Fruit emerges from attachment: Life as a branch

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I have seen a lot of things in my years. I felt the breeze that comes when you’re walking near a glacier. I witnessed the inexplicable beauty of a deep lake so blue you can hardly believe that color exists on its own. I experienced the shock of answered prayer, prayer so ostentatious and a God rejoicing that we trusted Him so big. I watched the life of a child not believed to become much more than the “failure to thrive” state in which he was found emerge as a vibrant, excited, busy little boy who blew away every prognosis his adoptive parents were given.

These eyes have seen a lot. But one thing they have not seen: fruit emerge out of nowhere. Never have I walked in the kitchen and found bananas just chilling on the counter where there had been no bananas before. Never have I talked to a grocer whose produce section just showed up in the store. And never have I experienced an immature piece of fruit grow to fruition and thrive on its own once apart from its source plant.

Physical fruit comes from something. It cannot exist on its own. It cannot grow on its own. The very life of that piece of fruit you so enjoy with your breakfast comes only from being drawn from a greater life source. The banana cannot draw water from the ground nor can it change light into energy. It must rely on another for those functions to happen.

In the life lived in Christ, you are not the fruit. And you are not the vine. You are the middle man. Your experience is that of a branch. Life as a branch is life as a conduit. Just like fruit, a branch cannot live on it’s own. Without the vine, the source, a branch is just a big, dead stick. And even when attached to the vine, a branch without fruit is still just a big, purposeless stick.

Vibrant fruit can only come from a vibrant conduit. Jesus called Himself the vine and calls us the branches. Our life lived in Christ is designed from the get-go to be conduits for fruit. Though nothing is impossible for Jesus, He chose to be the vine and not the branch. The vine itself also does not produce fruit. Could He? Yes. Does He? Sure–but He chooses to involve us in the process. He chooses to give us the life-altering experience of feeling His power course through our veins while something that is impossible for us to conceive on our own emerges from the very tip of our big, woody, clumsy hands. Life as a branch requires tight, complete attachment to the vine.

And life as a brach requires giving up every bit of power given to us. The branch keeps just enough energy, enough water, enough light to live–but it does not live simply for that. It lives so that it can pass along the power and water and energy to the fruit. Life as a conduit, life as a branch, means focusing on producing that which the Vine has chosen to produce. Life as a branch means giving it all up–letting the power flow, letting the light do its work, and letting the fruit get plucked.

We don’t get to hold on to the fruit we produce. It is there for consumption. And for two reasons, we wouldn’t want to. Fruit is there for the enjoyment. Do you want plastic fruit that needs to be dusted on a coffee table? Or do you want a crunchy apple to be enjoyed with a cracker and cheese? Or that banana blended with those tasty berries? Or strawberries wrapped up in a crepe? Or the cheesecake with just a touch of lemon zest? Plastic fruit cannot do any of those things. Only real, actual fruit can be enjoyed in the way it was designed.

Secondly, if a branch hangs on to all its fruit, it will break. The branch of an apple tree is not designed to hold its lifetime in fruit. And if it tries, it will splinter and break away from the trunk, the source. Apart from the source, the branch can produce nothing. An apple tree lived in my backyard growing up. And when we failed to pick the fruit, the branch dropped apples in the yard. For the branch knew, in the plant-y way that branches know things, that if it didn’t drop the fruit, the branch itself would die.

The branch doesn’t care whether we eat the apple as is, bake a pie with it, or use it for target practice. The branch doesn’t care. The branch exists to stay attached to the vine and produce the fruit. The branch doesn’t try to control where the fruit goes–or frankly, what fruit is produced. The branch’s purpose is to stay attached. Everything else is beyond the branch’s control, and therefore beyond the branch’s purpose.

