April Book Reviews

At the beginning of 2016, I set a goal of reading 104 books– roughly two a week. I am using a plan developed by blogger Tim Challies, which requires you to read across genres. To find out more about the plan, go to http://www.challies.com/resources/the-2016-reading-challenge

Song of Redemption (Chronicles of the Kings, #2)25. Song of Redemption by Lynn Austin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Started: March 23

Finished: April 4

Challies Challenge Category: Novel by a Christian Author

This is the second book I’ve read (well-listened–they are available in audiobook form)in Lynn Austin’s Chronicles of the Kings series. She is very skilled at taking the details we know from Scripture (which usually aren’t many) and creating a compelling story from them that still rings true to the context of the Bible. I’ve enjoyed her work, and look forward to listening to the other books in the series. For Challies challenge, this was my entry for “novel by a Christian author.”


An Approach to Extended Memorization of Scripture26. An Approach to Extended Memorization of Scripture by Andrew M. Davis

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Practical, concrete, helpful

Started/Finished: April 2

Challies Challenge Category: Book less than 100 pages

This book was recommended by both Tim Challies and John Piper. I’m in a group right now that’s trying to memorize Romans, so it was well worth the 99 cents to download this one. The title is well-said: this is “an” approach. Not “the” approach. And as such, it’s pretty good.


Taking God at His Word: Why the Bible Is Knowable, Necessary, and Enough, and What That Means for You and Me27. Taking God at His Word: Why the Bible Is Knowable, Necessary, and Enough, and What That Means for You and Me by Kevin DeYoung

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Challies Challenge Category: Book about theology

Started: April 4

Finished: April 8

Fantastic! The audiobook of this is the free book this month in christianaudio.com, (April, 2016) but after listening to about half of it I ordered a hard copy from Amazon. There really needs to be a small group study on this. The SCAN acronym– the Bible is sufficient, clear, authoritative, and necessary– is worth the price of the whole book. In addition, there is an an annotated bibliography of books at the end– grouped by category and graded on degree of difficulty, that makes me glad I don’t just have it on audio.


Expository Apologetics: Answering Objections with the Power of the Word28. Expository Apologetics: Answering Objections with the Power of the Word by Voddie T. Baucham Jr.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

 

Started: March 31, Finished April 9

Challies Challenge Category: Book about Worldview

I appreciated Voddie’s commitment to keep the ultimate goal of an apologetic conversation in mind–to share the gospel. He reminds the reader that according to Romans 1:18-20, people don’t have a knowledge problem. They have a righteousness problem.

I’m also challenged to spend more time learning the creeds, confessions, and catechisms that have been used to teach the faith for hundreds of years. As a Baptist I’ve never studied them much, apart from memorizing the Apostles Creed. But now, and especially as a Christian educator, I appreciate their value for helping us teach and learn how to “give an answer for the hope that is within us”
(1 Pet. 3:15)

My only complaint with the book is that I wished he had used a different example of an apologetic sermon in the appendix. He had already summarized the sermon in same sex marriage and the divisions of the levitical law earlier in the book; so the appendix felt redundant.

 


Martin Luther: In His Own Words 29. Martin Luther: In His Own Words by Martin Luther

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

 

Started: April 4

Finished: April 9

Challies Challenge: Book by or about Martin Luther

The main part of this book is the 95 Theses, followed by various letters Luther wrote to defend the theses. Also included is his Shorter Catechism, and a handful of his sermons. It was very enlightening to me, primarily to realize that the Theses weren’t initially intended to start the Reformation, but to reform a specific practice in the Catholic Church. As with a lot of books that start off for me with the audio version, I found it very helpful to download a Kindle version as well.


Orthodoxy30. Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Orthodoxy

Started: April 10; Finished: April 20

Challies Challenge Category: Book more than a hundred years old

So, Chesterton himself called this a “chaotic volume,” and I don’t disagree. For the first three-quarters of the book, I couldn’t figure out why it was called “Orthodoxy.” It was hard to follow any organizing principle, and if he was arguing to make a point, he argued more like a poet than a lawyer.

