27. God of Relationship

Getting to Know God Meditations:  27. God of Relationship

Jn 15:4   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.

Jn 15:14,15   You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.

Ongoing:  There is something that is inherent in all that we have been saying throughout these studies and yet is so obvious that we are likely to have missed it. It is that God is personal and approaches each and every human being with the intent of forming a relationship with them; that is the message of the entire Bible. Now having used those words we need to ponder of just what that means for it is easy to have expectations that go beyond what the Bible shows us.  But bear in mind throughout, we are talking about something that can be the experience of me AND you.

In the Beginning: You may have already gathered from earlier on that I am comfortable both with those who say the early chapters of Genesis are pure history as well as those who say it is a story given to us by God to teach us crucial lessons. I hold to the former belief but if the latter is true that wouldn’t make my faith in God and His purposes any less real. Believing in either is an act of faith for we will not know the truth until we see Him face to face. My faith (and I hope yours) doesn’t hinge on whether Gen 1-4, say, is factual history or divine parable. The message conveyed is the same.

So here in Gen 2 & 3 we have a picture of Adam and Eve, the first two real people, defined as those who are interacting with God – for that is what all human beings do, whether they realize it or not. Initially it is a beautiful picture. God has given them a ‘garden’ somewhere in the land we refer to as Mesopotamia, to work and take care of it. (Gen 2:15) The have purpose – to reign over the earth (Gen 1:26). They are rulers (don’t confuse that with those who ‘dominate’), they are God’s agents to look after and care for His world, and He turns up, it seems, to check them out in the evening (Gen 3:8).

Until the Fall took place it was a picture of total peace and harmony, with each other, with the world, and with God. That is the first of God’s design criteria for us – enjoying the world, enjoying each other, and enjoying Him. Yes, the Fall ruined all three but God’s purpose ever since has been to restore them, to bring us into a place where all three things work together for our blessing – that we enjoy the world, enjoy each other and enjoy Him. Here’s the challenge: all we have talking about throughout the previous twenty six studies has been to lead us to a place where this trio of things can be restored to our lives and becomes the ultimate experience – here on this earth in the years left to us. Yet the reality is that until they are reversed in the order I have given them, they will never fully be appropriated. Until we come to a place where we have a relationship with God that is all the New Testament shows it can be, we will struggle to enjoy each other in the ways we are supposed to and we will not enjoy the world in the way we are supposed to.

God with Individuals: The fascinating thing about the early chapters of Genesis (fact or fable) is that they reveal to us God interacting with people. Adam and Eve He sets up in the Garden, Cain (Gen 4) he warns against getting in a mess and then preserves him when he does. In the midst of the names of chapter 5 we find, “Enoch walked faithfully with God; then he was no more, because God took him away.” (Gen 5:24) What an enigmatic little verse, a picture of a man who ‘walked’ with God. Walking implies friendship, communion, fellowship and so on. When it says, ‘God took him away’, the sense of not of judgment but removal from a world that we are shown was increasingly going wrong, to be with Him and continue that communion, that fellowship, in eternity. Just a hint of future promise. Chapter 6 shows it all going wrong: “The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time.” (Gen 6:5) It was getting worse and worse, imploding on itself, it seems, with sin finding more and more ways to pervert the design of God and bring destruction upon itself.

This was not God’s desire for the world and so we have one of the rare ‘terminal judgments’ or ‘judgments of the last resort,’ God’s determination to stop it all and start again. Now again, until we see Him face to face, there will be arguments as to whether the flood was literally worldwide (and there are some geological signs of that) or whether it was just the area we call the Middle East, but the truth that comes out here is that God found one man, Noah, who had not gone the way of the rest, and so He saved him and his family and started the Hebrew ‘family’ tree again and multiple family trees as well.  At the end of this tree we find Abram (Gen 11:26-).

