Cruisin’

A few years ago, my parents took a cruise, and they had such a great time, I fully expect them to take another soon.  They came back with tons of pictures and had a lot of fun.  As they shared a little bit about their trip, I was surprised to hear just how much they could do.  Whether on the ship or at the next port, there were so many choices.

I’ve never gone on a cruise like that, but I think I’d have trouble deciding what to do.  I wonder how many people go on those kinds of cruises and choose to stay in their cabin all alone for the duration of the trip?  After all, what could be better than staying in the equivalent of a hotel room, looking through the porthole (if you have one), sitting on the bed, or — oh, I know, exploring the closets?  Short answer, everything.

While my parents were on the trip, they had incredible opportunities every day.  They couldn’t change the course of the ship, but while they were onboard, they could change theirs.  They could eat whatever they wanted, be lazy, be active, lounge, swim, shop, or just relax.  See the sights, take in a movie or a show, dine with new people every night, or enjoy a meal to themselves.

Our lives and the will of God are like their cruise in many ways.  Last time I wrote, we focused on the fixed, the unchanging part of God’s will.  God’s eternal plan of both redemption and justice will carry on, as He has ordained, no matter what you or I or anyone else do about it — just like the cruise ship.

Not everything in our lives is a fixed part of that unchanging plan, however.  While we’re on the voyage, we have considerable freedom to enjoy all the benefits of our gracious host, who would like nothing more than to show us all the wonder that awaits us.

15 Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.

— Ephesians 5:15-17

We can choose to do things our own way, of course, but we might end up wishing we hadn’t.  We can eat at the buffet as often as we like, and overindulge in whatever we choose to the point of sickness; or we can select what’s best, stay active, and grow stronger, all while enjoying the finer things God always intended us to enjoy.  (I hope you know I’m not just talking about food and exercise, here.  Life is full of options, many of them good, as long as we keep them in moderation.)

God doesn’t want us to hide out in our cabins by ourselves, either, not when we have the opportunity to spend time with so many amazing people.  We might be perfectly suited to helping someone else on the trip deal with whatever’s going on in their lives.  Maybe some of them can help us out, too.  Our relationships are meant to help us: family, friends, church — all meant to enrich our lives.  They don’t have to, of course.  We can choose friends who don’t help us, too.  How we choose to spend our time, and who we choose to spend it with, will have a lot to do with how much we enjoy the journey.

God’s will is the combination of both those plans He has decreed must happen and those plans He wants for us to choose for ourselves.  We are free, within the bounds of the bigger journey, to choose to do what excursions we take.

He doesn’t leave us without any guidance, though.  Sometimes, God will close doors, like the crew on the cruise ship keeping us out of areas where we don’t belong.  More often, He will post warnings or offer recommendations how to make the most of our journey; and it’s up to us whether we choose to follow His counsel or not.

God wants us to enjoy this life.  That’s not to say we won’t face some choppy seas from time to time, but we can choose to trust Him to guide the ship, while we enjoy all the blessings He built into the cruise along the way.  He wants us to enjoy it, but He won’t force us to make the good choices.

So, back to my original dilemma: if I can choose to do so many things in this life, how can I know which decisions are best?  If God does have a plan for my life, and the Scriptures make it pretty clear that He does, He wouldn’t leave me without some way to figure out which way to go, would he?

Making the most of our life will require us to make the choices that will determine both our final result, be it eternal life or permanent separation from God; and, the choices that will allow us to make the most of every opportunity we find along the way.  Learning to recognize the difference between His opportunities and our chances to settle for less than His best will make all the difference.

As for leaving us without guidance, no, He wouldn’t.  Next time, we’ll talk about how you and I can learn to make the most of our lives.

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God’s Will and… the Love Boat?

Ephesians 5:15-17

15 Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.

Not too long ago, I found a re-run of a show called “The Love Boat” on TV.  Enjoying the kick of nostalgia, I tuned in for an episode and watched a show I’d not seen in decades.  If you’ve never seen it, this scripted show followed a pretty predictable pattern.  Each episode, the crew of the massive cruise ship “The Pacific Princess” would welcome aboard a collection of guests (usually a collection of well-known guest stars) who would come aboard, deal with whatever emotional turmoil was hounding them, and resolve their personal drama (often because of, or sometimes in spite of the well-meaning efforts of the dedicated crew) just in time to disembark to their happier ending, each better off for their time on the ship.