It didn’t help that I was listening to the audiobook. Even though it was narrated by the amazing Simon Vance (whose narrations of Ken Follett’s The Pillars of the Earth and World Without End are some of the best audiobooks I’ve ever heard) I don’t recommend the format for Chesterton. This book is meant to be chewed slowly, like a really good steak. You need to be able to roll the words around in your mind, and unless you’ve got your finger constantly on the pause and rewind buttons (not recommended while you are driving), you can’t do that.

So, I bought a hard copy, and now I feel like I have to read it again.

 


Handel's Messiah: Comfort for God's People31. Handel’s Messiah: Comfort for God’s People by Calvin R. Stapert

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

 

 

Started: April 14; Finished: April 16

I’d had this in my Christian Audio library for awhile, and when I saw that yesterday was the anniversary of the premiere of Messiah, I started listening. Great read. The two best takeaways are George Bernard Shaw’s criticism of mass choirs performing Messiah, and the theological question of “why doesn’t ‘Messiah’ end with the ‘Hallelujah Chorus’?”

Challies Challenge category: Book about music.


32.  Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mount Everest DisasterInto Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mount Everest Disaster by Jon Krakauer

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Started: April 11; Finished: April 16

Challies Challenge: Book written in the 20th century

This was the second time I’ve read this. I picked it up again after watching the “Everest” movie. I don’t think the previous edition I read had the postscript about the ongoing fight between Krakauer and the author of another book about the same events, which is critical of Krakauer’s criticisms of one of the guides. It is an interesting read on its own, dealt with issues of journalistic integrity and fact checking.


33.Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger'sLook Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger’s by John Elder Robison

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Date Started: April 16
Date Finished: April 21
I really enjoyed this book. Robison writes with clarity and humor (whether or not it is intentional humor is hard to say, given that he is writing as an Aspergian). There are times when he comes across like a real life Forrest Gump–a social misfit who winds up in the right place at the right time to make an impact on the world that a so-called “normal” person could never make. The main difference is that instead of meeting Presidents like Forrest Gump, Robison met rock stars.

The book is also genuinely moving as it gets into the time Robison spends with his own son.

I would recommend this book to anyone that has someone on the autistic spectrum in their life, as well as anyone that just enjoys a well-written, if quirky and oddball–memoir.

Challies Challenge: Memoir


Cry, the Beloved Country34. Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Date Started: April 20
Date Finished: April 28
Challies Challenge Category: Novel set in a country other than your own

This book was a feast. Moving, deeply Christian, informative, poetic, redemptive, beautiful. The characters are richly drawn, multidimensional, and fully realized. The prose is gorgeous. The message and the issues are timeless, as relevant to Ferguson, Missouri as they were to Soweto, Johannesburg. I will go back to this one again. And for what its worth, the 1995 film version starring James Earl Jones and Richard Harris, is on Netflix. While it isn’t a perfect movie, it is perfectly cast.

Today in Church History: May 2

41f-kynl07l-_sx331_bo1204203200_This year, I’m using J. Stephen Lang’s The Christian History Devotional during my daily quiet time. Every so often, I’ll pass on some thoughts here.

 

 

On this date, in 373, Athanasius, one of the most influential shapers of Christianity outside the NT writers, died. We can thank Athanasius for the fact that we have 27 books in the New Testament; and that the Nicene Creed affirms Christ is the “same substance” as God. One of his most famous quotes, from On the Incarnation:

God became what we are that he might make us what he is.

All great reasons to remember him, even if he looks a lot like Saruman from “Lord of the Rings.”

Job: Some Nerve!

Who did Job think he was, telling God he would “cling to his righteousness and never let it go”?

