October 29, 2020

Raspberry Wars–Remaining Fruit


I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit … John 15:5 NIV

You did not choose Me, but I chose you, that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain … John 15:16 NAS

I’d been working at my raspberry patch three or four seasons when the fruit began to be abundant enough to consider what I might do besides serving it fresh for breakfast in the mornings. Besides, it was a bit dismal having done all that work only to demolish the yield with a few thoughtless bites or have the ripe berries turn to mush overnight when no one ate them. Our household was beginning to take for granted our daily manna from the garden just as the Israelites did in the desert.

What to do? What to do? Someone suggested I make raspberry jam. Great idea. I can do that. Or so I thought. As it turned out, I had to tool up and study up. I sent away for a time-tested book on canning and preserving and began to scour garage sales for equipment. The pickings were slim, however, and I finally had to invest a few dollars. Having assembled what I needed, I made a study of preserving processes and almost scared myself out of doing anything when I read about botulism. What if I accidentally poisoned my family?

As it turned out, the fruit I was preserving wasn’t easily ‘botulized’ and the process was one of the simpler ones. At that point, my maximum yield per day was barely enough to make one batch of jam. Setting up all the boiling pots on my stove each day and sanitizing the jars was hardly worth it. Oh, this is too frustrating, I thought. There’s got to be a better way.


I’m not sure where I came up with the idea, but I eventually decided to harvest my fruit throughout the season, freeze it and then make the jam all at once. Plucking the berries each morning, I washed, sorted and dried them, keeping a few to eat and froze the rest. The stockpile in my freezer grew little by little until it was a small mountain.

It worked. Rather, I should say I worked – making jam for two days straight at the end of the season. Batch after batch I processed until my freezer was relieved of a whole summer of raspberries and transferred into a couple of hundred glass jars lined up in my kitchen showing off their jewel-red contents.

For the first time, the fruits of my labor were visible all in one place and they were beautiful. Perhaps what I felt was inordinate relative to the result. It wasn’t pride exactly – more like pleasure. Both abundant and lasting, the jam was something my family and friends could enjoy in the coming cold months. Now it is longstanding tradition that the people I give my jam to return the empty jars and eagerly await the new season’s vintage.

For me, coming to the end of harvest and having my fruit preserved is a tiny taste of what I think God must enjoy when we have lasted our seasons, overcome the onslaught of attacks, withstood painful pruning, thrived within his garden and born the fruit he spoke into our lives when he knew us before the foundation of the world.

Getting newly planted raspberry canes through all the necessary steps to abundant fruitfulness and preservation isn’t easy. The gardener works and the plants endure. Even the preservation is laborious for the preserver and extreme for the fruit. There is picking, washing, freezing, sweetening and processing under extreme heat and pressure, but when it is over the life that was in the plant remains preserved to give sustenance in future days.

Paul described the process for Christians as follows: “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair, persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body.” (2 Corinthians 4:7-11)

At times, it seems we endure a lot, but our remaining fruit is the life of Jesus Christ manifested in our human bodies. Paul refers to it as treasure and it comes only when we are pressed, perplexed, persecuted and struck down. After one or two seasons, we get fruit, but there is something even more desirable – the remaining fruit of a remaining plant.

One could argue that a single season in the garden may be long enough for a plant to experience the full spectrum of difficulties that nature can hurl at it. As previously noted, there are storms, bugs, birds, bunnies, disease, drought and decay. Nevertheless, I develop a particular fondness for the plants that faithfully stand the test of time throughout many seasons. I’ve noticed that for the most part, those are the ones whose fruit gets ever sweeter and I want a handful of them in every batch of jam I make.  I treasure those berries because I know what’s coming.

Each season, the inevitable takes place in my garden. One or two of my plants spend themselves and die. Usually I see it well before the end. The plant seems smaller, frailer and not quite so green. At first it begins to lean, then no amount of encouragement will keep it upright. Eventually lying prostrate on the ground, it expends every bit of its dying energy bearing fruit.  Although not so big the plant produces berries that are abundant and sweet — the sweetest in the garden.

