Christmas doesn’t have to be stressful

Nothing is more stressful than the holiday season. Don’t get me wrong. Christmas is my favorite time of year, but it’s also when a lot of stuff happens. A lot of things go wrong. A lot of people come to visit. A lot of things need to get done. And when you add all that up, it can amount to a heaping helping of stress and anxiety.

But the more Christmases I live through, the more I learn that my stress and anxiety during the holiday season doesn’t stem from family and friends visiting or expectations of others or needing to bake and cook and clean. No, anything negative I experience happens because I’ve got my focus in the wrong place.

christmas-xmas-santa-claus-adventToday’s verse is John 15:4.

Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me.

The world is complicated and stressful without the hustle and bustle of the holidays, and it’s always a temptation to step away from God’s way and do things ourselves. But when we try to accomplish anything in our own strength, we will ultimately fail.

Like a branch can’t produce fruit if it’s severed from the tree, a Christ-follower can’t accomplish much without God’s power in his or her life. And that relates to everything we do. At our jobs. In our homes. In our churches. Among our families.

So as you gather with family and friends today and tomorrow, don’t let stress dictate how you feel. Don’t let the craziness of the season tempt you away from remembering what it’s all about.

Christmas is about Jesus. It’s the day He came to save us from our sins. It’s the day God kept His promise. Who cares if the pie burns or if your in-laws are being rude? So what if you couldn’t get the exact present you wanted? Whatever is bothering you today, shelf it. Let it go. Instead, focus on what really matters, and find your strength and patience in Christ’s love and grace.

It’s a stressful time of year, but it doesn’t have to be. With God, anything is possible. And if you’re a Christ-follower, you have free access to His power, and God is just waiting for you to sit down at His table.

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Pear growing on the tree - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Asking for better fruit

Summer is hot. Yes, that’s probably a complaint, but I’m not a hot weather type of person. And this weather has been remarkably uncomfortable. Better than last year, I’ll admit because it’s a bit drier. But still — not much fun.

Something about the heat just makes me feel generally unproductive. All I really want to do is stretch out with a cold iced tea and write a book. But it’s rare for life to accommodate.

Pear growing on the tree - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Pear growing on the tree – Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Colossians 1:10.

Then the way you live will always honor and please the Lord, and your lives will produce every kind of good fruit. All the while, you will grow as you learn to know God better and better.

Producing Fruit is one of those phrases that gets used in the church and in religious circles a lot. It used to kind of creep me out when I was little because I couldn’t put the concept of a tree growing fruit on its branches out of my mind, and I think some part of me expected that doing things for God might make apples pop out of my fingers.

But producing fruit for God is more like helping other people come to know Him. Other than bringing praise to God and glorifying Him with our lives, that’s why we’re here. I think Christians forget that sometimes. We need to be telling as many people as we can about who God is and about what He’s done in our lives. Is it up to us if they choose not to believe? No. But it’s our responsibility to tell them.

Another way to produce fruit for God is to encourage other believers. Life is hard, like summers are long, and it’s easy to get discouraged. And if you, as a Christian, can help another Christian to persevere through a difficult season or to get back on the road after they’ve fallen off, that is an accomplishment that will bring glory to God.

This verse is interesting to me, though, because it sounds very much like a process. First, we have to live in a way that will always honor and please the Lord. And as we live that way, our lives will produce every kind of good fruit (not just one kind).

So how do we know how to live in a way that will honor and please the Lord?

Well, notice how this verse starts with the word then? That indicates that this verse follows a statement and that it’s not a standalone verse but a summary of something that’s already been said. So what do the rest of the verses in this chapter say?

This passage comes from Colossians 1:3-14, which is the first chapter in a letter Paul wrote to the Church at Colossi. Like the rest of the epistles, it opens with Paul introducing himself. But in this case, it also identifies who first told the Church about God (a man named Epaphras (Col 1:7). And it’s fascinating to me that Paul tells the Church at Colossi that he has been praying for them constantly (Col 1:9). Ever since he heard about them, Paul started praying for them, and according to the Amplified translation, he hadn’t “ceased to pray and make special requests” for them.

What was he asking?

…[asking] that you may be filled with the full (deep and clear) knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom [in comprehensive insight into the ways and purposes of God] and in understanding and discernment of spiritual things —

That’s from the Amplified Version. Here it is in NLT:

We ask God to give you complete knowledge of his will and to give you spiritual wisdom and understanding. Then the way you live will always honor and please the Lord, …

Complete knowledge of his will and spiritual wisdom and understanding — that’s what we need to have if we’re going to live lives that honor and please God. Sounds like a tall order to me. How do you get those?

