Branch Living

Tonight I was reminded of sharing a message based on John 15:1-17. I told my friends I’d look up my notes. Unfortunately, I only have a hard copy of them, so I’m going to take care of that now.

Introductory Truth Statements:

  • God the Father is the gardener (His chief job is pruning).
  • Jesus, the Father’s Son, is the vine (The vine relies on the Gardener. He’s our example for reliance. Chief job=provide life, strength, and connection to the Father).
  • All who place their faith in the Son are the branches/shoots (Chief job=produce fruit).
  • Non-fruit-bearing branches are cut off (They have no worth or glory).
  • Fruit-bearing branches are pruned (Vines require pruning. The Gardener watches over every branch, yet he gives you the choice to remain).
  • To bear fruit, a branch must remain.
  • Apart from the vine, a branch cannot bear fruit.
  • The Gardener works to increase the fruit of the branch.

Job #1 = Remain in the Vine

  • Remain = don’t wander, stay, invest, pay attention, give up control, continue, cling, linger, abide, dwell, live, stand, stay connected
  • Test your remaining by your fruit
  • Test your remaining by your love

Job #2 = Value Pruning

Pruning is not the removal of weeds or thorns or anything from outside that may hinder the growth. No, it’s cutting off the long shoots of the previous year, removing something that comes from within that has been produced by the life of the vine itself, a proof of the vigor of its life. The more vigorous the growth has been, the greater the need for the pruning. It is the honest, healthy wood of the vine that has to be cut away.

Abide in Me by Andrew Murray and Bo Stephens
  • Test your valuing by your attitude toward the Gardener
  • Test your valuing by your reaction to circumstances
  • Test your valuing by your response to the Gardener’s Word

The great things God will do through you are going to grow in the soil of persistence, prayer, obedience, and sacrifice. That means there will be plenty of plowing and pruning. That’s the way living things grow…God has to work in us before he can work through us…when we want what God wants for the reasons he wants it, you’re unstoppable….When you ask God to do the impossible, he usually instructs you to do something uncomfortable. And inconvenient. (For church attenders, re-read this quote and replace the bold words with “a church.”

Sun Stand Still by Stephen Furtick

Closing Prayer: “By your grace, Gardener, no matter what it costs me, I’m going to remain. I’m going to take you at your word. Even if it seems like you don’t know what you’re doing, I will trust that your pruning knife will cut away what’s not good in my life. I will trust that you work all things in my life together for my good and your glory. Cleanse me through your word. Cut away any roots that will hinder the Vine from finding me wholly free to receive life. I desire to love and to bear fruit in my life for you alone.”

Photo by Zbynek Burival on Unsplash

Whispers to a Hot Minute

A hot minute about anger.

This morning I was angered by a social media post by a friend. This post, without a doubt, did harm. That in itself causes anger. This post, without a doubt, did harm to a mutual friend. That causes more and deeper anger.

And the reality is, social media posts can cause us anger just about every minute of the day, giving us the opportunity to feel like the whole day is one hot minute. These posts don’t necessarily have to be by people we know. Unfortunately, we are leered into getting hot from posts by people we don’t even know. We can believe the lie that we know their intentions, but reality is that’s impossible.

This morning, I had the same impulse most of us do. “Why don’t I point out the harm and basically put my friend in his place?” Thankfully, I refrained. Then my hotness said, “Well, sure, don’t put it out there for everybody to see. Just send him a private message.” Very tempting, but thankfully I still refrained. So what did I do? I went for a run.

So let me explain. Rarely do I run at 1PM. And rarely is going for a run a solution. But I know myself enough to know that one way to keep me from doing something stupid is to do something good. And some of my best thinking is while I’m running.

Sure enough, the hot minute subsided and the angry rebuttal left the front of my mind. Some call that regulation or de-escalation. In spiritual terms, I’d say it’s dropping your ego in order to let God have a say.

