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Levi Lusko - A More Perfect Union

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We're in a series of messages we've called Magnificent Seven. If you're just jumping in now, you can catch up on the app. We have all the messages out there, and also like to say hello to those who will watch these messages on Fresh Life TV. We're glad to have you tuning in all over the world, and we're glad that you're with us. So Magnificent Seven is all about these seven times in John's gospel that Jesus tells us who he is, and the truth is that what you think of when you think of God is perhaps the most important thing about you. I mean, that is the most significant thing to how your life's going to go in the sense that your idea of who God is informs how you relate to him and then what you can receive from him.

And so it's so important that we have a proper concept in our heads of who God is, and Jesus fortunately for us, tells us seven different times exactly who he is so we can relate to him in the right way and then be set up to receive from him all he wants to give us. So this series is seven different times Jesus says, I am, and then fill in the blank. And this is the sixth, and he's going to tell us that he's a vine. He's a vine. Not just any vine, though. He's the true vine. Look at John 15, starting in verse 1. I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit, he takes away, and every branch that bears fruit, he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me.

Now, here is verse 5, I think just one of the most beautiful verses maybe in the New Testament. Jesus speaking, I am the vine. You are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him bears much fruit, for without me, you can do nothing. I'm calling this message "A More Perfect Union". For one thing, I'll finally get to put to use the memorization of the preamble to the Constitution that took place in my civics class, promote the general welfare, provide for the common defense, secure the blessings of liberty. We do ordain and establish this Constitution, the whole thing. But I love this. This is how it begins, we, the people, in order to form a more, anybody with me? Are you awake today? A more perfect union. That should be what we're after. We, the people, should be after, in our relationship with God, a more perfect union.

I like that language because it has built into it the idea of, we're looking for progress, not perfection. It's not ever going to be a perfect union until Heaven. Our relationship with God will be perfect when we're with Him face to face and there's no more sin. But until that day, we should be striving for, looking to achieve, what we can never fully get, and that is a more perfect union. We're never going to have a perfect union on this Earth because we're going to make mistakes, and we're going to fall short. But we should be striving for not perfection. What should we be striving for? Movement in the right direction. Now, here's kind of the big idea today. To the extent that your relationship, or your connection, with God is weak, you will be, too. When your connection to God is weak, you will be, too. So we, the people, should be focused on a more perfect union. We should be working towards and looking towards, our goal should be to have a more perfect union with God.

Now, this will probably make more sense to you if you can understand the context in which it was originally said because John's gospel contains the story of Jesus's life, and he moves from, of course, the cradle to the grave. He moves from the manger to the empty grave and then beyond. And so John's telling this story, and where this particular statement fits in that story is ultra significant. Why? Because you remember last time we got together, we talked about Jesus saying, I am the way, the truth, and the life, and no one comes to the Father except through me? And we told you that he said that during the day of the Last Supper, which is what we know of as Thursday before Good Friday, and this is still that same day. Only the conversation that began in the upper room where he washed the disciples feet and served the bread and the wine, speaking of his death, speaking of his blood that was to be shed, he then, after the meal, took a walk.

And I love taking a walk after a meal. It aids in indigestion. It's good for you, and it allows you to eat more afterwards. Thanksgiving dinner, take a little walk, and like, wow, I got my second wind. Let's go have some pie. You know what I'm saying? So they finished eating, and I love Jesus the more I get to know him. When they finish eating, he says let's go take a walk, and as they take a walk, he continues the talk. It's a mobile discussion, a mobile conversation, and what we just read, listen to me, it took place somewhere in between the upper room and the Garden of Gethsemane. The Garden of Gethsemane, where he prayed, and his sweat became like great drops of blood. The Garden of Gethsemane, where Judas came and betrayed him with a kiss. The Garden of Gethsemane, where the soldiers came and arrested him and took him to face his six trials that would ultimately culminate in him being flogged with a whip and nailed to that cross, and then eventually, of course, triumphantly rising from the dead on Easter Sunday.

