Abiding in the Vine: IV. Bearing Fruit

“I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples” (John 15:5–8; all Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise indicated).

A grape vine bearing fruit. Image via pxhere.com.

As mentioned several times previously, the branch’s purpose is to bear fruit. When the vinedresser is trimming and pruning the vine, he looks for fruit: perhaps some buds or blossoms, growing fruit, surrounded by lush leaves. If these are lacking, there is a problem with the branch.

Fruit’s purpose is to impart life. Fruit contains seeds which, when scattered, can grow to become new plants which will themselves produce fruit.

The Christian is called to bear fruit (John 15:2, 5, 8; Galatians 5:22-23), and that fruit should impart life. The mature Christian imparts the life of Christ within him to others. We may do this in several ways. These are the key ways in which we abide in Christ and exhibit His fruit to others.

The first is by partaking of His Word and sharing it with others. Read and study the Bible daily. Meditate on it. Reflect on it. Let Jesus’ words abide in you.

“If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love” (John 15:10).

Believing in Jesus and loving Him go hand-in-hand. If we love Him and believe He is Who He says He is, we will want to do the things He commands us to do. We will want to know His will for our lives and the lives of those we care about.

As we know more of God’s will and word, we will want to share it with others. We will share it with those who do not know Him, offering the chance to receive salvation through Christ.

We should also share it with those who are already saved. While evangelism gets all the attention in many churches, there is a need for the gifts of encouragement and edification in the body of Christ. One of the bishops in my denomination has a reputation for greeting people by asking, “What is God saying to you these days?” Instead of “How are you?” (generating a generic “OK”) or “What’s up?” (generating the almost-as-meaningless “Not much, how about you?”), this greeting demands a thoughtful response. If you meet him in a church setting, be prepared to answer. God is always speaking. If you are reading His Word, you should be able to hear Him. You will have an answer for anyone who says “What is God saying?” You may even have an exciting insight you discovered by reading God’s Word that other believers need to hear.

The second way we abide in Christ and exhibit the fruit of the Spirit is by participating in worship. Praise Him, not only in church, but throughout the day. Turn off your car stereo and sing some praise songs on the way to work. Real worship experiences God and acknowledges His presence wherever we are and whatever we are doing.

Finally, we abide in Christ and exhibit the fruit of the Spirit by performing His work. Use your gifts and talents to minister to others. There is a real temptation in some churches to think we are not really ministering if we do not preach, teach, or sing. However, there are numerous ways to share the love of Jesus: Bringing food to a needy family; providing free childcare for a single mother; using your talents and hobbies to help others.

If we are seriously committed to abiding in the vine, we will do all three. We will read God’s Word, worship Him, and serve Him and His people with our gifts and talents. As we do these things, the fruit of the Spirit will grow in our lives, and that fruit will overflow into the lives of others. The fruit and gifts of the Holy Spirit are given to us to be shared with others and impart God’s life into the hearts of those around us.

Copyright © 2019 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Abiding in the Vine, Bible meditations | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Abiding in the Vine: III. Pruning and Cleansing

The previous article in this series mentioned that it is important for Christians to remain connected to other branches of the vine—other Christians, particularly the Church—to strengthen our connection with the Vine, Jesus. Some might say that they do not need church. They say they have been hurt by other Christians, and they think they fare better if they keep to themselves.

It is true that the Church is an imperfect reflection of Christ. Christians fail to live up to the full measure of Jesus Christ sometimes. Some of us can look more like nonbelievers or children of the devil than like children of God. We have to grow. We have to mature. Branches require regular maintenance.

“Every branch in me that does not bear fruit {God the Father} takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit” (John 15:2; all Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise indicated).

A farmer tending to his vine. From pixnio.com (public domain).

We can imagine a vinedresser examining his plant. It has some lifeless branches; they have not produced any fruit for a while. These branches are simply taking up space. They need to be cut off. Perhaps fresh, living, fruitful branches will grow in their place.

