POWER FOR FRUIT BEARING

Earlier this spring, I wrote about a Wisteria vine that follows a fence at the corner of our street.  This year it was full and the vine produced prolifically.

Wisteria blooming vine
Wisteria fine on the fence and growing up and onto the neighboring tree and telephone pole.

The mass of flowers hides the source of the plant’s power – the vine stem itself.

Wisteria blooming vine close up
Wisteria vine stem at ground level, providing nourishment for the plant.

 

The vine is strong, solid, and firmly embedded in the ground.  From its roots, the entire plant derives its strength and nourishment, enabling it to bloom and give its flower for all to enjoy.

 

As Christians, we too are to produce fruit for our Lord.  In order for us to do this, we must be firmly grafted to the Vine.  Jesus used the vine and branches analogy when He said:

 

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”

John 15:1-5

 

The wisteria branches need the vine stem for their strength and nourishment.  Likewise, we have strength for our life in Christ as long as we “abide” in Jesus, when we are attached to our Lord through the Holy Spirit’s power.  When we are depending on the Vine for our strength, direction, words, actions, then we will be able to bear fruit for Him.

 

In his sermon entitled The Secret Of Power In Prayer delivered on the Lord’s Day Morning, January 8, 1888, at The Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington, Pastor C. H. Spurgeon talked about an individual who exclaimed “I have something to do!” without regard to being in the Vine.

 

“’I have something to do,’ cries one.

Certainly you have, but not apart from Jesus. The branch has to bear fruit. But if the branch imagines that it is going to produce a cluster, or even a grape out of itself alone, it is utterly mistaken. The fruit of the branch must come forth of the stem. Your work for Christ must be Christ’s work in you or else it will be good for nothing.

I pray you, see to this. Your Sunday school teaching, your preaching or whatever you do, must be done in Christ Jesus. Not by your natural talent can you win souls, nor by plans of your own inventing can you save men. Beware of homemade schemes. Do for Jesus what Jesus bids you do. Remember that our work for Christ, as we call it, must be Christ’s work first if it is to be accepted of Him. Abide in Him as to your fruit-bearing. Yes, abide in Him as to your very life.”

[Sermon #2002 Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit 1 Volume 34 www.spurgeongems.org.]

 

The flowers cannot bloom and grow without the stem’s strength.  If they are cut off from the vine’s stem, they will die in time.  So too, if we work for the Lord in our own strength and power, using “homemade schemes” or using our talents without regard to the power of the Holy Spirit, we will be ineffective because, apart from Jesus, we can do nothing for Him. John 15:5.  We may be good people, and we may even do nice things for others, but there will be no spiritual fruit because only God through the Holy Spirit can produce that fruit.

 

As Spurgeon says it:  our work “must be Christ’s work first if it is to be accepted of Him.  Abide in Him as to your fruit-bearing. Yes, abide in Him as to your very life.”

 

I pray that this rendition of the hymn “Abide with Me,” played by Eric Wyse on Reflections – 60 Songs of Devotion, will focus your mind and heart on our Lord and His grace that has been given to you through His Spirit.

 

 

Father, forgive me when I have run ahead and done things for You when You did not tell me to do so.  Forgive me when I have relied on my own strength, talent or power to “work for You”.  May I rely on the Holy Spirit for guidance and for strength as I live my live for Your honor and glory alone.

 

SPRING – A TIME FOR GROWING IN BEAUTY!

Much has already been said about spring, and it has been said by authors ever so much more erudite than this writer. Suffice it to say, spring is a beautiful time of year when the apparent death of winter gives way to new life. How fitting that Easter is, usually, in the spring of the year!

 

My focus here is not Spring in the broad sense of the word, it is one type of flower that I see as I turn the corner to leave our subdivision … Wisteria.

 

Wisteria blooms
Wisteria vine along the front yard fence.

 

I am definitely not a gardener. So, I don’t have any intrinsic knowledge about this beautiful plant, other than I love seeing it in full bloom along the fence line. I have lived in the same house for almost 30 years and have enjoyed these flowers each year. The vine uses any available support, here it is the fence, but it is also now climbing a neighboring tree and the telephone pole!

