Sunday, January 22, 2017

Abiding in the True Vine

Over one-third of America's vegetables and two-thirds of the fruit and nuts are grown in California's San Joaquin Valley. Although the Valley is home to more than 90 percent of the celery, garlic, walnuts, artichoke and kiwi you'll encounter, the signature crop is the grapes that make those dancing California raisins.

Thousands of pounds of those raisins are produced at a Church-owned vineyard in the heart of San Joaquin. The mile-long rows of the vineyard stretch as far as the eye can see and each of the local congregations are responsible for harvesting a row or two of grapes, drying them into raisins and preparing them for packaging. The raisins grown here support the Church's welfare system and humanitarian efforts around the world.

My family is among those that volunteer. As my wife or I cut a bunch of grapes from the branches of the vine, our kids lay them out to dry on large sheets of paper. It doesn't take long to notice that some branches have lots of grapes, others have fruit that has not yet fully grown, and sometimes there are places where the branches have fallen or been cut from the vine and there are no grapes at all.

The image of a grapevine with its branches and fruit is the basis for one of the Savior's parables in which he taught that the world is like a large vineyard. "I am the true vine," he taught, "and my Father is the husbandman" (John 15:1). Each of us are like a branch of the vine. The fruit is a symbol of our righteous actions.

A vine brings life and nourishment to the branches. Had we been in the upper room in Jerusalem where Christ and his disciples ate the Passover together for the last time, we would have heard him testify that he is the Way, the Truth and the Life of the world. He is the Way because he provided a perfect example and it is only through him and his Atonement that we can return to live with God. He is the Truth because he is the source of all truth and lived all truth perfectly. He is the Life because he created all life in the heavens and the earth, he is "the light which is in all things, which giveth life to all things" (D&C 88:13), and he makes it possible to overcome physical and spiritual death and return to life through repentance and our eventual resurrection.

As branches in the vineyard, it is imperative to realize that the fruits we bear are not our own. If we cut a branch from a vine and plant it elsewhere in the vineyard, it will certainly wither and die. That is because the branches rely completely on the life and nourishment delivered through the vine to produce fruit for the harvest. Branches that have been partially severed or are too limited in their capacity fail to produce good fruit because they are not able to deliver enough nutrients in time for the harvest.

Accordingly, the Savior taught, "Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing" (John 15:4-5).

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland taught that the word "abide" used in these verses means to remain firmly and permanently attached to Jesus Christ and His Church ("Abide in Me," Ensign, May 2004, 32). When we abide in the true vine, we live abundantly because the light and life he provides flows through us and we become the instruments and bearers of his marvelous works.

The Bible Dictionary explains, "It is ... through the grace of the Lord that individuals, through faith in the Atonement of Jesus Christ and repentance of their sins, receive strength and assistance to do good works that they otherwise would not be able to maintain if left to their own means. This grace is an enabling power that allows men and women to lay hold on eternal life and exaltation after they have expended their own best efforts."

Jesus Christ is the true vine. He is the Way, the Truth and the Life of the world. It is his light that sustains all that grows in the San Joaquin Valley and throughout the world. He was planted by the husbandman, our Heavenly Father, who cares for us and wants us to bear good fruit in abundance. He delivers life and nourishment to each of us so that we may have every possible opportunity to fulfill the measure of our creation.

In the end, the abundance of our lives hinges on whether we will choose to abide in him. He cannot give us the light and truth we need to prosper if we're only partially committed or are unwilling to grow our capacity to act on what we receive. On the other hand, if we will firmly attach ourselves to him through our faith and repentance, there is nothing we cannot do. Through the strength of the true vine and our own best efforts, we can lay hold on every good thing and prepare ourselves now for the harvest and exaltation in the Lord's vineyard.

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