Maturing Reactions

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Jesus lived out the example of wholly healthy growth. The way Dr. Luke records it, the pinnacle of Christ’s health (and our health too) is seen in our relationships with other people.  

Why is relational maturity at the peak of the pinnacle? How else could you know whether you truly have mental, physical, and spiritual health unless it’s put to the test? And the ultimate test is how we react when we’re caught off guard. Our so-called Freudian slips can reveal an area of immaturity. C.S. Lewis reminds us that the suddenness of the provocation that caused the slip didn’t create our immature response, but it actually revealed what is really inside our hearts. Surely our unplanned reactions are a better indicator of our spiritual maturity than our planned actions! 

Jesus told us that our “slips” reveal what’s really inside (Matthew 15:19), but are these really unknown to us? If we’re really honest, how many times do we think unpleasant things without saying them or doing them? The Holy Spirit—the Spirit of Truth—knows so well what’s on the inside (Psalm 139:1-4). 

When we experience one of these slip ups, the devil loves to pounce! Paul calls it “sin seizing an opportunity” (Romans 7:7-11). But even as sin pounces, Paul assures us, “Therefore there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). 

What is the “therefore” there for? After the “therefore” the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of Adoption reminds us we are in Jesus and children of God, and the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of Intercession help us pray perfect, childlike prayers. So what comes before the “therefore” must be something that makes us feel unworthy, distant, and condemned. 

Paul explains that “we died to sin” (Romans 6:2). That word “died” means to be separated from one thing which brings about the destruction of the other thing. When we are separated from God by our sin we are dead, when are separated from our sin by God we are alive. At that moment of salvation, we stand before Almighty God justified—just as if I’d never sinned. That is irrevocable: God will never go back on that, we will never slip away from His grace. But that moment of salvation also begins a lifelong process of sanctification—or as I like to say it saint-ification. 

Remember that pyramid of growth Jesus demonstrated for us? Paul says, “I myself in my mind am a slave (Romans 7:25). The mind is where the Spirit of Truth begins His maturing, saint-ifying process in us. As our minds are transformed, then our bodies and our mouths can live out a Christlike lifestyle (see Romans 12:1-2). It’s this mind and body transformation that matures our spiritual health, which is then revealed in our relationships with others.  

Notice that it is after we have been through this transformation of mind, body, and spirit that Paul tells us the standard for God-honoring living. This is where we see even our unplanned reactions becoming more and more Christ-like (Romans 12:9-21). We cannot live out this Romans 12 mandate solely on our own willpower. We aren’t trying to become self-made people, but instead, we are allowing the Holy Spirit to make us transformed saints. Transformed saints that are known by their unplanned Christlike reactions. 

This is why I keep stressing for Christians to not stop at salvation, but to press on to be baptized in the Holy Spirit. 

If you’ve missed any of the messages in our series We Are: Pentecostal, you can access the full list by clicking here.

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The Spirit Of Truth

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on Apple or Spotify.

When I was 4 years old, I heard my echo for the first time as I yelled “Hello!” to a barn on the other side of a pasture. I was totally convinced that I had a friend in that barn yelling back to me, and I ended up being a bit disappointed later when I discovered that it was just my own sound waves bouncing back to me. 

To my 4-year-old brain, a little friend yelling back from the barn was absolutely true. It was maturity and new information that taught me differently. Isn’t this an ongoing story for all of us? Many things seem true from our current perspective, but then as we get older or smarter we realize that our original belief—what we really believed to be true—is now invalidated. 

Rarely does anyone admit, “I was immature back then,” but we usually try to justify ourselves by saying, “If I would have known back then what I know now….” But the fact is it will always be an impossibility for you to know then what you know now. 

In 1880, Edwin A. Abbott wrote Flatland, a favorite book of Albert Einstein. Abbott was a college-trained mathematician and theologian; in fact, he was actually better known for his theological writings than for this book. In this fabulous little book, Square, who lives in two-dimensional Flatland, cannot perceive height or depth. So what appears to him to be a wall, would merely be a line to you and me. One day Sphere from three-dimensional Spaceland visits Flatland, trying to explain to Square what his world was really like, but Square and his other Flatlanders could never fully grasp the idea. 