 

Wisteria blooming vine
Wisteria fine on the fence and growing up and onto the neighboring tree and telephone pole.

 

The wisteria vine makes my wandering mind turn to our Lord’s statement in the Gospel of John about the Vine and the branches.

 

Jesus was talking to His disciples, that is not only the original followers of Christ but us as Christians 2000 later, and He said:

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. … Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”

John 15:1, 4-5.

 

Read that again – Jesus does not say that when we abide in Christ we might be fruitful! He says that when we abide in Him and when He abides with us, we WILL bear MUCH fruit. The distinction between unfruitful and fruit-bearing is made clear in the next phrase: “for apart from me you can do nothing!”

 

With Him, we can do all that He commands – we are fruitful. Without Him, we can do — nothing. Not even a little!

 

Charles Haddon Spurgeon was preaching on the fruit of the Spirit, specifically on joy, and he said:

Precious as the fruit is, do not put the fruit where the root should be. Please do remember that joy is not the root of grace in the soul, it is the fruit and must not be put out of its proper position.

 

While the fruit is important, and we are called to bear much fruit for our Lord, the fruit is not the source of power or of encouragement or of strength for the Christian journey. We must look to the Vine as the root of “grace in [our] soul”.

 

In England we saw this building with wisteria climbing up the front of it, the blooms simply beautiful as they decorated the façade of the building.

Wisteria house in England
Wisteria on a building in England.

 

We are the branches. We are the ones who overcome the obstacles, even if they seem insurmountable, and cover them with love and the fragrant blossoms of the fruit of the Spirit. We are the ones who grow and twist around the people we encounter as we wrap our arms around them and reach out in love with the life-giving words of Jesus Christ. We are the ones who bear fruit for our Lord.

 

Be careful though — John 15 verses 2 and 6 contain a warning:

“Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. … If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.”

 

Just as with the wisteria vine, for those branches that do not bear fruit, the Vinedresser comes with His shears and cuts them off. In his Commentary on the Bible, Spurgeon says this about John 15:2:

If there be any, who are only nominally in Christ, and who therefore bear no fruit, their doom is to be taken away; for, in order to final perseverance and eternal safety, there must be fruit-bearing.

 

As for John 15:6, Spurgeon further notes:

That is all that can be done with fruitless vine-branches. You cannot make anything of them.   … It is useless if it is fruitless; and so it is with us, if we do not bear fruit unto God, we are of no service to him whatsoever.

 

This is a sobering thought. It is one thing to say that we are to bear fruit for Jesus, but quite another to recognize that if we refuse to do so, the Father will remove us, as one does an unproductive stick.

 

I must heed the warning when He is asking me to do something that is too big, that is outside my comfort zone, or that I simply don’t want to do. Rather than refuse, or drag my heels, I have to rely on Jesus’ promise that he is the Vine and that my power, my strength, my nourishment comes from Him. Then I can carry out His command in love, allowing His Spirit to control my words and actions so that His purpose will control.

 

Father, when I see the wisteria vine, I see beauty even through the twisting and turning of the vine’s branches.  I pray that when my Lord sees me, He sees a branch that is growing through His strength and in His power as I read and rest in His Word and then obey His commands.  Holy Spirit, enable me to do the tasks assigned for me in the strength of your power. May all my actions, thoughts and words be to the glory of my sovereign God.

 

 

 

 

 

WHERE DID THAT COME FROM?

A simple glance at a garden, forest or lawn gives evidence that all flowers and trees are not the same.   What is in the seed of the plant is what will come out as it matures.

 

Palm tree (C)
Palm tree at Mission San Jose, San Antonio, Texas.

 

We know, for example, that it is futile to ask a date palm or a fig tree to grow as a shrub or to bloom as a rose.

 

Book pictures - flowers 15
Flowering shrub planted in front yard, definitely not a rose!.

 

 

We can identify the plant by its fruit. Every farmer knows this, and even those of us who are from the city know this is true.

