Welcome, friends! The words of Jesus informs us of our important connection to God and how to maintain it. The fruit we produce from that connection is meant for the life of the world. Click the videos below and let us live and abide in Christ…
The bread of life is given for you. May you know the riches of God’s goodness. The blood of Christ is shed for you. May you know the peace of his forgiveness. Amen.
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit, he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. 3 You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. (John 15:1-8, NIV)
“Remain in Me”
The word “remain” means to linger in the present moment – to be mindful to ourselves and our situations and stay connected. It is to have continual unbroken fellowship with Jesus.
To have a connection, there must be two ends to connect. The Jesus connection is consistent. It’s always there. We are the other connection. And, frankly, we can be flaky – pulling away and coming close. Which is why Jesus gives a repeated invitation to keep the connection. Here are a few other translations of John 15:4….
Stay joined to me, and I will stay joined to you. Just as a branch cannot produce fruit unless it stays joined to the vine, you cannot produce fruit unless you stay joined to me. (CEV)
Live in me, and I will live in you. A branch cannot produce any fruit by itself. It must stay attached to the vine. In the same way, you cannot produce fruit unless you live in me. (GW)
Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. (NKJV)
Our task as Christians is to remain connected to Jesus. So, the question is: How do we keep the connection without breaking it? How can we be fruitful?
Focus On the Relationship
Christianity, at its core, is about a living relationship with Jesus. Yes, doctrine is important. And it is necessary to know the basic tenets of Christian faith. Yet, any knowledge and understanding we gain about Christianity is to be channeled into developing the relationship.
Bible trivia is only as good as the understanding we apply to build the relationship. Knowledge makes us proud of ourselves, while love makes us helpful to others. While knowledge makes us feel important, it is love that strengthens the church. Knowledge puffs up but love builds up. (1 Corinthians 8:1)
Christ’s redemptive events of incarnation, holy life, death, resurrection, and ascension are all meant to restore a severed relationship with humanity. Therefore, knowing doctrinal truth is not the same as using the doctrines to connect with God in a loving relationship.
As with all relations, it takes planning, dedication, time, and effort to grow and maintain our relationship with Jesus Christ. If we fail to use our time and energy on that relationship, then the leaves on the branch begin to wither.
Scripture, silence, solitude, community, prayer, giving, and fasting have always been at the center of Christian practices which are designed to put us in a position to hear and receive from God.
Relate Well to the Other Branches
The church is a community. Christ and the church have a vital union with each other. We are a living growing community. I used to live in a place where there was a tree that had grown up next to an old fence post. The tree grew tall and engulfed the post to the degree that now you can only see part of the fence post.
To try and remove the post, you would need to remove the tree. The two have become one. And the tree is still growing. Not only are we connected to the trunk, but we’re also connected to each other. We are all part of the same vine. We aren’t separate vines. So, we all need to do our part in the system of the vine.
Keep Close to the Vine
My grandmother had a grapevine in her backyard when I was a kid. I have firsthand understanding that the best grapes are located closest to the trunk of the vine. The sweetest, juiciest, biggest, and best tasting grapes are found in the middle, securely next to the vine’s trunk.
If you’re into sour grapes, then pick the ones at the end of the branches. Show me a sourpuss Christian, and I’ll show you a Christian who is not close to Christ. Show me a sweet Christian and I’ll show you a believer who daily works at their connection with Jesus.
Pruning is Necessary
Healthy vines need to be pruned, at least once a year. Ideally, twice a year, in the Spring before budding; and in the fall, after the harvest. To ignore pruning is to compromise the vine’s ability to produce both good grapes and lots of grapes. The branches of a grapevine need to be kept short because the nutrients are concentrated in and near the vine. Long branches compromise the harvest.
Pruning hurts. From the perspective of us branches, pruning feels like judgment. But it isn’t. Even though pruning is painful for us, it makes us healthier and tastier. It’s better to do a few things well, rather than try and do a lot of things for which we have limited time and energy. It is a good practice to do some pruning twice a year.
Know Why You are Connected
Christians are joined to Jesus. Yes, we are connected so that we are saved from sin, death, and hell. And, yes, we are also linked with Jesus to experience life to the full. Yet, the goal or the end of the connection is to produce succulent fruit.
