By Rev. Dave Havener, Pastor at Lakeview Chapel —
I’m reading a book entitled “The Good and Beautiful Life”, by James Bryan Smith, the second in his three-part Good and Beautiful series. The chapter I’m reading deals with maintaining a strong relationship with God through Jesus.
A stunning statistic he quotes, is that, “Only 10% of Christians are actively developing their relationship with God on a daily basis.” He posits that either people believe that they can “have faith” in Jesus without a relationship or that the metric of a “good Christian” is keeping all the right rules.
I know I have fallen into those false narratives at various stages in my life.
Smith directed my thoughts to John 15:5-8, a familiar scripture passage that utilizes horticulture in Jesus’ description of what it means to be a Christian.
In that passage, Jesus likens our life with God to a plant, where He is the vine and we are the branches. The key is for the branch to remain connected with the vine. Only then can the life-giving nourishment of the vine flow into the branch so that it can live and be fruitful.
It’s a beautiful image of what our relationship with Jesus is all about. We are branches made to bear fruit, but if we are detached from the vine there is nothing but withering death ahead. Perhaps you’ve seen this happen before as well, a branch appears to be attached, but something blocks or limits the sap from flowing and the branch is weak, unfruitful, and eventually dies.
Jesus said that if we will remain in Him, connected to and open to accepting His life, then we will flourish and be fruitful. Actually, He says in vs. 8, that living in His life and being fruitful is the true sign of being His disciple.
“When you produce much fruit, you are my true disciples. This brings great glory to my Father.”
Smith defines abiding as “to rest and rely on Jesus, who is not outside of us, judging us, but inside of us, empowering us.”
There is no such thing as a “sort-of” Jesus follower. Either you are connected, or you aren’t. Certainly, we are all at different stages of maturity and every relationship with Jesus is unique, we aren’t a bunch of clones. But Jesus speaks of only two possibilities, dead or alive. Either His life is active and lived out in you or it isn’t.
That’s why I don’t use the terms “believer” or even “Christian” very much because they have become more like titles than descriptors. I like the phrase Jesus follower because it denotes life and action, like a branch abiding and receiving life from the vine. A Jesus follower is one who chooses to live life as Jesus leads them, and to do so relying on His life and strength.
This coming Sunday will be my last day as pastor at Lakeview Chapel as my wife and I are retiring and moving closer to our children. These past months my thoughts have shifted to what I want to leave behind with the people of our church and those I know in our community.
And it really all boils down to this; keep following Jesus. If I have only gathered people who are following me, I have completely failed as a pastor. My greatest desire is for people to follow Jesus; to be branches who abide in HIS life.
Don’t settle for a “good” appearance.
Jesus called the religious leaders of His day “whitewashed tombs” that looked good on the outside but were still dead inside. Instead, make your relationship with Jesus the priority. That translates to time spent in and attention given to His Word where He guides us in His Way, and investing in prayer as a relationship-building conversation.
Abide, make your LIFE an investment in your relationship with Jesus. Keep following His guidance and trusting in His life to provide everything you need to bear fruit for God.