Abiding in the Vine

John 15: 5

I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me, and I in him, he bears much fruit; for apart from Me you can do nothing.

I referred to this verse yesterday but just reading it filled me with such revelation and joy that I want to share with you. There is so much in this little verse. I certainly cannot cover it all in one Word of the Day. Let’s just look at two aspects. First, have you thoroughly considered “he who abides in Me?” What does abide mean? I think we understand this to mean to “dwell in.” Another definition is to remain in one place or state. We talk about abiding in Jesus and his abiding in us but it is hard to really wrap your head around. This abiding Jesus is talking about bespeaks a continuity. It isn’t characterized by one minute in him and then next off in our own world apart from him. This abiding in him and he in us is a deep integration of two souls, who are of one mind and one purpose. It isn’t the flitty affair of new love. It is the entrenched devotion of life long lovers. He who abides in Jesus and in whom Jesus abides is enmeshed with Jesus. There is no retreat from him. Everywhere you go, there he is. Your thoughts, dreams, songs and conversation keep revolving back to him. He is literally, rather than figuratively, “in you” and you are not only “in him” but also into him. You are interested in his thoughts and his ways. He is part of you such that there is no longer a means by which to separate the two of you. I could go on and on but you get the idea.

Then I really like this bit about “apart from Me you can do nothing.” At first blush it sounds a bit rude and may affect my ego. The other side of the coin is so amazing though. If, I can do no thing apart from him but I have done something successfully then isn’t it true that I must have done that thing with him? Now, how exciting is that? You have worked with Jesus because you have been successful. The really exciting part is that now you know how to create more success. Do everything you wish to be successful in with him. Endeavor to be “in him” as you work, play, raise your children. Confer with him not daily, but rather moment by moment. What was that email you were about to send? Wait, what does the Holy Spirit have to say about it. Is there better sentence structure, additional thoughts, praise for the recipient? Maybe he wants you to copy someone else or perhaps not send it at all. What about that meeting this afternoon? What does that look like if you are in him and he in you? Perhaps you even think you will work an extra hour and you hear his voice gently leading you to spending that hour reading a novel.

Whatever plans you have today, I guarantee they will all go better if you will do them with him. Maybe we all need to ask the Father what “in him” means to Him. I am convinced that He can, and will, show us even deeper meaning. The one part that is very clear is that the branches cannot survive apart from the vine. I would have you note, however, that the vine does not produce the fruit but rather the branches. This is a partnership of the most intimate kind. There is no end to which we can immerse ourselves in him, or even to allow him to take up residence in us. I hope this verse, this picturesque speech from Jesus will continue to minister life to you.

Power and Might

Daniel 11: 32

And by smooth words he will turn to godlessness those who act wickedly toward the covenant, but the people who know God will display strength and take action.

God is not raising up a generation of weaklings. He has called us in strength and in the glory of his dear son. There will come those who will lead the weak spirited away. He will trick them by the eloquence of his speech but those who know the Word of God will recognize the lies. 

Jesus was tried by the tempter (See Matthew 4: 1 – 11). He tried to trick Jesus too but Jesus knew the Word. He could not be led astray. He defeated the devil’s scheme’s then and ever since. We learn from Daniel that because we are called according to Jesus’ victory, we too can display strength and we can take action.

Do not be fooled by those who come to you in smoothness of speech. Check their fruit. Are they demonstrating Galatians 5: 22 fruit? If not, step away. You are not required to be friends with everyone; you are only required to love them. Secondly, prepare yourself now for the trickster. We already know he is waiting like a prowling lion, just looking for someone he can devour (1 Peter 5: 8). Feed on the Word daily so that you will recognize truth from the lie and can protect yourself and your family. Adam and Eve didn’t abide in the Word and they were deceived. Look where that brought us all.

Be strong in the might of the Lord and in the power of His Word.

Fruity

Galatians 5: 22 – 23            Index Card 13

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

What a nice and gentle reminder this is about the fruit our lives are to express. Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to come live within us. When the Holy Spirit moved in, he brought his furniture and his grocery basket. He is the fruit vendor of our lives if and when we yield to him. You see, we cannot produce this kind of fruit by our own strength and will power. We need help. Jesus said, “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me” (John 15: 4). 

