1 Chronicles 28:20

Then David said to his son Solomon, “Be strong and courageous, and act; do not fear nor be dismayed, for the LORD God, my God, is with you. He will not fail you nor forsake you until all the work for the service of the house of the LORD is finished.

This is perfect advice from father to a son. David has told the all the leaders that Solomon will be building the temple. This is part of what he then addresses directly to Solomon. David had lived a lifetime of being a man after God’s heart. He knew God’s character, and this allowed him to give Solomon this hope.

What can we learn from this? Can this apply to us today? We know that God’s character hasn’t changed. While God was with them in the Old Testament, He is in us through the Holy Spirit. He has promised never to leave us or forsake us (Heb 13:5). He has also planned good works for us to do (Eph 2:10).

So, our work for the Lord is never finished this side of heaven. He has promised never to leave us, and He is always with us. Therefore, we also should always be strong and courageous, we should act, and we should not fear nor be dismayed.

A Special Dogwood

Yesterday, I looked out of my back window, and saw that my dogwood tree is flowering. Joy rose in my heart, because this was a gift from God directly to me. You may be wondering what is so special about this event. After all, it is mid-late March in the Atlanta area. Dogwood trees are beginning to bloom all over town. However, this dogwood is special.

In the first few years after moving into our house in Snellville, the local nursery was offering free dogwood shoots to those people who brought their Christmas trees to be mulched. So, we returned our tree and received 4-5 little “treelings” with a few strands of root on each. I called them “treelings”, because there weren’t even big enough to deserve the name sappling. We put them in the ground across our back property line. Over the next few years, most of them succumbed to dogs, careless lawn mowing, or just the natural death of tiny tree shoots. However, one of them, in the back corner of our yard kept growing.

This tree has no reason to thank me for its growth. I may have fertilized it a few times over the years, but as our landscape matured, most of the plants just have to fend for themselves. Whatever water and soil nutrients the tree needed, it had to get from nature alone. Truly, only God was tending to the needs of this tree.

This tree has only bloomed twice before this year. As it got old enough to bloom, we added a shed to our yard that unfortunately shaded it from getting enough light to produce flowers. Years went by, and it bloomed about 10 years ago. Then the trees around it shaded it out. Most of those trees are in the neighbors’ yards, so there was nothing we could do about them. This year, it has finally, again found enough light to produce flowers. I anticipate there will be a few berries for the birds this fall.

Why does this tree give me so much joy? God showed me that this tree is like many of us, me included. It probably started life in a woodland behind the local nursery as a volunteer from one of their dogwood trees. It was dug out of the ground, wrapped in a paper towel, and given to someone who had no idea what it needed to grow and thrive. It had no say on where it was planted. It may have had a few times when someone tended to its needs, but most of the time, it had to rely only on God to provide what it needed to grow.

Don’t we feel like that sometimes. I know that I have. Sometimes, we have no idea how we got to a particular situation in life. Maybe we have someone who can help with our spiritual growth, but maybe not. We long for the light, so that we can bloom and produce fruit. But sometimes, we can’t find the light. We go years feeling like there is nothing but shadow all around.

But we are not forgotten! Though no one else may be around to help, God is always there. Even when we feel like we are in darkness that never ends, God is there. Just like He tended this dogwood tree, He makes sure that we have what we need. Though the tree may have craved more water and more nutrients, it had just enough to keep going. And here or there, just like the tree, there is enough light for us to bloom. The light may not last. We may produce fruit this year, then feel we are in the dark again next year. But God is still there. He is still caring for us. We will bloom again. We will produce fruit.

Spiritual Maturity, part 3

Friday, I found out that a precious lady from our church passed away unexpectedly. She was a faithful servant, always helping out anytime it was needed. I didn’t read that day’s verse until the weekend, which was probably a good thing. The verse was 2 Timothy 4:7.

7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; (NASB)

Paul wrote this when near the end of his life, knowing that he would soon face his death. Paul knew that he had completed the tasks that God gave to him to the best of his ability.

At the end of my life, I want to be like Paul and know that I have run my race well. I wonder whether my friend knew that she had run her race well. Dr. Billy Graham passed this last week. Did he feel that he had finished well?

I believe that this is the goal of spiritual maturity: Keep the faith. Persevere. Keep going. When you fall, get back up. Fight the good fight. Finish the course.

Spiritual Maturity, part 2

(If you missed part 1, you can see it here: http://www.mckennon.com/Ruths/2018/02/25/spiritual-maturity-part-1/ )

Two of the scriptures that I missed the last few days were Isaiah 40:30-31 and Jude 1:20.

30 Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; 31 but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint. (ESV)

20 But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, (ESV)

For me, these scriptures both talk about ways to increase your spiritual maturity. The Jude scripture directly says that this is the way to build your spiritual maturity. I think this is interesting, because it says we should take an active part in strengthening our faith. It indicates that that active part is to pray, relying on the Holy Spirit.

