Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: maturity

God loves messed up people

Adam and Eve disobeyed God. Abram was ready to sacrifice his wife to the lusts of powerful men to save his own skin. Jacob gained his brother’s birthright by dubious means, and with his mother’s connivance. David had way too many wives. These were the kind of people God used to accomplish His plans here on earth. A disagreement arose between Paul and Barnabas so that they could not work together. Both died as martyrs for the cause of Christ.

Rahab helped the Israelite spies get safely out of Jericho, the Bible calls her a prostitute. Ruth got under the covers with Boaz out in the harvest field. Bathsheba had a one night stand with King David and he arranged the death of her husband in consequence. These are the three women mentioned in the genealogy of Jesus in the gospel of Matthew.

God blesses and works with people who are deeply flawed. There are no other kind of people for Him to work with. If we think we are better, we put ourselves in the category of the Pharisees who trusted in themselves that they were righteous. Jesus called them white washed sepulchres – pure and clean on the outside, but full of dead men’s bones and filth inside.

I am not better than the people I have already named, or all the other messed up people described in the Bible. I have repented, I have been forgiven, but I am still a messed up person who messes up far too often when I am trying to do good. But I don’t hear God screaming at me every time I make a mistake “You idiot! You made a mess of things again!” He tells me that it was good that I tried and that He wants me to keep on trying.

The accusations come from another source, the accuser of the brethren. If I listen to him I won’t have the courage to try to do anything good again.

The Bible tells us we need to be perfect. Some people have devised a doctrine whereby they believe they have had a second touch from the Lord, a second work of grace, and now they don’t sin anymore. I’ve met people like that. They didn’t seem like the kind of people I’d want to go to if I was troubled.

The perfection the Bible speaks of is maturity. Perfect means complete, not flawless. Biblical perfection is taking responsibility for what we do. When I do something bad, it was not Tommy, or Suzy, or the devil, who made me do it. I did it all by myself and I need to own up to it.

When David numbered the people and God gave him a choice of punishments to be visited upon the people, he responded “I have sinned, but what have these sheep done?” That is maturity, or perfection. That is why David was a man after God’s own heart.

Isaiah said “I am a man of unclean lips and I dwell among a people of unclean lips.”  I often mess up and hurt other people by the things I say and do. Other people often hurt me by the things they say and do. That’s life. That’s why Jesus instructed us to pray that God would forgive us as we forgive others. Forgiveness can’t just be between me and God. I need to forgive others for every careless word and deed they do.

All unrighteousness is sin. But not all is deliberate, not in the things we do or in the things others do. We are messed up, every one of us, and God loves each one of us. Let’s just forgive and move on.

Jesus told the Pharisees that the prostitutes and publicans would find it easier to enter the kingdom of heaven than they would. We may look at the people who are leading honest and orderly lives and think they are the ideal mission prospects. In all likelihood they are quite content with the results of their own efforts and don’t see any need to repent and trust in the blood of Jesus. A few will, just as some of the Pharisees did.

But we should not expect converts to present themselves to us in neat, gift-wrapped packages. Most often their lives, their feelings and their ideas about themselves, and about God and Christianity, will be in turmoil. These are the ones who know that things are  not right, that they need help. The challenges they present do not have easy answers. Let’s remember that God loves messed up people. After all, He has accepted us. All we need to do is listen to them and listen to God. He is the one who has the answers, we don’t.

Optimsm – Pessimism

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A pessimist fears that every silver cloud conceals a dark and foreboding lining, and says that he is just being a realist.
An optimist believes every dark cloud will have a silver lining and also says he is being realistic.
Who is right?

A pessimist looks at the increasing godlessness and wickedness of the world and sees only doom and gloom.
An optimist looks at the same things and sees a mission field.
Who is right?

A pessimist sees things that are wrong in the world and marches in the streets to get the government to do something.
An optimist sees little things to do to help others and does them.
Who is doing more to make this world a better place?

Optimism is not following our natural inclinations and impulses and trusting that everything will turn out right. But we won’t get better results if we fear that nothing will ever work out, so there is no point in even trying. We need to be doing, but we need wisdom to know what to do.

Our bodies are mature when we are 18, but our brains are not fully mature until we are 25. The last part of the brain to mature is the part that controls our impulses. We are apt to be naturally optimistic when we are young, but will have some painful encounters with reality as we mature. Perhaps that is what helps the brain mature. The ideal outcome is that we will become less impulsive, but remain optimistic.

We worry about the growth of Islam and fear that those people are immune to evangelism. Yet we hear that many Muslim people all over the world have seen a vision or had a dream of Jesus and become Christians. God is at work in every place where there are Muslims even if no missionaries can enter those lands.

The Bible tells us in different places to lift up our eyes. That implies that when we look only at circumstances at ground level we are not seeing things as God sees them. And we are not seeing God.

Solomon said “He that observeth the wind shall not sow; and he that regardeth the clouds shall not reap.” Is there a farmer anywhere that wakes up on a September morning, sees clouds in the sky and decides to go fishing? When it comes to our spiritual lives, how often do we go fishing (or something else, anything else) to avoid facing difficult decisions?

Optimism is not a self-help plan, it is not the power of positive thinking. An optimist is one who is ready to do what needs to be done, even if there is no guarantee of a positive outcome.

