Man! What a definition; the ability to respond in an appropriate manner, knowing how and when to behave appropriately.
When I think about Christian maturity I know a lot of us REALLY come up short of that definition! The Apostle Paul once wrote to the church in Corinth:
Brothers and sisters, stop thinking like children. In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults. (1 Corinthians 14:20)
His distinction between infants and adults is fascinating. There is a naiveté to children in regards to evil. When it comes to our behavior we’re to be like kids – innocent and free from that junk. But when it comes to our thinking it’s time to grow up and be adults. So how were they thinking like children?
They were thinking selfishly.
That pretty much sums it up. Childish behavior is selfish. “It’s about me. What I want. Now. It doesn’t matter where we are. It doesn’t matter what’s going on. Serve me. My way.” This is completely opposite to the definition we just read. Childish behavior isn’t able to delay gratification depending on environment and circumstance.
The same is true in Christianity. Sometimes we behave like little children. We act selfishly. We desire our things. We want our way. It doesn’t matter what the circumstances. It doesn’t matter what else needs to happen. We’re focused on one thing and one thing only – ME!
In the church we see this come into play in a lot of different ways. “I don’t like the music.” “I don’t like how the pastor does….” “They’re sitting in my seat.” “They didn’t do my idea.” And that’s just off the top of my head. It all comes back to being selfishly motivated. When I focus on ME instead of on OTHER then I’m always going to put my wants and desires first, and I will pursue those wants and desires regardless of the appropriate manner, time, or place to engage in such behavior.
But Christianity is not about ME. It never has been. In fact, the only person Christianity has ever been about is Christ, and even he said:
The Son of Man (that’s himself) did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. (Mark 10:45)
If we are to really strive to be like Jesus, if we are really going to mature as Christians, then we need to be intentional about putting off our selfish drives and start to focus on how we can serve others. That’s what stinks about maturing. Because we LIKE getting our way. We LIKE having the things we want – when we want them. It feels good to have our immaturity catered to – to remain like a spoiled kid. There’s a Peter Pan in all of us that wants to stay with the Lost Boys in Neverland forever. “I WON’T GROW UP!”
Too many Christians take that song as their theme song and join in: “We won’t grow up! We will never grow a day. And if someone tries to make us we will simply run away.”Ouch. Hits a little close to home, huh? I’ve seen it. You’ve seen it. We’ve all done it to some degree. But that’s not what God’s family is supposed to look like.
We can do better. We can be better. Paul writes in Romans 12 that we are to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. With God we really can change. We can leave behind childish selfishness and embrace Christian maturity.
Creating significant change is tough. In America 25% of us blow or discard our New Year’s resolutions in the first day. Change can be so difficult that even people who want to change will most likely fall back into old patterns and not make change permanent. One reason permanent change is so hard is because we continue to hang around people who knew us before the change – we maintain old relationships and patterns of life that don’t want to allow or recognize change in us! The Apostle Paul wasn’t always a stand-up guy. Before he became a Christian he used to arrest and terrorize Christians. Then God got a hold of him and turned his life around. But even after God changed him, the Bible tells us in Acts 9:26:
“he tried to associate with the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, since they did not believe he was a disciple.”
It’s often easier to change who you are when you make a clean break and get a fresh start. No one knows your old mistakes or the way you used to be. You get a chance to make brand new mistakes…
I remember my first week on the job as an associate pastor some years back. On Monday morning, the senior pastor was taking me around to introduce me to people in the office. In one room the maintenance guy was laying down some tiling. The pastor introduced us and I stepped forward to give the guy a warm handshake. I didn’t realize it but I stepped right into some tiling mud that he was using to tile the room. The pastor looks down and says, “Watch it – you’re steppin’ in some mud.” And I say, “Oops” and step back.
Then the pastor took me over to introduce me to an office admin lady. After about 30 seconds of talking, he looked down at the carpet and said, “What?!? What did you do?” There were gray footprints from the door way right over to where I was standing! I quickly stepped out of the room to wipe off my feet and, being the good Christian man he was, the pastor whipped out his cell phone and began taking pictures! What a great start, huh?
Saul did not get to start a new job and make fresh impressions. He had to change even when people did not believe he could. Similarly, when we decide to follow Jesus, we need to make permanent changes as we leave behind the old “us” and walk a new path. Romans 12:1-2 says:
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
Paul’s words are just as appropriate today as they were thousands of years ago. We need fresh starts. There are three things I want you to understand from what Paul is saying here, and then four things to do about it.
I. Our change is motivated by God’s mercy
1Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God…
God cares about you – the Bible says, “Cast all your cares on him because he cares for you.” The Bible says that we know Jesus loves us because when we were still sinners he died for us. We didn’t have to get right before he gave his life for us. This is what Paul is trying to say here in Romans. “By the mercies of God….” Because of God’s compassion, he acts on your behalf. All of God’s interaction with humanity is summed up with one pattern: action; reaction. God acts and we respond. The mercy of God compels a response of continual sacrifice – a life of worship. The result of encountering God is that we are forever changed, completely transformed.
There’s a story I once heard about a mother who approached Napoleon seeking a pardon for her son. The emperor replied that the young man had committed a certain offense twice and justice demanded death. “But I don’t ask for justice,” the mother explained. “I plead for mercy.” “But your son does not deserve mercy,” Napoleon replied. “Sir,” the woman cried, “it would not be mercy if he deserved it, and mercy is all I ask for.” “Well, then,” the emperor said, “I will have mercy.” He spared the woman’s son.