And we're going to get to that seventh I Am statement and figure out how a guy like that could just die and then get back up, and he'll tell us who he is that would allow him to do such a thing, and how he's willing to do that for you, too. But along the way he chose to speak about vineyards and vines and branches, and the tone of his talk became agricultural. But if you can imagine where they were where he likely said these words, it makes all the sense in the world because it was a roughly one mile walk, and you can today go to Jerusalem and take this exact walk. We did it at night, walking from somewhere in the Old City of David in an upper room. In the upper room. Trust me, they wish they could find it, and they'd have you taking selfies there. And they'd be selling tchotchkes from the, oh, yeah, Last Supper communion kit from The Upper Room. But some upper room in the Old City of David, and you can trace the steps that Jesus likely took to go through the Kedron Valley and, eventually, to the base of the Mount of Olives, where we know where the Garden of Gethsemane is.

And it's beautiful. It's significant. It's charged. It's electric and magnetic to trace those footsteps and think about Jesus and his band of, now, 11 as they took that fateful walk. You'll pass, on the right hand side, the terraced hillside. And now there are many graves, and there are some homes, but on the terraced hillside in that day, they would have been filled with vineyards. It would have been just vineyard after vineyard after vineyard on the hillside that he would have been walking by on his right. But listen to me, on his left, there would have been the gates that would take you into the courtyard of the Temple Complex, and this temple had gates that were adorned with a giant golden vine, a golden vine above the gates. So to pass into the courtyard, to pass into the temple, you had to walk under a golden vine. And it was at this point, perhaps, in the journey that Jesus, flanked on his right by vineyards and his left by a giant golden vine, and in the night light with torches glowing, it would have been dazzling above the white limestone gates, that Jesus turned to his disciples and said, I am the vine. You are the branches. If you abide in me, and I in you, you're going to bear so much fruit. But apart from me, you can do nothing.

You would have been able to hear a pin drop. But the disciples would have heard it in a different way than we here because we're like, oh, that's poetic, and Jesus has good timing, and great object lesson. No, no, it was so significant, what he was saying. Why? Because the olive... well, the olive, too, but that's a different sermon. The vine was to the nation of Israel what the bald eagle is to America. So you need to understand, it was a symbol that was, all throughout the Old Testament, a picture of the nation of Israel, the vine. And it was to us what our bald eagle soaring through the sky is, this ultra patriotic symbol. So Jesus was, essentially, in saying, I am the vine, he was saying, I am, if you can receive it, I am the stars and stripes. I am Uncle Sam, somebody. That's what he was saying, but times 10,000 because being a part of the nation of Israel wasn't just something that you were involved in politically. But it was also your identity spiritually, for this was a religious entity and not just a people group that were involved in a country.

You see, your involvement in this nation gave you salvation spiritually. Your connection to Israel connected you to God because he was the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and that family line is what led to there being a people of Israel at all. So in the Old Testament, when someone who was from a different country or a different background wanted to convert to worship the God of the Bible, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, we just keep calling Him that because they worshiped that God as distinct from all the other gods. Babylonians and Philistines, they worshiped the sun. They worshiped the moon. They worshiped the war God. They worshiped Aphrodite. The Romans had so many gods. The Greeks had so many gods. There's a million gods out there. So which god do you worship? I worship the God that Abraham worships, the God who created the heavens and the Earth, and this is the God that we see revered by this family that grew into this nation of Israel. So when you would convert to worship that God, you would take on the identity of being a part of that nation. You would assume their customs, and you would assume their practices, which involve dietary things. If you're a dude, it involved circumcision. It was a whole deal. So you became a part of this covenant people.

So Jesus, in saying that's what you've known of as being the vine, being a part of Israel, keeping these laws, not eating pork, all of the rest, taking a day off one day a week, all of the laws, all of the promises, all the covenant that made them distinct people, that was being a part of the vine. But guess what, I am the true vine. I am the vine. It is no longer your being connected to a people that gives you salvation. It's you knowing a person. He's saying salvation has a name, and the name is Jesus, that you can be a part of God's family by being connected to me. You don't have to be connected nationally. You can now just be connected relationally. He's saying, I have fulfilled all of that, and he's saying, when he tells us he's the vine, all of that was meant to just introduce Jesus, who came out of the nation of Israel, and he's now going to birth something brand new - the church. And out of Gentiles and Jews alike people, all over the world, whoever would want to come to the ends of the earth, whoever would look to Jesus, could be saved and find that life flowing through them. Why? Because a vine sends its life to its branches.

A vine is the trunk, and its branches receive that life. So Jesus, when he says, I'm the true vine, he's saying, through me, the life of God flows. And if you connect yourself to me, my life will flow through you. No matter who you are, no matter what you've done, you can bring forth fruit if you're connected to me. I tell you, there's four really important things we can learn from the connection between a branch and the vine, between the branch and the trunk, that can apply to our relationship with God.

