Monday, April 15, 2013

Garden Themed Bible Studies


Looking for a garden themed Bible study?  Over the years we’ve posted quite a few on this and related blogs.  We’ve collected them here because their varying dates and locations makes them hard to find. 
We hope they’re helpful to you.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Gardening Bible Study: Psalm 1

How does water get to the tree mentioned in verse 3


How does the water get to the rest of that tree?

-               Does verse 2 tell us anything about that?

-              What do the following verses have in common with the actions described in verses 2 and 3?
              -        Joshua 1:8
              -        Psalm 119:97
              -        1 Thessalonians 5:17
              -        Ephesians 6:1

What is the difference between the leaves and the fruit?

What is the relationship between the leaves and the fruit?

What is the relationship between the water and the fruit this tree produces?

What does the fruit tell us about selflessness?

Thursday, June 25, 2009

More about Rain

As discussed in a previous post, God’s interventions in our life are a lot like rain: they provide fruitfulness and hence are to be savored. How else are they like rain?

Just as rain comes in small, individual, drops that provide a cumulative result, God usually acts in a series of small ways that add up. If we are listening, God speaks to us here and there about ordinary things; how to handle seemingly mundane matters, how to interact with the people we come in contact/have relationships with, what choices to make amongst options. If we consistently listen for—and to—His voice in the midst of our daily lives we will see a big difference over time.

Further, rain varies in intensity and so do God’s interventions. Sometimes He sprinkles; we get a little nudge from the Holy Spirit in the midst of our day-to-day activities. Sometimes He really pours; God speaks clearly and directly, perhaps through a message at a worship service, through a godly advisor, or through a passage of scripture. Sometimes His interventions take the form of answers to prayer. We need to be on the lookout for them in all their forms.

Also like rain, God’s interventions vary in frequency. Some seasons are rainier than others; we go through stretches when God seems more communicative than other times. Conversely, there are times when we don’t seem to hear as much from Him. God moves on His own schedule, so we must adapt to Him. That’s why it’s important to be well rooted in Him, it helps us through those dry spells. (More on roots here.)

Finally, we need to avoid things that interfere with our receiving the benefit of His actions. Rain runs off compacted soil, but is absorbed by loose loam; we can learn from that by eliminating things that make it harder to appreciate God’s directions, things like pride, distractions, and preconceptions. More on that here and here.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Appreciating Rain

Now that my garden is in I find myself paying a lot more attention to rain. Outside the gardening season I’m indifferent to it. But once spring arrived it became a focus. At first, rain was a concern because I needed it to get my newly planted seeds to germinate. Now it’s important to help my plants grow and bear fruit. The result is that I pay a lot of attention to weather forecasts, considering whether and when it will rain and how much rain is expected. I am also much more appreciative of rain when it comes; in fact, I almost savor it.

It strikes me that we should have the same focus on God’s interventions into our lives, things like His promptings and blessings and the insights He gives us. Like rain, they don’t happen every day, but they are beneficial when they do. They germinate new areas of productivity. They are essential to growing and sustaining fruitfulness where He’s already planted us. Without them we become dry and stagnant, and eventually whither. This analogy it hardly original; it is presented in multiple passages of scripture. See Deuteronomy 32:1-2; Psalm 72:6; Isaiah 45:5-8 and 55:10-11; Hosea 6:3; James 5:7-8. See also Psalms 63:1 and 143:6-8.

The bottom line is that we should eagerly look for those interventions and appreciate them when they occur.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Making the Most of Odd Minutes

I find my self spending odd bits of time in my garden. If I have a few spare minutes I look around to see how things are developing and maybe do some quick tasks like pulling a few weeds, deadheading marigolds, or removing suckers from tomato plants. It’s a pleasant way to spend otherwise empty time and, over time, it increases the garden’s growth.
We could benefit from similarly directing bits of our free time to our spiritual growth. If we have extra minutes here and there we can look at how we are growing in God or do a few things that add to that growth, things like praying, offering bits of thanks and praise, or thinking about scripture we’ve been exposed to lately. God recommends such things. See Sirach 18:20 (self examination) 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (praying); Colossians 3:16 (giving thanks); James 5:13 (giving praise); Psalm 1:2-3, Joshua 1:8, and Sirach 6:37, (meditating on scripture). Just like the odd minutes in our physical gardens, those actions are pleasant and add to growth over time.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Growing Our Roots

As discussed in a previous post, we are blessed if we are firmly rooted in God and suffer if we are not. So how do we grow our roots? Let’s look at both plants and scripture.