I’m sure you can find clips of the show, but be warned: this show was the epitome of cheesy, made-for-tv drama and comedy.  The problems ranged from the serious (a marriage on the rocks) to the absurd (a ventriloquist arguing with his dummy).  The celebrities and costumes, not to mention the morality, are definitely relics of their times, but you might find a laugh or two — that, or wonder if the people who made the show or its fans were crazier.  For the most part, though, it had this going for it: by the time each episode ended, the ship was back in port, and the situations of the week were nearly always wrapped up neatly.  They were always wrapped up, one way or another.

Today, we’re starting to look at the enigmatic topic of the Lord’s will.

How’s that for an abrupt transition?  “Why are we talking about the Love Boat and God’s Will in the same breath?”, you might ask.  Not a bad question. If I didn’t know me, I’d wonder what I was talking about, too.

For those who’ve seen it, and even now have the theme song rattling around in their heads, you might suggest that watching reruns of The Love Boat might be the opposite of “making the best use of the time”, and usually, I would agree with you.  (Sorry about the song, though.)

I’ve noticed an unusual comparison between God’s will and the Love Boat.  Don’t believe me?  I don’t blame you.  Hopefully, by the end of this post, it’ll all make much more sense.  If not, maybe I should just try to write the scripts for the Love Boat reboot Hollywood is sure to be planning.

(Bonus points will be awarded to the first person who can respond to this post or find me and tell me the name of the actor and his character’s name of the Captain of the Pacific Princess.  Extra bonus points if you don’t need to use the internet to find the answers.  — Sadly, I did not need the internet to answer either question.  Even more bonus points if you find any watch any episode of the show and can tell me the plot.)

In fact, God’s will is actually a lot like travelling on a giant cruise ship like the Pacific Princess.  Stay with me, now.  The Bible reveals a lot about the will of God, and reveals that some of it, which I will call his declarative will, is going to happen whether we like it or not.  Some people also call this the immutable, or unchanging, will of God.

Imagine yourself on the Love Boat as a passenger.  Picture the massive ship making its way to its destination, with you onboard.  You, as a passenger, have no say in the speed or direction the ship travels.  You can’t stop the boat or turn it.  By the end of the voyage, you will be at your appointed destination.

The part we can’t control, that’s God’s declarative or immutable will.

According to the Scriptures, He put us here, He ordains the beginning and the end of our journey, and the galaxies dance at His direction.  Here are some of the major facets of His unchanging will:

  • God created us to have a relationship with Him
  • God set the standard for what is right and what is wrong
  • God offered us the freedom to choose that relationship or reject it
  • God knew each of us would choose to go our own way and reject Him
  • Christ came to rescue us from the devastating consequences of rejecting Him
  • Christ declared Himself to be the only way to be reconciled to God
  • Christ offered Himself as a sacrifice in our place
  • Christ left to prepare a new eternal home for us
  • The Holy Spirit came to help us live a life set apart for God
  • Christ will return to reunite us with God
  • God will honor the choice we made in this life, and either welcome us or allow us to forever go our own way into darkness, based on our choice to follow Christ or reject Him.

There is nothing any of us can do to change the facts of this declarative will.  Eventually, our ship will come in, and we will be held responsible for our choices.  We don’t have to like it, we don’t even have to agree.  Whether we do or not, each of us will give an answer for how we responded to as much of God as we have seen.

What does this unchanging, declared will of God tell us about Him?

He is clearly concerned with truth, and He wants us to know what it is, or He wouldn’t have protected and provided the Scriptures, sent Christ as a living example, or sent the Spirit to guide us.  He definitely loves us, or He wouldn’t bother with us when we choose to go our own way.  He shows us mercy and offers guidance from the Scriptures, the life of Christ, and the ministry of the Holy Spirit.  He respects us enough to allow us the choice to go our own way even if that choice isn’t what He would want for us.  He surely has a strong sense of justice, as He refuses to leave us to do whatever we please with no consequence.  He offers us hope for the future return of Christ and the joys of an eternity with Him.