Number one: their relationship is organic. A vine and branch have an organic relationship. It's not mechanical. It's not robotic. It's organic. There's the essence of life in it. It's something that's living. It's something that's dynamic. It's something that grows. And God wants your relationship with him to be like that, and that means that there needs to be a spontaneity to it. Yes, there are things that every plant needs, sunlight and air, water, got it, but you're also just going to be in tune to its needs. If you were to leave your kids with a sitter, or if you were to leave your dog with someone while you went out of town, you would tell them what you do, but they my text you and say this has happened, and so you might have to pivot. Oh, that completely changes everything. That's happened? OK, now, here's what I would do in that situation. Oh, yeah, right, I forgot to tell you, sometimes he does that. Sometimes he swallows LEGOs. Here's what I do when he... you see what I'm saying? You're going to pivot. You're going to flip. It's a living thing.

So if your relationship with God is just merely a list of dos and don'ts, if it's just a religious thing: I just do this; I just do that; I just do this; I just do that, that's not organic. Imagine if you approached your relationship with your girlfriend or your relationship with your husband in that way. I merely do this, and you merely do that. Here are the flowers. Why? Because I'm supposed to give them to you. Ugh, no, there's got to be life to it. It's not meant to be transactional. It's not meant to be robotic. God is not an ATM machine. If I push this series of things and show up somewhere on Sunday morning, and I read my two verses, now you're obligated to give me salvation. That's not loving. That's not life giving. God doesn't want there to be this sense of, I do this, you do that. He wants it to be a friendship. Is your relationship with God organic? Is there a friendship to it? Can you feel and sense his passion, his love for you? You have friends in your life that you can't wait to tell them things. That should be how it is with you and God. It should be this idea, like I want to talk to God. I want to know God. I want my walk with God to grow. I want it to flex. I want it to mature. I want it to deepen. I want it to be something that's beautiful, something that's organic.

There's a second thing, as we think about this agricultural metaphor, as Jesus wants you to relate to him like a branch does to a vine, it should be exclusive, exclusive. When you think about a vine that's shooting off these branches, those branches have a committed relationship with that vine. They're not looking around, seeing other vines, going you know what, I'm going to go to that vine. No, it's committed. It's exclusive. It's not sizing up other vines, seeing where there's better sunlight. We're committed to the vine, and this is what Jesus had in his mind when he said, look at the language one more time, I am the true vine. What was he saying? There's a lot of other vines out there. There's a lot of other things promising to flow life into you.

You can look to a lot of things in this world to cause your life to be filled with the essence of life. We could look to our career. We could look to money. We could look to the party scene. We could look to doing a lot of things to get our essence of life from, and Jesus isn't saying there's no other vines. He just said there's no other true vines. The other vines are false vines. Why? Because they will promise to put life into you, and they will give you a good time for a little bit, but then eventually and ultimately, they will suck the life out of you. And some day, you're going to wake up. Some day you're going to look up and go, wait a minute, I feel withered. I feel dry because the vine that you've connected yourself to is not the vine that's putting life into you. It's taking something from you.

Isn't this what the prodigal son discovered? He had it good at home. He's connected to the true vine. But then the exclusive relationship was broken when he decided to give into the wanderlust, and he took all the money, cashed out, and went to a far off city. And there was hookers, and there was buying rounds for the whole bar, and there was the party scene, the penthouse at Caesar's. And, man, he had so many friends. All the other branches were like... There are little leaves fluttering, making it rain, little leaves up in the air. It was crazy. But then, listen, then eventually, he ran out of money, and a famine hit the land. And then all of his friends bolted. I mean, he's texting them. None of them are writing him back. They're like, new phone, who dis? No one's responding to him. And what happened next? The Bible says that he fell on hard times, and he was he was weak, and he had nothing. And he was so eventually desperate that he looked for work at the most unspeakable job a Jewish boy could take, feeding pigs. And he was so hungry, he began to eat the food he was serving to the pigs. And he realized how good he had it back home, so he decided to crawl back to his father, saying to himself maybe my father will take me on as a servant. Certainly, I'm not worthy to be his son anymore.

