Category Archives: I AM

I Am: True Vine • Devotion #6: Abide

Fall (the season, not the activity) is something I eagerly wait for all year. I love everything about it. It is the warm days and cool nights, the uniquely fall breeze coupled with sweaters, slippers, campfires, and the decrease in mosquitos that make it one of the best times of the year to be outside. It is that magical time of year when cider mills come alive and fill up with people ignoring diets and looking to “fill up” on cider and fresh warm donuts. It is also at this time that everywhere you look, nature seems to be vying for our attention in what appears to be a two-month beauty competition. The trees in every sense, stand above it all in a staggering display. Their canopies high in the air, proudly show off their coats of many colors. However, the thing I love most is the fruit of that season. Stone fruit of any variety is a particular favorite of mine. Peaches, plums, nectarines, and apricots are at the top of my list, but of course, the God-given gift of apples cannot be ignored. Even now, I can taste the pie, warm with its fall spices. 

Think about that perfect peach in your hand, do you realize how much has gone into it? The work began many months ago, and what we enjoy is the culmination of an extensive process. The farmer carefully worked the ground, breaking up the soil, removing weeds, and prepping it to receive seed. He then planted, watered, tended, pruned, and continued to protect those trees from anything that would take their vital nutrients, all in an effort to produce the peach that you and I will enjoy. 

That said, it is interesting to think about the peach’s responsibility in this process. As the tree grows, it shoots forth limbs and begins to bud. In time, these turn into flowers and eventually become a piece of fruit. It is truly a miracle of God’s design! It is not overly dramatic to say that from this point on, the most important factor, is that the fruit remains connected to the tree. For we all know, that if a growing piece of fruit is severed from its tree, all growth stops. Did you catch that? Fruit cannot grow on its own, it must be connected to the tree. The tree provides what is needed for growth. To say it simply, no connection = no fruit.

Jesus said this in John chapter 15 when He said in verse 4 (NKJV), “Abide in me.” These words simply mean “stay connected to Me.” He goes on, “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.” Jesus is using a picture that we understand. A branch cannot produce fruit on its own. It must be connected to the tree to produce fruit. He then tells us plainly that this is not about fruit trees at all, but about us and our growth as Christians. Verse 5 (NKJV) makes it clear, He says “I am the Vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without me you can do nothing.” Jesus is the “tree,” steady, strong, and the source and supply of all that we need. We are the “branches.” Connected to Him, the promise is that we will “bear much fruit.”  However, the warning is just as sure. If we are separated from Him, we will accomplish nothing. You might think, “how does this happen?” It happens when we think we are able to bear fruit on our own. It happens when we think we are more capable than we are. In short, it happens through pride. When we think we are able, capable, and strong, we will not see our need to be connected to Him to grow. In our arrogance and independence, we are convinced that we already have what we need in ourselves. However, this is not true. Jesus says so. Hear the words, “without me you can do nothing.”  In the Greek language, it is literally, “not one thing.” 

However, when we are convinced that we do not have what we need “inside” ourselves, then we will look to Him to supply our need and that is the thing He promises to do. Philippians 4:19 (NKJV) says, “And my God shall supply all of your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.”

The whole thing can all be simply summed up by saying: we grow in every way because of Him, through Him, and by Him.  

I Am: True Vine • Devotion #5: Through the Grapevine

“But this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.” John 15:8

The timelessness of Jesus’ stories is truly extraordinary. After two thousand years, we can still understand the message of Jesus’ stories that teach, because even today we have farmers, fishermen, travelers, fathers, sons, brothers, and lost items we are searching for (usually keys and phones). In John chapter 15, Jesus once again employs an agricultural illustration. We often call these stories parables. A parable is just an understandable story that points to a much greater, heavenly truth. Jesus begins speaking about a vine. Now to most of us, vines are intrusive and require hours of frustrating, back-breaking work to uproot and clear out. Of course, vines are, for others, a welcomed addition to a well-manicured yard or garden. Even older buildings look more historical and distinguished when draped in vines. The vine that Jesus was speaking of was likely a grapevine (Cue: “I heard it through the grapevine”). The care and management of a vineyard were important and could be very profitable. 

