“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2 He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. 3 You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. 4 Remain in me, as I also 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.
5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. 7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.”– John 15:1-8 (NIV)
When I was twelve, I decided to prune the out-of-control hedges in our front yard. I’d never pruned anything before, so I didn’t know there were special clippers for hedges. That’s why I wound up standing on the rail of the porch, holding a whirring weed-wacker out over the top of the hedges. They actually turned out pretty good, though anyone driving down Main Street that afternoon probably got a good laugh.
What I did wasn’t really pruning, though. (Crazed hedge-wacking, but not pruning.) Pruning isn’t just lopping off whatever happens to be sticking up that day. Pruning is done deliberately and while thinking about the long-term health of the plant.
In this passage, Jesus compares his followers to branches that extend out from him. It’s not surprising when he says the branches that don’t produce fruit will be cut off. What is surprising is he says the branches producing fruit will also be trimmed, or pruned. I think it’s interesting there’s no option here to just hang out on the Vine undisturbed. We’re presented with only two options: get cut off and thrown into the fire or get pruned a bit.
You’d think that a fruit producing branch would be left alone, but we don’t get left alone just because we’re producing a few pieces of fruit. A branch that’s left alone will eventually become unhealthy and stop producing fruit at all. There’s so much fruit to produce, and we can’t produce it without getting a little uncomfortable first. I can’t imagine that having pieces of myself cut away would be terribly comfortable, yet it’s the only way to remain in the Vine.
How does God go about pruning us?
With the Bible. Jesus says, “…you are already trimmed because of the word I have spoken to you.” We study scripture to better understand Jesus’ words so that we can “remain in [him]”. It’s important to know what Jesus said so we know how to follow him.
With the Holy Spirit. We get little (or large) nudges sometimes that help us see where we need some trimming. The Holy Spirit might blow in at any time and rattle our branch.
With each other. I've often realized I was holding onto some diseased twigs when I saw the fruit other Christians were out there producing. God can use the example set by others to keep our branch healthy.
We have to be willing to let go of those brittle, dead parts of ourselves. We have to allow God to challenge us and prune away what’s needed. It’s the only way we can continue to bear fruit. It’s the only way we can truly call ourselves disciples.
Kristy is an ex-Mennonite adult PK who blogs about life, active pacifism, and wandering through the spiritual wilderness at kristyburmeister.com while consuming ridiculous amounts of coffee and pie.
5 The next day the leaders, elders, and legal experts gathered in Jerusalem,6 along with Annas the high priest, Caiaphas, John, Alexander, and others from the high priest’s family. 7 They had Peter and John brought before them and asked, “By what power or in what name did you do this?”
8 Then Peter, inspired by the Holy Spirit, answered, “Leaders of the people and elders, 9 are we being examined today because something good was done for a sick person, a good deed that healed him? 10 If so, then you and all the people of Israel need to know that this man stands healthy before you because of the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene—whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead. 11 This Jesus is the stone you builders rejected; he has become the cornerstone! 12 Salvation can be found in no one else. Throughout the whole world, no other name has been given among humans through which we must be saved.”
In our house, our kitchen has a dining area, and there is a formal dining area off the living room. Therefore, we do what any millennial/Gen X couple would do: We eat in the kitchen and turned the formal area into our computer “room.” (It’s technically not a room because it spills out into the living.) Anyway, our computers are each against opposing walls. When we are both at home, we talk over our shoulders to ask one another anything. This is just to give you a mental image. Acts 4:5-12 CEB
In our house, our kitchen has a dining area, and there is a formal dining area off the living room. Therefore, we do what any millennial/Gen X couple would do: We eat in the kitchen and turned the formal area into our computer “room.” (It’s technically not a room because it spills out into the living.) Anyway, our computers are each against opposing walls. When we are both at home, we talk over our shoulders to ask each other questions. This little intro is just to give you a mental image.
No joke, this has been our conversations about Reddit:
Husband: “What does TIL mean?”
Me: “Today I learned.”
Husband: “Oh TIL TIL.”
Me: “What does MRW mean?”
Husband: “My reaction when. Does it make sense now?”
Me: “Yep. Now I understand.”