So, now this little branch makes a little long trip home. This is the branch. This is how he crawls. Can you see it? It's kind of like an inch worm. And he's thinking, hanging his head, my father's never going to love me again. And his father, seeing him a long way off, he ran to his son. The Bible says that he scooped this little branch up into his arms and rushed it back to the greenhouse, connected it back to the vine, fired up the misters, got shots of chlorophyll for everybody in the whole place. The Bible says he struck up the music. What kind of music? Classical music, that's what plants like to listen to. And now, everybody's happy because the prodigal branch had come home. And that's what your father does when you make the mistake of trading what should be an exclusive relationship, and you get tempted by other vines.

We read early in the passage about how he takes away a branch that's not bearing fruit, a branch that's connected to him but just isn't bearing fruit. Why? Maybe it connected itself to another vine, looking to other things. And I love that the word "takes away" in the Greek is the word airo, A-I-R-O. If a branch isn't doing good, he takes it away, and the definition of that word is so life giving. It says this, it means to take up, to lift up from the ground, or lift with the intent to carry. Are you weak? Do you feel like you're not producing fruit? God's heart for you is to pick you up, to lift you up, to take you up with the intention to carry you. No one's going to pluck you from your Father's hands. He wants to restore you to health, restore you to wellness. Did you barely get in here today? Are you making so many mistakes, you're like, man, I don't even know where to begin? God wants to pick you up and lift you up and scoop you up and bring you back tenderly to the vine so you can get back to growing fruit.

But there needs to be, in your mind, this mentality that says I want to have an exclusive relationship with Him, not one of robotic compliance, but life giving romance, of love for my Father. That's kind of a weird thing to describe. Romance? A little, I don't know. Well, hold on a second. Being a part of the church is compared to being the bride of Christ, and what is a name for someone who tends vines professionally? A husbandman. So there is so many parallels to how we should approach a healthy marriage, to how we should think about our relationship with God. Not a robotic compliance, but a life giving romance. And then secondly, that exclusivity, that commitment to Him, and to only Him will we be loyal.

There's a third, and it's this: continuous. Our relationship with Him should be continuous. That's the opposite of sporadic. That's the opposite of on again, off again. That's the opposite of here and there, but just a continuous connection. We should fight to foster continuous connection. Why? Because if our connection to God gets weak, we will be, too. I think about how it's so easy to wear out phone cords. Anybody with me? What is it with these phone cords and their constant breaking? And they seem like they go through this phase where they sometimes work before they stop working. Anybody? Anybody? No? It's just me?

So you plug it in, and nothing. You're looking for the lightning bolt, aren't you? You're looking for that, nothing, and that little sound. Beep. You know? And so you turn it over, and oh, hey, and then it's like, you fool yourself into thinking, oh, it's fine. It was just a fluke. And you'll go a couple days, and you'll have to, anybody with me? You almost get into wrecks because you're flipping it over, blowing on it, maybe lick, don't lick it. That's a mistake. I made that mistake. Cleaning off the connection, and then you finally know it's time to get rid of it when you plug it in and it's like bing-ah, bing-ah, bing-ah, bing-ah, bing-ah, bing-ah, bing-ah. Anybody with me on that? Bing-ah, bing-ah, bing-ah, bing-ah, bing-ah? You're like, OK, you are gone. You are the weakest link, goodbye. Because it's not charging your phone because there's not a continuous connection. There has to be a steady continuous connection if that power is going to get through.

A branch is merely a hollow tube. A branch is merely a hollow tube. It's PVC pipe, and we cannot have the life of God flowing through us if we're not connected continuously. So if you keep breaking it off, bringing it on, breaking it off, and it's just intermittently, I read the Bible here and there, I pray here and there, if there's a sporadic, sometimes, not so often, every once in a while. If that characterizes your relationship with God, he can't get the power to you that He wants to. Your relationship needs to be continuous. So here's the goal. The goal is to go as many days as we can without interrupting the connection. As many days as you can in a row. How many days do you think you could stack together where each of those days have at least some point in the day where you get quiet and tell God something, where you get quiet and let God tell you something. We overcomplicate the Bible study, making it feel like, oh, I don't know how to do that on my own. But it's just, at the end of the day, you telling God something, and then you let God tell you something.

How hard is it to get on YouTube, throw one good worship song on, to read a verse, to listen to God tell you something from scripture, and then just to tell him, God, stuff's hard? Marriage is hard. God works hard. And if it's hard for you to pray because you don't really know what to do, like I get on my knees, and, well, maybe mix it up and get up and take a walk. If every time you took your wife on a date night, you took to the exact same restaurant and wore the exact same thing and ordered the exact same thing, you'd have a weird relationship. Mix it up. Come on, Casanova. You know what I'm saying?