What does this unchanging, declared will of God tell us about us?

I suppose the answer depends on how we have responded to Christ, to this point.  If continue to reject Him, we are not going to get the happy ending at the end of the voyage.  We won’t even get to experience the smallest benefits of the journey, either.  We will completely miss out on the cruise of a lifetime, as if we’d locked ourselves in our cabin and let the entire trip pass us by.  We will never enjoy the trip, and our final destination won’t be any picnic, either.

However…

If we have responded to Christ, even then we are not “done” with God’s immutable will.  Quite the opposite, in fact.  If we have come to understand the unchanging, declared will of God, we should understand how much is at stake for the other passengers on this journey.  The guy in the cabin across the hall needs God’s love.  The lady three cabins down needs Christ’s healing.  The family of five staying on the deck below needs His peace.  What are we going to do about it?

Since we know this journey will end for each of us, and our answer to Christ’s question of “Who do you say that I am?” will determine whether we get the happy ending or not.  Those of us who have already found help in Him ought to be urgently seeking to help as many as possible find their happy ending, too.

See, God’s unchanging will is only part of the story.  We cannot redirect the ship, but we can decide what we’re going to do with ourselves while we’re on the cruise.  Whether we walk down the gangplank at the end to the warm welcome of our happy ending or not — that’s up to us.  Next time, we’ll talk about that aspect of God’s will, the part we can do something about.

The Joy of Generosity

Our recent posts have focused on how to make the most of our financial blessings.  We began by discussing the difference between ownership and stewardship, and we established the things we have and the abilities we use to earn them are God’s investment in us.

Last time, we explored some practical questions to ask ourselves about how we handle our finances.  If we take a little time to review our spending, giving, and saving habits and we trust God to help us make whatever adjustments we need to make, we’ll begin to enjoy a less stressful, more stable financial life.

In fact, if we follow God’s plan for our finances, we might just find, in the process of making better choices, we have more of a surplus than we ever thought possible.  I hope you look forward to that as much as I do because that’s when our financial freedom begins to get exciting.  When we have more than we need, we can start to make a difference for others.

More than a lack of debt, more than a sense of financial stability, even more than a sense of prosperity, a life of generosity ought to be our goal.

The world needs help, badly.

As a brief aside: a lot of politicians, from every side of the aisle, are arguing about how much the government should provide for the poor, the sick, and the needy.  Some think the government should help a lot, others think the government can’t afford it.  You know what I think?  I think the only reason the government even has to consider getting involved is that the Church forgot that we, not the government, were given that charge.

We are supposed to help the widowed, the orphan, the sick, and the needy, are we not?

There are a few reasons I am confident God expects us to be generous.

  1. He considers the good we do to others as though we’ve done it to Him.

In a very telling passage of Scripture, we see a very clear admonishment.

31  “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32  All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33  He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

34  “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35  For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36  I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

37  “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38  When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39  When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40  “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

41  “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42  For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43  I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

44  “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

45  “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

46  “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

Did you notice the glaring difference between the sheep and the goats?

Generosity.

Clearly, charity and kindness matter very much to God.  But, we shouldn’t think we ought to just because God said so.  His standards exist for a reason.  They aren’t arbitrary.

So, why else would he care?

  1. Generosity brings great joy to those who put it into practice.

I can’t begin to recount all the times the generosity of God’s people has changed the lives of countless millions of people.  Even in the smallest of ways, finding out your gift was the answer to someone else’s prayers is astonishingly satisfying.  Maybe even more so than receiving the answer to your prayers, which is amazing enough.

This week, find a simple way to go the extra mile for someone else.  If you can, do it quietly, so they don’t even know it was you.  Jesus warns us not to do our good works in front of me, looking for their praise.  You’ll be surprised how much fun it can be.  You’ll know, and God will know, and trust me — that’ll be enough.

Need another reason why we should be generous?  Alright, here’s one more.

  1. Christ set the ultimate example.

Think about how much He gave for us.  He left behind the splendor of Heaven.  He gave His time, His energy, and His life to minister to others.  He spent that time among the neediest, the sickliest, the most sinful.  Everywhere He went people drew on Him for strength, and healing, and hope, and He just kept giving.  All the way to the cross, where He suffered and sacrificed everything for you and me.

