Sunday, May 31, 2009

A Recipe for a Mature Christian

I’ve heard it several times through my teaching years as students have visited the back of my classroom to look at the personal items I have on a shelf unit behind my desk. It’s the area where I have class pictures of every group I’ve ever taught and all three of my college degrees along with family photos. Invariable a student will zero in on the college degrees with their fancy writing, embossed seals, and ribbons and state, “Gee, Elementaryhistoryteacher...look at these college diplomas. You sure are smart!”

It’s funny how we gaze upon someone’s college degrees and instantly decide that person is smart or has maturity in their field. Those degrees instantly give us entre into a particular profession and they give us legitimacy with our professional peers and the general public.

Don’t get me wrong…I worked hard for every diploma I have. College degrees are important economically and socially in our society. Over the last few years our society has placed a huge importance on college pushing our kids to work harder and strive to reach that next rung in the ladder.

But my maturity or immaturity as a Christian has nothing to do with my college degrees.

I have a job as a Christian. It’s very simple. I’m supposed to devote my time to becoming a mature Christian. My bachelors degree took four years. My masters degree took another two. However, my job as Christian is a life long process. It is not something I can retire from.

Hebrews 6:1-2 tells us…Therefore let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith from God, instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.

Every parent hopes for one overall result for their children, and God is no different. He wants his children to experience growth and maturity.

So what is maturity? An online dictionary explains that maturity is being fully developed or a perfected condition.

Our maturity is evidenced in our character. One of the things I repeat to my students over and over is the mark of a mature student is he or she follows the rules and procedures even when I’m not around to prompt them. Preacher, evangelist, and publisher, D.L. Moody said it even better with his statement….Character is what you are in the dark.

Scripturally our source for maturity is found in James. James tells us maturity does not come from age, appearance, or academics. Maturity involves our attitudes. The word James uses reflects my online dictionary entry I linked to above. Maturity involves a complete or perfect work.

There are several characteristics of a mature person.

A mature person is positive under pressure. James reminds us that trials and challenges are going to be part of lives, but that testing of your faith develops perseverance and perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything…James 1: 3-4

James explains that those of us who remain positive under pressure will be blessed….Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love himJames 1:12

A mature person is sensitive to people. Dealing with people can be difficult. In my position I never really can decide which is worse…dealing with an administrator, a fellow colleague, a student, or an upset parent. Perhaps this why I enjoy work days at school so much or why I celebrate the time I spend in my classroom over the summer. I generally go in during the month of July and spend three or four hours getting things prepared. The joke is, I guess, ….that teaching is a wonderful profession as long as you don’t have to deal with people. Unfortunately one of the necessary ingredients to teaching is dealing with people.

James 2:1 advises we are not to show favoritism while James 2:8 reminds us we are to love our neighbors as ourselves….harken back to Leviticus 19:18 and the words of Jesus quoted in Matthew 25:35-36For 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, 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…

Can you imagine how many problems in this world could be solved if God’s faithful would truly step out and help their fellow man?

James also explains a mature person has mastered his mouth. James 3: 9-10 advises…With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be.

Do you realize what gossip is? It’s hearing something you like about someone you don’t like. It’s wrong. Talk should build someone up…not tear them down….Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen….Ephesians 4:29

Holding our tongue is probably the most important aspect of maturity….James 1:26 states…If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless.

A mature person is a peacemaker, not a trouble maker. James 4:1 asks…What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? If you are constantly having issues with others perhaps your motives are wrong….James 4:2-3 or selfish pride is your problem…James 4: 11-12.

Finally, a mature person is one who is patient and prayerful. Since my first surgery in August I’ve been waiting for some type of normalcy to descend upon my life. I’ve seen glimmers of a normal day….I’ve even had a few normal days in a row, but my problems persist. God is definitely reminding me He is in control, and I need to be patient. A mature person must wait sometimes a very long time without giving up.

James 5:7 advises…Be patient, then, brothers, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains. James reminds us of Job's perseverance and let us not forget that Elijah prayed regarding rain for three and half years! Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its cropsJames 5:17-18

The recipe for becoming a mature Christian is easy to read, but difficult to follow. Perhaps that's why we must work on perfecting the recipe every single day of our lives....

Monday, May 25, 2009

A Disruptive Spirit

Acts 16: 16-40 tells of a slave girl following behind Paul and Silas. She had a spirit in her, but it wasn’t the Holy Spirit. It was a spirit or pneuma meaning a “spirit of devination” or “ventriloquist”.

As the text tells us the girl was able to make a great sum of money for her master with her predictions, or as some scholars state she told the “truth” about life. Acts 16:17 tells us she followed after Paul and Silas exclaiming for all who would hear that they were men who were the slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation.

At some point Paul commands the spirit in the woman to leave her, and it does.

Why would Paul do this if the sprit was speaking the truth? Notice the text states she proclaimed who Paul and Silas were for “many days” meaning Paul decided to let her talk, but later something changed. Perhaps he thought she would eventually go away. Perhaps she began to annoy him. Perhaps it began to anger him that the girl’s owner allowed her to be possessed and actually made money from the fact. Perhaps he decided he didn’t need the “other side” hanging about. At any rate Paul had enough and ordered the spirit to stop.

