Jesus is with us. are we with him?

“I am the Real Vine and my Father is the Farmer. He cuts off every branch of me that doesn’t bear grapes. And every branch that is grape-bearing he prunes back so it will bear even more. You are already pruned back by the message I have spoken.

“Live in me. Make your home in me just as I do in you. In the same way that a branch can’t bear grapes by itself but only by being joined to the vine, you can’t bear fruit unless you are joined with me.

“I am the Vine, you are the branches. When you’re joined with me and I with you, the relation intimate and organic, the harvest is sure to be abundant. Separated, you can’t produce a thing. Anyone who separates from me is deadwood, gathered up and thrown on the bonfire. But if you make yourselves at home with me and my words are at home in you, you can be sure that whatever you ask will be listened to and acted upon. This is how my Father shows who he is—when you produce grapes, when you mature as my disciples.

“I’ve loved you the way my Father has loved me. Make yourselves at home in my love. If you keep my commands, you’ll remain intimately at home in my love. That’s what I’ve done—kept my Father’s commands and made myself at home in his love.

“I’ve told you these things for a purpose: that my joy might be your joy, and your joy wholly mature. This is my command: Love one another the way I loved you. This is the very best way to love. Put your life on the line for your friends. You are my friends when you do the things I command you. I’m no longer calling you servants because servants don’t understand what their master is thinking and planning. No, I’ve named you friends because I’ve let you in on everything I’ve heard from the Father.

“You didn’t choose me, remember; I chose you, and put you in the world to bear fruit, fruit that won’t spoil. As fruit bearers, whatever you ask the Father in relation to me, he gives you.

“But remember the root command: Love one another.”

John 15:1-17; MSG

Christ’s words to his disciples echo to us today. We often want to do much for our Lord, even out of love, so we give it our best effort and inevitably fall short. It seems here that Jesus is telling us that a first priority is to be at home in organic, intimate relationship with him. I really like how Eugene Peterson puts it. And this is both an individual and communal endeavor. Jesus talks about individual branches which bear no fruit, but is talking to his disciples as branches on the same plant, who are to love each other.

I think oftentimes God lets us have success, but then the well dries up because we have something more to learn, at least better. This is a lesson from our Lord he gave his disciples in the Upper Room Discourse the night before his crucifixion. It was and we can say is something close to our Lord’s heart, something he practiced in relation with the Father, and wants us to practice in relation with him.

Too often we tend to downplay relationships in our emphasis for doing, getting the job done. I know that all too well in my many years it turned out to be, in factory work. At this late time for me, I’m learning more the importance of relationships, working with people whose ethnic practice is much more relational and communal, even though they work quite hard as well.

It’s not like what we do doesn’t matter, and won’t help in God’s good grace. But it’s more like a little bit from our communion with Christ will go much farther, and be much more potent than all our efforts all day.

So it seems like first things first, we need to focus on our union and communion, indeed on our relationship with Christ. Of course it’s only in and through him that we have that relationship at all, through his life, death and resurrection, and by the Spirit through his ascension.

If we’re at an impasse, maybe we just need to stop dead in our tracks. And seek to draw near to God. Jesus already makes his home in us. We’re to make our home in him. So maybe for us for a time it won’t be a matter of doing, but just trying to settle into our friendship with him, loving each other, as he taught us. Knowing that the fruit, good things will inevitably come out of that. But learning to settle in and be settled in that.

at home in and through Jesus

Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High
    will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.

Psalm 91:1

Psalm 91 is one of those striking psalms, picturesque, and easy to remember (especially in the old King James). What hits me about the promise here is how we’re simply to live (other versions) or dwell in the shelter of God. And in so doing find rest in the shadow of the Almighty.

Yesterday I was in the yard sawing and cutting off some branches and limbs of the two trees we planted in our front yard. It was a hot day, high noon. And while enjoying the sun, which is not a given where we live (we have many cloudy days), I certainly appreciated the shade. Certainly for relief, as well as protection from its damaging rays.

Here we have God’s promise of his presence to protect us as a shadow. In other words, God being near. Our responsibility is simply to dwell in that shelter, and so find rest.

One of my favorite memories of the past was visiting and spending a weekend at Saint Augustine’s House, a monastery. It is symbolic of God’s house where God is especially resident through the symbols in place, which depict realities. And actually God is present wherever his people are. Wherever two or more are gathered in his name. We are God’s temple, both individually, and together.

But the key for us is to live out what we are. And that begins by simply living or dwelling consciously, or deliberately in that existence. In faith, simply trusting in God. At home in and through Jesus.

 

devotion to prayer tied to living in God’s presence

Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.

Colossians 4:2

Recently James Banks spoke to us at Our Daily Bread Ministries on prayer. And specifically on living in God’s presence, or “practicing the presence of God.” It definitely spoke to me, James often referring to his black Labrador who loves nothing more than just being in his company.

Prayer is not just a means to an end. It’s about participation with God in seeing God’s will be done. And it involves dwelling in God’s presence. Jesus’s words about abiding/remaining in him point that direction:

 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.

John 15:7

“Remain” here might better be translated “abide.” Concerning the Greek word here, μένω, Bill Mounce writes: “To abide in Christ is to follow his example of a life obedient to the will of God.” As I heard Pastor Darwin Hartman of Pike Mennonite Church suggest recently, arguing along the same lines: while remain might be literally accurate, that comes across as more passive than the context of its usage might suggest. That to abide by something, means adherence to it in a more active sense (my words of what Pastor Darwin said).

Prayer is then dependent on both God and us. We pray, and in a sense are in God’s presence in both speaking to God, as well as being with him. God’s presence is never withdrawn from us, though we often can be withdrawn from him, and not living in God’s favor.

James Banks noted how that his Labrador gets special favors from him, because the Lab is lovingly present with him. Another dog they have doesn’t like to hang out with his master, but is disappointed when he misses out on the treats James gives. That could be an apt analogy of part of the dynamic of prayer. That we want to be near God, that God even appreciates such a longing. And that God honors that in specific ways. In and through Jesus.

love as Jesus has and continues to love

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. 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. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This is my command: Love each other.

John 15

In the passage on the vine and the branches, Jesus tells his disciples that he loves them, with the implication that is love is always present. He simply tells them to remain in that love. That sounds really good.

But then there’s the caveat, a condition: They must obey his commands, just as he obeyed his Father’s command. By doing so he remained in the Father’s love, and they will remain in his love. Oh no, not so good! Sounds like a very conditional love indeed, and therefore puts that love into question: Is it really love?

But then comes the command: Simply to love one another as Jesus had loved them. With the added word that there’s no greater love than to die for one’s friends, which of course Jesus did on the cross. 1 John echoes this: the command there being to believe in the name of God’s Son, Jesus, and love one another, as Jesus commanded us (1 John 3).

Of course this is not a weak “all you need is love,” kind of thought, but has all the meaning of the example, teachings, and life, as well as death of Jesus. That is how we know what love is in its essence, it is humble and self-sacrificing, lived out for the good of others. In essence reciprocating God’s love in Jesus to each other, and to the world. What that means is best understood in the reading of the entire Bible, and especially the New Testament, grappling with the story there, and the good news at the heart of it. All of this given to us by God in God’s grace by the Spirit in and through Jesus.

remaining/abiding in Jesus

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.

John 15:5

Whatever remainder of time I have left, I would like to learn more and more what it means in experience, to remain or traditionally, “abide in Christ”, as it was always put.

This entire discourse is suggestive to that end. Jesus was talking to his disciples on the eve of his crucifixion, telling them he must depart, but that he would return to take them where he would be in his Father’s house, which at a certain point will come to the new renewed earth. But in the meantime, and we still live in that time, he would not leave them as orphans, but would come to them in the person, presence and power of the Holy Spirit, to be with them and help them.

The vine/branch analogy is quite helpful in conveying what Jesus was trying to get across to his disciples. Christianity lived out at its heart is all about life. Paul gets at this same thing from a different angle:

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Galatians 2:20

People tend to look at the Christian life as a religion, and understood right, I believe religion can be helpful, though that can all depend, as well. It might be a hindrance if it simply is a set of rituals one practices which somehow can seem to become more or less ends in themselves. Here we see Jesus speaking in terms of relationship which certainly includes communion with someone, but a communion that is from a relationship, in this case as close a relationship as one can have. In fact Jesus suggested that somehow we’re taken into Trinitarian love, Jesus loving us as the Father loved him, and us loving him and each other in that same love, as we remain in his love, which clearly by implication is always present.

