I want you to imagine that I would give you a little wristband like this and on it would be loaded seven hundred and twenty hours. That’s how many hours there are in thirty days.
And as you put this wristband on, it wouldn’t come off. And it is going to start counting down from the moment I click it. And in thirty days, you’re going to die. You have thirty days to live on this planet.
After a couple days, you look, and you go, Wow, it’s under seven hundred. In about a week, there are one hundred and sixty-eight more hours gone. Pretty soon, you look and you only have one hundred and sixty-seven hours left.
Here’s my question: Who would you hang out with in the last thirty days of your life? And why? Where would you go? You’ve got thirty days. Every day you would watch the hours clicking down towards zero. Where would you go? Why would you go there?
You talk about something that would reset priorities, right? What unresolved relationship or unresolved issue, or what is something really big that really needs to get done, that if you had seven hundred and twenty hours, beginning today, that somewhere in that time you would say, No matter what, I’ve got to nail that. I need to forgive her. I need to resolve that issue. I need to address that.
See, another way to say that is, because when you think in vivid, clear terms like that, and if you get really honest, what you’re really asking is: What is most important? Right? And what thirty days does, it brings a level of urgency that you realize, Wow, I would have to address that in thirty days.
And the unconscious delusion that we have all the time in the world causes us to procrastinate on those, doesn’t it? See, the real question is: What is the most important thing in life? Right? That’s the real question.
And on the front of your notes, I want to suggest that we have learned in the last five weeks here that loving God and loving people is the most important thing in life. All right? More than success, more than money, more than kids, more than family – loving God and loving people. Jesus said, “This is the first and greatest commandment: that you love the Lord your God with all your soul, your might, your heart, and your strength; and you love your neighbor like yourself.”
Why? Two reasons. Number one: Love never fails. And number two: Love lasts forever.
You know, whether it’s knowledge or fame or sex or money or education or knowledge; no matter where a lot of our time goes – every, single one of those things will pale, and literally become meaningless if they don’t flow out of love.
It’s been an unusual week for me of interacting with people going through some pretty hard and big things. And recently this week I had a number of conversations with people whose lives are, literally, falling apart and wanting help, and even feeling like there is no hope for life whatsoever and why even stay alive?
And then I look at their lives and the people who I have interacted with are good looking, wealthy, live right around here, have lots of money, have at least had beautiful families, and yet because there is not love in relationships with God or with them, they feel like life doesn’t matter.
The third question I want to ask you is then, what actually is love if it’s that important? And then you’ll notice on the front, I really put a quick review of the last four weeks. And if you happen to be visiting and this is catching your ear, you can go on our website or get the Venture Christian app, and all these messages are on video.
But this is how Jesus described love. It’s not an ooey-gooey feeling, it’s not, I feel good about someone, or, We kind of connect. Jesus said, “This is love: love is unwavering trust in God’s timing, purpose, and plans, even when they are different than our own.” Remember that? That was John 11.
Jesus said, “Love is unbridled devotion.” So devoted that you give extravagant gifts, you give your reputation, you make great sacrifices. That was John 12. Jesus said, “Love is uncommon servanthood.”
When you really love people, you actually consider other people and their issues more important than your own. And so Jesus washed His disciples’ feet.
And finally, Jesus said, “It’s uncompromising obedience to His Word, regardless of the consequences.” There in John 14 He told them, “The future, I’m leaving, and it’s going to be tough for you all. But obey Me as the proof of your love.”
As you open your notes, the context of what is going on here raises the big question for you and for me, like it did those disciples.
Here is the question. They were told, “I want you to continue to do what I have been doing.” What was Jesus doing? Revealing the Father and loving people in radical ways, in order that they could be rescued by what He said and how He did these miraculous works.
And He is going to say to the disciples, “Your job is to continue the mission.” And He has told them, “I’m going to leave, then I’m going to come back.” And then He challenged them deeply to say, “I want you all to continue what I started.”
And here’s the question they had to be asking, “How? How could we possibly love like Jesus?”
