What Does Spiritual Maturity Look Like?

It’s one of my biggest pet peeves in the church: the idea that one person is more spiritually mature than another person. Or, worse, that one group is more mature than another. It’s not the facts that bothers me per se though. Some people really are more mature and more grounded in their faith. What bothers me is what we really mean when we lob that label across a person. It means that they are more mature in the things we care about.

For a conservative church, that means the person can quote scripture forward and backward, has a disciplined prayer time every day, and has self control in matters of food, alcohol, sex, and speech.

For a liberal church, it means that the person can maintain their own views and listen to others. (If you don’t believe me, check out this article.)

Both of those camps’ values convey something about maturity. A mature person certainly will be more temperate and more self controlled, both in actions and conversations. But the people that are truly mature are on both sides of the family, and sometimes in between. And you know what I’ve noticed about the people who are the most mature? They often don’t get noticed.

The person that is mature is simply this: the one who chooses to act out of love, no matter the consequence or benefit. They’re not the ones that are usually on the platform. They’re usually the ones hurt, standing in the back because they took on the person in the church that no one else would friend and are giving them grace at great cost to themselves. They’re usually the ones on the other end of the phone, listening, giving advice that will get ignored until someone else says it later. But they’re faithfully planting that seed. They’re the ones who pray and don’t tell you most of the time. The ones who serve you with such honor and dignity that you don’t even realize that it’s costing them something to do it.

They are patient and kind and slow to anger. They don’t boast or care about their needs as a matter or importance. They ALSO forgive easily, avoid grudges, brush silly and ignorant comments away, and they do rejoice in the truth.  (Not surprisingly, the scripture has it right.) They’re the people that everyone likes, but no one thinks to invite anywhere.

The next time you think that you want advice or a sermon or a book from a mature Christian, go ahead and pick up that book from your favorite author. But also, look over your shoulder at the person that you know bears with you the most. They may be the person you most want to listen to and emulate. There’s great wisdom and maturity all around you.


Is it Stupid to Believe?

I started my day yesterday by reading the sexual abuse lawsuit against several Sovereign Grace church pastors. I got 16 pages into the document before I couldn’t read anymore. (If you are a sexual abuse victim, DO NOT read the lawsuit. It will hurt you. It’s the worst I’ve ever seen.)

Today, I was confronted with science that accuses systems of religion as naive, at best.  There’s “solid proof” in their argument that religions were merely social constructs. Now that we know more, we should think differently, they say. Their ideas are reasonable. Incredibly reasonable.

Tomorrow, I’m sure I’ll hear of some church or mosque or temple where more took place: money laundering. Fear mongering. Sexual abuse. Indoctrination. Filth.

That’s what it really is. It’s filth.

I confess that on some days, I want to join up with the atheists. If this is what organized faith looks like, I don’t want to be associated with it.  My critical thinking kicks in and questions overwhelm my heart. I would lay out those questions, but I’m sure you know them all too well.

The end result of those questions seems to be this idea that it’s stupid to believe in a God, much less a loving God, in light of the realities we face in our churches, schools, communities, and nations today.

It’s taken me years to work out how Christianity, in particular, responds to this. The administratively simplistic — and somewhat brutal — just lay out the facts. We broke the rules. The consequence is that we live in a sin-sick, disease-filled, horrible world. And that God’s none too happy with it. And He will set things right one day on Earth. He will bring justice to every wrong…. And things don’t function this way in His kingdom in Heaven.

But for the deep thinkers, the intellectuals, and the emotionally aware, that theology is just a band-aid. All it takes is to hear the story of yet one more 8 year-old girl sold into slavery, who is drugged daily to be raped by 8-10 men to make that line of reasoning crumple like a paper bag.

“That’s it?  Years of horror and a lifetime of mental anguish, and it’ll one day all be set right?”

It is a pathetic response.

…And yet…. I believe. How?

I believe because I’ve sat across from the raped. I’ve wept with the beaten. I’ve been handed the diagnosis of “there’s nothing to do to cure this.” And in every situation, there’s been another person in the room that stepped up. I’m a good counselor (not a great, but a good), but I couldn’t have helped to heal a wound of rape. And yet, in turning over my voice and body to something greater than myself, I saw healing from incredible horrors take place. I’ve been to the place where I can’t breathe because I imagine the possibility of my children watching me suffocate to death. And I’ve felt a presence of assurance say that there will be grace in that moment. I want to shake it off. I want to call it naive. But those I am confident in those realities more than my own existence.

As I let those moment-by-moment realities exist, I’ve found more beauty in the writings of scripture, not less. I’ve seen God’s anger and wrath at injustice, especially injustice perpetrated by “His people,” written in between the lines of scripture in a way that I hadn’t before. I’ve seen His ability to heal and restore in a way that I didn’t think was possible. And I’ve seen Him do something that humans don’t. I’ve seen Him fully admit that there is nothing okay with the absence of 100% love and respect for a human soul, and I’ve seen Him offer it as one who’s capable of giving it.