I tried something different recently. On our date night, I ahead of time wrote down some of my favorite things about my wife, and brought this journal to the table. And halfway through just say, hey, I wanted to read some things I love about you. I had never done that before. It was just... why? I wanted to mix it up. And she cried. It was awesome. In an Italian restaurant in Manhattan, she's (crying)... I'm like, Just mix up your relationship with God. Take a walk next time you pray. If you always pray walking, right down your prayer. Mix it up, but keep that continuous connection. There's this great YouVersion app. It's for free. pastor Craig and Amy Groeschel have given it away to the world, 300 million downloads. They've given away the Bible to 300 million people. Unreal, right? Just the best people that there are. I get choked up if I talk about how much I love them. But that app has this cool feature, if you're logged into it, where it tells you, on the home screen, how many days in a row you've opened the app. And I just would encourage you, challenge you, go as many days as you can where you don't interrupt the flow of power to your life in prayer.

How about this one? How many weeks in a row could you stack it up where you don't miss gathering together with God's people for corporate worship, where we gather together, and we sing our guts out together? And I get to hear you sing badly, and you get to hear me sing badly. But fortunately, the people who sing good is louder than all of us. You know what I'm saying? And we can just be like, I'm a mess, but I love you. And think of your little arms as little branches going, I'm connected to you. I love you. I need you. I want you. I'm desperate for you. I can't do anything without, that's worship. Worship is just you stretching your branches out to the vine, so he can flow his life through you. What about throughout the day: little prayers here, little thoughts there? Let's make it our goal to never forget about him. You ever remember that God's there? And you're like, oh, what have I just, you take a mental inventory of the last couple of things you did. You're like, that's the train wreck, and that's intimidating. But if we're constant remembering God's always with you, you didn't leave Him at church. You didn't leave Him where you left your journal and your Bible, and you had your time with Him. He's always with you.

So if you walk around going God's in me, God's with me, all the time, that changes how you talk to people. That changes how you spend money. That changes how you dream. That changes how you plan. How long can we go where we never have to remember God's there because we're always remembering he's closer to us than our skin, not with a scowl, with a smile, wanting to lift us up, wanting to carry us up, and wanting to grow delicious fruit through us. Let me tell you something if your relationship with God is hit and miss, and Easter and Christmas, and here and there, and just every once in a while, you'll never going to grow any of these. That branch has to be connected continuously. It's growing, and doesn't that just make you want to eat grapes? The sales of grapes in our city's just... this week because everyone's like, I want grapes. You can't walk by a bowl of grapes and not eat them. But if they're soggy, pass. Hard pass. I need crisp grapes. I need them to be almost like biting into an apple. Who's with me on the crunchy grapes, no seeds, very crunchy? That's my jam. All right, so if we're going to grow those, we have to be continuous. We have to be exclusive. And there has to be organic. Amen? Amen!

I love it because that leads to our last thing that we learn about our relationship to the vine, and that is, He intends for us to be productive. Productive, meaning he wants to produce fruit through us. There's something He wants to do as we connect to Him, and this then is a vital distinction to make on how many days can you go without missing? How many weeks can you go without missing church? How many weeks can you go without not being in a small group? Now, we have to actually qualify it because this then is the test. The fruit is the test. Are we producing fruit? Let me tell you something: there's people who never miss a Sunday and are cheating on their wives all week long. There's people who never miss a day's devotions and whose lives are filled with pornography and hatred. There's people who are downloading John Piper and Beth Moore sermons like crazy, and they are a complete and total jerk at work.

So the test isn't just do I take in? It's, is it producing a life through me? That's how you test the organic, exclusive, continuous relationship. Is it producing? Producing what exactly? The fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such, there's no law. So now, we get to go, OK, am I just hearing God's word and deceiving myself? Or as I read the word, as I attend church, as I get into a small group, am I actually applying it in my life? Am I allowing Him to produce that life through me? I've been asked before, how much should I read when I have my devotions? And I like how a friend of mine answered that. He said, you should read until something convicts you, then immediately close your Bible, pray about it, and then go do something about it. Because the moment He tells you something, then you've read all you need to read. Sometimes, it might be a paragraph. Sometimes, it might be a chapter. For me, often, it's a sentence. I've had times where it's literally a word. I'm like, ah, why'd you have to go there? Fine.

