Remain

I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.
(John 15:5)

I am a firm believer that every single trial we have in life is allowed by God in order to test our mettle, usually with the aim of showing us where our fortitude or character is a little bit lacking.

I mean, if we are honest, any one of us can be immeasurably bold, incredibly courageous, and are capable of great gallantry… theoretically.  It’s that sticky place where heroic imaginings meet with a leaky fridge or an explosion of teenage drama over a five-minute departure time that we sometimes find our integrity falling a bit short.

Or pain. In my case, I have to confess that a month or two of near-constant headaches will quickly shred any guise of righteousness I may have concocted in my mind and lay my weaknesses rather painfully bare.

Strange though it may seem, I see this as a good thing.

In a recent reading of John 15,  the Lord’s discourse grabbed my attention in a new way, and I have been thinking about it since.

Really, there is so much packed into this one passage that I could go on forever (don’t worry – I won’t; at least not today…), but the what stood out to me was the emphasis Jesus put on abiding, bearing fruit, and loving before He launched into a sort of warning about the persecution and difficulties that lay ahead for the disciples.

In the illustration of the vine and branches, the Lord makes twelve references to abiding or remaining in the first eleven verses.

Now I know that the Lord did not begin this agricultural analogy to His disciples by announcing, “Verse 1 of Chapter 15 begins, ‘I am the true vine…'”

I also know that He was most likely speaking to them in Aramaic or Hebrew and not in either English (my translation) or Greek (the language the text was translated from).

However, in any language if a speaker repeats the same concept multiple times in a brief span, that speaker kinda wants the listener to hear it. It’s worthy of note the other concept He reiterates is love: loving each other, remaining in His love, etc.

As I have mulled all this over while simultaneously dealing with the afore-mentioned month or two of head pain along with the inevitable adolescent ire, and yes, even the leaky fridge, it has been driven into even my somewhat thick and murky consciousness that the one way we are going to endure hardships, difficulties, and trials is to love each other well.

And the only way we can love each other well is by remaining in Him.

While that may seem self-evident, the lesson my Father has been hammering home here lately is that “remaining in Him” is more than an hour or two of pre-dawn Bible study and prayer. It is an all day,play-by-play reliance on Him to provide me with the ability to do what I cannot do on my own.

As an example, take the watermelon vine in the photo above. That yellow flower and the other little buds each hold the promise of delectable, mature fruit to come. Yet if at any time the flower or the ripening fruit becomes severed from the vine, there will be no scrumptious melon but only decay.

Also, there is absolutely no way to attach the melon to the vine for a few moments or hours. Even if there were, such partial nourishment would never be enough to sustain a truly juicy melon through the scorching Tennessee summer. The fruit would certainly wither.

Even so, a few minutes or an hour alone with God in the morning is not enough to sustain me through yet another day of pain, be it the physical pain of migraine or the emotional frustrations of navigating through the volatile Land of Adolescence as a parent.

No, I need much more than a brief connection. If I am to love my family well and endure the pain of life, I will have to remain connected with Him every single second – for there is not a single second of the day in which I do not need a greater strength and a fiercer love than the shriveled parody I can conjure on my own.

And that is where true joy begins…

These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.
John 15:11

Not That This Isn’t Fun…

And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.
Galatians 6:9-10

Life is tough. There’s just no way around it.

As I tap these words out, I am on the 23rd consecutive day of a headache (save a few hours’ break here and there) that has ranged in intensity from just annoying to someone please choke me out.

Still, even with the headache, I am incredibly grateful for the gift f this time: time to pause and breathe after the whirlwind of nonstop parenting and educating chaos that is homeschool; time to get my bearings and figure out if I have what it takes to make it as an author; time to come up with Plan B if I don’t.

Even still, life is tough. Not having the kids around 24/7 does not diminish their presence in my mind. They each have junk to wade through, and wading through modern teen junk is a sticky business. However, raising them, I am forced to think back to when I was a teenager <shudder> and remind myself that it could be much worse.

Yet thinking back also reminds me of the microcosm that is their worldview right now; a fact which was brought very clearly to the forefront in a conversation with my 16-year-old yesterday.  I mentioned a question he had asked me recently, and he replied, “That wasn’t recently. That was my sophomore year.”

I credit God alone that I held my tongue, but all I could think was, “Dearest son, do you mean waaaaaay back 2 1/2 months ago to your sophomore year?”

Oddly enough, in my mind, May still qualifies as “recently.”

And those are the small, nagging, daily problems: the relentlessness of pain, the thorniness of relationships… There are much bigger problems afoot. Loved ones with dementia, the burden on their caretakers, unsaved friends and family members who are literally destroying themselves from the inside out. Disease. Heartbreak. Cruelty. Suffering.

Then, too, there is the constant ache for friends who are suffering their own dilemmas and trials. Beyond that, my brothers and sisters in Christ around the world are being tortured, imprisoned, brutalized, cast out, and killed for proclaiming faith in Jesus as Messiah and Lord.

And the illogic. Don’t even get me started about the utter rejection of absolute truth, logic, or reason. I agree fully with Malcom Muggeridge when he said, “We have educated ourselves into imbecility.”

No doubt. We’ve reasoned ourselves right past rationality and into a highly amorphous state of emotionalism. As another friend pointed out, we’ve gone from hieroglyphics straight through the high works of prose and poetry all the way back to emojis.

We have embraced separation of God and… well, everything and flung our liberty in His face with wild abandon only to find that in reality, we have merely come full circle. We’ve followed our hearts only to find that the triumphant footsteps we have been walking in are our own.

What a weary business modern life has become!

I have to wonder if this future was in the mind of the Lord when He had His last, private discourse with the Twelve … or rather, the Eleven. Judas had already departed and was bartering the Messiah’s life for a small sack of silver.

At any rate, I have been reading John 15-16 repeatedly for the last several days and noted that Jesus emphasized the need for the disciples to remain, to obey, and to love. Remain in Me… if you keep my commands, you will remain in Me… love one another, but above all else remain in Me, for apart from Me, you can do nothing. 

I paraphrase, but read John 15 a few times. He repeats the word “abide” ten times in the first ten verses alone. (“Abide,” by the way, means to remain or continue). Emphasis is put on loving God, loving each other, and keeping His commands – and once He has reiterated his reiteration, He warns them of trouble.

The latter part of chapter 15 and much of 16 speaks much of persecution and sorrow, but also of joy. Living for Truth is tough, much tougher than going along with the societal current. Naturally, it is easy to become weary and discouraged.

But any careful reader of the Word will know that persecution and rejection were always part of the package. The Lord Himself warns them multiple times, even right up to moments before He is taken into custody… and through them, He warns us.

But please note that He first assures them of His love and their need to remain in it.

There is hope, but it is not here on this earth. Our hope is in remaining steadfast through the birthpains of life in the tangled mess of sorrow, joy, anguish, grief, suffering, and peace that is our lot, because someday it will all be worth it.

There is trial, but there is beauty even in the trial.

Even so, come Lord Jesus!

Thistle001

“I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away…

…When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.
John 16:1, 21-22