Plants grow their roots by combining what they take in through their existing roots with other aspects of their being. They absorb water and nutrients through whatever roots they have. They put those things together with the energy they take in through photosynthesis. They incorporate all that into their own inherent nature to produce growth, including growth in their roots. In other words, they grow their roots by making what they absorb through them a real part of themselves.

It’s the same with us. We grow our roots—our relationship with God—when we put what we absorb through it to work. We first draw guidance and instruction, our spiritual nutrition, through our existing roots. We do that by listening to God through prayer, studying/meditating on scripture, worship, and interaction with other believers. We put those insights to work by actively, intentionally, consistently, applying them. That’s combining them with the other aspects of our life: the other resources God gives us and our very nature. The result is growth in all areas, including our relationship with God—our roots. We therefore grow our roots by incorporating what they give us into all aspects of our lives.

Scripture reflects that dynamic: that we grow by putting what God shows us into practice. Jesus repeatedly taught that we are blessed when we act on—implement—what, God tells us. He promises blessings generally, Luke 11:28, John 13:17, and describes some of the forms those blessings can take. They include increased intimacy with and knowledge of God, John 14:21 and 23, increased substance, Matthew 5:19(b), and increased ability to withstand difficulty. Matthew 7:24-25; Luke 6:47-48. His disciples related the same dynamic, no doubt describing what they experienced. James 1:21-25, 1 John 2:5-6. The Old Testament also describes how we are blessed by consistently living by God’s instructions. Deuteronomy 11:8, Isaiah 56:1-2.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

What We Can Learn From Dandelions—The Importance of Being Rooted

I’ve been doing a lot of weeding lately and have noticed a few things about dandelions. They are adaptable; they thrive in all sorts of areas. They are tough; they withstand adverse conditions well. They are incredibly tenacious; simply picking their leaves, flowers, and top roots will not get rid of them. Regardless of what we think about dandelions, we have to admit that those attributes are desirable, so what can we learn from them?

One thing is that those attributes have a common source: the fact that dandelions are very well rooted. Mature dandelions have very long, strong, tap roots that go far into the soil. That allows them to stay alive in areas and conditions that are less than hospitable. Their root system reaches beyond that apparent adversity to draw what they need from another place. It also explains their tenacity; absent the use of chemicals, you can’t get rid of a dandelion unless you pull out its tap root or at least a good portion of it.

Scripture reflects the importance of being well rooted, albeit in God rather than in soil. It repeatedly speaks of how those rooted in God and His ways are blessed. They are strong. Job 29:19; Ephesians 3:17-19; Colossians 2:6-7. They become wise. Ephesians 3:17-19. They are fruitful. Proverbs 12:12; Ezekiel 17:6. They have beauty and are complete. Ezekiel 31:7; Ephesians 3:17-19. They are able to persist in difficult circumstances, Proverbs 12:3, and to overcome adversity. Isaiah 53:2; Jeremiah 17:7-8. Perhaps that’s why Colossians 2:7 instructs us to be “firmly rooted” in Christ.

Scripture also instructs that those who lose their rootedness in God, or who seek to be rooted in other things, suffer for it. They whither. Job 18:16; Isaiah 5:24. They bear no fruit, or at least no good fruit. Wisdom 4:3-5; Sirach 23:25; Ezekiel 17:7, 9; Hosea 9:16. They become weak, shaken, and susceptible to upheaval. Job 8:16-19; Wisdom 4:3-5. They become weak and eventually die. Sirach 40:15; Ezekiel 17:7, 9; Hosea 9:16.

The point should be clear: we are much better off being rooted in God than not being so. How we grow those roots is discussed in another post.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Pornography is Like an Invasive Plant

Most experienced gardeners have had to deal with invasive plants at one time or another. They're not usually recognized as a problem at first; to the contrary, they may initially appear to be beneficial. But soon they start to spread, crowding out other, indisputably fruitful, plants. And not only do they cause the loss of the good plants’ productivity, they also deplete the nutrients of the underlying soil.

Many Christian men have had similar experiences with pornography. It too looks good at first, seeming to add a little spice to life. But it rarely stays under control. Instead, it consumes energy and attention that should be used for productive purposes and depletes our spiritual strength.

That is not a recent phenomenon; scripture confirms that lust—the power behind pornography—has always had those effects. The book of Proverbs, written thousands of years ago, attests that illicit sexual matters initially appear attractive, Proverbs 5:3, 7:16-18, but eventually get beyond our control. Proverbs 6:27-29. It also describes how, left unchecked, they consume us, Proverbs 5:9-11, with tragic results. Proverbs 5:4-5; 7:21-23. Jesus confirmed those dynamics, Matthew 5:28-30. The delivery system has changed, but the stuff being delivered is still the same.

