Abide In Me

Abide In Me

If you’ve lived in South Australia for any amount of time, you’ll likely know that grapes in our state are big business. Growers put in a lot of time and energy to make sure that they are producing the best grapes – and hopefully the best wine – possible. Each branch on each vine must produce fruit, or risk being pruned away for the greater good. The thing is, though, that the branches can do nothing to avoid or control their fate. They have no say over how well they grows their grapes – or if they grow grapes at all! – that’s up to that fantastic combination of the surrounding environment, the grower’s expertise, and the vine’s natural, life-giving energy.

When it comes to our faith, we might imagine God looking down on us as we tend the vineyard of our life, cultivating the fruit, and creating a life we – and God – can be proud of. But friends, I have news for you! We aren’t the gardener, tending the vineyard. We aren’t even the vines! We’re the humble branches, and there’s nothing we can do about it!

“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 does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. 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. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.”         John 15:1-8

In this passage, Jesus speaks to this truth – that he is the vine, that God is the gardener, and the disciples (and therefore we who have followed) are the branches. This conversation comes at an interesting time; Jesus and his disciples are somewhere between the Last Supper and Gethsemane. Jesus knows he will be leaving soon and, almost as if he knows what the disciples are about to go through, his message to them is “stick with me. Abide.”

In these eight verses, the original Greek word menó is used seven times. Most Bible versions translate this to ‘abide,’ with the NIV translating it to ‘remain.’ The message Jesus is trying to get across here clearly centres on this concept. But what does it mean to ‘abide with Christ?’ And why is it so important?

We know that when you love someone, whether platonically or romantically, you want to be around them, like, a lot. Your relationship with that person grows stronger as you learn more about each other and get to know each other’s preferences and passions. And so it is with Christ. To abide, or remain, dwell, continue, or endure, suggests an extra level of intimacy and bond in the relationship. I know a few people who have this level of relationship with Christ. In the past, it’s been my tendency to think this is something special to ‘those types of people’ – that maybe it has to do with certain personality types who are more inclined to this type of relationship. But recently, I’ve had to reassess. This intimate relationship with Christ is not something unattainable. This level of love, friendship, and trust is something for everyone to partake in and, in fact, Christ himself calls us to exactly that in this passage.

Commentary writer Joseph Exell reflects that we must abide in Christ, as a branch in a tree, which is supported by it, adheres to it, grows in it, and becomes verdant and fruitful by the virtue derived from it; as a hand in a body, from which it receives its warmth, life, activity, and usefulness…”

We abide in Christ the same way a branch abides in the vine – not by doing, necessarily, but by being present with Christ, as he is present with us. We abide by living deep with Christ; relying on him, growing in relationship with him, and looking only to Christ for what we need. All the great and wonderful things we experience in our earthly relationships are things we can take to the next level, and experience to the fullest, with Christ.

But why is this so hard? The idea of spending time in the presence of God might feel scary. There are many things that might worry us about approaching God: What if God tells me off? What if He tells me something I don’t want to hear? Or asks me to confront something I’m afraid of?

What if God doesn’t say anything to me at all?

When you start spending time with God, reading the word, and really listening to him, it makes it possible to hear him say “no!” I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather stick my fingers in my ears and continue on my own way most of the time!

To live this way is to open yourself up to a level of intimacy and vulnerability that we might not feel ready for. To abide is to trust; to rest easy in the comfort of the grace extended to us, and yet it feels uncomfortable. Perhaps it’s because our earthly experience of relationships is that people will fail us or let us down, and so we expect that failure. The great moments here on earth will always be flawed and so we’re scared of those flaws appearing in our relationship with Christ. Maybe we find it hard to believe that Christ will actually pull through for us? Or perhaps it’s because this level of trust means giving up the idea that we have control over our own lives. As someone who likes to be in control – to know what’s happening and to be prepared, this level of relationship with God makes me feel like I’m losing all the power over my life. Even though I know I don’t actually have that control and power over my life, it’s still hard to give it up!

But this time with God, learning to grow in relationship with him, learning to trust, and simply be with him is so important. As a person who is prone to action, and will always revert to the ‘doing’ part of faith, this is something I really have to work on. It’s fine to ‘do,’ but the fact of the matter is that, unless we are in Christ, anything we do or accomplish is worthless.

