I am not sure about you but I really dislike rodents. What is it about those little furry animals that give most of us the absolute creeps? During our last visit to Garrett's family I watched as our niece Allie picked up her little hamster and kissed and cuddled it. And as she tried to hand her critter to me I jumped back and said "That's ok I will watch him for inside his cadge." So there Allie and I sat, and as I watched her hamster from the safe confines of his cadge I learnt something quite profound. As he entered his cadge he went straight to his spinning wheel and raced around it as if there was no tomorrow. Faster and faster he ran, spinning around and around.
I thought, "You know what Nici your just like this little hamster. You're always in a rat race " Running as if there is no tomorrow. And no matter how often I tell myself to "Slow down!" It doesn't take long before I ramp up and race off again in full speed. So often I allow little time in my busyness to really:
* draw near to God,
* to be in touch with Him,
* to hear his voice and
* allow Him guide me with His priorities for my life.
A friend of mine once taught me a valuable lesson that has stuck with me for years. He explained that just as cars cannot function without gas, so we as believers cannot function if our tanks are not filled. Yet the reality is that many of us often run on empty. Our fuel gage is in the red!
This morning I would like to talk about something that I believe is vital for us as believers in Y'shua; namely the importance of staying connected to God.
Turn with me to JOHN 15:1-17
PRAY & READ PASSAGE (John 15:1-17 NIV)
1 "I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener.
2 He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit,
while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so
that it will be even more fruitful. 3 You are already
clean because of the word I have spoken to you.
4 Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can
bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine.
Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.
5 "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. 6 If anyone does not remain in me,
he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such
branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.
7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask
whatever you wish, and it will be given you. 8 This is to
my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing
yourselves to be my disciples.
9 "As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now
remain in my love. 10 If you obey my commands, you will
remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands
and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy
may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My
command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.
13 Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down
his life for his friends. 14 You are my friends if you do
what I command. 15 I no longer call you servants, because a
servant does not know his master's business. Instead,
I have called you friends, for everything that I learned
from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me,
but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit--fruit
that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask
in my name. 17 This is my command: Love each other.
Before taking a look at the actual text allow me to put this passage into context. Johannan (John), known as the disciple whom Jesus loved is the author of this Gospel. The first 12 chapters cover Y'shua's ministry to all in Israel. But Chapter 13 begins his private ministry to the 12 disciples and takes place at the last supper, his final Passover. In the next 5 chapters Y'shua prepares his immediate followers for his trial, crucifixion and resurrection.
* In Chapter 13 we see Him washing their feet as he admonishes them to be servants toward one another,
* In Chapter 14 we find probably the most famous of Y'shua's, "I AM" statements. "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." John 14:6
* And at the end of John 14 Y'shua goes on to encourage them that after his departure from earth, God would send The Counselor, the Holy Spirit who would teach them all things and remind them of everything he had taught them.
And then Chapter 14 ends with "Come now; let us leave,"
Y'shua and his disciples then leave the seder table and head towards the Garden of Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives. And on their way they MAY just have passed a vineyard. As Y'shua makes the last of his 7 "I AM" statements.
"I AM THE TRUE VINE" Isn't this a rather odd statement? Kind of like
saying "I am a tulip". Now for those of you who are Calvinists that makes
sense but for most of us if you walked around claiming to be a tulip we
would most certainly think you were rather strange. So why does Y'shua use
this kind of imagery. Why claim to be a vine? Well our Western mind might
find this odd but our Israeli friends would understand this. Israel back
then was an agricultural society and so not only would they understand this
kind of imagery but they would also relate well to it.
In fact throughout the Hebrew Scriptures we see this imagery of the vine portrayed over and over. By Isaiah, Jeremiah, Hosea, Ezekial and even in Psalm 80:8 we read
"You brought a vine out of Egypt; you drove out the nations and planted it."
In Jeremiah 6:9 we read:
"This is what the Lord almighty says" 'Let them glean the remnant of Israel as thoroughly as a vine; pass your hand over the branches again, like one gathering grapes."
It's clear from these Scripture passages in the Tenakh that Israel is referred to as the vine. So why does Y'shua call himself the true vine?