 

Image

One of the most rewarding parts of my work week happens on Monday nights from 8:30-10:00, when a group of men gather together for a deep dive into the book of Romans. Some of us are trying to memorize the entire book. Others are memorizing the two or three verses that go along with each session. But all of us are benefiting from the intense, focused study on the book that launched the Reformation and is the foundation for arguably the most well-known gospel presentation, the Romans Road.

The dominant theme of the first three chapters of Romans is that none of us are righteous. Not one of us–no, not one–can stand before God with any shred of righteousness that comes from ourselves.

Which makes the book of Job such an enigma. You know the story. God and the devil make a wager over the life of Job. God gives Satan permission to mess with Job, taking away everything from Job except his life. Job’s friends come to console him, and wind up arguing with him for about 25 chapters. Basically, they all tell him that he is being punished because of some unconfessed sin. But Job’s not buying it. Which leads us to Job 27:3-6:

3 as long as my breath is still in me and the breath from God remains in my nostrils, 4 my lips will not speak unjustly, and my tongue will not utter deceit. 5 I will never affirm that you are right. I will maintain my integrity until I die. 6 I will cling to my righteousness and never let it go. My conscience will not accuse me as long as I live! [Job 27:3-6 HCSB]

Does anyone else look at this and think that Job sounds really full of himself? Humility is a Christian virtue. All of us have to admit we are sinners before we can trust Christ for our salvation, right?

So where does Job get off saying things like, “I will maintain my righteousness and never let go of it?” Is this arrogance? Does it fly in the face of Paul’s teaching that “there is none righteous, no, not one?” (Romans 3:10) I don’t think so.

Job’s confidence is not in himself, but in the trustworthiness of God. Job believed in a God whose will and ways could be known. Other gods from other religions were fickle and capricious. You never knew what you might have done to displease the god of the rain when there was drought, so you danced and sacrificed and cut yourself until the blood flowed in an effort to get his attention (remember the prophets of Baal in 1 Kings 18?) A king wouldn’t know how to gain the favor of the gods so his army would prevail in battle, so he might sacrifice one of his own sons to Molech by throwing him in the flames (Jeremiah 32:35). Or think about the Greek gods we studied in high school. Mortals were constantly subject to the whims and jealousies of the gods. When Zeus and Hades were angry at each other, humans paid the price.

But Yahweh is different. He can be known. He has given us His laws and decrees. We know what pleases Him and what doesn’t. And this is the confidence Job was clinging to. No matter how many times his so-called friends argued, “well, you must have done something wrong to be suffering in this way,” Job stubbornly and steadfastly held on to the idea that he knew what it took to walk with God, and that he had done it. When Job says things like “I will maintain my righteousness and never let go of it; my conscience will not reproach me as long as I live,” he was not expressing confidence in his own goodness, but in God’s justice.

I am so thankful that our God is predictable. He is not capricious, punishing humans on a whim or a lark (I admit, some would argue that’s the whole storyline of Job. I encourage you to watch this excellent animated walk-through of the book of Job from the fine folks at the Bible Project, and then let’s talk.). Don’t get me wrong. There is still none righteous. But Job teaches me that we can trust in God’s unchanging character. In every situation. In every place. For all time. Praise Him!

Who Is Jesus? Session 6: The Resurrection

Who is Jesus S6.1
These are notes from this week’s “Who Is Jesus?” class. The curriculum is from Focus on the Family’s TrueU apologetics material.

Answers from the Listening Guide (p. 56)

  1. Jesus really died, but it was the twin of Jesus that was appearing to people.
  2. Hallucinations are usually a very individual kind of thing.
  3. Somewhere between the time He was put in the tomb and Sunday morning, Jesus revived.
  4. There is no inconsistency in the story of the burial of Jesus.
  5. Over time, a legend begins to be formed about Jesus, and it just gets embellished, year after year.
  6. I think one of the greatest bits of evidence for the resurrection is the changed lives of His disciples.
  7. A legend requires at least two full generations before it can begin to be formed.
  8. If Jesus didn’t really rise from the dead, then the gospel is useless.
  9. How many people will die for a lie when they know its a lie?

