Do everything without grumbling and arguing,so that you may be blameless and pure, children of God who are faultless in a crooked and perverted generation, among whom you shine like stars in the world. (Phil 2:14-15)
Men consider whining to be strictly a female foible. Gentlemen: grumbling is just whining an octave lower.
Do everything without grumbling and arguing,so that you may be blameless and pure, children of God who are faultless in a crooked and perverted generation, among whom you shine like stars in the world. (Phil 2:14-15)
Do you remember that movie quote? If you are even five years younger than I, you might not. I first heard it as a young teenager sometime in April 1968, when a friend and I went to see Stanley Kubrick's new movie "2001: A Space Odyssey."
If you are not familiar with the movie or the short story by Arthur C. Clarke, it is the tale of two astronauts and a sentient computer, HAL 9000, who controls life support and computer systems on their space craft. This simple explanation does not begin to cover the many elements of the plot, but suffice it to say, Hal begins to malfunction, deliberately causing the deaths of one of the astronauts as well as three others who are in a kind of hibernation. It becomes a fight for survival between the last astronaut, Dr. Dave Bowman, and Hal.
Some of Hal's most remembered lines from the movie are:
"Just what do you think you're doing, Dave?"
"I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that."
"This mission is too important for me to allow you to jeopardize it."
The voice of Hal was masterfully portrayed by Douglas Rain, an acclaimed Shakespearean actor. He performed the part with a bland, flat, non-accent in a quiet voice that, by the end of the movie sent chills up your spine. You could easily imagine that this machine could coldly but calmly execute you if it saw a logical need for it.
Rain was born on March 13, 1928, and even though Shakespeare seemed his main interest, he is still best known as the voice of Hal, and even now I can still hear him voicing those lines.
But what I want us to think about today is this: What lines will we be remembered for?
If you have listened to the same preacher for several years, you have probably picked up on a few mannerisms he may not even know he has. When I was growing up, we had a preacher who ended sentences with the word "that." Or he would start them with, "This is that…" If things like this happen more than once or twice a sermon, it becomes distracting. You find yourself counting the repetitive phrase instead of listening to the point, a very good reason to tape yourself and listen once in a while. But not even That (pardon me) is what I am talking about.
How do you greet people? Pleasantly, with a smile and a welcome in your voice, or something that, though you may not actually say it, still sounds like, "What do YOU want?"
How do you answer questions? With irritation? With snide sarcasm? With boredom in your voice?
When you teach, do your students have a habit of writing down some of your statements because they want to remember them, or, given the choice, do they simply never show up again?
Do you say more helpful things or more hurtful things?
Do you talk about people with disrespectful name-calling? Or do you remember that they are made in the image of God?
In all of these things, "Just what do you think you're doing?"
It's been 51 years since I first heard Hal's eerie voice say that and I still remember some of the other things he said, too. What words of yours will people remember?
For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water. (Jas 3:7-12)
Girls raised in the South, or GRITS as one of my coffee mugs calls them, are some of the strongest people on this earth. These women were nurtured on grits, greens, cornbread and chores from the time they could chew. They work hard and long without complaint. They know that getting dirty is healthy and sweat is not a terminal disease so they don’t avoid either one. They can hoe row after row in the hot sun, shell beans till midnight, can, blanch, and preserve in a steamy kitchen for hours, cook for an army every night, and then clean it all up and start over the next morning.
They show up like magic when others are hurting and do whatever needs doing. They find their way in any kitchen, heating up casseroles seasoned with love and tears, stirring pots of vegetables flavored with fatback, slicing tall layer cakes and mile high meringue pies, sinking their arms in a sink full of suds, and grabbing up a basket of laundry on their way out the door to be returned clean, mended, ironed, and folded before the house of mourning even realizes the clothes are missing.
They will take anyone’s children in their laps and dry up tears, listen to sad stories, and tell a few funny ones to bring back the smiles. They bandage skinned knees and aren’t too prissy to change a needful baby’s diapers, no matter who it belongs to. They will even offer a little discipline on little bottoms that think since Mama’s not around no one else cares—they care. They can play tag, hide and seek, and red rover, make mudpies and sand castles, and then go home and finish whatever needs doing, no matter how late it gets. They will stay up all night with anyone who needs it, then get up and go again as if nothing has happened.
