Grapes have a special place in Hebrew culture.
Laura next to a grapevine near our friend's home in Jerusalem
They are a source of nutrition, and according to Psalm 104, gladness. Jews considered grapes and wine to be a gift from God Himself, as it is the dew that falls from Heaven on the vines that cause growth and flavor.
13 You send rain on the mountains from your heavenly home,
and you fill the earth with the fruit of your labor.
14 You cause grass to grow for the livestock
and plants for people to use.
You allow them to produce food from the earth—
15 wine to make them glad,
olive oil to soothe their skin,
and bread to give them strength. Psalms 104:13-15
Jesus’ first miracle was at a wedding in Cana, turning water into wine, and not just any ordinary wine!
When the master of ceremonies tasted the water that was now wine, not knowing where it had come from (though, of course, the servants knew), he called the bridegroom over. 10 “A host always serves the best wine first,” he said. “Then, when everyone has had a lot to drink, he brings out the less expensive wine. But you have kept the best until now!” John 2:9-10
Please keep in mind that this was Jesus’ first miracle. He seems to love a good gathering and celebrating with His friends and family.
Jesus used a vineyard to give a lesson to his disciples the night before his crucifixion:
“I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit.
3 You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you.
4 Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me.
5 I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.
6 If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned.
7 If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples.
9 Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love. 10 If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. 11 These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full.
12 “This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. 14 You are My friends if you do what I command you. 15 No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you.
16 You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain, so that whatever you ask of the Father in My name He may give to you.
17 This I command you, that you love one another. John 15:1-7
Modern vineyards are organized with stakes wired together, and the vines are growing up and off the ground. Here is a vineyard in Sonoma California next door to a friend’s property.
Photos: Sonoma California Vineyard
Recently I was in Sonoma working with Motorsports Ministry at the Sonoma Raceway, and I walked through a vineyard that was next doors to our friends home. The vineyard was very organized.
Recently on our study tour to Israel, we stopped at a small farm that had a section of land where there was a “traditional” vineyard, where vines were raised off the ground using rocks.
While we were there I found myself placing rocks under the vines around my feet.
It was May, and the flowers had begun their transition into fruit.
I also noticed portions of vines that had been separated from the main vine and were dried out. We were told that the farmers used that wood for their fireplaces in their homes to keep warm at night. I knew the forecast for that particular night was for the temperature to be in the low 50’s Fahrenheit.
Here are some words that help us understand Jesus' message:
Verse 1: “He takes away” aírō; (I) To take up, to lift up, to raise; Particularly, as stones from the ground
Verse 4: “Abide in Me” ménō; To remain, abide, dwell, live. (A) Of place, i.e., of a person remaining or dwelling in a place; (B) Of a state or condition; (C) Of the relation in which one person or thing stands with another, chiefly in John's writings; thus to remain in or with someone, i.e., to be and remain united with him, one with him in heart, mind, and will.
Verse 16: “whatever you ask of the Father in My name” ónoma; Name, title, character, reputation, person. Implying authority, e.g., to come or to do something in or by the name of someone, meaning using his name; as his messenger, envoy, representative; by his authority, with his sanction
So much to glean from reading these verses standing in a First Century style vineyard and understanding the Greek words John uses!
As these Judean farmers “lifted up the vines” using rocks, Jesus says He will lift us up from our sinful lives and place us in a better position to bear fruit. This is the transforming effect of the Gospel message- through our obedience, our prayers, and the regeneration power of the Holy Spirit, we are transformed. Paul spoke of this in his letter to Titus:
For we also once were foolish ourselves, disobedient, deceived, enslaved to various lusts and pleasures, spending our life in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another. 4 But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, 5 He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, 6 whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life. Titus 3:3-7
The word ‘regeneration’ is paliggenesía, which can also mean restoration, renovation & rebirth. This word is used by Jesus in Matthew 19:28 refering to the restoration of Earth to its original sinless state when Jesus is sitting on His throne. Paul says the ‘paliggenesia’ is happening now, within us! And as we are ‘lifted up’, we are positioned to bear more fruit.
For those ‘vines’ that are bearing fruit, the Master prunes them, cutting off branches so that all the energy of the plant is given to new growth. I have found this to be true in my own life. I used to be a rabid sports fan. My Thanksgiving celebration was always affected by who won the Cowboys-Redskins game. Living in Texas a few years of my childhood resulted in me becoming a diehard Cowboys fan, and if the Redskins won that game, the turkey and trimmings just didn’t have a full flavor. This all began to change when I found myself living full time in Honduras, in a refugee village with no electricity, and in La Ceiba, where there was no access to American television.
I lost interest as I lived with many who were just trying to survive in life. More significant areas of my pleasure-seeking lifestyle also began to be pruned, as well as my personal desires in many of my relationships, when I became a husband and then a father. Serving your lover-roommate with basic household services became more and more important. Then came Mikaela and soon after Lukas. Changing diapers; bathing them; feeding them; caring for their safety in a foreign land. My self-centered priorities got pruned, and I am a better man for it.
