From “The Lizard Lounge” Series on I Am the Clay
It’s been a rainy summer here at the “Lizard Lounge.” (If you’re new to “I Am the Clay,” take a second and follow that link to find out where that name came from. You can also click here for the whole series.) That’s good, though, as all that free stuff means I don’t have to pay the city for it. While I didn’t plant vegetables this year, I did explore fruit-i-culture; more specifically, the Persea americana, commonly known as the avocado. In the process, I learned a lot about fruit bearing, both botanical and spiritual.
Who knew my earthly home could teach me so much about the journey toward my heavenly one…?
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Avocado: you either love it or you loathe it. While there’s typically very little in-betweenism when it comes to one’s relationship with avocado, I definitely fall into that camp. To me, it doesn’t have much taste at all, kind of like eating mushy thick green air. However, I eat it all the time.
All. The. Time.
‘Cause it’s embarrassingly nutritious.
If Jesus had passed out slices of avocado along with the loaves and fishes, those five thousand people He fed would have also gotten:
- a boost to their immune system
- a drop in their high blood pressure
- a little extra help fighting off 1st century cancer. (And possibly more, since Jesus would have been the one slicing it up.)
The fat it contains—and it does contain a fair amount—is monounsaturated fat, the good kind. (Never thought I would use “fat” and “good” in the same sentence.) Your cholesterol levels will thank you.
I always include a side of guacamole (which is just squished up avocado and spices) with my burrito bowl at Chipotle. All that cool green creaminess keeps any tongue-scorching hot sauce—in which I typically drown my south-of-the-border menu choices—on an even keel.
When I buy avocados at the grocery, though, it’s generally to add to smoothies. Avocado can be tossed into the blender with any flavor concoction within the smoothie milieu without affecting the taste, while still imbuing that smoothie with a profusion of pure power.
In short, it’s the super hero of the berry set. (Yep—avocado is a berry.)
In case you’ve never cut into one, avocados have a pretty big pit, which I typically just toss in the garbage. (Avocado pits are not at all edible. David could have slewed Goliath with one.) However, one day I stumbled across a YouTube video that showed how to grow an avocado tree from a pit. (I just took a little creative license there—one doesn’t just “stumble” across avocado-culture videos on YouTube. Funny cat videos, UFO sightings, and videos proving that the earth is flat, yes; avocado-culture, no. You gotta hunt that stuff down.)
It’s a pretty simple process that basically consists of suspending the avocado pit in a glass of water using toothpicks and just letting it do its Creator-ordained thang. After what seems like an eternity, the bottom of the pit will split open and a root will start to snake its way down. Not long after, the top of the pit will follow suit and a tendril of stalk will peak out and begin reaching toward the heavens like Jacob’s ladder, soon to be followed by leaves, more stalk, more leaves, more stalk, more leaves, lather, rinse, repeat.
I find the wonder of botanical avocado life to be quite fascinating (I don’t got a lot else goin’ on). Of course, just like a good chocolate chip cookie, one is never enough, so I soon had two glasses bedecked with tree-in-training avocado pits resting on rafts of toothpicks, sucking up water.
Once the roots got too big for the confines of a water glass and the fast-becoming-a-tree parts threatened to topple the twin assemblages off the window sill, I planted them in pots and put them outside. While some of my gardening talents leave a lot to be desired (despite my Southern heritage), I apparently rock at avocado raising, as currently they’re both about three feet tall.
Here’s the deal, though—avocado trees grown from seed here in the colonies are pretty much just for show. From everything I’ve read, the chance of them actually bearing fruit are pretty slim. (While having two of them should help with cross-pollination, it could still take years for them to yield their avocadoage, probably more than I have left).
Still, it’s fun to watch. After all, growing fruit trees that won’t bear fruit is a harmless enough diversion whose only cost was enough Dawn dishwashing liquid to wash two glasses. However, a Christian who fails to bear spiritual “fruit?” That’s a whole other matter—and one that comes with a much higher price tag.
What Is Spiritual Fruit?
Fruit-bearing analogies are peppered throughout the New Testament, most often by Jesus. His actual in-person ministry here on earth only lasted about three years, hardly enough time to find office space and set up a nonprofit, much less do any wide-spread one-on-one evangelizing. So in the time He had available, He made sure those who were—and would become—His followers knew what their job description was to be: hit the streets (or the phone or the internet or the coffee machine at work) and spread the good news, leading others to become His followers.