When Jesus was interviewed by Pilate, it sounds as though Pilate is missing a “dimension.” Pilate tries to state things the way that he understands them, but Jesus is revealing to him a whole new dimension (see John 18:33-38). The word Jesus uses for “truth” in this conversation means objective truth: something that is always true, regardless of where or when we live. Jesus explained that He as God IS objective truth. Any of our truth statements that aren’t grounded in God are subjective truth statements at best. 

Listen to how John describes Jesus: In the beginning—before all time—was the Word (Christ), and the Word was with God, and the Word was God Himself. He was continually existing in the beginning co-eternally with God. All things were made and came into existence through Him; and without Him not even one thing was made that has come into being. In Him was life and the power to bestow life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines on in the darkness, and the darkness did not understand it or overpower it or appropriate it or absorb it and is unreceptive to it. (John 1:1-5 AMP) 

Here’s the absolutely amazing thing: Jesus wants us to have this same insight into heavenly dimensions! Jesus said He would ask the Father to send us the Holy Spirit, Whom He called “the Spirit of Truth” (John 14:6, 16-17; 15:26; 16:12-13).

The Spirit of Truth…

  • …reminds us of the words of Jesus—John 14:26 
  • …helps us testify to others about the Truth—John 15:26-27 
  • …continually reveals objective truth to us—John 16:12-13 
  • …gives us truthful words to share with other “Flatlanders” who doubt the words of God—Matthew 10:16-20 
  • …and helps us spot and refute the falsehoods of the antichrist—1 John 2:18-27  

[Check out all of these Scriptures by clicking here.]

I love the King James Version of 1 John 2:20—But ye have an unction from the Holy One, and ye know all things. Being baptized in the Spirit of Truth means that you have access to an eternal perspective. You are no longer bound by the dimensions and paradigms of this “Flatland” but you are seeing things from God’s transcendent perspective. 

The unction of the Holy Spirit will allow you to speak THE Truth to a world blinded by the spirit of the antichrist. 

If you’ve missed any of the messages in our series We Are: Pentecostal, you can access the full list by clicking here.

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Prayer (book review)

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on Apple or Spotify.

John Bunyan was in prison for refusing to bow to the dictates of the ecclesiastical rulers of England, but prison could not silence his pen. Before writing The Pilgrim’s Progress, which Bunyan said came to him in a dream, he wrote two manuscripts on prayer which can only have come from a visit to a much more substantial heavenly realm. 

Prayer is actually two books written in the mid-seventeenth century. The first book is A Discourse Touching Prayer in which Bunyan dives deep on the apostle Paul’s desire, “I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my understanding” (1 Corinthians 14:15). The second book is The Saints’ Privilege And Profit, which is a deep dive into the idea of “the throne of grace” (Hebrews 4:15). 

When I say “deep dive” I mean that John Bunyan gives us a masters’ level course on prayer! This is not reading for a new Christian nor for someone who merely utters a superficial prayer here and there. These books are for the mature Christian who is dissatisfied with their current level of prayer and longs for a deeper level of intimacy in communion with our Heavenly Father. 

Let me reiterate that Bunyan wrote these books from jail. Not exactly the idyllic setting for contemplation, nor an environment for pious platitudes that are reserved for the serene time of prayer in a place of comfort. Just imagine: Bunyan uses just one verse from the Bible for each of these works, and then keeps drilling down and down into the immeasurable riches that are found in our relationship with God. 

If you’re ready to take your prayer to an entirely new and more intimate place, spend some time with your Bible and these two short books from John Bunyan. 

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Praising God In The Troughs

Some people mistakenly think that the maturity of a Christian is a steady climb, and anything short of that is not God-honoring. They feel the graph has to always be moving up and to the right. In reality—if we zoom in—we will see lots of peaks and troughs that are in the climb. 

For instance, we read the worship leader of Psalm 42 saying, “By day the Lord directs His love, at night His song is with me—a prayer to the God of my life,” and we think, “Yeah, that’s what I expect from a saintly psalmist!” 

