Friday, April 15, 2016

The Gardener, the Vine, and Why Pruning is Necessary

When most people think of vineyards and wineries, images of the lush hills of France or Napa Valley come to mind. Famous wine regions like Burgundy, Bordeaux and Champagne are known even by folks like me who aren't exactly wine connoisseurs. Dry, hot, dusty Texas probably isn't on the wine-radar of most people who enjoy a glass of the fruit of the vine from time to time, but here in the Texas hill country, vineyards are everywhere! Seriously. Around  the quaint town of Fredericksburg, you can't throw a stone without hitting a vineyard. We drive past at least a dozen when we go to Georgetown on weekends.

Personally, I love the beauty of a vineyard far more than I love the product produced from its grapes. A well-tended, well cared for vineyard is a work of art. Row after row of perfectly formed vines loaded with fat, juicy grapes. Gorgeous!

Yet grapevines don't naturally grow in nice, neat uniform rows. Left untended, a vineyard quickly becomes a mess. Overgrown vines trail everywhere and weeds fast outgrow the plants, eventually choking out the fruit all together.  

Jesus used the illustration of a vineyard to teach us a vital lesson. In John 15:1-3 he says, "I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so it will be even more fruitful." 

Grapevines begin with one main stem. From that, branches sprout and grow into vines. As any master gardener knows, branches must be pruned and shaped if they are to stay healthy. Pruning may seem like it hurts the plant, but in reality it is helping the plant grow stronger and produce better fruit. Unhealthy, non-producing branches must be cut off in order for the main plant to thrive. 

So why would Jesus compare himself and us to a grapevine? Because the visual lesson really hits home when you see yourself as a branch growing on the main -- true -- vine. Are you a branch that is healthy and producing good fruit? Or are you in danger of the Gardener's clippers because your fruit is rotten, bug (sin) -infested, or maybe you aren't producing fruit at all? 

What exactly is good fruit? Look at Galatians 5:22-23:

"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control."

Proverbs 12:14 says, "From the fruit of their lips people are filled with good things, and the work of their hands brings them reward."

Good qualities like love and patience don't always come natural to us though. They have to be cultivated by the Gardener. And more often than not that takes pruning. Ouch! But, oh, it is so, so worth it! Sometimes we have to learn lessons the hard way in order to truly take them to heart and apply them to our lives. I speak from experience. I've been pruned until I wanted to cry "Uncle!" But on the other side of it, looking back at who I was before the pruning, I'm ever so thankful God cared enough and loved me enough to help me grow, not as a wild, unruly plant going my own way, but as a beloved branch who tries daily to produce good fruit. 

But what happens to the branches that aren't producing good fruit and are ultimately cut off from the vine?

"Such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned." (John 15:6)

Friends, Jesus wants us to be part of him. "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." (v. 5) But Jesus is also very clear about what happens when we choose not to be part of him. When we choose to go our own way, following our own beliefs, making our own choices based on worldly knowledge rather than Godly knowledge, we will be cut off from him. Yet as long as you have breath in your body, you have the opportunity to choose Jesus! To choose what is right and good based on biblical teachings. To be part of THE Vine, producing good fruit! 

Boy, it doesn't get any better than that! Let's be fat, juicy grapes together, okay?

I'm suddenly thirsty for a big ol' glass of grape juice! 

Have a great day!


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