Sketches: Spiritual Maturity

Mature

Gentle Reader,

I’ve needed to bump up my weights (for exercise) for awhile. Finally did so. Heavier dumbbells. The tortures of a new resistance band. I’m sure it’s good for me, but I can barely feel my arms right now.

So, let’s talk: spiritual maturity. (Prompt submitted by longtime reader and encourager Jodi. Thank you, Jodi).

I’ve sat and pondered this for awhile, for what, exactly, is spiritual maturity? Ultimately, I believe that it is the process of becoming more like Christ, also known as sanctification. In simple terms, this means to be set apart. To be different. To have all the distractions removed and rough edges smoothed so we can be the people that God wants us to be.

We cannot naturally achieve sanctification. While every human has the capacity to do good things, our nature is warped at a fundamental level. When, through the beauty of God’s prevenient grace (the grace that “goes before,” the action of God drawing all people to Himself) we come to the crisis of repentance and cry out to Christ for forgiveness, the Holy Spirit takes up residence within us. He begins to “unwarp” our nature. In both a moment and across a lifetime, which is a mystery and I am nowhere near smart enough to explain to you, He purifies and completes us. I suppose we could think of it as a prisoner being set free, but taking a really long time to figure out that he has been freed. He needs help in learning to drop old patterns and habits, to learn to live as a new person, in a new way.

John Wesley loved the topic of sanctification. Really loooooooooved it. ‘Twas his jam. In the opening paragraph of the sermon Circumcision of the Heart, he wrote:

…he is only preaching to them “Jesus and the resurrection,” with the necessary consequence of it, — If Christ be risen, ye ought then to die unto the world, and to live wholly unto God.

He went on:

 That “circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter;” — that the distinguishing mark of a true follower of Christ, of one who is in a state of acceptance with God, is not either outward circumcision, or baptism, or any other outward form, but a right state of soul, a mind and spirit renewed after the image of Him that created it…

And so one does not have to be in vocational ministry or in possession of a theological degree in order to be spiritually mature. Growth in grace and Christlikeness is a natural consequence of right relationship with God. We don’t always get it right. We stumble. We fall. It can take a long time for us to let go of wrong beliefs and cherished sins. In the end, though, God will have His way in us. Through the gentle yet at the same time head-walloping conviction of the Spirit, He will enable us to pry our white-knuckled hands off of those things He wants us to release (that is, if we aren’t consistently refusing to listen to Him and hardening our hearts, which is always a danger).

When talking to His disciples about false teachers, Jesus said:

Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits.Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them.

– Matthew 7:15-20 (NKJV, emphasis mine)

God, the Master Gardener, is in the business of resurrecting bad trees. He waters, feeds and prunes. If we submit to the process – because we always have choices – we will produce the good fruit of:

…love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.

– Galatians 5:22b (NKJV)

These traits are ours in an instant, yet they take a lifetime to develop. The Spirit has to train our minds to think differently and teach our hearts to feel differently. We start off as cranky little babies, focused only on ourselves. In time, with His patience and mercy, we move toward becoming the light-bearing, Gospel-breathing people He wants us to be.

Spiritual maturity has nothing to do with age and everything to do with attitude. It all boils down to a simple question: Do I want to submit to God in this thing or not? Sometimes it’s a “two steps forward, one step back” dance. I freely confess to you that there are days when my answer is “no.” Then I get to learn things the hard way. I get a rough lesson in the necessity of not responding to people and life like a squawking toddler. Thankfully, there is grace.

In short, spiritual maturity means that we grow up.

And boy, do we ever need to grow up.

Signature

For all posts in the Sketches series, go here.

SUBSCRIBE TO THE NEWSLETTER, REST STOPS ALONG THE WAY. PONDERINGS AND PUPPY VIDEOS DELIVERED TO YOUR INBOX EACH SATURDAY(ISH).
Advertisements

Five Minute Friday: If

Repent

Gentle Reader,

So I was asleep on the couch before 6:00 p.m. last night and woke up long enough to wash my face, throw on some sweats and drop into bed.

Kate says: if.

Go.

Like all human beings, there are moments when I intentionally stir the pot or poke the bear because I want to see what happens. It’s like when you fight with a sibling; you know what buttons to push to really drive him crazy. And it always ends with everyone in angry tears.

But when I write about serious issues, it is not my intention to just throw a fire cracker into a circle of people so I can watch them freak out. It’s because I’m observing and participating in what’s happening in our churches, in our country, and it’s all disturbing. Deep, soul-roiling disturbing. I don’t pretend to be the smartest or to know the most, but I know enough to be able to confidently assert that faith and politics, whether of the conservative or liberal variety, have been conflated to the degree that party/ideology is seen as the savior.

