Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Without Christ

“I am the vine, you are the branches; He that abides in me, and I in him, the same brings forth much fruit; for without me, you can do nothing” (John 15:5)

Beware of the church termite that eats through the church, always busy, but not abiding in the Word of God and not building up the body of Christ. Church termites believe everything is about the physical building and the accomplishments of the past. Termites do not understand that the church is not about the building and that to be Christian is not about being busy. Being Christian is about being in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, a branch abiding in the Vine.

There are three ways to be a useless branch, possibly more, but three that come readily to mind. First, you can refuse to listen to Christ. This is epidemic within the church, as people claiming to be Christian do not remain in the Word of God or in a constant dialogue with God. That's right; I said "dialogue." Pray is not about us telling God what He needs to do for you, it is about having an honest conversation between God and you. As a teenager, I made a call on a friend's kitchen telephone. Beside the phone, posted on the wall, was a little saying I have never forgotten. It read, “If man was meant to talk more than he was meant to listen, God would have given him two mouths and only one ear.”

Second, branches can give lip service to Jesus, but not actual service. We have many in our pulpits today that talk the talk but do not walk the walk. Jesus exampled what it means to be a shepherd by walking the walk. We need Pastors that will walk the walk.

Third, branches can be useless by accepting Christ and then abandoning Him. May I be so bold as to suggest that if you are not bearing a good crop of the fruits of the spirit, you have likely abandoned Him. Beware of the Viticulturist who walks the vineyard with His pruning shears in hand – snip.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

God Prunes our Lives

Pour yourself a fresh cup of coffee and meditate with me on the second half of verse two. It reads, “….while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful (John 15:2b, NIV).

Jesus gives three parables concerning vineyards and you can find all three in the New Testament book of Matthew (20:1-16, 21:28-32, and 21:33-46). In relating himself to the vine, Jesus made the vine a sacred Christian symbol with His teaching in John 15:1-17, from where our devotional thought is taking today. This is one of those beautiful passages that, the more you meditate on it, the more it unveils deeper spiritual truths.

Viticulturists protect the quality of the fruit by the pruning (cutting off or from) of branches. Using a small sickle-shaped knife called a pruning hook; the caretaker cuts away unfruitful and dead branches and gathers them for burning. He then carefully prunes the healthy branches to make them even more fruitful. By reducing the number and size of the branches, more nourishment can flow from the vine to the remaining healthy branches enlarging the fruit and ensuring a larger harvest. In addition to pruning, the viticulturist protects the vineyard from foxes, wide hogs, and a host of other wild menacing animals. Towels were often erected in vineyards for the caretaker to keep watch over the vineyard.

God is our Sovereign Viticulturist ever keeping a watchful eye from His throne-tower to protect us from every wild demonic beast that would harm us. Scripture teaches us that Satan seeks to kill, steal, and destroy. He “prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (First Peter 5:8b, NIV). Jesus said in John 10:10 that Satan “comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (NIV). Sometimes the damaged branches have to be cut off from the vine for the sake of the vine; but more often than not, the damaged branches are carefully tended back to health. Likewise, God is sometimes forced to remove a damaged branch, but more times than not, God will carefully mend us back to health.

The real thrust of the second half of verse two is that God prunes the lives of Christians. Christians who are fruit bearing believers are painfully pruned by the Master’s shears. He prunes away the parts of our braches that would cause the fruit to be less than perfect. This is a painful process for the branch. As we are being pruned, we may feel that the Caretaker is not treating us right. We may complain and ask “Why me?” It is hard to trust the Caretaker when He holds the pruning shears and we are being clipped and snipped. It is hard to trust Him when our smaller branches are being cut away and the pain is real. Yet, God has our best interest in mind and the fruit He produces through us will be all the larger and sweeter, because God cares enough to prune our lives for the betterment of His kingdom and ourselves.

So enjoy the flavor of the coffee and ask God to help you bring forth a larger and sweater fruit, for His glory and honor, then anticipate the pruning.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Our Union with Christ

“He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit…." (John 15:2a, NIV)

Growing up on a farm in western North Carolina, we had a Concord grape vine in our backyard that was vibrate and strong. I can remember to this day the mingle smell of the grapes drifting through the open window as I sipped coffee with God and family at the kitchen table. Our grapevine, although vibrate, was minimum to those cultivated in the Holy Land to this day. While healthy, our grapevine was a fragile plant and it was easy to break off branches. While in the Holy land a few years back, the grapevines I witnessed were hefty and robust. They were next to impossible to break off a mature branch without injuring the vine itself. As a spiritual branch in union with the Vine, our unification with Christ is:
1. a living union (nutrients from the Vine flow through us that we may bear fruit);
2. a loving union (our union is relational and allows us to enjoy the Vine), and
3. a lasting union (the union provides eternal security - we need not be afraid).

Biblical images of Christ and the believer emphasize this central idea of union and communion:
1. the body and its members (1 Corinthians 12),
2. the bride and the Bridegroom (Ephesians 5:25-33),
3. the sheep and the Shepherd (John 10).
Scripture reminds us that a limb or organ detached from the human body will die. Scripture reminds us that a wedding creates a union, but it takes daily love and devotion to establish and maintain the marriage. Scripture teaches that the shepherd brings the sheep into the flock, but the sheep must obediently follow the shepherd in order to have protection and provision.

