Abiding...

vine with many branches

vine with many branches

It was almost 30 years ago now that I "discovered," as if for the first time, that I am a branch...a beloved one at that, but just a branch...in the Vine, the Father's true Vine, that is. And I love being a branch, because a branch doesn't have to be smart or strong.  All a branch has to do is what Jesus told His disciples just hours before His death on our behalf. And what is that something? Let's take a look as Jesus tenderly prepared His beloved disciples for the days ahead by following His walk through a vineyard on the way to Gethsemane.

Jesus to His disciples:

I am the true vine, and My Father is the keeper of the vineyard. ... Abide in Me, and I will abide in you. A branch cannot bear fruit if it is disconnected from the vine, and neither will you if you are not connected to Me.

I am the vine, and you are the branches. If you abide in Me and I in you, you will bear great fruit. Without Me, you will accomplish nothing. ... If you abide in Me and My voice abides in you, anything you ask will come to pass for you. Your abundant growth and your faithfulness as My followers will bring glory to the Father.

I have loved you as the Father has loved Me. Abide in My love. Follow My example in obeying the Father’s commandments and receiving His love. If you obey My commandments, you will stay in My love. I want you to know the delight I experience, to find ultimate satisfaction, which is why I am telling you all of this. John 15:1-17 VOICE

Abide...Jesus seems to love that word. Abide to bear fruit, abide to live in His love, abide to do anything.

What does it mean to abide?

My spiritual father Andrew Murray starts us off with reflections on abiding (click on his name for more about abiding):

On my part abiding is nothing but the acceptance of my position, the consent to be kept there, the surrender of faith to the strong Vine still to hold the feeble branch.

Found in my file from years gone by is this quote from Discipleship Journal, titled "Life as a Branch":

Perhaps one of the most profound things I am learning about abiding is that it never takes you out of the moment you are in ... Abiding is not primarily about cloister and quiet. The invitation to abide is the invitation to draw spiritual sustenance directly from its Supernatural Source amid the dailiness of life! ... If we abide, fruit happens! We do our part,  but there is a life that flows up through the roots and branches that is beyond our ability to understand or produce! Abiding is and always will be a moment by moment thing!

A young friend of my children, Tess Augustine, wrote recently on facebook about contentment, an aspect of abiding:

One of the most important lessons I've learned is the JOY of being content. That's not the same as settling or giving up. That's not forfeiting dreams or "goals" because of your current circumstances. It's about being QUIET in the waiting. It's about learning to cheer others on, as they are blessed and able to do more, and help more. It's about being okay when someone's impact, abilities, talents and purpose instead of trying to do it all and be it all. It's not possible to do EVERYTHING well. It's about being joyful and loving to people and being okay when they may not return the feelings It's about humility. It's about being thankful THIS VERY SECOND and not losing your mind over what everyone else is doing, saying, or gaining. Being content is a much deeper and better feeling than any material gains or accolades one could possibly acquire in this life. Take a deep breath; be thankful for what you have now and what you've had in the past. Be hopeful for the future, but not consumed with desire and comparison. And, for the love, just. be. you.

And last, the way I say it:

Don't fight your TODAY life! Embrace it, hug it to your breast, live it (from your union with your Lord, of course), and be thankful.

Are you abiding today, dear friend? Have you discovered the freeing realization that you are just a branch? A beloved one, but just a branch, a conduit for the Life of the Vine ... and that's all you ever have to be!

And our Lord's promise is that you WILL produce much fruit! Praise His holy Name!

fruitful vine

fruitful vine

It's all about LOVE...it always is!

As the Father has loved Me, so have I loved you. Abide in My love. John 15:9

When I had finally come full circle to the harvest at the vineyard, my waking thought became a word from the Lord:  Abide in My love.

I visualized the Lord on His way to Gethsemane with his disciples.  He had just showed His love for them by washing their feet at supper and sharing His last loving instructions and encouragements before He went to the Cross.

Then Jesus and His beloved followers walked together through a vineyard: 

I am the vine...you are the branches....whoever abides in me and I in him, bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing...Just as the Father has loved me, so have I loved you, abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. John 15:5, 9-10

I couldn't get away from it...abide in My love! Then I realized,

it's all about love.  It always is!

Deep in every human heart is the desire to love and be loved.  And it is also deep in the heart of God....because GOD IS LOVE!

So a harvest of fruitfulness is all about abiding in HIS LOVE!

WHOSE LOVE?

The Father's love for the Son.

As the Father has loved me... John 15:9a

For the Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing. John 5:20a

The Son's love for the Father.

I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father. John 14:31

I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. John 15:10

The Son's love for us.

...so have I loved you. Abide in my love. John 15:9b

...when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. John 13:1

Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. John 15:13

WHAT KIND OF LOVE?

The kind of love Jesus is talking about is agape...God's love, unconditional and  sacrificial.  It's the kind that esteems another more highly than himself.  It's a love that can express a oneness of will and purpose, because it's not primarily "touchy-feely" but rather a choice of the will.  And it's hard to find on this earth.

It's the love that moved the Father to send the Son to the Cross on our behalf.  It's the love that motivated Jesus to always do as His Father commanded.  It's the love that moved the heart of the Son to sacrifice Himself for us.

And it's this very love in which we are to abide!

HOW DO WE ABIDE IN HIS LOVE?

Jesus gives us the answer:

If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. John 15:10

So Jesus calls us to the same obedient life He lived...not by trying hard to live it, but by living with His obedient life.  Let me explain...

Because of the abiding life union of branch in the Vine, the obedient life of the Son of God courses through our spiritual veins.  Will we live from that from that Obedient Life?  That's always the question, isn't it?

WHAT ARE HIS COMMANDS?

They are those written in chapter and verse in the Scriptures...and on our hearts.

They are also the little Holy Spirit nudges that tell us to say a kind word or refrain from saying an unkind word....to pick up the phone and check on a friend...to stop and help someone in need instead of going our merry way.  Because in the context of John 13-17, the new command of the Lord is to love one another as He has loved us.

Or it may mean to stay away from a certain relationship or terminate one because it is ungodly and destructive.

His word may also come saying, "Put aside your own agenda and spend some time with Me, feeding on my Word and abiding in My love."

WHAT ARE THE RESULTS?

  • I can experience friendship with God. Jesus said that He has called us friends.  But friendships can't be just one-sided.  That's true in human relationships, and it's true in friendship with the Lord.  Jesus tells us that when we obey Him, we are His friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.  John 15:14
  • I can use His name with confidence in prayer to the Father. I can be a "name dropper" in the throne room of heaven :) If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you....whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.  John 15:7,16
  • I can be in on family secrets. This is the same perkthe Son has in relationship with the Father! No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.    John 15:15
  • I can bear fruit that remains. What I do and who I am can have eternal results because of my life union with Christ, abiding in His love. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples...I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide... John 15:8,16
  • I can experience exuberant joy :) These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.  John 15:11

Abide in His love, O beloved branch!

Because it's all about love...it always is!

For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. 1John 5:3

We love because He first loved us! 1John 4:19

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7z5cgajl1Kg&feature=related[/youtube]

Here is a moving presentation of the Gospel of John.  About 8:50 minutes into this segment, you will see John 15.  Rest, enjoy, and abide in His love.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=888_X8G3Yf0&feature=watch_response_rev[/youtube]

Kaden studying
Kaden the student

A project for Bible students:  Go through the epistle of 1 John and notice how the Elder Apostle John, years after writing his gospel, uses the same words and concepts...but with more depth.  Look for love, abide, keep His commandments...any others?

Ah! the Harvest...full-circle at the Vineyard

I am the vine; you are the branches. If you abide in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit... This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. John 15:5,8

Ah! the harvest!  The reason the Vineyard exists!
March 2011

When our daughter and family lived in southern California, I was able to observe grape vineyards in all major stages of growth -- from pruning to blooming with green fruit and leaves and finally to the harvest of ripe fruit followed by early stages of the "dying" process.

All of this to begin again the Cycle of Life!

I love the metaphor of the Vine & the Branches in John 15! It encourages me in my FAITH in the Father, the Vinedresser, Who is doing His work... and in the Vine, His glorious Son and Source of Life. It gives me HOPE for a harvest of Christ-likeness (Gal 5:22-23)...and good works (Eph 2:10) as I allow the Living Christ to live through my human life as a Branch in the Vine. And it inspires LOVE for the Lord of the Vineyard who tenderly cares for me, His branch and fruit-bearer.

This metaphor also reminds me that I'm part of something bigger than myself!