My wife and I have a grapevine in our back yard. We have surrendered to the fact that for the time being it will just be decorative. The vines drape over some metal fencing that is bent into a 30-foot long tunnel. We affectionately call it the tunnel of love. Our kids do not like the name. A couple of years ago when we finally tackled the, clearly out of control, vine, we found that there were major vines that had branches with little buds. Other branches were clearly dead, so we, like Jesus’ story, chopped them off, directing the nutrients from the main vine to the fruitful branches. Again, we do not expect a vineyard anytime, but the maintenance of the grapevine gave us some deeper insight into Jesus’ words, “I am the true vine.”

We are not solely dependent on our grapevine for grapes. We can just stop by the grocery store. But to people in Jesus’ time, having a purely decorative, fruitless grapevine would seem, and rightfully so, absolutely pointless. The luxury of just maintaining a vine to impress the neighbors or provide some shade would be reserved for kings. Normal people would require fruit to sustain their labor. 

The crux of Jesus’ story is fruit. He is the vine and we, if connected to Him, will bear fruit. What exactly that fruit will be is described throughout Scripture. Paul in Galatians chapter 5 lists, what the Scripture calls, “The Fruit of the Spirit.” The Spirit of God produces and causes to blossom forth in our life “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23). When we are connected to Christ we will bear fruit. Jesus calls us to, “Bear fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matthew 3:8). 

A fruitful life brings glory to God. He is the vine, providing nutrients (the Holy Spirit) necessary for each us to produce a spiritual harvest in our lives. We do not get the glory, but we do get the privilege of being connected to the Lord. Not only does God get the glory, while we enjoy a fruitful life, fruit is proof to ourselves and the world that we are disciples (branches) of Jesus Christ.

God’s glory, the joy of living a Christ-connected life, and the opportunity to show the world what a true disciple of Jesus looks like are what Jesus was saying when He told the disciples, “I am the true vine.”

I Am: True Vine • Devotion #4: Vinedresser

“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. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. 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. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15:1-5

I believe that for many of us who call ourselves followers of Christ, we have heard this “I Am.” I know certainly for me, growing up at a Christian school K-12th grade, this was a passage I knew very well and heard often. Over the years, I have made two observations from this passage which I think we should all evaluate within our personal walks with Christ. First, are you truly part of the vine? To be a part of the vine, Christ, means that we truly have accepted Him as our Lord and Savior. It does not mean that we simply have said some words and believe in a higher power. This means that as Paul wrote in Romans 10:9, that we have confessed and truly believe in our hearts that Jesus is Lord and He is who He says He is.  

The second evaluation is this, are you truly prepared to be pruned? I am not sure about you, but cutting the grass and doing landscaping is hard work! However, the work is worth the reward to see those perfect lines in the grass, or that picture-perfect tree and hedge! Here, Jesus tells us that in order for us to bear fruit, in order for us to share His Gospel in a meaningful and impactful way, we must be willing to be pruned by our heavenly Father. This pruning is not to hurt or stop us from being effective, but to make us more effective for the cause of the Gospel of Christ. 

I pray that as you continue on today and the rest of this week, you will evaluate these two questions in your life and walk with Christ. I know that at times the pruning that has taken place in my life has not been easy. Yet, as I continue to prayerfully seek the Father’s will in my life and continue to stay in His Word, I am truly thankful for a Vinedresser who cares and loves me so deeply!

I Am: True Vine • Devotion #3: Fruits of our Labors

I grew up in a small town. In many ways, we were sheltered from the activities of people that live in more populous areas. Our summers were spent taking care of our farm animals, weeding in our sizeable vegetable garden, mowing grass, and helping out in our orchard and grape vineyard. Working in the orchard and vineyard was always my favorite as I always enjoyed the “fruits” of our labors.

One of the most important aspects of owning an orchard or vineyard is the discipline of pruning. Plants that bear fruit, in most cases, have to be pruned. The trees or vines start growing new branches every year and some of these branches must be pruned. We would always make a pile of these pruned branches, and when we had them all in one pile, we would burn them as they were useless. My dad always called the branches he cut away “sucker limbs.” When I asked him for an explanation, he told me that the branch, due to its location, would more than likely not produce fruit and would just suck the life out of the other branches that were actually producing fruit. 