Arguments Against the Resurrection

The Twin Theory: Jesus really died, but His twin was the one who people were seeing.

  • Wouldn’t His own mother have been able to tell the two apart?
  • Did the twin have the same scars the crucified Jesus would have had? (See John 20:27)

The Hallucination Theory: Instead of seeing the real Jesus, people hallucinated Him.

  • On at least two occasions, people did not recognize Jesus when He appeared to them (see Luke 24:14 and John 20:14)
  • According to Paul, Jesus appeared to over 500 people at once (1 Cor. 15:6). Hallucinations are not group events.

The Wrong Tomb Theory: Everyone who claimed to have gone to the empty tomb went to the wrong one.

  • If it was the wrong tomb, that means there would have been a right tomb somewhere. Surely someone would have produced the body in order to discredit the story of the resurrection.

The Swoon Theory: Jesus didn’t really die on the cross. He swooned on the cross, then was revived in the cool of the tomb.

  • The Romans performed hundreds, if not thousands of crucifixions every year. If the soldiers said Jesus was dead (John 19:33), we can trust them.
  • How could Jesus, after being tortured, crucified, speared, and buried with 75 pounds of spices, unwrap himself, move a stone out of the way, and overcome a squad of Roman soldiers?

The Inconsistency Argument: Details from the four gospel accounts don’t match up. And because of these inconsistencies, we can disregard the entire story.

  • There are no issues with the record regarding the death or burial.
  • No issues with the record regarding the empty tomb.
  • No issues with the record regarding the post-death appearances
  • The alleged issues focus only on the details surrounding the women and the angels.

The Disciples Stole the Body: In Matthew 27:62, the chief priests go to Pilate and say,

“Sir, we remember that while this deceiver was still alive He said, ‘After three days I will rise again.’ 64 Therefore give orders that the tomb be made secure until the third day. Otherwise, His disciples may come, steal Him, and tell the people, ‘He has been raised from the dead.’ Then the last deception will be worse than the first.”

So Pilate orders the soldiers to make the tomb “as secure as they know how” (vv. 65-66). After the resurrection, Matthew 28:12-15 reads:

12 After the priests[a] had assembled with the elders and agreed on a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money 13 and told them, “Say this, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole Him while we were sleeping.’ 14 If this reaches the governor’s ears,[b] we will deal with[c] him and keep you out of trouble.” 15 So they took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been spread among Jewish people to this day.

So here are the questions:

  • How can you trust what someone claims happens in his sleep?
  • The penalty for a soldier falling asleep on guard duty was death.
  • Could a group of fisherman overcome soldiers guarding the tomb?
  • Would they have broken Jewish sabbath laws to commit this crime?
  • Would they have taken the time to unwrap the grave clothes and leave them behind?
  • Would they have willingly gone to their death for something they knew was a lie?

The Myth Theory: Over time, a legend began to be formed about Jesus, and it just gets embellished, year after year. 1 cor. 15:3-8 says: “For I passed on to you as most important what I also received:

that Christ died for our sins
according to the Scriptures,
that He was buried,
that He was raised on the third day
according to the Scriptures,
and that He appeared to Cephas,
then to the Twelve.
Then He appeared to over 500 brothers at one time;
most of them are still alive,
but some have fallen asleep.
Then He appeared to James,
then to all the apostles.
Last of all, as to one abnormally born,[a]
He also appeared to me.

Paul is relating a creed that had been established within months of Jesus’ death.  If it truly takes two full generation for a legend to be established, Paul’s statement, “Most of these are still living” refutes this.

The Meaning of the Resurrection:

If Jesus didn’t really rise from the dead (see 1 Cor. 15:12-19)

12 Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say, “There is no resurrection of the dead”? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; 14 and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation is without foundation, and so is your faith.[d] 15 In addition, we are found to be false witnesses about God, because we have testified about God that He raised up Christ—whom He did not raise up if in fact the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, Christ has not been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins.18 Therefore, those who have fallen asleep in Christ have also perished.19 If we have put our hope in Christ for this life only, we should be pitied more than anyone.

