Saturday, May 28, 2011

Secrets of the Vine

"I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.” (John 15:1-2)

There was once a vineyard where there were a number of fruit-bearing vines. One spring a new vine was planted and grew up that year next to an old vine that was known to be the most fruitful of them all. “My,” the young vine thought to himself, “wouldn’t it be grand to be as large and fruitful as he!” Indeed, he spent his days studying the old vine to see what he could imitate to one day grow as strong. To his surprise he found nothing out of the ordinary, in fact, if anything, the old vine was odd and so unlike the other vines that it was downright peculiar. The old vine did nothing that would seem to make him more fruitful. He would simply spend his days sitting quietly in the sun. When the sun was too hot or when there was a heavy rain he did not get anxious like the other vines did. He was always happy and spoke with fondness of the fruit that would eventually grow on his branches, not complaining of the weight and strain it would add, not to mention the fact that it would be stripped from him at the harvest. But despite his years and fruitfulness, the other vines, most likely out of jealousy, made fun of his peculiar ways and did their best to discredit his ability to bear such wonderful and abundant fruit. “He’s one of those rare vines” they would say. “Probably imported from some special plant that genetically made him be able to produce fruit so well.” The young vine silently listened and observed all of this. As the summer progressed the old vine did indeed bear the most beautiful fruit the young vine could have imagined! Indeed, it did seem impossible for him to become like the old vine, but oh, he wanted to! One day as the old vine sat contently in the cool autumn evening the young vine gathered up his courage and spoke to him. “Um Sir?” he asked hesitatingly.  The old vine opened his eyes and looked down on the young vine who suddenly felt very small. “Well hello young vine” he answered with a smile. “What can I do for you?” The young vine stumbled over his words but he managed to ask, “Well, please sir, um how is it that you are so large and fruitful?” The old vine smiled with delight over this question, but then his face grew serious and his eyes took on a hint of shadow. “Are you sure you want to know?” he asked. “I will tell you now that the process of growing more fruitful is not always pleasant.” The young vine thought about this. “I think so” he answered. “I want to be fruitful like you are.” The old vine laughed. “Well” he said, “I will tell you this for now. Do you know the gardener?” The young vine thought about the man who came often to check on the vines. “Yes indeed” he replied. “Well” said the old vine, “I will tell you what you must do if you want to bear fruit. You must trust the gardener. He is good and knows what he is doing. If you let him, he will help you to bear more fruit.” It seemed rather silly to the young vine. How could a man help him to bear more fruit? But he believed the old vine and tried to wait patiently for this “help” to come… whatever it was.
As autumn harvest came the young vine watched the old vine willingly yield the fruit that he had born. He followed his example thinking to himself, “Ah, maybe this is what he meant. I shall give my fruit to the gardener; that is good for the fruit is ripe and although I love it he will help me by taking it off my branches. Yes, indeed, and it is pleasing to the gardener and I will have given it to him!” But one late autumn day, the young vine was napping when suddenly he heard a disturbance in the vineyard. He looked up to see that the gardener had entered and in his hand was a sharp pair of large sheers. To his horror, the gardener reached down to one of the vines and began snipping away at its branches! “Old vine, old vine!” the young vine nearly shouted, “Look! Don’t you see what the gardener is doing to that vine? I thought you said he was good!” The old vine did not answer for a moment as he looked down the row at the gardener. His face was serious as he turned to look down at the young vine. “What I spoke was true,” he replied. “The gardener is good and he knows what he is doing. Remember I told you if you let him he will help you bear more fruit. On your vine you have some branches that are bad. If they are not cut off they will corrupt your fruit. In addition, even your good branches are weak and need to be trimmed so that they will grow in stronger. That is what he is doing. It is for your good.” The young vine shuddered as he watched the gardener move down the row clipping each vine so that it looked bare and naked! The vines complained and cried out with pain as their lovely branches that had born fruit that summer fell away to the ground. They tried to resist, but he was too strong. “I cannot” the young vine thought to himself. “Oh I could not stand it! How can this be for my good?” The young vine looked up to the old vine and watched him. He had closed his eyes as if preparing for the sorrow that was to come. But suddenly as the gardener drew near he opened them and a joyful smile spread on his features. “Ah young vine” he said. “When I think about the fruitfulness that will result the pain is only a little pang. In light of what shall come it is my joy to surrender my branches to the gardener’s sheers!” With that the old vine lifted up his branches to make it easier for the gardener to clip at his branches. In a few moments it was over and the old vine no longer looked like himself. He was bare, brown and ugly. But yet he glowed. “Here you see young vine” he said. “Now I am ugly, but next year you will see, I shall be made stronger and more fruitful.” The young vine looked at the old vine and then at the branches and twigs that had fallen to the ground. Then he looked up to the gardener who was standing over him. “Little vine,” he said to him tenderly, “will you yield your dead and dying branches to me to prune so that you will be made stronger? It will hurt, but I promise you, it will make you stronger if you let me do it.” The young vine looked over at the old vine who was now sitting happily and at the other vines who were still crying and complaining. “Wouldn’t I do anything to be like the old vine?” he thought, “And does not the gardener keep his promises?” The young vine looked up at the gardener and for an answer raised his branches up in the air. In a few moments it was done and the young vine looked down to see his former branches lying on the ground. He felt bare and ugly, but yet he could feel a new strength rising in him. He looked up to see the old vine smiling down on him. “You will see young vine” he said, “that when this summer comes, you will indeed be more fruitful.” And he was.

