Friday, March 27, 2015

Remaining



We're finally going! I am going to ask that all bad guys, robbers, and dishonest people ignore this information. And apparently Sam had a little too much of the eggnog on Christmas Day. And Jack is posing for the cover of GQ. And I have the cutest niece in the whole wide world.
 
“I am the true grapevine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more. You have already been pruned and purified by the message I have given you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me.

“Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing. Anyone who does not remain in me is thrown away like a useless branch and withers. Such branches are gathered into a pile to be burned. But if you remain in me and my words remain in you, you may ask for anything you want, and it will be granted! When you produce much fruit, you are my true disciples. This brings great glory to my Father.

John 15:1-8

These are such familiar words. I can quote most of them without having formally memorized them. Many Christians can. But the danger in words being so familiar is that they can lose their power and significance for us.

Jesus gives an analogy that compares our spiritual life to that of a garden. God is the gardener. Jesus is the vine. We are the branches. But what does that mean for us?

I am guilty of reading this passage and thinking of it as a suggestion for being a “Super Christian.” If I really want to do “big things” for God, I’ll have to someday figure out this whole remaining and being a branch thing.

But Jesus seems to be speaking in absolutes. He doesn’t say, if you want to do lots of Christian type things, hang out with me. He doesn’t say you should be the branch if you want to be a super awesome God-follower. He doesn’t give us the option of mediocrity. He doesn’t give us the option of playing the role of gardener or vine.

God is the Gardener.

Christ is the Vine.

You and I are merely the branches.

I think if I could fully absorb my role and be content in it, my life might look differently. I must realize that I cannot sever myself from Christ, his death, burial, and resurrection and try to muster up some decent fruit. It’s not an option to go out on my own and produce mediocre fruit. He says that when I do not remain in Him, I bear no fruit at all. I can do nothing. I am like a branch that is thrown away and withers.

Chris and I are not master gardeners by any stretch of the imagination. However, in order to keep ourselves from being blackballed by the neighbors or earning the title “The Lazy Neighbors who Really Need to Invest in Hedge Clippers,” we do get out in the yard from time to time. Chris trims back the out of control bushes before they engulf our house, and he throws all of the pruned branches to the side. When he first throws them onto the ground, they still look alive. All looks okay. But on the rare occasion that no one comes and picks up the pruned branches and disposes of them immediately, because only super lazy neighbors would do that, and we are not super lazy neighbors…ahem…then the truth would eventually come out. We would return to the yard a few days later to see shriveled up, brown branches.

It’s not a possible outcome. It is an inevitable outcome.

And that’s the part I think I forget. I think I have options.

Sometimes, I think I have the option of being the gardener. I think that I can be in control of things that will never actually be under my authority, yet I act like they are nonetheless. This leads to anxiety and worry, because I am trying to grasp at sand. I am trying to control things that I cannot rather than trusting the Gardener to take care of those things. I cannot control the wind or the rain. (And this Gardener can. That’s what happens when the Gardener is God.) I do not get to decide who stays on the vine and who goes. I do not get to make the choice of what kind of fertilizer to use or when to water the vine or what kind of soil will suit it best.

Not my job.

I am not the vine. It is not my job to provide the food and water that every branch needs. It is not my job to give life to others. I cannot do it. And when I think it is my role, I find myself frantic and stressed. When I see myself as the end all be all of others’ existence, I can play the role for a while, but then I start to go a little nutso. All looks fine at first, but I end up brown and withered.

 Not my job.

My job is to hang on to Jesus and let Him work in me and through me. My job is to simply stay attached to Him and let the Gardener and the Vine do all the work. Their job is to provide life and produce fruit. My job is to be connected and available to display the fruit for all to see.

When you pass by a beautiful rose bush, you likely will not meet the Gardener Himself in a physical way. He will be in the background, having done His work and slipped away. You will not notice the strong, thick trunk in the middle of the bush, thrusting its roots into the soil and holding up all of the branches. You will see the very tip of the branch. You will see the beautiful rose, and you will marvel at its beauty. As you marvel at its beauty, however, you will intuitively know that it must have a good, strong trunk to support it and it must have a skillful, wise master gardener with a green thumb rather than a black one like yours. You will know that there is more to that rose than the branch or the rose itself, and you will admire the skill and process that resulted in such beauty.

When you think about it, my job is actually the thing I’m best suited for. Shocking, huh? It is a job free from stress or worry and colossal effort. It is a job of remaining and trusting. It is a peaceful, still, quiet job. It means trusting that all that must happen for me to bloom is happening. The branch cannot prune itself or water itself or force itself to bloom. It must hang on and trust.

My job is to remain in the vine, trusting the Gardener. I have to choose to believe that He knows what He’s doing and that He is able to produce beauty from my thorny self.

What does this look like for me?

I think it means not worrying about the crowds or the weather or our health in Disney World. I cannot control those things, yet I’ve found myself worrying about them. I think it means realizing that, even with the best laid plans, we will face stress and long lines and heat and grumpy children. I think it means that, even though I decide to try and be nice in the midst of it all, I will fail and I cannot do it alone. It is beyond me.

I think it means trusting that, in all of the weariness and chaos and uncontrollable factors involved, I just need to hang on to Jesus. I must keep my mind focused on the fact that I have been crucified with Christ and it is now Christ who lives in me. Christ loves sacrificially. He does not insist on His own way. He’s not in it for what He can get out of it. He provides rest for the weary and forgiveness for those who have messed up. He is full of grace, kindness, and patience.

Only by denying my flesh and clinging to all that He is…by trusting that He can sustain me and bear beautiful fruit when I just feel thorny and ugly…can I become the God-glorifying branch I desire to be.

It is not up to me to decide on my role. It is not up to me to control all people and circumstances. It is up to me to deny myself, to pick up my cross in order to crucify my selfish, prideful flesh, and to follow Christ.

It is my job to remain in Him. And what a beautiful, peace-filled job that can be if I will remain in it.

REMAIN:

1.    to continue in the same state; continue to be as specified:

2.    to stay behind or in the same place:

3.    to be left after the removal, loss, destruction, etc., of all else:

4.    to be left to be done, told, shown, etc.:

5.    to be reserved or in store.

 

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