We do not live out our Christian lives because of a massive guilt trip or fear but as a loving response to what God has already done for us. Because he has mercy and compassion and acts on our behalf, our response should be to offer Him our very best-our everything. We accomplish this by turning from the world and living out a different kind of life.
II. Surrender your entire being to God
…to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice
The sacrifice is pleasing to God. What Paul is talking about is our attitudes and the contrast in who we please before we meet Jesus and after we meet Jesus. In our old lives, we lived to bring pleasure to ourselves. Now we should live to bring pleasure to God. It’s easy to picture when you think about children.
A child has only one focus in life – find pleasure. My wife and I hung a humorous little plaque in our daughter’s room that says: Toddler’s Rules: If I want it – it’s mine. If I see it – it’s mine. If it’s mine – it’s mine. Nevertheless, as children mature into adults they realize that the world is not all about them (at least they’re supposed to – I think we all know adults who have yet to mature to this point!). But that’s exactly what I’m talking about! When we make the decision to follow Jesus, our focus needs to be not on us but on Him. In this regard, I think we all have room for improvement. Have you surrendered 100% to Him?
In Romans, Paul sees the Christian life as a sacrifice. In the Old Testament, sacrifice meant killing an animal. Paul does not do away with sacrifice. He only changes what it looks like. Instead of the dead body of an animal, the sacrifice is now the living body of the believer in surrender to Jesus, the ultimate sacrifice for all! Worship now moves out of the temple and into everyday life. Worship is not just what we do – it is now who we are.
III. Life now needs to be different than it used to be
2And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind
It is no longer acceptable to be the way we were.. Paul writes that a transformation is needed. The Bible is serious about our need to change! In Ephesians Paul writes:
“I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.” Later he says, “…put off your old self…to be made new in the attitudes of your mind.”
The Apostle Peter writes:
“As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do…”
He calls us to be changed. Do you admit that you need a change in your life? In your marriage? In your habits? In your attitudes? In your relationships? In your thinking?
It’s time to change. But how do you make change last? It’s like working out. I want to change. I want to get fit.
I know how to use gym equipment. I know things that can help me get in shape. So what’s the problem? I will never get in shape if I never do the exercise. How do we make change permanent?
1. Pray that God will help you change ~If you’re not praying about it, you must not want it that badly! God can do what we could never do. If you really desire to change, start talking to Jesus about it.
2. Become vulnerable and accountable to someone else to help you change ~ It is hard to change without help. When God turned Saul’s life around, God sent good godly men into Saul’s life to help him as he matured as a Christian. We need good godly people in our lives who can be real and honest with us an help us become the people we are supposed to be.
3. Refuse to let people, circumstances, or sin hold you back ~ The disciples did not accept that Saul had truly changed and become a disciple. But Saul continued to pursue God and live a changed life. Sometimes old friends will want to drag us back into old habits and patterns of behavior. Don’t let them. If you have to, make new friends.
4. Take it one day at a time ~ Saul did not become the Apostle Paul overnight. He spent a lot of time growing and maturing with other Christians before he became the man who wrote ½ of the New Testament. Likewise, we can get overwhelmed when we try to live for the big picture change. Focus on one day at a time, and before you know it you will actually be that person that God desires you to be!
God calls us all to be changed. Is it time for change in your life? How is God calling you to change? What are you gonna do about it?
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I love Big Macs. I don’t even remember the last time I had one, though – they’re really not good for you. One little hamburger. 540 calories. But it tastes sooo good!
It’s hard to believe that something like could cause problems in a church. How can one little burger cause division and tension among good Christian people? I don’t think anyone reading would object if I had this burger. Okay, my wife might object, but that’s purely for health reasons. But in the early church, whether or not you ate meat was a big deal. In his letter to the Romans, the Apostle Paul writes:
1Accept anyone who is weak in faith, but don’t argue about doubtful issues. 2 One person believes he may eat anything, but one who is weak eats only vegetables. 3 One who eats must not look down on one who does not eat, and one who does not eat must not criticize one who does, because God has accepted him. 4 Who are you to criticize another’s household slave? Before his own Lord he stands or falls. And he will stand. For the Lord is able to make him stand.
Can you imagine? All this fuss is over whether or not people should eat meat. The real issue is not exactly vegans vs. carnivores. You see, in the ancient pagan world, people would make pagan sacrifices to their gods and then that meat would be sold in the market. There were some Christians who said, “We should not be eating any meat that has been sacrificed to false gods.” And since it is nearly impossible to tell which meat has been a sacrifice and which meat is clean meat, we just shouldn’t eat meat at all.” It was a spiritual decision, not a health decision. Other Christians said, “Why is any of it unfit for eating? Those pagan gods are false gods, and meat offered to a false god will not hurt a Christian.” They felt free to eat meat from the public market. So they would go back and forth – “We shouldn’t eat meat from the market!” “We can eat meat from the market.” “It may have been sacrificed to false gods!” “We serve the only real God, and that meat won’t hurt us!”
This is what Paul addresses in Romans 14 – Christian liberty and freedom – and he’s trying to tell us, “Hey, it’s okay to disagree on whether or not certain behaviors are appropriate for Christians. If you feel free in your conscience and spirit to do those things, don’t look down on others who don’t have that freedom. If you don’t think it’s appropriate for Christians to engage in certain behaviors, don’t judge those Christians who do feel free.” This is the central thrust behind the idea of Christian Liberty.