But let’s get the context. In the opening verses, this same worship leader talks about his profound thirst, his tears, and the taunts of his enemies. Twice in this psalm, he laments, “Why are you so downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me?” 

Many people have gone through what has been called “the dark night of the soul.” I doubt anyone has ever given thanks because of those dark times, but they have learned to give thanks during those dark times.

Consider David’s beautiful words in Psalm 23. He points out that the Good Shepherd leads us into green pastures AND into dark valleys, beside quiet waters AND into the presence of enemies. 

But notice this: the Shepherd of our soul provides what we need in both daytime AND nighttime. He pours out blessings in the presence of our enemies, and as my grandfather wrote in the margin of his Bible next to verse 4, “Where there is shadow there must be light.” 

Consider the example of Paul who wrote to the Philippians, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (4:4). He wrote this to the church that was birthed by Paul’s miraculous deliverance from prison, while Paul and Silas were doing just that: Praying and singing hymns to God! 

In The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis gives us insight into how the demons view the temptation of Christians. Uncle Screwtape wrote to his nephew, “It may surprise you to learn that in God’s efforts to get permanent possession of a soul, He relies on the troughs even more than on the peaks; some of His special favorites have gone through longer and deeper troughs than anyone else. … It is during such trough periods, much more than during the peak periods, that the human is growing into the sort of creature He wants it to be. Hence the prayers offered in the state of dryness are those which please Him best.” 

A mark of a maturing saint is one who when he realizes he is in a trough begins to praise God in anticipation of the blessings which are coming! 

Don’t feel like you need to praise God FOR your troughs, but you can and should praise Him BECAUSE of His presence even in your driest, darkest trough. God is doing something in this trough time that He could accomplish in no other way. As David said, our Good Shepherd leads us in both sunlit and dark paths “for His name’s sake”—He will be glorified and you will be rewarded! 

Be sure to follow along on this series Thankful In The Night.

Apples Of Gold In Pictures Of Silver (book review)

The title of this book comes from the King James Version of the Bible: “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver” (Proverbs 25:11). A picturesque phrase for words that are challenging and uplifting. 

This book came to me from my Grandfather’s library. Originally published in 1889, my Grandfather had an autographed copy from 1901. The words in this book have stood the test of time. 

The first section of the book contains quotes, poems, and other life-guiding words to be read each day of the year. The subsequent sections are targeted to specific seasons of life. They are “Apples of Gold for…

  • … Children
  • … Youths 
  • … Lasses 
  • … Young Men 
  • … Young Women
  • … Early Married Life
  • … Middle-Aged 
  • … The Old
  • … Mothers 
  • … Dark Days 
  • … Bright Days” 

Each of these sections contains short stories, quotes, and poetry to both recover from a stumble and help the reader grow to new levels of maturity and success. 

I realize this book is out of print and probably unavailable to most, but there is an important principle from these types of books: Never stop learning. Find sources of wisdom that have stood the test of time, and let others’ hindsight be your foresight as you strive to keep on growing. In the case of Apples Of Gold In Pictures Of Silver, the editors approached this book from a biblical worldview, making sure that all of the counsel they printed aligned with God’s Word. 

I would encourage you to find these types of books to help you grow through life.

10 Quotes From “Cultivation Of Christian Character”

J. Oswald Sanders has given us a short but powerfully effective book for developing more Christlikeness in each and every Christian. Check out my full book review by clicking here. 

“In a word, spiritual maturity is Christlikeness.” 

“Christ set the standard in everything. He was never petulant, always calm; never rebellious, always obedient; never fearful, always courageous; never vacillating, always resolute; never pessimistic, always cheerful; never subtle, always sincere; never grasping, always generous; never acting from expediency, always from principle. He is the pattern of spiritual maturity.” 

“So then our spiritual maturity or immaturity is seen in the manner in which we react to the changing circumstances of life. … It has to be learned. Is it not striking that it is recorded of Christ that ‘though He were a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered; and being made perfect, He became the author of eternal salvation’ (Hebrews 5:8-9)? He alone was fully mature. The rest of us are ‘going on to maturity.’ In all of us there are some expressions of our personality in which we react immaturely instead of as mature men of God.” 