If we really want to claim to follow Christ, we’re going to need to follow His example, aren’t we?  Seek out opportunities, no matter how insignificant they might seem, to do something good for someone else.

If you look, you’ll find them, and if you make the most of every opportunity, you will share the joy and the love of Christ with a world that is desperate for His help, and you’ll be far richer for it.

Four Questions

In exploring how to make the most of the blessings God has given us, our finances can be a challenge.  Last time, I encouraged us to see our money and our stuff as an investment by God into us.  If managed wisely, we can enjoy whatever resources we have and bless others and God in the process.

I’m not saying it’s always easy, and I’m not a financial planner, but rather than parrot a lot of financial planning advice, I thought I might offer four questions to help us think about how we’re handling our money.  Now, this isn’t a quiz, and I’m not about to track you down and grill you, or anything.  These questions are simply an opportunity to consider making some adjustments.

Do we know where our money is going?

Such a simple question, but very important.  Take a few minutes and look at your bank statement for the previous month.  Break down your expenses into a few categories, like stuff you spent on the house, cars, insurance, utilities, clothes, food, medicine, education, entertainment, etc.  Whatever categories make sense for you are fine, because this is just about you reminding yourself how you spent your money.

Use a spreadsheet like Excel, a pen and paper, whatever you like.  Just do it!  One of the reasons to take this step is to open our eyes to any surprises we might find.  In this world of credit/debit cards, it can be a little startling to see how many trips I made to the “convenience” store.  Another reason to do it is to assess whether we’re currently spending more than we’re earning, which we can only do for so long.

If you’re not sure this one month really paints an honest picture of your finances, go back one more month and see if the numbers show you any trends.  If you’re like most people, it will.  We’re creatures of habit, after all.

Once you’ve got a good idea where your money is going, you can begin to ask the next three questions.

Is our spending enriching our lives and the lives of others as much as it could?

See anything that’s dominating your expenses?  Maybe those are some opportunities to make some adjustments.  Are you spending more than you’re bringing in?  If so, you definitely want to make some changes.  Once you get past the necessities of food, shelter, and clothing, you can begin to evaluate if your purchases are really benefitting you or others as much as they should, given the cost.

Put simply: are we getting our money’s worth?

Would you have more to spend on continuing your education if you cut back on your Starbucks habit?  (My apologies to all of you who are thinking about sending me angry replies.)  In my own life, my wife noticed how often we were eating out, and encouraged us to eat at home more, and the results have been amazing, for both our health and our pocketbook.  You and I get to choose how to spend our money.  We make choices every day, and every choice to spend on one thing is a choice not to spend that same money on something else.  Make sure your choices are making a difference in your life or someone else’s.

You might have noticed, I left out two of the categories everyone should be including in their budget when I recommended the list from above.  My last two questions concern those two investments.

Are we giving to support the ministry of the gospel?

The Scriptures, in both the Old and New Testaments, set the expectation that God’s people are expected to give, monetarily, to support the ministry of the gospel.  We are to give cheerfully so those who devote their lives to the ministry of the gospel will have the necessary support for the task at hand.

The Old Testament institutes the practice of tithing (giving one-tenth of our income for the support of the ministry.)  Later, Jesus tells the religious leaders, who tithed even their spices but didn’t love anyone, that they should have loved people and tithed while they were at it.  The early church, in the letters of the New Testament, really expanded the practice of giving a tithe to being willing to share whatever each person could with whoever had a need.

God actually tells His people to test Him and see if He won’t honor those who obey Him in this command.

That promise does not mean we ought to give something to get more back.  We should give because we are grateful for all we have been given and because our gifts might be used to help others come to faith in Christ.

Are we careful to save during the times of plenty to be ready for the lean times?

Just like Joseph in Genesis 41, who knew lean years were coming to Egypt and prepared for them, saving the kingdom, we ought to prepare ourselves for tougher times.  Set aside some money from every paycheck to keep for a rainy day.  Auto-deposit some money into a savings account if you can, or invest in your company’s 401k plan, if it has one.    Lots of companies offer matching funds for investing some percentage of your salary into the 401k.  (This is literally free money.)  Or, you can start your own retirement account without much fuss.

