That You Should Go and Bring Forth Fruit

vineyard photo

“Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain.” (John 15:16, KJV)

So said Jesus to his disciples, and to us.

But WHAT fruit? What is Jesus actually talking about here — bringing other people to Christ? (AKA the fruit of “soul winning”?) Developing godly character? (AKA “the fruit of the Spirit” a la Galatians 5?) Supernatural power displays? (AKA “the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do”?)

Thankfully our job is not to make fruit happen. Our job is to abide in Christ — in the vine.

After all:

“Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can you, except ye abide in me. I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit; for without me ye can do nothing.” (John 15:4-5, KJV)

We will accomplish nothing by fixating on fruit and everything by fixating on Jesus.

Even so: as I’ve said elsewhere, a whole lot hinges on our understanding of who and what we are. Practically speaking, a huge part of abiding in Christ is a matter of renewing our minds, of seeing as he sees and understanding as he understands so that we may “discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God” (Romans 12:2, HCSB). So I think the question is worth asking.

What kind of fruit does God want to bear in our lives?

I sometimes refer to the gospel of John as “the cosmic gospel.” While Matthew and the other Synoptics are firmly grounded in the context of Israel, John comes at things from a wider perspective, a kind of mind-expanding universal view. Where they are historical, John is mystical.* The long discussion of John 14-17, in which the Vine is central, is a prime example of what I mean.

And I think it also answers the fruit question. Look again at what Jesus says:

“Without me you can do NOTHING.”

Does he mean that?

Rather than seeing this verse as specifically pertaining to ministry, to soul-winning or miracle-working, or to developing godly character and the fruit of the Spirit, what if he really means that without him, we can do nothing?

What if we can’t breathe without Christ? What if we can’t move our little fingers or shift a toe without him? What if without Jesus, our atoms would fly apart?

(“And in him all things hold together,” Colossians 1:17, ESV.)

This is not just Jesus the Messiah of Israel, not just Jesus the king of the universe. This is Jesus the writer of our DNA, Jesus the binding agent of all physical matter, Jesus the source of life. (The one question science cannot answer — where does life come from? — is answered in the gospel of John.) This is Jesus the Speaker of Reality.

(“In the beginning was the Word . . . all things were made by him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.” (John 1:1, 3, KJV)

That does in fact seem to be what he means, because some who are currently drawing their life from the vine will eventually wither and fall off, and they will be gathered and burned. I don’t believe he is speaking about believers, who by their very belief choose to remain in the Vine, but about those who do not choose to remain, to abide, and so lose their lives eternally.

1 Corinthians 12:6 (NIV) says “There are different kinds of working [or activities, or operations, or effects], but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.” The Greek word here is energematon, from the root energeo: if I may, “There are different kinds of energies at work in you, but the same God energizing all that you do.”

The fruit of John 15 — the fruit we were chosen and ordained to bear — is not and should not be limited to the head count at an altar call or how many boxes on the “good character checklist” you can tick.

The fruit of God is whatever flows out of you that comes from the life of God within you. It is literally the life and energy of God manifesting itself in this physical world just as the life and energy of a vine flows into and manifests itself in fruit.

So: that word of encouragement or wisdom you give a hurting soul? Fruit.

The thanksgiving that rises in you at the beauty of a sunrise, a sunset, a laugh? Fruit.

The paycheck you bring home, having worked as unto the Lord and in love for your family and fervent service to your boss? Fruit.

The song you write, the book you pen, the melody you hum, the painting you paint, the dinner you put together and feed someone? Fruit.

The healing that comes through your prayers? Fruit.

The understanding that suddenly clicks as you read the Scriptures — that “aha” moment where everything becomes a little clearer than it was a minute ago? Fruit.

(For that matter — The understanding that clicks as you read history, science, poetry? Chemistry or physics or math? The “aha” the first time you learn what it means to deeply love another? It’s all the life of God in us. Let’s not limit him to the thickness of our Bibles. He fills the universe.)

