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"Of Ugly Stubbs, Branches, and Fruit"

The storm stopped (see previous devotional). I came out freezing. But coming down the mountain hope itself was planted in my soul. It would be two years though before the sun would begin to thaw me out.

My godly mother came to visit. She didn’t condemn me. She didn’t “preach” to me. She poured herself out in love, serving our family. She mopped the floors, gathered seashells with the children, made moss gardens, and simply loved us all. As she was packing her bags to leave on the plane she looked into my eyes and said, “Sweetheart, without a true death, there can be no resurrection.” That’s all she said. I knew what she meant. I had to repent completely and not be defensive. I had to give the past to my loving Lord who had died to pay for my sins.

I felt “sap” rising inside me. It was hope, reminding me that I was connected into the Vine. My thinking became clearer as depression lifted.

Jesus said , “I am the Vine, and you are the branches. You have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, that you should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain . . .” (John 15:16)

You and I live and grow drawing life from that central vine. We are branches of that immortal divine stem!

The vine itself is not used to make anything – furniture or tools. (Unless it is used for wreaths on which to hang artificial fruits and flowers!) Its sole purpose is to carry life to the branches and to produce fruit.

Why did Jesus use that metaphor? A vine’s natural habit is to grow quickly and luxuriantly wild, trailing here and there, wherever it wills. But since the vine-dresser wants quality fruit, he will not permit the branches to trail wherever they choose. Each branch is carefully tied to a stake. Its arms are stretched out and bound crosswise.

My husband and I have been in the south of France in different growing seasons and have watched the grapes at their different stages of growth. I can still picture those vineyards with the branches bound to their stakes – not free to flow – their arms stretched out crosswise – bound, drawing their life from the vine.

We spoke with a vine-dresser. He said, “Oui! The vine must suffer much and be properly cared for by cutting. The best vintage comes from good stock, from suffering cold winters, hot summers, periods of wet, periods of dry, and much pruning!”

I had to make a choice. What would that look like in my life? Let’s take another look at our grapevine.

Soon the branches break into bud, joyous with green tendrils and leaf. They grow quickly and lush, lavish in their life – gloriously free! But someone has been watching. Someone who has a vested interest. The vine-dresser comes with pruning hooks and shears. He strips the branches bare of all their innocent pride. He cuts deep and sure. The bleeding limbs harden into wood. On pruned branches the fruit ripens – more full, more precious. The longer they grow, the heavier they become. They are bound tighter to carry the weight. The fruit turns crimson. The leaves droop and wither in the sun. BUT still the life-blood flows into fruitfulness.

Then comes the vintage. The fruit is ripe. Surely now the vine can glory and rejoice a little in its crowning glory; even though it is bending low under the weight of its fruit. But ah! Hands are ready to tear down the treasures of grapes. Feet are near to tread them in the winepress. And the land will be full of joy!

Now, the vine stands stripped and desolate, having given all. Its own dark time has come. No one gives it comfort, or thanks for its gift. Now the branches are cut back and piled into heaps – cut back to the very stem – disfigured. Alone – through dark days to come. The vine stands alone out in the fields – in the frost and snow. It stands alone and steadfast through all the winter winds.

And next year...BLOOMS AGAIN!

The branches are not bitter for the torment.
They are not barren because of the fruit they gave up.
They are fulfilled.

I chose to relinquish my “natural” ways and “rights.” I chose to submit to the spiritual fruit-producing process. We have to place even our “fruit” on the altar. As we hold out our arms relinquishing our way of doing things, we then accept something far greater than what we gave up.

Secondly, I chose to accept God’s purposes in my life. I had hope that I would “bloom” again.

This is the picture of Christ’s disciple.

Ugo Bassi, back in the 1800's, said in a sermon to people dying in a hospital:

“The vine from every living limb bleeds wine.
Is it poorer for that spirit shed?
Measure thy life by loss instead of gain;
Not by the wine drunk, but the wine poured forth
For love’s strength standeth in love’s sacrifice,
And whoso suffers most hath most to give.”

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