If there are no grapes on the vine, the vine is useless. Then we get rid of it. Grapevines exist to produce grapes. Christians and churches exist for the life of the world, to produce the fruit of righteousness consistent with our Christ-connected union: love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (Galatians 5:22-23)
The church is not an end in and of itself. The church exists for the life of the world. Jesus said:
“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead, they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:13-16, NIV)
If we live in union with Christ, and if the words and ways of Jesus live powerfully within us—then ask for anything, and it will be done. Prayer is both an event and a process. It is something anyone can do, as well as a spiritual practice that needs growth and development.
God’s Word, the words of Jesus, are the nutrients for our spiritual life. When those words find a home within us, there is a divine/human conversation as well as a mystical union. Christ promises that if we just ask, it’s ours.
As our relationship with Christ grows, we learn to be thoughtful about our asking. Flippantly or selfishly asking for things disrespects the connection we enjoy with God. Claiming or demanding answers to prayer demeans the relationship. However, we can also dishonor God by simply not asking, at all.
Essentially, Jesus said to his disciples, “Go ahead, try me!” Prayer is the delivery system for our nutrients. And prayer is also the means of delivering the blessing of succulent fruit so that the world might live.
Jesus modeled prayer for his disciples, and for us. Those prayers are grounded in connection and unity with the Father. Just as God is One, we are to be one:
I am not praying just for these followers. I am also praying for everyone else who will have faith because of what my followers will say about me. I want all of them to be one with each other, just as I am one with you and you are one with me. I also want them to be one with us. Then the people of this world will believe that you sent me.
I have honored my followers in the same way that you honored me, in order that they may be one with each other, just as we are one. I am one with them, and you are one with me, so that they may become completely one. Then this world’s people will know that you sent me. They will know that you love my followers as much as you love me.
Father, I want everyone you have given me to be with me, wherever I am. Then they will see the glory that you have given me, because you loved me before the world was created. Good Father, the people of this world don’t know you. But I know you, and my followers know that you sent me. I told them what you are like, and I will tell them even more. Then the love that you have for me will become part of them, and I will be one with them. (John 17:20-26, CEV)
We are to live and to pray consistent with who we are and what our mission is. The church is to be one as God is one. Christians are to pray for unity because our triune God is always united. Believers everywhere are to remain and abide in Christ through a vital connection of loving God and loving neighbor.
See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.
Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness. But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin. No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him.
Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. The one who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous. (1 John 3:1-7, NIV)
True children of God, Christians, are loved by God – that is their status and identity. This cannot be changed any more than a tiger can change his stripes.
True children of God live, remain, abide, and continue in their identity as Christians. They know who they are and how they are to live.
Who We Are
When Jesus was on this earth, he was misunderstood by a lot of people. Christians must learn to expect the same. True children loved by God will neither fit in with the world nor seek the world’s affirmation and accolades. The practical difference between Christianity and the world is that Christians locate their primary identity, allegiance, and purpose in Christ, whereas the world finds their identity elsewhere.
Being loved by God brings assurance, peace, security, and hope. These qualities cannot be manufactured by us because they are results of being loved. The world cannot give us these characteristics. This does not mean that Christians always have it all together. We are continually in a process of discovering our identity and growing more and more into that uniqueness. The reason Jesus lived his life without needing the world’s recognition is that he was firmly and securely assured of the Father’s love and care for him.
Christians continue to learn what it means to be loved by God in Christ. This love helps fortify our faith so that we will not find our identities in worldly roles, however intrinsically good those roles might be. For example, a parent with the primary identity as mother or father will view salvation as coming through the family. Or a person with the primary identity as teacher will see deliverance coming through education.
When Christians have their primary identity as children of God, loved by God, then they see deliverance from guilt, shame, darkness, and oppression as coming through Jesus. When the church, living and serving together, secure in their identity as children of God, loved by God, then she can withstand any adulterous flirtations from the world to woo them away from Jesus.
We are children of God. We are not children of the world’s institutions, systems, organizations, ethos, mores, and values. Everyone who has hope in Christ is pure and holy. When we locate our primary identity in being loved by God, we avoid defiling ourselves with the world’s grime. We take regular spiritual baths which cleanse us from the world’s crud. We keep reminding ourselves and each other of our true status as God’s children. We do not allow any other identity to topple or replace our wonderful reality of being loved by God.
How we view ourselves will determine how we live our lives.
How We Are to Live
True children of God abide by the law because they abide in Christ. Jesus said all the law could be summed up in two commands: Love God. Love neighbor. Breaking the law means:
Hating instead of loving.