Well, I suggest doing what Paul did. Ask for them.

Because if you can obtain an understanding of God’s will and an understanding of God’s wisdom, knowing how to live in a way that pleases God will be second nature to you. And if living to please God is second nature, producing fruit for God will be effortless.

And there’s a bonus: you won’t just produce fruit; you will continue to grow as a person, as a believer. And the more you grow, the better you’ll get to know God.

Colossians 1:13-14 (The Message)

God rescued us from dead-end alleys and dark dungeons. He’s set us up in the kingdom of the Son he loves so much, the Son who got us out of the pit we were in, got rid of the sins we were doomed to keep repeating.

How do people produce fruit?

One of the biggest buzzwords in the church is “Fruit.” Christians talk about Fruit all the time, whether they’re talking about the Fruit of the Spirit or the Fruit of someone’s life or whatever. There’s even a verse in Scripture that basically says you can identify a true believer by the Fruit their life produces.

Okay, so if you don’t hang out in churches very much, what on earth does that mean? Obviously it’s not a literal statement because people don’t grow fruit, not like a tree does. Imagine walking around with apples hanging off your arms. . . .

Fruit can be the produce you buy in the store that was grown on a tree or a vine. Yes. But Fruit also means the results or product of someone’s efforts. Anything produced or accrued. A return or a profit.

So the Fruit of good study habits is good grades. The Fruit of careful spending is a larger bank account balance. Fruit is anything that is produced with effort.

So to a Christian, Fruit is going to be people they have led to Christ. Or disciples they have trained. Or ministries under their purview. Or people’s lives they have affected.

But here is the question this morning. How do we produce fruit?

See, fruit trees are designed to produce fruit. That’s what they were created to do, but apple trees have to produce apples. Orange trees have to produce oranges. You’re not going to get plums off an oak tree. Just like you’re not going to get pears off an elm. Only certain kinds of trees produce Fruit.

All people are designed to produce fruit but in a different way.

Fruit trees are fickle. They have to have everything just right or they don’t produce. And, granted, it depends on the type of tree. It depends on your climate. It depends on how old the trees are. There are a lot of contributing factors. And most of the time, if you just leave a fruit tree alone, it isn’t going to give the best harvest every time. Sometimes it may not provide a harvest at all. But if you work at it, if you keep the limbs pruned, and the weather obeys, and you fertilize and you do what you can to keep the birds and the pests away, you’ll get a great harvest.

So how do people produce fruit? Well, people will produce fruit if left alone. It’s what people are designed to do. But the fruit may not be any good.

We had an apricot harvest one year after it had rained too much. And even though there were plenty of apricots, none of them were edible. They had no taste, no flavor, and most of them had split wide open because of too much rain.

People on their own will produce fruit, but none of it will be of any importance. It might be a high paying job or a good career or a bonus or a nice house or a fast car. But what good are any of those things? None of them last. Most of the break. All of them will vanish when the world ends.

If you want to produce lasting fruit, you have to be plugged into the source. Trees can’t produce fruit unless they’re planted in good ground. It’s the same with people.

People aren’t designed to be fruit trees. People are designed to be the branches of a fruit tree.

Today’s verse is John 15:5.

 5 “Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.

This is what we need to remember today, Christians. We’re not self-sufficient. And if we want our lives to mean something — if we want to produce fruit that will last into eternity — we need to be connected to Christ. And the beautiful part about being connected to Christ, is as long as you abide in Him, you can’t help but produce fruit.

That’s it. If you live and walk with Christ, your life will bear eternal fruit, and you won’t have done anything. At least, it won’t feel like you’ve done anything. It will just happen.

Now, there will be times when you will work to achieve something for Christ. And it will be hard work. And there will be challenges. And there will be days when it doesn’t feel like you’re accomplishing anything, but in the end, the harvest will be bigger and you’ll be stronger for it.

But even in a harvest where you work your hardest, fruit isn’t going to come just because you worked hard. Lasting fruit only comes through connection with Christ. You’re not going to produce it on your own, no matter how hard you work.

So don’t let your pride get in the way. Remember that real Fruit only comes through living and walking with Christ. Because apart from Christ, we can do nothing. We can scramble around, and we can do our best to make progress, but in the end, it will all be for nothing if Christ isn’t at the center.