Sometimes we forget our place. We need to acknowledge that just as the branch is pathetic and of no use without the vine, we are pathetic and useless without the Vine, Jesus Christ. It is our unification and communion with Christ through the Spirit that makes possible the bearing of the fruit. What is the fruit that we are each to bear? This fruit is “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23, NIV). This fruit should grow in the life of every believer and be evident in our lifestyle.

The sooner believers discover that we are but branches, the better we will relate to the Lord, and the sooner we will recognize our own weakness and confess our complete need for His supreme strength. Because God is omnipotent, He will use all yielding branches to produce vast quantities and qualities of fruit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control) for His kingdom. God will snip off from the Vine and cast away all branches not producing these fruits, so that the nutrients flowing through the Vine are not be wasted on unyielding parasites. In closing, ask yourself this one question: “Why should God not snip me off the Vine and cast me aside?”

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Stay Connected

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener (John 15:1)

In Scripture, there are actually three different vines found: past, present, and future. The past vine was the nation of Israel (see Psalm 80:8-19; Isaiah 5:1-7; Jeremiah 2:21; Ezekiel 19:10-14; and Hosea 10:1). In an act of wonderful grace, God "transplanted" Israel into Canaan and gave the nation every possible benefit. If ever a nation had everything it needed to succeed, it was Israel. Still, like American, the vine produced wild grapes! Instead of practicing justice, it practiced oppression; instead of producing righteousness, it produced unrighteousness and cries of distress from the victims. When God's own Son came to the vineyard, he was cast out and killed (Matthew 21:33-46). While the past is history and we cannot change it; but God would have us learn from it.

There is also a future vine described in Revelation 14:14-20, it is the vine of the earth. This is a warning from God regarding the Gentile world system. Ungodly nations are ripening for God's judgment. The unsaved depend on this world for their sustenance and satisfaction, while believers depend on Jesus Christ. Believers are not surprised by “Earth Day” and all the hype over “global warming” made by those who trust in the vine of the earth. The "vine of the earth" is going to be cut down and destroyed when Jesus Christ returns. Real “global warming” will occur when the earth is consumed with fire (Second Peter 3:7-10, Revelation 8:5-7; 16:8).

The present Vine is our Lord Jesus Christ and, of course, the vine includes the branches. He is the "true Vine," that is, "the original of which all other vines are a copy." As Christians, we do not live on substitutes! The symbolism of the Vine and branches is similar to that of the Head and the body we have a living relationship to Christ and belong to Him. We are by nature barren and dry, except in so far as we have been engrafted into Christ, and draw from him a power which is new, and which does not proceed from ourselves. A solid understanding of the vine helps us understand that:
1. we have no power for doing good except that power come from God through Christ; without the nutrients flowing through the Vine to us, we have no strength to produce.
2. we have a root in Christ and are pruned and dressed by our Heavenly Father; because the pruning and tending is painful, we should focus on the Father’s loving hands that provide the care we need.
3. our Heavenly Father removes unfruitful branches and cast them into the fire to be burned; we are to be productive Kingdom Citizens out of love and gratitude to the Father and the Vine.
4. we do not have the nature of the Vine, until we are grafted into the Vine; it is the graft that allows the nutrients of the Vine to sustain us
5. while we as the branch may be grafted into the Vine, receive our nourishment through the Vine, and are a part of the Vine, the branch never becomes the Vine.

Access to God is through the Vine – Jesus Christ. Stay connected to Christ!

Friday, May 2, 2008

Need a Rock?

Nothing goes better with a great cup of coffee than the Word of God. Coffee with God helps me focus on the needs of the day and allows me to set priorities. Coffee and Scripture are two anchors in my life. As enjoyable as the smell of coffee brewing in the morning, or the first sip flowing down my throat in the morning, the closeness and readiness of God to commune with me is even sweeter.

Life's disappointments are many and sometimes the challenges seem more than I can accept. Yet, God, through His Word, comforts and consoles me, giving me strength to go on another day. Do you ever feel that evil and chaos surround you, and that you are being attacked spiritually, mentally, and physically? When you feel this way, are your friends swift to come and give support to you?

I use to know a vacuum cleaner salesman who would often say, “Humans are funny creatures.” I use to believe he was one of the funniest, but as I age, I see more truth in his cliché. People are quick to offer words of comfort to console you, but extremely slow to truly offer a happy hand. Tell a friend that you are struggling to make your house payment, and he will tell you he understands your struggle. At the same time that he is trying to console you, he is hoping that you do not notice his wallet is thicker than usual, and he is praying you do not ask him for a loan.

Nahum records that “The Lord is good, a strong hold in the day of trouble; moreover, he knows them that trust in him” (Nahum 1:7). In your struggles, do not dwell on self-pity, but rather rejoice that God is good. Part of God's goodness is that He is unchanging. He is our Rock. We can anchor our lives to Him and find security in our stormy seas. Remember, God knows all who trust in him; this is one thing you and I cannot fake. Either we trust God, or we trust in our ability and possessions. As a young man, I believed I could do anything I wanted to do, but now as an older and wiser man, I understand that it is only in and through Christ that I achieve anything.