on union with Christ

If you’ve never toured a vineyard it’s certainly one of those experiences worth having, even if you don’t enjoy wine. The sights and smells are rich, and full of an earthy-beauty (plus for people like me, it’s a chance to pretend for a moment like you’re traveling in Tuscany and not southern British Columbia!)

As you wander through the long lanes, with branches straining under the load of luscious grapes, even a casual observer can see that there is an interconnectedness about what you’re looking at; a syllogistic pattern of vines planted in the earth, branches attached to the vines, and grapes exploding in slow motion out of the vines.  Remove the vine and you have no branches or fruit. Remove the branches and you have no fruit. Remove the fruit and … well, you make some wine!

Something that you’ll miss however by a single visit is the seasonal changes a vine goes through.  Come in late Fall and you’ll see rows and rows of fruit ready for harvest.  But come in winter and you’ll see the vines trimmed down to almost nothing. Or come in spring and you’ll see the slow climb up the trellis as the branches spring from the vine and reach for the sky above and it’s nourishing light.  The thing to take away here is that even healthy, fruit-bearing branches have seasons where you see no fruit on them at all!

The last thing to notice is the pile of branches that have been pruned.  It takes a trained eye to see it, but even a seemingly healthy branch that bears no fruit needs to be cut away so that the healthy branches can have room to grow unhindered and produce more fruit.  It seems cruel perhaps but the vinedresser knows what is needed to produce the best crop.  These branches that are cut away are then simply piled up and burned.

In John 15, Jesus draws from these same observations we’ve just made and makes the following connections to Himself, the Father, and to us: He says, “I am the True Vine and my Father is the Vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.”

A verse later He says, “Abide in Me and I in you.  As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in Me.”

Finally, He says, “I am the Vine, you are the branches (avoid the temptation to hear cheesy 80’s worship chorus here). Whoever abides in Me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.” He then goes on in sobering terms to describe the branches that do not abide which are cut away, wither, and are gathered and burned.

And as we consider what it means to have union with Christ and, ultimately, to abide in Him, the analogy of the vineyard has striking revelations for us:

*note – i do realize that, technically speaking, “abiding” in Christ and “union” with Christ are separate things to be sure. I am merely moving past the obvious connection that if one is not first united with Christ, they cannot abide in Him.

The first, and most obvious, revelation seen here is that bearing fruit requires being connected to Jesus. The analogies are many and sundry. A fish can’t live out of water. We can’t live under water. And fruit doesn’t grow in the air. It needs to be attached to something to grow at all.  And bearing fruit is always connected in Scripture with life in Christ.  The one who bears no fruit at all (and i want to stress that point at all, for – as we saw above – fruit growth has it’s seasons) is not united to Christ, no matter how many WWJD bracelets, bible memory verses, or church attendance pins they may have.  A story i never used to get, but that illustrates this point strikingly, is found in Matt. 21:18,19 where Jesus curses the fig tree and it withers.  The key to understanding it is in seeing that the tree Jesus comes up to “looks” healthy (leaves growing and, i assume, figs are supposed to be in season).  But when Jesus sees that there is no fruit, he curses it and it withers (sound like anything we just read in John 15 about branches w/o fruit being cut off and withering?) So with us: no matter how healthy and spiritual we may appear to the world around us, God is not fooled, and our complete lack of fruit shows the true health and life of our soul (or rather the lack of it).

The second, and perhaps not as obvious, revelation is that – as the branch itself that is separated from the vine could not bear fruit and withers – so a man or woman separate from Christ – the true Vine – can not only not bear fruit, but has no life in them.  Earlier in John 6, Jesus used striking words to make this same point when He said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you.”  In Colossians 3:4, Paul says of Christ that He “is your life“, and that when He appears, we will also appear with Him in glory.  As those united to Christ by faith and seeking to abide in Him always, we are meant to be nourished by the true Vine; to feed on Him by faith through the Word and the sacraments, in order to have His life in us.  So that we finally begin to see and understand, as He says, “apart from Me you can do nothing.” Here Jesus goes beyond the fruit part even; He says in effect, ‘forget the fruit bro – you can’t do anything apart from Me!’

So critical is this union with Christ to our eternal life and salvation that John Calvin began book three of his Institutes of the Christian Religion – Calvin’s main section relating to the application of redemption – with this statement, “as long as Christ remains outside of us, and we are separated from Him, all that He has suffered and done for the salvation of the human race remains useless and of no value to us.”

May it be said of all of us who profess Christ, that we did not only wear the ‘clothing of the branches’, but that we – truly united to and abiding in Christ – bore ‘fruit in keeping with repentance’, and produced a bountiful harvest to the glory of God.

amen.

