Sunday, April 15, 2012

Fruit of the Vine (John 15:1-17)

***A special message from guest speaker, Ted Henry, who shared with the St. Paul congregation on April 15, 2012.***

John 15:1-17
This is the word of God for the people of God!
What does it mean to belong?
Dictionary – says it means to be suitable, appropriate or advantageous – Like a Dictionary belongs in every home!
It can mean to be the property of someone – This Bible belongs to me.
Or having the right social personality or character to be a member of a certain group or not!  She is a really nice... Bless her heart… she just doesn’t belong here!
It can mean being a member of a club, a family, or an organization, a Fraternity or Sorority…even a gang.
In order to belong to a group of any kind there are certain “expectations and boundaries” that must be adhered to.
We all want to belong… but not always are we willing to stay within the boundaries of belonging.
The challenge in the Church today… is the seemingly difficult task in defining and maintaining those expectations and boundaries!
That last night of his earthly life, Jesus CLEARLY defines to His Disciples what it means to belong as well as the boundaries and expectations!
He does it by sharing something familiar and as well as something new, offering them something they could cling to…. for the world as they knew it ….. Was about to be turned totally upside down.
Describing how the disciples were to “belong”… Jesus used an image that was very familiar to them both in their daily lives and in their religious instruction: the Vine.
Jewish tradition and scripture often used the Vine as a symbol for the people of God.
Isaiah 5 is a good example The vineyard of the Lord Almighty is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are the garden of his delight.
Jesus uses this analogy because the Disciples understand the expectations of the vine and the work of the Gardener.
BUT Then Jesus completely Shatters the Imagery, he Shatters the Norm…. by saying that He is the vine!
By describing himself as the Vine, Jesus not only defines who He was, but he also redefines the relationship between God, Jesus and the community of believers.
Jesus was saying to the Disciples, “You think that because you belong to the Nation of Israel you are a branch of the true vine of God… 
Well you’ve got another think coming!
The only thing that can save you is to have an intimate, living, fellowship with me!”
Jesus let the Disciples know their Jewish heritage was not the way to God’s salvation.   Only Faith in HIM… faith in Jesus could bring them to salvation.
This is a crucial element, a pivotal point in their understanding of the full nature of belonging to God, Jesus and to one another.
John Wesley said: The root is unseen. The root bears the vine, diffuses sap or life to all the branches. The branches are many, yet meeting in the root, they are all one;
Thus all true Christians, though in place and often opinion…very distant from each other…. meet in Christ Jesus.
As believers we are weak just like the branches and unable to stand up on our own, removed from the vine, from the root we wither and die.
God is the Gardener… the tiller of the soil and is ever watchful and wise about His vineyard, just as He is to the church. So we must be fruitful.
On a grape vine we expect grapes, so in a Christian we expect Christian temper, disposition, and fruits or works honoring God.
However, even the fruitful branches of the vine need pruning.
What happens when we properly prune a plant? It bears more. It bears more fruit, it bears more flowers!
So, even fruitful Christians need pruning in their lives.
We are promised this sanctification, this purification of our lives to grow closer and closer to Jesus. Closer and closer to a Christ like perfection, which should be “the goal” for all True Believers!
The fruit are the Good works for the Kingdom, more than just the “Good things” that we often get caught up in….but rather the God things!
Verse 5 and 6 Jesus said 5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains (ABIDES)  in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit;   6 If anyone does not remain (ABIDE) in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. 
SO If we don’t abide in Christ…. if we don’t maintain our dependence on Christ through daily exercise of our faith…. then the corruptions of life creep in and we begin to wither and spiritually die, just like a branch that is severed from the vine!
So what does it mean to REMAIN in or to ABIDE in Christ?
Allow me use an analogy and preface the use with this… All analogies are inherently imperfect in some way.
A man has fallen. He has fallen to temptation, has made a huge mess of his life, heart, soul and mind have fallen to immorality. His life is in the proverbial “GUTTER.”
Now let’s suppose this man has a very good friend.
A friend of strong moral character, a lovely and loving nature, who rescues the man from his situation and lifts him out of the degradation he is living in. Lifts him to a new life, guiding him out of temptation and back to a life of morality and JOY!
The catch, the fine print if you will, is that the man must stay in continuous contact with his friend.
If he loses contact he will immediately begin to slip back into his temptations, back into his old ways. His weaknesses will overcome him!
His very SALVATION is dependent on continual contact with the strength of his friend.