The confidence you manifest? The joy you feel? The love you show? Fruit.

The trust you display in a time of hardship, struggle, pain, doubt? The prayer you choke out: “Lord, I will trust you; I will surrender; I will love you no matter what?”

Precious, precious fruit.

Everything that comes out of the energy of God in you. Everything that flows out of your relationship with him.

Without him we can do nothing.

With him we can do EVERYTHING, and nothing is so small or so prosaic or so material or so  that he doesn’t touch it, claim it, energize it, bear it.

With him everything is sacred.

He is the invisible, intangible life force flowing through this world and manifesting himself visibly and tangibly through us.

That’s what made Jesus’s life what it was.

It’s what makes your life what it is.

“I have chosen and ordained you, that you should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain.”

vineyard photo

*I am not saying that John is not also fully historical in its events, nor that John’s gospel does not have a place squarely within the Hebrew context of the entire Bible. Of course it does. But its emphases and teachings have a more mystic and universal bent.

Dear Everlasting Cocktail Party

(This post was originally published at the now-defunct Women Alive blog on May 27, 2011. As I wrote just last Tuesday, it’s still relevant.)

Dear Friends, Family, List Buddies, Facebook Pals, E-mail Forwarders, Twitterers, Bloggers, Authors, Musicians, Guy Who Posts Interesting YouTube Videos, Journalists, Linkers, Photographers, Book Reviewers . . .

Perhaps there’s a shorter way to address this:

cocktail party photo
Photo by Johnnie Walker 91

Dear Everlasting Internet Cocktail Party:

It’s been great.

For the last several years you have enlivened my life. From you I have learned about news, trends, and gossip as they happened. You have introduced me to topics and people I did not know existed, and you have stimulated me constantly, giving me hundreds—thousands—tens of thousands of things to think about, look at, listen to, and move on from.

You have made it very easy for me to keep up with you, and for that I am grateful. I have seen pictures of your boyfriends, spouses, friends, children, and people you just met and started hanging out with, and I have known what was on your heart, what was making you laugh, and what you ate for breakfast.

You have been fascinating, fun, witty, literate, and always attention-getting.

Thus it is with some regret that I announce my departure from your world. I will be dropping in now and again, at predetermined times and for limited engagements. (I will not have time for all of you, so those whom I truly love and those whom I really learn from must take priority.) I will be contributing in my own way, through blog posts born of my new life.

You see, I have realized that scattering my attention to the four corners of the earth, as you continually call me to do, is shallowing the waters of my soul. I read Tweets, but not books. I do Facebook, but not community. I think, but I do not meditate, for I have no time or mental space left for doing so. I “touch base,” but I do not converse.

“The unexamined life is not worth living,” Socrates said. I choose to withdraw from the cocktail party, for I wish to be deeply conversant with life.

Best wishes, and sincere affection,

Rachel

Tired, Bored, The Internet: How I Frequently Almost Ruin My Life

the Internet photo
Photo by dkalo

I’ve been a freelance writer and editor since I was 21 years old — over a decade now. In that time I’ve edited hundreds of manuscripts, written 20-some books, and indie published more than 30 titles. The most common question people ask me is “How?”

One word: FOCUS.

I’ve tried to make an art form out of not distracting myself. Studies are showing that the human brain is not meant to multitask. We try and we feel like we’re getting things done because it’s all happening at once, but what we’re actually doing is wading through wet concrete instead of waiting for it to dry so we can just go speeding across the surface. (I wrote that analogy while really tired; just work with me here.)

For an ADD brain like mine, focus is especially precious and especially hard to come by, but when we manage to latch on, our superpower kicks in: HYPERfocus, the warp speed of the freelance life. If you have ADD friends and you can literally wave a hand in front of their face without getting a reaction while they are focused on something (the television, the computer, whatever), you know exactly what I’m talking about.

Hyperfocus is good, and so I do everything I can to induce it: headphones in, nondistracting music playing, routine intact, plans made ahead of time. Everything in place so I can just put my head down and power through the task before me.