Christian liberty is the freedom from God to do whatever you wish in any matter the Bible does not address. Christian liberty is not an excuse to sin, break biblical principles, start arguments in the church, or to give Jesus a bad reputation. Let’s be super clear here: what God commands, we do. What God condemns, we avoid. When God seems silent, we have liberty to behave according to our own convictions. How does this play out in real life? God repeatedly condemns and forbids adultery. That’s a no-no. You can’t say, “I have freedom in Christ, so I’m gonna fool around on my spouse.” Liberty is not an excuse to sin. God condemns drunkenness. You can’t say, I have Christian liberty to get smashed every weekend!” Liberty is not an excuse to go against what God has declared. God directs us to submit to the governing authorities and live lives of obedience. You cannot knowingly engage in illegal behavior (cheating on taxes, stealing, dealing drugs, whatever). What God commands, we do. What God condemns, we avoid.
So what kinds of things might be areas of liberty – areas that are not directly covered by God’s commands or prohibitions? Here are some examples: watching R-rated movies. Pornography is never okay, but what about non-porn R-rated movies? Freedom. Drinking alcohol. Drunkenness is never okay, but there are places in the Bible where the writers encourage alcohol and where wine is seen as a blessing. Freedom. Smoking cigars. Make-up on girls. Plastic surgery. Voting Republican or Democrat. Tattoos. Clothing. Hobbies.
The Bible does not address these things and so, Paul says, there is freedom to act according to our conscience. And don’t fight each other over matters of freedom and conscience.
But get this: Paul says, “If it is a matter that God doesn’t address and your conscience, your own convictions, tell you it’s wrong, then for you it is a sin.” The Bible does not condemn having a beer, but if something in you says, “I think it’s wrong,” then for you to have one is a sin. Wild, isn’t it? Paul says in vs. 14, “I know and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself. Still, to someone who considers a thing to be unclean, to that one it is unclean.” Because what is acceptable to some of us might be a sin to others, Paul writes that we need to act in love towards each other.
Love is acting in the best interest of others. Paul continues:
15: If your brother is hurt by what you eat, you are no longer walking according to love. 19 So then, we must pursue what promotes peace and what builds up one another. Everything is clean, but it is wrong for a man to cause stumbling by what he eats. 21 It is a noble thing not to eat meat, or drink wine, or do anything that makes your brother stumble. 22 Do you have faith? Keep it to yourself before God.
God wants us to act in the best interest of the entire group. Am I free to engage in certain behaviors? Yes, and God does not condemn us for those areas of liberty! But if the exercise of my freedoms causes someone else to have a moral failure, then I have wronged that person and I have wronged God. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 8:13 that “if food causes my brother to fall, I will never eat meat again, so that I won’t cause my brother to fall.” Wow! Do you mean to tell me that God wants me to restrict myself? Yes, for the benefit of others. You have the freedom not to exercise your freedoms! And if you can’t live without your freedom, you don’t have a freedom, you have an addiction.
I’ve tried to talk to people about this concept before. I’ve said to people, “Be careful about your public behavior because you never know who is watching and how your actions will affect others.” I’ve had people tell me I’m being a hypocrite – allowing behavior privately but restricting it publicly. I tell you what, I’m stinkin’ tired of being called a hypocrite. The people who label that hypocrisy are then calling God a hypocrite. Look again at Romans 14:22 ~ Do you have faith? Keep it to yourself before God. I didn’t make it up – God did. So you have freedoms in Christ – you don’t have to flaunt them in front of everyone else. It’s okay to exercise your freedoms in private and show grace and love towards people who might not share your freedoms while in public. The guiding principle here is that God wants us to act in the best interest of the entire group, not just our own interest. Am I looking out for my fellow Christians? Am I acting in their interest?
It all comes down to this: What God commands, we do. What God condemns, we avoid. In all other areas we have liberty to follow our conscience. But God would rather that we restrict our own liberties for the sake of promoting peace and building each other up. Put love above your liberty. It’s time to make a radical shift. I think too many Christians do not put love first. We fail to think and act in the best interest of the church. We prefer to act in our own best interest. In the way we behave, in the way we talk to each other. In the way we talk ABOUT each other to others. It’s time to leave self-interest behind and act in the best interest of the church of Jesus Christ. It is time to do a 180 degree shift, to let God change us. Some of us need to repent for flaunting our freedoms in the faces of others. Some of us need to repent for judging and criticizing those who exercise certain freedoms. We need to repent for the way we talk to each other and about each other. It’s time to put love above our personal liberties and freedoms.
How about you? What freedoms do you judge others for exercising? What freedoms have you been judged for exercising?
I talk a lot. I’m a preacher, you know, so I talk a lot. It’s amazing to me to find out what actually sticks with people. Sometimes it stuff I never intended to stick. For example, one time I told a story about Lego pain.
You know the kind – there is nothing quite like stepping bare-footed on a Lego brick. I talked about it in one sermon and now every time someone sees a Lego meme on Facebook I get tagged and they say, “This made me think of you, Pastor!” Yes, I love Legos. My father passed the love on to me and I’m passing it on to my children.
For years my kids have played with Legos. Technically, I guess you would say they’ve been playing with Duplos. Duplos are the bigger blocks made for younger kids. It the same company and same concept, just harder to swallow pieces and the designs are not very complex. My kids and I have a blast playing and building stuff. You really get to use your imagination when you’re trying to build an airplane or a zoo or a dinosaur out of Duplos.