That little review I did: Uncommon servanthood, unbridled devotion, extravagant gifts. When you look at your life and when I look at mine, that bar is high, right? How in the world? But that’s what He said. We are to love people and love each other the way He loved us.
And what He is going to do is He is going to teach them in John 15, the “how.” They’ve gotten up from the dinner, they have sung a hymn, the Lord’s Supper is over. And on the way to the Mount of Olives where He will be arrested, there is a vineyard. And as He stops at the vineyard, as best we can tell, He began to give them a word picture that would communicate to them how they could stay in vital union with Him in such a powerful way that His very life, by the person of Holy Spirit, living in them, would produce a life of love and mission just like His.
To do that, we pick it up with the promise in John chapter 14. Jesus said, “If anyone has,” here’s the key that you need, “faith.” You’ve got to believe! You’ve got to trust! He says, “If anyone has faith, he will do what I have been doing.” Well, what was Jesus doing? Revealing what God was like, and He was on mission.
Jesus said, “I came to seek and to save that which was lost.” And He gave the baton to His disciples and to us and said, “I want every, single person on the face of the earth to know I love them, I have died for them, I have forgiven them, and your job is, by your words and by your actions, to communicate that. In fact, you’ll do greater works than even I did.”
And then in John chapter 15, He gives us the process. And the way He does that is this metaphor of the vine and the vineyard and the vinedresser. Follow along as I just read the first six verses. And you have heard it, but I want you to just dig in and look at it for yourselves. Touch it and feel it. Imagine yourself stopping at a vineyard, being scared to death about the future, but having confidence in Him and wondering, How in the world can I love the way that I am supposed to love?
And Jesus would look at you and say, “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that doesn’t bear fruit, He takes away,” or literally, “He lifts up. And every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it that it might bear more fruit. You are already clean because of the word that I have spoken to you.”
Command, verse 4, “Abide in Me,” – remain, stay connected, have living union, is the idea, “and I in you. As a branch cannot bear fruit unless it is abiding in the vine, so you cannot unless you abide in Me. I am the vine; you are the branches. He who abides in Me and I in him bears much fruit; for apart from Me you can do nothing.”
Warning, verse 6, “If anyone does not abide in Me,” He is speaking to believers. The first line is, “I am the true branch; every branch in Me,” He is speaking to believers here. But as a believer, you can not stay connected. You can get distracted. There are times where you haven’t read the Bible in days or weeks. There are times where you haven’t prayed effectively or deeply in a long time. There are times where busyness and the drift of work or family or discouragement or addictions cause you to fade farther and farther away from your union.
You are still His son, you are still His daughter, but you become useless as an agent of grace, because your life doesn’t reflect Him. And your focus and priorities have nothing to do with Jesus’ agenda.
And so in verse 6, He says, “If anyone doesn’t abide in Me, he is thrown away,” notice, “as a branch,” not as a son or daughter, “and they dry up and they gather them and they cast them into the fire and they are burned.” And we will talk about what that means.
In your notes, notice, first and foremost, Jesus said He is the true vine. He is the true vine. In the Old Testament, Israel was the vine. In the temple, there would be pictures of vines that reflect it. In the period of the Maccabees, on the Jewish coin, there was a vine.
Israel was God’s vine. It was to tell the world of His love and His justice and His righteousness, but they rejected their King. So He is saying to them, “I am the true vine. I am the connection with the Father.”
Second, our soul, the Father positions and prunes us for fruitfulness. He says, “Any branch,” did you notice the progression? No fruit, fruit, more fruit, much fruit. And He is going to address each one.
He positions us and prunes us to bear more fruit. Notice in verse 2, He says, “Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit,” He takes away. Literally, if you would look this up in a Greek dictionary, the very first one, like, when you go to a dictionary, there are three or four meanings? It would say, “Lift up.”
In fact, in John 6, when they lift up or picked up stones to stone Him, it’s the exact same word.