I manage this for a while and feel like a freelancing powerhouse: editing manuscripts, writing books and blog posts, doing promo, even working out now and again. Oooooh yeah.

But then two things happen.

I get tired.

And/or I get bored.

When I’m tired, it’s hard to focus. When the work in front of me is boring me, it’s hard to focus.

Enter the Internet.

the Internet photo
True confession: I have spent entire DAYS flitting from one website to another, reading comics archives and movie news, accomplishing exactly nothing, telling myself I’ll get to work in just a minute and somehow catch up on the hours that are dropping behind me.

This is all based in a lie: my brain says if I just kick back for an hour on the ‘nets, I’ll feel rested. Turns out web surfing is physically and mentally exhausting. Remember: the human brain is not meant to multitask.

I’ve written about the never-ending cocktail party of the Internet before.* I really do try to walk away from it. For a time I even manage.

But then tired, bored, the Internet, and I almost ruin my life.

I know that’s extreme. But life isn’t something that will happen tomorrow, or a year from now, it’s what I’m actually living right now.

I will GUARANTEE that on my death bed, I’m not gonna look back and wish I’d spent more time on the Internet.

(I was sort of on my death bed once, and trust me, “I should have been more active on social media” did not even cross my mind.)

And seriously, what would happen if I just gave in to tired and bored and the Internet on a regular basis? My income would plummet. My clients would get mad when I blew through all their deadlines and find someone else. You would never get to read the final book in The Prophet Trilogy. My brain would be so fried I would lose my ability to pray or study or do anything else I really enjoy, and web surfing doesn’t do much for muscle tone either.

My point is that this small thing — losing focus and surfing the Internet because I’m tired or disinterested — actually does have the potential to ruin my life. It won’t while it stays in balance. But it COULD.

Thankfully, there is grace for us puny humans. No matter badly off track I get, no matter how much time I waste, no matter how much damage I do to the synpases in my brain, I’m always allowed to start over tomorrow.

I don’t have to be stuck. I can change.

And I do. Because even though I have days like the above on a semiregular basis — I probably blow at least one complete day a month — I’ve still managed to do all that stuff I listed in the first paragraph.

Of course, changing takes perspective. It means going back to my goals and asking what I want out of life, what I want to accomplish, and what I would actually want my days to look like. It takes reminding myself that I am a child of God and a servant of the kingdom, not a purposeless drifter in Internet Land. It takes deliberately saying “so long” to the cocktail party and rebuilding connections in my brain that will allow me to focus on long-form things, like prayer and deep thought and books.

(Yes, you really do have to rebuild connections that are really damaged. See the multitasking research linked to above.)

It takes grace too. If I can’t give myself grace, I won’t move forward. I’ll just beat myself into the ground and end up even more discouraged and tired and lost.

Take this as a confession: I frequently almost ruin my life.

Thankfully, God just keeps giving me a hand back up. I can take it. I can change.

And on my death bed, I can look back on a life that — in the long run — was well lived.

 

*This article used to be at the now-defunct blog for Women Alive. It’s now up here on Adventures in the Kingdom.

Rotten Trees and Hypocrisy

The other day, during a light rain, a massive tree on our lawn fell over.

HollowTree1

HollowTree2

(Thanks to Naomi Currey for the pictures!)

Despite the fact that it only took a small gust of wind to bring the tree down, it didn’t come as a surprise. As you can see from the pics, the thing was rotten straight through. It looks like you could have punched a hole in it.

While it was still standing, though, it looked solid enough. Sure, it wasn’t as green as it should have been, but it was a TREE — tall, broad, deep rooted. You wouldn’t have known just from looking at the outward appearance that there was nothing underneath the facade.

In the Greek language and culture, a hupokrites was an actor. He was someone who wore a mask and spoke lines to portray a character other than himself.