I'm one of many beloved branches, brothers and sisters in Christ, who live with the same Life and produce fruit -- the manifest Life of Christ, the Vine.  We are fruitful because of His Life flowing through our very beings.

In my next post, I'll share some reflections from John 15 on this final stage of growth -- the harvest.   But in the meantime, why not review the process by meditating on John 15:1-17 for yourself.

Here are some questions to get you started:

LIST the "persons" being talked about.  They are named in verses 1, 2, 8, 12, 13, & 15. Find the ACTION words...What does each "person" DO...and with what RESULTS? WHAT does it mean "to ABIDE"?  (Use a dictionary or think of what it might mean it the context) In WHOM/WHAT are we to ABIDE?  WHO/WHAT is to ABIDE in us? What has the Holy Spirit "highlighted" to your heart?  Make note of those verses and thoughts.

Then if you care to, take a look again at my meditations in their original form...

May you be blessed, as I have been, to reflect on the Father's work in and through His Son, the True Vine...and also His work in and through us, His branches in His Vine!

I'm looking forward to reading your thoughts and meditations on this rich passage:)  So please leave a comment, if you'd like!

Extending Grace to Ourselves and to Others: Reflections on Growth in the Vineyard

One year, I celebrated my June birthday with my daughter and family in California. To my delight, Beth took me to my vineyard for lunch at the lovely restaurant there.

On the way to the Temecula vineyard area, I was amazed to see how the former ruthlessly pruned vines were now covered with lush green leaves.  You may remember those stark vines in a former post.

That was just a little over 3 months before!

I wondered about the fruit though, because I do know that usually harvest season is in the fall.  So after lunch, we went to see if we could find my vine.  Beth lifted some leaves, and we saw a bunch of beautifully formed green (not ripe) grapes.

I was amazed at the transformation in such a short time.  However, the growth wasn't complete yet.  The promise of a harvest was evident, but it wasn't yet a harvest.

Those green grapes set my mind and heart thinking about growth and maturity and waiting on God, the Master Vinedresser who knows the process from the beginning to end.  He has promised,

He who began a good work in you will perfect it till the day of Christ Jesus. Phil 1:6

So often, I'm impatient with myself and others, wanting instant maturity or expecting "fruitfulness" before its time.

I think of Moses as a young man in Egypt.  The book of Acts says that he knew about his call to deliver Israel from Egyptian bondage and actually tried to do so before God's time.

When he was forty years old, it came into his heart to visit his brothers, the children of Israel.  And seeing one of them being wronged, he defended the oppressed man and avenged him by striking down the Egyptian.  He supposed that his brothers would understand that God was giving them salvation by his hand, but they did not understand. Acts 7:23-25 ESV

God still had work to do in Moses life to bring him to the end of himself.  Then he would be ready for the mature "fruit" of being God's instrument of deliverance.

It's the same way with us.  God the Father, our Gardener, promises that as we abide in Christ His True Vine, we will bear fruit in increasing measure:

...fruit,...more fruit,... much fruit. John 15:2,5.

He has us in His process!  The Father does whatever is necessary to bring our lives to fruition.

Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he lifts up [alternate translation], and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. John 15:2

Our job is not perfection, but abiding.  But rather we are impatient and really...immature.  We want to experience mature fruit before God's time.

This reminds me of when we were kids in the 1950's.

Linda, Janet, & Nancy in Arizona circa 1954

In the 1950's, my family lived on the edge of a desert in Tucson, Arizona in a new housing area consisting of cinder block duplexes, but little else.  Not much grew out there.  But one thing that did grow was melon.  The way I know that is when we kids would eat watermelon, we would spit our seeds to one side of our front porch.  After a time, a watermelon vine would grow carrying a beautiful new melon.

Would we wait till the melon ripened to open it up?  Oh no!  We impatiently and prematurely cracked open that baby, only to see white hard flesh where juicy sweet redness should be.  What a disappointment!

And maybe that's why we are disappointed with our own lives and the lives of our children and others close to us!

There's an interesting verse in the New Testament addressed to fathers, but it could very well be addressed to mothers, daughters, sons, brothers, sisters, other relatives, friends, co-workers, neighbors, etc.  Just substitute alternate relationships for the underlined words:

Fathers, do not exasperate your children, so that they will not lose heart. Col 3:21

How do we exasperate and frustrate our children and others?

By unrealistic expectations of perfection?

By building walls instead of choosing love in difficult situations with others?

By giving up and not counting on God's working?

In reality, full maturity will will not be reached on this earth.  Rather it will come when we meet Christ face-to-face.

So in the meantime, dear brothers & sisters, let us abide in Him, keep on growing, and extend to each other (and to ourselves) God's grace:

And now, little children, abide in him... Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. 1 John 2:28; 3:2

But grow in grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  To Him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen. 2 Peter 3:18

Fruit Killers: the green eyed monster goes both ways!

 By this is My Father glorified, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples. John 15:8

When you think of "fruitful Christians", who comes to your mind?  Billy Graham? Mother Teresa? Beth Moore? John Piper? Ann Voskamp? Others?

Mother Teresa, painting by Elizabeth Loyd Filson

What is it about them that makes them fruitful in the John 15 sense of the word? displaying godly character? doing good works? teaching the Bible?  leading many to Christ? having  lots of followers in social media?

My guess is that the main reason they are fruitful is that each has allowed the Lord to live through his/her unique life in His unique way, despite criticism, opposition, and perhaps even jealousy by others.

And I think it's the same for us too!  The Lord wants to show forth His glory in a unique way in each of our lives:

The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. Gal 5:22-23

As each one has received a special gift, use it in serving one another, as good stewards of the manifold [multi-faceted, multi-colored, variegated] grace of GodWhoever speaks, let him speak, as it were the utterances of God; whoever serves, let him do so by the strength which God supplies, so that in all things, God will be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. 1 Peter 4:10-11

But there are hindrances to the fruit-bearing process.  One of the biggest "blockers" to unique fruit-bearing is jealousy...and related evils, like comparison and competition, one-up-man-ship, expectations, holding offenses, and the like.  All of these will kill the fruit the Lord wants to produce in our lives.

Think about it!  If we are always comparing ourselves to other branches, we have our attention off of the Lord and what He may be doing in and through our lives.  What a waste of precious time and energy...much less spiritual fruit!

A few years ago, our pastor gave an amazing sermon on jealousy and competition from John 3:22-30.  He said that jealousy minimizes what we have and exaggerates what we don't have.  Quoting Rick Warren, he pointed out, "Envy is resenting God's goodness to others and ignoring God's goodness to me."  What a sin against our Creator and Redeemer!

But there's also a flip-side to this issue.  What if it's obvious to you that someone is jealous of you and competitive toward you?  And that someone is important in your life, like a sister or brother or spouse or friend or in-law or co-worker or neighbor? How do you handle that?  Do you shrink back from what you feel God is doing in and through your life so as to not cause problems or so they don't think you are showing off.  Or do you continue to live your life, focusing on the Lord despite criticism and emotional walls that may go up toward you in those relationships?

At one time, I was struggling with this very issue.  It was when our son was a student at University of Dayton.  Jeremy was being inducted into an honor society, and there was, of course, a ceremony with speeches etc.  I was happy to be there but somewhat dreading having to sit through long speeches.

Wow! Was I surprised!  God in His grace used the short, but pointed, speech of the college chaplain to speak to my heart.  I don't remember what he said, but I do remember two quotes he used which changed my life that very day.

I'll close with these quotes and with the prayer, dear sisters and brothers, that the Lord would set you free to be His unique abiding branch.  Then you will bear His unique fruit to the glory of the Father!

People are often unreasonable, illogical and self-centered. Forgive them anyway. If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Be kind anyway. If you are successful, you will win some false friends and some true enemies. Succeed anyway. If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you. Be honest and frank anyway. What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight. Build anyway. If you find serenity and happiness, others may be jealous. Be happy anyway. The good you do today, people often forget tomorrow. Do good anyway. If you give the world the best you have, it may never be enough. Give the world the best you have anyway. You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and God. It was never between you and other people anyway.

Often attributed to Mother Teresa of Calcutta

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us… And as we let our own light shine, we give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

Nelson Mandela 1994 Inaugural Speech

Your Job Description: you may be surprised!

By this is My Father glorified, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples. John 15:8

Have you ever started a job with no job description?  I have, and it's pretty confusing.