So what do we do about it?

Experienced gardeners know that there are two primary countermeasures to invasive plants. The first is to seal their gardens off; they are careful to prevent those plants from getting into their gardens in the first place, and failing that, to completely weed them out as soon as they appear. Half way measures don’t work; if the plants are present in any quantity the gardener must spend time and effort on containment that is needed to nurture other plants and will likely fail no matter how hard he tries. The second is to make the legitimate crops as strong as possible so they are more resistant to those invasive plants that appear in spite of his best efforts to keep them out.

Scripture and experience confirm that the same is true with regard to pornography. The best approach is to avoid it altogether, to stay away from areas, virtual or otherwise, where tempting materials are likely to be found, Proverbs 5:8, 7:24-25, c.f. Proverbs 7:7-8, and to completely eliminate them if they are present. Matthew 5:29-30. And like a gardener tending to his bona fide crops, scripture instructs us to strengthen legitimate outlets for our energies so we can better deal with those instances where sexual temptation enters our lives, as it inevitably will in spite of our best efforts. Proverbs 5:18-23, 7:1-5. See also Matthew 5:31-32.
(Images about the benefits of eliminating things that distract us from God/His purposes for us were posted September 18d, October 3a and 14, November 21, December 8, 2004 and February 28 and August 3, 2005.)

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Cutting Back The Grasses

This is the time of year when ornamental grasses have be cut back; last year’s foliage must make way for this year’s growth. That requires removal of the fruits of a year’s efforts, as satisfying as they may be, and that the plants be reduced to stubs. Things look a bare, but there’s no other way; it has to happen if the grasses are to provide the shade and privacy expected during the coming seasons.

Jesus addressed that dynamic—that we must give up what we have to get the best God has to offer—several times during his earthly ministry. In the course of commissioning the apostles, effectively calling them to abandon their prior lives, He told them that “those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” Matthew 10:39. He later taught the same truth, when, shortly after He first revealed His coming passion, He said that “those who want to save their life will lose it.” Luke 9:24, Mark 8:35. John’s gospel also records Jesus, in describing His own death, saying that “unless a grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” John 12:24. Bringing the matter into sharper focus for purposes of this post, Jesus’ taught in the parable of the vine that deadwood must be trimmed from fruitful plants if they are to “bear more fruit.” John 15:2.

We see the same thing in our lives. We spend a lot of time and effort on something, and it’s pretty good, but we have to let it go to produce other things God wants from us. It usually doesn’t seem like a good trade at first, but it always ends up being well worth it if we submit to God’s will. We simply have to make that change if we are to be as fruitful as God wants us to be.

Let me give you an example. My wife and I had been married for 15 years and had a very comfortable life; we both had good jobs and, with no kids, time to enjoy the income that came with them. But God had different plans: He wanted us to adopt a child.

I was resistant, to say the least. Why should I give up my “good life” for one that would require us to, by the world’s standard, reduce our standard of living and give up any semblence of free time? It seemed like the epitome of a bad deal.

You can’t win an argument with God, so I gave in and am I ever glad I did. Our daughter brings joy—both to us and others—that we could never have imagined. Our marriage is more rewarding than it ever was before and we have experienced blessings that we could not have conceived of. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and it took some time to see those rewards, but they came and have exponentially exceeded that difficulty.

But none if that would have happened if I hadn’t been willing to let go of my old life. Just like the my grasses, it had to be cut back to make room for new growth. Looking back, I now realize that if I hadn’t given it up, my old life life would have ended up like grasses that aren’t cut back: with no potential for growth and with what was already there becoming increasingly tatered and decreasingly satisfying. God had a much better idea for my life and I’m glad He cut me back so I could receive it.

(Other images about conforming/yielding to God were posted at Images from God on September 12a, 18a, 18b, 18d, and 23; October 3 and 3a, November 6; and 21, December 8, 12, and 15, 2004 and January 10d, February 18, May 11, June 18 and 27; August 21 and 27; and October 3, 2005.

Other images about the process of growing/maturing in our walk with God were posted at Images from God on October 3a and 17, 2004; May 11, June 11 and 18; July 20, August 21 and 27; and October 3 2005.

Other images about trusting God amidst the unexpected/difficult/incomprehensible were posted at Images from God on November 7, and 15, 2004, and April 25, July 11b, and August 9, 2005.
Other images about the lessons we can learn from parenthood are posted at What We Can Learn About God From Being Parents. )

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Planning the Garden

“Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly…”Romans 12:6a

We can learn a lot about our spiritual gifts from our vegetable gardens: how to maximize our individual fruitfulness and how to best coordinate our gifts with others.’