But something happened yesterday that changed everything. My daughter won a prize at VBS (Vacation Bible School) and she picked out a set of “big kid” Legos. This wasn’t just a 10-piece-your-done set either. It was a car, a helicopter, and an air-traffic tower – maybe 100 pieces total. It was the kind of thing where she couldn’t do it alone – she needed a parent to “help” build (yes, I ended up doing a lot of the building). It was a proud moment for me because my baby girl is growing up and moving up to the Lego big leagues. It was a sad moment for me because my baby girl is growing up and is not the same kid she used to be. But that’s a good thing.
We’re not supposed to stay with the baby toys forever. In fact, if we play with the baby toys for the rest of our lives then there’s probably something wrong. We were designed to grow and move from childish things on to more complex and grown up things. This is especially true in our Christian life and thought. While we start out as babies, we ought to grow to the point where we put childish ways behind us and move on to mature Christian behavior. The Apostle Paul gets frustrated with the Christians in Corinth because they continue to act in immature worldly ways and have not yet adopted the behavior of mature adult Christians.
For Paul, Christian maturity meant behaving well and leaving behind jealousy, fighting, and quarreling. That’s kid’s stuff. My kids fight and bicker all the time. I joke that I could teach NFL Officials a thing or two because I do more reffing in 5 minutes with my kids than they do in the entire Super Bowl. But as they mature and grow they (hopefully) will move beyond that and treat each other well.
Too many of us are content to stay playing with the baby toys. We enjoy our immaturity and never grow out of it. That’s not cool. It’s not healthy. As Christians, as humans, we ought to strive to grow. Who we are next week should not be the same person we were last week. Eventually we put away the Duplos and pull out the more complicated stuff. It’s part of growing up. Even when we recognize the need to grow up it’s not always easy to do, so let me end with giving a few practical tips on how you can move towards maturity:
Read. Read voraciously. Reading gives us knew information and power and ability to be better than we used to be. Magazines, books, blogs, whatever. Find ways to develop what you know. You can’t implement new ways of behaving if you lack the knowledge of what you need to be like.
Find a coach, mentor, pastor, someone who can help you in the process of maturation. It’s easier to do when you have someone who has walked the path to help you along.
Mentor or teach someone else. Nothing solidifies knowledge in your head as much as teaching that info to someone else.
It’s time to put down the baby toys. It’s time to grow up. Stop acting like an immature Christian and start behaving the way responsible adult believers are supposed to behave. C’mon, we’ll build a neat-o Lego set together!
Do you remember the first time you drove a manual transmission vehicle on the streets? I do. It was almost 12 years ago. I was newly married and was going to move us into our first apartment together. I arranged to use an automatic transmission moving truck but when we showed up the only vehicle available was stick shift 20 foot truck. Talk about a trial by fire! For the most part I did okay….for the most part. I knew the mechanics and theory behind it, I had simply never driven a stick shift on the roads before.
Most of the driving was highway driving, so that was not too difficult. The hard part came when I was driving to my father-in-law’s house in California. The highway off-ramp brings you out onto a hill at a stop light. So there I am, stopped at the light, facing uphill, knowing that I have difficulty moving from neutral into first. I literally sat there praying, “God, please don’t let me crush the car behind me!” The light turned green, and I just could not get the timing right to get it into first gear. I rolled back a couple of inches, the guy behind me was leaning on his horn and now I’m starting to panic. So I jammed the thing into second gear and hit the gas. It was a jerky ride but I got up the hill!
When we drive manual transmission vehicles, shifting improperly can result in engine damage. When we shift properly we pick up speed. Similarly, if we handle transitions in life poorly the result can be damaging. When we learn how to transition well, we pick up speed and we’re off and flying!
In Nehemiah 4 we see Israel dealing with transition as a people. Up to this point, the Israelites were exiles in Babylon. Eventually the king of Babylon allowed some of the Israelites to return to their homeland. They found the place in ruins. The wall surrounding the great city was crumbling and had gaps. Enemies could easily come and take advantage of weakened defenses. So the people sent word to Nehemiah back in Babylon about the condition of Jerusalem.
I’m sure there are at least a few of us who can admit that we’re going through transitions and it seems as though the walls are falling down around us. So the story goes:
When Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, he became furious. He mocked the Jews 2before his colleagues and the powerful men of Samaria, and said, “What are these pathetic Jews doing? Can they restore it by themselves? Will they offer sacrifices? Will they ever finish it? Can they bring these burnt stones back to life from the mounds of rubble?” 3 Then Tobiah the Ammonite, who was beside him, said, “Indeed, even if a fox climbed up what they are building, he would break down their stone wall!”
1. In the midst of transition, we may feel or appear weak. Imagine the enemies of Israel watching the Israelites trying to rebuild the city wall. Israel’s enemies are mocking their attempts to build – that they are unable to get the job done and do it well. They appear so incapable that one man even comments that a fox climbing up would knock the wall down. Clearly, Israel’s enemies do not think very much of Israel during this time of transition.
I remember going through one of life’s transitions when our oldest daughter was born. On the first day of our baby’s life we were all in the hospital room together. My wife was exhausted – she was simply trying to rest. The baby had a wet diaper. This was my chance to step up and be a great husband and father. But, as I opened the diaper to change her wet diaper, she started to poop! In my moment of transition I felt weak. I didn’t know what to do and I started to freak out while the baby was freaking out. It was a weakness that my wife did not share and she told me, “One of you has to remain calm and, since you’re the adult, it should be you!”
