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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

What Might Jesus-following Maturity Look Like?

Someone I know sent a query very recently on Facebook asking for input on the essence of maturity. I responded with the following and realized I wanted to say more about the essence of spiritual maturity recognizing it's not easily quantified like a batting average or measured by how many achievements or honors a person has gathered in a lifetime. Jesus-following maturity is existentially organic and sometimes quite subtle, best noticed by others who can see Christ-like motives and actions in us. The following list is not meant to be authoritative or exhaustive, just food for thought:

1. Wisdom From Above:

All wisdom is from God (Proverbs 2:6), including that which demonstrates anything true in the natural order (Jeremiah 10:12). Wisdom is the ability to see reality in all its forms, i.e., what is and what is not. Wisdom from above is spiritual acuity, the ability to see and know true wisdom from man-made knowledge or demonic counterfeits. It is precious beyond measure, (Proverbs 8:11); to possess wisdom is to know the way to true life and eternal meaning. The Holy Spirit is the Bringer of all wisdom, knowledge and understanding from above. He authenticates in real-time what God has ordained before the foundation of the world. God freely gives wisdom to anyone who earnestly asks for it (James 1:5). Through spiritual wisdom God desires us to see him, completely surrender our hearts (the sooner the better), and serve him to show the world his Glory.

  • Mature Jesus-followers are characterized by a love of wisdom grounding them in the reality of God with us, and the call to shoulder the work of this Kingdom in all of life for such a time as this.

2. Gracious Selflessness (in the mode of Jesus): Nehemiah (9:17b) and Isaiah (30:18) show God as, by nature, full of grace which he gives even when we do not deserve it or perhaps even look for it. Embodied in graciousness are freely-given qualities of generosity and goodwill, unforced favor or blessing, and favor which freely overlooks offense. To anyone saved by the finished work of Christ, it is the astounding work of grace, a gift freely given, never earned. In Jesus, we see the summum bonum (highest good) of God's grace in that he willingly, in unity with his Father, gave his life for the world. The King of Kings became "despised and rejected . . . a man of sorrows . . . stricken, crushed, oppressed and afflicted . . .a lamb to the slaughter . . . cut off from the land of the living" (Isaiah 53). Jesus left unimaginable riches, became poor and surrendered all of himself that we might find true, unfettered self by doing what he did and becoming graciously selfless, thus opening the world to his Glory as we serve those who can't see him.

  • Mature Jesus-followers reflect a consistent selflessness eagerly offering grace as a way of life, even when it is not noticed or returned. Selflessness is not an attainment, but an unself-aware way of life.

3. Living to Glorify God as One's Prime Identity and Life Motive: Jesus said he came to do the Father's will (John 6:38), and if you've seen him, you've seen the Father (John 14:8-11). All manner of allegiances invite us to make them our primary identities: our race, country of origin, family name, political affiliation, calling and work, etc. Jesus-followers are summoned to embrace wholeheartedly a lifetime of working to bring glory to God by serving him with all they are, and loving others as themselves including, by the way, proclaiming the Gospel to those who haven't heard it as we go about our business. Any lesser identity and life motive does not bring glory to God or reflect a heart given first to his redemptive interests.

  • Mature Jesus-followers then can also be recognized by where they give their best; what they seem most passionate about, how they spend most their time, and what values are reflected in their words and actions. A life devoted to God's glory will be evident.

4. Sacrificial Love: John 3:16-7 proclaims that God gave Jesus to save the world from destruction because of spiritual deadness and hardness of heart due to sin. God sacrificed and Jesus sacrificed for love. Love motivates sacrifice for the Beloved if it is authentic love. Love by its nature gives, asking little or nothing in return. Sacrificial love reveals its essence: to lay down one's life for the other. The "me" in each of us finds it's deepest meaning when its focus is others. We are our brother's and sister's keepers. Paul tells us to "follow the way of love" (1Corinthians 14:1). Love costing us much mirrors the love of God for the world; such love reflects his heart the most closely because it reveals his nature. Love which "never fails" (1Corinthians 13:8), "keeps no record of wrongs" (1Corinthians 13:5), and "always perseveres" (1Corinthians 13:7).

  •  Mature Jesus-followers live lives showing forth consistent growth in the ability to love without condition. Such people have picked up their crosses and see dying to self as a privilege, and a cost worth paying to be able to reflect God's love in this dark world.

5. Consistently Serving the Poor (including the poor in spirit):

Very close to the heart of God are the poor: Luke says the poor are blessed because they have the Kingdom of God (6:20). He provides for them (Psalm 68:10). He secures justice for them (Psalm 140:12). He raises them from the dust (Psalm 113:7). James says God has chosen the poor to be rich in faith and inherit the Kingdom (2:5). Jesus is anointed to preach the Good News of the Kingdom to the poor (Luke 4:18). Jesus though he was rich became poor that his poverty would enrich the faithful in the treasures of the Kingdom (2Corinthians 8:9). If a person is committed to following Jesus, he or she will be where he is (John 12:26), in the midst of the poor of the world whenever possible. Jesus-followers love who God loves, including the poor and broken in the world. It will mean a lifestyle change for sure, especially in America, but serving the poor will become a non-negotiable.