About 8 years ago, I was looking for a part-time teaching job.  A friend asked if I would like to apply to substitute teach in ESL & GED classes.  I told her that I didn't have a clue about either one of those.  She assured me that it wasn't difficult.  All I had to do was follow the teacher's lesson plans.  So I naively applied.

Well, guess what?  As my application reached the supervisor's desk, the beginning ESL teacher was in a very serious accident.  This was at the end of the first week of class.  By then, beginning ESL students don't know much more English than the day they walked in.  There were no lesson plans and no curriculum, because the teacher was so experienced that she did her own "curriculum".  Needless to say, I was terrified.  But God met me in my need (and that's for another post!).

BUT that first year, I had no job description.  I just took the bull by the horns and prayed and taught and loved it.  And I think the students did too, by God's grace!  (I taught that class for 9 more years!)

However, without a job description, I made many mistakes and often got myself in trouble.  Most of the time, my mistakes were from my ignorance...or from my zeal to "do things right".  As a result, in several instances, I unknowingly went over the head of my supervisor and assumed her role.  Not good!

That's what happens for us believers with living the Christian life.  I don't think we truly understand our "job description."   We try to do in our own strength the things that only God can do.

John 15 is a perfect place to start to understand what it means to be a Christian (the branches) in relation to our Father (the Owner/Gardener) and His Son (the True Vine).

So let's look at WHO does WHAT in a vineyard?

First there's the Gardener or Vinedresser.  His job is to care for the vine and branches by watering, fertilizing, and above all... pruning. Without that almost "violent" pruning, a rich crop cannot come forth.

And after all, the vineyard owner's reputation is at stake!  If someone sees a barren vineyard, no one shames the branches or even the vine, but rather the owner/vinedresser.  That's because whoever does the work gets the credit or the blame!   So it's his job to do whatever is necessary to ensure an abundant crop of grapes.  Even the good, new growth gets cut back so as to bring forth an abundance of fruit.

As we've seen in a previous post, that is what the Father does for us branches.  Sometimes we may feel like we've grown so much and have been "fruitful"...then all of a sudden, the desert! dryness! seeming barrenness!  But the process is not done yet!

Then there's the Vine.  The Vine is the source of life for the branches, which then enables the fruit to come forth.  Without the life of the Vine flowing through healthy branches, nothing fruitful can happen!

Jesus is the Source of life for us His branches.  In another post we saw that Jesus, the I AM, is LIFE itself! In Him was life, and the life is the light of men...I came that they might have life, and have it abundantly. John 1:4; 10:10b

And that's why the main job of the branches is to abide or stay connected to the vine.  The branches are the vehicles for the life of the vine to flow through so that fruit will come forth.

Jesus said,  Abide in Me and I in you.  As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you, unless you abide in Me.  John 15:4

So what does it mean to abide in Christ?  It means to live in & from, remain in, sink down deep into, rest in, stay [experientially] connected to HIM!

Here's a feeble, but hopefully helpful, illustration of what I think it means to abide.  I have this wonderful couch in my living room.  It is hard to sit or lie on this couch without falling asleep.  When I come home from a full day of teaching, I look forward to sinking my weary body into that couch.  I'm often able to just put some instrumental music on and surrender to the comfort of my glorious couch. Later, I leave that place refreshed and energized!

However, sometimes I still have things I need to do before supper time.  So I abandon my tired self to my life-giving couch and make my phone calls or read my lessons or do whatever duty or desire dictates.  I still come away refreshed because I'm working from a position of rest.

That's what I think abiding in Christ means.  I do what I do from my position of rest in my Glorious Vine.  I'm secure in Him and He in me.  His resurrection life flows through me, His branch, to bring forth the fruit designed by the Father for my unique life.

What about you?  Are you living the Branch-life?  Do you do what you do from the position of rest in your Glorious Lord Christ? Or are you trying to do what only God can do -- give life and produce fruit?

I am the Vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me, and I in him, he bears much fruit; for apart from Me, you can do nothing.  John 15:5

The True Vine: Tell Us about Your Name...

vine with many branches
vine with many branches

I AM the True Vine... John 15:1 “Tell us about your name…”  That was the opening “ice-breaker” at a teacher in-service I attended a few years ago.  I was glad for that topic, because I have an interesting name.  In fact, each of my names (even including my married name) has something unique about it.

My full name is Janet Gale Renner Loyd.  “Janet” is after my mother whose name is “Jeanette” (apparently my Polish grandfather had a French girlfriend during WWI by that name).  My middle name is the first 3 letters of my mother’s maiden name (Galuszka) G-A-L plus an E…”Gale”.  My husband (as well as my aunt/godmother) would say that this is an appropriate spelling rather than the usual “G-a-i-l” because of my similarity to a “whirlwind” (ha, ha).  “Renner” is a German name, and have you noticed that it can be spelled forward and backward the same way?

That leaves my married name, “Loyd”.  That’s right, it IS spelled correctly. (I always spell it, but people still insist on putting 2 L's).  My explanation for the one “L” spelling is that my husband had some lazy ancestors somewhere in his past.  I don’t know if that’s true, but it makes for an interesting explanation.

The True Vine, A Murray 138_5831
The True Vine, A Murray 138_5831

Today, young parents seem to be choosing names for their children, not based on important people in their lives, but on the “music” or pleasantness of the sound of the name.  And that’s okay.  There are some fine ones out there…like “Kaden” and “Evan” and “Carter” and “Eli” (these just happen to be my grandsons’ names). And then there are some beautiful ones like “Lilly” and “Olivia” and “Emily” and “Victoria”.

But in Bible times, things were different.  A person’s name represented his character or a call in his life.

That being true, I wonder how Jesus would have answered the “ice breaker” question:  “Tell us about your name…”

He may have said, “My name ‘Jesus’ was given to my mother by an angel.  It means ‘Savior’.  My title ‘Christ’ means “Anointed One’ -- I am the Messiah, the Promised One foretold throughout generations.”

He then might go on and on with significant name after significant name -- names such as  Lord, King, the Lamb of God, the Alpha & Omega...

But I suspect the reply He would most want to give would be simply, “My name is ‘I AM’…I AM everything and anything you will ever need, because I AM Jehovah God the Son.”   Jesus wasn’t hesitant to use this name to refer to Himself in His conversation with the legalistic religious leaders...and was almost stoned for blasphemy!

Jesus said to them, "Truly, truly I say to you, before Abraham was born, I AM."  So they picked up stones to throw at Him. John 8:58-59

This sacred name of God was not even allowed to be spoken by the devout Jew at that time, because it spoke of the very essence of God Himself...the Eternal Present...His Essence is His Existence..LIFE itself!

Jesus further elaborated on this divine name in the rich metaphors of the Gospel of John:

I AM the Bread of life,...I AM the Light of the world,...I AM the Door of the sheep,...I AM the Good Shepherd,...I AM the Resurrection & the Life,...I AM the Way, the Truth, & the Life,..I AM the True Vine. John 6,8,10,11,14,15

God says I AM  138_5816
God says I AM 138_5816

Several years ago I was at an ACSI (Association of Christian Schools International) teachers’ convention.  One of the fun parts of those conventions was to visit the booksellers’ booths.  I love Christian books, and I love a bargain, so for me it was always a “win/win”.

This particular time I found a treasure of a children’s book called God Says I AM: What God tells us about Himself in the Bible – from A to Z. This wonderful book goes through the whole alphabet describing who God is.  I have since given this sweet book to each of my two grandsons who have trusted in the Lord Jesus for salvation…to commemorate that glorious day that they were born into God’s family.

I’ve challenged my then five-year old grandson Kaden to try to learn all the descriptions of God in the I AM book.  We are still both working on it together, and every time I visit, we practice.

But one of our times together was especially precious.  After Kaden & I sat together seeing how much we could remember, I went back through quickly repeating all of the descriptions while looking at the stunning artwork:

God says I AM – the Artist, the Builder, the Creator, the Designer, Everywhere, your Father, Good, the Healer; I do the Impossible; the Joy-giver, King of kings, Love, a Mystery, Never-ending, the Only One, Power; I Quiet the storms; Real, your Savior, Trustworthy, Unfailing, Voice, Wisdom; fiX your eyes on heaven; I want to know You; the A to Z!

138_5678
138_5678

Then I almost breathlessly ended with,

“And all of that is what God says He Is!”

Kaden looked up at me and said with warmth and amazement,

WOW!”

That’s right, Kaden…WOW!  This is your God!

And this Amazing God is the Father's True Vine...because everything that's true of the Father is true of the Son. 

