Sometimes To Grow You Have To Lose Something

pruningDo you know what pruning is? Not a dried, bitter plum, but an action taken by a gardener for healthier plants. They remove dead wood, trim living wood, all so it can be healthier and more fruitful. It’s also a process we as Christians go through.

John 15:1-4

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. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.

Jesus is like a vine, life flows through him to the branches connected to him. Guess who the branches are?

God is the one who cleans the rotting, dead wood off our lives. He also trims off the good, but not useful things if something better can grow in its place. I thought about what that meant one Sunday, what does it look like?

Pruning People

My experience may not be yours exactly; we’re different so we require a personal touch. What I noticed is two things were cleared up almost immediately: my cursing, and my love of porn in late 2014. I didn’t make an effort to change, I simply lost the urge. Snip!

Then my attitude began to change. This pruning is part of the sanctification process. Serving others grew into generosity, which is now rolling into my one big thing. (I’m not telling you what that is to see if you recognize it growing. This will let me know how much growth there is.)

How It Works In My Experience

Here’s what I noticed about how pruning works for me. I lose interest or desire in something, it dies and falls off. Something else takes its place.

One major cut that caused internal strife was a business I ‘owned’. Like oil and water, it and the new me did not mix. I tried, but it wasn’t happening. It was cut off, we both lost our dead wood, and grew from it.

Another example, martial arts. I have 26 books and multiple DVDs on them, was in class for years, and still enjoy watching it and talking about it. It is a good branch, not an entirely fruitful one.

It was trimmed back, the interest lessened, and my studies in that are filled with different studies now. The class time was replaced with working with the homeless ministry since money was tight at the time. I occasionally meet up with the group, we’re still friends.

At times the interest just dies, and I drop something I did for a long time. The TV show, Vikings, I loved since it came out, the history of it. This latest season I only made it through two episodes. Dead wood.

It’ll happen again, with what, I don’t know. The principle is God prepares you to be more productive in His kingdom. Have you seen this principle at work in your life?

Going Deeper Into The Bible and It’s Cultural Relevance

bible-question-markWhat does your Bible study look like? Do you crack open a book of devotions in the morning? Curiously explore a particular topic or book? Maybe you just let it fall open and put your finger on a random spot, calling it a day. As for me, I like to dig deep and feast.

The Bible’s relevance and longevity is amazing, considering it’s a book that has parts in over 3,500 years old. Part of my vision for this site is to encourage a thoughtful Christianity. That takes in-depth study, asking questions, and exploring. The “What Method” is my usual method of study. I added some questions to it.

The What Method

Taught by Pastor Randy, the method gets its name from the questions it asks. It’s the baseline I use in my Learning Under Jesus Bible Study. Here’s what I have been doing.

  • I copy the passage in my notebook, along with any parallel Gospel accounts.
  • Then like a curious toddler, I begin asking questions of the text: what is going on, what is this about, what was taking place that impacts me now, what’s the point, what don’t I understand, what else does the Bible say, what can I learn from that, what is this passage saying, what does it mean for me, and what can I learn from this?

The key is to stay in the passage for a while, peeling back the layers. Exploring the context of the passage in relation to the book, and the book in relation to the themes of the Bible. Any commands given? What principles is it teaching, and so on.

Going Deeper

The method is adjustable pertaining to the person. I wanted to explore what it means culturally by adding four more questions.

  1. What did it mean culturally then?
  2. What does it mean to the culture now?
  3. What is the result if it’s rejected?
  4. What happens ideally if it’s accepted?

To look at the first question, I like BibleGateway’s resources. It has a paid and free version, I have the paid version for more resources. The notes from the 1st Century Study Bible, and the commentaries How To Read the Bible Book by Book, Halley’s Bible Handbook Notes, and the Bible Panorama are especially helpful. It’s really interesting to look at Jesus against the backdrop of Judaism, and the Hellenistic culture.

The second question requires us to look at the world now. It helps if you understand relativism andGoing Deeper postmodern lines of thought. Then you can get into the thoughts and motivations. Those aren’t new, though; they’re ancient as well. These two questions alone can fill up pages in my notebook.