Abiding in Christ has a deeper meaning as I understand that I am not just identifying with Him, or simply believing in Him, but actually positioning myself to “be and remain united with him, one with him in heart, mind, and will.” This is a challenging assignment in this cultural environment, where distractions are everywhere, and society pulls you in many directions away from Christ and back toward yourself. Our access to the worldly culture is often immediate and multidimensional. How many hours can we scroll through our social media feeds? Reading the news of what is going on in this world can take to you angry and frustrating places. I can spend hours in the day thinking of things and issues that often take me away from what God is saying to me.
How do I stay united with Him in heart, mind, and will?
For me it begins with a daily dose of reading The Word- I usually start off with the Proverb chapter of the day. My friend Hal Jones shared this discipline with me years ago in his office in Honolulu- 31 chapters of Proverbs and 28, 30, or 31 days in each calendar month. It has proven two things to me in the 30 plus years that I have done this.
- God’s Word is deep, profound, and the source of so many of my personal and professional ethics and the basis of how I relate ( i.e. speak, listen, serve, confront, convince, and love) to others;
- How hardheaded I actually am to see God’s ways and compare them to my ways. There is a lot of work left to do.
Along with the Word, I must have daily sincere conversations with my Lord. As I drive to work I tell Him that this day is His day, and ask for His direction. When confronted by a problem, I ask for His wisdom and solution. I ask that I will be sensitive to the needs of others. I ask Him to touch family members and friends. I tell Him how much I need Him and laugh with Him when I say or do dumb things. And I thank Him for all that He has given me, especially that Japanese girl He set me up with.
Finally, I try to involve myself with His agenda and do things with Him.
“Go talk with that guy.” “Give to that person.” “Do this task.” “Meditate on what I’m saying to you.” “Don’t take yourself so seriously.” “Abandon your expectations.” “Look at the situation from my point of view.”
These are some of the things that we do together, as we work through the day.
If I focus my day on His Word, Talking to Him, and Doing with Him, my day goes very well and I sleep comfortably at night. Through it all He bears more of His fruit in my life.
And the branches that don’t bear fruit? They dry up and are used as firewood to heat the home.
This verse was misused by many during the years of the Inquisition, when church officials sought to eliminate heretics and non-believers from society. Tomas de Toquemada was the Chief Inquisitor in Spain in the 1483-89 and especially concerned that Jews and Muslims who had converted to Christianity were secretly practicing their old faith. He understood this verse of a dried-up branch being thrown into the fire as an instruction for the elimination of the false Christians. Under His reign over 2000 such false Christians were burned at the stake.
Kathy, Craig and Laura- Lost and Looking for the 13th Century Cathedral in Toledo, site of some Spanish Inquisition events.
Standing in that Judean vineyard with some dried cut off vines as my feet, with the cold night coming in a few hours, I realized that God has a secondary use for these vines that did not bear fruit.
While we were there in that field, Randy told us of four teenagers who attended his church but were caught up in the partying life, never really participating in the ministry of the church, who tragically died in a car accident. Randy said that hundreds attended their funeral and many of their friends gave their lives to Christ on that day. God had a secondary purpose for their lives that bore much fruit.
What about “asking in His name?’ Is that a blank check to ask for anything we want?
The Bible says we are ambassadors for Christ. In the First Century world, an ambassador was the representative of the head of a nation and had to power to enact treaties with foreign countries. The words and actions of a Roman ambassador had to reflect the thoughts and desires of Caesar.
19 For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. 20 So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” 2 Corinthians 5:19-20
When I am doing what God is calling me to do, and acting as His ambassador in a situation, then I can ask Him for whatever I need to accomplish his mission. And He always responds!
In our travels on the Coco River in our mahogany canoes and fiberglass boats, we have often had problems with our outboard motors- bad gas, dirty sparkplugs, broken wires. Each time when we have run out of ideas on fixing an unresponsive motor, we have prayed that God would start that motor. He has. Every time. For many years.
I know that is hard to believe, but it’s true. I have never been stuck on the river with a broken motor and had to sleep in the bush.
Sofia, Rodolio, Augusto, Lukas, Arielle, Michael & Moselle
Cruzing the Rio Coco 2005
Once we were in our loaded boat in Waspam, ready to head downriver. The long boat next to us was loaded with people, sacks of food, and many chickens. They had a small 25 hp motor what would not start, and it was getting hot. Ladies were fanning themselves as the motoristas attempted to start the motor. Mikaela was about 5 at the time, next to Laura. I saw Laura close her eyes and her lips began to move. I knew what she was praying for. Suddenly the motor coughed to life! Smiles appeared on all the sweaty faces next to us.
Mikaela looked with amazement at Laura. “Mommy, did you just pray?”
Laura nodded. Mikaela began laughing. The boat began moving, and then we shoved off for downriver.
Mikaela and Lukas Rio Coco Nicaragua 1998
There are many, many, many other examples of us asking for things ‘in His name’ and receiving what we needed: airplanes provided; teacher salaries delivered from Australia, wounds healed, school materials provided; teachers trained, cargo delivered, etc. etc.
Stay connected to the Vine. The fruit will naturally occur. Exciting things will happen.
You will experience True Adventures.
Adventure: A risky undertaking; A remarkable experience.