There are some other branches, though, that are bearing some fruit. To increase the amount of fruit, the vinedresser might clip away the ends of some branches, beyond where buds, leaves, and fruit are growing. This way, the plant’s sap is not wasted nourishing empty space. Nourishment is maximized. Growth is enhanced. Life springs forth.

There are some people in the church who do not have the life of Christ in them. They may attend worship on Sunday. Some of them might even look really spiritual. But, the life of Christ—the fruit of the Spirit—is not present. The Holy Spirit does not dwell within them. At some point, they will be cut off. Matthew 13:24–30 indicates that this final cutting off will occur at the end of the age. In the meantime, God does not waste His time sanctifying the unsaved. He may still offer them repentance, but they should not mistake themselves for being Christian merely because they are surrounded by disciples of Jesus. In the words of Christian contemporary-music pioneer Keith Green, “Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than going to McDonald’s makes you a hamburger.”

Meanwhile, the follower of Jesus undergoes the pruning process of sanctification. Perhaps the dead wood is sin that remains in the believer’s life. God wants to cut it off and set you free so that you can bear fruit. Sometimes, the dead wood is not really sin; it is just excess baggage that holds us back from fully serving Him. Monks throughout church history have made many sacrifices in Jesus’ name. At times, they gave up things that most of us would consider good: relationships with family and friends; careers; a few luxuries; opportunity to enjoy entertainment or engage in casual conversation (some monks take vows to say nothing unless it is in prayer and praise to God).

They gave up good morally-acceptable things to devote themselves to the will of God. What about us? Are there good things holding us back from doing the better things God has planned for us? Are we watching TV, playing sports, reading books, or surfing the Internet, but cannot find time for prayer or fellowship? God may need to do some pruning in your life. It is part of your growth as a Christian and your fruitfulness as a branch on His Vine.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us…” (Hebrews 12:1).

Sometimes, commitment to Christ will mean more than giving up sin. It may involve giving up every weight that limits are faithfulness and fruitfulness. It will require us allowing God to cut off the fruitless ends of healthy branches along with the dead wood.

Let us remember that the believer in Jesus Christ is saved because he already believes. We do not become Christians, or become “more Christian” or “better Christians,” because we let God prune us. If you are a believer in Christ, you are already cleaned, forgiven, and saved. Shortly before He was arrested, Jesus said:

“Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you” (John 15:3).

Earlier that evening, He had already introduced this concept. While washing the disciples’ feet, He came to Peter:

“He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, ‘Lord, do you wash my feet?’ Jesus answered him, ‘What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.’ Peter said to him, ‘You shall never wash my feet.’ Jesus answered him, ‘If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.’ Simon Peter said to him, ‘Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!’ Jesus said to him, ‘The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean…’” (John 13:6–10).

The child of God is already clean through the Word of God. We are already saved and forgiven. However, as we live our lives, we collect junk. We face temptation. We give in to temptation and sin. We may be wounded by the attacks of Satan, the mistreatment of others, or the misfortune of daily living. We need to be wiped clean every now and then through confession and renewed repentance. This process does not make us Christians. It merely preserves us so that we can continue to grow in Christlikeness and fruitfulness.

We do not get to decide how God will prune us. Since God is doing the work and we are merely the branches, He is in control. If you sense that the Holy Spirit is convicting you to give something up, do what He says. Do not bargain or offer alternatives. To obey God is better than offering your own self-selected sacrifices (1 Samuel 15:22).

At the beginning of this post, I mentioned that we need to be in fellowship with the church, even if we feel that we have been hurt by other Christians. Dealing with their imperfections is one of the ways we grow and are pruned and cleansed. People will hurt us. They will give us reasons to forgive them. They will irritate us, thereby revealing our weaknesses. It is all part of the spiritual growth process. If we avoid church because we have been hurt, we are only hurting ourselves.