“The highest manifestation of spiritual maturity is love. We are only as mature as we are mature in love.” 

“God forbid that we should ever cease to love the gospel in its simplicity, but we must not be content to stay there. We must go on to appreciate increasingly the gospel in its profundity.” 

“There is a place for a constructive contending for the faith. The church has degenerated sadly since Pentecostal days and the servant of the Lord has an important part to play in its revival.” 

“It is possible to get to heaven without living a consecrated life, but the journey there will be barren and disappointing, since consecration is the doorway to undreamed-of joy. Neglect it, fail to seek it, and life will be greatly impoverished. Welcome it, and life becomes inexpressibly enriched.” 

“When we dedicate our lives to God, He consecrate us to His service. We dedicate our lives to Him that He may work His will in us. He consecrates us to Himself that He might make us holy.” 

“It has been suggested that in consecration we bring our lives to God as a blank sheet of paper with our names signed at the bottom. Confident of His love, we invite Him to fill in the details as He will.” 

“It is a life separated to the glory of God. Inherent in the word ‘consecration’ is the idea of separateness. There must of necessity be separation from sin if there is to be separation to God. … The consecrated Christian hates evil, but he has a passion for the right and for the glory of God and Christ. He tests all his actions by the one standard, ‘Is this for the glory of God?’ He will do anything, suffer anything, if only God is glorified. Nothing is too costly to give to the Master.” 

10 Quotes From “As A Man Thinketh”

As A Man Thinketh feels a lot like the biblical book of Proverbs, stimulating us to think about our habitual thought patterns. Check out my full book review by clicking here.

“As the plant springs from, and could not be without, the seed, so every act of a man springs from the hidden seeds of thought, and could not have appeared without them.” 

“Man is made or unmade by himself; in the armory of thought he forges the weapons by which he destroys himself; he also fashions the tools with which he builds for himself heavenly mansions of joy and strength and peace.” 

“The soul attracts that which it secretly harbors; that which it loves, and also that which it fears; it reaches the height of its cherished aspirations; it falls to the level of its unchastened desires.” 

“Good thoughts and actions can never produce bad results; bad thoughts and actions can never produce good results. This is but saying that nothing can come from corn but corn, nothing from nettles but nettles. Men understand this law in the natural world, and work with it; but few understand it in the mental and moral world (though its operation there is just as simple and undeviating), and they, therefore, do not co-operate with it.” 

“Blessedness, not material possessions, is the measure of right thought; wretchedness, not lack of material possessions, is the measure of wrong thought.” 

“A man only begins to be a man when he ceases to whine and revile.” 

“Men imagine that thought can be kept secret, but it cannot; it rapidly crystallizes into habit, and habit solidifies into circumstance.” 

“They who have no central purpose in their life fall an easy prey to petty worries, fears, troubles, and self-pityings.” 

“This is the royal road to self-control and true concentration of thought. Even if he fails again and again to accomplish his purpose (as he necessarily must until weakness is overcome), the strength of character gained will be the measure of his true success, and this will form a new starting-point for future power and triumph.” 

“The oak sleeps in the acorn; the bird waits in the egg; and in the highest vision of the soul a waking angel stirs. Dreams are the seedlings of realities. Your circumstances may be uncongenial, but they shall not long remain so if you but perceive an Ideal and strive to reach it. You cannot travel within and stand still without.” 

Thursdays With Spurgeon—The Wonder Of Christ

This is a weekly series with things I’m reading and pondering from Charles Spurgeon. You can read the original seed thought here, or type “Thursdays With Spurgeon” in the search box to read more entries.

The Wonder Of Christ

     Works of art require some education in the beholder before they can be thoroughly appreciated. … Because of failures in our character and faults in our life, we are not capable of understanding all the separate beauties and the united perfection of the character of Christ, or of God, His Father. … 

     You cannot fail to notice that men, through the alienation of their natures, are continually misrepresenting God because they cannot appreciate His perfection.… Men will misunderstand Him because they are imperfect themselves and are not capable of admiring the character of God. …

     Did you ever notice, when you read the history of Jesus Christ, that you could never say He was noble for any one virtue at all? … 

     It is because of the complete perfection of Jesus Christ that we are not accustomed to say of Him that He was eminent for His zeal, or for His love, or for His courage. We say of Him that He was a perfect character, but we are not able very easily to perceive where the shadows and the lights blended, where are the meekness of Christ blended into His courage and where His loveliness blended into His boldness in denouncing sin.