I often wonder, being introduced to the internet when I was 10 (1991 btw), how I was not naturally acclimated to the culture attached to it. After some meditation, I realized I entered the internet when it was only a tool. Even message boards were simply places to post information and get answers to questions. Now it’s a community full of tools. Wait, I didn't mean that how it sounded. (It might be true, but I meant, something else.) Today, we go to the internet to get answers and feedback from a specific community. The community is just as important, maybe more so, than the answers attached to it. For those churches, with all your beautiful website design, if you are still using your internet like a tool, you are failing.
The internet is full of followers and leaders. In the Christian world these really big voices rise from the muck and accept the mantle. Even with people throwing crap their way, they seem to remain clean, until they don’t. When they don't, they fall hard. (It seems it doesn't matter which religious sect they are part of, if they are on the internet they fall hard.) Then the followers spend a couple of weeks trying to figure out what went wrong, before moving on to the next glorious leader.
How does someone on the internet find a leader worth following? That’s the question worth answering. There are many who are drooling for the opportunity to pick up that mantle. How do we pick out the shepherds among the wolves? I say, give them the Peter test:
Consider these two things when the next internet leader rises from the crap. Is she/he focusing on the mission? Is God the fount where the power comes from? If either of these answers are “no” tread carefully. You might have a wolf in your midst.
Magnify the Lord, our God! Bow low at his footstool! He is holy!
Psalm 99:5 CEB
Like a sleuth, I was following a trail. My starting point was the current state of new church plant. We're told not to follow a formula, and then we are given this contemporary church formula to follow. "Don't let people tell you how it's done, but this is how it's done. No use reinventing the wheel." How did we get here, where we take the easiest way to fill a church, and follow the rules to get there? When did this become evangelism?
It led me to reflect on the industrial revolution. Mass production had to become common place or it would hurt the bottom line.
Right now, I'm hand stitching a bag for my mother-in-law. When I'm done, it should be a beautiful bag she can use to hold her bible and loose papers for church. It should be durable, and last her for years. It has taken me weeks to make. I pick it up in my spare time; maybe only stitching a little before putting it back down. It hit me, handmade items can no longer be sold to the public. It would cost too much to pay a fair wage. If one couldn't streamline their process, they couldn't make money selling their goods.
Why? Everything seemed to go back to a very large clan, the Gilbreth family. Frank and Lillian Gilbreth, the parents of 12 children. Two of their children penned the book, Cheaper By the Dozen, which is nothing like the 2003 movie by the same name. Frank and Lillian created something called Motion Study. Along with Time Study, Motion Study discovered ways to cut out unneeded actions to speed up assembly lines, among other things. It was Frank Gilbreth who created the process the military uses to disassemble and reassemble a weapon, even blindfolded. What the Gilbreth's created is used in factories, businesses and even schools today.
While researching I was at first horrified to learn the parents used the same techniques in their home to keep order. Simple tasks, such as brushing teeth, or combing hair was filmed to see which child could most effectively do the chore. If one of the children could find a faster way to do something, they could be paid to present it to their father. It felt so utilitarian and cold. Then, about a third through reading Cheaper By the Dozen I changed my opinion. Frank and Lillian always saw the humanity in what they were doing. They loved their children, and wouldn't have implemented anything that would have been strictly industrial.
It led me to wonder, what would Frank Gilbreth think of how his life work is being used today? Would he marvel at the assembly lines of robots, pushing out a car a minute? Would he be horrified to see his work in sweatshops in third world countries? What would he think about how his work seems to sneak into non-assembly things like school and church?
I will never know his opinion, but I definitely know mine. When it comes to church, doing a specific action because it worked for "General Christian Church", is wrong. It's basically Copypasta church. It takes the easy way, while ignoring the people. From what I learned in my brief exploration into Motion Study, is remembering the purpose. Motion Study is specific to a particular action, for a particular company.
There was something that used to annoy me when some would discover I was a minister of an online congregation. "Doesn't [this specific group] already have an online church?" My answer was always the same. "We both have a different congregational base. I know Fig Tree's congregants would not be comfortable worshipping over there, and I doubt their congregants would be comfortable worshipping over here. We both understand our community, and we specifically reach them."
This "one size fits all" mentality has to stop. I truly believe, because of the Gilbreth's work on Motion Study, we are trained to find the easiest path to success. I think this path was never meant to be made by cutting out the humanity in the process, especially in the church. We are not trying to find the perfect music for worship, we are trying to find the best way for our community to worship God. See the difference? Choosing the right music, lighting, design, etc. is the easy way. Figuring out how we can connect to God through worship is difficult. The easy way cuts the human/Divine out of the conversation. The hard way gives us something real.