Copyright © 2019 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

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Abiding in the Vine: II. Staying Connected to Christ and His People

“Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned”
(John 15:3–6; all Scripture quotations from the English Standard Version unless indicated otherwise).

Image courtesy of Max Pixel.

Part I of this series introduced four key lessons of Jesus’ teaching about the vine and branches. In the words of Andrew Murray, they are the lessons of entire consecration, perfect conformity, absolute dependence, and undoubting confidence.

All of these lessons flow from the fact that the branch abides as part of the vine. The branch draws its life from the vine. If you remove a branch from a vine or tree, it will die. If you remove an organ or limb from the human body, it will die.

Jesus tells us that we are His branches. He is the vine. If you are separated from Jesus, you do not have spiritual life within you. “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3).

Vines and trees have numerous branches, all of which play a role in the life of the plant. One branch does not make up the entire vine. It needs the vine, and it needs the other branches. Christians need to be connected with the vine, which will create a living connection with other branches:

“Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it” (1 Corinthians 12:27).

To partake of the life of Christ, we must remain connected to Him, and that requires a connection to His people, the Church. An important starting point for a Christian to abide in the vine is to abide with other believers. One of Satan’s most effective ways to remove Christians from a living connection with Jesus is to persuade them to disconnect from the Body of Christ. The life of Christ flows through the Church. We need one another.

We will not grow if we choose to remove ourselves from the rest of the vine. Humans are social beings who need relationship. One of God’s first observations about the first man, Adam, was that “It is not good that the man should be alone” (Genesis 2:18). Marriage grew out of the very social nature that God crafted within us. Our need for relationship was mentioned immediately after God addressed man’s need for food.

We are not the only beings on Earth with a social need. Many animal species rely on a social network to survive. In fact, the need to connect may spread beyond the animal kingdom. A recent, controversial theory proposes that even trees might socialize with each other. Not only does a tree rely on its branches, and the branches rely on the rest of the tree. Trees may, in a way similar to human families and animal groups, rely on each other.

How much more do we need one another to survive spiritually. Our gifts, joys, trials, victories, defeats, and other life experiences, shared among people who are seeking to follow Christ, knit us together like the branches of a vine or the trees of an orchard. We grow together.

Our connection with other Christians is one of the most important ways to strengthen our connection with Jesus Christ Himself. He is the Source of Life, and we need to remain connected to our brethren and to Him if we seek to have life abundantly (John 10:10).

Copyright © 2019 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Abiding in the Vine, Bible meditations, Christian Life | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Abiding in the Vine: I. An Introduction

“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 does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:1–11; all Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise indicated).

Grape vines in a vineyard, Napa Valley, CA. Photo by Steve Jurvetson via Wikimedia Commons (Creative Commons 2.0 license).

The Bible is filled with agricultural imagery. This makes sense: God spoke His Word to and through people living in an agricultural society. The people who knew Jesus were often either farmers or fishermen. They grew or captured their own food. He spoke parables about sowers who scattered seed, not about stock boys at Walmart and the people who got lost in the cookie aisle.

This agricultural mindset needs to be kept in mind as we read the Bible. While the cultural background may be foreign to many readers, its message is timeless and universal. When Jesus says “I am the true vine…you are the branches,” He is speaking to residents of urban and suburban communities as well as rural Americans and ancient Israelites. We sometimes need to dig deep to understand Jesus’ message, but once we understand it, we find immeasurable spiritual riches to claim.

Many have written volumes about this passage. Perhaps my favorite treatment of John 15:1–11 is The True Vine by Andrew Murray (my copy is the 1982 edition published by Whitaker House). Readers who are inspired or encouraged by this series of posts may want to read that book or a similar devotional by others.

