Sunday, September 20, 2009

Bolt's maturity and Christian maturity

The big discussion which had everybody talking this week in my country was the Prime Minister's decision to confer on world record breaking champion Usain Bolt, the nation's fourth highest award - OJ. Further, to name Highway 2000, the Usain Bolt Highway, and finally to make him an Ambassador-at-large with full diplomatic Status. So now, no longer is Bolt simply Bolt, but the Hon. Usain Bolt - at least when the honor is conferred officially later this year. Of course this decision by the PM triggered a raging debate of whether or not his action was premature and impetuous as Bolt is too young and its too early in his young career to shower him with such accolades. And of course the question of whether the PM was " using " Bolt for political purposes emerged in the discussions. Whilst on the other hand folks are contending that the magnitude of his accomplishments is so huge that no award is too good for this young man.

So while the nation was grappling with Bolt and his maturity and his ability to handle all this praise, and while we are still grappling with the effects of crime and violence, the Lord spoke through His Word about Christian maturity. As this ought to be the objective of all who are Baptised into Christ. And in this context the message was about bearing " much fruit". The kind of fruit that can help a nation hijacked by evil men with guns and knives and wickedness in their hearts, having no compassion on the young or the old, to recover some kind of sanity. This is the primary concern of a nation desperate for divine intervention. The kind of intervention that a mother with whom I spoke years for as her son was brutally murdered recently by gunmen at a construction site. Intervention for an aunt, with whom I spoke, whose nephew was held up and shot to death, even when the gunmen got what they wanted. What is needed is mature Christians who can carry out the Lord's work with power, faithfulness and love.

The message began with my waking up thanking God for His mercy for protection during the night using the words of the prayer by Jacob Boehme: " Your holy angels have protected me from all harm and pain. T o you, Lord, I owe life itself". Which then triggered the memory of the words of the opening verse of the well known hymn:

O Love that will not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in thee,
I give thee back the life I owe........

Then the Spirit of God led me to John 15, and I would imagine the link is " rest in thee", but who knows!

" I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener, he cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful."
John 15:1-2 NIV

It therefore means that, in this context, there are two kinds of Christians. Those who " bear no fruit" and those who " bear fruit". And for the one the judgement for bearing no fruit is to be
" cut off", whilst for the other the reward is " pruning so that they can be even more fruitful".
So right away we begin to appreciate,that this issue of Christian maturity is no simple matter. In fact, according to this text, it is a matter of eternal life with Christ doing good work, or being removed from the very presence of Christ - an awful thing to contemplate for those who expect to see God's face. So let us not fool ourselves, either we produce " good fruit" or we perish, no matter how much we sing and praise God in church and declare ourselves to be "saved and filled". The message here is that only those who produce " good fruit" can help Jamaica find its way in this time of darkness in the land.
Then the Lord led me to the two passages, one in Luke the other in Matthew, which tell the story of the farmer who sowed seed and what became of them. In both of the stories, the Bible makes the point that God reveals his secrets to his followers, those who believe, but to other He speaks in parables so that:
" though seeing, they may not see;
though hearing, they may not understand"
Luke; and in in Matthew the words:

" For this people's heart has become calloused,
they hardly hear with their ears,
and they have closed their eyes.
Otherwise, they might see with their eyes
hear with their ears,
understand with their hearts
and turn, and I would heal them".

This is a fitting description of what is happening to many intellectuals and cynics in Jamaica who have no understanding of God's plans and purpose and spend their time foolishly trying to engage the church in debates rather than " turn and be healed".
In fact just last night I read the following explanation by Oswald Chambers about " hardening of hearts".

.......Man is responsible to God for the government of the whole world, but if a man succumbs to the temptation of the his official position, that very position will have the effect of hardening his heart away from God. WE read in the Old Testament that Pharaoh hardened his heart ( Exodus 7:14); and we also that god hardened his heart. The difficulty of this apparent contradiction is that is purely superficial. It must not be interpreted that God hardens a man's heart and condemned him for being hardened. The hardening of Pharaoh's heart by himself and by God is is the expression of the working of one of God's laws, and God's laws do not alter. Any ruler or ordinary man who refuses to obey the right law will find himself distinctly hardened away from God. If a man is to govern right;y he must see that the institutions he builds up are based on the stabilities of human nature as God created it; otherwise havoc will be produced.
In this context then the question of gambling, whether on Sunday or not, as is the basis of the current in my country - the Government having permitted racing on Sundays, is not the issue. But whether or not it accords to God's will, otherwise there will be chaos in the long run.