32 Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. 33 With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all.
34 There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. 35 They laid it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.
Acts 4:32-35 NRSV
It seems I've been really good at saying things counter to the culture I live in, making others suspicious of what side I'm on. Am I a closet conservative, afraid to come out because my own kind would shun me? Am I a righteous liberal, guarding my words because I've seen my colleagues get burned by being too honest?
The truth is, I'm neither. I discovered many years ago I don't truly fit on either side. It's made it far more difficult as both sides appear to be drawing lines in the rock. Both sides are claiming injustice. Both sides are getting really good at yelling their issues at themselves, because they have become fortified in their own insular fort. The louder the sides get, the more polarized they become. In their camps, there is the illusion of peace. In reality, the Body of Christ has been torn to pieces. I know in our denomination there is almost an unwritten rule now: If you don't like it; leave like the ones before you. The worst part of it all? We don't even know we are doing it anymore.
I know the signs. First we shut down. We don't answer back. We get quiet. Second, we distance. When no one's watching we just walk away. Finally, we take our toys and play with our select group. This final step makes it more difficult to discuss and educate. We can't even agree to disagree. We are too far away from those with whom disagree.
Here is where we get to scripture. I've heard Acts 4 tossed around like we should all just live penniless lives, counting on one another to get things done. It's one of those scriptures used to shame certain people who don't seem to be sharing their stuff. There's a problem. We are so far from being an Acts 4 church it hurts. Before we can even get to giving up private ownership of stuff, we must first be "of one heart and soul." To be of one heart and soul, we must first know our neighbor.
I think we need to stop, take a deep breath, and realize we need to discover a way to find one another again. We're falling to pieces right now. We are engaging in a modern civil war, where we are verbally killing our brothers and sisters. Can we realize no one wins? Can you see how far we are from an Acts 4 church? How do we begin to piece this broken Body back together again?
11 Mary stood outside near the tomb, crying. As she cried, she bent down to look into the tomb. 12 She saw two angels dressed in white, seated where the body of Jesus had been, one at the head and one at the foot. 13 The angels asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”
She replied, “They have taken away my Lord, and I don’t know where they’ve put him.” 14 As soon as she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she didn’t know it was Jesus.
15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who are you looking for?”
Thinking he was the gardener, she replied, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him and I will get him.”
16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.”
She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabbouni” (which means Teacher).
17 Jesus said to her, “Don’t hold on to me, for I haven’t yet gone up to my Father. Go to my brothers and sisters and tell them, ‘I’m going up to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”
18 Mary Magdalene left and announced to the disciples, “I’ve seen the Lord.” Then she told them what he said to her.
John 20:1-18 CEB
Rev. Melissa Fain
No one wanted order more than myself. As a child, I would order my candy by color, eating all the odd colors first, so everything was even and neat. When I directed camps I organized to the nth degree. If plan A didn’t work, I had plans going up to E. Maybe it was my childhood that made me so worried about the possible chaos. My step-dad was an abusive alcoholic, and family issues were complicated by divorce and neglect. Keeping and understanding order had to have been my life preserver in a continually rocky sea.
Overall, it is in our nature to limit and draw lines. After all, we were created from the chaos. Our very being was given order, and understanding the limits to that order gives us a sense of calm. Sometimes, our desire to order life, causes us to draw lines between who is in and who is out. The biggest scandal of the cross, is Christ died for all. In such a chaotic way, Christ brings the ultimate order to Salvation. Christ died for you, for me, for the homeless crack addict off Peachtree St, the pious saint who goes to church every Sunday, those who would murder, those who would rather die than hurt someone else. Christ died for all. Christ died for all sides, and all types.
Jesus died for the Gentile, like the woman at the well. Jesus died for the Pharisee, like Nicodemus. The moment we begin labeling the people Jesus didn’t die for, they become the very people Jesus died for. Like, Jesus choosing someone who wasn’t one of the twelve, a woman, to be the first person to preach the resurrection of the Lord. We may draw lines and limit what we can do. Meanwhile, God can do anything. Jesus died for all.
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Jesus Christ, son of the living God, have mercy on me a sinner. Thank you for your grace and forgiveness. Thank you for your inclusion and love. In your new life, we gain new life too. It is so true. You are Lord. Amen.
