SIGNS OF GROWTH

It is spring and we see signs of growth all around us.

 

USED Crepe myrtle just beginning to open in spring
Crepe myrtle budding in the backyard.

 

The crepe myrtle in the backyard is just now beginning to open with a promise of beautiful flowers in the near future.

 

USED First rose of the summer
First rose of the summer!

 

Outside the bedroom window is the rosebush with the first rose of summer.

 

USED Azalea blossoms up close
Plethora of azalea blooms grace the yard.

 

The azalea bush in the backyard astonishes us each year as it blooms with a plethora of gorgeous flowers in a glorious display of color.

 

There are other signs of growth, however, that are not part of the natural ebb and flow of nature. I am referring to cranes.

 

I’m not talking about birds — rather, I am referring to construction cranes.

 

USED Crane visible from interstate in Nashville
Crane hovering over construction in downtown.

 

 

USED Crane in Nashville (C)
Crane high in the air over building.

 

Construction cranes seem to be ubiquitous in some communities. Everywhere you look, you can see a crane hovering over a building site.

 

While there are folks who will be inconvenienced by the construction indicated by the crane’s presence, a realistic view of the crane is that there is growth in the area. Someone is building something because of their confidence in the community that the investment will be rewarded based on the community’s growth, population, revenue, … all sorts of indicators that go into the decision for new construction.

 

In short, the presence of construction cranes are an indication of a healthy, growing community.

 

Growth is observable not just in plants and communities but also in human kind. It is easy to see the changes when the baby grows into the toddler, the toddler into the young child, the child into the teenager, the teenager into the adult, the adult into the senior citizen.

 

USED Newborn with mother
Newborn baby with mother.

 

USED Baby - illustration of limber
Baby showing us what limber looks like!

 

USED Learning to walk (C)
Toddler learning to walk with the help o a little scooter.

 

USED Baseball player (C)
Child becomes young baseball player.

 

Changes in our physical growth are fairly easy to see.  There  should also be growth in our spiritual life as Christians, but sometimes that is harder to see!.

 

Paul made the distinction between infants and mature Christians when writing to the church at Corinth:

But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way?

1 Corinthians 3:1-3 [ESV]

 

While not the only harbinger of immaturity, according to Paul, jealousy and strife between Christians are an indications of immaturity, and such actions reveal that the individual is still acting through the flesh and not following Christ. This type of behavior is allowing our human character to control – it is not an indication of control by the Holy Spirit.

 

The writer of Hebrews also talks about Christian maturity.

For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.

Hebrews 5:12-14 [ESV]

 

According to these verses, the Christian who is mature in the Lord is one who has discernment that has been trained by the word of righteousness, that is Scripture or the Word of God. Further, the writer says that this discernment is trained by constant practice. While the Holy Spirit indwells the Christian and is available for illumination of the Scripture, the Christian must read and study the Word and must pay attention to the instruction of the Spirit. In other words, the Christian must work and practice to train their power of discernment. When this is done, the resulting discernment enables the Christian to distinguish between good and evil.

 

So, what are the indicators of growth in our Christian life? How do I know if I am growing from an infant into a mature Christian?

 

There are many indications of growth in our Lord, including obeying His commands and loving each other.

If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.

John 15:10-12.

 

Perhaps the best identification of virtues indicative of growth in our Christian life is the listing is found in Galatians 5:21-22 [ESV].

 

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

 

This is no ordinary fruit. While the words sound like things we talk about every day,  the imprint of the Holy Spirit on the words takes them to an entirely different realm than that of our world.  For example, the fruit of the Spirit of love is way more than casseroles and cards!

 

On Friday we will begin consideration of the fruit of the Spirit in a separate series on The Ruminant Scribe. In order for us to grow in Christ, we need to understand the work of the Spirit, and praise the Lord and our Almighty Father for the Spirit’s presence in our lives.

 

I pray that you will follow the Fruit of the Spirit Series and that it will be enlightening and encouraging to you in your Christian walk.  Please leave your comments and thoughts about how the Spirit is speaking to you through His Word on this topic.   I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

 

We are called to grow in Christ – we are not to remain infants, we are to mature. May I not be satisfied with milk, but may I seek to obtain the meat of the Word.

 

Praise the Lord, oh my soul!

 

Father, Thank you for giving us your Spirit Who encourages, teaches and empowers us to grow toward the likeness of your Son. Thank you for loving us so much that you provide the Spirit to do that which we cannot do for ourselves, and thank you for sending the Lord Jesus Christ to take our sin upon Himself so that we could become children of God. Enable me to show forth your Spirit as I interact with people who you bring into my life.

SPRING – A TIME FOR GROWING IN BEAUTY!

Much has already been said about spring, and it has been said by authors ever so much more erudite than this writer. Suffice it to say, spring is a beautiful time of year when the apparent death of winter gives way to new life. How fitting that Easter is, usually, in the spring of the year!

 

My focus here is not Spring in the broad sense of the word, it is one type of flower that I see as I turn the corner to leave our subdivision … Wisteria.