This isn’t “I want” type of prayers. This isn’t prayers that are about “me, my family, my friends. “. This is the type of prayer that says “God, let me step out of the way. What do you want?” As Christians, we each have the Holy Spirit within us. Therefore, we can call upon the Spirit to help us to pray God’s will on a situation and not just our own will. We can call upon the Spirit to pray for our enemies, not just our friends. We can call upon the Spirit to pray, when we don’t know what to pray.

There are many times in the Christian life, where we we feel faint, and weary, and exhausted. Let’s face it, life in this world is not easy. The verse in Isaiah promises renewed strength for those that wait upon the Lord. Though this verse uses the pictures of walking, running, and an eagle flying, I believe it is using those word pictures to talk about spiritual strength. For those that have spiritual strength, emotional and physical strength may follow. But spiritual strength does not need our bodies to be strong. I can see evidence of this in many older Christians, whose body is failing, but are still spiritual warriors.

What is waiting on the Lord? I believe it goes back to the Jude verse. We praying in the Holy Spirit, waiting to know God’s will, praying for our enemies, asking the Spirit how to pray. I think it also often means to wait until we hear from God. Rather than jumping into a situation, wasting our energy on our ideas of what to do, wait for God to speak. We do what he tells us to do, when he tells us to do it.

If we are wanting to strengthen our faith, these two scriptures give us a good place to start.

(Part 3 to come tomorrow)

Spiritual Maturity, part 1

I have not written for a few days. As I went back to the scripture prompts for those days, they seemed to be in a theme. The one for today was Hebrews 11:1

1 Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. (ESV)

This scripture talks about our faith. So many people seem to think this is talking about some sort of “blind faith.” In fact, many unbelievers think that faith is the belief in something that is not real. Biblical faith is nothing of the sort.

The things “not seen” in this verse are the things of the future. No one can see what comes after their death. We have some descriptions in the Bible. We hope for those things, because we cannot see them.

The verse also talks about assurance and conviction. Assurance and conviction are not words used of blind faith. They are words used about faith that has “seen” the reality of what is believed. That describes mature Biblical faith. So, what have we “seen”?

For me, I have seen the historical reality of my faith. I have looked at the evidence for Jesus life, death, and resurrection and found that evidence overwhelmingly compelling. I have read the Old Testament prophecies and seen how they have been fulfilled, giving me confidence in the God who inspired the Bible. I have studied the New Testament and seen the descriptions of churches that match what I know of people and churches today. That lets me know that I can trust the teachings, because the New Testament authors faced the same types of people and situations that I do.

Most importantly, I see how God has worked in my own life. I see his hand in guiding my life. I see the results where I have trusted Him, and unfortunately have seen the results when I have not trusted Him. I know the strength that He has provided me during trying times. I have seen the result of His goodness in my life.

Do I see perfectly? Of course not. Perhaps that is part of what is mean by 1 Corinthians 13:12 where it talks about now seeing in a mirror dimly, but then seeing face to face.

How do we increase in spiritual maturity? Part 2 to be posted tomorrow.

Seeking God

1 Chronicles 16:11

11 Seek the LORD and His strength; Seek His face continually. (NASB)

This verse is part of a psalm of that was written when King David assigned Asaph and his relatives to the Lord. Many of the psalms are labeled as songs of Asaph.

This verse reminds me of the promise that those who seek God will find him. That promise is a comfort when I feel distant from God. However, this verse reminds me that I shouldn’t be just seeking God when I feel distant from Him. I shouldn’t just seek God when I difficult circumstances in my life. I need to seek Him all the time. I need to seek not just His strength, but His face.

I need His strength to face the difficult circumstances in my life. I also need his strength to run from temptation and to do His will. He has given me His Holy Spirit to be that strength for me, but I must learn to live by the Spirit and not by the flesh. I learn that by seeking His strength and not trying to use my strength.

I also need to seek His face. In my human relationships, it is important that I see people face to face. Long distance relationships (whether with friends, relatives, or my husband) can be strained, because there is less face to face contact. When Mike was working in India, he was gone 4 months before I was able to go over for a visit. While we could email, text, or Skype every day, there was nothing like being directly in his presence again.

It is the same with my relationship to God. I need to be in His presence. While He is present everywhere, there are times when I know He is speaking directly with me. Sometimes this happens during worship. Other times I am in prayer or reading the scriptures. Again, this verse reminds me that I need to seek His face, I need to know His thoughts, not rely on my own opinions.

Ephesians 4:2

1 Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, 3 being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all. (NASB)

Because Paul is asking the Ephesians to walk in a manner worthy of their calling, that implies that we can, as Christians, walk in a manner that is not worthy of our calling. Wow! I have to ask myself, am I walking in a worthy manner or an unworthy manner?

Verse 2, which was the verse I was to read today, records the characteristics that will define a worthy walk: humility, gentleness, patience, tolerance and love. Those certainly are characteristics that I should cultivate in my life. I know that those are some of the characteristics of the fruit of the Spirit, and know that I want my life to display those attributes.