Melissa is an ordained minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). She has a BA in Music from Kennesaw State University and a Masters of Divinity from Candler School of Theology at Emory University. She is currently the senior minister at Fig Tree Christian. Melissa is the mother of two wonderful children, and wife to a great and supportive husband. In her spare time she loves arts and crafts which includes making costumes from scratch, and knotted bracelets.
30 They answered, “If he had done nothing wrong, we wouldn’t have handed him over to you.” 31 Pilate responded, “Take him yourselves and judge him according to your Law.” The Jewish leaders replied, “The Law doesn’t allow us to kill anyone.” (32 This was so that Jesus’ word might be fulfilled when he indicated how he was going to die.) 38 “What is truth?” Pilate asked. After Pilate said this, he returned to the Jewish leaders and said, “I find no grounds for any charge against him. 39 You have a custom that I release one prisoner for you at Passover. Do you want me to release for you the king of the Jews?” 40 They shouted, “Not this man! Give us Barabbas!” (Barabbas was an outlaw.)
John 18:30-40 CEB
The death penalty, alive and well throughout history. In our time, according to Amnesty International, 140 countries have abolished the death penalty. Yet In 2013, 22 countries around the world were known to have carried out executions. Other research indicates that in the United States, the majority of those executed were poor and 90% of these people could not afford a lawyer when they went to trial, having access only to a court appointed lawyer. The Death Penalty Information Center notes in a DPIC fact sheet that “since 1973 over 140 people in the U.S. have been released from death row with evidence of their innocence.” In our world today, many people face the death penalty for speaking the truth that those in authority don’t want to hear. In Jesus time, death, was a common penalty for many offenses. Jesus, like many today who await the death penalty, was poor in the things “of the world” yet dared to speak truth. He was brought before the Jewish religious leaders who saw him as a threat to their power and authority because his message was popular with the ordinary people of the day. In Jesus time, the Jews were permitted to stone those guilty of violating Jewish religious laws (Acts 7:57-59), but the Jewish leaders recognized that putting Jesus to death for a charge of blasphemy after a sham trial would cause a scandal and trouble among the people and with their Roman overlords.
In John 18: 30-40. The Religious leaders hand Jesus over to Pilate, a Roman governor, declaring him a criminal. Jesus, poor outcast, stands alone before Pilate. Pilate does not want anything to do with this religious squabble, and tells the Jewish leaders to “take him and judge him by your own law” (vs 31). The Jewish leaders reveal their motive for handing Jesus over to Pilate saying “we have no right to execute anyone” (vs 31) As John’s account continues, Pilate questions Jesus. They go back and forth over what is the truth and what is the reality of Jesus “kingship” Jesus tells Pilate that his kingdom is not of this world but from another place where he has servants who would fight to prevent his arrest by the Jewish leaders. Pilate says, “You are a king then! “ (vs 37) Jesus’ reply is that Pilate calls him a king. Jesus lets Pilate know that he was born into this world to testify to the truth. Pilate retorts “What is truth?” Pilate then goes out to the Jews gathered there letting them know he finds no basis for the charges against Jesus. However, knowing the tradition of releasing a prisoner to the Jews at the time of Passover, he offers to release Jesus, “the king of the Jews” to them. The crowd screams for Barabbas to be released. Thus Jesus, stands, divine, but fully human, without a defender, convicted on false charges and handed a death sentence.
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Dear Heavenly Father,
We your children wrestle with and disagree with each other concerning issues of life and death. Keep the life and death of Your Son, our Savior, in the forefront of our thoughts and actions as we wrestle with these concerns, accepting that the power of both life and death belongs in your hands. Amen.
Stephanie is an ordinary person, family member, and nurse. For 20 years she was an active member of Amnesty International.
30 They replied, “If this man were not a criminal, we would not have handed him over to you.”
Rev. Ashley Sherard
I am experiencing some mixed emotions today; it is my little one’s Birthday. We will take time to day to celebrate the wonderful day when she came into this world, a day we celebrated with Mary just a few short months ago on December 25. I will also mourn today, for it is Good Friday. I can’t help but allow myself to be sad on this day, to experience grief for the suffering of my Lord and Savior.