Be a healthy branch. Stay firmly attached to vine, the Source of our life and very being: Jesus Christ. Keep only enough of His power and Spirit to remain healthy, and make yourself a smooth conduit for that power and Spirit to produce fruit through you. Then let it go. Let the fruit be what it is. Let the fruit be used however it is used. Focus on attachment and being a conduit. Life of a branch may not bring any glory or prestige. But life as a branch was never meant to. The healthiest branches are such because of their strong bond to the Source. The Source is the point. The Source provides the power. Stay attached, and you will find that the attachment alone becomes the point. You will easily let go of the fruit because your eyes will be fixed on the Source: Jesus Christ.

The Fruit of the Fruit

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The fruit of the Spirit.
The mark of the Spirit at work.

We learned last time that fruit is pluck-able. It is tangible. And its tangible quality isn’t only for others to see and experience. God made it tangible for us. Imagine! This intangible Spirit moving and working in our very being to create something tangible that we can hold, touch, and reflect upon as we continue moving forward in faith.

Knowing it is tangible is powerful. But so is a tornado. Swirling and tangible and powerful, a tornado cannot be denied. But what is the point? I don’t have an answer for the point of a tornado, but if the fruit of the Spirit is merely powerful and tangible without purpose, than why would we even want it? If all the fruit can provide is a temporary movement, than seeking the Spirit becomes pointless.

There has to be something more. And there is. The power found in the fruit’s tangible nature runs a distant second to the point of the fruit. Philippians tells us:

“For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live…that means fruitful labor for me….” –Philippians 1:21-22, ESV

Our labor, our seeking, and the work of our hands, is productive, fruitful when it is in Christ. The pursuit of the fruit of the Spirit does not merely deliver when eternity calls our mortal number. The fruit of the Spirit produces in the here and now.

“…who plants a vineyard without eating any of its fruit?” –1 Corinthians 9:7, ESV

Our Lord would not send us into unfruitful pursuits, nor does He delay too long. He seeks not that we just twiddle our thumbs and walk in circles until we meet eternity. The labor He gives us provides a productive life. We are not here punching a clock until we see reward in eternity. This is not to say that the harvest is immediate. Hebrews explains:

“For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” –Hebrews 12:11, ESV

Re-read the fruit of the Spirit. Love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, gentleness, self-control. Though some of these things can come in waves, they all also emerge from the faithful, disciplined seeking of Jesus. Submitting to the Spirit’s work, understanding that discipline is also the slow ebb of the ocean tide, the results of which come slowly but they come.

But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” –James 3:17-18, ESV

The good fruits result in a harvest. not only later, but right now too. Let the Spirit do His work. You will see the results.

Purpose replacing boredom…

blog--2014-10--purpose from boredomJohn Ortberg wrote a number of years ago about disappointment. He described how disappointment was missing an appointment. Specifically, he described that he was disappointed in missing his appointment from God. Even more so, he described how disappointed he was that he wasn’t more disappointed with his disappointment.

Boredom sneaks in from time to time. I realize how I wander about, mentally or actually, without taking advantage of the time laid before me. Tonight was such a night. With hours to invest, I cannot say I necessarily invested them well. Yes, rest was necessary. But more than that, purpose could have reigned my hours.

But where lies the line
between trying to prove myself
and resting in the justification of my Savior.

How much is enough?
How much is too much?

And where is the line drawn
in the sand of the shore
where what is done is washed away
and what is done remains?

What sandcastles will be rocked by the tide,
and which will stick around another day,
for another “generation”, another day of sand-castle builders
to expand,
to grow,
to tear down some walls,
to make it their own?

You never know what might stick.
A toddler claims a favorite song,
and sings it wherever she goes.
A plane full of passengers hears
as adorable “awww”s take the place of “r”s,
and the unabashed joy of singing
fills the cabin with praise.

A little girl
asks for a particular pair of sunglasses
because the young woman at church
who draws with her during worship
wears the same kind.
And the parents agree,
for their young child choosing such a one to follow
makes them smile.

A Sunday School teacher
shows love
every single week
to the second graders in her class,
not knowing that years later
those students still remember.

Every moment.
Every day.
There is opportunity.
We cannot know what will stick.

What we can know is
as we follow Jesus,
as we love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength,
impact happens
whether we see it or not.