  • The gospel is useless.
  • Christian faith is worthless.
  • The apostles lied.
  • Christians are unforgiven.
  • Those who died are lost.
  • Christians are to be pitied more than all men.
  • Preaching in the faith of death is absurd.
  • We should abandon our faith in God.

The Power of Death has been Broken! (Gen. 3:15)

The resurrection of Jesus confirmed:

  • the reality of His identity
  • the work of Christ in paying for our sins.
  • The resurrection of the dead, which is our hope.

One of These Things Is Not Like the Other

Romans 5:14 says that Adam was “a pattern of the One who is to come.” How, exactly?

Romans board

Every Monday night, I meet with a group of men for Bible study. We are in Week 8, and just21o6pacdujl-_ac_ul320_sr284320_ finished up Romans 5. We are using Tommy Nelson’s Romans: The Letter that Changed the World as our starting point. If you are anywhere near Prattville, AL, we’d love you to join us.

Romans 5:14 says that Adam was “a pattern of the One who is to come.” But it’s almost as if Paul realizes that he’s just compared someone to Jesus–the One with Whom there is no comparison. Tommy Nelson makes the point that Jesus is a far, far better Savior than Adam was a sinner. So no sooner does Paul say that Adam is a pattern, or type, of the one to come, that Paul starts walking back the statement.

“The gift is not like the trespass”–How they are different

5117z9zxxul-_sx312_bo1204203200_Tim Keller, in his Romans 1-7 For You commentary, identifies three primary ways what Jesus did to save us is different (read: “greater”) than what Adam did to condemn us:

The Motivation was different: 

Adam made a conscious decision to sin. The word “transgression” implies a deliberate decision to do what you know is wrong. So in Genesis 3, Adam bought in to the lie that the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil would make him like God (Genesis 3:5-7). In other words, he bought in to the lie before he bit in to the fruit! His motivation was that he wanted to be like God.

Like Adam, Jesus made a conscious decision–not to sin, but to obey. Verse 18 calls this the “one act of righteousness.” In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus deliberately bent His will to the will of the Heavenly Father when He accepted the cross (Luke 22:42). What was His motivation? Well, first and foremost it was to bring glory to the Father. But through His obedience, we have access to the Father (Eph. 2:18). And ultimately, we will be like God, when we see Him as He is (1 John 3:2). So at the risk of oversimplification for the sake of a great Tweet, Adam bit the fruit so He could be like God. Jesus bore the Cross so we could be like God.

Adam bit the fruit so He could be like God. Jesus bore the Cross so we could be like God.

The Results were different: 

Tommy Nelson walks through four areas in which the gift of grace through Christ is different (and far better!) than the transgression of Adam:

  1. Our salvation is more certain than Adam’s sin. Verse 15: For if by the one man’s trespass the many died, how much more have the grace of God and the gift overflowed to the many by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ.
  2. Our forgiveness is more broad than Adam’s judgment. Verse 16: from one sin came the judgment, resulting in condemnation, but from many trespasses came the gift, resulting in justification.
  3. Our reward is more glorious than Adam’s punishment. Verse 17: Since by the one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive the overflow of grace and the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.
  4. The obedience (of Christ) was more redemptive than the disobedience (of Adam) was destructive. Verse 19:  For just as through one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so also through the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.

Adam’s sin kicked him out of the Garden. Christ’s righteousness ushers us into Heaven. Adam’s transgression made us slaves. Christ’s righteousness makes us heirs.

The Power was different:

Finally, the power of grace is so much greater than the power of sin. Not for nothing do we sing, “Grace that is greater than all our sin.” How does Paul show that the power of grace trumps the power of sin?