Sure, it’s a silly example, but there are many ways we face transition and many ways we feel or appear weak as we move through transitions. Sometimes it is the overwhelming size of the task or the difficulty of facing the unknown as we transition that makes us seem incapable. Perhaps we feel discomfort with how we are going to change or what will be expected of us on the other side of the transition. Maybe we do not feel like we have the strength to see the transition through to the end. We should realize that appearances are not necessarily reality. What our mockers do not understand is that we may appear or even feel weak but we serve a God who is not. Israel’s efforts to transition and rebuild made them seem weak to outsiders, but they did not know the strength of the Israelite’s God – our God. And it is because the Israelites know the strength of their God that they turn to Him.
4 Listen, our God, for we are despised. Make their insults return on their own heads and let them be taken as plunder to a land of captivity. 5 Do not cover their guilt or let their sin be erased from Your sight, because they have provoked the builders.
2. In transition, God’s people first respond in prayer. The first thing Israel does when their enemies find weakness in the time of transition – they hit their knees. They asked God to bring justice, to stand up for them against their enemies who would hurt them as they tried to rebuild. In our own lives, as we transition and build, we find that we are insulted, despised, and attacked. Attacks come from different sources. Sometimes outsiders will insult and attack us. This is what happened to the Israelites. Sometimes the insults and attacks will come from insiders. My wife and I have found that any time God starts to do something in a group or ministry the first thing to be attacked is the group’s unity. Insiders start picking at each other, and the transition that God is trying to bring about is sidetracked. We face attacks from outsiders and insiders in our personal transitions too.
Nearly seven years ago I started taking care of what I ate and started exercising regularly. I was going through a personal life transition to get healthy and I ended up dropping quite a bit of weight. Walking into Bible Study one night, one of the ladies commented that my eating healthy and exercising were starting to show results and a good Christian man, a friend of mine, said, “Ah, it’ll come back.” He was not trying to insult or attack me, but it was as though he said, “A fox climbing up there would knock the whole thing down.”
How we respond in moments like that will determine if we succeed or fail in transition. As you go through your own transitions, you will face these kinds of comments, insults, and attacks. As this church goes through an incredible period of transition, it will see attacks. Some will come from outsiders. Some might come from insiders. The question is, “How will you respond when under attack?” Let us follow the example of Israel and have our primary response be on our knees in prayer. “God, this is the transition you are leading me through, so I ask that you will be my covering and my protector.” But then look what happens after they take their struggles in transition to the Lord:
11 And our enemies said, “They won’t know or see anything until we’re among them and can kill them and stop the work.” 12 When the Jews who lived nearby arrived, they said to us time and again, “Everywhere you turn, they attack us.” 13 So I stationed people behind the lowest sections of the wall, at the vulnerable areas. I stationed them by families with their swords, spears, and bows…. 15 When our enemies realized that we knew their scheme and that God had frustrated it, every one of us returned to his own work on the wall. 16 From that day on, half of my men did the work while the other half held spears, shields, bows, and armor. The officers supported all the people of Judah, 17 who were rebuilding the wall. The laborers who carried the loads worked with one hand and held a weapon with the other.
3. In transition is that there is no sitting on the sidelines. They’ve taken it to the Lord in prayer to address the attacks and criticisms, then they all get busy doing the work that God has called them to do! There is an interesting phenomenon happening here because there is no such thing as a bystander here in Israel. Nehemiah stationed the people by families along the gaps in the wall, and then they all get to work. They build up with one hand and hold their weapon in the other. There is a very practical reason for this: there is work to be done and no one can afford to sit out.
When I played high school football, my team was not a large team. Because we were smaller in number, every player had to have an offensive and defensive position – playing both sides of the ball when necessary. It wasn’t that some guys were glory hogs and wanted all of the action. If we wanted to man all of the positions to the best of our abilities we all had to stand in the gaps and plug the holes. This is what Israel is doing. Everyone has a role in actively building up and fighting because passive neglect allows the wall to crumb and be open to attack. It is no less different in our lives today. As we face transitions, whether small or monumental, and we realize that we feel or appear weak, and we take our struggles before the Lord, we are to then stand up and start working through the transition! Israel did not complain in prayer, but let God know of the problem and then got to work.
We will never get away from transitions – they happen throughout life. Sometimes they have minimal impact on us. A caterpillar gives way to a butterfly. Diapers give way to pull-ups. Teenagers graduate from high school. Sometimes the transition in monumental. The bank forecloses on the house. We lose our job. Death takes a loved one. The church searches for a new pastor. A time of transition may make you appear weak or disoriented, but appearances are not reality. Transitioning well can lead to rebuilding, greater strength, and increased unity!
How about you? Are you willing to get to work to make it through the transitions in your life? The transitions in your family? The transitions in your church? Do not settle for sitting on the sidelines, but get involved in the building up and defending of the transition God is bringing you through! God is calling you to build and defend, to come back to the city with the crumbling wall and make it a stronghold for the Lord once again.
If you’ve been sitting on the sidelines time to get in the game – to build up with one hand and defend with the other. You will survive this time of transition.
It’s super hard to get motivated to change. Most of us have an area of life that we would like to change; to be different; to be better. We have lists of things that we should be doing, ways in which we ought to be growing and changing. But it’s tough. We know who we are and we may have an idea of who we want to be, but making the necessary changes to achieve that change is one of the hardest things in the world. Whenever we set upon a new path towards growth there primary obstacle to achieving that growth is not the outside world pressing against you. The primary obstacle is you. We haven’t fully owned the change.
External motivation only carries you so far. Real change must be internalized if it’s going to last.