You know what I'm, oh, no, you didn't. You know what I'm saying? Ah, I was just hoping for you to just encourage me. You actually want me to be nice to people. That's different than what I was expecting. Can I just know things about you? He says, no, I want to produce my life through you. I want your life to be something, as people come around, I want the reaction to be how you felt seeing those grapes. That's beautiful. That's wonderful. But not just fruit of the spirit, He wants to also produce your unique fruit. Did you know that the different regions of grapes produce different varieties of wine? It's fascinating. And where the vine comes from impacts the flavor, just as much the soil in which it's grown.

Most of the wine producing vines in America have actually been brought over from Europe. They're not American vines. They were bringing vines over. All these ships coming over, they're like, what's in your suitcase? From the Mayflower, it's like, just vines. They could never do that today. You wouldn't get through customs. What do you have in your suitcase? Nothing, just vines. But they have vines here that are growing different varietals of wine with different bouquet, and I just want to understand, some of you are Zinfandel. Some of you are pinot. Some of you are cav. Some of you, you're a merlot. Meaning there's different things God's going to bring out in you He didn't put inside me. I just want you to know you're fearfully and wonderfully made, and the way God's going to produce life in you, and the inventions in you, and the dreams in you, and the story in you, and the song in you, and the poem in you, and the business in you, and the company in you: what He's put in you is different.

And just know this: your church isn't just interested in you being people who come and sing songs and leave. We believe in what you're going to do out there in the world that's going to change the world. We believe in the medical breakthrough, the science breakthrough. We believe in the things you're going to build, the cars you're going to repair, the innovations, and the way you're going to use what He put in you. As you connect to the vine, He's going to give you dreams and ideas and thoughts and plans and businesses, and we can't wait to see what different circumstances are going to bring about the beautiful fruit in your life that's going to be a blessing to people all over this world. But we got to keep the life fresh. So we should call it Fresh Life, and we did. It's got to be organic. There's got to be a freshness to the life in us in order for us to be productive.

So what have we learned today? We learned that we, the people, should be focusing on a more perfect union because to the degree that our connection to God is weak, we will be, too. So we should be striving for organic, continuous, exclusive productivity in our connection to the vine. But none of it's possible without pruning. None of it's possible without the pruning shears. Jesus said the reward for a vine that bears fruit is pruning. Any branch that bears fruit, He prunes. In God's economy, get this, pruning is a reward. You're like, that's sick. That's sick because I've seen pruning. Yeah, it's terrible. Pruning's terrible. It's cutting, listen, first of all, it's cutting things back. And secondly it's cutting things off.

Some things in your life need to be cut back, and other things in your life need to be cut off. Why? The expert husbandmen, as he approaches the vine, knows that there are things that are going to grow on that vine that need to be cut off: bugs, diseased branches, things that are called suckers, which is unruly growth with no purpose. This thing's going to grow huge. Oh, look at me! It's amazing! And he's like, that is stealing sap from the flower bud. The ultimate mechanism of pruning is to steer sap to where it needs to go. That vine can only produce so much sap, and he wants to expertly guide it and direct it exactly into what's going to produce the grapes. So I'm going to cut off anything that would get big and unruly, but isn't producing fruit. So some things in your life need to be cut off, and other things in your life merely need to be cut back. The good branches that produce the buds can also get little flowers on them. And it's pretty, and it's wonderful, but the producing of that flower is actually essence of life that should be going into that bud.

So the pruner doesn't just use the shears. He also uses his fingers. He does something called pinching. He'll pinch off stuff. He's like, hey, good job, little branch, and we're like, that's so mean. I worked hard on that flower. He's like, yeah, but it's not actually going to what I created you to do. You know that good is the enemy is of the best, right? And if you say yes to too many things, you won't be able to say yes to the ultimate things. It's why one of our values as a church, we have core values, and one of them is we do more by doing less. We focus on a few things, so we can do them really well, the things God's called us to do, and not be doing all sorts of things poorly. So we have to employ elimination and concentration to focus in on what God's called us to do.

