I just came in from breakfast on our Tuscan terrace, a special spot I designed and had built following an inspirational trip to Florence five years ago. The Tuscany region of Italy is scattered with lush vineyards. Wanting to recreate the charm of the Florentine countryside, I purchased and planted five young grapevines. As instructed, I pruned each spring to keep the vines healthy and to increase our grape yield. Year three, I was told, would bring the first large harvest.
Hard work paid off. This September morning, I walked out back in the crisp fall air, plucked the first ripe grapes, and plopped them into my mouth. Organically grown, with no pesticide film to wash off, I ate away while overlooking fields of corn stalks turned tan, brightening with the rising sun. The flavor was unlike any grape I have tasted before—rich, earthy, juicy, the perfect blend of sweet and tart.
This terrace is what I had envisioned! This vineyard is all I had hoped! Sweet deliciousness grown in our own backyard.
These same grapevines were the backdrop of a lesson I taught to a group of inner-city Milwaukee kids during a week-long day camp we hold on our farm each summer. As the kids sat around the vines, I read John 15:1-8 where Jesus says He is the true vine and that we, the branches, must remain in Him to bear fruit. I showed the children a vine branch I had cut the day before. Though the leaves were still green, the branch was withered. Then I showed them a vine branch I had cut the week before, its leaves turned inward, brown and brittle. We could see clearly the death progression when branches are separated from vine, the flow of life cut off. Withering, drying, turning inward, becoming brittle. So like souls separated from God.
After reading John and passing around dead branches, we moved to the side yard where I had placed a stretched out garden hose. “Let’s play Tug-of-War!” I said excitedly. They were game! I explained:
This hose is the vine. We are the branches. One group will pull from the east end. One group will pull from the west end. Don’t you often feel like life is pulling you in different directions? I do. Now, as if being pulled in different directions weren’t enough, a couple kids are going to try and tear you away from the vine just like temptations try to tear us away from Christ. Though you’ll be pulled hard, HANG ON! And help each another hang on! That’s how we love each other—by helping each other hang on. Remember, Jesus said, ‘Remain in me’ and ‘Love each other.’ Hang on! Help each other hang on!
They could hardly wait for me to say, “Go!”
The kids tugged. People tried to pull them off but they hung on as if their lives depended on it, screaming and encouraging each other, “Hold on! Don’t let go!”
And then . . . something quite unexpected happened!
The hose was unable to sustain the pressure. Suddenly, the “vine” snapped and both sides of kids fell fast to the ground. I was not planning on this outcome but I was thrilled. I bellowed above the shocked squeals, “Come here! Let’s talk about what just happened!” They gathered around and got quiet.
Guess what? You all thought you were connected to a “vine” that would not break and look where it landed you.
“On our butts!” one dear child stated loudly.
Hilarious. I laughed hard.
Yep, you got it! That’s what happens when we attach ourselves to false vines. The vine looks strong. Looks inviting. Looks fun. But sooner or later, when the pressures mount, we’re going to find ourselves on our butts with nothing to hold onto. So here’s the point. Jesus says He is the TRUE vine which means there are FALSE vines in the world. We need to make sure we are holding onto the TRUEvine which never breaks no matter how much pressure we face.
I love teaching when God gives an impromptu lesson extension. I wrote the lesson with the theme of remaining in the vine. God extended it to include the more important lesson of making sure we’re connected to the TRUE vine in the first place. God made it clear through the unexpected breaking of the hose that abiding means nothing if one is abiding in a FALSE vine. There is only one, true vine—Jesus. There is only one way to grow good fruit that never rots. Remain in Jesus.
Reminiscing about our camp as I savored our God-grown grapes, I remembered the name of the vines I planted three years ago—RELIANCE.
How sweet it is that we can RELY on the TRUE VINE! His strength never fails. His love always flows. His promises are sure.
How good it is to remain in Him! And when our loving Gardener prunes, He does so with love, tending to us till we are fruitful and ripe—for His glory, for our joy complete, for the love of others.
All we need do is remain. In Him. God does the rest.
“I am the true vine and my Father is the gardener.” John 15:1
“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. I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15:4-5