How do they do it? The women I grew up watching had one magic ingredient—love—love that involved selflessness, strength, and purpose, and was borne from the heat of life. Maybe living in the South made that come more naturally, just as the southern heat and humidity makes the sweat pour more profusely. But then I am sure that some of my Northern friends could tell stories about their mamas, too. Maybe it's not the south that makes these women like this—maybe it's the fact that they are real women, not divas or prima donnas.
God applies the heat to us as well. In Isa 48:10, God told His people, Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tried you in the furnace of affliction. Affliction hurts. It burns in a flash and roasts in constant pain and fear. But eventually, the heat refines our souls and makes them pure and strong.
What, you think it unfair that God would do this? Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If He would do it to His own Son, who are we to get some sort of special dispensation? In fact, the special dispensation is in the trials. If God never put us through these things, we would be weaklings, always babes, never maturing to spirituality. Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
There is another result from all this fiery testing, perhaps the best result of all. God speaks of a group of His people in Zech 13:9, saying, And I will put this third into the fire, and refine them as one refines silver, and test them as gold is tested. They will call upon my name, and I will answer them. I will say, 'They are my people'; and they will say, 'The LORD is my God.'" I will go through whatever it takes to have Him declare me His child and answer my call, won’t you?
Even now, as the long hot summer approaches, I am ready for it. It reminds me that just as the southern heat strengthens my body, the spiritual heat can work wonders on my soul. I know from watching both of my grandmothers, and my mother and aunts. I know from working side by side with other women as we toil for our families and neighbors, and for the Lord, too, as we serve our brethren.
You need to become comfortable with the fire. If you can’t stand the heat, the kitchen is the least of your worries.
Each one's work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. 1 Corinthians 3:13
Keith was in the kitchen, cleaning up dinner dishes so I could begin my Bible lesson study.
"Did I clean off the table?" he called from that room.
"I think so."
He went on with his work, dishes rattling in the sink, while I bent over my Bible and the workbook I had written for the class. Before long I heard the water gurgling down the drain.
Then he walked through the dining area, just a few feet away, stopped suddenly and said, "No I did NOT wipe off the table."
"Oh," I muttered. "Looked clean to me."
He let out a laugh. "Yep, and it sounded good to me."
If you know both of us well, you know what a ridiculous conversation this was. He is 90% deaf and I am chasing his numbers in the blind department. I would never ask him how something sounded, and he ought to have known better than to ask me how something looked.
Now, think a minute. Who do you approach with Bible questions? Do they know what they are talking about? Do they live what they are talking about? Do they have a vested interest in you believing something a certain way? Are they interested in saving your soul or in telling you what they know you want to hear? Do they even like you very much? Add to this list—I am sure there are more questions you need to be thinking about as you evaluate their answers.
If you want to know what a passage of scripture means, don't go to a man who is so blinded by his own beliefs that he does things you can see with your own eyes are not scriptural.
If you want the truth, don't go to a man who will only hear what he already believes and never question it.
"Consider the source" has real meaning when your soul is at stake, and far worse consequences than a crumby dinner table.
Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, (John 6:68)
It may be South Carolina's state flower, but we sure have a lot of it in North Florida. I had seen those bountiful yellow blooms for years every winter so when we decided to make a large vine trellis, I wanted those, along with Confederate Jasmine, and Purple Painted Trumpets. We have blooms now from January through June.
But the jessamine also grows wild across the fence and down in the wooded section of the property along the drive. Cascades of sweet-smelling yellow trumpet flowers hanging from tree limbs, crawling over brush, and dripping over fence lines dot our place with color for weeks. Even if I have not noticed them yet, high in the treetops, as I walk Chloe around the path I always know when to look up. Those yellow flowers fall and litter the ground below, still bright yellow, still fresh and unwilted. You can always tell where they are, or, after the blooming stops, where they have been. Isn't that the way it should be with a follower of Christ?
I have read from several different sources, that Christians in the first century always gave themselves away. No one else was kind to strangers. No one else took care of the sick and needy. No one else treated their enemies with thoughtfulness and consideration, even when it cost them their lives.