In John 15 Jesus tells us, "I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit” (John 15:1-2). In order for a vine to be fruitful, its bad branches must be cut off and the good ones pruned so that they will grow stronger. Branches that are not pruned will not bear very good fruit. We are the branches that must be pruned in order to be fruitful for the kingdom of God.
Another thing that Jesus compares us to is wheat. Jesus told a parable in Matthew 13 in which the kingdom of God was like a field in which the Master planted wheat.  But the Enemy came in secretly and sowed tares among them. At the harvest the Master commanded all the tares to be gathered and burned, but the wheat to be gathered into His barn. (see Matt 13:24-30) Christ himself is the Master and it is the work of the Holy Spirit to gather His wheat in, but not only that, but to thresh it.
When John the Baptist was baptizing in the Jordan River, the people asked him who he was. John responded that he was not the Christ but that he was a witness to Him.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              He said to them, "I indeed baptize you with water; but One mightier than I is coming, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loose. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather the wheat into His barn; but the chaff He will burn with unquenchable fire" (Luke 3:16-17). Thus not only would the Holy Spirit come, but He would come with fire and baptize the people of God. The baptism of the Holy Spirit is one of those “don’t touch” topics in many Christian circles today. But just because we don’t understand it or that it has been abused by the church does not mean that we should ignore it. God’s method of pruning His branches and threshing His wheat is through tribulation and the intended growth is accomplished in us by the work of the Holy Spirit. He is the gardener, the reaper, the fire that tests and refines the gold so that it will be found pure.
In Zechariah God is judging the nation of Israel and says, “I will bring the one-third through the fire, will refine them as silver is refined, and test them as gold is tested” (Zech 13:9). Also in Malachi He says, "But who can endure the day of His coming? And who can stand when He appears? For He is like a refiner's fire, and like launderer's soap. He will sit as a refiner and a purifier of silver; He will purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer to the Lord an offering in righteousness” (Mal 3:2-3). Gold is subjected to fire so that the impurities can be separated from the precious metal. At the same time the gold is made pure and strong. In the same way God often allows trials in our life in order to purge our impurities and make us stronger.
Peter wrote to the Christians suffering under persecution, “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:6-7). James also says, “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing” (James 1:2-4). Patience. Just one part of the fruit of the Spirit – that which is brought only by Him and His sanctifying work in our hearts. If we will but yield our branches to His sheers, He will do the work necessary to make us more fruitful. He is good, He knows what He is doing. It is for our good. 

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Reckoning With Truth

There was a time when I hated Romans 7. I hated it because that’s where I lived. I felt like Paul when he said, “For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do.”(Romans 7:15). And verse 18-19: “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice.” That was where I lived. I was stuck and didn’t know how to get out. In between these two verses was verse 17: “But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me.” What that meant I did not really know. Yes, sin was doing it, but wasn’t I the one doing it as well? What was this talking about? Chapter 6 was all about not living in sin or letting it reign over us; that we had been set free from it and our Old Man had been crucified. My mom would tell me, just like Romans 6:11 says, that I needed to “reckon” myself as dead to sin. I tried to convince myself that I was dead, but I couldn’t, at least not for very long. Then there was Romans 8 which was all about living after the Spirit. I wondered what was wrong with me. I was a Christian wasn’t I? I was sure I was. I had trusted in Christ and repented of my sin and had assurance of salvation. I knew that God had saved me and that I was His, but what was missing? Why did I struggle with sin in my life? Why did I not see consistent victory? I even took the time to memorize Romans 6, 7 and 8, and that helped my understanding some, but still I didn’t get it. There was no real “reckoning”, no real power in my life over the deeds of the Flesh.
When it came to baptism, I had been baptized when I was 11. But I'm not sure I was a Christian at that point and certainly didn’t really understand what it meant to be dead to sin and alive in Christ. (There’s Romans 6:3-4!) I was baptized because I knew it was commanded in Scripture and wanted to be obedient to God. But other than that, it had no other spiritual significance.
Ephesians 2:8 says that faith is a gift of God. Saving faith is a gift of God, but so is sanctifying faith. We must have faith in order to reckon the truth of God as true to our lives. This is what I lacked. God began to do a work in my heart and move me to a place of complete surrender of all that I held onto. Then one day, sitting in chapel, one of the staff members began talking about baptism and what it meant. Suddenly, it all made sense. I died with Christ. (Rom. 6:6, Col 2:20, 3:3) It was like scales fell off my eyes and I saw… my sin, my Old Man, my Flesh was nailed to the Cross with Christ. It no longer had dominion over me. That moment, God poured out on me a new measure of the gift of sanctifying faith and I was able to truly reckon that I was indeed dead to sin and alive in Christ. What glorious freedom! Baptism suddenly took on a whole new and deep significance and I chose to be baptized again to make a public declaration of who I was in Christ.
While I was saved when I was younger, God has given me a deeper understanding of salvation and its application to my life. While I still live in a sinful body and the Flesh still seeks to gain control over me, there is, in a sense, another new birth of the reality of my position in Christ. By the grace of God, and in the power of the Spirit, I will continue to put off the Flesh and its deeds.