 

It was true 2000 years ago, too.  See, for example, Scripture in the Book of  James where the writer talks about the consistency between the seed and the fruit in James 3:9-12 [ESV] just after speaking of the difficulty of taming the tongue:

 

With it [the tongue] we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.

 

In other words, what is inside the plant determines what the outer growth will be.  In like manner, what is in my heart and soul will determine what my actions will be.

 

Thus, I need to consider my words and actions in light of my assertion that I am a believer in Jesus Christ and that I have been indwelt by the Holy Spirit. Non-believers will be evaluating me at every moment … what kind of affect does this Jesus have on my life? Are my words loving or are they cutting?  Are they affirming or are they hurtful?  Am I building up or tearing down?

 

When I curse or say unkind things to others, I think “Where did that come from?”   Scripture would answer that question by saying “It is from sin”.   We still will sin because we are not our Lord. Even the Apostle Paul said:

“For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.”

Romans 7:15 [ESV]

 

But, the good news is that Jesus conquered the disease of sin that infected each person since Adam’s fall when He died on the cross to take our punishment and to cover us in His righteousness before His Father, the Holy God of Scripture.   Therefore, as believers in Jesus Christ, our old sin nature no longer holds control over us. In short, we are able to, and we should be, exhibiting Jesus’ nature.

 

The Apostle Paul tells us that the evidence of our being new creatures in Christ is the growth of the fruit of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

 

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.

Galatians 5:21-22.

 

These qualities have their source in the Holy Spirit and, while their names are common, the characteristics that should be evident in the Christian by virtue of the Holy Spirit residing in her heart are anything but common.

 

So, when people hear me speaking, do they hear tantrums and outbursts or do they hear the voice of Jesus?   When I interact with others in a commercial setting, do they hear anger and fury because of some delay which was unavoidable or do they see Jesus’ patience when He dealt with people who could not understand, even showing patience with those who actively rejected His words?

 

In short, the question is whether I, as a believer in Christ, exhibit the fruit of the Spirit, i.e., characteristics of His Spirit given to us by the Holy Spirit, as I live my life before others around me?    We should be striving for living a life consistent with the characteristics of Jesus Christ as He gives us the grace to so do through the power of the Holy Spirit.

 

I know that I have to confess my sin for refusing to follow the Holy Spirit’s guidance and for denying my Lord by my actions before others. What about you?

 

Father, forgive me when I have ignored your Spirit and have acted and spoken in ways that undermined my witness for my Lord and Savior.  I pray that I would keep my eyes focused on you, and that I would reflect Jesus Christ to those around me. I ask that the fruit of the Spirit would grow and be evident in my life, so that You will be honored and glorified in all things.

DIFFICULTIES CAN PRODUCE BEAUTIFUL FRUIT

I was in prayer this morning asking the Lord for comfort, strength, peace, healing and His presence for several of the people in our church who are going through very difficult times. I truly believe that prayer is the “best thing” that we can do for others, and as I was considering the various situations facing these brothers and sisters in the Lord, I was reminded of a video‐essay I saw about Yosemite National Park. This program captured my attention because my husband and I had been to Yosemite several years ago and we found it to be an awesome manifestation of our Lord’s creativity and beauty.

What really captured my attention was the discussion of the Park’s Giant Sequoias and the role that fire plays in their sustainability. The Narrator discussed fire in the Park as being a necessity for the forest, and I recognize this as a correct generalized proposition that is true of any forest woodland. Without fire, the underbrush would become so dense that seedlings would not be able to take root, etc.

Fire scar completely through the base of Giant Sequoia Tree

This is a picture that we took on our visit to the Park which shows a fire scar that is so severe that the inside of the tree has been burned out and the tree resembles an old‐time wooden clothespin, perhaps for Paul Bunyan’s laundry! The Narrator of the video-essay stated that the Giant Sequoia tree’s bark was extraordinarily thick and the cambium layer, just beneath the bark, has fire resistant properties to enable the trees to survive severe forest fires.  This statement is consistent with one of the plaques in the Park.