The last two questions look at the doctrines, principles, guidelines, and commands in the passage. Then you think about the consequences if it is ignored. The results from following them? Consider this example, STDs wouldn’t be a problem if everyone remained a virgin until marriage and stayed true to their spouse. It wouldn’t have a way in.

Look at both in context of you personally, and the culture you live in.

Grow Into An Effective, Thoughtful Christ-Follower

Paul told Timothy, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” This is another way to equip you. Context matters, seeing how it fits, and it can’t change our lives until we apply it.

What method do you use in your Bible Study?

Where Should I Start With My Bible Reading?

We’re told we need to read the Bible daily. “It’s good for you,” someone says. Off to the store, or the internet, we go looking for reading plans and devotionals. They just don’t fill us up. Unsatisfied, we ask ourselves, “where do I start?”

With a pen in hand, I love to dig into my Bible like it’s the best tasting meal ever. Searching for applicable truths that are ready for action. Snacking on devotionals has its place, reading and studying the Bible is the meals I have been enjoying. If you ever wondered where to start, here’s my Bible Reading Plan in order.

The Beginning
  • Gospel of John: Christ reveals himself as the Son of God. You can wade or dive deep in Bible Reading Suggestionsit’s theological richness.
  • Gospel of Mark: Jesus never stops in this Gospel. The first Gospel recorded highlights Jesus as a servant. My favorite parable lives in the pages. The Parable of the Sower.
  • Romans: Recommended to me by Pastor Jaime. It’s the closest I’ve seen to a systematic theology in the Bible. Highlights color the pages in my Bible. Romans 12:1-2 remains a favorite verse and reminder.
  • Galatians: Known as the book of Christian freedom. Paul addresses a controversy in Galatia. The details are in Acts 15. I turn to it when I face burnout.
  • The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7)/James: Christian Living 101. Welcome to BASIC training.
  • The Gospel of Luke/Acts: Written by the historian Luke. Acts picks up where Luke ends. Acts stands as a testament of what believers and the Church can and should do in the world.

These served as the foundation. Don’t end with this, the deeper I go reveals much more room to explore. I worried at one time that I would bleed the Bible dry of insights. No more, it gives, and gives, and gives. No wonder it’s called “God-breathed” in 1 Timothy 4:13.

Looking At The Big Picture

I encourage you to look at the big picture as well. The foundation covered about sixty years of history. Now it’s time to look at how it all came together over the course of thousands of years.

  • Read the Bible Cover to Cover

It looks daunting. There are plans that let you read the Bible in a year. You can if you want. These are my recommendations:

  1. Get an easy to read translation like the New Living Translation (NLT) or the Message. The point isn’t study, it’s to get the overview of the Biblical narrative.
  2. Read it chronologically as the events happened in history. Here’s a link to Blue-Letter Bible’s reading plan. You’ll jump around as the story unfolds. I’m following this plan before bad.

I firmly believe in the importance of this. Biblical illiteracy is staggering among even believers.

 The issue is that it’s a matter of ignorance, people just don’t know. They crumble when their beliefs are challenged. I’ll point you to some resources that will help at the end of the post.

  • Read Hebrews: It takes the Old and New Testaments and beautifully ties them together. It even makes Leviticus make sense when you finish reading it.
Going Deeper

This is what I’m doing now. I call it Learning under Jesus. It’s an in-depth study of the Gospels. I haven’t hit the halfway point yet and already on my second composition book.

  • Do a Chronological Study of the Gospels: My study Bible, the Zondervan Life Application Study Bible, has a section called the Harmony of the Gospels. That’s my outline. You can use the Blue Letter Bible link if you don’t have one.

We’re called to be life-long followers of Christ. I decided to start where the disciples did, at Jesus’ baptism. From it I learned history and a progression of understanding. I jokingly refer to it as Seminary with Jesus.

Extra Reading

Check out the Equipping the Saints page. For challenges to your faith, or your own doubts and questions, I recommend the following:

That’s it. For future reference, I’ll add these to the Frequently Asked Questions page. Where are you going to start?