Remain in Me: What if that’s All it Takes to be a Miracle?

A lot of people work hard at being religious. But what if you only have ONE Job…to REMAIN? Consider this unusual challenge from Jesus: “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. (John 15:1-4 NIV).

An Obvious Analogy

In the last of the seven great “I am” statements that John recorded for posterity, Jesus claims to be the true vine. In an agricultural society, this may have resonated more deeply than it does today, but it DOES sound more personal than “I am the Wi-Fi, and you are the router.” So step back into a somewhat simpler analogy and consider for a moment that you are a branch on the vine. Perhaps you can picture a vineyard (like Jesus’ listeners would have), with orderly rows of plants that have been cultivated and cared for.

remain

Left to themselves, the vines would be wild and unkempt, but the perfect symmetry of the vineyard suggests planning and hours of work. Focus in on one plant. The vine is about as thick as a man’s arm, and grows to a height of about 4 feet, with the branches going up another two to three feet from there. From the ground up, your vine has clean lines that are unmarred by unruly shoots or stragglers until it spreads out in glorious abundance at the top.

The branches extend in an orderly fashion, and every one of them is laden with rich, colorful fruit. Just picture the clusters of deep Concord blue grapes that hang seductively from the branches, bursting with flavor and promise. This is what everyone in the audience would have been thinking, and they would be hanging on Jesus’ words almost like the grapes they were picturing in their minds…

An Obvious Result

Jesus tells them that he is the root and trunk, and is therefore the true source of all life, nourishment, and growth. Without being connected to him you cannot grow, and you cannot bear fruit. The Vine and the branches have a natural, harmonious relationship. So harmonious, in fact, that his disciples became purveyors of miracles, and “turned the world upside down”.

Our status: connection
Then, Our purpose: bear fruit
Our job: remain

Seems almost too easy that our only job is to “remain” in him… We are connected, we have access to intimacy with one who loves us, and we are just supposed to stay that way, right? But stop and think: Before you say “that’s not too hard”, think of the difficulty we humans have with loving relationships—high divorce rates, estranged family members, fractured friendships…we have a hard enough time staying connected with those we are closest to, without even counting politics or all of the people we don’t even know…

Harder Than It Looks

So perhaps it’s not really all that easy to do what Jesus commanded us to do: “Remain in me”. Because there are distractions, aren’t there? The world calls us away from his abiding presence, and we stay too busy to remain in contact with him. And as if those distractions weren’t enough, we have our OWN interests and passions to lead us away from him. We get impatient with his slow and subtle guidance, we get a little selfish, and we… Separate.

Find a few minutes to connect today. Think about your vine, and picture it bursting with succulent grapes! What fruit do you want your life to bear? Reflect on the fact that Jesus said (John 15:5), “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit.” Graft your dry, impatient, selfish branches back into the vine. Feel his strengthening words flow into you, endure the pain of productive pruning, and bear fruit. It’s what you were created to do.

The One Job the Branches Have to Do

You are the branches; I am the Vine.
Your fruit will result in the finest of wine,
As your grapes find expression in succulent growth:
Rich flavor or color? I offer them both!
Seductive, however, the world can distract;
You must stay productive, and keep fruit intact,
For the world would destroy it or steal it from you,
To hinder what you were created to do!
There’s also some pruning that you must endure
For that maximum growth that is fully mature.
For you to survive both temptation and pain
This reminder will serve as a simple refrain:
I am the Vine. Stay connected. Remain.

To purchase my newest book Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

Rebuke: Why a Kick in the Teeth Can Be an Act of Love

Have you ever been stung by a rebuke? It’s not any fun. It hurts a little, and it can be a tough thing to endure. If you’ve been rebuked, you know what I mean. But the Bible offers a statement about rebuke than can change your perspective entirely: “It is better to hear the rebuke of the wise than for a man to hear the song of fools”. (Ecclesiastes 7:5, NIV)

Who are Your Difference-Makers?

Who in your life offers you wise correction? I once made a list of all the “difference makers” in my life. I thought about people who taught me something useful, exhorted me to go farther, offered me rebuke, or pushed me to elevate my game in some form or fashion. In almost every case, those people caused me discomfort or even pain at the time. I certainly didn’t recognize 100% back then that they were helping me instead of hurting me. In fact, there were times I surely resented it; it wasn’t comfortable or (I felt) complimentary.

But maybe rebuke was a good thing. Looking back, I can clearly see how my Dad (in particular) and certain teachers, coaches, and friends motivated me to achieve more than I would have without their sometimes abrasive assistance. Oddly enough, I thought most of them were being mean to me in the moment, but they were actually pushing me to get out of my comfort zone and into my potential.

rebuke helps

Walt Disney Can’t be Wrong

Walt Disney said “You may not realize it when it happens, but a kick in the teeth may be the best thing in the world for you.” Jesus said it in a different way: “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.” (John 15:1-2, NIV) Even fruitful branches get pruned by the gardener. A healthy plant actually bears more fruit after it has undergone the stress of losing branches; Jesus presented that as an analogy for human growth as well.

Our Father uses the pain and difficulty of today to prepare us for tomorrow. When Joseph was thrown into a pit by his brothers and then sold into slavery, he could have stayed bitter over his mistreatment. Instead, he recognized that there was a larger purpose involved. He told his brothers, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (Genesis 50:20, NIV)

I’m certainly not trying to make light of tragedy in any way, but the next time you find yourself in discomfort or difficult circumstances, say a little prayer of thanksgiving for the fact that you will be “even more fruitful”. That person telling you to take it easy or inviting you to slack off may not be your friend; and the person who challenges you and offers you rebuke may not be your enemy.

The Harsh Sting of Pleasing Words

Jesus said we are the branches, and he is the vine;
“My Father”, Jesus said, “will prune on every branch of mine.”
Unfruitful branches are cut off completely, while the rest
Are cut and pruned so that their fruit will be the very best.
When we are tempted to relax, stop trying–just to coast–
The people who rebuke us are the ones who love us most.
A wise rebuke may hurt our feelings, or at least seem cruel,
But it’s better than the soothing flattery of a fool…

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread