So I’m sitting in my room in Honduras maybe 4-5 hours before I’m going to preach my first EVER sermon in a church that doesn’t speak English and I’m reading back over my notes I’ve carefully prepared over the last two weeks. Suddenly God asks me to look at John 15 and add that passage to the sermon. Well that passage didn’t really fit with the message I had prepared but reluctantly I started redoing parts of my sermon. Long story short, by the time I preached that night there wasn’t a single piece of my original sermon left. Thankfully those people didn’t speak English. If I ever get called out I’ll blame the translator (sorry if you’re reading this Felipe).
Ever since that day I’ve been studying John 15 and reflecting on how powerful it is. That one passage offers what is to me the most complete image of what it means to be a disciple of Christ and to be a member of the body of Christ. In verse 5 Jesus says 5 “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.”
Well obviously we want to bear fruit so the first question must be how do I remain in you Jesus? I’m sure He knew one of his disciples was going to ask this question so in verse 10 he says “If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love.” Got it, keep your commands and I’ll remain in you and you’ll remain in me and I’ll bear much fruit. Alright Jesus, let’s have the full list, how many commands are we talking about here? “This is my command: Love each other.”
Notice he doesn’t say love them if they’ll change their sinful ways. He doesn’t say reach out and chastise them or berate them because their sins are different than yours. He doesn’t say love them but don’t get to close, you might catch tree rot. There are no preconditions set. Jesus COMMANDS you to love them; ALL OF THEM, right there where they are. He also doesn’t say reach out and tell them how He can save their souls. He just says love them. If you do what he says and you do it in His name He will win their souls. Think of yourself as the setup guy and Jesus is your closer (just slightly better than having Mariano Rivera as your closer). All He wants you to do is offer them the love and hope that can only come from Jesus. When they are ready, he’ll close the deal. He doesn’t need us convicting people of their sins and forcing them to change their ways. Let Him handle the heavy lifting, all he wants is for you to share His love, plant the seed.
That is the definition of being a disciple of Jesus. Ever heard that old saying about catching flies? Same thing applies here. You’ll catch a lot more souls with love…
Have you ever fallen in love with someone you ran across in the street, or talked to for a few minutes? Ok ok, so have you done it since you got past age 14? How can you love someone you aren’t willing to take the time to get to know? This is one reason I love the image of branches. They don’t get around too fast. They spend a lot of time in one place before they produce fruit. Maybe we need to think about this as we interact with those around us. If God is calling us to show love to others shouldn’t we take the time to get to know who they are? Shouldn’t we invest in them with our time? Then and only then can we build a truly loving relationship with those people.
Are you showing Christ’s love to a homeless guy if you give him $5 for a meal (can you even get a meal for $5 anymore)? Not really, you’re just giving him $5. But what if you stopped and offered to take him to the nearest restaurant and spent some time talking to him? What if you did that every week and you eventually learned that he’s homeless because of some fixable issue that he can’t fix but maybe you can or you know someone who can and so you get him some help. Is that showing Christ’s love?Now I’m not recommending you go out and pick up the next homeless guy you spot but I’m pointing out that loving someone takes an investment of your time not a 5 dollar bill or thousand dollar check. Love is built on relationships and relationships can’t be bought, they take time.
I know it’s hard to love some people but remember God is the one pruning your branch (or he should be). The act of pruning is also called training. If you’ve let God train your branch then those people around you today are the ones who need Christ’s love in a way that God felt only you could provide. If not you then who? God put your branch there; you may be the only branch available right now. Maybe your branch will reach somewhere else one day, but TODAY God put you right there for a reason.
I think back to all the people who supported me and loved me despite my problems, despite all the trouble I caused and the heartache I put them through. The ones who truly loved me didn’t judge me or convict me of my sins; they just loved me and showed me that there is hope in Jesus. In other words, they did exactly what Jesus commanded of them. Had they chosen to convict me or put conditions on their love I would have immediately cut them off and moved on continuing down the wrong path. Had they chosen not to let God train their branch towards me or told Jesus, no this one’s too far gone, there’s no point in wasting time with this one I may not even be here today and I definitely wouldn’t be writing about Jesus’ love and how it can change you at your core.
Sometimes God trains our branch to be places we don’t understand. Maybe he just wants you there when another branch has a heavy burden and needs someone to support them. That is the definition of the church. We are there to support each other and carry each other’s burdens and lift each other’s spirits. Grapevines have many branches; some are strong and vibrant producing a lot of fruit. Some branches are old and brittle after decades of producing, yearning for a place to rest. Some branches are small and immature, probably a lot more than there should be, unable to produce fruit and barely able to hang on. All together these branches make up the body of Christ, every one of them. They grow together and support each other in times of need. One branch may not produce much fruit but together as a body the harvest is unlimited.
What does your branch look like? Are you the young branch barely able to hang on under your own weight? Are you growing and letting God direct you so that you can support others and reach out to share Christ’s love? All our branches are different but in the end we’re all connected through Jesus the vine and we all have the same job, take His love and share it with the people he puts under your branch. Who has God placed under your branch today?
Up next on the blog, “When Branches Rub Together: Putting out Fires in the Church. Just kidding, well maybe one day, but if you look closely at John 15 you can find the answer for that as well.