THE VINEYARD AND THE CHURCH

The vineyard and the church
Jefferson’s Vineyards outside Charlottesville, Virginia

As we were going through the vineyards outside of Charlottesville, Virginia, this summer, we stopped to take a picture of just part of the vines in the Jefferson vineyard with a red-roofed church just beyond them.

The juxtaposition of the vines and the church building prompted my mind to go to John 15.

I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. … 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.”

John 15:1, 4-5

Jesus was speaking to His disciples in this discourse and He was advising them that they had no power in and of themselves to accomplish anything eternal for the Kingdom of God.  Indeed, He said “apart from me you can do nothing”! 

We think that we can do a lot of things without God’s assistance; but, without Jesus, none of them are of any merit.  But, separate us from God and all our works, even the very best ones, are essentially garbage in God’s sight.

“We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.”

Isaiah 64:6 

Our righteous deeds, the ones that we hold up to God as evidence that we should be rewarded, all those nice things we did and said, all of them are considered to be like a polluted garment, filthy rags. 

According to Strong’s concordance information, the Hebrew word translated as “filthy rags” relates to menstruation and the soiled garments therefrom. It is profound that Isaiah used this term to describe God’s attitude toward man’s good works. 

It is easy to read “filthy rags” as being merely soiled cleaning cloths.  But for me, this Hebrew definition puts the “filthy rags” reference into a new light – our good deeds, no matter how costly or how worthy they are in man’s eyes, are worth only to be dumped into the refuse can. 

So, what do filthy rags have to do with the Vine?   

NOTHING!

When we are in Christ Jesus, when we are connected to the Vine, our acts of righteousness avail much. When we are abiding in the Vine, we have the power of the Vine flowing through us and we can accomplish that which He has ordained for us to do for the Kingdom of God.  Then, instead of “filthy rags,” God sees the righteousness of Christ that has become imputed to us through our faith in Him.  In short, we abide in the Vine and He enables us to do righteous deeds that are a fragrant aroma to God, not filthy rags.

The church, the bodily manifestation of Jesus Christ after His resurrection, is to do His work. 

“And [God] put all things under [Jesus’] feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.”

Ephesians 1:22-23 

Each of His children are part of the church, the body of Christ, and we each have a role to play as we live out our lives to the glory and honor of our Savior.  Paul talks of the body of Christ like this in First Corinthians 12:

“For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. …  Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.”

1 Corinthians 12:12, 27 

In this new year, praise the Lord for the gift of eternal life through His death and resurrection and also for the gift of an abundant life in the here and now.  And thank Him that He has grafted us into the Vine so that as His Church we will have the power that comes to those who abide in Him.

The vineyard and the church.  The very symbols of the Source of our strength and of the Body which carries the message of our Lord to those with whom its members interact.

Father, Your ways are inscrutable and unknowable to us.  We praise You for giving us Your Son as our Savior and we thank You for enabling us to witness to Your incredible love and mercy through Jesus Christ.  Thank You, too, for giving us symbols that we can use to remind us of Your grace, providence and goodness.  May we glorify You in all that we do, through Jesus Christ our Lord.

 

THE FARMERS’ MARKET

I love going to a farmers’ market to see the cornucopia of produce available to us for consumption.  The profusion of apples, tomatoes, squashes, green vegetables … there is no end to the bounty that is available to us from the farmers’ fields.

Several years ago we were in Abingdon, Virginia and went to the Farmers’ Market there.  Here is a sample of the goodies that they had (some of which we purchased).

Abingdon farmers market 2
Farmer’s market in Abingdon, Virginia.

While we were in Abingdon, we also went to another vendor of fine edibles, the Abingdon vineyard and winery.  It was in October, so the vines were dormant and they were certainly not a picture of lush green vines.  But the prospect of fine wine in the future was evident by the care and tending of the vines, even in the winter. 

Abingdon winery outside 5
Vineyard during the October rest in winter, tended and cared for by the vinedresser.

 But, all was not gray at the winery!  God’s beauty was evident in the colors that graced the surrounding landscape.

Abingdon winery outside 7
Shrubs in their colorful finery at Abingdon Winery during October.

However, back to the farmers’ market.  Knoxville has a large farmers’ market that is in multiple locations around town. While I enjoy going to see what is available, another market that I enjoy visiting is the farm store at Carver’s Orchard in Newport, Tennessee. 

Carvers orchard 10-2016 - even more apples
Wide variety of apples at Carver’s Orchard in Newport, Tennessee.