We may not be in such dire straits—yet—but how many of the people you come in contact with during the day would shake their heads in amazement at the kindness you showed them—a perfect stranger, perhaps even a stranger who had caused them some trouble? If they had to give a description of you for some reason, what would they say? How many people would consider themselves better off for having known you? How many would say, "My world is a better place for you having been in it?"
Like the jessamine, people should be able to look around on the ground and know we have been somewhere nearby. The ground should be covered with the aftereffects of our good works, as bright as those yellow blossoms, as obvious to everyone who passes by.
The tongue of the righteous is choice silver; the heart of the wicked is of little worth. The lips of the righteous feed many, but fools die for lack of sense.The blessing of the LORD makes rich, and he adds no sorrow with it. Doing wrong is like a joke to a fool, but wisdom is pleasure to a man of understanding. What the wicked dreads will come upon him, but the desire of the righteous will be granted. When the tempest passes, the wicked is no more, but the righteous is established forever. Prov 10:20-25
Have you noticed that no one can speak two sentences without taking the name of the Lord in vain? Even children are uttering a phrase that once was never spoken in polite company, that men begged a lady’s pardon for saying, that television censors bleeped. When you have an abbreviation for it, it has become entirely too common. I have a friend who wants to make tee shirts with “omg” under the universal “not allowed” sign of a circle with a slash. But that three word monstrosity is just the first, and most obvious way to take God’s name in vain.
Recently, while I was doing some research, I came across a website called Judaism 101. At the top, the following phrase caught my eye: Please note that this page contains the name of God. If you print it out, please treat it with appropriate respect.
Oh, how we need this lesson today, and I don’t just mean the heathen out there in the world.
The name of God stands for far more than just what to call Him. It stands for His essence and nature. It represents His history and reputation. And I will sanctify my great Name which has been profaned among the nations, Ezek 36:23. How would you feel if your “good name,” as we speak of this concept, were thrown around carelessly, used in sarcastic movie or book titles, or joked about? Yet it goes much farther than that.
In Judaism, any act that causes God to come into disrespect or a commandment to be broken is often referred to as profaning the name of God. This makes sense when you realize that any good deed we do is spoken of as “sanctifying” or “glorifying” his name. Even so let your light shine before men; that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven, Matt 5:16. One is just the opposite of the other, and there you have the second way to profane the Name of God—disobey or cause someone else to disobey Him.
Number three hits a little closer to home. The Name of God stands for His Authority. Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the Name of the Lord, Col 3:17. If a policeman yells out, “Stop in the name of the law,” he is telling you that the law of the land gives him the authority to stop you, and you had better do it or pay the consequences. Too many of my brethren are out there pooh-poohing God’s Authority these days, as if “authority” were a bad word. When you act without God’s authority, you are profaning His Name as surely as if you spoke it in vain. You have no respect for that Authority, nor, thus, for His Name.
The website I mentioned listed several things that orthodox Jews will and will not do in reference to the Name of God. Some of them seem awfully, well, "Pharisaic" comes to mind. But at least they have the right idea, while we bandy about The Name of God as if it were just any other word, then profane it with careless, or even scornful attitudes, disobey His commands because they don’t suit us, and rationalize our way out of a life of sacrificial service because it’s “too hard” and “makes me feel like a failure.” Disrespecting the authority of God is one and the same as profaning His Name, and conservative fundamentalists take part in it every day. Number three is the scary one because it is so easy to fall into and still think you are just fine because you are so prone to shout Amen and Hallelujah.
God is Holy. His Name is Holy. His essence is Holiness. Anything I say or do that detracts from that Holiness profanes His Name. It can be a careless phrase. It can be downright disobedience. It can be deciding for God what He will and won’t mind. Meditate on that awhile. Stand in awe of a God whose Name is so powerful it created the worlds, and be just a little scared of how you treat it.
There is none like you among the gods, O Lord, nor are there any works like yours. All the nations you have made shall come and worship before you, O Lord, and shall glorify your name. For you are great and do wondrous things; you alone are God. Teach me your way, O LORD, that I may walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your name. I give thanks to you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart, and I will glorify your name forever. Psalms 86:8-12
Stomach trouble seems to run in our family. I remember my Daddy eating Di-gel tablets like they were candy. Then I inherited his problem and had my first ulcer at 23. Way too much acid that was aided and abetted by carrying a 9 ¼ lb, 22 inch baby so high I looked like a walking beach ball. My younger son picked up the acid problem with an acid level even higher than mine. On my mother's side everyone had gall stones, so I followed suit as did my older son.