What we can know is
He makes all things work together
for good
for those who love Him
and are called according to His purpose.

So though the act may seem small,
or large,
or mundane,
how we spend our time matters.

It matters to Him.
And it just may change a life.

Releasing the old, making way for the new…

blog--2014-09--out with the oldThe household chores get done, one at a time. Frustration over lack of storage in my new abode had me looking at things in a different way. Where I kept things in the past need not be where they remain. But finding the new place often means tracing backwards.

The platters that make sense in the closed cupboards of the china hutch can be equally stored in a closet. But the closet is awkward and sort-of full, but not. The blankets that take up three shelves can easily be stacked on the floor, in that awkwardly tall space before the first shelf starts. Which opens up three shelves. There go the platters and also the table linens, opening up the hutch to serve as a pantry. But the only way to make the blankets fit was to donate one. It was large, unwieldily, and hadn’t been used in years. Out with the old makes way for the new way of life.

It isn’t only the closets getting repurposed. After waking, again, in the middle of the night, waking up to thoughts of a particular source of stress. I refuse to live that way anymore. The hours of uninterrupted sleep slowly dwindle until 3 is the max if I am at home. While away, I can easily sleep 9, but I have allowed stress in rooms where it does not belong. What started as determination that these stress-thoughts would not be allowed in my bedroom, ended with those thoughts only being allowed in one room, in one chair, and only when there is a pen in my hand, my prayer journal in  my lap, and my Bible on the arm of the chair. Out with the old way.

“A voice cries: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lordmake straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.'” –Isaiah 40:3-5, ESV

The way for Jesus to come, prophesied thousands of years ago, is the same today. Clearing the old ways, making straight the way that He may come. Out with the old so that the new may come and blossom. For only when we let go of that which ties us down can we embrace all that He has planned. Let go of the weight that entangles. Leave behind the things that no longer have a place. And donate those things that are good, just no longer good for you. Let someone else benefit.

Let go your stranglehold on the past. Walk forward in faith, believing He will do all He promises.

On being a nickel…

blog--2014-05--Wonder-if-you-need-toLife transitions are funny. I find myself picking through a plastic sandwich bag of coins. In the old life, coin collecting was not so much a hobby as a necessity to wash laundry. As those days are past, I pick through, craving the fruit candies in the vending machine outside my new office.

I bypass the quarters. I leave the dimes be. And the pennies, well, I’ll need to figure something out for them later. My eye searches out the nickels. For the bag is heavy with nickels.

Practically speaking, using the nickels first lightens the load. Twice as many coins will be needed, leaving twice as many coins lessened from the bag. Spiritually speaking, I giggle at the metaphor.

Nickels are differently-sized than the other coins. The dimes continue to catch on the pennies. And the quarters’ lumbering size just gets in the way of my nickel search. Nickels stand alone with the only smooth sides among the silver-colored coins. They don’t catch on anything. Many overlook them–after all, it takes twice as many coins to accomplish the same thing as a dime, and five times as many as a single quarter will accomplish.

But they are prolific. And with each of the drop, drop, drops of the many nickels in the vending machine, I smile at how God doesn’t need spiritual quarters or dimes. He can use spiritual nickels. Spiritual nickels who together outnumber the dimes needed, the quarters needed. The sheer number of spiritual nickels means that many more individual hearts and lives that can be touched.

God need not everyone be a quarter, or half-dollar. He need not everyone be rough on the edges to stir up hearts in considering controversy. He need not the small-sized and nimble spiritual dimes that can do the job in half the time. God has a place for spiritual nickels.

If you’re feeling like your contribution is so small, or only impacts a few, or you find it often over-looked, fear not. If you’re feeling rather nickel-y and wonder if you need to change yourself to be something different, bigger, of more value, know your heavenly Father made you exactly as you are. Leave the trying to be bigger aside. Let His creation, His lovingly-created you, shine. Be who He created you to be. You may feel like a nickel, but nickels are so very useful.