“About” face

I know what you may be thinking as you read the title to this post: ‘Ah, a post on repentance!’  Sadly, no.  While that theme is certainly included in today’s post, dealing with repentance is not my specific aim.  It is, rather, to speak to the change on my “About” page of this blog [yehaw, right?].  I post this merely b/c i have no illusions in my mind that people actually read the ‘About’ pages on blogs frequently (let alone look for changes on them), and yet the change is a significant one for me. So: rationale for this post = check!

The change has two dimensions to it really: one has to do with calling and the other a submission to that calling.

Firstly then, for those of you just tuning in, for the past 3+ years i have pursued the calling of God on my life to be a firefighter.  I had pursued that calling both physically (hours of training to be sure i could compete with guys 10-15 years younger than me) and mentally (rigorous study for countless exams as well as frequent courses to improve my resume).  I had the support of wife and family, friends and church, and so prayerfully i was also sustained and confirmed.  The “Twitter” version of the story is, however, that understanding of calling and effort do not a career make.  In the end – while i fully believe it was the will of God for me to pursue this calling for the past 3 years – it was also not the will of God that i get this job.  For who gives favour in the eyes of men [and hiring panels] but God (cf. Nehemiah 1:11, Ex.3:21)?  And yet, we also know that all that comes to pass is in accordance with the secret will of God (Eph. 1:11, Dan. 4:35).  It was not without much sadness and wrestling that i surrendered this dream to my loving Father in heaven.  In my struggle, the Spirit of God led me to John 15:1,2 where Jesus says, “I am the true Vine, and my Father is the Vinedresser.  Every branch in me that does not bear fruit He takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.”  I drew much comfort and focus from that text in seeing the pruning work of God in my life, in order to both guide my path and grow me in my sanctification, which is God’s ultimate purpose for all His elect (Romans 8:29).

This surrender however did not leave me with a clear idea of where to go from there.  I remember a somewhat frustrating [now i see providential] meeting with some elders from my church as well as trusted, godly friends in order to have a time of prayer in discerning God’s will for my life as it related to vocation, about a year ago.  I remember [inwardly] dropping my jaw when all three of these men told me that – in considering what they knew of my life and gifting – they all saw strong pastoral gifts!  I remember thinking, “Guys!!  I brought you here to pray with me and confirm this continued calling to be a firefighter, not call me to another calling!”  I felt like Balak after he calls Balaam to prophesy against Israel in Numbers, and instead of cursing them he continues to bless them.  But i see now more clearly that God had a guiding influence in that meeting.  It would be almost a year later – with an ever growing love for Christ and the Scriptures, a deeper understanding of sacrificial leadership in my home, and increasing responsibilities at my church – that i would come across Al Mohler’s post re: calling to vocational ministry Has God called you? The calling of a Christian minister.  Instantly, my mind went back to that meeting with the elders, and it is now becoming my increasing conviction that God may in fact be calling me now to serve as an under-shepherd in His Kingdom.  I don’t yet know where or how that will come to pass, but – as i say in my ‘About’ page – this is a calling that i now would welcome joyfully where, in the not so recent past, i would not have welcomed it at all.  Which leads me to the second dimension of this change.

When it came to the matter of vocational ministry, the above image would most aptly express my sentiments.  It was certainly not that i had no love for God or His church, nor did this mean that i was not regularly serving.  It was rather something more akin to an extreme apprehensiveness.  The biggest reason for this was seeing some of the all too common abuses that take place of ministers viz. (and most notably) by their own flock!  Serving in the church was one thing, but having to wade into all the politics and business behind the scenes just got my back up [don’t think Jonah here: i simply wanted to serve in the way i felt best from my vantage point].  ‘Blissful ignorance’ was the way i wanted to serve Christ’s Bride and (i assumed) the only way possible. But then the strangest thing began happening:

1: through ever growing love of God and His Word, i began to love His church more than i hated/feared the thought of what could go wrong and

2: i have now spent over seven years in a church that (while not perfect) has done much good to show me what church can look like.

And so, i see now this ‘calling’ to vocational ministry has probably been going on for some time now, and yet, my preconceived ideas about the real and perceived negatives of the church have kept me on the outskirts; believing that this was the fulness of where God wanted me to serve.  But God is a patient Father, and has continued to press and prune to the place now where my defences and justifications have all but attenuated, leaving me with nothing but a deep love for Him and His Word and, now,  a desire to feed His lambs.  How strange now to find myself pursuing that which i have, until now, feared and avoided.  Ever been there?

Whether you know me well, or not at all, i would covet your prayers for God’s wisdom in the coming months and years as i “change course” as it were.  With both the inner calling of the Spirit and outer confirmation of godly friends/family, i feel i can “Just Do Something” here without laying out a fleece or waiting for an audible voice from heaven.  Stay tuned in said ‘months and years to come’ to see what God has done from these beginnings.

Soli Deo gloria.

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance.  And he went out, not knowing where he was going.”  Heb. 11:8

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