Some of Murray’s key thoughts, in chapter 3, “The Branch,” are as follows:

  1. “There is the lesson of entire consecration. The branch has only one reason for which it exists, one purpose to which it is entirely given up. That is, to bear the fruit the vine wishes to bring forth.”
  2. “There is the lesson of perfect conformity.” A branch is exactly like the vine, since it partakes of its nature. Likewise, the believer must recognize that he is a partaker of the divine nature (see 2 Peter 1:4).
  3. “There is the lesson of absolute dependence.” A branch survives on the life, sap, and strength of the vine.
  4. “And then there is the lesson of undoubting confidence.” A branch receives all it needs from the vine. It does not look elsewhere.

With this in mind, we can consider a few additional lessons in the next few articles. It might be helpful to remember that much of what we say about a vine here can also apply to other plants with branches, including trees and shrubs. As Jesus spoke these words to the disciples, they had just finished eating the Last Supper, a Passover feast including wine. They were walking to the Garden of Gethsemane, an olive grove on or near the Mount of Olives. One can imagine that they were walking past a vine or vineyard as Jesus gave this teaching. The disciples would have more time to ponder its meaning while Christ prayed in the Garden and they were surrounded by olive trees. The lesson of the vine could easily be extracted from an olive tree. So, we can safely switch between the imagery of a vine and a tree throughout this series of reflections.

As Andrew Murray observes in his book, the relationship between a vine and its branches is an intimate image of the relationship between Jesus Christ and His followers. As we reflect on this parable in this series, I pray that we may all grow in our intimate interconnection with our Savior.

Copyright © 2019 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Abiding in the Vine, Bible meditations, Christian Life | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

Genealogies and Legacies

“Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Ram, and Ram the father of Amminadab, and Amminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon, and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of David the king. And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah… and Eliud the father of Eleazar, and Eleazar the father of Matthan, and Matthan the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ” (Matthew 1:2-6, 15-16; all Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise indicated).

My wife and I with my son, daughter-in-law, and three grandchildren. We are apparently NOT related to Darth Vader, who lived a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.

Denis was the father of Denis, and Denis was the father of Michael, and Michael was the father of Dennis, and Dennis was the father of Michael. The story continues on as I begat my son, who has become the father of my three grandchildren.

Genealogies can be fascinating. Apparently, God thinks they are important. The Bible lists Jesus’ genealogy twice (Matthew 1:2-16; Luke 3:23-38) and includes several other genealogies (Genesis 5; 1 Chronicles 1-9) tracing the connections between the people God revealed Himself to.

Over the last few months, my wife has patiently endured my latest obsession: tracing my own genealogy. Perhaps some of you have jumped on the ancestry.com bandwagon. For me, it has been a labor of love, blood, sweat, tears, and fascination. Over the years, I have heard stories about my grandparents and great-grandparents. Some of these I have verified. Other stories may have some imagination mixed with a kernel of truth. Other stories I have not verified. I always heard that my great-grandmother, whose maiden name was Wilhelmina “Minnie” von Dannowitz, was related to a Prussian baron. Unfortunately, I keep hitting dead ends while tracing my mother’s family tree. This is partially because numerous babies named Wilhelmina (von) Dannowitz (or similar spellings) were born around the same time as her, but the birth dates do not match exactly. My research has found that there was a Baron von Dennewitz (similar spelling) who played a pivotal role at the Battle of Waterloo. I have found some evidence that he is my great-grandmother’s ancestor, but have not been able to connect all of the pieces. (I have confirmed that Germans had an annoying habit of changing the spelling of their surnames around that time!)

Regular readers of this blog know most posts focus on what God says through His Word. However, sometimes He speaks to us through our everyday activities. Here are a few lessons I have learned while studying my family tree.

Lesson #1: Be kind to everyone you meet. They are your cousins. I read somewhere that the average Irishman has 14,000 cousins (if you count eighth cousins and closer). I believe that, especially when I find ancestors who had 10 or more children who grew to adulthood.

A sample genealogy of Noah’s family, including some nonbiblical conjecture. Image by Drnhawkins via Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons 3.0 License.