Jesus’s use of the word “hypocrite” — which I think has influenced the common meaning in English today — charged the religious leaders of his time with being actors. Pretenders. People who put on an appearance, carried out actions, and spoke words that masked who they truly were (and in fact contradicted who they were).

From dictionary.com:

hypocrite [hip-uh-krit]
noun
1.
a person who pretends to have virtues, moral or religious beliefs, principles, etc., that he or she does not actually possess, especially a person whose actions belie stated beliefs.
2.
a person who feigns some desirable or publicly approved attitude, especially one whose private life, opinions, or statements belie his or her public statements.

Jesus was not impressed:

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.”
(Matthew 23:25-27, NASB)

All these warnings used to scare me because after all, I am not perfect. I was trying to live pleasing to God but had no illusions as to how far short I constantly fell.

But actually, Jesus wasn’t concerned about honest failure. He told a story about that:

And He also told this parable to some people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’ I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9-14, NASB)

Jesus’s warnings AGAINST hypocrisy can also be read as a call TO authenticity: scary as heck, sure, but ultimately the way to real freedom and real life. Who wants to be trapped in an endless game of keeping up appearances? Who really wants to look good on the outside but be rotted and hollow within?

“Authenticity” has become a buzzword in our culture and sometimes it’s actually used as a code word for staying loud-and-proud in our mess instead of making any effort to get out of it. Of course, being willing to squat in the mud all day has nothing to do with being authentic. Despite the frequent caricature, Jesus didn’t blast the Pharisees because they tried to live holy lives; he blasted them because they were hypocrites.

Because they were fakes: people who pretended to virtues, beliefs, and principles they did not actually possess.

Jesus called them “white-washed sepulches, full of dead men’s bones.”

Jesus calls us both to authenticity and to holiness; he calls us to climb upward, all the while being honest with ourselves and others about our humanity and our need.

He’s not afraid of the “real you.”

In fact, he sees a lot of value in the real you, value he will go to great lengths to draw out. The fake you, he doesn’t care for.

Hypocrisy is a very natural state for us humans. We naturally hide ourselves and put on the face we think others want to see.

Jesus invites us to cast off that mask and come into the light.

“Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and they hid themselves from the LORD God among the trees of the garden. So the LORD God called out to the man and said to him, ‘Where are you?'” (Genesis 3:8)

When Adam and Eve stumbled out of the trees in shame, God’s response was to cover them and begin the process of redemption.

When the tax collector exposed his heart as it was — raw and sinful and helpless — God’s response was compassion, mercy that justified the man and exalted him.

The worst thing about hypocrisy is that if we insist on staying behind the mask, we keep ourselves from the One who loves the person under there and wants to set us free.

The best thing about authenticity? It’s discovering how much we are truly loved.

green tree photo

Sci-Fi Writing Contest

Hey writing friends! I received an e-mail about this contest the other day and thought you might be interested. Check it out, and if it looks like a good fit for you, send in your sci-fi stories! There are some great prizes, including a free copy of Scrivener (which I’ve never used, but which many writers swear by).

Inkitt’s latest Science Fiction writing contest “Beyond Time” is now open for submissions!

beyond_timeInkitt is a free writing platform that aims to help writers achieve their fullest potential. On June 22nd the site launched a new Science Fiction writing contest:

Beyond Time
Submit your most imaginative and fantastic Science Fiction stories! Take your readers on a journey; ride a spaceship, explore an extraterrestrial universe, travel through time – the possibilities are endless and the universe is yours. Be spellbinding, be world altering, and let your imagination run free.

Contest guidelines
Authors will retain all rights to any and all works submitted in the contest.

Original stories of any length are accepted.

Entries must be posted on the Inkitt contest page to be considered eligible.

The contest opens on June 22th and closes on July 27th.

The contest is completely free to enter.

The top 10% based on reader votes get the chance to be picked by the Inkitt staff for 1st, 2nd and 3rd prize.

All entrants will have the chance to show their work to a rapidly growing community of authors and readers hungry for high-quality fiction.

Submit your stories here: http://inkitt.com/beyondtime