What I mean is this: say you struggle with something in your life that could stand some change and growth. You may be married and your spouse is putting pressure on you to change. Your spouse is external motivation. You may change for your spouse (either because you want to please or because you want to end the nagging). If you have not internalized that the change is YOUR decision then the change will never be permanent. Eventually the old habits and patterns of behavior will resurface.
If you want to see lasting change then you have to OWN it! Why are you changing? What is it in you that desires this growth? What and why do you want to be different? It’s hard enough to change with the proper motivation. Without the internal motivation it’s NEVER gonna happen.
Our six year old is a sweet and loving girl (most of the time!). Every once in a while she’ll have huge meltdown, not want to obey mom and dad, and be a real pill. Being the loving kid she is she always comes to make amends later on. She has said, “I’m sorry, Daddy. I will always listen and obey from now on because I love you. You’re my best daddy (she only has one…).”
She’s totally sincere. She really does love me. But I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that there will come another instance where she doesn’t want to do what I am telling her to do…and here we go again. She hasn’t internalized change. Cleaning her room is still something that mom and dad are putting on her – she hasn’t internalized and owned the concept.
Adults are like that, too. There may be areas where we really-maybe-kinda-sorta-wouldbenice if we were different; if we could grow; if we could change. But we usually stay in our same ol’ ruts and habits. At least this is nothing new to the human condition. The Apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the Roman church:
I don’t do the good things I want to do. I keep on doing the evil things I don’t want to do. I do what I don’t want to do. But I am not really the one who is doing it. It is sin living in me. Here is the law I find working in me. When I want to do good, evil is right there with me.
Yes! That’s us! As kids and as adults that perfectly characterizes our attitude towards change. Even when we KNOW we should do something, should grow in some way, something within us keeps dragging us back. We fail to own the process and let go of the old us. It’s so nice to hold on to the old us. Old us is comfortable. Old us is familiar. I’m a big fan of The Simpsons cartoon. Homer, the family’s dad, is your all-American couch potato. So much so that he even has a special groove in his couch cushion that fits his buttocks. In one episode someone messes up his groove and he has to go through the process of re-establishing his groove. We like what we like and we are the way we are. People better not mess up my groove.
Change usually happens only when it hurts more to stay the same than it hurts to change.
When it finally hurts too much to stay the same then we’ll go ahead and change. But it doesn’t have to be that way. God has cleared the path for change-for letting go of the old us and embracing something remade and reborn!
But how? How can we see real and lasting change? Here are some tips that have worked for me:
Identify what it is that YOU (not someone else) really want to change. If you don’t own it it’s probably not gonna happen.
Identify WHY you want to make the change. What benefit or end result will you achieve?
Find someone who you trust who can hold you accountable to maintaining the change.
Through the whole process pray continually. Yep – ask for divine help in morphing into the new and changed you. In the theological world we might call this sanctification: the process of becoming more and more like Jesus.
There will be good days. There will be bad days. You will have peaks and you will have valleys. The path to growth is not a straight-lined graph. It’s a curvy son-of-a-gun. But if you keep on the path you will eventually find that the valleys of your tomorrows are actually higher than the peaks of your yesterdays. Keep pressing on and you will see it happen.
So…what about you? What do you want to change and improve in your life?
Poor Dan Cathy. It doesn’t appear that he has learned from his last go-round with the public last year. Once again he opened his mouth regarding the issue of gay marriage. In fewer than 140 characters he tweeted his disappointment with the Supreme Court’s ruling regarding DOMA.
I’m not exactly sure why this is news. It’s not like the world is surprised to know his position on how to define family. He was pretty clear last year that he believed in a biblical model of marriage. But it seems that some are quite put out that he would voice disappointment (and thus his opposition) with the Supreme Court overturning DOMA.
People are calling him names; accusing him of hate and bigotry. This bothers me on two levels:
~ First, the laws that provide pro-gay activists the right to express their opinions are the same laws that provide a voice to those who favor a biblical definition of marriage. I find it frustrating that some people demand the right to be heard but then try to silence any who oppose them. Free speech ought to be just that. It doesn’t matter what your personal belief is, when we start restricting people from expressing their opinions then we have lost one of our nation’s highest ideals. So it doesn’t matter if your are for or against marriage equality, Protestant, Catholic, Wiccan, or Atheist, you should be able to voice your opinion. Our country seems to be moving in a direction that the Christian voice is being shushed any time it speaks out regarding ethics or morality.
~ Second, giving one’s opponents derogatory labels is a cheap way of silencing opposition. It is not hateful or bigoted to express disagreement. It is a religious perspective. If Dan Cathy had kept his values to himself and never treated homosexuals in a poor manner then no one would have known his perspective. He would not have been labeled as hater or bigot. Simply because he expressed his opinion does not make him a bigot. He has not altered hiring practices or service standards at any of his restaurants. We should be able to disagree with each other civilly without resorting to name-calling. In the end, it is Cathy’s detractors who have become hateful and rude towards him and his expressed opinion.
Should Cathy have said what he did? That’s a different kind of question. I don’t think he was wrong to express his opinion. I don’t even think he opinions were wrong – I happen to agree that the biblical perspective of marriage is God’s ideal for healthy families and societies. But I don’t know if Cathy should have expressed his view publically. Perhaps he was caught up in the frenzy like so many others and tweeted before really reflecting on it.
C’mon, who hasn’t said something you wish you could retract later on?
