Friday, June 30, 2006

I'm Not The Vine

It never ceases to amaze me how certain topics or issues will tend to come up repeatedly in little short spurts over a short period of time. You know, you hear the same piece of scripture at church, then on the radio, then your friend mails you a postcard with the verse on it, or something strange like that. When that happens there seems to be at least three possible approaches: (1) write it off as coincidence; (2) consider the fact that God is trying to tell you something; or, (3) maybe you're so unaware of it you don't even give it a thought. There have been times when I've taken all of these approaches. Lately, however, I've been trying to take a serious look at the reoccuring message and humbly ask God, "What are you trying to tell me here?" Over the last two weeks or so He's been saying, "Abide in me Doah."

In John 15:5 Jesus says, "I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing." (New King James)

Two Sundays ago in our youth group we decided to really dig into this horticultural analogy given by Christ. In fact, we asked the junior highers to memorize it from a different translation as follows: "I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing." (NIV)

Notice that "abide" is translated "remain" in that version. I looked it up in the dictionary and the other meanings that might work here are endure, dwell, or reside.

I carried that verse around for a week and tried to really know it and, more importantly, live it. I wanted to get it. I have to be honest, I don't think I do a very good job of totally remaining in Christ on a minute by minute basis. And, as Tyler Durden asks in FIGHT CLUB, "How's that working for ya?" The answer for me is, "Not good."

Anyway, the following Sunday (last Sunday), I'm sitting in the "big church" and our associate pastor was going to give the message which is rare. Then, he tells us we're going "old school" and he wants us to, out of respect for God's word, stand up and recite, in unison, today's scripture. Trust me, that is even rarer. So, before he says what passage it is, I crack my Bible open--and because I had this bumper sticker in there that was a gift from two junior high girls--my Bible opens to John 15:5 and he says, "We're going to read John 15:5 together."

In the translation printed in our program that day one line was different: "No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me." I like that because it's clear to me. I'm looking out at this lemon tree as I type this and I get that. If I was to cut off one of the branches from the tree and lay it on the ground, it would stop producing fruit. Many times, I am like that, I'm off on my own, trying to produce fruit.

This actually reminds me very much of step one of the 12 steps in Alcoholics Anonymous which, in part says, "We admitted we were powerless." That's a very difficult concept to surrender to. I for one, love to feel powerful and I really love feeling totally in control even more. Looking at that step right now, I see it as saying, "Admit that you are a branch that has been severed from the tree by choice." If you are familiar with A.A. then you know that the next two steps are designed to have you grafted back onto the vine. In effect they say, "Remain in me. Then, I will remain in you, and you will bear much fruit." Supposedly, I did step one back on June 27, 1991; however, I often forget that the 12th step brings me back to the first and I'm supposed to do that on a daily basis, even moment-by-moment basis if necessary. I get so full of myself that I start thinking that I'm the vine. Fortunately for me, this week God put somebody in my life that forced me to begin looking at these steps more closely. Yet another nudge from God.

As I reread the book of John, chapter 15, verses 1-17, I see the word "abide" at least nine times in there. Christ keeps saying, "Abide in me Doah." Why do I keep refusing when, every time that I have submitted to Him has gone so well? This brought me back to something else I am rereading now.

One of my all-time favorite pieces of writing is chapter 3 from my friend Don Toshach's book, A Thirst For More. That chapter is titled "Facedown in the Garden" and it is an open letter to Jesus. A letter from somebody who finally really got chapters 14 to 17 of John. I will close this post with an excerpt from that chapter. The last sentence is my prayer today. Every thing that follows here is Don's, not mine:

Lord, when I look at my life, I have a hard time remaining or dwelling with You. I find that I tend to exist next to You, tacking You onto my agenda. I'm busy, I've got stuff to do, there are many priorities. How can I live in You?

I'm able to abide. You remind me that I abide with my wife. I abide with the newspaper and television. I have abided with the Olympics and major sporting events. I have abided in books for the sake of earning degrees. I have abided with doing ministry. The justifications fly: "This is important; this is worth of time."

Jesus, I hear You say, "Okay, so I'm not worthy of your time?" Ur, oh, well, uh . . . it seems that way, doesn't it? You say it over and over here. "Remain in Me." You can do nothing apart from Me. How does that work? You could say, be transfixed by Me. Be gripped by Me. Live with Me. Hunger for Me. Talk to Me. Enjoy Me. Don't confine Me to a spot on your schedule . . . Let Me be your schedule.

Jesus, the first part of remaining is up to me, but if I remain in You, You will remain in me. Help me to remain, not just give you the remains, the leftovers. Show me what I need to leave behind or rid myself of in order to remain in You.

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