When I write these newsletters, there’s a sense I’m writing them to myself, while, at the same time I know I have you reading over my shoulder. When I write them, I always learn as much about the Gospel as I share with you. So many times the result of writing them is I feel like ‘I didn’t know I knew that.’ This one comes from standing in the middle of my briar patch, doing one of the routine things I have to do to get ready for a deep winter and prepare for spring. I have to cut my black raspberry bushes back to about 12-18 inches long, leaving just ugly sticks pointing to the blue sky. Before that cutting, some of them will stretch out to maybe 15-20 feet after a full summer of growth. Pruning them made me think of John’s Gospel chapter 15. There Jesus teaches that the Father is the true Vine and how we have been grafted into Him; meaning, there’s a source of Life that comes from simply being connected to Him. Human life, for the most part, is a life of sorrow and confusion, but the Life of God is nothing like that. He is the root from which all true Life springs, all meaning is revealed, and He has invited us to be gathered into that Life with Him. In the winter, if you looked at my raspberry plants you would think there’re probably 40 individual plants; however, if you looked carefully you’d see that they are all coming from another plant, a root supplying life for the start of all the rest. That’s Gospel.
When I first start trimming, the berry vines are a tangled mess. Being busy all summer long with all the other ‘around the house’ jobs, I always seem to let them run too far, so I inherit a ball of twisted, mingled, out of control bushes. A jungle of briars. (Something’s romantic and fair about having to wade into that thicket and getting scratched up real good. Somehow you know you should always have to pay that kind of price for the berries you’ve gotten the season before.) Left unattended, they wouldn’t produce the crop of black raspberries I’m expecting next spring. I not only cut them, I also lift the shoots that lay on the ground. I tie them to a wire string, knowing that they have less of a chance of producing fruit if left on the ground. They will also root in the wrong place without training them to stand up. They seem not to like that training very much. They don’t like not being able to do as they wish, but in the long run they will produce more berries and have an easier job doing so than if I permitted them to stay on the ground. I also have to tend the ground around the patch to both protect them from a freeze and organize them for picking the fruit the following July. In the spring I will also ‘tip’ the new vines, in effect, doubling the amount of fruit that’s produced. They take quite a bit of care, black raspberries do!
There’s Gospel to be found in that patch. It’s subtle, but God doesn’t just stand by our side and watch from afar, offering to do something about our lives only when we ask correctly or only when we stumble into getting something right about the Gospel. He actually enters into the patch, grafts us into His Life. Our tears, our smiles, are a part of our experience, and His, with us. Like those berry vines, we sometimes go through the winters of our lives being strengthened and rested for the coming summer to bear much fruit. He doesn’t leave us in the tangle, but shows us, helps us to improve the fruitfulness of our lives. Scripture identifies only one fruit that the Father is seeking from us, Fruit of the Spirit. That’s what He’s looking to be expressed in Life: Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faith, Gentleness and Self Control. All those come out of our character, not our labor– not what we might do in a moment, but what we are doing in a lifetime.
Many times it’s interesting to look at scripture’s original language to redefine how we see texts like John 15:2. In that verse, the words ‘take away’ in the Greek language is airo. Specifically, it means to lift up, it does not mean to cut off. It’s very much like when I lift those berry shoots off the ground to give them a chance to mature. The word translated pruned/purged in that verse is the Greek word kahairo uniquely meaning to cleanse from filth. (In the dry climate of Israel, with little rain, the vine leaves had to have the dust washed so that photosynthesis could take place.) That’s a different spin on the nature and character of God with those Greek meanings exposed. There’re four or five verses in the scripture that have been pillars of my trust and understanding of the Father. Isaiah 42:3 is one of those: a bruised reed He will not break and a smoking flax He will not quench. (For me) He will mend the broken, He will blow the Breath of His life on the smallest ember to bring both to Life. That’s my Trust, my Hope. (And, yes, I’m aware of the next thought ‘until He has set Judgment’. He has done that having placed all judgment on Jesus Christ.)
Serendipity is the effect by which someone accidently discovers something fortunate, especially while looking for something else entirely. In this Christian journey I began looking for the best religion I could find. I wanted to know the truth about which one was the most correct, most moral, best ethical argument. I searched books, cassettes and lectures looking for the perfect religion to believe in. I looked for the ‘good life’. Amazingly, along the way what I discovered was not a religion at all but a True and Living Way. Not just a good way to live but I found the Giver of a powerful Life, a Life that left you without a thirst for anything else but The Life. A Life that isn’t simply about Right and Wrong, but a Life blended with His creative, exciting, spontaneous Life of the Trinity of God. On the Vine of John 15, you cannot tell where the Vine and the branches join one another. The Vine’s rooted self and the grafted branch’s beginnings look as one. Isaiah 40:31 says that those that wait upon the Lord will renew their strength, the original text refers to those that braid together much like a rope is braided, will be strong. Instead of finding a religious God, I discovered the True God Who embraces us into His Life, gets us tangled in the things of His Life, leads us into a new and living Way.
If we permit Him to do so, God is the husbandman of our Lives. He is busy lifting us up, rather than holding us down. There’s no pleasure in God to destroy His children, but He is all about teaching, leading, encouraging. When we fall, He grabs our hand and helps us recover our walk. He cleanses us as He forgives. We should not be surprised that this and the next generation are struggling to make sense of life, so many have not been promised or had expressed to them any Hope of His Life. If fact, we’ve been taught by the world and have taught our children that God might no longer exist or at the very least is not to be trusted. We only know the reward of self-effort, self accomplishment, a life of making our own way and have not been exposed to the shared Life of Christ with the Father and Spirit, Life on the Vine. Many have no confidence that there’s even a Life that competes with their own self-sufficiency.
We were never created to grow up and be independent and self sufficient; just the opposite, we were created to grow up in Him, be dependent upon Him, mingled with Him. Things that the Spirit bears cannot be found any other way than partnering with His Life. He is the Way, the Truth and Life and no one yields that fruit except by Him. We can do very well financially, create positive self images, we can go our own way and survive with what the world promises, but we cannot experience Life separated from God. That’s the real story of Genesis; when men chose to be independent, the internal and the eternal part of them died to that Vine. Jesus came to graft (atonement) us back into the Life of God, give us at-one-ness with Father Son and Spirit. As we yield to the Husbandman and His care, we discover that we bear more Fruit of the Spirit and are able to come closer to reaching the full potential that was Hoped for us in God’s heart before Genesis.