The Bible tells us to be careful with our tongues. Just as a small rudder can steer a large ship, the small tongue can do a lot of damage. We often will speak without thinking about what we’re saying or who will be affected by our words. Dan Cathy is learning the hard way that words have consequences (even though I agree with the content of his words).
So learn a lesson from Dan Cathy. Even though we might not have the national platform he does – although I wouldn’t mind having 40,000+ followers on Twitter 😉 – our words have weight and impact. So watch what you say and how you say it. Consider not just your words but how your words will come across to others. Controlling your mouth will save you from hurting others or causing yourself grief.
My family seems to like quirky movies. Recently we’ve discovered Disney’s Meet the Robinsons. It’s quirky and goofy. But this isn’t a movie review, so I’ll get to my point. There’s one scene where the hero confronts the villain. The villain holds the hero responsible for how miserable his life has become. The hero says that life could have turned out differently depending on the choices and decisions the villain made along the way. And then comes one of the best lines of the move. The villain declares:
Let’s see – take responsibility for my own life or blame you? Ding, ding ding! Blame you win hands down every time!
It’s the kind of line that makes me want to laugh and cry at the same time. It sums up perfectly the attitude that many of us have. No matter what happens in life we will play the victim. We regularly have outbursts:
“My life is not the result of what I have done. My circumstances are not the consequences of my behavior. Oh, no! Don’t you know that this junk is happening because you are a terrible person. If you weren’t so mean I wouldn’t be facing what I’m facing. If you weren’t so terrible my life situation would be a lot easier.”
In fact, it seems that a good deal of social media posts revolve around this victim mentality and blaming others for life. We’ve become a nation of experts at avoiding responsibility; of accepting life as the consequences of our behavior.
But this is an immature view of life. It’s kid stuff. Just ask my six year old. If she behaves in a way she KNOWS she is not supposed to she will quickly tell you that she only did it because of her brother, or sister, or me (Daddy). Were it not for these outside forces acting upon her OF COURSE she never would have done something like that!
But it’s not the way that mature adults are supposed to behave. Well, not Christians at any rate. God calls us to be people of…dare I say it…responsibility. We are supposed to own up to our behavior and accept the consequences.
It’s there in verse 16: confess your sins to one another and pray for one another. Own up to your behavior. No victim mentality – it’s about grown ups saying, “I did this and I was wrong.” We don’t see a whole lot of that going around. But look at that Bible passage again (go ahead, it’s only the previous paragraph). Notice that James says that our ability to own up and take responsibility has spiritual significance. Forgiveness and healing come when we own up to our behavior. It would seem to indicate that passing the buck would then keep us stuck without forgiveness and without healing. Um…what?
John also talks about that horrible word: confession.
Yep – it’s a whole lot easier to say to the world, “Why are you doing this to me?” It’s easier to play the victim and pretend that we’re innocent. But, in fact, we’re not. The Bible is clear that we’re all broken people. That means that we all (even the best of us) will act out in broken ways. I’m not justifying it. God doesn’t give you the green light to act inappropriately just because it’s “human nature”.
So…bottom line ~ Stop playing the victim when it’s your poor behavior that has cause grief. Don’t blame others but confess and seek forgiveness and healing.
~ Time to accept responsibility for your behavior.
I remember one time a year ago…I was feeding the baby oatmeal.
Morning time is our time together. I bathe her, let momma pick out the clothes (‘cause apparently I am physiologically incapable of picking out a shirt and shorts that are supposed to go together), and take the baby downstairs to make breakfast and feed her. We do this almost every morning. We have a rhythm. Anyway…back to my original thought…
There we were having breakfast like normal. At one point she opened her mouth and I delivered a good sized bite of oatmeal (relax, I was using a baby spoon). It turns out that she wasn’t opening her mouth in an effort to say, My dearest Father, I am ready for more sustenance.” She was merely prepping for a sneeze…
All of which leads me to this little gem: NOT EVERY OPEN DOOR OR OPPORTUNITY IS A SIGN OF WHAT GOD WANTS YOU TO DO! The converse is also true: Not every closed door is a sign that God wants you to give up.
But that’s often how Christians view circumstantial events. I call it “Door Theology.” If the door is open (Christian language for an opportunity has presented itself) then God must want me to walk through it. If the door closes (Christian language for the opportunity is no longer present) then it must mean that God wants me to go in a different direction. Door Theology is huge in the Evangelical church. Every week I hear people espouse this junk. DON’T BUY IT!
Sometimes you will have an open door in your life that God would NOT want you to walk through. And sometimes a door will close that God STILL wants you to pursue. You cannot estimate God’s will simply on your opportunities (or lack thereof).
Well, then, how do we determine and discern God’s will for our lives? Let me highlight three foundational elements that are helpful in discovering God’s will for your life.
1. The Bible – God’s will for you will NEVER contradict his words in the Bible. You never have to wonder if it is God’s will to leave your wife for another woman. It isn’t. It never will be. You never have to wonder if it is God’s will for you. God will not contradict what he has laid out in Scripture. Want to know what his will for you is? If you stay plugged into the Bible on a regular and consistent basis your picture will become more and more clear. The Psalmist writes:
A WORD OF CAUTION – DON’T SETTLE FOR RANDOM ACTS OF WILL. Sometimes we go to the Bible and randomly pick a sentence and believe it to be God’s will for us. When we read the Bible we ought to do so intelligently. Some things are meant to be universal and apply to all times. Other things are specific to a time, people, and place and are not meant to be directives for us. Don’t read,” Judas went out and hanged himself” and think that it is God’s will for you to do the same. Be smart.