  • Mature Jesus-followers will find meaning and joy in helping the materially and spiritually least fortunate in their midst and around the world. They will see what they've been given as opportunity for giving, not taking or hoarding to maintain comfort and ease of life. Sharing will be a common occurrence. They will see the poor as people made in the image of God and precious in his sight. Spiritual maturity gives people eyes to see one's most "insignificant" brothers and sisters and draw alongside with help.

6. Humility, Gentleness and Mercy:

Jesus says he is "Gentle and humble in heart" (Matthew 11:29). God is by nature merciful (Deuteronomy 4:31). His followers are called to be merciful (Luke 6:36). Humility, gentleness and mercy are strong towers in that they represent a depth of freedom from using power to gain one's way or advantage. This freedom is counter-intuitive in the eyes of most, but reflects a substantial reliance on the power and care of God rather than forcing one's way over others. The world operates as such, not the Kingdom.

Humility reveals a prudent understanding of one's true nature apart from God because everything good we are and everything we've been given comes from his hand. Humility teaches us to see ourselves rightly in relation to God and others. In fact, it notes God's incomparable greatness and others better than oneself. Humility finds no joy in the ridiculous foolishness of boasting.

Gentleness flies in the face of fear. It abhors harshness and dominance over others. Gentleness sees fear-mongering for what it is: cowardice. Gentleness is humane, able to connect with the broken and bruised humanity of others without a sense of superiority. It has no sense of guile or advantage. Gentleness is open-hearted by conviction.

Mercy holds no grudges and drops the charges by choice. It reflects God's will to show mercy to a sin-riddled world and shower blessing on the merciful walking by his ways. Mercy surprises and liberates all those who receive while expecting the boom to be lowered. Mercy is also counter-intuitive. Fallen human nature loves the blood-lust of revenge. It prizes the right to hit back. Mercy short-circuits the murderous revenge cycle and opens the only sure path to healing: unexpected forgiveness.

  • Mature Jesus-followers have come to cherish humility and see it as a gracious, undeserved gift of God's unmerited favor. They know gentleness to be a healing gesture, one that shames and defuses aggression. Such people understand mercy to be very near the center of God's heart, and want to stay near there because then they are in their rightful place as followers.
7. Willingness to Suffer For Christ:

Peter tells us if we've suffered for doing what is right we are blessed (1Peter 3:14). He goes on to say it's better to suffer if it's God's will for doing good than doing evil (1Peter 3:17).In chapter 4, Peter says since Christ suffered in his body that his followers should "arm themselves with the same attitude." Later in Chapter 4, he says," 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." He closes the chapter by counseling, "Therefore let those who suffer according to God's will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good." Paul writes, "Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted" (2Timothy 3:11-3).

To truly follow Christ in this world is to incur suffering whether it be from the adversary and his minions, from enemies of the Gospel, from family, other Christians or strangers. The Scriptures allude to the fact that the closer we get to being like Christ and serving his interests in the world with courage, we will have trials, setbacks, and even persecution. I think we are often surprised when we go through a prolonged or intense period of affliction or loss. Most of us believe we are supposed to be pretty much protected from the bad stuff in life. I've known people who've abandoned Jesus because of that. The truth remains while he promises to be with us through it all, (Matthew 28:30) he also warns that the rain will fall on the just and the unjust (Matthew 5:45).

  • Mature Jesus-followers have resigned themselves to the fact that following Christ will more than likely expose them to all manner of suffering at varying levels of intensity. Some have embraced they may even die for him because of experience and reflection on what they've come to recognize as the reality of the struggle for the Gospel and Kingdom in this world. They identify with it and go into the fray anyway. They are not heroes; they've simply decided to follow Jesus no matter the cost. They know the reward and see their obedience as life to the full, and wouldn't have it any other way.

8. The Persisting Attitude of Joy Because of Hope:

I tell people all the time attitude spells the difference between those who work out their problems and those who don't. Attitude gives proper perspective and fuels virtues. Grace-infused attitude sets people's feet advancing toward healing, freedom, life and holiness. Persistence gives attitude time to materialize and mature toward its desired ends. Without persistence most people are easily blown off course by immaturity, impatient distraction or obstacles allowed by God to strengthen resolve.

A persisting attitude of joy is a resilient mindset of joy. A person valuing wisdom chooses to learn existential joy from God. The Holy Spirit is a master at teaching joy, but sadly, many never ask him to. Most people assume joy is a feeling. We do have joyous feelings, thank God, but they are highly contextualized and fleeting for the most part. Biblical joy at its most profound is a perceiving and grasping of the stunning beauty, pleasure, freedom and life waiting just beyond the veil for all who follow Jesus faithfully. Jesus endured the cross for the joy set before him (Hebrews 12:2). He knew what his death and resurrection would create and ignite in the universe locked in slavery by the fall. Such joy is the inheritance of all persevering believers in Christ.

  • Mature Jesus-followers have asked often for the mindset of joy. They want to live in the anticipation of delight unimaginable right now. They want to taste a little bit of it and hold onto joy when plenty of life will throw temptation, frustration, loss, sorrow and confusion at them all along the journey home. At the same time, they have decided long ago to learn, and put on the attitude of joy even in the valley of the shadow of death. Joy is a grace-filled antidote to life that upends and piles on.
When its all said and done and the roll is called up yonder will people of the late 20th and early 21st centuries be known as believers who embraced Jesus-following maturity and spread the Gospel as never before. Or will it be sadly noted we were a passive, comfortable generation of nice people who strove to live the good life as promoted lavishly by our western culture? The verdict is still out. What does your life say?
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