The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.
A little gleaning of my own from this weekend after some thought, devotion, sharing, and communication:
If out of your life chaos protrudes and proliferates, you are not living out of a Christ-life; you're living in your sins, in the past, in control, and out of His will. If from your life emanates light, peace, calm, and rest, you're living in life apart from the thief who is ever trying to convince you of your own righteousness and your own self-doubt. That robber teaches that the past is the future, that walking away and shutting down communication is the answer; that you cannot deal; that you're not enough; that there is no hope.
Then Christ, from a cross says "You can because you're mine...make me yours."
May God bless you with peace and power today.
7 And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. 8 Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. 9 And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
In my weakness He is strong
Gives my heart the peace of calm
In my brokenness He moves
Lifts me up from habits' grooves
In my darkness He is light
Meekness shines through His might
In confusion He is clear
Removes the paralyzing fear
In the face of doubt He's faith
Sufficient is His matchless grace
For a thorn He trades a cross
When near me is the pain of loss
In pleasure, In reproach, In need
He from the true vine does feed
In persecutions and distresses, He
does lift my soul in anguish, free
I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser.
As we continue our study of the True Vine in John 15, Jesus names His Father as the husbandman, the earth worker (georgos), the vinedresser who serves many roles. Since John likely records this 60 years after the original events occurred, I thought of how deeply he must have understood this relationship, and it really humbled me.
As in posts past, I wanted to observe that the focus in this parable is the Trinity as a source of peace, power, and production, and we should remember that it is through that triune force that we have access to the sonship of Christ.
“Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away"
The role of the Father is multifaceted, much like an earthly father's role. A father provides, protects, heals, and helps, and sometimes he just has to take his children up into his arms for comfort. That alone is of eternal importance.
The phrase "takes away" in the Greek is "airo," whose primary definition is to be lifted up. The branch is not yet cast out but is taken up and given special care. This reminds me of so many times as a boy that I would be ornery, and my father would take me up and carry me away. If you're a parent you know that the acting out can be caused by an unmet need or just by sheer misdirection of energy that, uncorrected, can result in further unmet needs and further disobedience.
For this reason, the Father takes us up and allows us to abide in the vine but fosters us differently than he would a fruit-producing vine. If we need more light, more water, or more nourishment, He'll ensure that we receive them in the way that is most conducive for long-term growth and production so as not to overwhelm with woody distractions.
When you slip up, God doesn't just give up on you! Your salvation is NOT a revolving door. Nor is it a flapping pennant or a badge of honor. The Father is "longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance" (II Peter 3:9). Thus, His taking us awayand lifting us up is initially for the same purpose that He Prunes the productive branches. Watching "Mama Ruby" bind up the limbs on a small sapling pecan or on a rose bush seemed restrictive and limiting to the plants at first, but she, knowing the energy and potential therein, would have killed the entire plant for the one wild vine having not brought it into subjection to the ties.
"Every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit"
When I think of pruning, I am taken back to Texas summers outdoors when I would take shelter from the heat for a few minutes at a time in the shed behind our home. This was where my parents kept all of the lawn tools. There was a pair of pruning shears and a pruning saw that looked different from a chain saw or a bush whacker. They had smaller, curved blades, specifically designed to remove and chip away the unhelpful stems and the dead limbs on our rose bushes and our pear tree.
It is not out of hatred, spite, or judgment that the Father has issued this pruning process but out of pure love. The point is best made by the Hebrews writer in the twelfth chapter:
5 And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons:
The chastening of the Father is the most glorious chipping away and is proof-and-prosper of His son within us. God does not chasten us in punishment but in purification. Does it hurt? The writer says YES. But what do we experience in Him after suffering? Great and abundant spiritual fruit (Gal 5:22)!
As a vinedresser tends the vines Year to year, there may have grown ten feet of unproductive wood throughout the year, perhaps even strong resilient wood! But when the dresser sees no fruit, he cuts the branch back to a nub - many times within inches from the original cut. The image is an emotional one. There is a loss, but there is gain for the spirit which blossoms for the freedom to produce fruit free of religiosity and ritualism.
After a month or six months or a year, I'll experience a whole string of disappointments or setbacks, and I'll realize that God is in the process of doing for me microcosmically what he did for His true children on a larger scope: "the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it." (Mt. 21:43). Paul himself testified to this in I Corinthians chapter 3, verse 15 "If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire."
The man-made fabrications of our philosophies will be lopped off in the pruning, and yes they'll be burned, and yes it will be in pain, but it is for the growth of the spirit and its reliance on the True Vine and the Husbandman. The wood is cut away, and the fruit abounds.
The $100,000 Bible and English degree that sits on the shelf at home makes a pretty ornament for decoration, but it does not prove that I grew in the spirit. Nor does it make me a better child of God or a more fruitful branch. The stack of attendance cards from numerous worship services doesn't make me a veteran Christian. It makes me a person who has sat through numerous worship services. If you were to never miss a worship service yet never give your fruit producing capabilities to the Lord, you might as well stop collecting check marks and stop scratching off your spiritual To-Do lists.
"If anyone does not abide in me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered, and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned."
PLEASE PAY ATTENTION: This casting forth is "ekballo" in the Greek, and describes both the separation of the fruitless wood from the rootstalk and its eventual and imminent purging in fire. Separation unto Punishment.
