I had to do it, but trimming trees in late July in West Texas sure feels sacrilegious — we don't have many trees and it's a hard time for them to be trimmed with the temperature over 100 Fahrenheit (38 Celsius). So, I lopped off a fair-sized limb and steered it down from the tree without ruining the new roof my friend Chip had put on several months ago.

When I leaned the limb up against the house, however, it sure did look like a decent sized pecan tree. It wasn't, of course, but it looked better than any of the pecan trees planted in the last couple of years in our neighborhood.

In reality, it was a stick. A few minutes earlier, it had been a part of a living, growing, pecan-producing, mature tree. Now it is just a stick — a dead stick. Cut from the trunk, the life-giving source of its growth, it is not only dying: it is dead. Now it's no longer good for anything except to be cut up, put on the pile, and used in the fire.

Now those of you from places that BBQ may want to suggest, throwing a little pecan wood into a mesquite fire to get a little extra flavor on the meat is not such a bad thing. In reality, it's the end of its productive life.

  • No more shade from its leaves.
  • No more limb to climb or support for a tree house or something on which to hang a swing.
  • No more shelter for birds to build their nests, lay their eggs, raise their young, or sing their songs.
  • No more delicious pecans to catch from its branches.
It's nothing now but dead wood.

I'm not trying to be melodramatic or silly. I just want to open your heart again to hear the words of Jesus with fresh ears:

"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... (John 15:1-2 NIV)."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" (John 15:5-8 NIV).

While the truth can often be hard to hear, when it comes from Jesus, the truth always brings us life. So, notice several powerful truths about vines, branches, and disciples in these words from Jesus.

First, there are two truths about nature:

  1. No branch can bear fruit by itself.
    There are no ifs ands or buts about this — no exceptions to the rule. A disconnected branch is a dead stick.
  2. If the branch is separated from the vine, it is worthless and will be thrown out.
    The branch will never do what it was made to do: produce grapes (or pecans). And in the case of grape vines, the dead branches aren't good for much of anything.

Second, there are two truths about us as Jesus' disciples:

  1. If we don't remain to Jesus, we will wither and die.
    If we don't stay connected to Jesus and get our life from him, we have no source to sustain lasting life.
  2. The truth always brings us life when it comes from Jesus.
  3. Apart from Jesus, we cannot do anything lastingly productive.
    We may look alive for awhile, but we're dying — burning out to be burned up.

Finally, there is life-giving truth we mustn't miss:

  • If we abide in Jesus, our lives reflect our Savior.
    Because his life flows through us and his words find a home in us, we begin to take on our Lord's character and compassion, as well as begin to produce the fruit of real community — finding the lost, recovering the fallen, mending the broken, and celebrating with the faithful — in our lives.

So this week, I want to encourage you to prayerfully consider two questions and seek to answer them in your life, and not just in our head:

  • How will you remain connected to Jesus as your source of life?
  • How will you let the life of Jesus flow through you into the lives of others?