Thursday, February 12, 2009
Do you have any last words?
For years, this question has been posed to men and women before beginning a prison sentence or before their moment of execution. If you were in a situation in which you might never see your loved ones again, what would you say?
I wonder sometimes what my mother-in-law said to her family before she was smuggled away from them across communist boarders. Lusia, my precious mother-in-law, was a young teen in southeastern Poland when World War II began. Her father was a pastor and their family had a farm on some of Poland’s most fertile land. During the war, their farm became a battleground. The Nazi army marched across and camped on their land, later the impoverished and starving Russian army descended on their property taking all the food, animals, and tools they could use. Frequently Lusia and her family hid in the cellar or basement as bombs dropped around their home.
Following the war, the boundaries of Poland were redrawn and the land Lusia and her family had lived on for years was now a part of Russia. The Communist Soviet Union was a deadly place for pastors and their families as government leaders purged the country of anyone they believed countered their atheistic and socialistic philosophy. Desperate to save their daughter, Lusia’s parents made an agreement with another family who had a daughter her age. The other family allowed Lusia to travel with them as their daughter on at trip to northern Poland where she could live safely. As Lusia went to the train station carrying the other girl’s legal documents, what thoughts went through her mind and what last words did she speak to her family? She was departing her home for the last time not knowing if she would ever see her parents or siblings again.
Recently I have been captivated with chapters 15-17 in the gospel of John. I feel the sense of Jesus’ urgency to share His last words with His disciples and with us, His closest friends. Jesus knew He had only a couple hours left, so He poured out the depths of His heart to those with Him. It was important to grasp the root of all Jesus had been doing for the past three years and why He must go willingly to a soon approaching death.
That same urgency is calling out to us today encouraging us to take what we know as “head knowledge” and make it “heart knowledge”. This change requires us to move from knowing we need to do something and pushes us to get up and actually do it. So, I invite you to join me and explore Jesus’ last urgent words that He passionately spoke to His disciples and us.
John 15:1-8 tells us that the Lord began His last words with an allegory of a vine and its branches. Look how often Jesus says the words “abide”, “dwell”, “remain”, and “live” in Me. I went to an online Greek lexicon (Crosswalk.com) to see what these words specifically meant in these verses. “Dwell” and “abide” come from the Greek word “Meno”. It is defined as: to remain, abide
a. in reference to place: to sojourn, tarry, not to depart
b. to continue to be present
c. to be held, kept, continually
d. in reference to time: to continue to be, not to perish, to last, endure
e. of persons, to survive, live
f. in reference to state or condition: to remain as one, not to become another or different
So Jesus is urgently telling us to stay, set up our place of living in Him and not to leave. He tells us that living in (dwelling in) Him means to always be present with Him and remain as one with Him. I love the way The Message phrases verses 4-8.
15:4 "Live in me. Make your home in me just as I do in you. In the same way that a branch can't bear grapes by itself but only by being joined to the vine, you can't bear fruit unless you are joined with me.
15:5 "I am the Vine, you are the branches. When you're joined with me and I with you, the relation intimate and organic, the harvest is sure to be abundant. Separated, you can't produce a thing.
15:6 Anyone who separates from me is deadwood, gathered up and thrown on the bonfire.
15:7 But if you make yourselves at home with me and my words are at home in you, you can be sure that whatever you ask will be listened to and acted upon.
15:8 This is how my Father shows who he is - when you produce grapes, when you mature as my disciples.
In Jesus’ last words, He is inviting us to be joined with Him in a relationship that is intimate and organic with a promise that the harvest will be abundant. If my relationship with my husband were not intimate and natural, we would have no fruit: no children, no joy, no peace, nor growth. True Intimacy is born out of honest communication, time, working together, and resting together. I think this is what Jesus is trying to make clear in these verses. He wants us to have ongoing, honest communication with Him sharing our heartfelt thoughts and listening to Him. He desires for us to spend time with Him in a natural way because His Spirit is living, loving, active, speaking, and always with us. He invites us to be a part of what He is doing and calls us to take the time to get away and rest in Him.
A couple weeks ago, my dad was sharing with me about a pastors’ conference at which he spoke. He asked the pastors how much time they spent in prayer each day. The average amount of time they prayed was fourteen minutes. My daughter, Jean, responded with, “Wow, that’s a long time!” I in turn asked her, “Do we speak to each other only fourteen minutes a day?” She got the point. A real relationship with Jesus isn’t confined to reading a certain number of scriptures each morning and talking at Him for a specified amount of time before heading off on my daily schedule, it is a natural, all day communicative relationship with my beloved Creator and best friend.
So, this first part of Jesus’ last words to us remind me that I cannot find my identity or security in the fruit I bear, my calling, gifting, or ministry. I can only find my identity in the One to whom I am connected, my life source – Jesus, just like a branch must be in constant relationship with the vine that passes life-giving water and nutrients to it. The fruit, calling, gifting, and ministry I get to be a part of are all for God’s glory. He shows Himself to the world through the fruit of our relationship.