April 2019

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:1-5 ESV)

Most of my life I’ve read John 15 and have thought of it in an individualistic manner. The picture that I’ve always had in my mind when reading this chapter is me and Jesus and how I need to keep praying and reading the bible. The reality though is that John 15 is much deeper than just a call for us as individuals to be in relationship to Him!

The context of John 15 is that it is a corporate invitation, and not simply a conversation with an individual. He’s talking to many people, not just one and the culture that he was talking to was a communal culture, not an individualistic one. When they heard Jesus saying these words they weren’t just thinking of it in an individual manner but also in a communal manner. When Jesus was speaking to them, they weren’t just wondering how this affected each of them but also they were thinking how it affected ALL of them.

He said, “I am the vine and you (plural) are the branches (more than one).” You can read more about this here.

Abiding in Jesus is a corporate invitation for all of us to stay connected to Jesus and to each other. The call to abide in Him cannot be separated from the call to live in oneness with those in the Body of Christ.

In order to stay connected to the Vine, we must be connected to its branches as well. Many times I have viewed this picture as Jesus being the vine and myself being my own branch. In the context of this scripture, He is inviting them collectively to stay connected to Him. This requires each individual to commit to stay connected to Jesus and to other branches that may be integral to their connection with him.

Another common example that is used is the picture of us being the body of Christ and Him being the head of that body. If we are removed from the head, that is Christ, we cannot live. Also, if we disconnect from other parts of the body we cannot live. If the arm disconnects from the shoulder then the arm will die. If the lungs disconnect from the heart they will die. If a foot disconnects from the leg then the foot will die. (See 1 Cor 12)

Abiding in Christ looks like staying in intimate connection with Christ himself and with our fellow branches. We must get rid of our western, individualistic lense, and begin to understand that the invitation to abide is not only for us alone but for us (the body of Christ) as a whole. Holy Spirit wants us to see John15 as an invitation to remain connected to Jesus and others who are connected to Jesus.

Another analogy is that of a fire and it’s embers. The fires flame represents God (See Hebrews 12:29). Embers and coals represent Christians living in community and oneness together. If you remove a coal from the flame it will burn out. It cannot survive without the flames consuming energy. Also, if you take a coal away from the other coals it will become cold and burn out. But, if you keep the coal in the fire and in a bed of hot coals it will stay burning and hot. Jesus wants us to remain in Him and closely connected to others who are passionate for Him so that we can stay on fire for Him!

To learn more about how to connect to Reach Atlanta, an effort to mobilize evangelism across our city click here

I grew up in Atlanta during the Civil Rights Movement. As a child, after Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated, I watched his funeral procession through the streets of downtown. And I remember the race riots that erupted all over the country as a result of his assassination.

Years later, I marched on the National Mall in support of King’s birthday becoming a national holiday. I was militant. My entire life from infancy to young adulthood was steeped in blackness. I attended all-black schools, lived in all-black neighborhoods and espoused all-black causes.

Many Americans, black and white, have a viewpoint just like I did. But after receiving a renewed heart as a born-again Christian, my attitude began to change.  The hearts and minds of Americans have to be renewed in the area of race, just like my heart and mind were, if we are to achieve racial harmony in this country.

God called me to view my role in this world as a Christian first, not as a black person first. I still had a driving passion for the causes of my people. But it became apparent to me that my hunger and enthusiasm for God needed to precede my enthusiasm for my race. And that’s exactly what happened!

The cause of Christ became the controlling force in my life, instead of the causes promoting blackness – without any realization on my part, because it happened over time.

As Christians, our minds are not renewed overnight. We still bring garbage from our former lives to the other side of the cross. God had to deal with me; it was a process. When I got filled with the Spirit, I began to hunger for God. I gained an appreciation for other preachers and other musical artists outside my culture. My spiritual hunger and thirst for God was so great, it took me past my ethnic comfort zone so that I was willing to learn from other people outside my culture.

If you have yielded totally to God, you shouldn’t put up a wall when God wants to bring His truth to you through a culture or race that’s not your own.

Too often, though, that’s what happens within the Body of Christ. I call it the “get it syndrome.”

When I talk to black people, they say, “White folks don’t get it. Nor do they want to get it. They don’t know our history. They don’t know our culture. They don’t understand how the impact of slavery and the cruel, involuntary separation of our families have destroyed our ancestry. They don’t understand the effect that Jim Crow laws had on our social, political and financial well-being.”

When I talk to white people, they say, “I get it. Now, black folks need to get over it! Racism no longer exists. We elected a black man and put him in the highest position in the country! You had a black president in the White House! You no longer need any special treatment or consideration. Besides, we didn’t do anything to you. It was our forefathers who made all of the mistakes, not us. So, get over it!”

Consequently, an invisible gulf exists between the races.  This gulf represents misunderstandings by both parties. In order to bridge that gulf, members of both races must listen with spiritual ears to truly empathize with each other.

Many social and political advances have been made since I was a child, but one thing remains the same: the country I live in now is as racially charged as the country I grew up in. Despite the social improvements and legal advances, a greater change must take place in the hearts of Americans, black and white.

Just like I was, many Americans are at a crossroads today where their race collides with their faith. They want to really know how to walk as a Christian while not losing their racial identity. I discovered the answer to that question when I realized that God was calling me to view myself as a Christian first, not as a black person first.