However, verse 3-6 interested me more. Verse 3 tells us we are to walk with those characteristics, so that we can diligently “preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Am I walking to diligently preserve unity and peace with my Christian brothers and sisters?

Who are my “Christian brothers and sisters?” Verses 4-6 makes it clear that there is only one body of Christ. No matter their denomination, their political leanings, their race, their belief on a biblical matter that is not doctrine, and even their belief on doctrines that are not the gospel. If they believe that Jesus died for the payment of their sins, was buried, and was resurrected, so that we might have new life, they are my brothers and sisters in Christ. As such, I am to diligently preserve unity and peace with them.

How do I do that? This brings me back to verse 2. I am to be humble, so I must not arrogantly assume that I am right. I must acknowledge that I have something to learn from them. I am to be gentle, so that means that harsh words (and the attitudes behind those words) are to be eliminated. I am to be patient. This means that it will take time. I have to allow that time, and not give up on the process. I am to be tolerant in love. That means that even when I do not agree with them, I have to give them the same dignity that I want for myself. The dignity to allow the Holy Spirit to work in their lives and teach them truth.

Transparency is Hard

With the beginning of a new year, I have started trying to journal some of my thoughts. Just two days in, this is what I wrote in my journal. It made me think that I needed to start my blog back up again.

12 Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. 13 Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. 14 Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. 15 Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. 16 Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers. – 1 Timothy 4:12-16 (ESV)

This passage was part of my Bible study this morning. Verse 15 stopped me in my tracks. “So that all may see your progress” was the phrase that caught my attention. I couldn’t get it out of my mind.

Progress, journey, improvement, or the theological word “sanctification” are all words use to describe that time in our life after we are saved, and before we die: that time where God is in the process of making us look more and more like Christ. God uses many varied circumstances in our life to accomplish this purpose. Some days are easy. We have time and energy and motivation to spend time in prayer, and Bible study, and with people of faith. We “feel” closer to Him. Then the other days come. The tough days. It might be circumstances that cause suffering for us, watching our loved ones suffer, or some person who makes us want to lash out in anger and frustration. Either way, those are the days that show us the real progress that we are making on this journey to be more like Christ.

What caught my attention about the passage in 1 Timothy is that this progress is supposed to be where everyone can see it. Wow! I don’t know about anyone else, but I certainly don’t like the idea if everyone seeing me make this progress, because that means they are going to see me struggle and fall. They might see the ugly pride and selfishness that still tries to hide in the corners of my heart.

I want to wait for the results of the progress, and then let everyone see it. Let them see just the good, that part if me that God has already molded to look like Him. After all, if they see the other parts, won’t they think that I am a hypocrite. What will they say about Christianity? Will they see my behavior and conclude that Christianity doesn’t work? Will they give up on “organized religion” because I or others can’t live up to the standard that we have set for ourself?

But then I see 1 Timothy 4:15 – “Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress.” Paul’s advice to the young leader, Timothy. I hope I am still young enough to take this advice.

Lessons in the Storm

We had a storm with very strong winds in our area this past week. As I watched the winds blow the trees around before the rain came, some random thoughts came to mind.

I first noticed the storm coming in, because of the movement of the trees in the backyard. The wind was blowing harder than I had seen it blow in some time. Also, the trees were bending back and forth, which we don’t see very often. I saw that we already had a broken limb that had come out of our maple tree, and was hung up on a limb on a nearby pine tree. That pine tree is about 60 feet tall, and the top 20 feet or so was swaying back and forth about 45 degrees from vertical each way.

The trees fascinated me. That a large pine tree could bend so far and not break amazed me. And yet, the maple tree already had a broken branch. It reminded me that I can bend with the winds of life, or I can break. But, how do I make sure I am bending, and not breaking?

Pine trees like to grow straight. I also have a direction that I like to grow. It may be a particular way of life or standard of living. It may be a church or ministry in which I have invested my time and talents. Whatever it is, I certainly don’t enjoy it when the winds of a storm blow me away from that direction.

If I refuse to bend, like the brittle maple branch, I am in danger of breaking. However, if I give up my pre-conceived notions about my life and bend with the winds, I can survive the storm unbroken. When the storm was over, the pine tree continued to grow straight. Many times after the storms in my life, I have been able to continue growing in the direction that I started.

However, even when I believe I have bent, a storm has permanently changed the direction of my life. I trust that these new directions are where God wants my life to go next. I think part of the bending process is the willingness to stay bent. For me, the hardest part is not knowing whether the bending is temporary or permanent. I struggle to trust God that He knows how much bending that I can handle before I break.

And sometimes I have broken. But thankfully, God is faithful to repair the damage like an expert arborist. Like the maple with the broken branch, I will always bear the scars of the breaks. However, like the maple I will continue to grow and flourish. Unlike the maple, I can learn and change, and become better at bending in the further.