesus some of those people will ever see.

Maybe God’s got you there for a reason, that you are to be a minister to them, you can be a witness with your life and with your words.  Before you send out the CV for other jobs, ask God that.  God, have You placed me here for a reason?  To be a minister to someone?

God, why am I here?  Is it because You want me to a light in a dark place?  When you start thinking that way it changes you and it helps you start loving people that are really hard to love and God gives you that supernatural grace.

We are all ministers, we just have different roles to play.  Mine is to lead and to feed and yours may be to greet someone at the door or to serve in the coffee shop, or on reception, I don’t know.  Maybe it’s to sing or maybe it’s to work with the kids.

I don’t know there are all different types of ministries, but we are all on the same level we just have different roles to play.

That’s what the New Testament says.  Every person who believes in Jesus Christ is a minister.  We are all on the same level.  It just changed during the Dark Ages in the Middle Ages.  The clergy elevated themselves above everyone else and they said we’re the only ones who need Bibles.  The people didn’t get Bibles.

The people weren’t taught to read or how to read their Bibles or how to study the Bibles.  The clergy said they we’re the only ones who can really understand the Bible so there is no need for you to have a Bible.  We’ll tell you what it means.  We’re the only ones who can really minister because we know how to minister and you don’t.

The clergy elevated themselves. Sadly in every denomination today we see that go on in some form or fashion at times where the clergy elevates themselves and says we’re the only ones that really get it.  We’re the only ones that can really minister.

You’re the people, we’re the ministers.  We’re up here and you’re down here.  That’s not the way it should be.  I see it changing in the church today.  More and more churches are saying.  Every member is a minister and that’s what the New Testament says.  You don’t have to wait for me to do ministry.  You can do ministry.  You’re a minister for Jesus Christ.

So this week Bethel church will be all over Preston. We’ll be all over the place because you’re the church.  So we gather here and we meet and we worship, but we go all throughout the city. You take Bethel wherever you go.  You’re the church so you’re to be a minister wherever you go.  Maybe God has placed you in that office building because you’re the only Jesus some of those folks will see and one of the greatest things you can do to be a minister is to invite someone to carol service.

I guarantee you this, God has placed you in your neighbourhood, God has placed you in your workplace, God has placed you with those relatives for a reason.

Maybe the reason is so you will invite them to carol service and share what Christmas is all about with them.

Maybe that’s the whole reason God has got you there.  To invite a friend to carol service.

Well we need to discover the root case of the conflict and we need to understand that God has allowed these people in our lives to grow us and He’s allowed us into their lives so we can minister to them.  But then thirdly

DECIDE ON A DIFFERENT RESPONSE.

My natural response is to get even, to get annoyed, to try to get away from them.  Romans 12 tells us the supernatural response.  “On the contrary:  ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.  In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

When someone is irritating you and annoying you it says that you are to love them and do acts of kindness to them.  This isn’t just being nice and sweet.  This is doing acts of kindness in love.  Love is an action.

This is strong.  How do you do that?  When someone irritates you and annoys you and tries to hurt you, how do you do something in love to them?  How do you act in love and give them something that maybe you know that you would give someone who loves you.

Loving them back is easy when someone loves you, but loving someone who doesn’t love – that’s really hard.  But here’s the interesting thing.  This is the most effective way to treat fruitcake people in your life.  This is how you do it.  It’s not very effective to get mad at them.  It’s not very effective at all.

It’s effective when you act in love toward them and you do something that totally shocks them because you’ll have one of two results.  First, they could get really mad.  It says here that when you do something nice, when you really act in kindness you’ll heap burning coals on his head.

If someone is trying to get at you and you do something nice, just kill them with kindness, that’s where it came from, you’ll heap burning coals on his head or you’ll win them over.  You’ll win them over.  It says overcome evil with good.  That’s how you overcome evil with good.  You’ll win them over.

I’ve seen it in my life many times where someone doesn’t like me and they are trying to get at me and annoy me and then I’ll act in love and do something, an act of kindness, for them and it’ll shock them and it’ll take them back and many times it wins them over.  It just changes them because they have to stop dead in their tracks and think about it.  It’s like throwing a bucket of cold water on them.

Just think about it or it’s like pouring hot coals on their head.  I’ve had it at times where I do some act of kindness and it just burns somebody on the inside.  It makes them really mad and that’s not a bad thing either.  So it’s one of two things.  It’ll tick them off or you’ll win them over.  Both of those are okay.  So it’s the only thing that’s effective.

But how do you do that?  I mean that’s the real question because I don’t always do that because my natural response is to ignore them or to get back at them.  That’s my natural response.  How do I give a supernatural response.  Galatians 5 tells us.  “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  Against such things there is no law.”

The fruit of the Spirit, God’s Spirit, is not natural, it’s supernatural.  The fruitcake people that come into my life, to help me develop the fruit of the Spirit in my heart, and then to show the fruit of the Spirit and express the fruit of the Spirit to others.  I need God’s Spirit to do that.  I can’t do it by myself.

Love is not a feeling.

Love is an action.

Love is a choice.

Love is strong.

The Bible says love is stronger than death.  Love is strong.  It’s a strong action and a strong choice.  I can’t do that with the fruitcake people in my life naturally.  God will have to do that through me.  His Spirit will have to fill me up and live through me to do that.

Love is strong.  Love is a choice.  Love is an action and it always involves giving.  It always does.  You can give without loving, but you can’t love without giving.  Love always involves giving of yourself.  For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son.  The greatest act of love for all is Christmas and at Easter as He gave His life.  He gave.  God gave the greatest gift at Christmas.  The gift of His Son.  A tiny baby in a manger.

That’s why we are giving our greatest gifts today to the birthday boy.  It’s just a token to say hey God, we want You to get the most expensive gift at Christmas.  We want You to use it to change lives, but more importantly to change our life.  In a moment we are going to give our greatest gifts.  But I want to ask you and challenge you.  God is going to use us and use this church to really make a difference this next year.

I want to read this last verse to you in Luke 2:14.  “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom His favour rests.”  You want peace this Christmas?  Do you want peace and harmony in your home?  Put the Prince of Peace first place in your life.

Lord, I pray right now for everyone who is going through some really strange relationships.  Every one of us have strange relationships, Lord, especially this time of year when it gets so stressful.  Help us, Lord, to really focus on them and Lord give us the strength to get along with fruitcake people in our lives.  To see that you placed in our lives to benefit us.  Maybe, Lord, that hard-shell person is in our lives to teach us to become a better leader or maybe that soft-shell person is in our lives to really show us how we need to not hold grudges.  Lord, I don’t know.  There are all kind of reasons why You put people in our live would show us.  I pray that You would heal relationships today.  That this Christmas would be a time of peace and harmony in our homes.  Only You can do that.  Lord, I pray that You would fill us with Your Spirit.  That the Fruit of the Spirit would come out in our lives and we would express it to everyone.  I pray for those who have never opened the gift of Christmas that they would say Jesus, I want Your peace.  I’m tired of living an anxious life and I want Your peace and Your forgiveness of all my sins and I want You to give me peace in my relationships.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.