It did.

At this point you might be tempted to say…….so what? What’s the big deal?

It doesn’t matter why Paul commanded the spirit to leave. What this story reminds us is that evil spirits are at work in the world today, and we need to be reminded that Paul through the Spirit of God could overcome the presence of evil.

So can we.

We are confronted by the “other side” everywhere we go….even within the church. This is why we need to remain aware and be busy for the Lord The slave girl’s statements regarding Paul and Silas were true, but they were disruptive.

A look at the messages of Paul shows that his discourses were always well reasoned and logical. He wanted people to concentrate on the message. It was not just empty catch phrases or emotional outbursts, but an intellectual pursuit of truth. He wanted people to think about what they heard, but the girl's ranting made this difficult.

The picture with this post shows a 6th century Christian basilica in Philippi, so it would not have been around during Paul’s day, but it clearly shows that Christians remained in the city long after Paul’s time.

Monday, May 18, 2009

10 Things About the Epistle of James

1. The author identifies himself as James…a slave of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ (James 1:1). He is also the half-brother of Jesus…the same half-brother who would not have believed Jesus was the Messiah until after the Resurrection (Matthew 13:55; John 7:5; 1 Corinthians 15:7).

2. This would also be the same James who served as a leader in the early church as portrayed in the Book of Acts. Many scholars believe the scripture found within James predates the Jewish Council of A.D. 49 which opened Christianity officially and fully to the Gentiles (Acts 15). The Jewish historian, Josephus, wrote that James was martyred in A.D.62. Tradition indicates James was thrown from the pinnacle of the temple.

3. I wouldn’t be able to use James’ letter in my classroom to teach the parts of a letter that every fourth grader reviews since two of the usual features of a spiritual letter – the thanksgiving and the farewell – are missing. In fact, there are no pleasantries to begin the letter other than a very short opening. James jumps right in with both feet and proclaims…Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance…James 1: 2-3

4. James was written to Jewish followers – their meeting was in a synagogue (James 2:2) and were led by elders (James 5:14). James refers to the twelve tribes scattered among the nations…James 1:1… referring to the Jews living outside of Palestine. He was writing to Jews living in an unknown city in the Roman Empire where they spoke Greek, and there was no reference to the Gentiles.

5. The believers James addresses had experienced some sort of harassment and from reading the text you can come to the conclusion that they had been taken advantage of by the rich (James 1:2 and James 2:6). James was attempting to encourage these believers.

6. James is written to the Jews who believed in Jesus. He wanted them to realize the importance of faith in the practical sense. For James practical faith equaled good works…faith and good works go hand in hand. James teaches good works are essentially a fruit of salvation. In contrast, Paul emphasizes faith alone saves. James states…You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone…James 2:24.

7. James also wanted to teach the believers regarding the elements of a true religion taught in the Old Testament and by Jesus – giving, praying, fasting, living a holy life, caring for widows, orphans and the poor – were still part of the royal law of love that they were to live by (Matthew 6: 1-18; James 1:27).

8. The structure of James is rather loose. Each chapter could be summed up by assigning a key word for each…(1) trials, (2) works, (3) tongue, (4) wisdom (5) patience.

9. There are many parallels between James and Proverbs. James can be summed up by stating the scripture contains many practical themes that are loosely connected by everyday Christian living.

10. James also mirrors the Sermon on the Mount which James, as the half-brother of Jesus possibly heard…even though he was not yet a believer. The comparisons are:

-the poor to be rich in faith and inherit the Kingdom (James 2:5; Matthew 5:3)

-contrasting plant pairs such as grapes verses thorns (James 3: 10-12; Matthew 7: 15-20)

-blessing promised to peacemakers (James 3:18; Matthew 5:9)

- the ease with which earthly riches are corrupted (James 5:2-3; Matthew 6:19-20)

-swearing prohibited…your yes must be yes (James 5:12; Matthew 5:33-37)

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

A Power Struggle

I keep a page on Word where I keep ideas to post about here. A few things have lived on the page absolutely forever. I decided to rescue one of the languishing bits today and publish it for all to see….

Our expectations collide with God’s character.

I’m not sure where I found this quotation, but I thought it was interesting enough to hang onto it.

These five words say a lot…..sometimes what WE want doesn’t mesh with God’s plan.

We want stuff.

We want people.

We want recognition.

We want…we want…

What we want is CONTROL.

In all of the discussions I have with folks who advise that they have no time for religion, proclaim that Jesus was just a man, and that God doesn’t exist the discussion always manages to arrive back at one point. If they admit God exists it would result in them having to admit He is in control, and we aren’t.

The gulf between those people and myself seems so wide, yet that one word…control…separates us. They think they have control of their lives, and can’t fathom not being in charge. I know a higher power has control of my life, and can’t fathom the power God welds let alone want to have it.

He is in control.
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