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The Vine and the Vinedresser

My “One Word” for 2020 is ABIDE, and one of my planned Bible readings this week was John 15:1-11. As I sat down to read this well known passage, my thought was, “this shouldn’t take long.” I already knew that the passage says Jesus is the true vine, we are the fruit-bearing branches that need to stay attached to the true vine in order to bear fruit, and the process includes pruning. Since this is such a familiar passage, I expected to spend five or ten minutes in this chapter and then get on to something else.

But that’s not at all how it turned out. I read John 15:1, where Jesus says (in ESV) “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser.” The word “vinedresser” jumped out at me, and I realized I had no idea what a vinedresser did – other than prune the vine, which is mentioned later in this passage. I felt a strong impression that the Lord wanted to use this single verse to teach me some new understandings from this passage I’ve read hundreds of times.

As I did some research, I learned of several of the tasks that a vinedresser does, the first found in the first half of verse 2: “Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away…”

As I read this, I decided to look up the meaning of the Greek word using one of my favorite online reference sources, The Blue Letter Bible. The Greek word translated “takes away” is “airo.” While this word can mean “to take away,” this isn’t it’s primary meaning. Instead, the usual meaning is “to lift up, to take upon oneself and carry what has been raised.”

Unlike fruit trees, a grapevine cannot stand upright on its own. As a grapevine grows, the natural growth is downward. Before long, the lower part of the vine is laying on the ground where it gets wet on the bottom. One of the responsibilities of the vinedresser is to take hold of the vine and entwine it on a trellis or wires, to keep air flowing underneath it so it can bear healthy fruit.

Remember, these verses in John 15 are using the illustration of a vine to teach us how to live attached to the vine so we can bear spiritual fruit. Have you ever been in a place where you had become comfortable, only to have God in His wisdom determine it was time for an adjustment, a change in position in order for you to continue bearing spiritual fruit?

Like the wise vinedresser, our heavenly Father has the right to adjust our position in life to help us bear more fruit. Whether it’s an actual move to another location, or simply a change of circumstances, we may find ourselves facing change, moving from a place of comfort and self-assurance to one of uncertainty and even fear. Could it be that God is at work in your circumstances, preparing you for greater productivity for His Kingdom?

Now, let’s look at the rest of verse 2, “…and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.”

In addition to repositioning us for greater productivity, our heavenly Father like the good vinedresser prunes us so we can bear more fruit. Grapevines, when left untended, will sprawl out and produce leafy canopies. While their green leaves look healthy, they yield very little fruit. Since the purpose of a grapevine is to produce grapes, pruning is needed.

This reminds me of some rose bushes that were in front of a house our family lived in several years ago. When in full bloom, the bushes were beautiful. But I learned quickly that without pruning the beauty didn’t last. As winter began drawing to a close, around the end of February, they needed to be pruned.

When I finished pruning the bushes the first year, they looked almost like they were dead. I was afraid I had ruined our beautiful rose bushes. But by late spring, the bushes were filled with gorgeous blossoms.

Like roses, grapevines should be pruned during their dormancy, usually in late winter. When it comes to pruning grapes, the most common mistake people make is not pruning hard enough. Light pruning doesn’t promote adequate fruiting whereas heavy pruning provides the greatest quality of grapes.

God has the right to prune our lives, removing us from people and situations that are hindering our spiritual growth. When God prunes our lives, it isn’t because He is angry at us. It is because pruning is necessary for maximum productivity.

These aren’t all the works of a vinedresser. He also needs to remove any detached and dried up branches (verse 6: “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.”), because disconnected branches don’t bear fruit. He delights in the abundance of fruit, much as God rejoices and receives glory from the spiritual fruit bearing He sees in our lives (verse 8: “By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.”).

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Does your life feel like God has been doing some repositioning for greater productivity through your life? Or has God been doing some painful pruning in your life? Remember you are in the loving hands of your heavenly Father. Let’s not lose sight of the ending verses of this passage. It’s all rooted in the love of our heavenly Vinedresser!

“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 ‭15:9-11‬ ‭ESV‬‬

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How to Abide in Christ

As I’ve been reading Abide in Christ: A 21-Day Devotional For Fellowship with Jesus each day this week, my eyes have been opened to an important truth. Abiding is Christ is primarily a decision to surrender.