Oh, and If the 401k is free money, credit cards and debt are the opposite.  Avoid them whenever you can.

Not sure how to get started?  Do what you can!  Start saving or investing with 1% right now.  Move to 2% when you realize you barely noticed the first 1%.  Before long, you will build up enough savings to handle small emergencies.  Keep going, and you’ll be surprised how much your savings grow, and your stress shrinks.

A good rule-of-thumb is the 10-10-80 plan.  Set aside the first 10% of your income for God and support your local church, the next 10% in savings or investments, and use the remaining 80% for your living expenses.

So, there you have it… four questions to help us make better use of the financial blessings we’ve been given.  God wants us to have an abundant life.  That may not always mean we’re swimming in piles of money; but He will honor those who humble themselves and honor Him.

 

 

You can’t take it with you (or can you?)

As we’ve set out on our journey to make the most of our lives and to enjoy everything God has in store for us, we’ve covered a lot of ground.  We’ve talked about making better use of our time.  We’ve discussed transforming how we think (and what we think about).  We’ve seen the danger of falling for the poor substitutes — the wooden nickels — the enemy would love to get us to accept, and we’ve given some thought to what real spiritual growth looks like.

In each of these areas of our lives, our choices make a tremendous difference.  When we choose to do things God’s way, things eventually work out.  Not always at once, and definitely not always the way we think they should; but, God makes a way.  When we trust and obey, God will do far more than we can imagine.

Trust and obey… with our time, talents, and our treasure.

Treasure?

Uh oh.  I don’t mind so much when God asks for my time.  I’m happy to use my talents to help out at church, but my treasure?  That’s another story.

Why is that?  Why do we get so nervous when the Pastor starts talking about money on Sunday mornings?  I really think we tend to get twisted around the axle on this one when we don’t need to.  God doesn’t need my money to repave the streets of gold, ok?

Quite the opposite, in fact.  Every good blessing I have, every scrap of possessions I call my own, everything I ever earned in this life — He provided.  He gave me the talents I use to accomplish my work, He helped me become the person I am, today, and He sustains me each day; so, I wouldn’t have anything without Him.

You might say He invested in me.

I get into to trouble when I confuse ownership with stewardship.  God owns it all, but He’s entrusted some of it to me.  He expects me to be a good steward, or caretaker, of His gifts to me.  My time, talent, and treasure are really His time, talents, and treasure.

Like any good investor, God is watching to see what return on His investment will result from what we do with what we’ve been given.  Will we give up something of lesser value for something worth more?  To do that, we have to know the difference.  If we’re supposed to be investing what we’ve been given, we really need to understand what God wants in return.

Fortunately, we have a great example to follow in Christ.  If we examine His investment portfolio in the gospels, what do we find?  People.  He invested everything He had in the people around Him.  He spent His life on their behalf, ministering to their needs, healing their hurts, and helping them grow closer to God.

I’m not saying, as some would suggest, that we must give every dollar we can to a church and live under a vow of poverty.  I am saying, if we choose wisely, our investments could benefit more than just ourselves.

Yes, how we choose to spend our money is a part of that good stewardship; but, how we use what we’ve already spent makes quite the difference, too.

Do you have a nice home?  Great!  There’s nothing wrong with having a nice home.  Nothing.  I do have a question, though: can you imagine a way to use that home to minister to others?  Something as simple as inviting others over to build relationships would be a great start.  Hosting a Bible study or offering a guest room to someone in need are just a couple of ways we can invest.

Do you have a nice car?  Excellent!  I’m convinced God wants you to enjoy whatever blessings He has provided.  Could you enjoy it and find a way to use it to help someone: to bring someone to church, deliver meals or run errands for a shut-in?

We can look for ways to use all the great stuff we have to invest in people, and when they see what God has done through us, they can give glory to God and we can reap an eternal reward — their presence in Heaven.  What can we take with us when we leave this life?  Only the people we invite to join us there.

Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy and thieves do not break in and steal. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.