Jesus says in verse 4-5, “Abide in me, and I in you (it’s a mutual relationship). As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. 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

If we wish to produce meaningful, world-changing fruit in our lives, this abiding with Christ must be a priority for us. And it goes beyond simply checking the box of ‘being saved’ and moving on. Calling yourself a Christian is not the same as abiding in Christ, and will not produce fruit in your life. This abiding is a deep relationship with Christ, one that gives our whole life meaning. Without this kind of relationship with God, it doesn’t matter what we achieve. We could grow our church to number in the thousands, we could bring hundreds to Christ, we could feed all of the hungry and clothe all of the poor, but it would all mean nothing if this fruit hasn’t grown out of an intimate relationship with Christ.

So the question is, if you feel like you aren’t seeing fruit in your life, are you abiding with Christ? Where is your relationship with God at right now? Is there something you need to change to make that relationship happen? Is there something you’re afraid of?

I want to encourage you with the promise that follows. Jesus says in verse seven, “if you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” The promise is that if you abide with Christ, anything you ask for will be given. Why? Is it because you’ve been good and done all the right things? Not likely. I believe it’s because, when we live our lives that close to Christ – when we are in deep relationship and communion with him – we start to want what Christ wants for us. Our hearts begin to beat and break alongside the Lord’s and the things we desire are the very things he desires to give us. Like a couple who have been together so long that they pick up each other’s mannerisms, or know what each other are thinking, so we begin to know Christ. This is the fruit that grows out of our abiding; that we grow more like Christ, and in doing so, bring glory to God.

It might be scary for us to let go of what we’re holding tightly in order to abide with Christ. It might mean we need to re-order our priorities in a way we’re not too sure about to create more time and space to abide. But the promise from Christ is that, when we stick with him, rely on him, and grow in relationship with him, the frustration of our fruitless lives will end. We can grow, we can contribute to God’s Kingdom, and we can bear fruit, but we first must learn to abide; to find our place in Christ, and to continue there with Him.


Click here for a recording of this sermon

Ask Her

I don’t have the right kind of body to be yelled at in the street. I can say with confidence that the only time I’ve ever been whistled at, beeped at, or yelled at has been when I’m with a friend who’s at least a couple clothing sizes smaller than me. I don’t have half the street-harassment stories that some of my friends have. But I do have one that still disturbs me whenever I remember it.

When I worked at the newspaper, I was sent out with a female journalist to cover a story about a local manufacturing plant that had been on the edge of closure for some time. Our standard practise was to wait outside close to the end of shift, and try to catch someone who would be willing to talk to us. We had little luck so we decided to drive around to some of the outside carparks where employees would sometimes hang around after their shift. We found a group of 6 or 7 males having a drink on one of the side streets who were happy to talk to us. The interview started out ok, but slowly the conversation of the other men who were waiting turned to that of a sexual nature. I don’t remember exactly what they said, nor would I want to repeat it, but I do remember that it was disgusting, and was intended to make us feel uncomfortable. I remember feeling trapped and sick standing there waiting for the interview to be over so we could get away, and holding onto my tripod thinking that if these guys tried anything it might be useful in defending myself and my coworker. When we were finally able to leave we went to a nearby pub to see if any of the employees gathered there would be willing to speak to us. Shortly after we arrived, these same guys showed up, and I remember this adding to my panic as I laid in bed that night unable to stop running over the conversation they’d had. I couldn’t help thinking that they knew where we worked, they knew our names, that it wouldn’t be that hard for them to track me down if they really wanted to, and how badly I wanted to erase this from my memory so I wouldn’t have to be afraid anymore.

The thing about this experience is that I will be told it’s not that bad, that at least nothing happened, and that other women experience worse every day. And while some of this may be true, it shouldn’t be something we just accept. I remember when I told a male colleague what had happened, his response was, “why didn’t you just ask them to stop?” When I tried to explain that I felt like that could put me in even more danger, he didn’t seem to understand. He followed up with, “they wouldn’t have done anything to you” and I dropped the conversation. It didn’t seem like he wanted to believe I was vulnerable and afraid.

The point of this is not to point fingers, however. The point of this story is that, until this happened, I had never really realised how differently men and women experience the world. Or how important it is for men to hear our personal stories of harassment, but we’ll get to that later.

