The Route to Fruit

By Cailey Morgan

The theme of CBWC’s upcoming Banff Pastors Conference is Life on the Vine. I find this tagline quite fitting, as John 15 was the focus of study at my church recently. Man, what a gutwrencher!

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Not only is this teaching of Jesus full of beautiful imagery, but His simple if/then invitations have poked and prodded me in ways I’d rather not have to deal with. My Mission Group has helped me process by examining the chapter together piece-by-piece but also in the context of the broader Scriptural narrative and of our own lived experience. Even with the Group’s help, though, I still found verse 5 to be particularly prickly:

I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.

In some ways, this instruction from Christ is extremely straightforward. I’m the Cord; you’re the bulb. As long as we stay entwined, there will be light in and through you. But without Me–your Source–you’ll be dark and useless (See Ephesians 5:8-13 for the basis of this paraphrase). Do A, and B will happen. Open invitation; simple response; clear outcomes. Remaining = fruit.

But in other ways, I got so tripped up. Take for instance that word remain. My initial reaction to the concept of remaining–or abiding as other translations say–was that it sounds kind of passive and maybe even a bit boring. It would seem Jesus is presenting us a lose-lose situation: either remain (which sounds boring), or go apart (where “you can do nothing.” Talk about even more boring!). However, through yet another processing session with my Group, I came to see the possibility that I’ve got this whole thing upside-down.

Staying Put in the Current

What if my understanding of abiding was less like a passive lack of movement and more like the labour of a fish in a raging river? My life is so easily pulled along in the currents of a culture that is not only yanking me away from Christ’s Kingdom way that I am called to walk, but also panders to my short attention span, my laziness, my habit of watching non-existent people’s problems explode on a screen rather than dealing with my own, my pursuit of self-important busyness, and my robust case of millennial individualistic egomania that lets me believe I am so special that I accomplish anything I put my mind to (and all by myself, might I add). For this fish that is me, the act of actually remaining, abiding in the true Christ-like life that comes from the Vine, facing upstream and staying put as the river pulls past, takes infinitely more effort and intentionality than passively letting the water take me where it may.

Ok, we’ve gotten past presumptions of boringness to an active picture of remaining. But my next hangup came with the fact that my new definition of remaining sounds like a life of lonely and impossible striving. Kind of like religion for the sake of religion. But thankfully, at that point I had not considered the rest of the characters in this story.

Not Alone in the River

Abiding in Christ is not passive (Ephesians 6:10-17 and Colossians 3:12-13), or easy (John 16:33), or boring (John 10:10). And it’s also not one-sided. I’m not alone in this river. The Message version of John 14:4 suggests that Jesus was saying “Live in me. Make your home in me just as I do in you.” As we learn to cling to the Vine, to our Source of life, love, identity and purpose, He is clinging right back.

And how is it that we actually do remain? John 15:9-10 reminds us that we remain in His love by keeping His commands. Thankfully, He spells out what He means by “commands” in verse 17:

My command is this: Love each other.

So Lord, what you’re saying is this: You give me Your love so that I can love others as a way for them to receive Your love while I show You my love by obeying Your command to love others as they love You by loving me. Huh? Sounds like these Vine and branches are a big, tangled, intertwined mess, maybe like the structured-organic Kingdom family I wrote about last time.

My prayer for all of us as we seek to abide in the Vine is that we would have the patience and endurance to bear much fruit:

Oh, the joys of those who do not
follow the advice of the wicked,
or stand around with sinners,
or join in with mockers.

But they delight in the law of the Lord,
meditating on it day and night.

They are like trees planted along the riverbank,
bearing fruit each season.
Their leaves never wither,
and they prosper in all they do…

In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks
that the Lord has planted for his own glory (Psalm 1:1-3, Isaiah 61:3).

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A Renovation Reflection

By Cailey Morgan

My husband and I just bought a home. It’s what many would refer to as a “fixer-upper.” But we’re 3 back-breaking weeks and 750 kilograms of demolition waste into the overhaul of our kitchen and living area, and we’re starting to see the light.

See? Back-breaking!

See? Back-breaking!

No longer a brass-embellished shrine to 1981, our dining room is now a dusty plywood box furnished with a ladder and a pile of old lightbulbs. That’s what I call potential!

I’d like to think that we bought our place because we saw the opportunity to offer hospitality and love our community. But somewhere amidst the paint samples, Rona trips and appliance deliveries, this whole renovation project became about us again. Our measuring stick became the “Wow” factor, and we very quickly lost sight of why we had purchased the property to begin with.

We started deciding what we need based on whether it would impress people instead of whether we can use it to bless people.

And it made me think of how we sometimes behave as God’s people. Consider Peter’s exhortation in his letter to the Christian exiles:

Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight (1 Peter 3:3-4).

Now, I know Peter was talking to literal wives here, and I’m applying it more broadly to God’s Bride, us. But the issue is the same: humans like having the attention. We strive for recognition from others in ways that distract from the only Person truly worthy of praise.

So how do we take Peter’s advice seriously? When it comes to my renovation dilemma, it’s reasonably easy. We can choose simple furnishings that make people feel at home rather than envious. The people next door don’t know us yet, so we have the perfect opportunity to introduce ourselves, and the space to grow our reputation as hospitable, loving, gentle-spirited neighbours. But what about as the Church?

What was once, and will soon again be, a kitchen.

What was once, and will soon again be, a kitchen.

I’m as guilty as the next person of accepting and proliferating a Christian culture that thinks worship necessitates a drum kit and evangelism means a fancy website with sermons on podcast. Is that a stigma we can solve with a coat of paint?

Everything we do and build and say as God’s people needs to be a funnel directing eyes towards Christ. We’ll never be hip enough and our buildings and Twitter follower lists will never be impressive enough to draw people to God. Jesus’ life in us is the most glorious thing about us, so we need to have the humility to get out of the way and let Him do the shining.

Maybe I should stop mixing metaphors here, but what fancy backsplash in your congregation is distracting from worship? What trophy shelf in my church makes too much of our accomplishments rather than God’s goodness? What colour-coordinated curtains block the view of the broken people outside?

Isaiah says that “as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you (Isaiah 62:5). I long for us to be that Bride—the one Christ is proud to come home to. How do we get there? Please share your thoughts below.