 

Wisteria blooms
Wisteria vine along the front yard fence.

 

I am definitely not a gardener. So, I don’t have any intrinsic knowledge about this beautiful plant, other than I love seeing it in full bloom along the fence line. I have lived in the same house for almost 30 years and have enjoyed these flowers each year. The vine uses any available support, here it is the fence, but it is also now climbing a neighboring tree and the telephone pole!

 

Wisteria blooming vine
Wisteria fine on the fence and growing up and onto the neighboring tree and telephone pole.

 

The wisteria vine makes my wandering mind turn to our Lord’s statement in the Gospel of John about the Vine and the branches.

 

Jesus was talking to His disciples, that is not only the original followers of Christ but us as Christians 2000 later, and He said:

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. … Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”

John 15:1, 4-5.

 

Read that again – Jesus does not say that when we abide in Christ we might be fruitful! He says that when we abide in Him and when He abides with us, we WILL bear MUCH fruit. The distinction between unfruitful and fruit-bearing is made clear in the next phrase: “for apart from me you can do nothing!”

 

With Him, we can do all that He commands – we are fruitful. Without Him, we can do — nothing. Not even a little!

 

Charles Haddon Spurgeon was preaching on the fruit of the Spirit, specifically on joy, and he said:

Precious as the fruit is, do not put the fruit where the root should be. Please do remember that joy is not the root of grace in the soul, it is the fruit and must not be put out of its proper position.

 

While the fruit is important, and we are called to bear much fruit for our Lord, the fruit is not the source of power or of encouragement or of strength for the Christian journey. We must look to the Vine as the root of “grace in [our] soul”.

 

In England we saw this building with wisteria climbing up the front of it, the blooms simply beautiful as they decorated the façade of the building.

Wisteria house in England
Wisteria on a building in England.

 

We are the branches. We are the ones who overcome the obstacles, even if they seem insurmountable, and cover them with love and the fragrant blossoms of the fruit of the Spirit. We are the ones who grow and twist around the people we encounter as we wrap our arms around them and reach out in love with the life-giving words of Jesus Christ. We are the ones who bear fruit for our Lord.

 

Be careful though — John 15 verses 2 and 6 contain a warning:

“Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. … If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.”

 

Just as with the wisteria vine, for those branches that do not bear fruit, the Vinedresser comes with His shears and cuts them off. In his Commentary on the Bible, Spurgeon says this about John 15:2:

If there be any, who are only nominally in Christ, and who therefore bear no fruit, their doom is to be taken away; for, in order to final perseverance and eternal safety, there must be fruit-bearing.

 

As for John 15:6, Spurgeon further notes:

That is all that can be done with fruitless vine-branches. You cannot make anything of them.   … It is useless if it is fruitless; and so it is with us, if we do not bear fruit unto God, we are of no service to him whatsoever.

 

This is a sobering thought. It is one thing to say that we are to bear fruit for Jesus, but quite another to recognize that if we refuse to do so, the Father will remove us, as one does an unproductive stick.

 

I must heed the warning when He is asking me to do something that is too big, that is outside my comfort zone, or that I simply don’t want to do. Rather than refuse, or drag my heels, I have to rely on Jesus’ promise that he is the Vine and that my power, my strength, my nourishment comes from Him. Then I can carry out His command in love, allowing His Spirit to control my words and actions so that His purpose will control.

 

Father, when I see the wisteria vine, I see beauty even through the twisting and turning of the vine’s branches.  I pray that when my Lord sees me, He sees a branch that is growing through His strength and in His power as I read and rest in His Word and then obey His commands.  Holy Spirit, enable me to do the tasks assigned for me in the strength of your power. May all my actions, thoughts and words be to the glory of my sovereign God.

 

 

 

 

 

REAL GROWTH DOES NOT COME EASILY!

In channel surfing one evening, we stumbled across Animal Planet’s program “Too Cute, Puppies.”  There also is such a program for kittens and likely for other critters, but being the ultimate “dog persons” we focused on the puppies. The program episode follows 3 or 4 breeds of dogs from the birth of a litter through the first 3 or 4 months of life, narrating the various experiences of newborn pups when they open their eyes, try to walk, roll over the step from the house into the yard, experience grass and leaves for the first time, etc.   The puppies roll, stumble, trip and fall over each other. They investigate their world and sometimes get stuck, the film capturing their little legs and feet pummeling the air as they try to get back into the house!

In short it is an entertaining, but cogent, reminder that real growth is risky. It does not come easily. We know this to be true from our own experiences. For example, I say that I want to be svelte, but those tight muscles and appropriate curves come only after long hours of exercise and disciplined eating, which for me would be a fiery trial to be sure!

 

Christmas 2008 124
Riding her tricycle with the wind in her hais is fun on a warm summer day.

 

Children need to run and play to develop strong muscles and bones.

child climbing on rope ladders
Child climbing rope teepee in Texas playground.