No matter how healthy you are, stomach trouble can debilitate you, in sometimes embarrassing ways, and it is almost always affected by what we eat. I remember introducing my first baby to sweet potatoes. His little tummy rumbled and grumbled in such an alarming way that I was sure any second that child would launch out of the infant seat and orbit the kitchen. He certainly had enough propulsion to do so. At least that experience benefited his little brother. I mixed his sweet potatoes with other mashed veggies the first time, like carrots or peas, though I would never recommend the color that peas and sweet potatoes make when mixed together for any painting project.
As many times as the metaphor of eating is applied to the Word of God, those memories made me sit back and think a bit.
God once told Ezekiel, “Son of man, eat whatever you find here. Eat this scroll, and go, speak to the house of Israel. "So I opened my mouth, and he gave me this scroll to eat. And he said to me, “Son of man, feed your belly with this scroll that I give you and fill your stomach with it.” Then I ate it, and it was in my mouth as sweet as honey. Ezek 3:1-3
John had a similar experience. So I went to the angel and told him to give me the little scroll. And he said to me, “Take and eat it; it will make your stomach bitter, but in your mouth it will be sweet as honey." And I took the little scroll from the hand of the angel and ate it. It was sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I had eaten it my stomach was made bitter. Rev 10:9-10
Both of those prophets had a great respect and love for the Word of God. That's where the "sweet as honey" comes in. But neither one of them loved the message they had to deliver; John, one of an upcoming persecution greater than God's people had ever experienced, and Ezekiel, trying to convince a hardheaded people that Jerusalem would indeed be destroyed in a most horrible way and that they were the true remnant, the only hope for God's people and the World. Yet both of those men, because of their devotion to God, fulfilled their missions. Their abiding love for God made their prophecies palatable.
I have heard both preachers and elders, lately, beg a congregation full of God's people to "get into the Word." When we have to beg, when we have to bargain like a parent with a toddler—"Eat just one bite and you can have some dessert"—how much love for the Word are we exhibiting? How much commitment to our Savior do we really have?
If we are what we claim, we should long to fill ourselves with those words. We should clamor for more. If nothing else, like an adult we should understand that eating our vegetables is better for us than eating French fries, desserts, or candy, and do it without needing a bribe. At least one has a hope of developing a taste for the profound, the spiritual, the Truth if he tries it once in a while.
My mother used to mash the carrots and potatoes from the pot roast and mix them together so I would eat the carrots. Now I have matured and do just fine, thank you. What won't you eat, even for the sake of saving your soul?
How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! Ps 119:103
If you missed yesterday's post, stop here and read it now, or this one may not make much sense to you. We have been discussing spiritual maturity, but you need to see the background work we did in order to really understand.
The passages I have for you today all touch on a similar topic. Let's get them all before us. Be sure to read carefully so you can find the word that means "mature."
…until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, (Eph 4:13-15).
Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ Jesus, greets you, always struggling on your behalf in his prayers, that you may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God. (Col 4:12).
By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. (1John 4:17).
All of these passages speak to a mature mindset in a child of God. If we are not mature, we will be easily deceived, believing one thing one day and another the next, always in danger of losing our souls to the next conman who comes along. We must teach our children not to help the stranger find his puppy. We adults see right through the trick. We must do that spiritually, too, becoming so familiar with God's Word that it becomes practically impossible to deceive us.
In the second passage, the issue is standing firm, fully assured. Having doubts along the way may be perfectly normal at the beginning. But as you mature in Christ, studying and learning and growing, those doubts should melt like Frosty on a warm morning. If, after many years, those doubts still pester me, I did not grow up in Christ, I stagnated on the pew. It's time to get to work. Maybe I need to work on the things we talked about yesterday. Maybe I need more training "to discern good and evil" (Heb 5:14). Whatever it is, I need to attack those doubts before Satan uses them to attack my faith.
The third passage then follows logically. When I have grown to a full assurance, I will be able to stand before God on the Day of Judgment without fear. Just as I grew out of my doubts about Him, I will have grown out of my doubts about myself. I will understand grace and love like the babe I used to be could not. Finally, I will stand next to my Big Brother and be able to measure myself against his maturity and though I may still be an inch or two short, at least I will have narrowed the gap.