To illustrate this to me, he took me to the grape vineyard next to our orchard. We had spent countless hours over the years in the orchard, pruning, and getting the trees producing beautiful apples, pears, and plums. The grape vineyard had not been touched for many years. The grapes it did produce were at best sub-par, and many times so unappealing to the eye that no one would even pick them, let alone eat them.

Jesus uses this whole process as an illustration in the New Testament. John 15:1-2 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.” Jesus describes Himself as the “Vine,” and that we as the “branch” need to be bearing fruit. If we are not bearing fruit, then we are to be pruned, so that branches that are bearing fruit can produce more. 

Jesus goes a little deeper into the illustration. Verses 4-5 say, “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. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” By definition, the word “abide” means to accept or act in accordance with. Abiding with Jesus, or to accept and act in accordance with Him, allows Him to accept and act in accordance with us!

That should be enough to motivate us, but Jesus gives us a final warning. In verses 6-8, Jesus says, “If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.” By abiding in Jesus, we are connected to the Vine. By being connected to the Vine, we will by default produce fruit. If we are producing fruit, we will glorify God, and people will know that we belong to Him! If we are connected to the Vine, our fruit will be the same fruits of the Spirit that He displayed. In Galatians 5:22-23, Paul describes what our fruit should look like, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” By being connected to the Vine, the Holy Spirit is given to us so that we can produce heavenly fruit. That is the fruit that will make us appealing to humanity, and will give us the opportunity to share the only way to be connected to the Vine! The Gospel of Jesus Christ is what grafts humanity into the Vine. 

Our vineyard through the skilled hands of my dad, though overgrown, over time started producing beautiful Concord grapes. The pruning process removed that which was taking away from the fruit growing in a fashion the way God designed it. Your life may look like an overgrown mess right now, but allow God to remove the things in your life that distract you from abiding with Him, and before long you will be producing beautiful fruit!

I Am: True Vine • Devotion #2: Pruning

As I write this devotion (April 2020), Spring is upon us and I am preparing to plant my garden. This will be my fifth year gardening and I have to admit I am kind of a hack when it comes to gardening. I should probably study more and plan more for crop location, ground preparation, and fertilization. There are a few things that I can actually grow and one of those is tomatoes. What I have learned about tomatoes is the importance of supporting the vine and pruning the shoots or branches. 

As Jesus was speaking to His disciples in John 15:1-5, He used an analogy or parable to illustrate the relationship of the disciples to Christ. In essence, it is a description of the relationship we are to have with Christ. Jesus said, “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. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. 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. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”

Jesus describes Himself as the “True Vine” and His followers as “branches,” and that we first must remain connected to Him. Any branch apart from the vine can not and will not ever produce its fruit. He also identifies the Father as the “Gardener,” or the one that prepares the ground and cares for the plant.

The purpose of a garden is the harvest. I do not plant a garden in the spring, pull weeds all summer long, cultivate the soil, and water it just to look at it or to say I have a garden. The benefit of the garden is producing a crop or as Jesus says, “much fruit.” I have had some good years and not so good years at harvest time. The good years are directly connected to my effort throughout the growing season.  Jesus explains that the gardener pays close attention to his crop and through pruning increases the yield, Every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.”

There are two aspects to pruning. The first is the removal of deadwood or those things in our life that will never produce fruit. Did you know there are 168 hours in a week, and if we remove time for sleep (56 hours) and our work (50 hours), that leaves just 62 hours of our week or about 8 hours a day? How are you leveraging those hours to produce much fruit? The second aspect of pruning is the removal of extra branches that would produce small fruit, so you can have fewer stronger branches that produce healthy fruit. Sometimes we have to let go of “good things” for “better things.” Are there good things in your life, those you enjoy that could keep you from investing time in the better things? Deadwood trimming is easy. Cutting away a good thing for a better future not so much, and it cannot be done without looking to your gardener.

Remember the Father is your gardener and He can be trusted to help you see where trimming needs to be addressed in your life. As you abide with Jesus, listen to the pruning He wants to do in your life.

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