 

However, in this day of electronic gadgets to entertain them, it sometimes requires a firm hand to get them outside for proper development and growth.

children swinging at playground
Swinging is always fun!

 

Sometimes the challenge can be a bit daunting, but perseverance will pay of with plenty of fun and a sense of accomplishment.

child at playground gym
Campground play area in Texas campground.

 

But, even as we stress going outside, we know that such adventure and learning does not come without bumps, bruises and sometimes even broken bones … unpleasant by any definition!   Indeed, as adults, we can fall and break bones even when we are not running or jumping … for example, I fell in Alaska when those stairs just popped up out of nowhere!

 

What is true for our physical development is also true for our spiritual development. When we look at our own history, we often can see that real spiritual growth came during dark times and difficulties, not when everything was hunky‐dory. If we are honest with ourselves, we must admit that we learned valuable lessons and we gained insights and blessings even during the difficult times that we endured. Indeed, the fall in Alaska proved enriching to our spiritual lives as we watched, first-hand, the provision that the Lord made and as the Church ministered to us in ways that we cannot begin to explain.

 

The Apostle Peter says it like this in his first letter in Scripture:

In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith–more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire–may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

1 Peter 1:6-7 ESV

 

James, the brother of Jesus, says it this way:

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.

James 1:2-3 ESV

The King James Version translation of verse 3 says “knowing that the trying of your faith produces patience.”

 

Our daughter worked at a Christian camp in New Mexico one summer, teaching repelling off mountains. She sent this picture of her “office”.

 

Liz on the Rocks0001
Daughter in her “office” at a camp in New Mexico.

 

She related to me one of the devotional thoughts that she gave her campers after they spent the day above the tree line on the top of the mountain with beautiful views of the surrounding area below. Her thoughts are given here, not verbatim but in general concept.

 If we stand on top of a mountain, above the tree line, the vista stretches out below us, and it is beautiful. Usually, we remember that “mountain top experience” for a long time. But a careful look around reveals that, actually, there is virtually no significant growth up there. The rarified air might be crisp and clear, but it does not support growth.

Looking down toward the valley below, we can see trees, bushes, perhaps a hodgepodge of things, maybe just a blur of green.  No matter what we see from the top of the mountain, the truth is that growth occurs in the valley amongst the difficulties and challenges that daily life brings.

 

It is important for us to have a mountain-top experience every once in a while. We need time when we hear the Lord speak to us, when we know His presence in a very real way, and when we can receive energy, direction and new resolve to do His work in our world. But, our Lord does not want us to spend all our time there.

 

How do I know?  Because He did not remain on the mountain-top.  Remember Jesus’ transfiguration?

 

And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus.

Mark 9:2-4 ESV

 

And after this discussion with Moses and Elijah, the Father spoke from heaven saying:

 

“This is my beloved Son; listen to him.”

Mark 9:7 ESV

 

Jesus was on the mountaintop with a transfigured visage along with Moses and Elijah. The Law and the Prophets were giving him strength, encouragement, support and resolve to face the persecution, cross, rejection and pain that was fast approaching. His Father again confirmed His love for Jesus.

 

It was a highlight moment for Jesus and for the three disciples who accompanied Him. In fact, Peter wanted to build tents for them at the top of the mountain, thinking that they would be there awhile. Mark 9:5.

 

But, Jesus knew that He had to come down from the mountain so that He could do the work that the Father had entrusted to Him. He had to face the cross and defeat Satan and sin so that those He called to Himself could be cleansed by His righteousness that would cover their sin and filth. Jesus knew that if He was not this sacrifice, His people would have no hope of joining Him with the Father in heaven for eternity.

 

He had a job to do.  No tents necessary, Peter, we’re doing back down to the world.

 

That time on the mountain was important for Jesus. The time on the cross was important for us, and Jesus was totally aware of both these realities.

 

I am convinced that no experience the Lord sends or allows in your life is a wasted experience. You may not see the connection between the experience and where you are going, but God does. That class you struggled with in school … may well be the subject that you will use in your ministry years later. That relationship which resulted in rejection and abandonment … may well be the event that will unleash strength in you so that you can undertake ministries that you would never have dreamed of before.

 

If you were privileged to have had a “mountain-top” experience in your life, cherish it and recall it when you encounter difficulties. It is a gift that the Lord gives to you in preparation for what will be coming ahead. But, don’t bemoan the fact that you have to come down from the mountain. Praise the Lord for both the mountain-top experience and for the valley with its difficulties as they strengthen you when you are drawn nearer to the Lord.

 

The top of the mountain is pretty – but real growth occurs in the valley!

 

Mountain view with valley and lake (C)
Yosemite National Park Sierra Nevada Mountains, view with valley and lake below.

 

Father, you for those times you granted a “mountain-top” experience.  Thank you too for being with me in the valley during the times that I experienced hardship and pain.  Even when I cried under the load, you were there aiding and caring for me, with your Spirit interceding when I could not do so.  I praise your name, Father.  Enable me to love you with my whole heart, mind, soul and strength.