And there you have it in two relatively short posts—how to measure your spiritual growth. I hope you toes aren't too sore to stand up and measure yourself every day and see how far you have come.
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. (Rom 12:2)
Do you remember all those great events in your life, the ones that changed your status one way or the other? The day you were baptized into Christ? The day you got married? The day you turned, legally, into an adult? The day you had your first child?
Do you remember the sudden change? Do you remember thinking, "Wow! So this is what it feels like to be an adult," or a wife, or a mother, or a Christian? Do you remember how different the world looked, and how different you felt inside?
No, I don't either. What I remember feeling was a little disappointed. I saw the same world with the same eyes, had the same feelings, and thought the same thoughts. But my status had changed. Finally, I realized it was up to me to change with it. It was my job to be that Christian, that wife, that mother, that adult, and somehow along the way I figured out how. Well, let me help you with at least one of those things this morning.
…till we all attain unto the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a fullgrown man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: Eph 4:13.
Do you see that word "fullgrown" in the verse above? The ESV translates it "mature manhood," in other words, an adult. I looked up the word and was in for a shock. You know all those times the Bible talks about being "perfect?" (At least many of those times.) It's the same word. You could easily substitute "mature" for "perfect." Sometimes it is translated "complete," and we often hang our hats on that peg in order to avoid the cop-out, "I can't be perfect," which we think excuses us from even trying. But try substituting "mature" instead. While every one of us will deny we are "perfect," if we have been Christians for any length of time, we all want to think we are mature instead of the oft maligned, "babes in Christ."
So I looked up passages that use that word and did my little substitution trick and suddenly I had a list by which to gauge my spiritual growth. That list also did more than step on my toes; it veritably stomped them to mush. Come limp along with me this morning.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. 'But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matt 5:43-48)
Look at the end of that passage. "Be perfect." There is the word, the one that is translated fullgrown or mature in Ephesians 4. One way to see if you have matured in Christ is how you treat your enemies. And may I suggest that it also applies to how you treat a brother you may have a problem with. The things I see on Facebook in the political season tell me that some still have a lot of growing up to do.
Here is another: Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” (Matt 19:21).
There it is again, "if you would be perfect." Substitute mature and you have it. Obviously Jesus does not teach that it is wrong to be rich. Many wealthy people helped him survive during his ministry. Paul talks about how the rich brethren should live in 1 Tim 6. But this young man, the one we commonly call the rich, young ruler, had an obvious attachment to his wealth and property. What Jesus is teaching us here is that our earthly attachments can tell tales about our lack of spiritual maturity. It might not be wealth. It might be a career. It might be a person. It might be status and power. Paul counted these things "as loss" when he became a Christian, and he had far more to lose than many of us. If you would draw a line anywhere in your service to God, he will sooner or later bring you to that line and demand that you cross it. That is your test of spiritual maturity.
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (Jas 1:2-4)
Do you want to show your maturity in Christ? Then you must endure trials and come through them with your faith intact. You may ask why, you may complain—Job did that--but his faith and trust in God never wavered, not even when the one who was supposed to be his helper encouraged him to "curse God and die." And you will be tested. When God said we would have thorns, thistles, toil, labor, sweat, and pain, he was not talking about planting a garden—he was talking about life! To expect anything else is also a sign of immaturity. Only children expect fairy tales.
For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. (Jas 3:2).
And yet another way we can measure our spiritual growth is by whether or not we control our tongues. Yes, that word "perfect" is the one we have been discussing. If you are able to control your tongue, you are mature. Children will react, but a mature adult will think before he speaks.
And this is only part of the list I found. Check with me tomorrow morning and see the rest.
Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. (Col 1:28)
Taking “in an unworthy manner” has nothing to do with how hard we think about Jesus on the cross for a few moments before and after we feast, and everything to do with how we live the week before and after.
For Christ our Passover has been sacrificed, let us keep the feast [week of unleavened bread that followed the Passover] …with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. (1 Cor 5:7-8).
Dene Ward has taught the Bible for more than forty years, spoken at women’s retreats and lectureships, and has written both devotional books and class materials. She lives in Lake Butler, Florida, with her husband Keith.