When looking at my DNA matches on ancestry.com, I find connections to many names that I never associated with my family. A few days after getting my DNA results from ancestry.com, I was tracing my paternal grandmother’s line and reviewed some of the “leaf” hints on my great-grandmother’s name. One hint led to a “Prior” family tree. I thought, “Who’s Prior and why am I here?” After a couple minutes, I found the answer: I have a great-great grandmother whose maiden name was Margaret Prior. I never heard of any relatives by that name nor do I remember ever seeing it spelled like that before. Nevertheless, there it was: apparently, I am part Prior, along with a few other names I never heard before and other familiar Irish names I never associated with my family.

Some DNA matches led to other discoveries. Apparently, I have fifth, sixth, seventh, or eighth cousins who share only a small part of my Irish/German/Eastern European heritage, with most of their ancestry coming from Africa or Asia. So, I repeat that lesson: Be kind to everyone you meet; they are related to you at some point. If you have “issues” with certain racial, ethnic, or religious groups, remember: That Arab, Asian, or Latin American is your distant relative, no matter how northern European you may look.

Remember that the Bible teaches us that all humans today are descendants of Noah. Some evolutionary scientists, while not believing in the Bible, will still say that all living humans are descended from one ancient female ancestor. At some point, your family tree will converge with everybody else’s. We might be cousins through Shem, Ham, and Japheth, but we are cousins just the same.

Lesson #2: Accidents of history conspired to keep you from being born; nevertheless, you made it! I discovered a few moments in my family tree when my family line could have been wiped out. I have always heard that my great-grandfather was the only child from a large family to grow to adulthood and have children. What if he had died young like his siblings? I would not be here (at least with my current DNA and ancestry).

I have a four-times great-grandfather who was sentenced to be executed for his role in an Irish rebellion against Britain, the Rebellion of 1798. The night before his execution, his fiancee helped him escape from prison, and he fled to Canada. He was later able to return to Ireland, marry the young lady who helped save his life, and eventually move back to Nova Scotia. Without her heroism, I would not be here.

Genealogy of Jesus mosaic from Chora. Photo by José Luiz Bernardes Ribeiro, via Wikimedia Commons, posted under a Creative Commons 3.0 License.

Another great-grandfather was married three times, with his first two wives dying during or shortly after childbirth; it is humbling to think that, if either of those women had lived, Denis Lynch would not have married Katie Deen, who bore my grandfather, Michael Lynch.

You can choose to think of yourself as a random accident of evolution and history, or you can see the hand of God orchestrating history to ensure your arrival. I choose the latter. With that perspective in mind, what will you do with the remarkable gift of life God has given you? How will your time on Earth contribute to the lives and legacies of future generations?

Lesson #3: Your past begins your journey. Your choices guide your journey. God offers us a destiny. We are not slaves of our family’s past. Earlier, I mentioned my four-times great-grandfather who escaped a death sentence in Ireland. He was a farmer who eventually moved to Nova Scotia to work the land. However, not all of his descendants continued in agriculture. I found an article about him that listed about 16 Catholic priests and several nuns descended from him (the author apparently did not know about a Pentecostal minister from Long Island!), as well as several medical doctors and at least one Canadian member of Parliament.

However, a more impressive heritage awaits those who supplement their earthly ancestry with a heavenly Fatherhood. Although we are all related physically, a special connection is available to those who accept adoption as children of God (Galatians 4:4-5; Roman 8:14-17). We have a bond and legacy that lasts beyond this life, tying us to a perfect heavenly Father, uniting us with His only begotten Son Jesus, filling us with His Holy Spirit, and binding us with all who call upon Him for salvation.

I may not be a farmer, fisherman, police officer, bricklayer, baron, or military hero like some of my ancestors. But, I have a heavenly inheritance awaiting me. Whether prince or pauper, baron or bricklayer, senator or sanitation worker, evangelist or editor, anybody who comes to Christ becomes part of a spiritual lineage that will last forever.

Copyright © 2019 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Family | Tags: , , , | 4 Comments

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