Selective Pruning

John 15:1 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2 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.

What an amazing chapter John 15 is. I’ve decided it’s on my “all time best” list so I’m revisiting it. I have this beautiful hanging basket of yellow petunias outside my window and its become my connection to John 15:1 and my personal Petunia object lesson for the inquiring spirit.

Petunias are eager to grow, but they require regular tending. I have to water them daily, fertilize occasionally and most of all there’s the continual “pruning,” aka: deadheading or pinching back, so they can continue to flourish and bloom. I guess I never paid much attention to the vine-like nature of petunias before. Their stems are meant to grow longer and droop over the basket edge adding their flashy blossoms to the overall beauty of the plant but even those stems need selective pruning.

That plant is a beautiful example of how regular pruning keeps all that growth energy working to produce the best, and most beautiful, result for the plant over its life. It’s a plant that does have a season but with that regular tending it can look it’s best right up to the end.

Got it Petunia?

Good, Better, Best

John 15:15 No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. ESV

“God saves a person, fills him with the Holy Spirit, and then says, in effect, “Now you work it out in your life, and be faithful to Me, even though the nature of everything around you is to cause you to be unfaithful.” My Utmost for His Highest – Oswald Chambers

Daily is pretty long and pretty regular. There are times I’d just like to do what I’m told…read the Word…and not have to think about why and how it works in my life. Those are my “servant” relationship days of obedience. They’re good but Jesus has something even better in mind. The best thing: his friendship.

I wonder if that change in our relationship with Jesus is one of the main issues we deal with as believers? Most of us enter into that relationship more or less like applying for an entry-level job. It seems much simpler to accept the role of servant. The servant has the easy out of saying “I didn’t know” that transfers a lot of responsibility to the Master in case we happen to screw up.

Reread John 15:15 and think about that change. Have you accepted that promotion from servant to friend? You need to know this amazing truth: at the very moment you committed yourself to serving Jesus he committed himself to helping you understand you are so much more than a servant to him. You’re his trusted friend. That’s worth thinking about!

No Plan B

Romans 16:25-26 All of our praise rises to the One who is strong enough to make you strong, exactly as preached in Jesus Christ, precisely as revealed in the mystery kept secret for so long but now an open book through the prophetic Scriptures. All the nations of the world can now know the truth and be brought into obedient belief, carrying out the orders of God, who got all this started, down to the very last letter. 27 All our praise is focused through Jesus on this incomparably wise God! Yes! MSG

Is spiritual strength your goal? Good! The incomparably wise God is strong enough to make you strong, exactly as preached in Jesus Christ.
There is no Plan B.

The Secret

NCV Romans 15:4 For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.

We read the Scripture because we believe they were “written to teach us.” Learning from them is a very good reason but I don’t think that alone would keep us coming back day after day or account for the impact the Bible has had for such a long time on so many lives. There’s something far more personal happening “so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.”

We read because we believe our faith is a gift from God that we want to learn about. We read because we believe our relationship to Jesus has brought us grace and forgiveness. We come back and read some more because we discover within those pages there’s something that gives those ancient words new life for today. We read because the secret of endurance and encouragement lies within us, the Holy Spirit – hope, that has promised to reveal the mystery of our personal connection to God and help us navigate in this foreign land we call life.

Custom Fit

Romans 14:6-9 What’s important in all this is that if you keep a holy day, keep it for God’s sake; if you eat meat, eat it to the glory of God and thank God for prime rib; if you’re a vegetarian, eat vegetables to the glory of God and thank God for broccoli. None of us are permitted to insist on our own way in these matters. It’s God we are answerable to—all the way from life to death and everything in between—not each other. That’s why Jesus lived and died and then lived again: so that he could be our Master across the entire range of life and death, and free us from the petty tyrannies of each other. MSG

I had to smile when I read this version of Romans 14 because of thanking God for broccoli. It’s a lighthearted paraphrase and a very good reminder “it’s God we are answerable to—all the way from life to death and everything in between—.”

It’s the mystery of faith. On one hand it’s completely personal, custom tailored for you…not by you…but it grows and matures in the midst of our very public relationships as believers.

If the way you live is consistent with what you believe you can trust that God will make the necessary alterations to that custom fit as you grow so your faith and your relationships always make you look your best.

Traffic Light

Romans 13:1 Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established.

“My dear friend, In my last Letter I said that in the Bible there is more that FINDS me than I have experienced in all other books put together; that the words of the Bible find me at greater depths of my being; and that whatever finds me brings with it an irresistible evidence of its having proceeded from the Holy Spirit.” ‘Confessions of an Inquiring Spirit’ by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

“Be subject to” is a phrase that conflicts with individual choice. It requires surrender of control and a degree of trust that a response is not only necessary but right. We experience the wisdom of governing authority, at its simplest level, while driving. We respond as required at every traffic light because if we subject ourselves to that authority our journey will be safer and more orderly.

I think Coleridge is right. The Word you read in the Bible does find you at the “greater depths” of your being and becomes the green light of “irresistible evidence of its having proceeded from the Holy Spirit.”  That’s the governing authority, the holy traffic light if you will, established by God within you for your journey of faith…and it gets even better!  That “traffic light” makes possible a two-way street of unique interaction that will bring you the priceless reward of personal intimacy with God.

Contrary

Romans 12:17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.

con·trar·y –
1. opposite in nature, direction, or meaning.
2. perversely inclined to disagree or to do the opposite of what is expected or desired.

The word “contrary” came to mind when I read these verses from chapter 12. They are so contrary to our human mindset of justice. It’s tempting to add “today” at the end of that last sentence but it seems the Bible would remind me to add “always” instead.

Romans 12 confronts our need to live by the grace of God that will enable us to express true and proper worship through a renewed life. Clearly the old laws of blame and punishment were intended to reveal sin and they worked. What seemed new to the Romans was the idea that God was in charge of renewal as well as justice and revenge.

We may pride ourselves as modern-day believers that we understand that kind of grace but it’s apparent to me those long-ago instructions from Paul are still a necessary reminder that our human nature has to struggle against the desire to repay evil with revenge.  That’s contrary!