Maintain Strong Support

Blind Faith (No. 10, 2015)
Weekly Devotional for March 5, 2015
Maintain Strong Support

Pruning our scuppernong and muscadine grape vines has proven the
underlying validity of Jesus’ metaphor of discipleship and bearing bountiful
spiritual fruit. John 15 presents Jesus’ teaching that God prunes branches
(people like us) growing as part of the vine (Jesus himself) so that the
vineyard nourished by God’s grace will yield much fruit. Our grape harvest
the last couple of years has been prolific, in large part due to subjecting
our plants to the daunting process of significant pruning. The memories of
lush green foliage on the spreading vines, the cascading clusters of
succulent grapes, and overall pleasing feature in our yard make shearing
away branches a disconcerting chore. But we have learned to look beyond the
bare stubs of the pruned vine with confident hope for buds to sprout sending
tendrils of branches knitting a fresh new verdant canopy of branches across
the grape arbor. With proper fertilization, water, and sunshine, we can
eagerly anticipate another abundant crop of grapes.

This year, though, another component important for full
enjoyment of the grapes is calling for attention. Our arbor structure needs
repair. The wire lattice we set over an out-moded jungle-gym swingset frame
has numerous broken wires and joints. To be sure, the grape vines would
still cover the decrepit arbor and bear plenteous scuppernongs and
muscadines. But failure to maintain the arbor will greatly diminish our
enjoyment of the vineyard. Standing in the cool shade of the new branches
would not be possible under the broken, sagging bower. Reaching the ripe
fruit would be tedious and haphazard. Aesthetically, the previously inviting
feature of our yard would suffer. In order for the vineyard to fulfill its
potential for blessing us, the arbor sorely needs restoration and regular
maintenance.

Jesus did not go into the supportive details of growing a
productive vineyard in the metaphor recorded in John 15. Our trip last March
through grape-producing regions of Tuscany in Italy and along the Danube in
Austria revealed the structures supporting the pruned grape vines. Providing
infrastructure for the grape vines to grow healthfully, to maximize access
to nutrients and sunlight, and to facilitate harvest of the ripe fruit
obviously is a vital concern in the vineyards in those renowned wineries. If
maintaining the infrastructure is important for growing grapes for maximum
benefit in those settings and in our back yard, vineyards in Jesus’ day
surely must have employed support structures for the pruned vines to enhance
their production of fruit. Venturing too far past Jesus’ actual words in his
instructive metaphors can be risky for sound biblical interpretation. But to
imagine how additional knowledge of the activity to which Jesus alluded can
offer additional insights for our growth in faith sometimes is helpful.

If Jesus is the vine and we are the branches, with God the
vinedresser pruning us to produce much fruit, what kind of attention do we
need to give the superstructure supporting us to be more bountiful disciples
for Jesus? One of the first tasks is to identify the components of the arbor
that supports our life as faithful followers of Jesus. Paul took care in his
ministry of preaching the gospel of Christ to establish leaders and basic
organization for the gatherings of believers in each area. He knew that
individual Christians could manage to grow in faith and could bear spiritual
fruit by following Jesus alone. But he was well aware that disciples of
Jesus could be far more effective with the support of the church and by
faithful engagement in the ministry of the church. Paul called these
gatherings of followers of Jesus “the church of the living God, the support
and foundation of the truth.” (1 Timothy 3:15b NCV) As the church provided
support for disciples to live by the way of truth through faith in Jesus,
Paul also called for believers to give attention to keeping the church
strong and vital. The church as the primary support structure for fruitful
faith needs committed maintenance. Writing to the church at Corinth – a
gathering of believers who desired to bear great spiritual fruit – Paul
instructed them, “Since you want spiritual gifts very much, seek most of all
to have the gifts that help the church grow stronger.” (1 Corinthians 14:12
NCV) Of course, the churches in Paul’s day were groups of believers that
still met in synagogues or homes and rarely had physical structures to
maintain. They did face challenges for keeping the true church – the people
– strong and flourishing in God’s grace.

What can we do today to maintain the superstructure for our life
of faith to bear abundant fruit? Some of our individual support elements may
need restoration and maintenance. Might a new copy of the Bible, perhaps a
faithful newer translation, help to support renewed practice of reading the
Bible? Adding a Bible site to your favorites on your computer, tablet, or
phone, or signing up for a daily Bible reading program online could provide
enhanced opportunities to engage more regularly in devotional Bible study
for personal spiritual growth. What kind of shape is your church support
structure in? Beginning with your most immediate circle of believers at
church, how strong is the group in areas such as prayer for one another, or
sharing cooperatively to accomplish a specific ministry, or simply sharing
hospitality and fellowship in order to grow in how you love one another? If
your Sunday School class or small group has not gotten together to “break
bread” and also to share the fellowship with “Living Water” and “the Bread
of Life,” maybe you can give needed attention to the supportive
superstructure by initiating a fellowship gathering. Although the Bible does
not address the physical buildings used by churches, the church building
where you grow along with fellow believers may need some attention in order
to be more supportive for believers gathering there to bear fruit more
effectively. Find how you can help to clean up, spruce up, and make your
church building a better support for people to expand their participation
with Jesus, the source of all our life and fruit-bearing. What other needs
can you identify in the structures that support your life of faith? What can
you do to restore and maintain that superstructure so that your growth and
fruitfulness can be as bountiful as possible for Jesus?

As soon as ice storms vacate local weather forecasts, we will
make the most of the season for pruning our grapes. A couple of hours in the
aisles at Lowe’s conceiving a restorative framework for our arbor, then
getting it in place before the branches spread in search of it will spark
renewed hope for the luscious grapes to enjoy at harvest time. Paying
attention to the support structure for our vineyard will be well worth the
effort. What about your investment in the support structures for your growth
as a follower of Jesus and the spiritual fruit you can bear in faith?

– J. Edward Culpepper