Abiding in Christ is something like that. Keep in mind that even Christ needed continuous contact – he needed contact with God. Again and again Christ would go off to a solitary place to meet with God. To connect with the Father.
We need that contact even more. We cannot survive without an intentional and deliberate time with Jesus; a time in prayer, a time, in study and a time in silence
Verse. 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.
Let me take a Brief PAUSE Here – Let’s just make clear that Jesus is not saying,
Pray for a New Porsche and it is yours or pray for a new house or to make the highest score on a test…. This says Pray for something that is for the Good of the Kingdom and the prayer must include, Let Thy Will be done…not Let Thy will be changed Lord to suit me!
To ABIDE in Christ, for His words to REMAIN in us… will mean, for most all of us, a rearranging of our schedule, a rearranging of our life to FIT GOD IN, because for most….  (Well surely none of you here today)
GOD has become an afterthought, an only in crisis thought, an only in time of need thought, or an only on Sunday morning thought.
The reality is that God MUST be our First thought in everything we do.
Our first thought in the morning when we wake, our first thought as we begin our day. Our first thought as we take on various tasks and projects and our even our last thought as we close our eyes to sleep.
Rearrange your life in such a way that you never enter a day in which you have even the slightest chance to forget God and all He has done for you!
JESUS goes on
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, 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. 
See …..We are chosen for Joy. The joy of Christ.  Now does that mean we will always be happy? Of course not.
There will be situations in life that may make us unhappy BUT we will have the Joy of the Lord in our hearts to overcome that temporary unhappiness!
We are chosen for LOVE – sent out into the world to Love one another!
Sometimes we act like we are sent into the world to compete with one another, to outdo one another, to dispute and quarrel with one another!  AMEN?
A few months ago I attended a program called Plowpoint Ministry.
I learned about Christian conferencing, handling Pastor Transitions, defining spiritual gifts and how to work with churches on visioning what God’s purpose is for them.
But the primary process I learned about was handling “conflict resolution” in the church!    Why would there ever be conflict in a church?
Jesus said
12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 
As I studied about church after church bickering and divided over petty things, like potato salad recipes, about one member not getting along with another and the entire congregation taking sides, sitting on one side of the church or the other based on whose side of the argument they were on! Seriously – perhaps the potato salad recipe was a Blue Ribbon winner but in the grand scheme of life… come on
Two concerns stood out to me
1.       It became abundantly clear to me why so many outsiders, why so many Non-believers use US as the reason NOT to join a church.
After all they can see the very same bickering over petty things, the boasting, the EGOs, the mistreatment of one another in their work, community, and school lives… so why join a church and add another arena of bickering to their lives!?
It reminded me of a humorous story I read about a rather “proud” Sunday School Teacher who was preaching to his class about the importance of living an exemplary life. As he strutted across the room with his head held high and his chest out He arrogantly asked, “Now children why do people call me a Christian?”
There was a brief silence in the room and then one of the boys slowly raised his hand, “YES?” boomed the teacher.  The boy quietly responded…
“Probably because they don’t know you?”
I also became concerned about the health of our Pastors and questioned my own future in the pulpit…
In the work force…Doctors, lawyers and clergy have the most problems with drug abuse, alcoholism and suicide.
40% of pastors and 47% of spouses suffer from burnout, frantic schedules, and/or unrealistic expectations from their congregations
1,500 pastors leave their ministries each month due to burnout, conflict, or perceived moral failure.
70% say they don't have any close friends.
75% report severe stress causing anguish, worry, anger, depression, fear, and alienation.
80% believe that pastoral ministry negatively affects their family.
All this because of Conflict within the church.
Now I realize that as Christians we are not perfect and from time to time we all have behaviors and attitudes that don’t necessarily reflect our belonging to Jesus and the Body of Christ.
Sometimes we might even push the boundaries and expectations.
BUT those attitudes seem to be growing more and more prevalent in the church at large and it is shocking how many Christians are unwilling to extend the even the smallest iota of Heavenly Grace they have received…. to one another.
Perhaps… through Plowpoint’s Ministry working in churches…. revealing the healing power of Jesus Christ…. one day there will be a revival within the church and the elimination these unbelievable statistics.
Keep in mind this little poem– ‘You are writing a Gospel, a chapter every day, by deeds that you do, by words that you say. People will read what you write, whether faithless or true. SAY! What is the Gospel according to you?’