Talking with the Patriarchs: We have already glimpsed God speaking with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and Joseph, and then after a gap of some four hundred years, with a failed Prince of Egypt, now a shepherd, Moses. And so the history goes on and on, forming a nation, Israel, and following their ups and downs through the Old Testament. But all that we have looked at previously, the plan and purposes of God being gradually revealed, were reiterated again and again and again to the Patriarchs and those who followed them. Yes, we’ve considered that great plan, formulated in the mind of the Godhead even before the world came into being, to reveal God through Israel, to reveal the sinfulness of mankind through Israel, and to create a ‘God culture’  or ‘God environment’ into which the Son of God could come, but the danger is that we take for granted and thus miss this crucial thing – it was all coming to individuals. God deals with individuals, God loves individuals, God copes with individuals, and I say ‘cope’ because He finds failure in every single individual that we see in the Bible (except Jesus). Every single person, without exception, reveals at some time their dysfunctional nature, their propensity to get it wrong – and yet God keeps on and on with them.

And Us? Yes, this is as much true for us as it was for them. God desires friendship, fellowship and communion with each of us. He reaches out again and again in our lives but so often we fail to realize what is happening and so don’t ‘hear’ Him, don’t realise it is Him, and so don’t respond to Him.  But it is. And then one day His Spirit sees a chink in the hardness, the blindness, that we have, and His light penetrates and where there is a willing heart (and it is always a mystery why one person and not another) an interaction takes place to initiate a new dimension of relationship.  We refer to being convicted by the Holy Spirit, being shown the reality of our desperate state, the mess our life is in, the way it falls short of what could be, and how it grieves God, and repentance follows and He forgives us, cleanses us, adopts us into His family and empowers us by His Holy Spirit and gives us a new purpose in this life and a promise of the next.  But that is just the start.

From then on we enter into a life of learning. Initially we think it is a life of trying hard to change, because we see all the wrong attitudes etc. in our lives from which He will free us. There are new things to aim for as we rebuild new lives characterised by love and goodness. Yes we pray and we read the Bible and in so doing we come to realise He is there, yes really there with us, not only in us by His Holy Spirit, but all around us, there in the room with us. As we pray and as we wait on Him we sense His presence  and stillness, a peace, falls on us; it is Him. And then we read and we realise, not only is He love but He IS peace and where He is, there is peace. But then we read verses like Gal 5:22,23 and we realize that He, the Holy Spirit, IS love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control, these things are all expressions of Him.

And then it dawns on us that we can strive to have patience, strive to be loving etc., but when we do it, it will always fall short of what can be and, indeed, we can appear to have these things and yet still not know God, still not know His presence, not have fellowship, not have communion with Him, and we realize the most terrible thing, all of our endeavors can putting on a good show – and yet we remain godless!  Being godly is communing with Him, fellowshipping with Him, knowing Him and being known by Him, it is intimacy.

“Is such a thing possible?” someone asks. Yes of course it is. “All the time?” they ask again. Well a famous man by the name of Brother Lawrence spoke of practicing the presence of God – at all times, but even that I suggest is a gift from God. To take the pressure off, read Abraham, the friend of God and note his encounters with God were few and far between, but He was still chosen by God and blessed by God. The difference between us and Abraham, is that we who are Christians are now indwelt by the Spirit and so access to God is that much closer, we might say. If we don’t know this, it is not a matter for guilt, but simply a goal of something perhaps to build into our lives, more and more. For many that raises questions, how can I find the time in my busy family and business life to spend time just being still with God? Each one of us is different. James said ask God for wisdom (how to) and He will always give it if we are sincere (see Jas 1:5,6). Whatever we do, will come from a place of weakness where we seek Him for His grace to enable us, to resource us. We are made to be friends with God. Friends talk, friends share, friends fellowship. Enjoy the learning process of how to be a friend of God.