He is the image of the invisible God...For in Him the whole fullness of deity dwells in bodily [human] form. Col 1:15; 2:9

I AM the Vine. You are the branches.  If you abide in Me and I in you, you will bear much fruit.  Apart from Me, you can do nothing. John 15:5

May we, Your branches, be WOWed by YOU, the Father's True Vine, all our days!

Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  To Him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen. 2 Peter 3:18

Stripped Bare? Why me?

I am the true Vine, and My Father is the Vinedresser.  Every branch in Me...that bears fruit, He prunes it, that it may bear more fruit. John 15:1,2 From what I understand, important to the process of growing grapes is pruning the vine.  Now I am definitely not a gardener!  So if I have ever pruned anything, I've done a very wimpy job of it.

I was shocked a few years ago when we visited a vineyard in Temecula Valley, CA.  John & I had traveled there to help our daughter and son-in-law move into the house they were renting at the time.  I told Beth I'd like to see a real grape vineyard "in person" because of John 15 and my blog.  So off we went!

Now in my mind I was thinking at least green and lush...after all, this was Southern California and tulips and flowering trees were blooming.  But NO!  What I saw was vine after vine with absolutely NOTHING on them.  I could just barely see little stubs attached.  Those were the branches!

Oh my!  Talk about instant spiritual lesson!  Have you ever felt like a little stub of a branch, stripped bare?  Over the course of my sixty-plus years, I have many a time.

One of the times that was most painful was when we first moved to Ohio about 30 years ago.  That was at a time when I didn't really know the unconditional love of my Father-God apart from my performance.  I was trying to earn his love and acceptance by doing all the Christian stuff.  (I was trying to earn what, in reality, I already had).

My health was breaking because of strange reactions to chemicals, molds, foods, and who knows what else.  Since there was little understanding in the traditional medical community at that time, I was deemed a hypochondriac who needed anti-depressants.  It was then that I started into anxiety/panic attacks.  My doctor put me on Xanax.  It helped me sleep, but I still had the reactions and the panic attacks.

This was a huge blow to me as a Christian working for my sanctification.  But the Lord was pruning me, freeing me from my performance addiction and attaching me to Himself alone as my support and deliverance.  Since the only Scriptures that made sense to me during that time were the Psalms, God spoke to me there:

When I am afraid, I will trust in You.  In God whose word I praise, in God I trust; I will not be afraid. Psalm 56:3,4

First of all He said to me, "When you are afraid..."  not  "Shame on you for being afraid...".  That was freeing because I lived with such self-condemnation because of the attacks.

Then the Lord said, "Use those first inklings of panic as a signal to turn your attention to Me and trust me."  So those panic attacks started to become a "place of worship" for me.  Previously when I was in the car driving with my two young children in the back seat and I started into an attack, I'd make it worse by freaking out that I was going to kill my kids.  After the Lord gave me my signal, I would instead focus on Him praising and trusting in my Deliverer. ("We become like what we focus on" is a spiritual principle...but that's for another blog).

Little by little, as I turned to the Lord each time the panic started, deliverance came.  My allergies and sensitivities continued to get worse.  Some still continue to this day.  But the panic is gone.  I've come to know and trust my God on a deeper level than ever before.  And  I've come to know His unconditional love, which is a greater treasure than perfect health.

I have met many women who suffer from anxiety/panic attacks.  Why?  Probably for each one there is a unique physical, emotional, or even spiritual reason.  The one thing I know is that God can use it to deepen a woman's dependence and trust in her Father-God.  It can truly be a "Key to the Kingdom."

 

I sought the Lord and He answered me and delivered me from all my fears. Psalm 34:3

My son [daughter], do not regard lightly the discipline [pruning] of the Lord...for those whom the Lord loves He disciplines [prunes]...All discipline [pruning] for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet...afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness. Hebrews 12:5,6,11

Welcome to the Vineyard

Welcome to the Father’s Vineyard.

I’m a branch in the True Vine…just a branch…but a beloved one.  I’m not THE branch, for there are many…multitudes, in fact, from every tongue and family and tribe and nation.

But I am in THE Vine.  There is only One, you know, in the Father’s Vineyard.  The True Vine is more than enough to supply life to all of us beloved branches.  And fruit?  You should see the baskets full that come when each of us branches really makes its home (“abides”) in Christ, the Father’s glorious Vine! (John 15:1-5)

I didn’t always know and experience the life of belovedness, rest, fruitfulness, and joy that are mine as a branch in the Vine.  For many years as a branch, I grunted and groaned trying to produce fruit of many kinds—developing Christian character, loving the unlovely, teaching the Bible, winning the lost, encouraging other branches, etc etc.  Oh, I drew upon the life of the Vine…at least I thought I did.  But really there was often a mixture of His life and my (fleshly) life in it all.

Then at the end of my desperation (a branch can’t take that kind of barrenness and struggle for long), I heard my Father say to my heart, “I love you even if you never do another thing right again!”  It took me two years to believe that God had really said that to me.  Every time I would start to trust in the Father’s love, the enemy would come in and whisper… ”Did God really say that?  That’s too good to be true!”

Finally one day, I chose to believe that God truly loved me, His branch, despite my level of fruitfulness.  Nothing has been the same since.  And you know what?  I started seeing this very truth all over the Scriptures:

See how great a love the Father has bestowed upon us that we should be called children of God….and such we are! 1 John 3:1

The Father Himself loves you… John 16:27

I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:38-39

So I say again, “Welcome to the Father’s Vineyard.”

Here you will encounter many & various Scriptures, metaphors, “pictures”, stories, and lessons.  But there will always be the same truth at the bottom of it all:

The Vine, our Lord Christ, is the All-Important One! We the branches are the beloved, cared for, and fruitful ones because of being connected to the Glorious Vine!

May our Father God, the Divine Husbandman (Owner-Gardener), use this series of Vine & branches entries to encourage your life in the Vine.  May you sink down deep into His Life and live from your union with Him day by day.  Then His life in & through you will produce much fruit as He promised.

I am the Vine, you are the branches; He who abides in Me, and I in him, he bears much fruit; for apart from Me you can do nothing. John 15:5

The Rest of the Gospel: Job Descriptions in the Father's Vineyard

Some of you have been my faithful readers for the past three and a half years. {Thank you so very much...I am truly humbled!} When I started writing this blog, in keeping with the name of my site, I thought it would be appropriate to explore the parable of the Vine and the branches in John 15.

And since we believers are each a branch in the True Vine, it would be good for us to know Who does what in our Father's vineyard.  Thus the post Job Descriptions, dated April 9, 2011.

Here is a repeat of that post with some minor revisions.  In light of our study in The Rest of the Gospel, let's look at "Who Does What?" (chapter 14) from a slightly different angle.

You may also like to see the entire Vine & branches series (Click here).

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By this is My Father glorified, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples. John 15:8

Have you ever started a job with no job description?  I have, and it's pretty confusing.

About 8 years ago, I was looking for a part-time teaching job.  A friend asked if I would like to apply to substitute teach in ESL & GED classes.  I told her that I didn't have a clue about either one of those.  She assured me that it wasn't difficult.  All I had to do was follow the teacher's lesson plans.  So I naively applied.

Well, guess what?  As my application reached the supervisor's desk, the beginning ESL teacher was in a very serious accident.  This was at the end of the first week of class.  By then, beginning ESL students don't know much more English than the day they walked in.  There were no lesson plans and no curriculum, because the teacher was so experienced that she did her own "curriculum".  Needless to say, I was terrified.  But God met me in my need (and that's for another post!).

BUT that first year, I had no job description.  I just took the bull by the horns and prayed and taught and loved it.  And I think the students did too, by God's grace!  (I'm still teaching that class 8 years later.)

However, without a job description, I made many mistakes and often got myself in trouble.  Most of the time, my mistakes were from my ignorance...or from my zeal to "do things right".  As a result, in several instances, I unknowingly went over the head of my supervisor and assumed her role.  Not good!

That's what happens for us believers with living the Christian life.  I don't think we truly understand our "job description."   We try to do in our own strength the things that only God can do.

John 15 is a perfect place to start to understand what it means to be a Christian (the branches) in relation to our Father (the Owner/Gardener) and His Son (the True Vine).

So let's look at WHO does WHAT in a vineyard?

First there's the Gardener or Vinedresser.  His job is to care for the vine and branches by watering, fertilizing, and above all... pruning. Without that almost "violent" pruning, a rich crop cannot come forth.