Matthew 6:19-24

I wonder how much we can accomplish if we look for opportunities to share what we have been given with others?  The stuff I’ve accumulated?  It’ll be gone tomorrow.  The people I invest in?  They are an eternal dividend.

 

Spiritual Maturity – a Glimpse of the Future

As we continue to grow in our walk with Christ, we might be surprised by just how far we’ve come.  Or, we might find ourselves getting frustrated with just how little progress we’ve made.  As I’ve thought about my own spiritual maturity, and taken an honest look at myself, I realize I have a long way to go.

Then, God shows me just a glimpse of the future He has in store for us, and my hope is renewed.  We won’t truly reach spiritual maturity until we’re reunited with God, personally, in the life after this one; but that’s not the hope I’m talking about.  To be sure, the new heaven and new earth will be fantastic, but that’s not the only life He plans to give us.

Jesus spoke of the kind of life He means for us to have compared to the life offered by our enemy in John 10:10:

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

See that phrase, “to the full”?  Other versions of Scripture render it as “more abundantly”, or “rich and meaningful”.  You see, God doesn’t plan for us to just huddle together and scrape by until Christ returns.  He calls us overcomers, more than conquerors, and tells us the gates of Hell won’t prevail against us.  How often do gates attack?  They’re not really all that mobile, are they?  No, He means us to bash them in.  To destroy the work of the enemy and lead the captives to freedom.

We’ve been talking over the past few days about only a few of the many ways spiritual maturity begins to show in our lives.  Today, I’d like to be the “ghost of Christian future” (to borrow a phrase from Dickens) and show you just a bit of the amazing life He has in store for us.

We’ll focus on seeing the world from God’s perspective.

In our early life with Christ, we focus on us.  Later, we focus on others.  As we reach full maturity, we focus on God.  We look at every person, situation, and thought from His vantage point.  Strangely enough, focusing on Him gives us the insight to love others more.  Not just our friends and acquaintances, but even our enemies — all of whom are precious to God.  When we see the world through His eyes, our priorities change.  We don’t have to worry about looking out for ourselves because we know He’s already got us in the palm of His hand.

We recognize the Church and she is beautiful.

Again, God’s perspective takes over, as we see the Church not just as a community to which we belong, but as the precious Bride of Christ.  We see the people in the Church as people who are righteous in His sight and beloved by God.  We don’t think of the members of the Church as part of a social group, but as a part of ourselves.  We hurt when others hurt, and celebrate when they celebrate.  We don’t stop at looking to them for support, but we do find ourselves becoming the support for others, oddly enough.  We find opportunities to teach, mentor, and help them grow, and rejoice when they see God’s victories in their lives.

We get involved in the ministry of reconciliation.

Those who used to be a bad influence in our lives, those we realized we needed to keep an eye on, are now the ones we reach out to with the hope of the gospel.  We are firm in our convictions, sure of the truth, and moved by love to reach — not to join — the lost.  Instead of them leading us astray, we help them find their way.  Led by the Spirit, we are inspired to offer the right words and deeds at the perfect moment to be used by God to draw others closer to the same joy we’ve found.

We don’t have devotions, we live a life of devotion.

As we grow into our maturity, the living and powerful Word of God isn’t just something we read once a day; it has become life and breath to us — we meditate on it even when we’re not reading it.  Every moment we do spend in its pages is precious as we revisit familiar friends and wonderful promises.  We see the entirety of Scripture as a reminder of the redemptive love our Father has poured out on us.  We connect the promise of a redeemer in Genesis to the eternal reign of our Savior in the Revelation.  We pore over the pages eagerly because they contain His Words, carefully protected throughout history and lovingly delivered to us.

Our prayer life, too, becomes more than it was.  We don’t “take time” out of our day to pray, anymore, as much as we pause during our ongoing conversation with God once in a while to get the other stuff done.  We bring every task, every situation, every need to Him as they happen, and we listen and obey as He directs our paths.  He is on our minds as we go about our routine, as we realize we’re on His mind as He goes about His.

Our problems cannot compare to our joy.