There are still so many out there who think Christianity should be a glass half full kind of existence. That because we are Christians and have Christian hope we should jump forward to the knowledge of Easter morning saying things like, “well, He had to go through this” and, “it was His duty as the Messiah” and make Good Friday, well, good. How can we experience the true joy of Easter if we skip over the sheer misery of today? What if we didn’t know how the story ended? How would you feel today if you weren’t sure He was coming back? He suffered, greatly, for all of us and we fluff over it like having a fish funeral in the bathroom. Experience the grief of today, allow yourself to stop short of the Good News of Easter….even if it’s just for a moment.
I will take time today to mourn, and celebrate, and experience.
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God who gives us permission to feel, be with us today as we attempt to experience the darkness of this day. Mourn with us, allow us to mourn with you. Hold us close. In Jesus’ Name. Amen
Ashley is a Minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the Senior Minister of Jerusalem Christian Church, a new church plant in Lafayette, LA. She is the mom of three beautiful, exceptional, daughters who couldn’t be more different from each other if they all had different parents. She has been with her husband for over ten years and multiple deployments and mobilizations with the U.S. Navy which is how they ended up in southern Louisiana. Above all else, Ashley values her very personal relationship with Christ knowing that in all of her strangeness, radical ideas, and sometimes hostile faith, she is loved. You can find Rev. Ashley at, facebook.com/jerusalemchristianchurch, and @jerusalemccdoc
12 After he washed the disciples’ feet, he put on his robes and returned to his place at the table. He said to them, “Do you know what I’ve done for you?13 You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and you speak correctly, because I am. 14 If I, your Lord and teacher, have washed your feet, you too must wash each other’s feet. 15 I have given you an example: Just as I have done, you also must do. 16 I assure you, servants aren’t greater than their master, nor are those who are sent greater than the one who sent them. 17 Since you know these things, you will be happy if you do them.….
… 34 “I give you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, so you also must love each other. 35 This is how everyone will know that you are my disciples, when you love each other.”
John 13:1-17 CEB
Throughout the New Testament, Jesus spoke about the law of Moses, and famously taught that the entire law hung really on two commands: to love God with everything you are, and to love your neighbor as you love yourself. Everything Jesus taught up until this point was about living in that kind of love - the love that fulfilled the law. But here, at the last supper, something changes in what He wants the disciples to know, what He wants us to know...about His heart.
It’s subtle, it can almost be completely missed, but it is scandalous because it violates the way that we want God to work. We can handle loving our neighbor as ourself...ok, we really can’t handle it, but at least it sounds reasonable, even if not difficult. We’ll try, and fail, but at least it basically makes sense. But here, Jesus says something altogether NEW - and wild.
“Love one another”...he says…”just as I have loved you.” Suddenly the reference points are all changed. In this new place of love, we aren’t to use ourselves as a measuring stick for what kind of love we to dole out for it’s no longer “love your neighbor” nor “as you love yourself.” It’s a new command with new parameters, and Jesus is getting ready to make the most scandalous display of love the world has ever seen, as He, the embodiment of God, lays down His life for those who have offended Him in order to make God’s enemies into His friends. But before He does so, He acts out His life-giving love by washing His disciples’ feet as an ordinary house servant would do. Except the seeming insanity, of course, is that He is Lord and Master, not a lowly servant. He would have us all understand: “This is what I’m after. I’m your teacher by example, so don’t be ashamed of the scandal of loving each other in lowly ways like I am showing you - for if you obey, it will be the real way people will see Me, in all of you.”
This isn’t the law of Moses. Loving our neighbors as ourselves is still a great thing, but this is one step deeper - into the scandalous ways of a self-sacrificing, self-effacing Lord and God. If we get it, our scandalous imitation of His ways will turn the world upside down with the glory of Christ and His Kingdom.
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Lord, enable me to be a true disciple of yours that learns your ways of love. Help me love my brothers and sisters in the faith particularly well, in the scandalous ways you have prepared for me to love them, in the way You loved your disciples when you served them and the way you have loved Me at the cross. Amen.
Heather authors the blog, "All Things Are Yours" about her explorations in various corners of Christendom. Her motto is "Truth in Tension with Itself" and she considers herself a Charis-mergent believer. She's also a certified biology teacher, and enjoys writing about the Bible and theistic evolution. She is single and looking; please send applications for suitorship attached to a labrador retriever puppy to her address, available upon request.