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When we come to Jesus Christ, we come with open arms, to be received by the open arms of our Savior. Abiding in Christ is not some great thing we do. It isn’t a discipline we perfect. It is simply recognizing my own weakness and entrusting myself to the One who is absolutely trustworthy. As Andrew Murray wrote:

“Abiding in Him is not a work that we have to do as the condition for enjoying His salvation, but a consenting to let Him do all for us, and in us, and through us. It is a work He does for us,—the fruit and the power of His redeeming love. Our part is simply to yield, to trust, and to wait for what He has engaged to perform.”

Abiding in Jesus begins with acknowledging, apart from the Lord, I have no good thing (Psalm ‭16:2‬).‬ As Paul said in Romans 7, when I lean on my own strength I end up doing exactly what I don’t want to do.

“I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” Romans‬ ‭7:15‬ ‭

But I am “in Christ” so I don’t have to lean on my own strength. Through the indwelling power of Christ, I can do everything that is the will of God – and that includes abiding in Christ.

“I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” ‭‭Philippians‬ ‭4:13‬ ‭

A second truth has stood out as I’ve read this week’s devotionals. Jesus first mentioned abiding in connection with the parable of the Vine.

“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.” John‬ ‭15:4-5‬

As we study this parable, we learn that the union between the branch and the Vine is a living union. Life flows from the Vine, Jesus Christ, into us, the branches. If anything happens to stop the flow, the branch will eventually die and be thrown into the fire to be burned.

Second, Andrew Murray describes the union between the branch and the Vine as a complete union. The words mutually beneficial come to my mind. Without the Vine, the branch can do nothing. It will literally dry up and die. But without the branch, the Vine is also unable to fulfill its purpose. A vine without branches can bear no fruit. God has called us to be His fruit bearers, bringing glory to Him as we demonstrate His character and fulfill His purposes in our lives.

Abiding begins with acknowledging my weakness and inability to please God in my own strength. It happens when I make the decision to entrust my life to Jesus Christ, and surrender to His loving hands. Do you want to live a fruitful life? Stay attached to the Vine so His life can flow through you to those He has allowed your life to touch. This is the key to abiding, to having a life worth living.

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Come To Me and Abide

As each year nears an end, I come to the Lord Jesus Christ in prayer, asking Him what One Word He would have me focus on in the coming year. As we moved toward 2020, I clearly heard God’s voice. The word was ABIDE.

For the month of January, I will be doing blog posts at least a few times a week as I go through a devotional book by Andrew Murray. Today’s devotional in Abide in Christ: A 31-Day Devotional For Fellowship with Jesus begins with two very familiar Scriptures. The first is found in Matthew 11:28.

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”‭‭

To those who have heard and responded to this call to Comea new invitation has been given. This invitation is the call to not just come, but to go deeper, to draw closer to our Savior. It is found in John 15:4.

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.

Andrew Murray says all the blessings that are connected with the call to “Come” are only to be enjoyed as we enter into close fellowship with Jesus. Jesus is saying, “Come to me to stay with me.”‭‭

Jesus has prepared for you “an abiding dwelling with Himself,” where we live not just for a short time as we have our morning quiet time but every moment of the day in the presence of our Savior and Lord. As we go about our daily lives, doing our daily work, His desire is that we would enjoy unbroken communion with Him.

We are to run to His open arms, receive His welcome, and remain there as He opens up all His life and love to us. We are to live daily in the truth that NOTHING can separate us from His love.

My prayer as you and I begin 2020 is that this will be a year of abiding in Christ, of continual communion with the One who loves us so much that He was willing to lay down His life to make a way for us to be forgiven and restored to relationship with our heavenly Father.

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No Longer Ashamed: The Righteousness of Christ is Ours!

Is there some event in your past that causes you shame whenever it comes to mind? Do you battle condemnation every time you fall into that “sin that so easily entangles you” (Hebrews 12:1)? If so, today I have some good news for you.

For the last two weeks, we have looked at some of the less emphasized benefits of the fact that Jesus died for our sins, rose from the grave, and ascended to the right hand of the Father in heaven. Because He kept His promise to not leave us alone and sent the Holy Spirit to indwell all who place their faith in Him, we are filled with and empowered by God to live the life He has planned for us. And because the veil separating us from God’s presence was torn in two by the hands of Almighty God, we have been given open access to His presence and the privilege of coming to His throne of grace in our time of need.

Today we’ll be looking at another sometimes overlooked benefit of the finished work of Jesus Christ: Being declared righteous because of Christ’s righteousness.

What Is Righteousness?