Jesus said that we were to be fruit inspectors (Matthew 7: 16). This is what he was talking about. We look for these characteristics flowing from others. That is how we know they are safe for us. We do not look at the calamity which has perhaps befallen their lives and make judgments about them from that. This is not a basis for judging others but rather for discernment. We are to follow after divine fruit. Jesus said we would be able to know people by their fruit. A good tree does not produce bad fruit and a bad tree does not produce good fruit. We are to demonstrate love, joy, peace . . . and we should learn to recognize this fruit in others.

Why is this one of my index card verses? I need this as a constant reminder of the fruit that should be exhibited in my life. If it is not displayed, then I know I need to reconnect with the life of Jesus within me.

Fruit Inspector

John 9: 16

Some of the Pharisees said, “The man who did this is not from God because he doesn’t follow the traditions for the day of rest—a holy day.” Other Pharisees asked, “How can a man who is a sinner perform miracles like these?” So the Pharisees were divided in their opinions.

Jesus drove the Pharisees crazy with his continual neglect of the traditions of religion. He performed miracles on the Sabbath, didn’t wash his hands before eating and didn’t fast at all of the prescribed times. Wow! What a heathen.

As we wrap up our brief study of ritualistic worship and you ponder Christian ideologies on the sacraments, there are two thoughts I would leave you with. First, Jesus said, “So then, you will know them by their fruits” (Matthew 7: 20). We are not supposed to judge people by their activities but we are supposed to observe the fruit they display. The Pharisees judged Jesus as “not from God” because he didn’t observe the same traditions as they. We should neither judge people as holy because they “do” all the right things nor as “unholy” because they don’t behave according to our religious traditions. As you see, some of the Pharisees were fruit inspectors. They said, “How can a man who is a sinner perform miracles like these?” Amen. They saw him extending grace and mercy to people and recognized that as a God trait.

Another interesting question we can ask is, “Who is Jesus speaking about in Matthew 7: 20 where he teaches us to inspect a person’s fruit?” He is talking about believers, church people, isn’t he. He wants us not to be misled. The way of Christ is the way of the heart. Whether we practice the sacraments or not is not the test Christ gave us. He recognized there would be among us people who put on the vestments of Christian faith but whose heart does not belong to Jesus. So Jesus told us to become fruit inspectors. This is what is important. Do not be misled by all the “churchy” things we say and do. Check the fruit. Jesus said that a bad tree cannot bear good fruit and a good tree cannot bear bad fruit (Matthew 7:18). Don’t be fooled by my regular church attendance, that I sit on four committees and that I am always the first to volunteer. Check the fruit which is hanging from my tree. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5: 22). These are the expressions of a sincere faith. 

Secondly, being a Christian is all about a deep, devoted, interpersonal relationship with Jesus. It is not about being a good Catholic or a good Baptist. I hear that expression rather frequently and it grieves me. The speaker almost always means that the person to whom he refers models prescribed denominational behaviors. All too often, those behaviors are not scriptural. They are merely the traditions of men. Jesus warned us about this all too human tendency. Be a good Christian meaning a devoted follower of Christ in all that he teaches. Jesus warned us that not all who call themselves Christians or followers of Christ will enter heaven. “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven ”(Matthew 7: 21). 

It is not the practice or abstinence of rituals and sacraments which is important. What is important is that we humble ourselves in the presence of the Lord and worship him. It is that heartfelt love and admiration for the Lord which longs for expression which is important. Our best worship is in giving ourselves to his Lordship. Nothing else really matters in the big picture. This is what I wish to encourage with these words I write. I want you to abandon all of the trappings of Christianity and follow the trail of the heart.

Let your heart be at peace. Fret not. If rituals, rites, sacraments and even the pomp and circumstance of Christian traditions helps you to make a real heart connection with Jesus then use them. Perhaps singing moves your heart to a tender state or maybe you even dance to break down the walls of your heart. The key here is to seek God. Seek Him until you have a true, heart-felt connection with Him. Once we can connect with God in our hearts then He can lead us into the forms of worship which are best for us.

In our seeking, however, let us not judge others nor take upon ourselves the judgments of others. I hope you come away from this mini-series feeling validated. Whatever form of worship God ratifies in your life is valid. I sing and I hibernate in the Word. That is where I find Jesus. Because that is what is right for me does not give me license to judge someone who is highly ritualistic in their communion with God. In like manner, those who prefer a formalized structure of worship have not been given leave by God to judge those for whom the sacraments hold little power. If the fruit of my tree is good, then that demonstrates a true connection with the Holy Spirit of God because it is only with that divine union that I can produce good fruit. If I do a daily bible study, sit on the first pew at every service, serve communion at my church, and do every other external act of Christianity but do not exhibit the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control then you will know that I am really not of a true faith with Jesus, the Christ. This is the point that Jesus is makes in Matthew 7: 20. Don’t get hung up on the method of practice but rather observe the fruit. By this we will know all people. Do not be misled. The fruit, the specific fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5: 22) is how we can recognize true brothers and sisters in the faith. In these last days it is very important that you become a fruit inspector.