     We are not able to detect the points where they meet. And I believe the more thoroughly we are sanctified, the more it will be a subject of wonder to us how it could be that virtues that seem so diverse were in so majestic a manner united into one character. It is just the same of God.

From Mercy, Omnipotence, And Justice

As we grow in our understanding of processes and techniques, our appreciation of a work of art or a symphony grows as well. We may go from “Oh, I like that” to “That is amazing” to “This is an exquisite masterpiece! 

Christians should experience the same wonder and awe of the character of God seen in Jesus and revealed to us by the Holy Spirit. 

I believe the reason the angels around God’s throne are constantly calling out, “Holy, Holy, Holy!” is because at every moment they are perceiving a new facet of His sheer awesomeness. They are calling out to one another, “Did you see that?! Holy!” And another responds back, “Yes, and look at that! Holy!” 

We are invited to join in that chorus. The apostle Paul prayed that our eyes would be opened and our vision expanded to see new depths, and heights, and widths, and lengths of the awesomeness of our God (see Ephesians 3:16-19).

Full Of Gratitude And Prayer

I have not stopped thanking God for you. I pray for you constantly. (Ephesians 1:16)

Paul didn’t pray just a one-and-done prayer, but every time he thought of his friends he was grateful and prayerful. 

The mark of a godly leader is one who is grateful and prayerful of those around him.

What a prayer Paul prayed! He didn’t want his friends just barely eking out an existence, but he desired for their lives to experience explosive growth and joy! 

He prayed for them to experience…

  • … the full weight of God’s glory
  • … the vast knowledge of God’s revelation wisdom 
  • … an ever-increasing understanding of just who God is
  • … an enlightened mind to grasp God’s nature
  • … an unshakable hope in God
  • … the immeasurable richness of an intimate relationship with God through Jesus Christ
  • … God’s power working both in them and through them 
  • … the rock-solid security they have in Jesus
  • … their inestimable value they were to God
  • … their indispensable place in the Body of Christ 

I like the way Eugene Peterson captures this prayer in The Message:

That’s why, when I heard of the solid trust you have in the Master Jesus and your outpouring of love to all the followers of Jesus, I couldn’t stop thanking God for you—every time I prayed, I’d think of you and give thanks. But I do more than thank. I ask—ask the God of our Master, Jesus Christ, the God of glory—to make you intelligent and discerning in knowing Him personally, your eyes focused and clear, so that you can see exactly what it is He is calling you to do, grasp the immensity of this glorious way of life He has for His followers, oh, the utter extravagance of His work in us who trust Him—endless energy, boundless strength!

Spiritual leaders should be working for and praying for the ever-growing maturity of those under their care. When they see that growth, they should burst out into grateful prayer. And if they don’t see the growth they anticipated, they should pray in faith believing that maturity will soon be visible. 

Let me say it again: The mark of a godly leader is one who is grateful and prayerful of those around him.

This is part 40 in my series on godly leadership. You can check out all of my posts in this series by clicking here.

When Trials Come

Notice that the title of this post says “when” not “if.” Maybe this will be a newsflash for some of you (but I highly doubt it): Christians will face trials.

Even the apostle James says, “Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy” (James 1:2). Wait, trials are “an opportunity for great joy”? How can that be?!

→ Trials teach us lessons that we can learn in no other way! ←

How much more mature, and wise, and empathetic would we become if instead of trying to get out of the trials that come our way, we would instead see what we could get out of that trial!

We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because He has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with His love. (Romans 5:3-5)

“When trials come we can try to get out of them, or we can learn to get something out of them.”

—Craig T. Owens

So the next time a trial comes your way, ask the Holy Spirit to show you what lessons you can learn by going through the trial.

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