It is to the first separation that I would turn your attention to briefly. Upon being cut off (Gal 5:4), the soul has "fallen from Grace" and no longer has access to Grace that flows through the blood of Christ. Being unfruitful and lifted up and being cast out are two different concerns. The casting out places the soul apart from the Vine, and apart from grace that flows through it (Romans 6:3-4; Gal 3:26-27).
The myth that a soul once loved or redeemed can never pass onto the branch heap has been sold at every turn by the next opportunistic evangelist seeking to offer hope. This is a false hope. Consider the words of Simon Peter:
For when they speak great swelling words of emptiness, they allure through the lusts of the flesh, through lewdness, the ones who have actually escaped from those who live in error. While they promise them liberty, they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by whom a person is overcome, by him also he is brought into bondage. For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning. For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them. But it has happened to them according to the true proverb: “A dog returns to his own vomit,” and, “a sow, having washed, to her wallowing in the mire.” (II Peter 2:18-22 NKJV)
"By this the father is glorified, when you bear much fruit."
Note who receives the glory. The praise. The honor. "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them" (Eph. 2:8-10).
Why is it that when we see a beautiful sculpture we praise the sculptor, when we see a fruitful orchard we praise the arborist, yet when we see a beautiful work for the Lord we praise a man? Vanity? Ego? Human Nature? Perhaps...
Or maybe its because throughout our lives we are actually convinced that the chastening of the Lord is just Mother Nature throwing her proverbial weight around--on us. Or that God just made some people better, more equipped, capable of more fruit? Seriously?!
Do you remember the excuse that Moses gave the Almighty God when going up against pharaoh? "But-but-but-I don't talk good." Then God gave him Aaron as a speaker and--don't you know it--Moses steals the show from Aaron and leads millions out of Egypt. God knows our excuses and our regrets and our hearts deeper than we could ever imagine. He provides an out and then he equips the called to perform the duty to His glory. We are his workmanship. He builds us up and He will return His blessings to us one hundred fold.
"As the Father loved me, I also have loved you...Because they do not know Him who sent me"
God the Father set Love in motion as the master gardener and watched as this "tender plant...a root out of dry ground" (Isaiah 53) grew forth into a massive vineyard - the church of Christ (Romans 16:16) - not a denomination or a distillation of other religious sects, but the true and original body of Christ Jesus, also known as "the way" or "the kingdom." God set the example of love that He would give of Himself His Unique Son (Jn 3:16), the only true vine, to reconcile the world while we were yet sinners (Romans 5:8).
"In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins" I John 4:10.
God is not just the teacher of what love is and how it manifested but also how to love in a world that is against the spirit and that lives in spite of the spiritual reality that surrounds us. Christ in the flesh was the ONLY way to prove that love prevails over all (Romans 13).
"For all things that I heard from my Father I have made known to you."
God is not a bitter clock maker who sits back and laughs as we carry out petty lives in the flesh. He prepared everything so that we might enjoy life more abundantly, in spirit (Jn 10:10). He is not an author of confusion (I Cor 14:33) but grants us all things that pertain to life and godliness (II Pt 1:3). Man attempts to conjure up a God who could have forsaken us, could have let us burn, could have watched as we roasted, yet God in His character could have never searched for such a self (James 1:10f).
He didn't leave us guessing about a Savior (Gen 3, Dan 2, Joel 2, Acts 2), and He would never leave us unprepared to make a fully informed decision. Yet the flesh can veil what is right before us...consider the savior who lived among the apostles and had prophesied and had taught and had hinted, yet they are met with surprise at His crucifixion and ascension (Acts 1). Let it not be said that we were surprised at His second coming.
"Whatever you ask in my name, He will give to you."
What could this ever mean? God can grant us everything that we ask in the name of Jesus...that's a tall order, huh? The emphasis here is on Him. HE will give. We must never stop asking, but HE gives the increase as we plant, water, and cultivate (I Cor 3:6). That being said, He'll also be the one in the next season who comes back to cut away the woody imperfections and to cast them out to be burned (I Cor 3:15).
"He who hates me hates my Father also."
There is fruit that is clearly not of the alethinos ampelos, Christ Jesus. They talk about other gods. They speak of another messiah, another prophet, another gospel. Anything apart from the original life source is a conjuring of the mind of man. When we claim that there are other true fellowships other than that of the blood of Christ, we are adulterating the gospel, the Absolute Reality of the Father and Creator who gave us mouths to oppose Him and hands to sin against Him. We call Him "Liar" and "Cheat." He is either a lunatic or he is Almighty King. There is no in-between.
"The spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father"
Father God dispenses the Holy Spirit who can only agree with Him. There is nothing in the Word that has been "unrevealed" through someone's personal prophecy or revelation through the Spirit. God does not conflict with Himself because he is the Ultimate Truth and Reality of the universe. He is the only being that has always been and always will be, and we can scarcely fathom the depths of His knowing. We can know that He never lies, is always dependable, always consistent. If there is a problem with what we understand, let's not try to change what He proclaimed in the spirit but to align our spirit with what he proclaimed.
I know the last couple of paragraphs could have bore more comparison to the analogy and more similitude to the parable, but I am leaving them as-is. The Father of the Kingdom is the worker in the earth who is still involved in the pruning process. But God is never so close to His children as when he is binding them up, pruning them , chastening, and purging (Hebrews 12).
God we dedicate this post, this blog, these lives to you in your paternal glory. Thank you for your closeness, your discipline unto discipleship, and your abiding presence. Please grant us peace through your word and let us simply be branches, aligned with you; bound up and pruned for your glory. Amen.