This isn’t a picture of Judas being taken away. He is already gone. When you’re a believer and you’re not bearing fruit, here’s the picture. In Palestine, often the vines would run on trellises. Some would run on the ground. And they wouldn’t be in a position to get water and air and what they needed to grow. And so what they would do is they would pick up the vines and take literal sticks with a “v” and they would lift them up off the ground to position them so that they could grow and produce fruit, not just leaves and vines.
Some of you are living a life that has you positioned not to bear fruit. Your schedule, your priorities, what you put in your mind, certain relationships, a preoccupation with work. You’re not positioned, you’re not bearing fruit. People don’t rub up next to you and go, Wow, now there is somebody who really loves Jesus. Your life, currently, isn’t one where you look back and you have multiple relationships with people who don’t know Christ that God is using you to draw them to Himself, and some of them putting their faith in Him.
And the reason is, out of God’s love He says if you don’t bear fruit, He is going to reposition you. When a vine grows along the ground, it makes some connections. When it gets lifted up, it’s a little painful.
God is taking some of you through difficult times that you don’t understand. And, honestly, I love God and I don’t know what is going on, but this relationship is not going well here and my supervisor is down on me at work over here and I’ve got a problem over here, and I’ve got health issues over here.
The kind, velvet vice of God’s love, He will lift you up. He will reposition you. And the goal is – He’s not down on you – it’s to get your attention so that you can fulfill His mission: Reveal the Father and share His love with people who don’t know Him.
The second group, He says, is that He repositions some, but there are some people that they are bearing fruit. They love God, they are progressively becoming more like Christ, they are in His Word, they are talking to Him honestly from their heart, they are doing community with some other people and doing life together. They are, at opportunities, as God opens the doors, they are sharing their faith. And their life is falling apart and it’s like, Hey, God, what’s the deal? Is this what you get for obeying You? Are You kidding?
I sat with a young man earlier this week who really walks with God. A passionate follower of Christ. He goes, “I feel like every area in my life is just like boom, boom, boom, boom, boom. You know? There are family issues I can’t control, I’ve got a big job issue over here, I feel discouraged about this over here, this happened over here.”
And I remember sitting down and sharing with him. I said, “When God is really going to use someone, He said He prunes them.” And I don’t know if you know much about pruning, but I have a neighbor who has a long, long, long row of beautiful roses. And there are different seasons and I actually took pictures of them. And somehow, I honestly do not know how to transfer pictures from my iPhone to my computer.
But I had these pictures of these scraggly things and then she went out there for three days and they were like this. And she cut them down to here. And I’m going, What are you doing? And she was doing it like a surgeon.
And she goes, “You just wait.” And so I took pictures of those. And then, as a number of weeks, months later, and it was just unbelievable, all these roses. So I took a picture of that. And I was going to show you guys. But you’ll have to imagine.
All I can tell you, if I was a rose bush, when she got done, I would think she didn’t like me, because there was just a bunch of stubs. But what she knew was the life and the energy needs to go into what is going to produce the flowers, not what is going to produce more foliage. And that’s where some of you are at.
I have had two major prunings in my life. I’ve had a lot of little ones, but two major ones. One, I was a Christian about three, three and a half years; I was really growing. I was a slow, getting-with-the-program Christian. Getting up and reading the Bible was hard for me. I was not a morning person. Going to church was like, Man, are you kidding me? When you stay out until three in the morning, it’s really hard to get up.
I’m memorizing a few verses and little, by little, by little – I got in a small group, I started getting in God’s Word, and the change really began to happen. And I was really excited about God, I was sharing my faith with guys on the basketball team.
And then it was my junior year, I had dated this girl, I thought she would be the one, we dated for two and a half years or so. Our coach got fired, you go six and twenty-six, you get fired.
And in about three weeks, the coach gets fired, new coach goes, “This is a mess. I am canceling all scholarships. I’m going to have try-outs in sixty days.” I’ve got one more year; I need my school paid for.
