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 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.