We’ve very much become “Jesus, and…” people. Defending abhorrent actions of leaders, believing that the end justifies the means. Jesus and the Supreme Court appointee that we want. Jesus and the passage of this law. Jesus and us in a position of power. 

If we don’t step back and critically, even mercilessly, evaluate our actions, positions and words, we are in danger of truly destroying our witness in this country. People who are far smarter and wiser than I bluntly say that we need to repent. Those who don’t follow Christ need to see us, hear us, repent.

God, forgive us, forgive me, for focusing on the temporal. You tell us that we are strangers and aliens. You tell us that this world isn’t our home. You tell us that we are to be servants, that we don’t have permission to oppress others. You say that if we love You, we will show it by obeying Your commands – to love others, to speak truth, to do justly, to walk humbly. Empower us, Father, to make the choice that we cannot make on our own, which is to be about Your business. To prioritize Your will over and above all else. Help us remember that Your church spans the globe and encompasses all nationalities, ethnicities and languages. Our identity is found in You, not in the soil upon which we were born or live.

Forgive us for turning a blind eye to sin or attempting to justify it because we think we can get something out of the person or the decision. Forgive us for remaining silent in the face of evil. Forgive us for ignoring the bleeding man on the road. Forgive us for our pride and our complacency.

Holy Spirit, lay Your hand of conviction heavily upon us. Show us where we, where I, have gone wrong. Grant us eyes to see and ears to hear. Cleanse us, Jesus. Renew our hearts. Fill us with holy love and zeal. In the Name of Christ, Amen.

Stop.

Signature

SUBSCRIBE TO THE NEWSLETTER, REST STOPS ALONG THE WAY. PONDERINGS AND PUPPY VIDEOS DELIVERED TO YOUR INBOX EACH SATURDAY(ISH).

Where Has All the Conscience Gone?

Storm

Gentle Reader,

The view from my window is not a pretty one. The wind blows, pulling at the early summer roses, forcing them to release their petals. The sky darkens, clouds laden with rain and hail. The birds are silent, hunkered down in their nests, beaks tucked into their feathers. The roughly 2-foot scar on my abdomen throbs. A storm is brewing.

In 1955, Pete Seeger wrote the first version of the folk song Where Have All the Flowers Gone? Penned just after the fall of Joseph McCarthy but before the United States became heavily involved in Vietnam, the lyrics are oddly prophetic, beginning with:

Where have all the flowers gone?
Long time passing
Where have all the flowers gone?
Long time ago
Where have all the flowers gone?
Girls have picked them every one
When will they ever learn?
When will they ever learn?

And ending with:

Where have all the graveyards gone?
Long time passing
Where have all the graveyards gone?
Long time ago
Where have all the graveyards gone?
Covered with flowers every one
When will we ever learn?
When will we ever learn?

Indeed, when will we ever learn?

I am ashamed of this government, these people who call themselves leaders. They play politics while children scream and shudder, wondering if they will ever see their parents again. I am appalled by those who speak of immigration in cold and abstract terms, forgetting that there are real humans involved. I am angered by Christians who dismiss the immigrants, especially the children, who say “they aren’t ours to worry about.”

Jesus begs to differ.

And behold, a certain lawyer stood up and tested Him, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”

He said to him, “What is written in the law? What is your reading of it?

So he answered and said, “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,’ and ‘your neighbor as yourself.’ ”

And He said to him, “You have answered rightly; do this and you will live.”

But he, wanting to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

Then Jesus answered and said: “A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, who stripped him of his clothing, wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a certain priest came down that road. And when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. Likewise a Levite, when he arrived at the place, came and looked, and passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was. And when he saw him, he had compassion. So he went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; and he set him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. On the next day, when he departed, he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said to him, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I come again, I will repay you.’ So which of these three do you think was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves?”

And he said, “He who showed mercy on him.”

Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

– Luke 10:25-37 (NKJV; emphasis mine)

I am not a lawyer nor an expert in the law. I don’t pretend to be. I do know that legally emigrating to the United States is a far more difficult process than most of us realize. I do know that someone from a poverty-stricken country isn’t going to have thousands of dollars to go through the process (application fees, lawyer fees, travel costs; see this for an example). I do know that our government has contributed to the problems in Mexico and Central American countries via ignoring certain dictators because it benefits us, raising tariffs on goods, overthrowing the occasional president.

I do know that these people are our neighbors and they’re crying out for help.

Will there be some who manipulate the system? Yes. Does that mean you slam the door in everyone’s faces? No.

The United States isn’t a theocracy; we aren’t a Christian nation. But there are Christians living here and if that’s you, you can be sure that Jesus commands you to love your neighbor – all people, everywhere, sacrificially, all the time. It doesn’t matter if the immigrant who moves in next door is here legally or not. Our job is to love and serve.