The gist of the reflection above is that even as we seek to bear "good fruit" in our country, it is imperative that we believe otherwise God's secrets will never be revealed to us and we will continue to engage in, seemingly productive, but in the end, useless and pointless debates as a nation.
So now to the sowing of the seed. Those that fell on the path. Matthew says that in this case people hear the word about the kingdom, but do not understand, and the devil comes and
" snatches away " the word. Luke adds that they may not believe and be saved.
Right away the following Roman passage from the book of Romans came into my heart.

" Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved. How then , can they call upon the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, " How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!" Romans 10:13-15 NIV.

The question is how many of us accept that we, like Christ, been anointed to bring good news to the poor. To those who do not believe. To those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.
This is part of being a mature Christian. This is the one manifestation of " bearing good fruit".
Otherwise if we keep the good news to ourselves and rejoice in our own salvation, we might very well be judged for " bearing no fruit".
The seed that fell on rocky places. Matthew explains that this kind of individual receives the word with joy, but has no root, and so when trouble or persecution comes, because of the word, as inevitably happens, he or she falls away. Luke adds " in time of testing". The question here is what does it mean to have no root. One answer must be that these persons have not matured in the faith. So maturity is a critical part of the Christian journey otherwise we end up
" bearing no fruit". Also we can deduce that enduring testing and persecution, on account of our belief in Christ, forms part of the maturation process. So we cannot hope to mature, to bear fruit unless we undergo some kind of testing and or suffering, and the Bible is replete with examples.
The seed that fell among thorns. Luke is very explicit in his explanation......."they are choked by life's worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature". And Matthew no less so as he adds the words ....."making it unfruitful". So Christian maturity is hindered by worrying, and seeking " all other things" before God's Kingdom and His Righteousness. The issue of
" seeking all other things" before God Himself is a complex question, as often the things that we seek and pray about are useful things in God's sight. So the following meditation which i read this week is relevant even before we get to the last seed.


"Follow me". Matthew 9:9

IN WORD One of the greatest temptations Christians face is to avert our eyes from the person of Jesus and place them on the things of Jesus - His doctrine, His people, His Word, or His mission. This is a great temptation because there is absolutely nothing wrong with any of these things. In fact, without serious attention to them we could not be His disciples. They are essential.
The fallacy that trips us up is our focus on these things as objective entities apart from a living fellowship with the person of Jesus. When we focus on the things of Jesus, such as His teaching, it can turn into a sterile, academic pursuit - like what is happening at many divinity schools in the USA pursuing a liberal understanding of the Bible which does nothing but fuels skepticism ( my words) - or a legalistic enterprise, sort of like following the law of Moses. It's an objective standard outside of ourselves, but from the mouth of Jesus rather than another lawgiver. Or if we focus on the mission of Jesus, it can become a personal venture with our strategic planning. We end up with zeal for a cause, but no fellowship with the Spirit behind the cause.
That's why Jesus doesn't call His disciples by saying ' Follow My teachings', or ' Follow my example', or ' Follow My reasoning'. It's always personal, " Follow me". Too many believers have a sterile faith that emphasizes the impersonal aspects of Jesus. But he will not let us be content with that. He confronts us with Himself, and we do not progress very far in our discipleship unless we're focused on a relationship rather than religious pursuits.

IN DEED As good and instructive as theology or doctrine can be, we must not turn to them as the substance of our faith. They are descriptions of the relationship we have the living Lord. Jesus is not a system of belief. Daily study and application are not enough. These must be built on daily communication - two way communication between the disciple and Jesus Himself. If this were not essential, Jesus would not have given us His Spirit to live with us and in us. Wherever your discipleship is today, make sure it remains intensely personal.

Finally: The seed which fell on good ground. Matthew highlights the understanding of the word in order to bear good fruit. Luke however is a bit more discriminating.......Stands for those with noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.

Compare this now with two examples of passages in the Bible which speak to Christian maturity, about which the Lord reminded me.

" I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his suffering, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow to attain to the resurrection from the dead.
Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind me an straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
All of us who are mature should take such a view of things....."
Philippians 3:10-15 NIV

What a beautiful description of the kind of " perseverance" which bears good fruit.

The final passage is from Ephesians:
" It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and preachers, to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach the unity the faith and in he knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ."
Ephesians 4:11-13. NIV

So while the world debates the maturity of Bolt and his ability to withstand the pressures of man's praise, God speaks to us about Christian maturity and our ability to produce " good fruit". In a land where people have turned away from God, and where the Word of God increasingly has fallen on paths, rocky ground, and among thorns and not enough on good soil. May we so humble ourselves before God Almighty, that our souls may become good soil, and as we persevere we may bear good fruit, and so help to sustain the desperate prayers of God's people:
" Will Thou not turn again and quicken us O Lord, so that thy people may rejoice in thee".
Will Thou not send your Holy Spirit into the hearts of mankind in this land, so that in and through Christ living in us, this land may be healed with power and with love.