So it is with a few of the older Christ followers I know. Granted, they are somewhat rare. Human nature dictates that we spend ourselves in self-preservation. God’s economy is upside down and backward to ours. Jesus promises the following, “Whoever tries to keep his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it” Luke 17:33.

A man I know has been ministering for 70 years. He started telling others about Christ on street corners at age 15. He eventually went to seminary and was a pastor for 50 years. Now ‘retired,’ Tom is frequently missing from his usual spot in the congregation at my church. That’s because he travels the world – not for fun or relaxation, but to advance God’s kingdom. This 85-year-old man regularly heads into remote areas via bush plane or elephant to evaluate needs for pastoral training centers.

Not long ago, he returned from Algeria with an ambitious plan. Dividing the country into ten regions, he produced blueprints to build a training center in each one. He only needed to raise $100,000 apiece. He set out on a busy speaking schedule to do just that. The last I heard, he’d met his goal and was starting in on a new project.

I guess it would be wrong to imply he might be in the last one or two of his seasons. Tom is so energetic that he puts the much younger ones around him to shame. My point is that he is a man who has never given up. He inspires me with more than energy. His life is one that has always been poured out to God. Even in advanced age, he has declined a place in front of the television or in a golf cart. His is an upside down life.

Then I think of Adele, a fiery red head even in her eighties. Tiny, not over five feet, she lost a husband early in her marriage, one of her sons to a heart attack on a high school football field and survived a couple of bouts of cancer. We used to sit in Sunday school class together and discuss theology. One day I said, “Adele, I think you’re Arminian.”

“Oh no, honey,” she said. “I’m Syrian and Syrians don’t get along with Armenians at all.”

Adele could be a bit feisty, but I think that had something to do with her longevity. She also had another quality I won’t forget and hope to be accused of one day when I’m old. Adele knew how to get her praise on.

I never saw her with out a smile. I never heard her open her mouth without some reference to God’s goodness. I never met with her that she didn’t challenge, encourage, rebuke, exhort or edify with her vast repertoire of memorized Scripture. Once she saw me moping over something and sang to me. “Put on a garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; lift up your voice to God …” She even danced for me. Adele was not a Baptist.

Pain in one of her shoulders eventually turned her into a one-armed worshipper on Sundays. We heard from her son that the cancer she’d beaten several years ago had revived itself in her bones and was causing her much pain. In the months that followed, she didn’t stop bringing her psalms and hymns and spiritual songs wherever she went. She didn’t stop praising God at every opportunity. She didn’t even stop smiling.

One thing she never did was say she was sick or had cancer. Every time I asked her how she was doing she’d say, “I’m being healed,” a backward declaration in light of her reality. Adele was a smart woman, not given to ignoring truth. There was no naiveté about her. She was merely stating the truth of her eternity. I’m told that her death at home, surrounded by family was sweet and peaceful, a reflection of her confidence and the fruit of Christ’s life in her.

Not long ago, I met a man whose every cell breathed Christ to me. Although well into his seventies, he is also living an upside down life. Despite a shock of white hair, he dresses like a teenager in zip-up hoodies and high-tops. His daily run keeps him thin and fit. There is an odd mix in his countenance and demeanor – the wisdom of seven decades coupled with a freshness that springs up internally. He has the river of life flowing through him and the result is a vibrancy and youthfulness that is more than physical.

His connection to the vine seems to defy not only the physical effects of time, but also the childhood horrors that by all rights should have left him scarred, cynical and bitter. Instead, I was impressed by his wisdom, kindness and a spirit that made me feel not quite so homesick for heaven. Reasoning with human logic, it was something that didn’t make sense.

You see, I discovered that the hearing aids he wore were necessitated by vicious childhood beatings. He’d also experienced the trauma of repeated sexual abuse at the hands of one who was supposed to care for him. More tragic events followed him into his adult years. Yet, this man has spent his life ministering lovingly as a missionary and pastor. Now that he has made his painful childhood public, new opportunities for ministry have arisen and he has seized upon them.