So here are God’s whispers while on my run:

  • “One person’s lack of turning their cheek doesn’t give you the right to do the same.”
  • “A fool is better left alone. I don’t need your help setting them straight.”
  • “Offer forgiveness rather than advice or judgment.”
  • “Consider how Jesus approached the harm Judas created.”

And that’s how I’ll be able to go to sleep tonight. Listening and following the whispers cooling my hot minute.

Photo by Aarón Blanco Tejedor on Unsplash

Even in the Silence

Recently I was introduced to artist Makoto Fujimura. In exploring his works, I discovered his love for another artist, novelist Shusaku Endo. This admiration led to Fujimura becoming an advisor for the movie production based on Endo’s book Silence, a movie directed by Martin Scorsese. With all this overlapping of creativity, I decided I would read the book and then watch the movie. Today I finished the book and managed to find the movie on demand to watch this afternoon.

First, let me say what a joy it is to receive the creative gifts by these three artists-a contemporary artist, a novelist, and a filmmaker. Not only are they masters at their craft, but they engage all of who they are into their work, including their faith and beliefs. Unafraid of transparency, they allow you into their wrestling and therefore make it acceptable for you to acknowledge yours.

Endo’s Silence is set in seventeenth-century Japan. The tale challenges your commitment to your faith as you follow two Portuguese Jesuit priests encounter the forced renouncing of beliefs by their Japanese Christian brothers and dialogue with a silent God. You are forced to acknowledge persecution has always been a part of Christian history and will always be, something we prefer to forget Jesus told his disciples to expect.

Such stories produce various responses. Responses usually focus on what ifs and reminders to not forget those currently experiencing persecution. My biggest response today is this: I am the sole guardian of my faith. It’s not up to the church, a pastor or priest, or anyone close to me to secure my faith. In decisive moments where I have to live out my faith, it’s entirely up to me. When my mind tells me I’m alone and God has abandoned me, my faith reminds me that he said “I am with you always,” even in the silence.

Limping and Flying

“What does it mean to trust God?”

That was the opening question in our staff meeting recently. Then a devotion was shared which compared trusting God to the work between trapeze artists. In their work, there are two roles: flyers and catchers. The job of the flyer is to do what it sounds like-release from the bar and fly in the air to be caught by their teammate. And by fly they mean do nothing. Don’t try to help the catcher. Don’t reach for the catcher. Just be in the air and trust that you will be caught.

As I listened to the devotion and the following discussion, my mind went to the previous day and my personal experience of trying to help when I wasn’t supposed to. Since my second neck surgery in 2014, I keep regular appointments with my massage therapist, Mike. And we have some interesting conversations while I’m on the table. There are rarely any lulls.

My neck was particularly tight that day, so Mike was having to spend more time on it. He always starts on my neck while I’m on my back. And he always finishes working on my neck with the same move. I know it’s coming; after 8 years I pretty much know exactly what he’s going to do next. His final move is to put both hands under my head, lift, and slowly bend my neck toward my chest. Most visits, he’ll do this several times.

On that day, I immediately knew I had done something Mike told me not to do the first time he worked on me. Rather than let him do the work, I helped. I mean, do I really need someone to lift my head toward my neck? I wasn’t born yesterday. Mike is from New York; he’s got no problem calling you out. So on that first visit when I helped him lift my head he said, “Don’t do that. While you’re on my table, you need to let me do all the work. Just pretend you’ve lost all control of your body. Go limp. Trust me and don’t get in the way of my work.”

In my talking while Mike lifted my head on this visit, I knew instantly that I had helped and wasn’t limp. So before he scolded me I said, “I helped you, didn’t I?” He said, “Yes, you did. Stop it.”

Too many times I try to help God. I get in the way. He doesn’t scold me, but he certainly lets me know things could be done more in his way, in his time, and in his perfection if I’d just go limp. Sure, I can do all the work I should while off the table. But when I’m on the table, he’s most going to have his way when I’m trusting him to do what only he can do.

Fly! God will catch you.

Go limp. God doesn’t need your help.

You can trust him.

Photo by Joseph Frank on Unsplash