  1. Reigning in life is greater than the reign of death. Paul says in verse 17, “Since by the one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive the overflow of grace and the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.” Don’t miss the change from “reign in life” to “reign of death.” The first is active: We who have been raised with Christ will reign with Christ. But the reign of death is passive. As Billy Crystal’s character says in The Princess Bride“with all dead there’s only one thing you can do–go through his pockets and look for loose change.”
  2. The abundance of grace is greater than the increase of sin. In verse 20, we read, “Where sin increased, grace increased all the more.” The power of sin to kill is limited. When you are dead, you are dead. More sin doesn’t make you more dead, and less sin doesn’t make you less dead. But when Jesus makes us alive through His abundance of grace,
  • We can grow in His grace and knowledge (2 Peter 3:18).
  • We can have life, and have it more abundantly (John 10:10).
  • We can grow in our faithfulness, and thus be given more responsibility (Matthew 25:21).
  • We can “add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love (2 Peter 1:5-8)

“For Just As…” How They are Similar

Even though it seems like Paul spends more time talking about how Adam and Christ are not alike, don’t lose sight of his original thesis in verse 14: Adam served as a pattern, or type, of the one to come. So let’s end this post by looking at how the two are alike:

  1. Both the gift and the trespass bring something (v. 16): The gift of grace brings justification. The transgression brings condemnation.
  2. Both the gift and the trespass cause something (v. 18): The result of Adam’s one transgression is condemnation for all men. The result of Christ’s one act of righteousness is the possibility of righteousness for all men (hold that thought– I’ll get back to that).
  3. Both the gift and the trespass make us  something (v. 19): The human race was made sinful by Adam’s disobedience. But the many will be made righteous through Christ’s obedience.

Conclusion: Is there any way the Trespass is Superior than the Gift?

Paul is clear. Grace is greater than sin. Christ is a far, far greater Savior than Adam is a sinner. Good triumphs over evil. The paradise we gain with Christ (see Revelation 22:1-5) is infinitely greater than the paradise we lost with Adam. At every turn, the power of what Jesus did is far superior to the power of what Adam did.

Well… at almost every turn. You may have already noticed it, but look again at verse 18:

18 Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people.

Does that mean that all will be justified? It does not. The condemnation of the human race through Adam is universal. But the justification through Jesus Christ is limited. It is available only to “as many as receive Him” (John 1:12). Romans 5:18 shows us that justification is available to all, but John 1:12 emphasizes that it is limited to the ones who will receive Jesus.

Next week: Antinomianism and Sanctification

 

A Blind Man Was Begging

blind-man

Yesterday at First Baptist Prattville, our pastor, Travis Coleman, preached about “What spiritual sight will do for you.” Although his text was Matthew’s version of the story (Matthew 20:29-34), I’m a little partial to Luke’s version (Luke 18:35-42). Here’s what struck me about the passage:

35 As He [Jesus] drew near Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the road begging. [Luke 18:35 HCSB]

 

Admit there’s a problem.

Even before Jesus showed up, this guy knew how to beg. Maybe that was all he knew. What a difference there is between “a blind man was begging” and, say, “a rich man was driving.” Or, “a smart man was teaching.” “A blind man was begging” tells me that he knew what his problem was, and he knew to ask for help. Often, I miss one or both of these things. I’m not willing to admit there’s a problem. And when others see I’m struggling, I will tend to blow them off and say, “No… I’m good.”

38 So he called out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 39 Then those in front told him to keep quiet, but he kept crying out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” [Luke 18:38-39 HCSB]

Be Persistent.

The blind man was persistent. When told to quit, he shouted more. What keeps me from being so persistent? Pride? Fear of being embarrassed? Or worse, fear of being ignored? Am I afraid others are too busy to help? Is that my biggest fear when asking God for help?

40 Jesus stopped and commanded that he be brought to Him. When he drew near, He asked him, 41 “What do you want Me to do for you?” “Lord,” he said, “I want to see!” [Luke 18:40-41 HCSB]

Be Specific.