Yes, we still have troubles, and we will until this life has ended, but the “mountains” that once loomed large in front of us look like mere speed bumps in our rearview mirror.  God has been so faithful, seeing us through so many troubles, that whatever we’re facing today will soon be behind us.  We have eternity in mind, so a few days, weeks, or even years of struggle are just short-term opportunities for God to show up, again, and give us the strength and help we need.  We even use our troubles to inspire others.

All a matter of perspective…

Have you noticed a pattern?  In each of the areas we’ve discussed, the real change is our perspective.  When we begin to ask God to show us how the world looks to Him, we begin to mature.  How does the world look to Him?  Well, Scripture tells us God is love.  As we grow in love — love for people, love for His Word, and love for God, Himself,  changes everything.  And why not?  The Apostle Paul, in the very well-known passage on love in 1st Corinthians 13, says this:

8 Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. 13 So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

So, while I may not be where I’m meant to be yet, I sure like the look of where I’m headed.  How do I get there?  I can start by trying to see the world through the eyes of the One who gave everything for me.  That kind of love, when it really takes hold, makes all the difference.

Spiritual Maturity: Growing Up

Last time, we talked about spiritual maturity, and we started to examine what life in the early days of following Christ might look like.  It wasn’t always the prettiest picture, was it?  Keep in mind: everybody has to start somewhere, God and the Church are here to help, and every step draws us closer to who He sees in us.

We’re looking forward to a time when these words are fulfilled:

11 Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. 12 Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. 13 This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ.

14 Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. 15 Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church. 16 He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.

Today, I want to take a few minutes to talk about the changes that begin to happen to a follower of Jesus as they begin to grow beyond the basics.  Call these the teenage years, if you will.  Before we go any further, I should say that spiritual maturity has nothing to do with biological age, and these are not the only signs of growth; but, they’re a start.

Maturing believers focus more on others.

Spiritually maturing believers become more concerned with others than themselves.  Where we once thought, “What can that other person do for me?” we now ask, “How can I help the people around me?”  This can range from the simplest of expressions, like letting someone else go first, or helping a friend with a tough job.  We don’t spend quite so much time seeking our own entertainment, either.  At the very least, we grow to understand that those forms of entertainment should be more honorable and productive, as we begin to understand our time is a gift from God.

Growing believers look for healthy relationships (in and out of Church).

We begin to look around the Church, not for what satisfies and supports us, but for ways we can get involved and support others.  The church isn’t just a service we attend anymore, but a community, one that we would be reluctant to leave, even as we stumble across imperfections — and we will.  In this community, we find friends who start to become a part of our lives outside the church doors.  We might even find some folks we admire and try to emulate.  On the other hand, any old friendships that tend to pull us away from doing what we know to be right are reevaluated.  We might not end those relationships, as long as they’re not too toxic, but we don’t stay as close as we once did.

Developing Christians enjoy a better devotional time.

Our prayer life grows richer, too.  We take time daily to focus on God.  We don’t jump right to our never-ending shopping list, but we take a few moments worship God, admit our recent sins, thank God for His many blessings, and make our requests.  Even those requests will start to change, as we begin to ask God to work in us, not just for us, and we pray less about our needs, and more about the needs of others.  Oh, and we also start to take the time to quiet ourselves and listen to God to speak in that still, small voice.

Maturing believers develop a habit of regularly studying the Scriptures as a standard for living.  They take the time to read and learn from the Bible outside of church services.  They double-check the teachings they hear against what the Bible has to say.  Because they value the Word of God, they start remembering verses they find encouraging or helpful.

Advancing followers don’t get sidetracked by problems as easily.

Problems don’t rattle the growing Christian quite as much as they once did.  Prayer becomes an earlier response when facing the storms of life, not a last resort.  Fewer sleepless night when things go wrong — and they will — reveal a peace and joy that wasn’t quite so obvious before.  We’ve started to see God answer our prayers, which helps us gain confidence in His providence.  We begin to call to mind His promises from His Word to help us when we struggle.

I hope you see some of these signs of increasing maturity in your own life.  I hope those around me see them in mine, to be honest.  As I will be, I hope you’re challenged to strive for the ones you don’t see in yourself.  I’m far from perfect in any of these areas, but am convinced that unless we have an idea of the goal, we’ll never try to get there.  So the next time we get together, I hope to give us a glimpse of what we can become, with His help.