Well we find our answer in Jeremiah 2:21. The LORD says,
"I had planted you like a choice vine of sound and reliable stock. How then did you turn against me into a corrupt wild vine?"
Israel, God's original vine turned against him and became corrupt. And so God sends Y'shua into the world to be "The True Vine".
And we might ask "How did this happen that Israel who was once God's choice vine becomes a corrupt wild vine?" Well here in John chapter 15 we find the answer. And let's remember that Israel is only a prototype of all people and that you and I are just as capable of turning against God and becoming corrupt too.
But God in this passage gives us the recipe to ensure that this does not happen. The secret ingredient? The word "remain" (or abide) which is found 11 times in this short passage of only 17 verses. And a close second is the word "fruit" which is found 8 times. A hint that this passage is about remaining in the true vine and the lasting fruit that comes as a result.
The key verse here is verse 5:
"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."
The NASB uses the word "abide" instead of remain. This word abide is closely linked to the word "abode". Our permanent home. Our dwelling. You would not call a tent your abode. At least I would not. I even found it hard calling our place in Waltham my abode since it was only a very temporary place we lived in for a few months but now that Garrett and I have bought our first home I can really say we have an abode. A place we hope to stay in for many years to come. A place where we now abide, dwell in, a place of permanence. ---------------------- And just a side note know that you are always welcome to visit us in our abode :)
When we hear the word "remain" as the NIV translates it, it conjures up a similar definition to that of the word abide but I think we can add to the meaning. When I hear the word remain I think of being connected. I guess the best description would be that of a husband and wife. When the two become one flesh. When this happens they are connected. Inseparable. They are in a love relationship. That's what happened the day each one of us received Y'shua into our hearts as our Savior, we became a part of the Vine, we were connected and nothing can separate us from God.
What a staggering truth and yet in our rat raced lives we all too often live like independent branches, which go about our business and just plug ourselves into the vine every now and again. Especially when we are in trouble and in need of God. That is not what it means to remain.
The Greek word for remain or abide is "Meno".
This is a key word in John's theology. Not only is it used 11 times in this verse but John also uses it 40 times throughout the Gospel of John and 27 times in his Epistles.
However here in John 15 "Meno" comes as a command. A directive and means:
To maintain and nurture an unbroken connection, a constant active relationship between the believer and His Lord.
(Allow me to repeat this definition)
To remain means: to maintain and nurture an unbroken connection,
a constant active relationship between the believer and His Lord.
Why am I stressing this? Well quite frankly because in verse 5 Y'shua tells
us "apart from me you can do nothing" Nothing can be
accomplished for God apart from God.
But the problem is that you and I are so busy trying to do things for
God and all along we forget that we can do nothing, we can do zippo,
for God without His enabling.
And more than that if you and I are disconnected from God we are not
only useless, but it's just a matter of time before we become a corrupt wild vine.
However, in this passage Y'shua shows us that instead of becoming corrupt
there is tremendous good that comes from remaining connected to the TRUE VINE.
If we remain connected with Y'shua we will "bear fruit." In fact there is a progression in this passage from
* to more fruit
* to much fruit.
The more we remain in Y'shua the more fruitful we will be.
A professional gardener explains that the branches of any fruit tree, including a grape vine can survive and even produce leaves for a while after it has been disconnected but it CANNOT produce fruit unless it is connected to the rootstock.
My husband is really great at remembering to buy me flowers. And for our new home he bought me a bunch of spring branches. I think they may be from a peach or cherry tree. When I first got them there were only a few shoots peeping out but since then some leaves have emerged and the pink flowers have opened. But you know what? As much as I love these blossoms in my home I know that these branches will never bear peaches or cherries unless the branch is grafted into the original rootstock.
And folks that is true of you and I as well. All too often we are like this branch. We live like independent branches that plug in and out of our rootstock instead of remaining connected. If you and I want to see fruit in our lives we will need to remain grafted in. And God promises that if we do that we will see much fruit.
What is the fruit Y'shua speaks of? The nature of the fruit is not stated categorically but I believe it is safe to say that being connected to Y'shua effects at least three areas of our lives
* our personal lives
* our public lives
* and our prayer lives
Firstly, staying connected to Y'shua by spending time in His Word and in prayer greatly effects our personal lives. We cannot help but link the fruit Y'shua promises in John 15 with the well known passage in Galatians 5:22-23:
"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control."