And after all, the vineyard owner's reputation is at stake!  If someone sees a barren vineyard, no one shames the branches or even the vine, but rather the owner/vinedresser.  That's because whoever does the work gets the credit or the blame!   So it's his job to do whatever is necessary to ensure an abundant crop of grapes.  Even the good, new growth gets cut back so as to bring forth an abundance of fruit.

As we've seen in a previous post, that is what the Father does for us branches.   Sometimes we may feel like we've grown so much and have been "fruitful"...then all of a sudden, the desert! dryness! seeming barrenness!  But the process is not done yet!

Then there's the Vine.  The Vine is the source of life for the branches, which then enables the fruit to come forth.  Without the life of the Vine flowing through healthy branches, nothing fruitful can happen!

Jesus is the Source of life for us His branches.  In another post we saw that Jesus, the I AM, is LIFE itself! In Him was life, and the life is the light of men...I came that they might have life, and have it abundantly. John 1:4; 10:10b

And that's why the main job of the branches is to abide or stay connected to the vine.  The branches are the vehicles for the life of the vine to flow through so that fruit will come forth.

Jesus said,  Abide in Me and I in you.  As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you, unless you abide in Me.  John 15:4

So what does it mean to abide in Christ?  It means to live in & from, remain in, sink down deep into, rest in, stay [experientially] connected to HIM!

Here's a feeble, but hopefully helpful illustration of what I think it means to abide.  I have this wonderful couch in my living room.  It is hard to sit or lie on this couch without falling asleep.  When I come home from a full day of teaching, I look forward to sinking my weary body into that couch.  I'm often able to just put some instrumental music on and surrender to the comfort of my glorious couch. Later, I leave that place refreshed and energized!

However, sometimes I still have things I need to do before supper time.  So I abandon my tired self to my life-giving couch and make my phone calls or read my lessons or do whatever duty or desire dictates.  I still come away refreshed because I'm working from a position of rest.

That's what I think abiding in Christ means.  I do what I do from my position of rest in my Glorious Vine.  I'm secure in Him and He in me.  His resurrection life flows through me, His branch, to bring forth the fruit designed by the Father for my unique life.

What about you?  Are you living the Branch-life?  Do you do what you do from the position of rest in your Glorious Lord Christ? Or are you trying to do what only God can do -- give life and produce fruit?

I am the Vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me, and I in him, he bears much fruit; for apart from Me, you can do nothing.  John 15:5

Findings in the Files: the Green-Eyed Monster and other Fruit Killers

green-eyed monster

green-eyed monster

These next two findings were perhaps among the most life changing for me at a particular period of my life.  God so used these two quotes that my daughter printed and framed them as a gift for my birthday that year.  They are still displayed in my home...and I keep multiple copies on hand in my file :) In my early blogging days (about a year and a half ago now), I did a series on the Vine and the branches.  It was in one of the blogs in that series that I shared my story and my precious "quotes."  Here's the story again.  I pray you also will be blessed as I was.

By this is My Father glorified, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples. John 15:8

When you think of "fruitful Christians", who comes to your mind?  Billy Graham? Mother Teresa? Beth Moore? John Piper? Others?

Mother Teresa painting SDC15427

Mother Teresa painting SDC15427

Mother Teresa, painting by Elizabeth Loyd Filson

What is it about them that makes them "fruitful" in the John 15 sense of the word?  ...displaying godly character?  ...doing good works? ...teaching the Bible?  ...leading many to Christ?

My guess is that the main reason they are fruitful is that each has allowed the Lord to live through his/her unique life in His unique way, despite criticism, opposition, and perhaps even jealousy by others.

And I think it's the same for us too!  The Lord wants to show forth His glory in a unique way in each of our lives:

The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. Gal 5:22-23

As each one has received a special gift, use it in serving one another, as good stewards of the manifold [multi-faceted, multi-colored, variegated] grace of GodWhoever speaks, let him speak, as it were the utterances of God; whoever serves, let him do so by the strength which God supplies, so that in all things, God will be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. 1 Peter 4:10-11

But there are hindrances to the fruit-bearing process.  One of the biggest "blockers" to unique fruit-bearing is jealousy...and related evils, like comparison and competition, one-up-man-ship, expectations, holding offenses, and the like.  All of these will kill the fruit the Lord wants to produce in our lives.

Think about it!  If we are always comparing ourselves to "other branches," we have our attention off of the Lord and what He may be doing in and through our lives.  What a waste of precious time and energy...much less spiritual fruit!

As I was in the midst of writing this blog, our pastor gave an amazing sermon on jealousy and competition from John 3:22-30.  He said that jealousy minimizes what we have and exaggerates what we don't have.  Quoting Rick Warren, he pointed out, "Envy is resenting God's goodness to others and ignoring God's goodness to me."  What a sin against our Creator and Redeemer!

But there's also a "flip-side" to this issue.  What if it's obvious to you that someone is jealous of you and competitive toward you?  And that someone is important in your life, like a sister or brother or spouse or friend or in-law or co-worker or neighbor? How do you handle that?  Do you shrink back from what you feel God is doing in and through your life so as to not cause problems or so they don't think you are showing off.  Or do you continue to live your life, focusing on the Lord despite criticism and "emotional walls" that may go up toward you in those relationships?

Several years ago, I was struggling with this very issue.  It was at a time when our son was a student at University of Dayton.  Jeremy was being inducted into an honor society, and there was, of course, a ceremony with speeches etc.  I was happy to be there but somewhat dreading having to sit through long speeches.

Wow! Was I surprised!  God in His grace used the short, but pointed speech of the college chaplain to speak to my heart.  I don't remember what he said, but I do remember two quotes he used which changed my life that very day.

I'll close with these quotes and with the prayer, dear sisters and brothers, that the Lord would set you free to be His unique abiding branch.  Then you will bear His unique fruit to the glory of the Father!

People are often unreasonable, illogical and self-centered. Forgive them anyway. If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Be kind anyway. If you are successful, you will win some false friends and some true enemies. Succeed anyway. If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you. Be honest and frank anyway. What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight. Build anyway. If you find serenity and happiness, others may be jealous. Be happy anyway. The good you do today, people often forget tomorrow. Do good anyway. If you give the world the best you have, it may never be enough. Give the world the best you have anyway. You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and God. It was never between you and other people anyway.

Often attributed to Mother Teresa of Calcutta

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world.There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us… And as we let our own light shine, we give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

Nelson Mandela 1994 Inaugural Speech

Love's Abiding Harvest

jan at the harvest
jan at the harvest

As the Father has loved Me, so have I loved you. Abide in My love. John 15:9

When I returned home from California a couple weeks ago, I began meditating on John 15 from the "harvest" point of view.  Though my daytime thoughts were going in a different direction, my waking thought became a word from the Lord:  Abide in My love.

I visualized the Lord on His way to Gethsemane with his disciples.  He had just showed His love for them by washing their feet at supper and sharing His last loving instructions and encouragements before He went to the Cross.

Then Jesus and His beloved followers walked together through a vineyard:  I am the vine...you are the branches....whoever abides in me and I in him, bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing...Just as the Father has loved me, so have I loved you, abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. John 15:5, 9-10

I couldn't get away from it...abide in My love! Then I realized, it's all about love.  It always is!

Deep in every human heart is the desire to love and be loved.  And it is also deep in the heart of God....because GOD IS LOVE!

ripe grapes
ripe grapes

So a harvest of fruitfulness is all about abiding in HIS LOVE!WHOSE LOVE?

The Father's love for the Son.

As the Father has loved me... John 15:9a

For the Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing. John 5:20a

The Son's love for the Father.

I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father. John 14:31

I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. John 15:10

The Son's love for us.

...so have I loved you. Abide in my love. John 15:9b

...when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. John 13:1

Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. John 15:13

WHAT KIND OF LOVE?

The kind of love Jesus is talking about is agape...God's love, unconditional andsacrificial.  It's the kind that esteems another more highly than himself.  It's a love that can express a oneness of will and purpose, because it's not primarily "touchy-feely" but rather a choice of the will.  And it's hard to find on this earth.

It's the love that moved the Father to send the Son to the Cross on our behalf.  It's the love that motivated Jesus to always do as His Father commanded.  It's the love that moved the heart of the Son to sacrifice Himself for us.

And it's this very love in which we are to abide!

HOW DO WE ABIDE IN HIS LOVE?

Jesus gives us the answer:

If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. John 15:10

So Jesus calls us to the same obedient life He lived...not by trying hard to live it, but by living with His obedient life.  Let me explain...

Because of the abiding life union of branch in the Vine, the obedient life of the Son of God courses through our spiritual veins.  Will we live from that from that Obedient Life?  That's always the question, isn't it?