Finally, the guy was specific. His petition wasn’t some vague request that God would bless him. It was, “Lord, I want to see!” Am I specific in what I ask of God? Do I hold back from telling Him exactly what I need so that if I don’t get it, I’ve given God a loophole? I’m afraid that characterizes a lot of my prayer. And maybe vague requests yield vague results.

So, some takeaways for today. What can I learn from this blind man begging?

  1. Know what’s wrong with you.
  2. Humble yourself to ask for help.
  3. Don’t stop asking for help.
  4. Be specific about the kind of help you need.

Spiritual Maturity: A Tale of Two Vertebrates

fishsalamander
Left- The African Annual Fish. Right-Olm Salamander

This post originally appeared September, 2016 at biblestudiesforlife.com.

Recently, I was leading a large group of adults in a study of 1 Corinthians 3, in which Paul bemoans the lack of spiritual maturity in the church. So I asked the group three questions:

  1. What are the marks of spiritual maturity?
  2. How long does it take?
  3. Do you consider yourself spiritually mature?

I wrote their responses in one column on a whiteboard. The answers to the first question were along the lines of developing the Fruit of the Spirit, developing hunger for God’s word, practicing spiritual disciplines of prayer and Bible study and so forth. When I asked about how long it takes, responses were all variations on the theme of “Well, it’s an ongoing process.” Similarly, very few adults were willing to say, “Yes, I am spiritually mature.”

It was a very humble group.

Then I changed the question. I said, “So, what if instead of a group of Christians, we were a group of biologists, trying to decide when an animal was biologically mature? What would be on the list?”

This time, the list was pretty short:

  1. No longer depends on mother’s milk
  2. Capable of reproducing

Which has got me thinking: are we overthinking spiritual maturity? Granted, everything on the list we compiled are good things. But are they the main things?

  • Are believers in your small group studying God’s Word for themselves, or are they wholly dependent on a teacher breaking it down for them?
  • Are they reproducing?

If so, they are mature. If not, they aren’t.

Could it really be that simple? I know no one wants to put themselves out on a limb and say, “Yes, I’m mature.” As one precious senior adult in our group put it, “Well, even the Apostle Paul said he had not already obtained the goal or was already perfect (see Philippians 3:12-14), so how could I say I’m spiritually mature?”

I appreciate the heart behind that statement. At the same time, it would be easy to allow false modesty to keep us from fulfilling the reasonable expectations of spiritual adulthood (maybe the conversation would change if we put it in those terms—not “Are you spiritually mature?” but “Are you a spiritual adult?”

Let me give you two examples from the animal kingdom. When I Googled the phrase “fastest animal to maturity,” I learned about the African Annual Fish. These little guys spend their entire lives in a rain puddle left behind after the rainy season in East Africa. They hatch from eggs that have been dormant in the mud since last season. Within seventeen days, they are capable of laying and fertilizing eggs of their own. And when the puddle dries up, they are gone.

On the other end of the spectrum is the Olm salamander, which is found in the secure, isolated caves of Eastern Europe. They can live for as long as 100 years, but don’t begin reproducing until around 16 years of age.

The lesson? When time is short, we get busy. When we feel like we have all the time in the world, we take our time.

The problem in the church is that we would like our churches to be more like caves—secure, protected, cool, comfortable, and separated from the rest of the world. However, the Bible describes the world and our place in it much more like a rain puddle. Consider these verses:

  • “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. (Eph. 5:15)
  • “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity” (Col. 4:5)
  • “Teach us to number our days that we may gain a heart of wisdom (Ps. 90:12)
  • “You are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.” (James 4:13)

I wonder if it’s time for us to own up to the responsibilities that come with being grown-ups? The writer of Hebrews seemed to think so:

Although by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the basic principles of God’s revelation again. You need milk, not solid food. Now everyone who lives on milk is inexperienced with the message about righteousness, because he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature —for those whose senses have been trained to distinguish between good and evil. (Hebrews 5:11-14)

Keep that in mind as you prepare to lead this week!