24. The Vine

Meditating on Great Themes in John:   24. The Vine

John 15:1,5  I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener…. I am the vine; you are the branches

The previous chapter has concluded with Jesus saying, the world must learn that I love the Father and that I do exactly what my Father has commanded me. “Come now; let us leave.” (Jn 14:31) This we noted two meditations back, but now it comes through even more clearly. Obedience, he has just said, will be the revealing characteristic of my love for my Father, so why does he move into talking about himself as ‘the true vine’? The answer doesn’t come until verse 5 onwards but we need to consider the first four verses first. To say he is the ‘true’ vine suggests that there are false vines.

So what is a vine but a plant common to Israel and vine and vineyard occur quite often in prophetic picture language, for example, “The vineyard of the LORD Almighty is the house of Israel.” (Isa 5:7) where Israel are an unfruitful vineyard. But they are also spoken of as a vine: “I had planted you like a choice vine of sound and reliable stock. How then did you turn against me into a corrupt, wild vine?” (Jer 2:21) Also, “Israel was a spreading vine,” (Hos 10:1) which goes on to speak of their failures. Now when we stop to think of Israel’s role in the world, that sheds light (sorry for the pun). They were to be a light to the Gentiles (Isa 42:6 & 49:6), to reveal God to the world as His people – but so often they failed. Therefore, when Jesus says, “I am the true vine”, he is saying, I am the true representative of the Father, I truly reveal Him to the world. (“He is the image of the invisible God”. Col 1:15)

But then he goes on to talk about branches of the vine, concluding, “I am the vine; you are the branches.” (v.5) i.e. his followers grow out of him. He is the true representative of the people of God and all would-be followers of God grow out of him. But he also adds that, “my Father is the gardener,” and he describes Him as this because of what the Father does: “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.” (v.2) The Father expects the branches of the vine to produce fruit and it they don’t He will cut them off, which is what the apostle Paul suggests in Romans 11 has happened to Israel; they have been cut off from the life flow of the vine that is God.

But Jesus goes on to emphasise this important point about the vine and the branches: “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.” (v.4) He doesn’t say what it is but it is clear that God expects us to bear fruit and that fruit comes as we commune with and share our lives with Jesus, and he with us. The apostle Paul expected that fruit to be imparting material and spiritual blessings to one another, especially as we see need (See Rom 15:27,28).  He also speaks of the fruit of the Spirit (Rom 5:22,23) and of the fruit of light – goodness, righteousness and truth (Eph 5:19 & Phil 1:11), and the fruit seen in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God…. great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father (Col 1:10-12). All of these are examples of the fruit that the Father looks for in our lives as we share in the life of Jesus imparted by his Holy Spirit. Where there is no fruit, there is a question of whether we are truly Christians and He separates us from the vine (or from the body to use a different analogy – see v.2,6) Where we do bear some fruit He trims or prunes (v.2) to we will be even more fruitful.

Now we started off by asking why, when he has just been speaking about his obedience being an indication of his love for the Father, does he go straight on to speak about being the true vine?  This, we suggest, now starts becoming clearer. The picture of the vine is of Jesus, the source of all spiritual life out of whom we, all believers, grow, i.e. we are his branches. He has emphasised our need to bear fruit as his branches and we do that by abiding in him, or in sharing his life and it becomes clear that fruit comes with obedience: “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love.” (v.9,10).

Do you see the link? 14:31 saw Jesus declaring, “the world must learn that I love the Father and that I do exactly what my Father has commanded me.” Love is revealed through obedience. He is the source of all life (being the vine) and so we must abide in him (as his branches) and when we are obedient to him we will  produce fruit and reveal our love for Jesus and his Father. Abiding in him means abiding in his love and abiding in his love means doing what the Father wants and in so doing we both experience and reveal the Father’s love. It is a vital picture – life flow from Jesus that produces obedience, that reveals love and multi-faceted fruit!  Wow! If you haven’t fully taken this in, please reread this whole meditation again for it is critical to your life with him.