My Grandpa Walde was somewhat of an arborist. One of the reasons we kids loved to visit in the fall was the row of crab apple trees he had. My favorite was one that, as a sapling, he had grafted yellow jelly crabs onto a red jelly crab. So in maturity he had a great, full tree half yellow and half red.
More than once he mended broken branches, maybe broken due to grandkids playing. He lifted the branch back in place and had placed a binding around it to hold it securely to the place where it had broken off. Given time, the limb came back to full health and even bore fruit.
In John 15:1, 2 Jesus says, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit.”(NIV) Now I know that says “cuts off,” but the word literally means bears up, carry or lift. It is the same term used of Jesus in John 1:29 where it says that Jesus is the Lamb of God who TAKES AWAY the sin of the world. In certain contexts it includes the implication of carrying away, but in the John 15 context there is no such implication. It is rather the picture of a gardener who bears up and even binds up a broken branch in order to bring healing.
The picture is of God caring for those who are broken and hurting and because of this are unable to bear fruit. God bears them up and “in Christ” brings healing. This is consistent with the words of Isaiah 61:1 which is the same passage Jesus quoted when he announced that he was the messiah and what his ministry was. In part it says, “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the broken-hearted . . . (NIV)
Are you feeling broken or damaged these days? Maybe because of a loss you have suffered recently. Maybe from the way someone has treated you, or simply the stresses and circumstances of life seem to have conspired against you. Whatever the cause may be, in God there is hope. This is not to say that your circumstances will miraculously be fixed, usually it is a lifelong journey. But you will find support that will lead to healing.
I have been reading a biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer written by Eric Metaxas. It is a very engaging book that I have had a hard time to put down. For those who don’t know, Bonhoeffer was a German pastor/theologian who was involved in an assassination plot against Hitler. He was imprisoned and finally hung as a traitor just days before the end of the war.
I have been amazed to discover that some of the issues that most troubled him in Germany at that time are so prevalent in our society today. The expression of these issues is obviously very different, but the root is the same. For example, then as now there’s a great deal of value placed on spirituality, but relatively little on actually knowing God. Prior to WWII if you were German you considered yourself a Christian regardless of your relationship to Jesus. It was simply part of the culture of Germany. Much theology was taught, but very little of worship or even that God could, and wanted to be known personally.
Bonhoeffer’s seminary training was how to read the Bible critically, to be able to break it down into form and structure and analyze it. What he discovered is that, though there may be value in reading the Bible critically, it is much more. God literally speaks to us through it. He said that we must not simply read the Bible; we must ask God our questions and expect to receive the ultimate answers in the Bible. This is more than thinking about God, it is actually encountering and meeting with God.
In our time and culture spirituality is again becoming more prevalent but much of it is self-driven. Some of this spirituality is even labelled “Christian” but within it Christ is not really known. Many look to the Bible as a guidebook, containing instructions for life, and certainly that is true and valuable. But if that’s the extent to which we use it we will miss the true power of it and in fact it will become more a burden to us; an unrelenting task master that we can never live up to and that we finally in desperation just avoid. Bonhoeffer came to the point where he said every day it was more wonderful to him, as it brought him into personal contact with God himself.
This was God’s intent in giving us the Bible. And this is available, not just to pastors and theologians, but to each one who will truly seek God there.
In 1John 3 we are told that for the children of God it is an impossibility to sin. The original recipients of John’s letter would have understood by the grammatical structure that he was saying is that it’s impossible to practice sin, or to be comfortable with sin. There is an internal battle against it.
Still unclear on what he means? Let me tell you this story and maybe it will help. Late October every year, for a period of about fifteen years my older brother, Eric and I had the chance to go ride the fall round-up in a spectacularly beautiful and rugged 27 square mile community pasture in West Central Saskatchewan right on the Alberta border. This pasture had it all; great rolling sandy hills, aspen forests, deep draws filled with scrub brush, sloughs, willowy marshes and even a small lake.
The first year Eric rode this pasture he got sent towards the Alberta border to sweep through that section of the pasture. He came across a small bunch of about 15 pair and, after gathering them together, got them headed NE towards the sorting corrals. But these critters were a handful. They kept splitting off and trying to circle back. The others riders he had been sent with had spread out and were nowhere to be seen so Eric just kept fighting and pushing the cattle along.
I came across him when we were about a mile from the corrals and I joined my few pairs with his and we worked together to get them all in. His horse was foamed up, and Eric’s eye had that look of fiery determination I had come to know from when we were kids that said “there is no way I’m going to be beat.” By that point he had lost four or five pair but he had managed to get most of them in. But when we finally pushed them into the corrals the laughter of the guys there told us there was something wrong. Eric had picked up cattle from the Alberta side and had been pushing them away from home.
That’s kind of the picture of sin in the life of a Christ follower. We may at times get pushed towards committing a sin, but there is something inside us that battles against it and won’t leave us comfortable in continuing to practice sin. That something is similar to our conscience but much greater. It is, in fact, the very nature of Jesus himself.