Working to undermine someone instead of seeking their best interests.
Excluding others instead of including others.
Dividing and opposing instead of unifying and cooperating.
No one abiding in Christ continues the same trajectory they had before knowing Christ. Jesus came to take care of the sin issue once for all through the cross. Therefore, Christians, loved by God, cannot be lawbreakers if they are abiding; the two cannot co-exist with each other.
So, our primary task as Christians is to abide in Jesus and remain firmly in our identity as children of God, loved by God. We are to love by remaining in God’s love and allowing love to shape all our thoughts, words, and actions. We will continue to be steadfast in that love. We will not be led astray. We will abide in Christ.
Identity and life work together. For example, I am currently a citizen of the state of Wisconsin. I not only geographically live in Wisconsin, but I am to abide in the state as a responsible person. Being a Wisconsinite is different from the rest of the world. Wisconsinites are readily identifiable by their sports and their food.
Diehard Green Bay Packer fans forsake any identification as Lions, Bears, or the god-forsaken pagan Vikings. They like their prep and collegiate sports, flock to curling clubs, get married in bowling alleys, and observe time through the various hunting seasons. Citizens of Wisconsin like their food and drink. Nothing compares to the Friday night fish fry, cheese curds, venison, mustard – all washed down with either a Spotted Cow, Leinenkugel’s, or a trip to the bubbler.
We are to become more and more like Christ. Our identity as loved by God means we will seek to live in Christ by living a life of love. The people of Wisconsin have a general reputation of being polite and helpful, not rude and unhelpful. All their citizens should live into this identity and behavior. And as Christians whose primary identity is in being children of God, loved by God, we should abide in Christ through love and obedience.
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit, he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.
I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.
As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This is my command: Love each other.”(John 15:1-17, NIV)
A true Christian is a child of God, not the world. Our behavior flows from who we are. If our primary identity is securely in being a loved child of God, then what comes out of us will be loving words and actions, even to those in the world who might not believe or understand.
When we think about our world, it can be a sad place, devoid of love. People from different cultures and backgrounds often do not get along with each other. Political parties have difficulty finding common ground. Some Christians cannot seem to get along with other Christians. In the world, differences often divide us. Can people different from each other get along?
The early church did. And they did it without all the stuff we have – sanctuaries, church buildings, programs. Those early believers did it through the message of the cross using the basic tool of love. Not every Christian will serve on the foreign mission field or serve in a professional ministry position. However, every Christian can be loving.
True children of God are loved by God. They are characterized by the Christian practices of hospitably loving the immigrant and stranger, loving their enemies, forgiving those who have sinned against them, and obeying God’s commands. These practices stem the tide of evil and hate in the world and usher in the love of God in Christ.
“Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me…. If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you.” –Jesus (John 15:4, 7)
Today, as I look out of my office window, there are the signs of life everywhere. A gentle rain is falling; the earth is slowly drinking the water; the flora of elm, maple, and oak trees support an animated fauna of robins, finches, squirrels, and the occasional white-tailed deer. Evidence of the night stalking of raccoons, skunks, and possums are left in the soft mud. Beyond what my eye can see, I also realize there is a vast unseen world of organisms thriving within that small patch of nature.
The ecosystem outside my little world is connected to the much larger world of massive earthly movements of seasons, weather, and people. They are all connected in this immense and vast place we call “Earth.” When we live and move and have our being in alignment and connection with God and his big world, we are truly blessed, enjoying God’s stamp of approval.
Perhaps we all feel some connection to this world because we originally came from the humus of the earth’s dirt. In an impressive display of creation, God breathed into the people he made and they came alive to their Creator and the creation which surrounded them.
We were born for connection. Inherent to our very design and nature, God made us in his relational image and his communal likeness. We exist to have meaningful and enjoyable connection with God, his creation, and his people.
Yet, the world, as we also see evidenced in innumerable ways, is fundamentally broken. Separation and anxiety rule far too many people’s lives and infect all kinds of human systems of institutions, corporations, and governments, and even families. The current separation of immigrant parents and children on the U.S. border is not only reprehensible and morally repugnant, but serves as an overarching metaphor for a world that experiences a profound disconnect with their Creator.
The work of Jesus on this earth was to reset the brokenness; restore the dignity of humanity; renew and revive body and soul; and, redeem lost persons from the bondage of misguided ways resulting in agonizing separation, division, and disunion. In short, Jesus came to heal his treasured people through helping others to reconnect with God.