I have much to learn on this, and I’m thinking mostly of experience. But it’s amazing, the words Jesus used in the discourse, which tie in with the point he is making in John 15, well worth a slow read, and meditation. John 13-17.

 

staying in the word

If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

John 15:7-8

In the context, Jesus is telling his disciples, and all of us who would follow him that his words remaining in us have to do with keeping as in obeying his commands. And that his command is that we’re to love each other. Of course we know that all of his commands are important. And as James tells us, we’re not only to hear the word, but do it, put it into practice.

The promise here is remarkable, actually, and for everyone who is a follower of Jesus. We’re simply to remain (or, abide) in him and his words are to remain in us. And this needs to be seen in the entirety of the passage, about the true vine and the branches. We are the branches in the true vine who is Jesus. The Father, who is the gardener in this (at least kind of) parable cleanses as in prunes such plants. It is a process which is involved in us being united to Jesus.

The end result is bringing the Father glory by showing oneself to be in the Son in bearing much fruit. The fruit spoken of here, is the fruit that is eternal, that is meant both for this life and beyond, for the life to come.

And so, as I start a new (work) week, I want to remind myself again of the point of it all: being changed more and more into the likeness of our Lord, yes together with others in him, as we love each other in and through Jesus as a witness to the world. And as a result of God’s good, if sometimes painful work in us, in and through Jesus.

becoming part of the answer

I jokingly told someone yesterday that I would make a good Buddhist. What I was thinking about is what one Roman Catholic spiritual director in my past was trying to help me with, but which I probably wasn’t getting: the need to become integrated, or one in and of ourselves, something scripture talks about in a number of places, and exemplifies especially in the life of our Lord, who reflected in his earthly life the life of the Trinity. And for us in him, we are to wait on God to help us to this, so that we’re no longer double-minded (double-souled, perhaps more literal) in all of our ways, through faith in the midst of trials and through receiving the Lord’s wisdom in answer to prayer (James 1).

Neither the world, nor any of us needs someone who has all the answers, unless you’re talking about the Lord himself, who in a real sense is the answer. But both for ourselves and for each other and for the world we need to begin in and through Jesus to become something of the answer.

The answer lies in God, and a signficant part of that will be simply not knowing, but having peace, along with the knowledge and understanding which brings peace. Instead of running around and anxiously giving everyone answers, even as we continue to search for them ourselves (which I fell into doing yesterday), we need to settle down, and into the one source for all answers, and more importantly for all of life, so that we can begin to flourish while inevitably not having all of the answers. I can’t help but think of the story of Job, and how it ended.

Back to Buddhism, for a moment. It is said that  Siddhartha Gautama didn’t promote any teaching until he had come to thoroughly live in it, and not without numerous setbacks along the way. While I’m not at all advocating Buddhism which I understand to be a philosophy seeing life in terms of both physical and metaphysical, and hence indeed a religion, I think the point of being integrated, though we believe for different reasons, is one where some convergence can be found. We need to become something of the truth we promote. The good news in Jesus is to be truly good news in our lives, helping us toward flourishing, to be the witness we’re called to be to the world.

In Jesus’ words which we in him are to follow: We’re to make disciples of all nations, disciples meaning followers of our Lord, who in turn will make disciples of others, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything he commanded. And we’re to follow Paul’s example, even to follow him and others like him as they follow our Lord.

To become integrated, fully one in our Lord and with others in him. Everyday, at least once, and probably more, I need the Lord to help me back to that. To be still, to cease striving and know that God is God (Psalm 46). Something I want to live more and more in along with others who are a part of that whole in and through Jesus.

God meets us where we’re at

On Sunday, Father Michael Cupp talked about the story all of us who were raised in church know well, about “Jacob’s ladder,” the dream Jacob had at Bethel, the name he gave to that place afterward, which means, house of God. Angels were going up and down a ladder set on earth and going up to heaven. God promises the blessing given to Abraham and Isaac. After which Jacob so to speak (my own words now, I think) seeks to strike a bargain with God. God is making himself known to Jacob at least in unusual terms here in keeping with his covenant with Abraham. And Jacob is responding in terms of self-interest, but with a commitment to something more than that if God comes through in answering his request.

Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear so that I return safely to my father’s household, then the Lord will be my God and this stone that I have set up as a pillar will be God’s house, and of all that you give me I will give you a tenth.”

Genesis 28:20-22

As Father Michael pointed out, when you read of a vow in scripture, most often it spells trouble. In this case though, as he went on to say, God was gracious in meeting Jacob where he was. Later Jacob became Israel, probably meaning, “he struggles with God” (Genesis 32:28), and was a worshiper of God (Genesis 47:28-31Hebrews 11:21).

This should encourage us in regard to ourselves and to others. When we come to God in faith, God accepts us where we are, but God doesn’t leave us there. And as Father Michael pointed out from the gospel reading (Luke 13:1-9), God does everything he can to make us fruitful, and patiently waits. By faith we have to receive and live in what God has done and is doing. This should encourage us if we’re not seeing the “much fruit” (John 15:5,8) that is promised. It will come. We must remain in the true vine, Jesus, his words remaining in us, and as Luke 13 points out, repent of and away from our own ways. God is gracious, and in meeting with us, will change us over time, so that the fruit that is borne will last, to the glory and praise of God (John 15:8,16).

remaining in the word

If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.

John 15:7

I would have done well to have quoted the following verse to begin this post:

This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

John 15:8

After all, we’re centered on Christ, not strictly speaking on scripture itself, though it is scripture which brings us to that. In the past, when the 2011 edition of the NIV came out, I bought one at a good price, but with that (like most NIV Bibles, due to popular demand), the words of Jesus are printed in red. They are called, “red letter Bibles,” and it seems like they constitute the majority of Bibles sold to Bible readers. It took me awhile, but I finally made peace with that part of my Bible, and although I prefer all black letter, I don’t seem to be bothered in the least by that now.

The passage above is about keeping Jesus’ words in our hearts and minds. I remember one of Rich Mullins’ lines:

Well, I memorized every word that You said

Hard to Get

Yes. Bible memorization, I might argue, surely would be better, if we started out by memorizing all the words of our Lord, most of which we find in the gospel accounts: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. What I’m referring to, even though it is Christ-centered, is an emphasis on being in the word, all of scripture. That ends up, again, being Christ-centered for us who are followers of Jesus, because that is in significant part, the end goal of scripture.

Last week (and we’re still just as challenged, in a way) I was inundated with this and that, and coupled with some lack of discipline, and surely not enough sleep, I was behind in my regimen of Bible reading, in fact I wasn’t getting much read at all. Although it may be good to take some short breaks from that, and simply be in silence, or at least to read less for a time, I found it telling on me. We had an important meeting at our church, and I felt out of it insofar as how I normally am plugged in, so to speak, so that the kind of contribution I might make seemed largely if not completely lacking.

And so I renewed myself, at the beginning of the week, to be devoted to being in the word, and hopefully along with that, prayer. I find for myself, it must start in the word, and that prayer comes from that in the ordinary course and order of things for me.

There is much in the word, so much. We do well to remain in it from Genesis through Revelation, certainly in all of Jesus’ words, seeking to grow in our understanding and practice of such, and therefore to grow in our faith. Together in Jesus in his life and mission in the world.

Scot McKnight on attending to Jesus by abiding in him*

“Abiding is the central theme of Jesus on the last night he spent with his disciples. Abiding is Jesus’ own commentary on what he means by the “one needful thing.” On that last night, Jesus taught:

‘I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener….Remain [or, Abide] in me, and I will remain [or, abide] in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain [or, abide] in the vine.’

As a branch draws its sap of life from the vine from which it grows, so also the disciple of Jesus draws spiritual life from Jesus. The manner of drawing life from Jesus is profoundly simple: Abide in him, or open up to the flow.

Abiding in Jesus is a discipline of prayer and receiving life from Jesus; it is a way of life. We don’t stumble onto it accidentally; we have to make it a conscious pattern of life. Abiding in Jesus as constant prayer takes practice if it is to become a constant mode of life…”

Scot McKnight, The Jesus Creed: Loving God, Loving Others,198.

*The title of this section: “WE ATTEND TO JESUS BY ABIDING IN HIM”