The First Law

Galatians 6: 7

Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap.

We have the power to improve the quality of our lives. When we know and follow spiritual laws we find increasing success and happiness. The lead shot manufacturers from yesterday’s Word of the Day employed the physical laws of the earth in order to create a needed product. We can create the same kind of success by employing spiritual laws.

Today’s verse reveals one of those spiritual laws. It is called the law of sowing and reaping. Yesterday I said that it is the preeminent law. Why do I say that? Jesus intimated to his disciples that if they could not understand the parable of the sower and the seed then they could not understand any of the parables (Mark 4: 13). Besides this statement, twice Jesus compared the kingdom of God to seed being sown (v. 26 & 30). In other words, if we cannot understand the parable of the sower then we cannot understand anything about the kingdom of God. This principle of sowing and reaping is how the kingdom of God works. That is why it is so important that we recognize it and employ it. It is not necessary that we understand how it works, only that we apply it.

In Galatians 6: 7 Paul was writing specifically about money. In context he was speaking about giving good things to those who teach us the word (Galatians 6: 6). The principle of sowing and reaping, though, applies to all things. In Matthew 7, verse 1 Jesus is quoted saying, “Do not judge lest you be judged.” Why is this so? Because as you sow, so shall you reap. If you sow judgement, judgment you will reap. If you sow bitterness, bitterness you will reap. No matter what you sow, that you shall reap and more besides because one thing we know about seeds is that they produce much more fruit than is represented by their size and number.

Another truth which supports this proposition is Genesis 1: 12 which reads, “The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed after their kind, and trees bearing fruit with seed in them, after their kind”. That is to say that the fruit yield is representative of the seed sown. The seeds produce according to their own kind such that whatever you sow is what you reap. Agriculturally we wouldn’t expect to plant cucumber seeds and get tomatoes. It just doesn’t happen.

The same is true in our lives. We cannot sow discord and reap harmony. We will not reap love and respect if we sow criticism, judgment and backbiting. It just isn’t ever going to happen. Jesus taught that we could know people by their fruit (Matthew 7: 16 & 20). A good tree, he said, does not produce bad fruit and vice versa. The fruit will demonstrate what kind of seed they have sown. Jesus is talking about the harvest and the harvest is always a product of the seed. Knowing this, we can predetermine the crop which is produced in our lives by planting the correct seeds.

This is the first law of spiritual physics. Harvests are determined by seeds. Therefore, we can cultivate our crop of choice by first planting the right seeds. Understanding that the kingdom of God’s first law is sowing and reaping should help us all to live a more enlightened and fruitful life. Be blessed my beloved.

Entering the Kingdom of Heaven

Matthew 7: 21 – 23

Not everyone who says to Me, “Lord, Lord” will enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven. Many will say to Me on that day, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?” And then I will declare to them, “I never knew you, DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.”

We are coming to understand that every person that says, “Lord, Lord,” will not necessarily enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus is a fruit inspector. He is looking at the fruit we produce in our lives. Today’s passage is a continuation of what Jesus was teaching about good trees producing good fruit and bad fruit coming from bad trees; trees representing people. So, if the fruit is good we can judge the tree as good. If the fruit is bad, steer clear. We can know good fruit by determining if a person’s character traits line up or are consistent with Galatians 5: 22.  

We are also learning that no amount of “good works” is going to impress Jesus. We may say to him that we went to church every Sunday for 50 years, attended every event and have performed all sorts of miracles in his name, even casting out demons but even still if the fruit of the Spirit is not evident in our lives he will say to us, “I knew you not.” This would be a very frightening passage indeed if Jesus had not just taught verses 15 – 21, that he will judge us by our fruit rather than our works. That lets us know that we do not have to perform in order to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.  

