Happy New Year! Thank you for gathering with us on the very first day of 2023. I don’t know about you, but I’m really looking forward to what’s ahead for us this year. And here’s what I believe with all my heart:
God has a vision for what He wants to produce in and through your life this year.
He has in mind who He wants you to become.
He has at least a few things He wants you to do.
There’s some impact He wants you to make.
There are some people whose lives He wants you to touch.
There are some things He wants you to know about who He is.
We think often about desired outcomes or results. And this is how we come up with our goals or what we call on this day, New Year’s Resolutions. And it’s so easy to get obsessed with results and fixated on our goals. But these things are not enough. James Clear says it this way in his book, Atomic Habits:
“You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.” James Clear, Atomic Habits
To be clear, God cares deeply about the outcomes and results in your life. And I’m guessing or at least hoping that you care deeply about the outcomes and results in your life. But I also know it’s possible for all of us to have great goals without a process in place to actually accomplish the goals we care so much about.
So today, I want to show us how to make God’s vision for our lives a reality in 2023. Jesus is going to give us both the goal and the process. What we call an outcome or a result is referred to in the Scriptures as fruit. And here is one of the most significant things Jesus ever said about how fruit gets produced in our lives.
John 15:1-8 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.
You see this word “remain” show up over and over. The word I prefer to use instead is the word “abide”. I think abide is a more active word and truer to the actual meaning of the Greek word “meno”. Dwell is another word that gets to the heart of this abiding idea.
The first thing that stands out to me is Jesus doesn’t just say He’s the vine; He says that He is the true vine. Which makes me think – oh, there must be false vines then.
A false vine is anything we’re attaching ourselves to, in hopes that it will bring about the best outcomes for our lives.
Which means we to ask this question to ourselves:
What are the false vines in my life?
The approval of people. Sexual fulfillment outside of God’s design. An obsession with wealth.
It could be good things too. Comfort and security. A strong work ethic. Our future church home at 414 Brannan Street.
Jesus, alone, is the true vine.
He says that he cuts off every branch that isn’t bearing fruit. As we begin this new year, look at the things in your life that aren’t bearing fruit. Here’s the question I want to ask you:
What isn’t bearing fruit that needs to be removed from your life?
If there’s anything you’re doing that is intentionally sinful – meaning that it goes against God’s vision for your life – it obviously needs to be removed. But sometimes there are things that used to bear fruit but aren’t doing that any longer. Sometimes it’s a relationship or an activity or work that served you well in a previous season…but not anymore. Another way I love to ask the question is this way:
What is present in your life that could hijack God’s vision for your future?
When we aren’t seeing fruit from something in our lives, sometimes it needs to be removed. At other times, we simply need to be more patient. Listen to Jesus point this out in Luke 13:
Luke 13:6-9 Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any. So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’ “ ‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit, fine! If not, then cut it down.’”
God is patient with us and there are things we need to be more patient with in our lives. But notice that he says to fertilize it. In other words, as you give it a little more time, do what you can to help it produce fruit.
What in your life do you need to observe a little longer to see if it will bear fruit?
Galatians 6:9 Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.
Jesus says that God prunes every branch that does bear fruit to make it more fruitful. Pruning can mean cutting some things out of our lives so that we bear even more fruit. I also think pruning might mean cutting some things back in the short-term so that our lives will bear more fruit in the long-term.
My wife, Shauna, and I have been using what I’m teaching you today to make some major adjustments for our lives in 2023. And we’ve been talking about this pruning one a lot. We have made some intentional decisions about these areas: We are pruning our pace so our lives will be more fruitful. We are pruning the number of close friendships to make our closest friendships even more fruitful. And we’re both pruning some work things we’ve been doing for a long time…so that the work we know God has called us into will be even more fruitful.
What in your life needs to be pruned so that it can be even more fruitful?
Some of you are thinking, “He hasn’t even shared the most important thing about John 15 yet. I want to end with the most important invitation of John 15. The secret to us living out God’s vision is easy to overlook. Before we get there, I want to remind you that God does have a vision for what He wants to do in you and through you this year. And He has a vision for what He wants to do in and through Epic Church this year. Two ways Jesus told us this in John 15:
John 15:8 This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.
John 15:16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit – fruit that will last – and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you.
You were made for this.
I was made for this.
We were made for this.
And the way to do it comes from Jesus’s invitation: Abide in me. Dwell in me. Make your home in me.
“Abide in me and I will abide in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must abide in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If you abide in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”
One of the best ways I have learned what it means to abide is by comparing abiding to striving in my life. To be honest, striving comes a lot easier and is more natural for me. Let me tell you the difference between these two.
Striving looks like endless hustle. Abiding looks like rhythms of work and rest.
Striving tends to bring anxiety, while abiding usually creates peace.
Striving can distract us from what’s most important. Abiding helps us to stay close to Jesus and other people in our lives.
Striving is about earning. Abiding is about receiving.
Striving leads to despair when there’s failure and arrogance when there’s success. Abiding keeps us humble, yet confident.
How will you abide in Jesus this year?
Silence and Solitude. Time in the Scripture. Prayer. Next Sunday we are kicking off a new series on prayer, called Whatever You Ask. We’ll also kick off a season of 21 days of prayer and we’re going to fast from a couple of meals on Thursdays as an entire community during these 3 weeks.
When you are in town and healthy, make a commitment to gather with this church community each Sunday. We are committed to leading you into this life with Jesus and we’re able to encourage each other best when we’re actually together.
What seeds will you sow this year, knowing we reap what we sow?
Giving. Serving. Inviting.
So, do you want to bear much fruit in 2023? Are you willing to get rid of what isn’t bearing fruit? Will you prune what is bearing fruit to make it more fruitful? Will you abide in Jesus, knowing He’s the only true vine for your life?
Have you ever invited Jesus to make His home in you? Have you ever responded to His invitation to make your home in Him? You can do that right now.
Jesus, I want to make my home in You. You are the True Vine. Will you come into my life and make your home in me?