Bushel baskets of apples adorn the floors and tables of one side of the farm store, with pickles, jams, jellies, butters, honey, ciders and all sorts of other goodies in jars are along the walls. The orchard is huge and the number and type of apples available is staggering.  They even have a chart of various apples showing when they will be harvested. 

Carvers orchard 10-2016 - apple chart
Apple chart at Carver’s Orchard showing the type of apple and the timing of harvest.

If you turn to look at the other side of the farm store, you will find a variety of other produce some of which is grown at their farm while the rest is from other local farmers.  For example, there will be tomatoes, Vidalia onions, pumpkins, potatoes (both white and sweet), gourds, etc.

Carvers orchard 10-2016 - tomatoes
Bounteous tomatoes available at the orchard farm store.

This is not meant to be an advertisement for any specific company or place.  Rather, these pictures and comments are intended to shake us out of our apathy, out of our whining about inconveniences and problems, out of our misguided belief that the universe revolves around us or that all we see around us is the result of our work alone. 

I fervently pray that the pictures will reawaken our gratitude to God for His great bounty bestowed upon our country. And I pray that we will remember the source of the bounty that farmers present on market day. 

“You [God] cause the grass to grow for the livestock and plants for man to cultivate, that he may bring forth food from the earth and wine to gladden the heart of man, oil to make his face shine and bread to strengthen man’s heart.”

Psalm 104:14-15 ESV

I pray that we will honor the One who is the source of our very breath, who gives our bodies the strength for each heartbeat, who gives us the opportunity and ability to do our work, and who is the Lover of our souls. 

“These all look to you, to give them their food in due season. When you give it to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are filled with good things. When you hide your face, they are dismayed; when you take away their breath, they die and return to their dust.”

Psalm 104:27-29 ESV

God’s blessings have been showered on our country for hundreds of years, and for a great many of those years we remembered that He is the source of the harvest.  However, in more recent times, it appears that we have forgotten, both as a country and as individuals, that God is the One who provides His bounty for us. 

When He is ignored, when we claim that all this came from our own labor, when we take the glory that is rightfully His and claim it for ourselves, we have replaced Him with idols of our own making.  This, my beloved, is sin.  It is rank disobedience and God will not continue blessing us if we continue in unrepentant sin.

The problem is that God is holy and He WILL NOT share worship with other gods.  This is a problem that is as old as … well all the way back thousands of years when Israel would copy worship of the peoples around them, while still saying that they worshiped God.  They were taken as captives and moved away from their land, and this was said about the experience:

“And this occurred because the people of Israel had sinned against the LORD their God, who had brought them up out of the land of Egypt from under the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and had feared other gods…”

2 Kings 17:7 ESV

Scripture continues:

“The LORD made a covenant with them and commanded them, ‘You shall not fear other gods or bow yourselves to them or serve them or sacrifice to them, but you shall fear the LORD, who brought you out of the land of Egypt with great power and with an outstretched arm. You shall bow yourselves to him, and to him you shall sacrifice.  And the statutes and the rules and the law and the commandment that he wrote for you, you shall always be careful to do. You shall not fear other gods, and you shall not forget the covenant that I have made with you. You shall not fear other gods, but you shall fear the LORD your God, and he will deliver you out of the hand of all your enemies.’ “

2 Kings 17:35-39 ESV.  But, the next verse makes an extraordinarily sad pronouncement:

“However, they would not listen, but they did according to their former manner.”

2 Kings 17:40 ESV

Fearing [reverencing], worshiping, and honoring God is neither a suggestion nor an option on the multiple choice test of life.  It is a commandment, and it is a commandment that God takes very seriously. 

Let us all examine ourselves and see if there is any sin in us;

  • if we have refused to give God the honor due His Name,
  • if we have ignored God’s commandments and have flaunted our freedom so that we have trampled on His Word,
  • if we, in our pride, have claimed to be the creator of our own abundance,
  • if we have refused to repent when the Spirit has convicted us of our sin,
  • if we have given lip service to the worship of God while we, at the same time, worship other gods such as money, fame, family, position, ­­­___you fill in the blank­­­­­­­____!

Scripture tells us that there is a remedy to this situation – there is hope that God will continue to bless us.  In Second Chronicles we read:

“if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”

2 Chronicles 7:14 ESV

It is not too late – if we as His people will humble ourselves in prayer and repent and seek Him while we turn from sin and look to Him alone, God will hear us and will save us and heal both us and our land. 

Father, enable us to see ourselves as You see us … then let us flee to the cross of Your Son and repent of our sin so that His righteousness can be imputed to us and we can live in the light of Your grace.  Then, I pray that you would heal our land.