And suddenly, it becomes stupid to hope in humanity, executors of violence, and not in a being capable of perfection. It becomes stupid not to partner with someone — something — that can change individuals and societies in ways that are beyond our comprehension. This is the reason that so many faith practices exist, after all, is it not? Because we know that we can’t be it. We can’t be all that there is. We cannot be our own hope. For that hope is the most despairing thought of all. Call me greedy, but I want more. Call me greedy, but I don’t think you can call me stupid.


What do these terms mean?

This blog is called “Renew Us.” As in, “I’m lost, hurt, broken, confused, frustrated…and I need to be renewed. I need to get energy or get focused again.

It’s a prayer. Please God, give me the knowledge that I need to wrap my head around this situation, and move me forward so I can keep growing with you.

That said, you may feel that it’s inappropriate for me to talk about things like terminology or doctrine. It may seem out of place. But it’s not. Because I think the church and church members — particularly in the evangelical world — are getting hung up on terms and we’re getting confused about what we’re here to do.

For example, yesterday, I wrote about the term “tribe,” and how using that term is not profitable for the church at large. But there’s some other words and phrases that we “throw” out there to define ourselves as individual churches that can be just as confusing for congregants. Unlike “tribe,” these phrases may be helpful for defining our goals, beliefs, and practices, but most congregants don’t know what pastors and elders mean by them.

The most perfect examples may even be the terms that many have used to classify differences in the church. These eight terms are:

Reformed vs. Arminian

Complementarian vs. Egalitarian

Charismatic vs. Cessasionist

Missional vs.Fundamental

Most people have no idea what these terms mean. And it gets even worse when we add descriptors in with these terms. An example would be: “I’m charismatic with a seat belt.”

Defining the terms is helpful for people. You should know what you believe. But the obsession with figuring out the label on ourselves is just insanity. At best, it usually leads you to trying to find a church where others believe like you. At worst, you become a prideful, theological idiot who thinks they are more “biblical” or love Jesus more than other Christians.

If you are wrapped up in the chains of doctrine right now. If you’re ready to just throw your computer against the wall because reading the different histories makes your brain want to explode …. can I just offer this?

Go out and love somebody.

Visit a church this Sunday that’s not like your own and find something they do differently than you’re used to and thank God for it. Talk to a friend who is part of a different congregation and ask what they love about the practices of their church. Recognize that those are not the practices that you’re used to, and then thank God for the ways God is using those differences to heal, restore, and save people.

Doctrine is important, essential even. It helps to test the spirit and to keep people away from lies and myths. But when doctrine becomes exhausting, we need to call a pause. When doctrine makes our heart grow cold towards others, it’s not helpful any more.

Should we use the term “Tribe”?

I first heard about it nearly a year ago from a tweet made by my old assistant pastor: the idea of churches or networks as tribes. He said that he was working with some fellow worship leaders on some new music and then followed it up with statement, “I love my tribe.” Then, Mark Driscoll’s A29 pastors started keying in on the phrase. Before I knew it, the term tribe had gone viral within church culture.

But it wasn’t until I saw Justin Holcomb’s book review of Seth Godin’s book Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us that I found out where the phrase originated. Being a big Holcomb fan (who can’t love a guy who’s goal is to help victims of sexual abuse heal?), I really was interested to hear what he had to say about the idea. However, while Holcomb had an excellent summary of the book, he never took on the idea of whether we should accept the term “tribe.” But that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t ask the question.

I have to question whether the fruit of using that vocabulary has been helpful for the Church. I assume those use the term do so because of the Revelations 7:9 statement that prophesies that one day every nation, tribe, and tongue will declare that Jesus is Lord and all honor and glory is due to Him. The picture that we see in this verse in Revelations is one of unity. No matter our tribe, we won’t care. We will be praising the living God in awe.

But I don’t think that’s what has happened.

I can only tell you what I see as a member of the body that stands in the middle. And what I can tell you is that the idea of “tribe” is not doing what we think it’s doing. We think it’s drawing us together. It’s not.

“Tribes” have divided us more. They have made us more prideful in our own beliefs. They have led us to be less likely to listen to our brothers and sisters who may do ministry differently or pray using different terminology. And quite often, I find that those who use the term feel like they have to defend themselves from their other brothers and sisters in Christ.

In short, it’s made us waring tribes, not a family who realizes that we have an enemy — and it’s not each other.

I’m all for churches being on mission. I’m all for churches firing up their people to love and serve Jesus, each other, and the world. I’m even for the warning that Godin presents that if we don’t get it together, the heretics are going to mobilize and hurt people. I just think we should follow Jesus  — follow Paul — a bit more on this. We should take an Ephesians 4 stance. We should stop trying to find others who are like us within the body and start appreciating our differences more. Stop feeling strongly that our own giftings save the lost the best and start valuing how the giftings can work together to make the whole Church strong.