In other words, bear fruit.
Because just as botanical fruit indicates that the tree is alive and functioning as God intended, spiritual fruit indicates that a Christian is alive and functioning as God intended. Both types of fruit can also provide nourishment: one for sustaining the physical body and the other for sustaining the body of Christ—the Church.
How do I know this? The Bible tells me so. Let’s look…
Just a Little Off the Top
Pruning fruit trees is the commonly understood way to encourage more and better fruit. It exposes the tree to more light, which improves the quality of the fruit and reduces the risk of disease, and lets the more mature branches that can support future fruit thrive.
So when Jesus says, in this beautiful analogy of spiritual fruit-bearing…
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. John 15:1-2 NIV
…He knew what He was talking about. “Pruning” a Christian can include more responsibility and opportunities to serve, which can result in greater joy and fellowship with the Lord than you ever thought possible. (If, like me, you’re getting a visual of being “pruned” and it doesn’t seem like something you want to sign up for, that’s OK. It’s like pulling a Band-Aid off—it only hurts for little while…)
Obviously, any weak branches that are pruned and removed from the tree—whether botanical or spiritual—will no longer thrive. And that’s good, of course. The strong branches, though? Fruit by the bushel. Jesus goes on to talk about this, too:
…No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. John 15:4 NIV
So if you truly want to bear fruit, stick with the true vine.
Good Fruit/Bad Fruit
Here is where that high price to be paid for not bearing fruit comes into play:
Every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit…Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Matthew 7:17,19 NIV
Jesus doesn’t beat around the burning bush here—trees that don’t bear good fruit will find themselves in the hot seat, so to speak. These “bad trees” He’s talking about are false prophets who are only in ministry for personal gain, using people and leading them away from the truth of the real gospel by preaching a false one. Peter calls a spade a spade when talking about these false teachers:
In their greed these teachers will exploit you with stories they have made up. 2 Peter 2:3 NIV
Rather than calling out names of some of those false teachers here, let me just say that you can’t win God’s favor by giving money to someone’s ministry or through your good works; nor can you con God into making you prosperous by “naming it and claiming it.” Any good thing from the Lord—especially our salvation—is due purely to His amazing grace (just like the Apostle Paul and the old hymn says):
It is by grace you have been saved, through faith…not by works, so that no one can boast. Ephesians 2:8-9 NIV (excerpts; holy boldness mine)
By all means give to support ministries; that’s a wonderful way to bear spiritual fruit. But do so to further the gospel—not to buy someone a private jet or to try and obligate God to slip a little somethin’ somethin’ in your paycheck…
Make it Last
Finally, I’m all into the eternity piece of our spiritual benefits package these days (here’s a good read about that), and John’s gospel has one of my favorite fruit-bearing quotes from Jesus that speaks to that. Jesus flat-out says that, as Christians…
“…I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last.” John 15:16 NIV
(I bolded a few words there, but I’m thinking that if He could have edited the Bible, Jesus would have put those same words in bold. I guess, though, it would have to be bold and red.)
Jesus was talking about having an impact on the people and the world around us, an impact that wouldn’t end when this life is over—for example, bearing fruit by leading someone to faith in Christ. An individual who becomes a Christian after you or I share the gospel with them? Definitely “fruit that will last.”
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In Guatemala, where I go on a mission trip each year to build houses, tropical fruit trees, like bananas and avocados, are everywhere. And down there, they aren’t just for show—they bear tons of the sweetest fruit. And it’s not uncommon at all for an avocado to come sailing down out of one of the trees and make the most awful noise hitting the top of a tin roof—or, even more fun, the top of someone’s head.
While it may never happen, that’s my wish for my home-grown avocado trees—I want so many avocados they’re just pelting me on the head. But even more than that, I want to bear so much spiritual fruit that it’s also pelting me on the head, fruit in the form of changed hearts and lives and more folks to hang out with in eternity.
That sort of pelting would probably hurt a little more; but—unlike the avocados—it can definitely happen. Plus, in the end, it would be infinitely more sweet.
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