Joined at the Vine – The Practice of Connecting to the Source of Life
Sometimes at the most tragic moments of life, we need something fun, something funny, something entertaining to pull us back from the dead and dying into the life we are living.
So, I have figure out exactly how to do this and I am here today to impart this incredible knowledge to you. It’s really simple and it has been right in front of us all along and you are gonna kick yourself when you realize.
You and I were first presented with the idea on January 25, 1987. I know right, you have had it right in front of you for like 30 years now and you didn’t know it. Well, we’re slow learners, what can I say!
We have seen the answer over and over for several decades now. However, we have seen it not at tragic moments, but instead we have seen it at the most triumphant moments of life. The evening of Jan 1987 is the most famous night in January, particular for folks in the US – the super bowl!
In 1987, Phil Simms was the New York Giants game winning quarterback of Super Bowl XXI. And following the game, he was asked this question:
Phil, you have just won the super bowl. What are you going to do now?
And you know what Phil said, right?!
I’m going to Disney World!
Yep that’s it. Whatever life throws at you, good or bad, you just go to Disney world. It is the medicine that cures all things. It’s the balm in Gilead. Disney world. Don’t believe me, just ask anyone who’s ever gone. (Now of course I am joking a bit!)
In 2013, things for Joanie and I began rapidly changing and falling apart with our ministry partners in Charlotte. And our family helped us respond to the call of Disney:
Jason and Joanie, you have just lost folks who were your best friend, who were like family and now you’ve lost the ministry you helped found as well. What are you going to do now?
Go to Disney world! Of course!
And you know know most recently after my dad’s passing, completely unplanned (though there was something very providential about the timing) we answered the call of Disney again:
Here’s a great loss in your life. What are you going to do next?
Go to Disney world!
Wow, Disney sure found a great marketing strategy, didn’t they?!
Something important happens in life, and Disney comes calling: where are you going next?
Disney is princesses and rides and attractions and amazing worlds of fun and fantasy. For me, it literally lifts me out of whatever is going on and transports me into something amazing and imaginative and encouraging and inspiring. It takes me back to my childhood and forward into my imagination. It’s just amazing
But here the truth: none of it is real. (Don’t tell my kids yet, but it’s all make believe!)
Triumph, such as winning the super bowl, or tragedy, such as losing everything in life you had built…they happen. And there is this call in our lives. This need we have to celebrate or mourn, to create memories, to experience something new and amazing.
Only it’s not Disney calling to us. It’s God calling to us: What are you going to do now?
In fact, God is begging and pleading with us about our next steps. No matter how many commercials Disney puts out there after a sports championship game, God is calling to us even more consistently: What are you going to do now?
And one of the really clear places in scripture where I hear that call is in the gospel of John chapter 15.
I am the true vine, and my Father is the vineyard keeper. He removes any of my branches that don’t produce fruit, and he trims any branch that produces fruit so that it will produce even more fruit. You are already trimmed because of the word I have spoken to you.
Abide in me. Stay with me. Live with me. Remain in me. and I will remain in you. A branch can’t produce fruit by itself, but must remain in the vine. Likewise, you can’t produce fruit unless you remain in me.
I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, then you will produce much fruit. Without me, you can’t do anything.
If you don’t remain in me, you will be like a branch that is thrown out and dries up. Those branches are gathered up, thrown into a fire, and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified when you produce much fruit and in this way prove that you are my disciples.
Abide in me. I think we tend to hear this as a command: Thou shall remain in me.
But I have come to read it more as a question, an appeal, a plea. Jesus begs us: Please, abide in me. Remain in me. Stay with me.
Disney asks us what are we going to do next. Jesus begs us saying,
I am the vine, you are the branches. Abide in me.
Abiding is about remaining connected, branch connected to vine, the source of strength, support, food, nourishment. Apart from the vine, we wither and die. Connected to the vine, we live, we breath, we survive, we produce fruit.
It’s funny how this metaphor focuses on the fruit: A branch can not produce fruit by itself, the passage says. The branch needs the vine to produce fruit.
Really? It’s actually a little more serious than that. Heck, a branch can’t even survive by itself. The branch doesn’t just need the vine to produce fruit. It needs the vine to survive…to live! As Jesus says, without the vine, the branch dries up.
So, I wonder, have you ever seen a field of cut down vines?
It looks like death….vines streaking out in every direction lying on the ground, dead or at least dying because they are cut off from the source of their food and nutrients. It is a scene out of a horror movie. Rows and rows of dead branches so intertwined that it’s impossible to cross an individual row. You can only walk straight through the isle between rows.
There are times in my life, when I feel like I am walking through a vineyard of branches cut down.
Have you ever felt like this? That as you are walking through life, everything just seems disconnected?
- Maybe you feel like one of those branches cut off desperately needing nourishment but simply not able to tap into the source to get it.
- Maybe you see that in others….when you turn on the news and hear about violence and conflict and division and tragedy and you wonder how we can live in a world where people take such actions if they were connected to God, the source of living.
Maybe you feel like a cut off branch or maybe you feel like your are constantly walking through a world where you’re stuck in a field of dead branches all around you with no way to get out. Here’s the truth:
God is calling to you, begging you, pleading with you to connect to him, to pick up our dead and decaying lives and touch the vine (which is the Spirit of God herself), and to remain, to live, to abide in the vine which is God, the source, the source of life, source of love, source of all things good, source of food and nourishment, source of living water!
That all sounds great doesn’t it. But how? How do we connect? How does a dead branch reach out and join itself back in to the Godly vine?
I could give you a list of things I think help, things I have found to work in my life. I could point to several places in the stories of Jesus that give us some pretty good ideas about what to do.
But here’s another truth I’ve come to realize because of hearing so many different stories over the years, because of having so many different experiences of connection and disconnection and re-connection myself, and honestly just by listening to God through my life and others lives:
There is no one surefire way to connect and reconnect. There is no quick fix, no foolproof method.
There is you and there is God. And there is Jesus standing before us as he does is the gospel of John, saying in a desperate and loving way:
I am the vine. you are the branches. Abide in me and I will abide in you.
Too often we are like Lacey meeting Elsa at Disney world. You wait and wait in line for that chance to meet this character you have seen from afar, you have sung along with and that you love and admire. And you get through the hours long line and come face to face and you just stand there, in awe, sill motionless, gawking…completely frozen (pun intended). That was Lacey. She didn’t know what to do. She seemed nervous to reach out and touch or hug these characters she knew so well from TV and movies.
And sometimes you and I are like that with God and we don’t even realize it. We wait and wait for that moment of connection. We come to a sanctuary week after week. We read devotionals or bible studies. We pray day after day. And in every instance we want so much to reach out and connect to God. The truth is God is right in front of us, but we stand still, motionless, and frozen.
There is no one way to reach out and break the stillness. There is no one way to take a step toward God. You simply respond to God’s call. What are you going to do next? Please stay with me, God asks.
Simply answer God’s question: I’m going to stay right hear with you connected, living with you, abiding in you in whatever way I can, joined from here to forever at the vine which is our Lord and savior. God promised us that He will remain with us – even when we don’t feel it or believe or see it. And you can be sure that’s worth a lot more than a trip to Disney World!