Connection to the vine has propelled each of these aged Christ followers toward the kingdom with a mighty burst of energy and abundant fruitfulness. The living God in them has superseded age, apathy and affliction. From one comes perseverance. One demonstrates praise and the other a purpose forged in the fires of suffering.

In an upside down way, willingness to lose their lives for Christ’s sake has instead preserved them. What they willingly gave up was returned to them multiplied. It is the great exchange – mortal human lives for the eternal, infinite life of Christ, preserved not only for the givers, but for those of us who witness the giving.

For each of us, that is God’s call – to live abandoned to him and to bear the fruit that will remain.

Comments

  1. Are you sure your friend wasn’t Assyrian?

    • Lisa Dye says

      I’m just repeating what she said. However, a typo got in this post that wasn’t in my original document. I told Adele I thought she was Arminian based on a theological discussion we were having. She thought I meant Armenian. That’s what made it a funny moment. I guess you had to be there. Anyway, the fact that my Arminian got changed to Armenian will be confusing. Sorry about that.

      • My bad. As I edited this, I payed too close attention to the red squiggly line. It is now fixed so the joke can go forward. Reminds me of when my friend Rick Marschall was editor of Peanuts, the Charles Schulz cartoon. He once fixed what he thought was a mistake. It wasn’t, and he never touched another line in the cartoon ever. Made his job as editor so much easier…

        Sorry, Lisa! (Editing your posts just became so much easier…!)

  2. Nice post, Lisa, thank you.

    I’ve so often desired to learn how to make my own jam given store bought has so much sugar in them and I need to keep mine in check. The picture of your jam looks so good it’s mouth watering! Reading the process you need to go through, from growing the fruit to the final product, and the so perfect analogy you made in reference to our life’s journey, I found myself hearing the word “seasons” somewhat louder than all the others…. The seasons for the fruit are somewhat consistent in length and realities endured. True, the weather, insects, disease etc., all have an impact on that reality and change from season to season. Yet, still there is with all of that some consistency. So I thought, “dear Lord, why couldn’t you let our seasons be more like those of the raspberries…”

    One season for us can last a year , 2 years, 5 years…… and rarely, but occasionally, last but a few months…..”ouch” I said to myself. Pruning can be continually part of our season, as can drought, and the bugs and weeds (that analogy could be a book in itself…) Now and again some sweet refreshing fertilizer with the living waters of grace will be applied….then back to the reality of our season.

    I have seen the Lord work incredible wonders in my soul and that of others during such times. I wonder, however, if God has “jars of preserves” from the fruit of our lives that He is waiting to share with us….at least then I won’t have to worry about my blood sugar….

    • Lisa Dye says

      I think some of those ‘preserves’ come in the form of ministry that continues even after a Christ follower has left the earth. So many times I’ve read a passage in a book that ministers to me. Watchman Nee is a personal favorite. At the moment, I’m finishing Michael Spencer’s book and am so impressed by his passion and desire to speak truth. His ministry is preserved in what he started here at Internet Monk and in all his writings.

  3. Excellent post, Lisa. Thanks.

  4. Rita Bair says

    “In an upside down way, willingness to lose their lives for Christ’s sake has instead preserved them. What they willingly gave up was returned to them multiplied. It is the great exchange – mortal human lives for the eternal, infinite life of Christ, preserved not only for the givers, but for those of us who witness the giving.”
    It’s the ‘upsidedown-ness’ of following Christ that can be so difficult for some folks to understand. What a nice way of putting it – thank you, Lisa, for your insightful writing!

  5. These “older” followers of Christ are an inspiration to all of us and a challenge to never stop living in the vine and letting God produce fruit in us.

  6. Reading about these simple saints fills me with the same sense I have when I’m standing amongst the Giant Sequoias in the High Sierras.

  7. Good post.

  8. Lisa,

    I just wanted to say that I really enjoyed this series, and am looking forward to more of your writing.