Women spend their whole lives assessing situations and trying to prevent themselves from walking into danger. Any time I am out alone, I am running scenarios to figure out what I would or could do to protect myself if something happened. Walking to my car at night, arriving home alone, meeting friends for dinner; all are opportunities for strange men to attack me, and take what they want from me. I am vulnerable. Men tend not to realise women do this, which is understandable since they don’t generally experience this issue. The problem is that a lot of men don’t want to believe women when they tell them this is the way they move through the world. Most men I’ve spoken to about my experience of vulnerability only want to speak over me and tell me I’m wrong. Yet how can I be wrong about my own feelings of fear and my own experience? 

When a woman speaks about her experiences of sexual harassment or assault, you need to listen. Every comment you make in response (to any situation of sexual harassment) puts you on a list of people she can trust and people she cannot. Anytime we tell a woman her experience of harassment is ‘nothing’, any time we say it’s time to move on or forget about it, we invalidate her experience and tell her that what she feels does not matter. It’s time to start taking sexual harassment and casual sexism seriously, because every time we downplay or excuse this behaviour, we are sending a clear message that women should get used to feeling uncomfortable and vulnerable. And this, in turn, makes it less likely for women to speak out about these issues as they continue. Why do you think so many cases of rape and assault go unreported?

So here’s something I want you to do for me. Or for yourself and for the women in your life. Find the woman you love and trust above all else; it could be your mother, sister, wife, whatever, I don’t care who, just find a woman whose opinion you value the most. Sit down with her, and ask her about her experience with sexual harassment. Keep in mind that she might not even really know that she’s been experiencing sexual harassment, because there’s a huge amount of this stuff going on that never gets called its true name. So sit with her, and ask her, and – most importantly – listen.

Here’s a couple of questions you can ask if you’re not sure:

– When was the last time you feel unsafe in the presence of a male? What was it about the experience that made you feel unsafe?

– Are there any men we know who you don’t like to be left alone with? Why? What do they do or say that makes you feel uncomfortable?

– Do you ever think about how to protect yourself when you’re out? When? Where? How do you plan to protect yourself? At what point in an interaction with a stranger would you attempt to put that into action?

Further Reading: Enough Platitudes and Excuses: Here is the Truth About This Week of Sexism by Gabrielle Jackson

To suffer like you do

Last week I had the opportunity to visit Melbourne with a bunch of other youth leaders and pastors from around the state. We spent a few days looking at different churches and youth groups to see what they were doing, and learning from other leaders. While we were there, we visited a missional community in Norlane, a suburb among the poorest in Victoria. After getting used to the look and feel of Melbourne’s suburbs, driving into Norlane felt just like my regular commute through the Northern suburbs of Adelaide where I work and live. The whole time we were there, I was struck by the similarities of this place and my local area; the economic situation, the struggles of the people, and the incredible opportunities to serve.

At the Longroom Community in Norlane, the vision is to see the Kingdom of God revealed in and through the people they serve. There is a huge focus on belonging, and the importance of not simply handing out welfare, but involving people in a community of service and mutual benefit. It’s been a week since we were there, and this vision hasn’t been far from my mind since.

Our message yesterday was based around Jeremiah 29:11, a very well known and loved verse, but often used outside of its proper context in the story of the people of Israel.

“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope”

We know the verse, but when we look past it to the surrounding passage, we find an appeal for patience and humility. God has carried his people into exile in Babylon, and then asks them to settle in; to not only carry out their normal lives, but to actively seek peace and prosperity for its citizens. This message of Kingdom living is echoed throughout the scriptures; in the Gospels we find Jesus, the place where mercy, grace, and justice meet. This is not justice like the long arm of the law, but justice that says we will honour all human beings as creations of God. Christ came down to earth to suffer on behalf of us and he bore immense pain for the sake of those made in his Father’s image.

As Christians, we are also called to bear pain that may not be our own and need to be willing to suffer for the sake of others, just as Jesus did. We do this by bringing peace to the citizens of the world while we sojourn through it. The peace we are called to is not simply a lack of conflict, but the true peace that advocates for the welfare of all and brings us into a life of harmony with each other and with God.

It has become too easy to ‘do good’ as a Christian, and the growing trend towards social justice in secular thought has made us lazy. We can feel good about ourselves by ‘solving’ world issues from the comfort of our lounge room and move on to the latest episode of the Bachelor in seconds. But is this really what we’re called to do? The responsibility for Christians is not simply to help the marginalised and the poor, but to lay ourselves out for their benefit. Can we really emulate Jesus’ sacrifice for us, if the work we are doing is no sacrifice to us?

