John 15: 1-3 “I am the Real Vine and my Father is the Farmer. He cuts off every branch of me that doesn’t bear grapes. And every branch that is grape-bearing he prunes back so it will bear even more. You are already pruned back by the message I have spoken. 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.
- Peterson, Eugene H. (2011-03-11). The Message Numbered Edition Hardback (Kindle Locations 53278-53282). Navpress. Kindle Edition.
As my family knows, and struggles to endure, I am a big fan of Animal Planet and NATGEO Wild programs. This morning I saw a segment for a second time and a deeper meaning registered in my heart and mind.
The segment covered a very devious and deceptive reptile known as the Vine Snake. As its name implies, the serpent looks very much like, and mimics, its vegetative surroundings. However, once it gets close enough to its prey, the poor victim realizes that what looked like a tree branch was in reality a deadly killer. By that time, deadly toxins are making the target bleed internally. The next step is for the Vine Snake to swallow its meal without resistance.
Here’s what hit me today: This is going on all the time in “Christian” circles. “Churches,” allegedly places where we are learning how to “abide in the vine,” unwittingly become feeding grounds for religious vine snakes. They look like branches, sometimes even strong branches that support others. They seem to be connected to the Real Vine. They talk about Him, preach about Him, sing about Him, and even seem to serve in His name. But at the time when we are most vulnerable, we come under attack. The religious predator sinks its fangs into us. The toxins quickly begin their deadly work. At the place where the life of Christ flourished, poison starts causing us to bleed out.
These toxins can take the form of condemnation, shunning, browbeating, and even gossip and slander. Sometimes, the effects are not so obviously evil. Our own personality and identity are swallowed up in serving the vision of a narcissistic religious leader who bleeds us of our virtues of time and treasure: the financial treasures of this world, and the gifting God has given us for His purpose.
If we are truly His, our Father will not allow us to be swallowed whole as the Vine Snake does with its prey. He will allow us to be spiritually gutted when we fail to rightly discern who has access to our souls. Paul personally warned the Ephesian elders:
Acts 20: 29-31 “I know that as soon as I’m gone, vicious wolves are going to show up and rip into this flock, men from your very own ranks twisting words so as to seduce disciples into following them instead of Jesus. So stay awake and keep up your guard. Remember those three years I kept at it with you, never letting up, pouring my heart out with you, one after another.
- Peterson, Eugene H. (2011-03-11). The Message Numbered Edition Hardback (Kindle Locations 54886-54889). Navpress. Kindle Edition.
So how do we recognize the genuine branch from the counterfeit? I believe that the answer is embodied in what Paul expresses just before his warning. “God himself thought they were worth dying for.” So it follows that a true follower of Jesus, especially leaders, approach us out of a posture of serving and laying down their lives for us, not seeking to get us to lay down ours for them.
Acts 20:28 “Now it’s up to you. Be on your toes— both for yourselves and your congregation of sheep. The Holy Spirit has put you in charge of these people—God’s people they are— to guard and protect them. God himself thought they were worth dying for.
- Peterson, Eugene H. (2011-03-11). The Message Numbered Edition Hardback (Kindle Locations 54883-54886). Navpress. Kindle Edition.
The religious landscape is littered with the broken lives of people sucked into a system and then spit out, after their virtue has been drained. “Life” today is characterized by lifelessness, hopelessness, numbness, and maybe bitterness and depression.
Today these souls struggle to trust God and to trust others. They have been bled dry. They need a blood transfusion and a fresh filling of the Holy Spirit to quicken their souls. If these symptoms seem familiar to you because they describe you, maybe it’s time to consider who may have taken a bite out of you, and respond accordingly. Only Jesus has the anti-venom. We return to Him in faith, and allow Him to restore our soul.
John 7:37-38 On the final and climactic day of the Feast, Jesus took his stand. He cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Rivers of living water will brim and spill out of the depths of anyone who believes in me this way, just as the Scripture says.”
- Peterson, Eugene H. (2011-03-11). The Message Numbered Edition Hardback (Kindle Locations 52776-52778). Navpress. Kindle Edition.