If you look up the word righteousness in a modern English dictionary, you find definitions such as “morally right” and “free from guilt or sin.” The Greek word includes this but goes beyond this. “Dikaiosune” speaks of whatever is right or just in itself. It includes always conforming to the revealed will of God. In essence, it means meeting the sum total of all the requirements of God 100% of the time.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said these words:

“You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Matthew‬ ‭5:48‬ ‭ESV‬‬

If you’re saying “that’s impossible,” you’re right. Because of our sin nature, none of us are able to meet this standard. The only human who every met all the qualifications of perfect righteousness was Jesus Christ. Because Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit (therefore man’s sin nature was not in Him) but born of a woman, He was fully God and fully man. He and He alone was able to meet God’s standard of perfect righteousness.

So how does God expect us to walk in perfect righteousness? He doesn’t. And now we come to the often overlooked benefit of the work of Jesus Christ on the Cross and His resurrection from the dead.

Understanding Imputed Righteousness and Imparted Righteousness.

In simple terms, imputed righteousness is the righteousness of Christ given to us as a gift when we place our faith in Jesus Christ and make Him our Lord and Savior. It is Jesus transferring His righteousness to us. It is the fulfillment of the promise of 2 Corinthians 5:21, which says; “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Because of imputed righteousness we have been declared righteous in God’s eyes.

But God’s full work of righteousness in our lives also involves an ongoing process. We are righteous, but we also are becoming righteous. The second type of righteousness is often called imparted righteousness. It is the practical, day to day process by which we begin to look more like Jesus. It’s an ongoing process that begins the day we surrender our lives to Jesus Christ and won’t be completed until the day we see Him face to face. This is the kind of righteousness described in Romans 8:29, “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.

‭‭Imputed righteousness is ours in it’s fullness on our first day as a born-again follower of Christ. Imparted righteousness comes through the process of sanctification, as the Holy Spirit works in our lives to build practical righteousness. Neither type of righteousness is within our ability. We are now righteous by the gift of Christ’s righteousness, and we are growing in righteousness by the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.” 1 John 3:2-3

‭‭Do you sometimes struggle with condemnation for something you did many years ago? Do you feel ashamed for some recurring sin that you think you’ll never gain the victory over? If so, there’s an essential question you need to settle in your heart: Have you surrendered your life to Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior and accepted His gift of forgiveness and new life? If your answer to that question is “no”, feel free to contact one of the ladies on the God-Living Girls leadership team. We’d love to help you in this area. But if your answer to this question is “yes,” then the condemnation you are battling is coming from the father of lies, the devil.

If you are in Christ, Romans 8:1 says God is not the one condemning you. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Most of us know the truth of John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” But don’t forget the truth of John 3:17 and the first part of verse 18, which is equally important. “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned…” Yes, God convicts of sin. Conviction is meant to lean to repentance, condemnation results in hopelessness. But He never condemns His blood-bought children.

On this Thankful Thursday, I’m grateful that I have been declared righteous in God’s eyes. The perfect righteousness of His Son has been imparted to me. And I’m also grateful that the Holy Spirit is at work in my life making me a little more like Jesus every day. How about you, do you think these truths from God’s Word deserve a prayer of gratitude to God? If so, I encourage you to share your personal prayer in the comments section below this post.

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Help for the Brokenhearted

My One Word for 2019 is FREEDOM, so when I looked for a devotional for the year I decided to use Breaking Free Day By Day, by Beth Moore. The theme of today’s reading was too good not to share.

During this season of growing through the pain of losing our special-needs son David, a time of both rejoicing that he is now in the presence of the Lord and whole for the first time and of feeling like a big chunk has been cut out of my heart and missing him daily, these words really spoke to my heart.

“God does not minimize the things that break our hearts. He is not looking down on us, thinking how petty we are because things have hurt us. If we are so “heavenly minded” that we grow out of touch with earthly hardships, we’ve missed an important priority of Christ.

“God left our bare feet on the hot pavement of earth so we could grow through our hurts, not ignore and refuse to feel our way through them. So surrender your hurt to Him, withholding nothing, and invite Him to work miracles from your misery. Be patient and get to know Him through the process of healing.”

It’s been a little over two months since our precious son David left the pain and limitations he experienced during his thirty-four years on earth to enter eternity whole and in the presence of the Lord. Our whole family definitely misses him, but we have peace in knowing where he is.

This is still a season of “earthly hardships” for my husband Mitch, our daughter Amy and myself, as we adjust to a new path. We are sensing God saying it’s time for life to take some turns, and we’re still uncertain as to all of what that means. For nearly three and a half decades, our lives revolved around meeting David’s needs. That no longer is true. So we are seeking God for clear direction concerning the future. Much needs to be done in preparation, so 2019 is getting off to a challenging start.