So what's the Lord trying to cut off in your life? Things that are never going to be good for you, never going to take you to where he wants to go. A good thing to maybe discuss at the dinner table or with your small group this week would be, what needs to be cut off and what merely needs to be cut back? That is to say, I'm not cutting this branch off. This is a good one. But something on it needs to be trimmed back. This is stuff that's good, but we need to moderate it a little bit. It's a little bit unruly. Yeah, watching TV's great. Seven hours of TV a day? Maybe a little bit less. I'm really trying to focus my screen time and get it down. I have an app now that tracks how much time I spend on all my different apps and my total screen time on my phone, and I'm really going to try and start focusing in the coming days, notice how much room I'm giving myself? I'm really going to, next week, going to be trying to start focusing on trimming back these things. I'm not to cut it off, but that's an area where I want to see it trimmed back.

His job is to prune. Your job is to abide. His job is to prune. That is to say, His word and the leadership in your life, if you're not under leadership, you're missing out. What athlete can go to the highest levels without coaching? If you're not on one of our impact teams, you don't have someone coaching you in that way. If you're not under the authority of your campus pastor and embracing that leadership, if you're not in a small group, we should all be craving, I am so grateful for the voices in my life coaching me. If you're not responding to the way God works through authority and through His word and through His spirit to prune, then you're not going to get to where you want to go. So His job's the pruning, and you have to respond to that well. Your job is to abide.

It's all over the text. Eight times, he uses the word abide in just the first opening verses. One example is where it shows up twice in one verse. He says abide in me, and I in you, as the branch cannot bear fruit unless it abides in the vine. You're like, what does it mean to abide? Simply put, it means stay put. Park it here, bubba. I like the message translation of that verse, where it's put this way: live in me. Make your home in me just as I do in you. Is Jesus your home? Is Jesus where you stay put? And that should be our focus. Write that down on the top of your to-do list tomorrow: abide. Abide in Jesus. Remain in him. But disclaimer — it's the hardest to abide when you're being pruned. Those are the times, man, when God starts putting His finger on different areas of your life, that's when you're going to feel like bolting because you don't like the sensation and feeling of Him cutting things back that you wanted to stay, Him cutting things off that you're content leaving there. Because it doesn't feel good to be pruned. None of us like it.

Look at how great a vine looks when it's bushy, beautiful, and vibrant. This is right after harvest. This is a shot from Tuscany. Beautiful, I mean look at all these branches like, yay, look at me! Look what I did! But you can't go into winter like that. Once the grapes are cut, you no longer need those branches to provide shade. You no longer need all those leaves to make all the chlorophyll. There's nothing happening, so the husbandman knows that vine needs to hunker down for a bit. So all those big old branches that are like, how do you like me now, started from the bottom, now we're here, what does he do? Look at this next shot. Hello. OK, whoa, I don't want anybody to see me like this. I'll lose all my street cred. All my hair's gone. All my life's gone. These little branches are like, this is the worst. I don't like this at all.

And that's when we, as the branches, are most tempted to stop staying put because God tried to touch something in our life that was keeping us that was going to keep us back. But we didn't like how it felt, so we're going to go find a different vine now that will let us do what we want to do. We're going to find a different vine that'll let us be. For I'm going to go find myself. I'm going to disconnect from this vine. It's the most difficult to abide when you're being pruned. So here's what you gotta do: when you feel the steel, cling to the vine. When you feel his steel coming out, just tell yourself, I'm staying put. I'm staying put. He knows what he's doing. What am I? I'm a little twig. What am I? I'm just a conduit. What am I? I'm just a PVC pipe. He's got the life. I want it to flow through me. So if he cuts something back, fine. He knows better than I do. Our mentality should be what the author of Hebrews said, in Hebrews chapter 12 verse 1. Let us strip off everything that hinders us, as well as the sin which dogs our feet, and let us run the race that we have to run with patience, our eyes fixed on Jesus the source and goal of our faith. For he himself endured a cross and thought nothing of its shame because of the joy he knew would follow his suffering.

Why should you trust your gardener with those shears when he comes at you, when he comes at you with his pinching fingers? You like, oh, my gosh, what are you going to pinch away next? Here's why you should trust your gardener: because of what that vine was willing to go through to get you connected to his life. What was that vine willing to go through? Let me tell you something: vines don't grow beautiful grapes on the ground. They grow them on trellises. They grow hoisted up by wires. They grow them up in the air. They grow like that. So Jesus says, I am the vine. You are the branches. Why should we trust him? Because he died on the cross to save us. So whatever he wants to cut off, whatever he wants to remove, we're good with it, God, because you are God, and we trust your plans, and we trust your intentions. Oh, come on. Let God know you trust him.
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