WHAT ARE HIS COMMANDS?

They are those written in chapter and verse in the Scriptures...and on our hearts.

They are also the little Holy Spirit nudges that tell us to say a kind word or refrain from saying an unkind word....to pick up the phone and check on a friend...to stop and help someone in need instead of going our merry way.  Because in the context of John 13-17, the new command of the Lord is to love one another as He has loved us.

Or it may mean to stay away from a certain relationship or terminate one because it is ungodly and destructive.

His word may also come saying, "Put aside your own agenda and spend some time with Me, feeding on my Word and abiding in My love."

WHAT ARE THE RESULTS?

  • I can experience friendship with God. Jesus said that He has called us friends.  But friendships can't be just one-sided.  That's true in human relationships, and it's true in friendship with the Lord.  Jesus tells us that when we obey Him, we are His friends.You are my friends if you do what I command you.  John 15:14
  • I can use His name with confidence in prayer to the Father. I can be a "name dropper" in the throne room of heaven :)If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you....whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.John 15:7,16
  • I can be in on family secrets. This is the same perk the Son has in relationship with the Father!No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing;but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.    John 15:15
  • I can bear fruit that remains. What I do and who I am can have eternal results because of my life union with Christ, abiding in His love.By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples...I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide... John 15:8,16
  • I can experience exuberant joy :)These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. John 15:11 ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Abide in His love, O beloved branch!

Because it's all about love...it always is!

For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. 1John 5:3

We love because He first loved us! 1John 4:19

Here is a moving presentation of the Gospel of John.  About 8:50 minutes into this segment, you will see John 15.  Rest, enjoy, and abide in His love.


Kaden the student
Kaden the student

A project for Bible students:  Go through the epistle of 1 John and notice how the Elder Apostle John, years after writing his gospel, uses the same words and concepts...but with more depth.  Look for love, abide, keep His commandments...any others?

Back to the Vineyard: "Full Circle"

I am the vine; you are the branches. If you abide in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit... This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. John 15:5,8

October 2011

Ah! the harvest!  The reason the Vineyard exists!

I've come full-circle since that first trip to southern California back in March. 

March 2011

Since our daughter and family moved there early this year, I've been able to observe grape vineyards in all major stages of growth -- from pruning to blooming with green fruit and leaves and now to the harvest of ripe fruit followed by early stages of the "dying" process.

June 2011

All of this to begin again the Cycle of Life!

I love the metaphor of the Vine & the Branches in John 15!  It encourages me in my FAITH in the Father, the Vinedresser, Who is doing His work...and in the Vine, His glorious Son and Source of Life.  It gives me HOPE for a harvest of Christ-likeness (Gal 5:22-23) and good works (Eph 2:10) as I allow the Living Christ to live through my human life as a Branch in the Vine.  And it inspires LOVE for the Lord of the Vineyard who tenderly cares for me, His branch and fruit-bearer.

This metaphor also reminds me that I'm part of something bigger than myself!

June 2011

I'm one of many beloved branches, brothers and sisters in Christ, who live with the same Life and produce fruit -- the manifest Life of Christ, the Vine.  We are fruitful because of His Life flowing through our very beings.

In my next post, I'll share some reflections from John 15 on this final stage of growth -- the harvest.   But in the meantime, why not review the process by meditating on John 15:1-17 for yourself.

Here are some questions to get you started: LIST the "persons" being talked about.  They are named in verses 1, 2, 8, 12, 13, & 15.  (I've found seven...how about you?) Find the ACTION words...What does each "person" DO...and with what RESULTS? WHAT does it mean "to ABIDE"?  (Use a dictionary or think of what it might mean it the context) In WHOM/WHAT are we to ABIDE?  WHO/WHAT is to ABIDE in us? What has the Holy Spirit "highlighted" to your heart?  Make note of those verses and thoughts.

Then if you care to, take a look again at my meditations as

October 2011

I've "walked through" the stages of vineyard growth this year.  May you be blessed, as I have been, to reflect on the Father's work in and through His Son, the True Vine...and also His work in and through us, His branches in His Vine!

I'm looking forward to reading your thoughts and meditations on this rich passage:)  So please leave a comment, if you'd like!

The Vineyard Revisited: Reflections on Growth

I just returned from two weeks in Southern California visiting my daughter and family.  During that time, I celebrated another birthday...and to my delight Beth took me to "my vineyard" for lunch at the lovely restaurant there. On the way to the Temecula vineyard area, I was amazed to see how the former ruthlessly pruned vines were now covered with lush green leaves.  You may remember those stark vines in a former post. That was just a little over 3 months ago!

I wondered about the fruit though, because I do know that usually harvest season is in the fall.  So after lunch, we went to see if we could find "my vine".  Beth lifted some leaves, and we saw a bunch of beautifully formed green (not ripe) grapes.

That has set my mind and heart thinking about growth and maturity and waiting on God, the Master Vinedresser who knows the process from the beginning to end.  He has promised,

He who began a good work in you will perfect it till the day of Christ Jesus. Phil 1:6

So often, I'm impatient with myself and others wanting instant maturity or expecting "fruitfulness" before its time.  I think of Moses as a young man in Egypt.  The book of Acts says that he knew about his call to deliver Israel from Egyptian bondage and actually tried to do so before God's time.

When he was forty years old, it came into his heart to visit his brothers, the children of Israel.  And seeing one of them being wronged, he defended the oppressed man and avenged him by striking down the Egyptian.  He supposed that his brothers would understand that God was giving them salvation by his hand, but they did not understand. Acts 7:23-25 ESV

God still had work to do in Moses life to bring him to the end of himself.  Then he would be ready for the mature "fruit" of being God's instrument of deliverance.

It's the same way with us.  God the Father, our Gardener, promises that as we abide in Christ His True Vine we will produce fruit in increasing measure:

...fruit,...more fruit,... much fruit. John 15:2,5.

He has us in His process!  The Father does whatever is necessary to bring our lives to fruition.

Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he lifts up [alternate translation], and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. John 15:2

Our job is not perfection, but abiding.  But rather we are impatient and really...immature.  We want to experience mature fruit before God's time.

It reminds me of when we were kids in the 1950's.

My family lived on the edge of a desert in Tucson, Arizona in a new housing area consisting of cinder block duplexes, but little else.  Not much grew out there.  But one thing that did grow was melon.  The way I know that is when we kids would eat watermelon, we would spit our seeds to one side of our front porch.  After a time, a watermelon vine would grow carrying a beautiful new melon.  Would we wait till the melon ripened to open it up?  Oh no!  We would impatiently and prematurely crack open that baby, only to see white hard flesh where juicy sweet redness should be.  What a disappointment!

And maybe that's why we are disappointed with our own lives and the lives of our children and others close to us.  There's an interesting verse in the New Testament addressed to fathers, but it could very well be addressed to mothers, daughters, sons, brothers, sisters, other relatives, friends, co-workers, neighbors, etc.  Just substitute alternate relationships for the underlined words:

Fathers, do not exasperate your children, so that they will not lose heart. Col 3:21

How do we exasperate and frustrate our children and others?  By unrealistic expectations of perfection?  By building walls instead of choosing love in difficult situations with others?  By giving up and not counting on God's working?

In reality, full maturity will will not be reached on this earth.  Rather it will come when we meet Christ face-to-face.  So in the meantime, dear brothers & sisters, let us abide in Him, keep on growing, and extend to each other (and to ourselves) God's grace:

And now, little children, abide in him... Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. 1John 2:28; 3:2

But grow in grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  To Him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen. 2Peter 3:18

The Green-Eyed Monster and Other "Fruit-Killers"

By this is My Father glorified, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples. John 15:8

When you think of "fruitful Christians", who comes to your mind?  Billy Graham? Mother Teresa? Beth Moore? John Piper? Others?

What is it about them that makes them "fruitful" in the John 15 sense of the word?  ...displaying godly character?  ...doing good works? ...teaching the Bible?  ...leading many to Christ?

My guess is that one of the main reasons they are fruitful is that each has allowed the Lord to live through his/her unique life in His unique way, despite criticism, opposition, and jealousy of others.