Maximizing Individual Fruitfulness
Experienced gardeners know that particular plants are more fruitful in some circumstances than others. Cool season crops thrive at the beginning and end of the growing season, while warm season crops grow best during the hot months in between; you get a disappointing crop if you plant either at the wrong time. Similar results follow placing a full sun plant in a shaded spot.

We see the same dynamics in our Christian walk. Scripture confirms what we sense, that God gives different Christians different gifts. Each of us is better at some things and in some circumstances than others and that mix varies from person to person. See Romans 12:6a; I Corinthians 12:8-10, 30. Although we can do some good in our own strength, it is far less than we produce when we operate in the gifts God gives us. The difference is similar to what you’d see when a cool season crop is planted too late or a full sun plant is grown in the shade: some fruit is produced, but both the quality and quantity are noticeably less than they could be.

Coordinating Our Gifts
A successful gardener takes the differing nature of individual crops into account when planning his garden, coordinating them to maximize the garden’s overall productivity. He considers which types of cool season crops to plant, picking those that’ll mature before it’s too late to successfully plant follow on warm season crops. He considers the height and relative location of crops planted at the same time so they don’t block each other’s sun. He takes the dynamic of companion planting—the effect that causes some plants to thrive when placed close by certain other types of plants but causes yet others to be stunted if grown in the same place—into account by placing complementary plants beside each other and separating antagonistic crops.

Scripture tells us that we should similarly analyze each others’ gifts to maximize our common effectiveness. Paul taught that we should look beyond our individual gifts to see how their interaction with others’ hurts or helps our collective fruitfulness. He explained that certain combinations are either ineffective or downright counter productive, I Corinthians 14:1-17, 23, while others dramatically enhance our overall fruitfulness. I Corinthians 14:24-33.

***
Just as each plant and garden is different, no sets of spiritual gifts, either individual or collective, are the same. Nonetheless, they all have one thing in common—their fruitfulness is dramatically increased if we take the time to analyze how to best match what God has given us to the situation at hand.
(Other images about conforming/yielding to God were posted at Images From God on September 12a, 18a, 18b, 18d, and 23; October 3 and 3a, November 6; and 21, December 8, 12, and 15, 2004 and January 10d, February 18, May 11, June 18 and 27; August 21 and 27; and October 3, 2005.
Other images about the need for connecting/working with other believers were posted at Images From God on September 18c, 18d , October 3a and 8, 2004.
Other images about God providing things we need, but can’t provide for ourselves, were posted at Images From God on September 12a, 17a, and 18c, October 3a, 3b November 6, 10, 21 and 27, 2004 and January 2, 10b, and 10c, June 13 and 27, 2005.)

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Weeds

“Other seed fell among the thorns; and the thorns grew up with it and choked it out.”
Luke 8:7

Gardeners are familiar with the dynamic described in Luke 8:7, part of Jesus’ parable of the sower. They plant seeds hoping for a crop, those seeds sprout and grow, but so do the weeds. If they’re not pulled they overtake the crop, block out the sun, and so stunt the good plants that there’s no crop.

But gardeners also know there are ways to prevent that. They can put sheet mulch around their plants that not only makes it harder for weeds to sprout, but also provides extra nutrients that speeds the crop’s growth, making it far less likely that whatever weeds do sprout can overtake them. They also make a conscious, and continuing, effort to look for and pull any weeds that do come up.

That same dynamic is present in our lives. We lose our fruitfulness if we let ourselves get surrounded by distractions from God and the things He’d have us to. Those “weeds” take different forms—excessive emphasis on career, status, or material things; too much time spent on hobbies; too much media—but they have a common effect: they divert energy God intends for fruitfulness to other purposes. Instead of producing fruit they produce thorns.

Fortunately, the same measures that work in the garden work in our lives. We can put down the spiritual equivalent of sheet mulch by building time with God—prayer and time in the Word—into our daily routine; they both make it harder for the weeds just described to take root and nourish us for greater fruitfulness. And like a gardener regularly checks for weeds, we can engage in regular self examination that will show us the weeds that need pulled in our lives.

(Images about the benefits of eliminating things that distract us from God/His purposes for us were posted September 18d, October 3a and 14, November 21, December 8, 2004 and February 28 and August 3, 2005.

Images about the importance of exercising the spiritual disciplines were posted September 17a, 18a, and 18d, and October 3a, and 8, 2004 and January 10d and August 27, 2005.)

Sunday, January 22, 2006

A Gardener's Prayer

Father, conform me to Your garden plan so that I am used to the fullest, with no wasted space, to produce what You want. Your plan is perfect; help me to remember and accept that, even if I don’t understand the details.