Our consciences are seared on this issue. We think we have rights and privileges because of where we were born, rights and privileges that we must defend, at all costs, against “those people.” Well, “those people” are quite literally the same as us. Same biology, same aspirations, same needs. Why are we building walls – literally and metaphorically – when we are given no leave to do so in Scripture, which is supposedly our foundation for living? Why are we so desperate to cling to the passing, fading, identity of “nation” when we’re flat out told that we don’t belong here (see Hebrews 13:14, 1 Peter 2:11)?

I’m hardly an anarchist. I believe in order. I believe in obeying the laws. I also believe that our allegiance is to God, over and above all else, and when the direction the country takes is contrary to His way, we stand up, say so, and tenaciously stick to His path. Our ancient brothers and sisters did so when they refused to worship the emperor of Rome and when they rescued babies left out to die in the cold. Our brothers and sisters living in the shadow of the Third Reich did so when they hid Jewish people and helped smuggle them out of the country. They saw the evil for what it was. They didn’t attempt to defend or justify it.

It’s time for us to let go of the illusion of the United States as morally superior and innocent. We aren’t. This country is just like any other throughout history. Good and bad, bright and blight. We aren’t special. We aren’t unique. Right now, we horrify people around the world. This “zero tolerance” policy is wrong. Refusing to really do anything about it – all parties are guilty of this – is wrong.

Christian, you and me have to face this. We have to stop making excuses and we certainly, definitely, absolutely have to stop twisting and abusing Scripture the way Attorney General Jeff Sessions did in his attempt to justify separating families at the border. We have to get real and stop believing that any political party – GOP or otherwise – is the “party of Jesus.” When our government does something wrong, ours should be the voices raised the loudest, speaking truth and defending those harmed by the action. We need to recognize lies we’ve believed and reject them.

We can – and should – care about all those who are marginalized: the children, the elderly, the poor, the disabled, the immigrants. We must use our privilege wisely and effectively. We were once the children and time will make us the elderly. We are all one disaster away from becoming the poor, the disabled, the immigrant.

God loves them, just as He loves us. Jesus died for them, just as He died for us.

We are all the same.

Signature

SUBSCRIBE TO THE NEWSLETTER, REST STOPS ALONG THE WAY. PONDERINGS AND PUPPY VIDEOS DELIVERED TO YOUR INBOX EACH SATURDAY(ISH).

Five Minute Friday: Ocean

Ocean

Gentle Reader.

Lightning flashed, thunder rolled, the rain poured down. Electricity flickered on and off. The dogs barked, then snuggled close. Not a big fan of storms, I was in no mood to open my computer and try to string words together, like popcorn on a Christmas garland. I listened to all the sounds and ran my hands through soft fur, assuring the animals that they would be all right. Assuring myself.

Kate says: ocean.

Go.

The husband and I spent four days on the Oregon coast last week, celebrating twelve years of marriage. I’m not sure where the time went. Hours that drag when you’re a child suddenly speed up and the calendar turns with unstoppable ferocity. Then, we were babies, both just 21. Now, we ease into our mid-thirties, buffeted and scarred by the tempests of life but still together. Still holding on. Still choosing love, even in the middle of fights.

Because we do fight. Oh, not shouting matches. No name-calling. No throwing things. We both have strong personalities, expressed in different ways, and the sense of absolute rightness that tends to arise among firstborn children. More often than not, we’re good at the give and take. Some things I just don’t care about. Other things he has no opinion on. But when we clash, we clash. It’s on like Donkey Kong. (Man, did I just date myself there).

We sat and watched the waves together, breathing in the salty air. Beneath the surface the currents roiled, revealing themselves in white caps and sea spray. The scent of burning, wet wood stung my nostrils as Chris built a bonfire on the beach. My soul seemed to spread out, enjoying a space and relaxation that everyday life doesn’t afford. It was the peace of the coast, but it was not silent. Never that. Water, wind, wordless.

I have not been married long enough to give anyone advice. I think you have to hit the 20-year mark for that. One thing I do know, though, is that marriage is like the ocean: Rarely calm, always surprising. Two people bounce off of each other like sand dollars washed to shore. Sometimes it hurts. Sometimes it seems as if the storm will never end. Then, like a blazing sunset on the watery horizon, something reminds you why you chose this person – a hand squeeze, an old joke, communication with a glance.

And you know.

Stop.

SUBSCRIBE TO THE NEWSLETTER, REST STOPS ALONG THE WAY. PONDERINGS AND PUPPY VIDEOS DELIVERED TO YOUR INBOX EACH SATURDAY(ISH).