And I think it's the same for us too!  The Lord wants to show forth His glory in a unique way in each of our lives:

The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. Gal 5:22-23

As each one has received a special gift, use it in serving one another, as good stewards of the manifold [multi-faceted, multi-colored, variegated] grace of GodWhoever speaks, let him speak, as it were the utterances of God; whoever serves, let him do so by the strength which God supplies, so that in all things, God will be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. 1 Peter 4:10-11

But there are hindrances to the fruit-bearing process.  One of the biggest "blockers" to unique fruit-bearing is jealousy...and related evils, like comparison and competition, one-up-man-ship, expectations, holding offenses, and the like.  All of these will kill the fruit the Lord wants to produce in our lives.

Think about it!  If we are always comparing ourselves to "other branches," we have our attention off of the Lord and what He may be doing in and through our lives.  What a waste of precious time and energy...much less spiritual fruit!

As I was in the midst of writing this blog, our pastor gave an amazing sermon on jealousy and competition from John 3:22-30.  He said that jealousy minimizes what we have and exaggerates what we don't have.  Quoting Rick Warren, he pointed out, "Envy is resenting God's goodness to others and ignoring God's goodness to me."  What a sin against our Creator and Redeemer!

But there's also a "flip-side" to this issue.  What if it's obvious to you that someone is jealous of you and competitive toward you?  And that someone is important in your life, like a sister or brother or spouse or friend or in-law or co-worker or neighbor? How do you handle that?  Do you shrink back from what you feel God is doing in and through your life so as to not cause problems or so they don't think you are showing off.  Or do you continue to live your life, focusing on the Lord despite criticism and "emotional walls" that may go up toward you in those relationships?

Several years ago, I was struggling with this very issue.  It was at a time when our son was a student at University of Dayton.  Jeremy was being inducted into an honor society, and there was, of course, a ceremony with speeches etc.  I was happy to be there but somewhat dreading having to sit through long speeches.

Wow! Was I surprised!  God in His grace used the short, but pointed speech of the college chaplain to speak to my heart.  I don't remember what he said, but I do remember two quotes he used which changed my life that very day.

I'll close with these quotes and with the prayer, dear sisters and brothers, that the Lord would set you free to be His unique abiding branch.  Then you will bear His unique fruit to the glory of the Father!

People are often unreasonable, illogical and self-centered. Forgive them anyway. If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Be kind anyway. If you are successful, you will win some false friends and some true enemies. Succeed anyway. If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you. Be honest and frank anyway. What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight. Build anyway. If you find serenity and happiness, others may be jealous. Be happy anyway. The good you do today, people often forget tomorrow. Do good anyway. If you give the world the best you have, it may never be enough. Give the world the best you have anyway. You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and God. It was never between you and other people anyway.

Mother Teresa of Calcutta

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Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us… And as we let our own light shine, we give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

Nelson Mandela 1994 Inaugural Speech

Job Descriptions

By this is My Father glorified, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples. John 15:8 Have you ever started a job with no job description?  I have, and it's pretty confusing.

About 8 years ago, I was looking for a part-time teaching job.  A friend asked if I would like to apply to substitute teach in ESL & GED classes.  I told her that I didn't have a clue about either one of those.  She assured me that it wasn't difficult.  All I had to do was follow the teacher's lesson plans.  So I naively applied.

Well, guess what?  As my application reached the supervisor's desk, the beginning ESL teacher was in a very serious accident.  This was at the end of the first week of class.  By then, beginning ESL students don't know much more English than the day they walked in.  There were no lesson plans and no curriculum, because the teacher was so experienced that she did her own "curriculum".  Needless to say, I was terrified.  But God met me in my need (and that's for another post!).

BUT that first year, I had no job description.  I just took the bull by the horns and prayed and taught and loved it.  And I think the students did too, by God's grace!  (I'm still teaching that class 8 years later.)

However, without a job description, I made many mistakes and often got myself in trouble.  Most of the time, my mistakes were from my ignorance...or from my zeal to "do things right".  As a result, in several instances, I unknowingly went over the head of my supervisor and assumed her role.  Not good!

That's what happens for us believers with living the Christian life.  I don't think we truly understand our "job description."   We try to do in our own strength the things that only God can do.

John 15 is a perfect place to start to understand what it means to be a Christian (the branches) in relation to our Father (the Owner/Gardener) and His Son (the True Vine).

So let's look at WHO does WHAT in a vineyard?

First there's the Gardener or Vinedresser.  His job is to care for the vine and branches by watering, fertilizing, and above all... pruning. Without that almost "violent" pruning, a rich crop cannot come forth.

And after all, the vineyard owner's reputation is at stake!  If someone sees a barren vineyard, no one shames the branches or even the vine, but rather the owner/vinedresser.  That's because whoever does the work gets the credit or the blame!   So it's his job to do whatever is necessary to ensure an abundant crop of grapes.  Even the good, new growth gets cut back so as to bring forth an abundance of fruit.

As we've already seen, that is what the Father does for us branches.   Sometimes we may feel like we've grown so much and have been "fruitful"...then all of a sudden, the desert! dryness! seeming barrenness!  But the process is not done yet!

Then there's the Vine.  The Vine is the source of life for the branches, which then enables the fruit to come forth.  Without the life of the Vine flowing through healthy branches, nothing fruitful can happen!

Jesus is the Source of life for us His branches.  In the previous post we saw that Jesus, the I AM, is LIFE itself! In Him was life, and the life is the light of men...I came that they might have life, and have it abundantly. John 1:4; 10:10b

And that's why the main job of the branches is to abide or stay connected to the vine.  The branches are the vehicles for the life of the vine to flow through so that fruit will come forth.

Jesus said,  Abide in Me and I in you.  As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you, unless you abide in Me.  John 15:4

So what does it mean to abide in Christ?  It means to live in & from, remain in, sink down deep into, rest in, stay [experientially] connected to HIM!

Here's a feeble, but hopefully helpful illustration of what I think it means to abide.  I have this wonderful couch in my living room.  It is hard to sit or lie on this couch without falling asleep.  When I come home from a full day of teaching, I look forward to sinking my weary body into that couch.  I'm often able to just put some instrumental music on and surrender to the comfort of my glorious couch. Later, I leave that place refreshed and energized!

However, sometimes I still have things I need to do before supper time.  So I abandon my tired self to my life-giving couch and make my phone calls or read my lessons or do whatever duty or desire dictates.  I still come away refreshed because I'm working from a position of rest.

That's what I think abiding in Christ means.  I do what I do from my position of rest in my Glorious Vine.  I'm secure in Him and He in me.  His resurrection life flows through me, His branch, to bring forth the fruit designed by the Father for my unique life.

What about you?  Are you living the Branch-life?  Do you do what you do from the position of rest in your Glorious Lord Christ? Or are you trying to do what only God can do -- give life and produce fruit?

I am the Vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me, and I in him, he bears much fruit; for apart from Me, you can do nothing.  John 15:5

The True Vine

I AM the True Vine... John 15:1 “Tell us about your name…”  That was the opening “ice-breaker” at a teacher in-service I attended a few months ago.  I was glad for that topic, because I have an interesting name.  In fact, each of my names (even including my married name) has something unique about it.

My full name is Janet Gale Renner Loyd.  “Janet” is after my mother whose name is “Jeanette” (apparently my Polish grandfather had a French girlfriend during WWI by that name).  My middle name is the first 3 letters of my mother’s maiden name (Galuszka) G-A-L plus an E…”Gale”.  My husband (as well as my aunt/godmother) would say that this is an appropriate spelling rather than the usual “G-a-i-l” because of my similarity to a “whirlwind” (ha, ha).  “Renner” is a German name, and have you noticed that it can be spelled forward and backward the same way?

That leaves my married name, “Loyd”.  That’s right, it IS spelled correctly. (I always spell it, but people still insist on putting 2 L's).  My explanation for the one “L” spelling is that my husband had some lazy ancestors somewhere in his past.  I don’t know if that’s true, but it makes for an interesting explanation.

Today, young parents seem to be choosing names for their children, not based on important people in their lives, but on the “music” or pleasantness of the sound of the name.  And that’s okay.  There are some fine ones out there…like “Kaden” and “Evan” and “Carter” and “Eli” (these just happen to be my grandsons’ names). And then there are some beautiful ones like “Lilly” and “Olivia” and “Emily” and “Victoria”.

But in Bible times, things were different.  A person’s name represented his character or a call in his life.

That being true, I wonder how Jesus would have answered the “ice breaker” question:  “Tell us about your name…”

He may have said, “My name ‘Jesus’ was given to my mother by an angel.  It means ‘Savior’.  My title ‘Christ’ means “Anointed One’ -- I am the Messiah, the Promised One foretold throughout generations.”

He then might go on and on with significant name after significant name -- names such as  Lord, King, the Lamb of God, the Alpha & Omega...