Giant Sequoia Tree plaque for the tree Tennessee Tree, with explanation about cambium layer beneath bark that enables trees to survive forest fires.
Giant Sequoia Tree plaque for the tree Tennessee Tree, with explanation about cambium layer beneath bark that enables trees to survive forest fires.

The Narrator continued to describe how the Giant Sequoias cannot survive without periodic fires. I thought I misunderstood what he said – why would these majestic trees require fire for their survival – they might successfully endure the wildfire, but to say that they require it is an entirely different proposition, and one which surely must be incorrect!

I was intrigued by this statement and, after doing some research, I found that one of the primary requirements for Giant Sequoia seedlings to grow is full sun. A glance at the forests in which these trees thrive reveals that, while the mature trees have full sun due to their towering height, there are multitudes of trees around them which, although dwarfed by the Giant Sequoias, are tall trees in their own right. The result of this, of course, is that the Giant Sequoia seedling is beneath the neighboring pines, oaks, and whatever – without the benefit of full sun.

In short, the Giant Sequoia Trees require periodic wildfires so that the underbrush and smaller tree vegetation can be cleared so as to provide the correct environment for successful germination of the sequoia seeds in full sun.

Giant Sequoia fire scar with seedlings nearby.
Giant Sequoia fire scar with seedlings nearby.

But, as the television marketer says, “Wait, there’s more!”  Not only does the wildfire provide the open nursery for the seedlings, the fire actually is required to release the seeds from the cone in the first place. It is no secret that extremely hot air accompanies a forest fire; for me, the surprise was that the hot air in the canopy of the massive trees dries and opens the trees’ seed cones causing the release of large numbers of seeds to the forest floor, which, because of the clearing accomplished by the fire, has been transformed into the optimal seedbed for the seeds to take root and grow into images of their ancestors.

Seedlings in Yosemite National Park
Seedlings in Yosemite National Park

Also, the Lord provided even more help for these seeds to grow to maturity. The post‐fire loose ground ash operates as a blanket to protect the seeds from ultraviolet radiation damage. [See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sequoiadendron_giganteum accessed 8/28/2013]

Besides being an interesting aspect of the Lord’s natural world and besides showing the care that He took to insure the sustainability of His creation, the soul‐searching began when I considered the illustration provided by the Giant Sequoia Trees in the connection between the fire and the resultant beauty.

It made me consider how I respond to the fire circumstances in my own life? Am I able to look past the immediate pain and difficulty so as to see the beauty ahead? Do I endure the difficulty with anticipation for the good that our Lord will accomplish through it? Or, do I, like Jonah, run in the opposite direction so that I avoid the problem and pain? Do I even recognize that there is a cost for avoiding the trial … lost lessons learned and more agonizing trials ahead for which I could have been prepared, or perhaps which could have even been avoided, if I had paid attention to the initial difficulty?

Do I say what Joseph said to his brothers?

Then Joseph said to his brothers, “… And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you.… But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance.”

Genesis 45:4-7. Or, as my own paraphrase would render this passage, you may have meant to hurt me, but actually you were fulfilling God’s plan to provide a way to protect you and your families from the death that would surely have come during this severe famine.

When we are in the midst of the maelstrom, when we can’t see where things are going, through faith we can have confidence that God is sovereign and that He is working things out for His purposes and the Christian’s ultimate good. Even if scars remain, there will be beauty that will come.  The nail piercings in our Lord’s Hands reflect just some of the excruciating suffering He endured for us on the cross, but they are beautiful for those who believe in His Name for salvation.  But for what those scars represent, we would not have His righteousness to cover our sins and we could not call God “Abba Father”.  Mark 14:36; Romans 8:15 and Galatians 4:6.

God is sovereign in all things. He provided for the Giant Sequoia Trees, and He will provide for His children. See Luke 12:22-31.  Praise His Name as we trust in Him and in His unfailing grace, even as we go through the flames of trial that confronts us, by whatever name it is called.

As the Psalmist said: “Praise the LORD! O give thanks to the LORD for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!” Psalm 106:1.