To abide with Jesus is to remain with him, to be present with him. God took the initiative to foster healing by sending his Son to this earth. Jesus, in close connection with his Father, enabled and established a vital re-connection with God. The Father and the Son graciously sent the Holy Spirit to help us abide with Jesus and know the joy of genuine healing and spiritual health and vitality.
“You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you.” (John 15:16)
Think about what you need most today, perhaps even this moment. Give some feeling to what they world is in desperate need of. Maybe you are in physical pain. It could be that your heart is broken over a severed disconnected relationship. Perhaps someone is abusing you verbally, or neglecting you. You might be separated from a loved one through geography or death. Or, you might just know in the depths of your soul that something isn’t right – that your banal mundane existence in the daily grind lacks any real meaning or connection to the earth and its people.
Peace in the world, if and when it ever gets any traction, is little more than two groups of people not verbally decapitating and/or killing one another for awhile. The earth is sick with dirty water and soil erosion, mirroring humanity’s erosion of internal virtue. Love is sought in all the wrong places and lands lonely people into spiritual brothels of pain and disappointment.
In all kinds of ways, we each experience some sort of issue(s) that are askew, askance, and twisted. We long for the ability to be a human Gumby who can bend back into some kind of normalcy. We hunger to be noticed in a world of division that seems to notice nothing.
The good news of Holy Scripture is that the satisfaction of basic human needs will come through abiding with Christ. Remaining with him enables one to ask and receive because God has conspired within himself as Father, Son, and Spirit to grant us deliverance from disconnection, and establish a loving kinship with those who have experienced the unlovely and ungracious elements of this world. Jesus said:
“You are my friends…. No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you.” (John 15:15)
God, in Jesus Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit, is laboring behind the scenes to make things right one human being at a time. We look for miracles, yet the work of God is mostly to be found in the spiritual flora and fauna of the unseen ecosystem of the soul. There, in the depths of our heart and our gut, the Lord does a wondrous work of connection which heals and restores to life. In turn, we become Christ-like, being a mini-Jesus who points others to the re-alignment of body, soul, spirit, and all creation.
Based upon how Jesus interacted with others, and how he deals with you and me, we are to bless the individual who is right in front of our face in three simple ways:
Acknowledge the person through being fully present with them.
God blesses us, and we bless others when we affirm the sacredness of the people around us. This enables us to provide focused and curious attention to the person God has before us. We are to be “present” with them, giving our full devotion to listening, asking thoughtful questions, and being okay with hearing their musings on life. As we abide with Christ, we learn to abide with one another.
Affirm the person’s inherent worth of humanity through validating their feelings.
Emotions are emotions. Feelings are feelings. You will not find an account in the New Testament Gospels of Jesus dismissing another’s feelings and telling them they shouldn’t have certain emotions. To invalidate someone’s feelings is to shut them down and create an even wider disconnect and separation from the source of Christian healing and wholeness. Instead, the human virtue of compassion sinks-into an abiding relationship when we affirm feelings as windows to the soul.
Act with the love and grace of Jesus toward the person through giving them the gift of fellowship and friendship.
Sometimes, maybe even most times, people just want to be heard. They want to know that someone is listening. They don’t want to feel forgotten, neglected, or dismissed. They want a friend who will give them the time of day. We all need friends. We all need love. The problem comes when too many persons have such a severe love deficit in their lives that they can’t give anything to anyone. When we are all just trying to take, we are on survival mode and we end up hurting others instead of healing them.
One of the reasons we have burned-out people is because too often 20% of the people are doing 80% of the relational work. Proper boundaries and a greater awareness of self and self’s needs is a much needed discipline today. Spiritually healthy people bring hope and healing. Spiritually sick people trying to do more is only a recipe for more separation, division, and disconnection because they’re running their engines with no oil of blessing on what they’re doing.
Abide with Christ. That is our first and foremost task. It isn’t our job to fix or save the world; that’s God’s job. Our work is to remain in love and obedience, and simply point others to the vine of life through the blessing of respectful acknowledgement, emotional affirmation, and gracious action. When our desires align with God’s desires, prayer becomes an organic response to basic human need, and those prayers will be honored. The garden of the soul can hold and sustain life. When it is shared with others it brings integrity and joy to all creation.