2. Your Conscience – The non-Christian world calls it your conscience. Those of us in the Evangelical movement understand and believe that God is present in this world through his Spirit (often called the Holy Spirit). It is the Spirit of God that speaks to us if we will simply ask and listen. What is the Holy Spirit trying to tell you? Have you asked? Have you been listening? The Apostle Peter was often directed by God’s Spirit and several times writes:
A WORD OF CAUTION – DON’T TRUST YOUR “GUT” ALONE. Sometimes we may “feel” that God is trying to say something to us when it is merely our own desires, passions, or even bad pizza from last night. You cannot trust your own feelings alone as God’s will. I knew a guy in college who decided after one semester that God was “calling him” to leave the school and go to a different university. Okay, how can you argue with that? Within a year he was back from the other school. I guess God was confused? Or maybe my friend was putting spiritual labels on his own desires…. Be careful.
3. Counsel – There is something to be said for good counsel and good counselors. Ask other people what they think about God’s will for your life. Talk to them about what you’ve read in the Bible and what you think the Spirit of God is saying to you. Bounce it off of other people and find confirmation. Or bounce it off others and end up rejecting the idea. The Proverbs say:
A WORD OF CAUTION – MAKE SURE YOUR COUNSELORS ARE GODLY PEOPLE. If the people you turn to for advice are dirtbagsit’s a pretty good bet that they won’t give godly and stellar advice. Find people who care about discernment and doing right by God. Ask THOSE people. Get their input.
And one last word for people who are going through a real difficult time: When going through junk don’t ask, “Is this God’s will?” God doesn’t ever WANT you to go through garbage. Sometimes we go through garbage as a result of other people’s stupidity and/or sinful and evil behavior. Don’t blame God for other people putting you through hell. Instead ask, “How can I honor God even in this situation?”
It’s less about finding the one single path to walk than it is about being a Christ-follower whichever path you may take!
My old church has a softball team. We played in the church league against other churches from the area. I was on the team. I loved playing! I’m wasn’t what I would call a wonderful softball player. Actually, I don’t think I was too shabby fielding. It was my hitting that needed work. Lots of work. But it’s a church league and so, while we had a couple of really good players, the rest of us were just out there for the fun of it. Other churches took it WAY more seriously than we did. Some of the teams we had played practiced 3-5 times a week. We practiced 3-5 times a season! After our last public shaming I told the team that, as long as we’re the 3 times a year team playing against the 3 times a week teams, the public shamings will continue. Whatcha gonna do?
I have no doubt that we COULD have been better. It really comes down to what we’re willing to do and how much we’re willing to put in to rise to the next level of play. Isn’t that life, though? So often we want the fast path to success that we’re not willing to put in the hard work and effort to take ourselves to the next level. This truth is present in business, relationships, spirituality, and every other aspect of life. You cannot get better at something without putting in the work to improve.
I think of the Apostle Paul writing to the church in Thessalonica:
Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more. For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus. For this is the will of God, your sanctification (1 Thessalonians 4:1-3b)
Paul had already told the Christians in that church what they should be doing in their “walk” (Paul’s way of saying the way you do the things you do) in order to please God. He simply hopes that they continue to do it more and more and more and more. In other words: KEEP PRACTICING THE THINGS YOU KNOW YOU WHOULD BE DOING SO THAT IT BECOMES SECOND NATURE AND SO THAT YOU CAN DO THEM EVEN BETTER.
Think about your life for a second. If you’re like me (and since I feel pretty normal there’s a good chance we have some human similarities) then there are areas of your life in which you would like to see improvement. I would like to be a better musician. I would like to be a better writer. I would like to be a better parent. I would like to be a better pastor. And yes – I would like to be a better softball player.
But how do we actually do it? How do we move from where we are into greater success? Here are a few suggestions I’ve found helpful:
Read voraciously. Make reading a lifetime habit. When we read we learn. Not just how to books and blogs. Not just non-fiction. Read everything. Reading is a great way to keep new information coming in, and the more information we have the better decisions we can make. Read specifically on the area you want to improve. Because I want to be a better preacher I read books on preaching. I follow several blogs on preaching and leadership. I don’t want the pastor I am tomorrow to be the same pastor I was yesterday. I pray that God continually stretches me and helps me improve. So I read.
Find someone who does it better and ask for input. Yes, this is called coaching. It’s important because books will only take you so far before you need to have a live voice give you feedback. When it comes to softball I’ve asked a couple of guys on the team who are our consistent and solid hitters on how I can improve my hitting. They’ve been VERY gracious with me and offered feedback. In the last month alone I’ve seen improvement in my swing. Not that I’ve arrived, mind you, but I see improvement.
Never be satisfied where you are. I’ve never met anyone who said, “I have arrived” be the king of the hill very long. There’s always some way to grow and improve, and if you’re not seeking that growth you’re gonna get left behind (don’t worry, Kirk Cameron will be there with you).
Finally, recognize that you might be able to see improvements in some areas of life but that you weren’t made to be a superstar in all areas. If you sing like a sick cat, maybe vocal coaching and lessons aren’t the best use of your time and money. This is difficult because our culture tells you, “You can be a star at anything if you just try hard enough or pay the right price.” Um…no. You can’t. There are some things I will never do well. It’s just not reality to think I can do anything. So this is your wake up call. Be realistic in finding areas of your life in which you desire and actually can excel.
So how ‘bout it? Where do you want to see growth and improvement in your life? Your relationships? Your job? Your spirituality? What have you found helpful in achieving your success?