(BY JOHN AND PHYLLIS NORDSTROM)
Reading for today: Psalm 101-103; 108; John 15
“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 that it will be even more fruitful.” John 15: 1,2
Reading John 15 has turned my thinking to the matter of spirituality. Spirituality has become a hot topic in the twenty-first century. It seems that whatever “ism” one attaches to his belief, becomes a source of spirituality.
One system of belief, Post Modernism, which reigns supreme today, expresses tolerance for whatever one happens to believe as long those beliefs are not foisted upon anyone. Exclusivism is frowned upon.
However, for the Christian spirituality means to be continuously filled with the Spirit. Without self effort, the believer who is controlled by the Holy Spirit will exhibit sound speech, a consistent spiritual walk, and decision making based on the Word of God. It’s a choice to “know and grow” in our daily relationship with Jesus by submitting to the ministry of the Holy Spirit in our lives. It’s a conscious fellowship with the Spirit of Christ.
Cutting and pruning by the Spirit either causes death or more growth.
When I read John 15, I don’t see any tolerance for being a branch that is disconnected from the vine. I see connection to Jesus as the only possible spirituality that will save us.
The Apostle Paul had a lot to say about the connected life. “For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men.” I Timothy 2:5,6
When I think of spirituality, several significant people come to mind. One that immediately surfaces was my wife’s grandmother. Her story was the kind that novels are written about. Born in the late 1800’s and rejected for marriage by her lover’s parents because of her family’s reputation, her father secretly committed her to marriage to a widower with three children–if he would agree to pay off his gambling debts. The widower was willing, so while his wife was out of town, her father took her to the Justice of the Peace and vows were made.
Gramma’s husband not only had the same gambling problem, but was also a philanderer and wanderer. He would often disappear for months or years at a time leaving his three children, plus their own three, to eek out an existence for themselves. When he did resurface, the family lived in fear of his violent temper. The time came when she was forced to end their relationship when a fight ensued between him and one of their sons in which a pitchfork was thrown and one of them was nearly killed.
At this time her one goal in life was to provide for the basic needs of her family. She eeked out a living by cleaning houses and cooking at the “poor folks” house, as assisted living was then known.
Gramma met Christ when an itinerant preacher came through their little town in centralOklahoma. Under the canopy of a brush arbor, this abandoned mother embraced the one who would never forsake her. She became addicted to the Word and often recounted how God had guided her directly through it.
I met “Gramma” when I began dating her granddaughter. By then she was in her mid 60’s, her children were safely raised, and she was a live-in caregiver for a wonderful couple in our community. To her the Bible was alive and active in her life. It had become well marked and tattered as she drew strength and guidance from its deep well.
I loved to hear her stories. The corners of her mouth would turn up and a twinkle would appear in her eye as she recounted countless stories of provision.
One such story was a time when there was no food in the house and she began to worry about how to feed her six children the next day. After putting them to bed, she sat in her rocker and pulled out her favorite book. It opened to Psalm 127 and the words spoke to her anxious heart:
“Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain.
Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain.
In vain you rise early and stay up late,
Toiling for food to eat—
For he grants sleep to those he loves.
Sons are a heritage from the Lord, children a reward from him.”
“Well,” she chuckled as she recalled once again the events of that night. “I just put my Bible down and said, ‘If you are going to be up all night watching over us, no need for me to be up, too.’ “And I promptly went to bed and to sleep. The next morning, sacks of groceries were waiting for us on the front porch!”
My thoughts returned to Grandma today as I read these passages. What is spirituality? What does it mean to be connected to the vine? Once again I saw her face as I remembered her final day on earth.
At the age of 91, her heart weakening, the doctor told her that she must give up her apartment and move to a residential care facility. How she dreaded the move! “What if I need to get up and pray for someone during the night, or what if I want to turn on my light to read the Bible?” She bewailed. “I’ll have a roommate and I just might not be able to communicate with my Jesus. I’d just rather have Him take me home.” With help she reluctantly packed up the necessary items for the move and gave away the rest in preparation for the next day.
Night came and Grandma fell asleep in her apartment. The next morning Dad came to get her and her belongings. When he opened the door he was surprised to find her still in her bed with her fingers were neatly curled over the edge of her blanket. He went over to awaken her. It was then that he discovered that her Spirit had already gone. Her protecting father had heard her last request and given sleep to the one he loved.
John 15 calls us to a life of self examination. It is not difficult to damn the culture for its darkness. It is challenging, however, to face the fact that connection to the Vine produces a spirituality that resists the corruption around us.
John 15 stiffens my resolve to make a difference in my world. Our purpose in life is more than what we get from being connected. It is what our connection does to change the world.