But I suspect the reply He would most want to give would be simply, “My name is ‘I AM’…I AM everything and anything you will ever need, because I AM Jehovah God the Son.”   Jesus wasn’t hesitant to use this name to refer to Himself in His conversation with the legalistic religious leaders...and was almost stoned for blasphemy!

Jesus said to them, "Truly, truly I say to you, before Abraham was born, I AM."  So they picked up stones to throw at Him. John 8:58-59

This sacred name of God was not even allowed to be spoken by the devout Jew at that time, because it spoke of the very essence of God Himself...the Eternal Present...His Essence is His Existence..LIFE itself!

Jesus further elaborated on this divine name in the rich metaphors of the Gospel of John:

I AM the Bread of life,...I AM the Light of the world,...I AM the Door of the sheep,...I AM the Good Shepherd,...I AM the Resurrection & the Life,...I AM the Way, the Truth, & the Life,..I AM the True Vine. John 6,8,10,11,14,15

Several years ago I was at an ACSI (Association of Christian Schools International) teachers’ convention.  One of the fun parts of those conventions was to visit the booksellers’ booths.  I love Christian books, and I love a bargain, so for me it was always a “win/win”.

This particular time I found a treasure of a children’s book called God Says I AM: What God tells us about Himself in the Bible – from A to Z. This wonderful book goes through the whole alphabet describing who God is.  I have since given this sweet book to each of my two grandsons who have trusted in the Lord Jesus for salvation…to commemorate that glorious day that they were born into God’s family.

I’ve challenged my almost five-year old grandson Kaden to try to learn all the descriptions of God in the I AM book.  We are both working on it together, and every time I visit, we practice.  But this last time together was especially precious.  After Kaden & I sat together seeing how much we could remember, I went back through quickly repeating all of the descriptions while looking at the stunning artwork:

God says I AM – the Artist, the Builder, the Creator, the Designer, Everywhere, your Father, Good, the Healer; I do the Impossible; the Joy-giver, King of kings, Love, a Mystery, Never-ending, the Only One, Power; I Quiet the storms; Real, your Savior, Trustworthy, Unfailing, Voice, Wisdom; fiX your eyes on heaven; I want to know You; the A to Z!

Then I almost breathlessly ended with, “And all of that is what God says He Is!”

Kaden looked up at me and said with warmth and amazement, “WOW!” That’s right, Kaden…WOW!  This is your God!

And this Amazing God is the Father's True Vine...because everything that's true of the Father is true of the Son. 

He is the image of the invisible God...For in Him the whole fullness of deity dwells in bodily [human] form. Col 1:15; 2:9

I AM the Vine. You are the branches.  If you abide in Me and I in you, you will bear much fruit.  Apart from Me, you can do nothing. John 15:5

May we, Your branches, be WOWed by YOU, the Father's True Vine, all our days!

Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  To Him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen. 2 Peter 3:18

The Father's Pruning

I am the true Vine, and My Father is the Vinedresser.  Every branch in Me...that bears fruit, He prunes it, that it may bear more fruit. John 15:1,2 From what I understand, important to the process of growing grapes is pruning the vine.  Now I am definitely not a gardener!  So if I have ever pruned anything, I've done a very wimpy job of it.

I was shocked just a few weeks ago when we visited a vineyard in Temecula Valley, CA.  John & I had traveled there to help our daughter and son-in-law move into the house they were renting.  I told Beth I'd like to see a real grape vineyard "in person" because of John 15 and this new website.  So off we went!

Now in my mind I was thinking at least green and lush...after all, this was Southern California and tulips and flowering trees were blooming.  But NO!  What I saw was vine after vine with absolutely NOTHING on them.  I could just barely see little stubs attached.  Those were the branches!

Oh my!  Talk about instant spiritual lesson!  Have you ever felt like a little stub of a branch, stripped bare?  Over the course of my sixty-plus years, I have many a time.

One of the times that was most painful was when we first moved to Ohio about 25 years ago.  That was at a time when I didn't really know the unconditional love of my Father-God apart from my performance.  I was trying to earn his love and acceptance by doing all the Christian stuff.  (I was trying to earn what, in reality, I already had).

My health was breaking because of strange reactions to chemicals, molds, foods, and who knows what else.  Since there was little understanding in the traditional medical community at that time, I was deemed a hypochondriac who needed anti-depressants.  It was then that I started into anxiety/panic attacks.  My doctor put me on Xanax.  It helped me sleep, but I still had the reactions and the panic attacks.

This was a huge blow to me as a Christian working for my sanctification.  But the Lord was pruning me, freeing me from my performance addiction and attaching me to Himself alone as my support and deliverance.  Since the only Scriptures that made sense to me during that time were the Psalms, God spoke to me there:

When I am afraid, I will trust in You.  In God whose word I praise, in God I trust; I will not be afraid. Psalm 56:3,4

First of all He said to me, "When you are afraid..."  not  "Shame on you for being afraid...".  That was freeing because I lived with such self-condemnation because of the attacks.

Then He said, "Use those first inklings of panic as a signal to turn your attention to Me and trust me."  So those panic attacks started to become a "place of worship" for me.  Previously when I was in the car driving with my two young children in the back seat and I started into an attack, I'd make it worse by freaking out that I was going to kill my kids.  After the Lord gave me my signal, I would instead focus on Him praising and trusting in my Deliverer. ("We become like what we focus on" is a spiritual principle...but that's for another blog).

Little by little, as I turned to the Lord each time the panic started, deliverance came.  My allergies and sensitivities continued to get worse.  Some still continue to this day.  But the panic is gone.  I've come to know and trust my God on a deeper level than ever before.  And  I've come to know His unconditional love, which is a greater treasure than perfect health.

I have met many women who suffer from anxiety/panic attacks.  Why?  Probably for each one there is a unique physical, emotional, even spiritual reason.  The one thing I know is that God can use it to deepen a woman's dependence and trust in her Father-God.  It can truly be a "Key to the Kingdom."

I sought the Lord and He answered me and delivered me from all my fears. Psalm 34:3

My son [daughter], do not regard lightly the discipline [pruning] of the Lord...for those whom the Lord loves He disciplines [prunes]...All discipline [pruning] for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet...afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness. Hebrews 12:5,6,11

A Branch in the Vine

Welcome to the Father’s Vineyard.  I’m a branch in the True Vine…just a branch…but a beloved one.  I’m not THE branch, for there are many…multitudes, in fact, from every tongue and family and tribe and nation. But I am in THE Vine.  There is only One, you know, in the Father’s Vineyard.  The True Vine is more than enough to supply life to all of us beloved branches.  And fruit?  You should see the baskets full that come when each of us branches really makes its home (“abides”) in Christ, the Father’s glorious Vine! (John 15:1-5)

I didn’t always know and experience the life of belovedness, rest, fruitfulness, and joy that are mine as a branch in the Vine.  For many years as a branch, I grunted and groaned trying to produce fruit of many kinds—developing Christian character, loving the unlovely, teaching the Bible, winning the lost, encouraging other branches, etc etc.  Oh, I drew upon the life of the Vine…at least I thought I did.  But really there was often a mixture of His life and my (fleshly) life in it all.

Then at the end of my desperation (a branch can’t take that kind of barrenness and struggle for long), I heard my Father say to my heart, “I love you even if you never do another thing right again!”  It took me two years to believe that God had really said that to me.  Every time I would start to trust in the Father’s love, the enemy would come in and whisper… ”Did God really say that?  That’s too good to be true!”

Finally one day, I chose to believe that God truly loved me, His branch, despite my level of fruitfulness.  Nothing has been the same since.  And you know what?  I started seeing this very truth all over the Scriptures:

See how great a love the Father has bestowed upon us that we should be called children of God….and such we are! 1 John 3:1

The Father Himself loves you… John 16:27

I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.Romans 8:38-39

So I say again, “Welcome to the Father’s Vineyard.” Here you will encounter many & various Scriptures, metaphors, “pictures”, stories, and lessons.  But there will always be the same truth at the bottom of it all: The Vine, our Lord Christ, is the All-Important One!  We the branches are the beloved, cared for, and fruitful ones because of being connected to the Glorious Vine!

May our Father God, the Divine Husbandman (Owner-Gardener), use these entries to encourage your life in the Vine.  May you sink down deep into His Life and live from your union with Him day by day.  Then His life in & through you will produce much fruit as He promised.

I am the Vine, you are the branches; He who abides in Me, and I in him, he bears much fruit; for apart from Me you can do nothing. John 15:5