In fact verse 11 and 12 of our passage speaks of love and joy. If you and I desire the fruit of the Spirit in our personal lives, we will need to remain connected!
Let's face it when we do that, we are certainly much more pleasant spouses, parents, children and friends. We are much nicer people to be with. There is just something about spending time with the Lord that makes us a lot less self seeking and a lot less hypocritical.
OUR PUBLIC LIVES
Secondly staying connected to God effects our public lives. Our ministry to those to around us. What I would term the fruit of our labors. When we are in an active relationship with Y'shua we can reach out to others far more effectively. When the Word of God is fresh in our hearts we not only have
* a greater burden for those around us who are not yet believers
* but we are also better equipped to speak truth into their lives. The word of God is in our hearts and on our lips. It is not something stale but fresh and life changing. When God's word has recently touched and changed you it is very contagious.
When I joined Jews for Jesus as a new missionary I spent the first 3 years as a part time missionary and full time student at Bible College. My fellow students sometimes pitied me that I could not focus 100% on my studies, but I never regretted being a missionary at the same time. I loved it. I would study God's word in the morning in class. Learn something new and exciting and then that afternoon I would be able to share it with someone I was reaching out to. I felt sharp and relevant.
And while you and I may not have the opportunity to be at a Bible college at this point in time we still have many avenues to study God's word. Not only on our own but Boston has so many good Bible studies out there. Interdenominational Bible study groups such as Bible Study Fellowship and Community Bible Study. It blessed me to hear that Danna and Rebbecca were part of one of these groups that had a mother/daughter program. There is a lot out there and if would like us to help you get connected we would be happy to point you in the right direction.
Staying connected does not only effect our personal and public lives. But there is something else, vs 7 and 16 tell us that fruitfulness results in a prayer life that brings answers.
If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you.
You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit--fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.
I don't know about you but I was really challenged by Garrett's message last week. How there were these false prophets in Israel who were actually part of the nation of Israel but were speaking words of comfort to the people when that is not what God was promising. How they were sincere in their message, but their message was sincerely wrong.
Isn't that a scary thought when it comes to our prayer lives? As believers you and I can actually be praying a sincere prayer for someone but that prayer can be misguided because that is not what God wants for that person right now? But lest I discourage you from praying with confidence allow me to encourage you that God loves to hear from us, he loves to answer our prayers. But the key to answered prayer is praying in accordance with God's will. And how do we know God's will?
Well verse 7 tells us:
If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you
I guess it is clear that when we abide in the Lord our thoughts and desires conform to his. We know the will of God. And when we pray in accordance with God's will, the results are certain.
So what does all this mean to you and I this morning?"
Well I believe that far too often you and I suffer from what I call business pollution. We are so busy giving output without any input that we become ineffective for God. And that is disastrous!
I recently heard something that is speculative but none the less gave me great food for thought. I was told that what you and I manage to do in one year is more than our grandparents did in their entire lifetime."
And while this may be somewhat of an exaggeration let's face it we do too much. It's time for us to slow down and remember that remaining connected with Y'shua and fruitfulness go hand in hand.
May the fruit of:
* our private lives,
* our public lives and
* our prayer lives be fruit that will last.
The fruit in the grocery stores of America tastes nothing like that of most other countries. And that is because the fruit is removed from it's branches too early and then given an injection of ripening agent. It may look great, all nice and shiny on the outside but the fruit is bad.
May you and I not produce fruit like that? Let's remain connected to the Lord and produce lasting quality fruit for our heavenly Father.
In closing allow me to read to your from Oswald Chamber's "My utmost for His highest"
"Once our concentration is on God, all the limits of our life are free and under the control and majesty of God alone. There is no longer any responsibility on you for the work. The only responsibility you have is to stay in living constant touch to God, and to see that you allow nothing to hinder your cooperation with Him. The freedom that comes after sanctification is the freedom of a child, and the things that hold your life down are gone. But remember you have been freed for only one thing - to be absolutely devoted to your co-Worker."
"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."