Are you an optimist or a pessimist?

Putting away childish things

When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. (1 Corinthians 13:11).

Does this mean that grownups should not play games? My father hardly ever seemed to have the time to play games with me, but my mother would take the time to play catch, to run races, to play croquet, and probably other things that i can’t remember just now. Those are precious memories and I think they should be part of every child’s growing up. Children need these kinds of exercises to acquire coordination and fine motor skills, but playing games with parents should also teach them how to play fair and be considerate of others.

In sports, boys will strive with all their might to outdo each other, yet still be friends after the game. Girls do not tend to be so intensely competitive in games between friends. The desire to show off, to demonstrate superiority over others, is childish and needs to be put away as one matures.

Which brings me to the baseball game at our recent school picnic. The picnic, or play day, is the traditional way of ending the school year in the school run by our congregation. There were various activities going on around the school yard for children of all ages, but the ball game was the main attraction. The two teams were made up of boys and girls, fathers and mothers, and even a grandfather and grandmother. The ages ranged from 12 to 62.

The aim was for everyone to have fun. There were power hitters and some who could just hit the ball a little way on the ground. Some could run fast, one or two couldn’t get up much speed. There were some outstanding catches in the outfield, and a lot of misses and dropped balls. The pitchers were not all that outstanding. Score was being kept, but I don’t think anyone really cared. One girl was thrown out at first, yet still allowed to run the bases. There were lots of cheers and not a single jeer.

I don’t think there is anything childish about such a game.

Perfection and humilty and servanthood and leadership

Is it possible to be perfect, humble, a servant and a leader all at the same time? According to the New Testament, God expects us to be all of the above. If that seems impossible, perhaps we have gotten hung up on a misunderstanding of the meaning of one or more of those words.

Many well-meaning Christians will insist that the only perfection that we can ever attain to is to be found in Jesus Christ and then His perfection becomes ours. I was going to say that this is a cop-out, but that would be too harsh. It is just a misunderstanding of what the Bible means when it calls us to be perfect. The basic meaning of the word is complete when referring to things, and fully grown or mature when speaking of people. It does not mean to be utterly without flaw or blemish. In the AV, the Greek word teleios is translated 17 times as perfect, once as men (“in understanding be men” 1 Corinthians 14:20) and once as of full age (“But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil” Hebrews 5:14).

Thus, what the Bible is asking of us is maturity. A person who is mature does not think that he knows everything, that he never makes a mistake, never misunderstands. Someone who is mature is quick to own up to his mistakes, apologize where he has caused offence, and to fix what he has broken.

Looked at in this way, perfection begins to sound a lot like humility, doesn’t it? They really are like the two sides of the same coin. A person who is perfect and humble can be entrusted with responsibility. He will do his best to fulfil that responsibility, without running over anyone who might get in the way. In other words, he see himself as a servant. He is not simply trying to please himself, but whoever has entrusted him with this responsibility. Ultimately, he sees himself as a servant of God and of his fellow men.

Such a person is a leader. He does not see himself as lord over those whom he is leading, but rather as their servant. He goes ahead to show the way, to avoid dangers, to help all to reach their goal. We are all called to be leaders in some way, in the home, at work, even at play.

We will not always do everything just right, or say everything just right. We will be misunderstood; we will be criticized, sometimes justly, sometimes unjustly. Either way, if we respond to the criticism with kindness and respect we will grow and become more useful. This is the way of perfection. If we respond with impatience and anger, we will shrivel and become less useful.

How old are you?

What does it mean to be grown up? When we were little we thought it meant that we would be able to do anything we wanted to do and no one would stop us. Most of us eventually figured out that life doesn’t work that way. A few people don’t appear to ever quite get it and are often heard airing their grievances. Like the firemen in Montréal who trashed city hall and can’t figure out why they were fired for it.

Or like King Saul in the Old Testament who told Samuel “I have sinned, but honour me before the people.” David, on the other hand, was never too big to own up to his sins and accept the consequences. Being willing to acknowledge our mistakes and our sins is perhaps the ultimate evidence of maturity.

The New Testament describes maturity in several ways: “speaking the truth in love,” (the apostle Paul in Ephesians 4:15); having “the senses exercised to discern both good and evil” (Hebrews 5:14); growing “in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” (the apostle Peter in 2 Peter 3:18); and being child-like in malice but adults in understanding (the apostle Paul again in 1 Corinthians 14:20).

The thought that I glean from those verses, and others throughout the Bible, is that maturity consists of being responsible for our own actions. It won’t do to say “but he pushed me first!” or “nobody told me it was wrong.” The Bible does seem to make some allowance for ignorance, but that does not make ignorance a virtue and we should never use it as an excuse.

The Bible teaches that girls and women should be modest in clothing and appearance. Beauty does not lie in the things that one puts on, but in the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit. Maturity in a woman is to give much more attention to this inner beauty than to outward beauty.

Nevertheless, even if a woman is dressed provocatively, or even indecently, a man is accountable for how he reacts. A man is responsible for what he does, or he is not a man at all. Job said “I made a covenant with mine eyes; why then should I think upon a maid?” (Job 31:1). If we find it impossible to do the same, we are not really grown up.

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