Jesus goes on  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.
Jesus shares something even greater….
 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—
I Have CHOSEN YOU! He has chosen us! He picked us for the Team!
Do any of you remember as kids choosing sides for a Team?  Yeah… Everyone wanted to be chosen first right…Pick me, Pick me!! The excitement of being chosen first or even second was exhilarating….. You wanted to be on the winning Team. True!!
But what about the poor person who got chosen last… how did they feel?
Not so great right. 
Here is the awesome thing about being chosen by Christ! YOU are a first round choice. The First Pick…  You are a Winner. Selected to be on the A Team!
Through His salvation we, you and I are also CHOSEN to be His friend! 
And that friendship with Christ brings us to a greater intimacy with God than even the greatest of all men ever knew, before Christ came into the world!
You are chosen to be partners with Christ.
You are chosen to be ambassadors for Christ - to go out into the world
You are chosen to go out and bear fruit – spreading His word to the world.
Not to argue with people about the Word,
Not to threaten them with the Word,
Rather to attract them to it - living lives that others see and desire!
The Life of a Christian… is not a life people should want to run from – it is one they should want to belong to – to be a part of!
Remember YOU are chosen for JOY!
A gloomy, downcast, Christian is a contradiction in terms! It’s and OXYMORON.
I read an article by William Barclay… He said – “Nothing in all religious history has done Christianity more harm than its connection to black clothes and long faces!”

Jesus has chosen each of us to belong to him…
We are chosen through His salvation and our faith to be privileged members of the family of God – so that God is no longer a distant stranger, but a very close friend!
Jesus provides us with the Ultimate Backstage pass. Access to the Green Room and ….front and center seats!
Jesus has chosen each of us to belong to him…  BUT the choice….. here is the Caveat
The Choice to accept that invitation or not belongs to WHOM?.... AMEN
It is your choice and your choice alone.
When you make that choice to accept the invitation, you make it based on your willingness to live within the relational boundaries and to live within the Expectations of the Body of Christ.
BUT the Temptations often get in the way, our lives get busy and our calendars fill up with us doing the “Good things” in life, instead of the “God Things” We become stressed out, on edge….
We must STOP, STEP BACK, LOOK at our lives and PRAY! Pray to the Gardener to come in and prune us.
God is the Gardener, He will prune or as the Greek word means, He will clean any area of our life that needs it, so we can bear the God Fruits in life.
Is there something that keeps you away from the all the glory and Joy God has for you?
Is there anger, is there hurt, addiction, self-pity, fear, worry, anxiety, lack of forgiveness, some wrong doing you have committed or someone else has committed against you or an emotion you’ve held inside …..
More than likely it is NOT something you show to the world. It is more than likely buried deep inside, hidden away so people can’t see it…
BUT you can’t hide it from GOD! He knows what it is!
He already knows where the pruning is needed…. He already knows the hurt, the pain, the sin…
 BUT He wants you to acknowledge it.
Offer it up to HIM…. after all He is the one to do the pruning. He is the one who knows how to do it properly – Unlike you and I who often tend to prune ourselves or others so judgmentally, particularly in the church …..
We prune so completely, we sever…our relationship with each other and GOD and we wither away.
VERSE 13- the best saved for last… Jesus said 13 Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. 
As the Disciples sat with Jesus that night they had no clue what was about to happen, much less what the next chapter would be……You know! You are living it!
This is the time for healing. This is the time to cleanse your heart and mind of anything that keeps you from bearing fruit, from living the Joyful Life of a Christian, t hat keeps you from loving all of the people outside of these four walls and especially loving one another inside these four walls.
Christ made the ultimate sacrifice…..He wasn’t nailed to the Cross to die a criminals death and rise again
For you to live in anger, worry, pain, anguish or with hatred in your heart….
He laid down His very life for you ….FOR YOU… His friend…. His Chosen one… so that His joy would be in you and Your Joy would be made complete.

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