Say what? In the where?
I am talking about a heart catheterization, and tens of thousands are performed in America every year. It’s so common a procedure, it’s almost redundant to describe how it’s done. A doctor inserts a slender tube in a major blood vessel of the patient’s leg and maneuvers the tube, or a catheter, all the way to the heart. There, with the help of dye, and X-rays, wonderful pictures can be taken, showing blocked arteries, faulty valves, or a host of other problems.
Though the procedure is not painless, it is wonderfully simple, miraculously helpful, allowing medical personnel to prescribe treatment with accuracy like never before. And as you know, there are times when a small, balloon-like device can be inserted in the catheter, and when inflated in a blocked artery, it can clear the blockage immediately, without any surgery.
Again I ask....Would you ever expect to find a heart cath lab in the vineyard?
It’s there, though you have to listen for it carefully, and in another language. It’s also not a lab where physical hearts are repaired. This is a place where spiritual hearts are healed, where spiritual lifestyles are changed, where years of fruitful living are added to the diseased lives of Christians.
John 15:1-2 "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 … (HCSB)
And that’s the cath lab.
The “pruning” comes from the Greek word “katheroi,” the root word of catheterization. Our different translations use the phrase “cleans by pruning,” “repeatedly prunes,” and even, “he trims every fertile branch.” It’s a procedure, in the vineyard, of cleaning and repairing live vines so they can have a more productive life.
John 15:2-4 He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean (this is the same word again, katheroi, cleanses ...) because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. (HCSB)
To begin I want you to see.....God’s goal with unfruitful Christians is restoration.
You can’t get very far into this passage without experiencing a bit of spiritual terror. It’s easy to picture God as a hard taskmaster, prowling through his vineyard, cutting off dead branches, pruning live ones, gathering up the unfortunate, and burning them all in a fire. You know the truth. We don’t like the fire imagery. It reminds us of hell, of demons, of the abode of the lost and hopeless. How can this happen to followers of Jesus who have attached themselves to the vine?
This is very important.
God’s goal with unfruitful Christians isn’t destruction, but rather, restoration.
The vineyard owners among us have helped us understand the passage a little better. There are times, in the season of growth, that a branch will do a little wayward growing. It springs off from the rest of the pack, grows like it had steroids for breakfast, and chooses its own path. While the rest of the branches find their way along the arbor, one or two will make their home along the ground.
The branches grow well on the ground. They scoot along quickly, and even lay down some roots in the soil.
There’s only one problem with that plan.
Branches won’t produce any fruit on the ground. None. Branches along the ground will spend all of their time growing leaves, and roots never intended to be grown, but they won’t produce the first grape. The rain comes, and dirt splashes up on the leaves. When the dirt dries, the leaves can’t breathe and do their thing. The underside of the leaves gets hit with mildew because of the early-morning dampness.
In short, branches on the ground get sick.
Church can be reflective of this as some branches follow the plan, some don’t. Some use the discipline of Bible study and prayer, and take advantage of the accountability of relational settings. Others don’t. Some branches completely leave have no Bible study, no prayer structure, no accountability. Before they’ve even realized it, they’ve put down some roots in places they never should have even visited. Dirt gets splashed around, and spiritual disease takes hold.
In short, Christians on the ground get sick.
A cruel God would come along, see such a branch, see such a Christian, cut him off, pick her up, bundle them up with the other non-producers, and burn them in hell itself.
But a loving God is very much like a loving vinedresser who wants every branch to produce fruit. After all, the ultimate goal God has for each life is for as much fruit as possible to be produced.
Wayne Jacobsen grew up in a Californian vineyard, where his father raised raisins. He’d seen it happen for a long time, and in his book, In My Father’s Vineyard, he painted a wonderful picture for us. Jacobsen tells us that vinedressers will make regular trips through the vineyard, armed with a bucket of water, and an eye for wayward vines. The gardener spots the sick branch, pulls the young roots out of the ground, washes off the leaves, and ties it gently back to the arbor. In time, the branch regains its health, and instead of growing roots ... it grows fruit.
That is called restoration. And that is what Jesus spoke of as he started this teaching.
Can I ask you something? Have you put down some roots in ungodly soil? Have you gotten splashed with dirt because you’ve been spending time in the wrong places, or the wrong practices, or even the wrong thoughts? Has disease replaced fruit? Has it been a while since you’ve really seen the fruit gathered out of your life’s work?
God loves you so much, he’ll take any action necessary to remove the roots from the wrong places, to wash you clean, to heal the disease, and to tie you back to the arbor. It may not be comfortable, and it may mean being ripped away from something that felt like home ... but God loves you too much to leave his branches lying around in the wrong places.
I often reference what many call the Baptist National Anthem...the hymn, “Just as I Am.” I poke a bit of fun at it, but there is a great truth contained in the song. God will indeed take us, just as we are. But you know what else is great about God? He’ll never, ever, ever leave you just like you were!
The Adventure continues....