Give me all I need to produce the crops You want. Help me to use those things to the fullest, with no waste.

Help me to yield exactly the crop You want, precisely the quality and quantity you are looking for. Help me generate fruit so pleasing that You can't help but smile.

Protect me from anything that would interfere with that result; keep those things away from me, but, if I have or must be exposed to them, cleanse and heal me from their adverse effects.

Give me patience to get through the times when you want me to develop roots, stems and leaves instead of fruit, and during the times I need to lay fallow.

In Jesus’ name, Amen.
(Other images addressing the need to conform/yield to God were posted at Images from God on September 12, 18 (part 3), 18 (part 4), 23, October 3 (guitar), 3 (garden soil), November 6, 21, December 8, 12, 15, 2004 and January 10, February 18, May 11, June 18, 27, August 21 and 27, 2005.

Other images dealing with patience/waiting on God were postedat Images from God on October 1, November 21, December 8, 2004 and June 11, 18, and 24, 2005.

Other images about the benefits of eliminating things that distract us from God and His purposes for us were posted at Images from God on September 18, October 3 and 14, November 21 and December 8, 2004 and February 28 and August 3, 2005.)

What We Can Learn About a Fruitful Christian Life From “a tree planted near streams”: Psalm 1:3


“Such a one is like a tree planted near streams; it bears fruit in season…”Psalm 1:3 (New Jerusalem Bible)

We can learn a lot about leading a fruitful Christian life by thinking about the circumstances of the “tree planted near streams” that “bears fruit in season” described in Psalm 1. Three things come to the fore: humility, patience, and the fact that fruitfulness takes real effort.

Humility
First, consider where the tree is—down in the bottoms. That is a low spot, not an exalted place. The sustaining elements God provides through “streams,” water and rich alluvial soil, are only found in abundance in valleys.

So it is with us. God provides his richest blessings to those who do not elevate themselves, but instead humbly go where He is, even if, by worldly standards, that is “beneath them.” See Philippians 2:5-11,Hebrews 12:2Proverbs 15:33 and 18:12.

Patience
Consider also that a tree does not bear fruit overnight or all the time. It takes years to grow from a seedling, to a sapling, to a mature fruit-bearing tree. And once it reaches maturity, it will not bear fruit all the time, but will instead have times of fruitfulness interspersed with periods of recovery and regeneration.

The same is true of us. We too must mature, both in our natural development and in our relationship with Christ, before we can bear fruit. There’s no rushing it, we just have to wait upon the Lord for Him to get the most out of us. And we have to be patient during the times between crops, recognizing that what we do then prepares us for future fruitfulness. See Matthew 10:22, 24:13; Romans 2:7; Hebrews 10:36; James 1:3; 2 Peter 1:6. See also Genesis 16 and Genesis 21:8-21 

Effort
But that doesn’t mean that we are only passive observers. Instead, fruitfulness requires real effort on our part. That is true in two respects.


First, fruitfulness doesn’t just happen because the tree is provided with water and nutrients. It must absorb those essential ingredients and convert them to leaves, flowers, and fruit. Once fruit forms, the tree must continue to nurture and support it as it grows and ripens until harvesting.


And that’s not the half of it. A tree must go through a lot that’s not directly related, but essential, to producing a crop. It must weather cold winters and hot summers, wind storms and, since it’s planted by a river, the pressure of flood waters once or twice a year.


Christians must likewise put real effort into producing the fruit that God expects from us. We must take what God gives us for His purposes and be sure to do all it takes to turn it into the harvest He seeks. We too must persevere through the difficulties that are an unavoidable part of this life. Although we can’t bear fruit without God’s gracious provision, that provision will go for naught if we don’t do our part. See Proverbs 2:1-5, Sirach 6:18-37, Matthew 25:14-30, Matthew 25:31-46, Ephesians 2:10, James 1:21-25, James 2:14-16. See also Luke 12:16-21

(Other images based on water related themes were posted at Images from God on September 12b, October 1, November 6, 7, and 10, 2004. A series of four images dealing with a somewhat related theme (a garden hose) were posted September 18, 2004 here, here, here and here.

Other images about humility were posted at Images from God on October 1 and November 10, 2004.

Other images dealing with patience or waiting on God were posted at Images from God on October 1, November 21, December 8, 2004 and June 11, 18, and 24, 2005.

Other images about diligence/perseverance in doing God’s will were posted at Images from God on October 1, 3a, 8, and 17 and November 7, 2004 and January 10c, June 11, 13, and 18; July 15 and August 27, 2005.)