“oh, my Lord, to suffer like you do; it would be a lie to run away” – Jon Foreman

This is where I find mission like that of the Longroom Community so inspiring and encouraging. One thing that stood out to me while we were in Norlane was the importance of those at work being involved in growing community with the people, rather than for them. Their commitment to the Kingdom of God means that hurting and broken people can find belonging. There’s a dignity in that that we should all strive to achieve.

To truly live the call of Christ-like justice, there comes a point where we must begin to suffer with the people we are serving; to step into their lives and take the grittiness and the pain and make it our own. Yes, it’s messy and it’s painful, and things might go wrong, but the beauty in it is that it’s what Jesus did for us.

One who fears the Lord

I often wonder about the difference between being a Godly Woman, and being a Godly Man. Is there one? When so much of what the Bible has to say about following Christ is not gender-specific, why do we try to say how a woman should be as a Christian, and how a man should be as a Christian?

I mean, there aren’t separate sections of the Bible; one for women, and one for men. It’s rare that any of the writers single out a gender when discussing an issue. One thing we too easily forget is that when women or men were addressed specifically, it was for a certain group, at a certain time. So the instances where we see this happening are targeted corrections to the walk of specific people at a time when they needed them. Are they still relevant today? Certainly, but we can’t really go around using them to paint a whole group with the same brush.

“If this is a message for the Church, it’s for the whole Church, not just the ones in dresses”

One of the go-to apparently gender-specific passages people love to talk about is Proverbs 31. In fact, you’ve probably heard the term ‘a Proverbs 31 woman’ (funny how I’ve never heard of a ‘[passage of the Bible] man’. Hmm… ) What if this list of ‘standards’ that we love to hold women to can actually be used to describe a specific woman; the Bride of Christ?

I googled ‘Proverbs 31 and the Church’ and found a few articles and blog posts about it. Apparently it’s not a new concept, the idea that this passage could be about the Church. If you’ve never thought about it this way before, I suggest you go read the passage with this in mind. Like, right now. (Actually, it’s right at the bottom of this post, so you won’t even have to go anywhere!) I’m not trying to be groundbreaking or anything, and right here on the internet is proof that I’m not the first person to have this thought.

If you read this passage, and think it’s a list of standards for women to achieve, you are wrong. If you expect your wife to be all these things, you’re probably going to be disappointed. If you are a male, and think that none of these things apply to you, then yes, you are wrong.

If this is a message for the Church, it’s for the whole Church, not just the ones in dresses. Don’t believe me? Flip the pronouns; it still works:

“He rises while it is yet night and provides food for his household, and portions for is men. He considers a field and buys it; with the fruit of his hands he plants a vineyard. He dresses himself with strength, and makes his arms strong”

Go read the passage, and -regardless of your gender- ask yourself how you can be this person in your family, in your church, and in your community. Open your mouth with wisdom, and teach kindness, because one who fears the Lord is to be praised.

An excellent wife who can find?

She is far more precious than jewels.

The heart of her husband trusts in her,

and he will have no lack of gain.

She does him good, and not harm,

all the days of her life.

She seeks wool and flax,

and works with willing hands.

She is like the ships of the merchant;

she brings her food from afar.

She rises while it is yet night

and provides food for her household

and portions for her maidens.

She considers a field and buys it;

with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard.

She dresses herself with strength

and makes her arms strong.

She perceives that her merchandise is profitable.

Her lamp does not go out at night.

She puts her hands to the distaff,

and her hands hold the spindle.

She opens her hand to the poor

and reaches out her hands to the needy.

She is not afraid of snow for her household,

for all her household are clothed in scarlet.

She makes bed coverings for herself;

her clothing is fine linen and purple.

Her husband is known in the gates

when he sits among the elders of the land.

She makes linen garments and sells them;

she delivers sashes to the merchant.

Strength and dignity are her clothing,

and she laughs at the time to come.

She opens her mouth with wisdom,

and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.

She looks well to the ways of her household

and does not eat the bread of idleness.

Her children rise up and call her blessed;

her husband also, and he praises her:

“Many women have done excellently,

but you surpass them all.”

Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain,

but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.

Give her of the fruit of her hands,

and let her works praise her in the gates

Proverbs 31:10-31