If you live in a works mentality you will never believe that you have ever done enough to earn your way into heaven and you will be right because there is nothing you could ever do that is even in the smallest way, even microscopically worthy of all that Jesus has done for you. He did not suffer enormous pain and humiliation so that we could try to impress the world, or him, with our good works. Here is the ridiculous truth. He did it all in exchange for our hearts. Wow! Didn’t he get a bad deal? That is all that he and the Father have ever wanted, our hearts and as small an offering as that may at times seem it is the greatest gift one can give.

Jesus tells us that the secret passkey to the Kingdom of Heaven is doing the will of the Father. The will of the Father is not hidden. He gave us an entire book in order to reveal His will for us. That is not to say that the Bible is a list of thousands of things we must do in order to fulfill God’s will. No, that is a works mentality again. If you read the Bible cover to cover you will see that there has always been just one thing. Over and over and over again Father has said the same thing. His desire, His will is for us is to receive Him as our God and Father and for us to be the people of His hand. He has always wanted a family, a people who will not rebel and leave Him. He is the Father in the story of the prodigal son. He just wants us to come home and love Him and allow Him to love us. This is the will of the Father. If you will open your heart and receive His love and allow Him to set up residence in your heart then He will receive you into the Kingdom of Heaven. And if you really want to see this in its fullness, once He has established His residency within you and you are living in Christ rather than in the flesh He has no way to stop you from entering the Kingdom of Heaven because you are in Christ and He in you, the Father in you, you in the Father and there can be no separation. You will never be separated from Christ or the Father for there is no power that can separate you from the love of the Father so you will have automatic entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven, which you will just call home.

The Choice Fruit

Matthew 7: 15 – 20

Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes, nor figs from thistles, are they? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit; but the bad tree bears bad fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will know them by their fruits. 

Jesus spends a rather significant amount of time explaining this problem with false prophets so it is probably wise for us to attempt to comprehend the fullness of the problem he perceived. First, these false people will come dressed in sheep’s clothing. What does that mean? They will confess to be Christians. They will even be many who are in Christian leadership positions. So, if they go to church every Sunday and Wednesday, carry their Bible, and sing in the choir how are you going to know they are wolves who seek to devour you? Jesus said, “You will know them by their fruit” but what is this fruit he keeps talking about? We need to look at Galatians 5: 22 for the answer. Paul wrote, “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” Now appreciating that none of us is yet perfect still we should as a matter of course be demonstrating these character traits.  

First of all, I would strongly recommend that you not take advice from a person who is not demonstrating these characteristics. Secondly, don’t follow a person or their teachings if this fruit is not demonstrated in their lives. At best they are immature Christians but at worst they are actually agents of Satan sent to deceive God’s people. You are going to find elders whose fruit is rotten and even ordained ministers but Jesus has forewarned us so that we need not stumble over these people.  

Do you know someone who is thorny? You cannot get sweet, succulent grapes from him. Jesus is clearly teaching that you cannot get good fruit from a bad tree. If you check the fruit and the fruit is bad, then the tree is bad for “every good tree bears good fruit; but the bad tree bears bad fruit”. Hear this well!   If a person (the tree) is not consistently demonstrating love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control as the expression of who he is, then he is a bad tree. If you eat of this tree you will be poisoned and will suffer, even die from it. I know this may sound a bit hard but Jesus spent so much time emphasizing this point because he knew that there would be people in our sphere of influence who attempt to lead us astray and if we get led off of the path of Jesus there is nothing out there but death. So because someone says he is Christian or just because they can quote scripture means nothing. Satan quoted scripture to Jesus. That didn’t make him a Godly influence.

I must tell you the rest of the story even at the risk of ruffling your feathers, but don’t get mad at me for telling you the truth because I know that only the truth will set you free and I care about you. Notice specifically what the fruits of the Spirit are. At the same time, note what they are not. The fruit is not donating to the food drive, working at the homeless shelter, organizing the bake sale or even going on mission trips. Those are all wonderful and we wish that everyone would participate. The truth, though, is that all of those things are external. They are just acts and can be forced and contrived. The fruit that Jesus is speaking of is that which issues from the heart and cannot be faked or covered up. An impatient, unkind person can do all of the right things but have a black heart. Jesus did not call us to be doers of works but rather followers of him, behaving as he behaved. He only gave us one command; love one another as he loved and if you look at the fruit of the Spirit you will recognize at once that all of the enumerated fruits issue from love. That is Christianity; that is the Christian way, so do not follow anyone who is not operating in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control nor take their advice. Otherwise you will find trouble.