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?
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.
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.
NIV Romans 11:17 If some of the branches have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, 18 do not consider yourself to be superior to those other branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports
MSG Romans 11:16-18 Behind and underneath all this there is a holy, God-planted, God-tended root. If the primary root of the tree is holy, there’s bound to be some holy fruit. Some of the tree’s branches were pruned and you wild olive shoots were grafted in. Yet the fact that you are now fed by that rich and holy root gives you no cause to crow over the pruned branches. Remember, you aren’t feeding the root; the root is feeding you.
Good grief! That was all I wrote as I read two different versions of Romans 11 this particular morning. I am in so far over my head theologically that my only hope is this small portion to try to wrap my head around and hoping that will come tomorrow. It’s only later in the day that God gives me a real-life application.
My husband is on the phone with his brother reminiscing about their sister who died last month, sharing stories and memories. She’d entered their family as a teenager in the late 1930s. She was “the wild olive shoot” God chose to graft into their family as surely as any natural born sister could be. I’m listening to “good grief” between these brothers and that reminds me of my own morning comment and these words from Romans about how God chooses to prune…and to graft.
My father-in-law was in the ministry. They already had four sons and another daughter in a time when their annual income was about $1500 dollars…but there was that “primary root.” That turned out to be enough to feed and nourish one more branch. God planted this sister in their family, and then honored his word in all their lives, and now mine.
“If the primary root of the tree is holy, there’s bound to be some holy fruit” and then for all of us who are also grafted in to “Remember, you aren’t feeding the root; the root is feeding you.”
NIV Romans 9:21 Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use?
NLT Romans 9:21 When a potter makes jars out of clay, doesn’t he have a right to use the same lump of clay to make one jar for decoration and another to throw garbage into?
These two versions of the same verse from Romans 9 reminded me of a game our grandson used to play with us. He liked Pokémon trading cards and he would go through the images one by one asking us to decide if it was pretty or ugly. This verse make me feel the same way that I felt about those cards. I didn’t understand why my grandson wanted us to decide. I didn’t want to look at the same cards over and over. I didn’t even like those cards but I loved the little boy so I did it.
I do know when I read these two verses I decided the NIV words about the clay pot “for special purposes and some for common use” was the “pretty” version and the NLT’s “for decoration and another to throw garbage into ” was the “ugly.” The theme of Romans 9 as a whole seems to be God does what he wants, when he wants and with whom he wants. It’s much easier to say I believe that than to understand it.
At lot of faith is based on understanding and I think maybe that’s what makes this chapter so important. It’s the challenge that God can use words to demand a human response like pretty or ugly. Roman’s 9:21 forces me to “feel” and respond. I don’t understand it but I love the one who says look again and decide… so I do it.
NLT [New Living Translation] Romans 7:9 At one time I lived without understanding the law. But when I learned the command not to covet, for instance, the power of sin came to life, 10 and I died. So I discovered that the law’s commands, which were supposed to bring life, brought spiritual death instead. 11 Sin took advantage of those commands and deceived me; it used the commands to kill me. 12 But still, the law itself is holy, and its commands are holy and right and good.
I bet you’ve had the experience of speaking with a customer service agent at some point. Hopefully you weren’t speaking to me all those years ago when I was supposed to be a helpful assistant to a frustrated caller. The law is like a good customer service agent. That’s what came to my mind when I read this passage from Romans 7. There’s help available whose purpose is to supposed to solve a problem but a successful outcome depends on who you talk to.
My story is a perfect example of v11 “Sin took advantage of those commands and deceived me.” I answered the phone, I obeyed the rules of the job, I was concise and I was accurate in what I said. The end result having done everything that was required of me was I hung up from that call proud I had so politely put that caller in his place. “So I discovered [and so did that poor caller] that the law’s commands, which were supposed to bring life, brought spiritual death instead.”
The law is a really good customer service agent. The right agent who gives concise and accurate help that’s all explained in the user manual [the Bible] can solve a lot of frustrating issues about operating a life in obedience to Christ.
NIV [New International Version] 5:1 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God.
TLB [The Living Bible] 5:1 So now, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith in his promises, we can have real peace with him because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us. 2 For because of our faith, he has brought us into this place of highest privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to actually becoming all that God has had in mind for us to be.
As much as I love the book of Romans and the NIV version it’s easy to read familiar words and phrases like “justified, peace with God through Jesus, grace in which we now stand, and boast in the hope of the glory of God” and let them slip by because I know I believe them. The challenge is not to let that happen. I want the truth of Scripture to be more important to my everyday life than that. That’s when I’m thankful for being able to read another version like The Living Bible, and be reminded how much those familiar phrases matter.
I am “justified” because God sees my faith in his promises through Jesus’ eyes. The reality of peace with God is Jesus Christ has done that for me. My faith is the gift of access to the grace that gives me confidence I can look forward to actually becoming all that God has in mind for me to be.
The Living Bible is a paraphrase created by Kenneth N. Taylor, the founder of Tyndale House and first published in 1971. Dr. Taylor used a previously translated version, the American Standard Version of 1901, to create The Living Bible. Taylor intended his paraphrase to put the basic message of the Bible into easier-to-read language, not to replace accepted translations.
The New International Version is a completely original translation of the Bible developed by more than one hundred scholars. The Committee of Bible Translation was charged to meet every year to review, maintain, and strengthen the NIV’s ability to accurately and faithfully render God’s unchanging Word as new discoveries are made about the biblical world and its languages.
Don’t neglect the privilege you have to read other versions of Scripture, especially when they seem familiar to you. God will make his truth worth your effort.