My girlfriend and I, not some big thing, but her life is going this way, my life is going this way. And I realize it’s a lordship issue, so we break up. My spiritual leader, the bricklayer who helped me so much, he decides, “You know something? This ministry is going well. I’m moving to another campus. I am going to start it, lay bricks over there.”
So my spiritual leader is gone, my girlfriend is gone, my scholarship is at least temporarily gone and maybe for good. And so I think, At least my mom and dad…and my dad’s alcoholism had sort of blown up. And they were having a really bad time after twenty-five years. I’m not sure they are going to make it in their marriage.
And if you have ever, all I can remember was, it was like, if my life was a little house and there were four pillars, it’s like God went ping! Ping! Ping! Ping! And it went whoo.
And I didn’t know anything and I just thought, Are you kidding me? If this is what you get for obeying God, what do you get when you’re disobedient? I’m serious! I was just like, God, hey, I’m not sure, I don’t know if I can trust You!
And all I can tell you is you either turn to God or turn away from God, and you know what? I couldn’t rely on my girlfriend and my identity couldn’t be basketball anymore and I couldn’t go to my parents for security. And He ripped everything away because He loved me so much and had such a great plan for my life, He wanted me to draw near to Him in ways like never before so He became my security and my identity.
And I was so heartbroken over this girl, if you can imagine this, I didn’t date anyone for about fourteen months, because I didn’t want to. And all the distractions of that moved away. And it was like God, it’s Jesus plus nothing. He wants to satisfy. And He does that to people who are growing and He will prune you.
There’s another window of time. Those of you who are in your fifties, late forties, early sixties, beware. This is for growing Christians. You have made progress, you have led Bible studies, you read the Bible on a regular basis, you have almost raised your kids or they are out of the house. Life is going really, pretty well. Finances aren’t a big problem. You give off the top; you’re making great progress.
And somehow, down deep in the back of your mind, the McDonalds commercial has been embedded at such a level, you think you deserve a break today. And so you have this picture of what either retirement or God is going to reward you and things are going to be great.
And you’re in your fifties and He takes the pillars of your life. And the economy goes or you have a big struggle in your marriage or one of your kids goes south or you find yourself, you never dreamed it could be you and you either have an alcohol addiction or you had back surgery and now you have a prescription pill addiction.
And it’s all like, pretty soon, bam! Bam! Bam! And the pillars of your life go out. Because, see, His agenda is to get you back at a fresh, desperately dependent level on His agenda.
And when I went in my fifties, that was my second big time. I left the security of a church, took over leading a non-profit. I did not want to go there, but felt it was God’s will; I am going to obey You.
Within three weeks, my wife’s mother died; my son decided he would get married; my wife had oral surgery that didn’t work; my car, in transfer, was messed up in a wreck; the economy bubble burst and all the commitments to this ministry faded away. And I was in my basement with, What in the world am I doing here? The job is not working, my wife is crying herself to sleep, I’ve got issues here, I’ve got issues here. And everything that made my life and identity and security solid went, whoo.
You know why? Because God doesn’t want you to produce more fruit. He wants you to produce much fruit. And in your late forties and fifties, the sin that is so subtle is the sin of self-dependency. Your brains, your work, you making it happen, the verses you know, the group that you’re in, I’ve been in this small group for years! Well, maybe you ought to try a new one. When was the last time you started one?
You know verses. Have you memorized any new ones lately? But this passion that you desperately need Him, He will knock the props out, because His agenda is so much greater and so much bigger. I look back and I think it’s the kindest thing God ever did in my life in my early fifties.
Going through them, my prayers were, You know what? Here’s the deal. This was my great faith. I’m not going to quit. Okay? That’s all I can tell You. Out of obedience, I came here and if You want me to shut down this ministry, if You want my wife to have health issues, if You want this to happen or this to happen or this – the Lord gives and the Lord takes away, but You’re all I got.
And unapologetically, I cried out, I cried in my basement. And I remember thinking, Is this how Thou treatest Thy servants? When I start praying in King James, man, I’m really in trouble.
Can I ask you, where are you? Where are you at?