In the midst of all of this, the reminder to “be patient and get to know Him through the process of healing” had special meaning in my life. I don’t know what you are facing as we move into the middle of the first month of this new year, but I suspect this may also be helpful instruction for many of my readers as well. Surrender your hurt to Jesus – He cares about you and what you’re going through. Love Him and move forward into what He has for you and your family in 2019.

Five Minute Friday: Tired

This post is written to link with Five Minute Friday, where we write spontaneously for five minutes on a one-word prompt.  The prompt this week is TIRED.

In Mark 6, Jesus sent His twelve disciples out two by two for an intense time of ministry. Proclaiming the gospel and calling many to repentance, healing the sick and casting out demons, all a part of what they were doing, had left them depleted. The verses below stood out to me when I read this passage today.

“The apostles returned to Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught. And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” Mark‬ ‭6:30-31a‬ ‭ESV‬‬

When they returned from this time of ministry, it seems to me that this would have been a great time for Jesus to teach these men about ministry. But this wasn’t what Jesus did. Since I’ve been learning about the importance of REST, my Word of the Year for 2018, Jesus’ response to His followers stood out to me, “Comeaway by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.

It’s easy to understand that a day of hard physical labor is exhausting. But I’m learning that there are many ways to be TIRED. When we give out, there needs to be a time of replenishing. Of building back up our reserves. To ignore this truth is unwise. Sometimes the tiredness is physical, other times it’s emotional or mental or even spiritual. Whatever form our tiredness takes, it’s time to get away from the daily grind of life and rest awhile. Jesus understood this, and we need to also.

Exploring Rest: The Sabbath Principle, Part 2

In January, I began a study on The Sabbath Principle, using Breathe: Making Room For Sabbath, by Priscilla Shirer. This is part 2 of what I’m learning from this excellent Bible study.

On page 16 of the book, Priscilla Shirer shares a quote from Abraham Joshua Heschel, a Jewish rabbi known especially for his book, The Sabbath, which has been described as “a densely beautiful description of the Sabbath that takes us to its core.”  When I did some online research, one particular quote from the book stood out to me.

“Unless one learns how to relish the taste of Sabbath while still in this world, unless one is initiated in the appreciation of eternal life, one will be unable to enjoy the taste of eternity in the world to come.”

Understanding the Sabbath Principle is a part of our preparation for eternity. Life on earth is filled with busyness, and if we think this is all life is about we will be profoundly unprepared for life in God’s eternal kingdom. So gaining a clear comprehension of this principle is vitally important.

Genesis 1 ends with these words: “Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good. So the evening and the morning were the sixth day.” And Genesis 2 begins, “Thus the heavens and the earth, and all the host of them, were finished. And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.” (Genesis 1:31- 2:3 NKJV‬)‬ As Heschel read these verses, he concluded the Creation was not fully completed in six days. God had more work to do on the seventh day. From Priscilla Shirer’s book:

“Heschel said that on the seventh day God created ‘tranquility, serenity, peace, and repose.'”

To better understand the Sabbath Principle of Rest, I did a study of these four words: tranquility, serenity, peace, and repose. Here is a summary of what I learned using the American Heritage Dictionary.

  • Tranquility – the quality or state of being tranquil, free from commotion or disturbance, free from anxiety, tension or restlessness
  • Serenity – the quality or state of being serene, content, untroubled, unaffected by disturbance, calm or peaceful
  • Peace – the absence of war or other hostilities, harmonious relationships, inner contentment
  • Repose – the act of resting or the state of being at rest, peace of mind, calmness, freedom from worry

Does this list sound appealing to you? It surely does to me.

My conclusions from this study:

  1. Rest is much more than cessation of activity. It is both something we need to make room for in our schedule and something we purposely choose to enter into.
  2. Entering rest often includes overcoming hostilities, either in the physical or the spiritual realm. Entering God’s rest may involve spiritual warfare.
  3. Anxiety, restlessness, outer disturbances and inner discontentment are some of the enemies that must be overcome to enter God’s rest.
  4. Rest is possible even when outward circumstances make entering rest difficult, because rest is primarily an inner state of quiet and stillness. This is what the psalmist was saying when he wrote, “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” (Psalm 46:10 NKJV)

God has called us to rest, both by His example and through His Word. Yet we live in a culture that promotes the lie that busier is better. But God has called us to a different kingdom, to the Kingdom of God that is currently within us and which we will enter into in it’s fullness when Jesus returns. My desire is to walk in God’s rest during 2018, and to grow in my understanding of what this really means.