Just Not Funny
Q: Why did the chicken cross the road? A: To get to the other side!
Q: What did the cat say to the elephant? A: Meow
Q: What kind of keys do kids like to carry? A: Cookies
Q: What do you get when you cross a snowman with a vampire? A: Frostbite
Q: Why do bees hum? A: Because they’ve forgotten the words!
Q: Why did the cat cross the road? A: It was the chicken’s day off!
When you were a kid most of those would have been the funniest things you’d ever heard. My son has a joke book and he loves it – can’t get enough and the kids will hit one or two that simply crack them up. Watching him is much funnier that the jokes themselves.
How come we don’t find them funny as adults?
Because we’ve matured! We might have started out on jokes like them but tastes change as we grow and develop. That’s what happens with childhood – we grow out of it. How fast do kids go from kindergarten to hitting high school and suddenly needing to sort out university placements? Can you remember the events of your kids’ lives as they have grown – riding a bike, eating some weird food, learning to write or read, performing their first song or dance or concert or whatever – developing strengths, abilities, growing, maturing – do you remember?
Watching Christians Grow
Childhood is one of the main analogies the Bible uses to talk about maturating as Christians.
Mark 10:13-16 “People were bringing little children to Jesus to have him touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” And he took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them.”
The only way we can receive the kingdom of God is to come as children – with childlike faith – putting our trust and our lives in Jesus hands – we have to receive the kingdom without any pretense that somehow we are the ones earning it or making our own way to salvation. But childhood is not where we should stay – though many Christians do!
Hebrews 5:11-14 “We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.”
There should be an expectation, just as we do in every area of life, that young Christians will grow and mature. If you have teenagers at home – what are your hopes and expectations and plans for them – whatever plans they have? How do you feel about them staying at home till they are 25 or 35 or 45 – not making a career, not getting their own lives, not marrying, playing video games or partying for the next 20+ years…? We’re seeing some of these phenomena in our society and it grates on us – we see it as a lack of maturing. We have expectations a progress of maturity from childhood to adulthood. A child who never learns to cross the road by themselves is in grave danger. Your boss is unlikely to be happy if you never grow to maturity in you job. You can’t drive on L plates for the rest of your life – you’re expected to move on and grow. You can’t expect mum and dad are going to pay for your life forever – at some point you have to grow to maturity and take responsibility for yourself.
Why don’t we assume the same thing in faith and Christian life? An expectation of growth to maturity and then growth in maturity.
The Danger of Immaturity
Many churches suffer from immaturity – from a lack of growth. Paul tells Timothy that there are dangers for the immature Christian.
1 Timothy 4:1-5 “The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.”
The debate on Stem Cell Research continues – it’s a hard, complex topic with many interest groups on both sides. But one of the most common points made in its defence is that the scientists and researchers are all only interested in helping mankind, bettering mankind, easing suffering and curing diseases. I’m sorry to point this out but that’s like saying North Korea and Iran only want nuclear capabilities for peaceful purposes. When did we become so gullible? There is a huge amount of money to be made in stem cell research – most of which is being funded by multi-national pharmaceutical companies. There is a huge amount of control and power to be gained, and a massive amount of kudos to be gained – imagine being the scientist who cures Alzheimer’s. There may or may not be merit to stem cell research – but being gullible in the debate leaves us open to foolish decisions.
Being gullible in faith does the same. Maturity leads to the ability to discern between right and wrong, between good and evil, between deceiving spirits and the Holy Spirit. Paul says to Timothy the danger is very real – don’t be a fool when it comes to Christian things – there will be people who want to take advantage of Christians. How do we deal with it?
1 Timothy 4:6-8 “If you point these things out to the brothers, you will be a good minister of Christ Jesus, brought up in the truths of the faith and of the good teaching that you have followed. Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather, train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.”
How do we deal with the danger? We be open about it – we confront wrong teaching, we stick to the truth of the Bible, we leave old wives tales to the old wives and we train ourselves to be Godly. These words are written to Timothy as a leader – but he’s told to pass them on to reliable Christians who will also pass them on – this is Christian maturity at work.
Training To Be Godly
Training ourselves to be Godly is not hard – being Godly can be hard – but the training process is simple. I’m trying to loose weight and get fitter again after a couple of years of setbacks in those areas. It’s not something I find easy but I know that physical training is of some value so I get out there and walk. I know that self control with food is one of the keys so I’m watching my diet and eating well. Training takes hard work but the process is simple enough.
Godly training holds great value for this life and the next – and it’s relatively obvious what we have to do. Timothy had some basic instructions to follow.
1 Timothy 4:13-16 “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching. Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through a prophetic message when the body of elders laid their hands on you. Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.”
Do you think it would be fair to say that if Timothy and all who follow in his footsteps are to devote themselves to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching – then we should be devoted to those things as hearers and readers?
The Dummies Guide to Maturity says some pretty simple things.
- Devote yourself to the reading of Scripture! To know God’s will and purpose and teaching means god speaks and we listen? We should be reading the Bible for ourselves – that’s what mature Christians do. Listen to it in the car. Read it at lunchtime. Read it on the train. Stop watching 1 TV show a day and read it. Don’t have dinner in front of the TV – instead sit at the table and read it after dinner with the family. Read it to your children before bed. Read it instead of the newspaper. Read it on the toilet. Get up 15 minutes earlier and read it. These aren’t rules – just good basic plans – if you want to mature in understanding then you have to read the Bible. Do you have a good modern translation to read from? Does your family know you need some space each day to read the Bible? Do you have a list of what to read? Are you willing to ask questions about what you’re reading? To watch your life and doctrine closely you have to work out from God’s word what they should be and persevere at them over a lifetime.
- Get yourself a good Bible Study group where they read the Bible, study the Bible and discuss the Bible so that they can apply the Bible. If we regularly spend all our time at growth group, praying and sharing prayer points and little time reading and thinking and discussing then we’ve gone of track. A Bible Study group is one of the best most intensive ways to grow – and it should be an environment where you are encouraged by a whole group to stick with the Scripture and not give up.
- If you’re tempted not to go to church… fight the temptation. Timothy was told to devote himself to the public reading of Scriptures and to preaching and teaching. If that’s the right instruction for the teachers then it has to be the same for the listeners. We are told in Hebrews not to forsake gathering together but to do so more and more as the day of Christ approaches. So that’s what we should do. And when we get together our focus should be the same as Paul commands Timothy – the public reading of Scriptures, the teaching and preaching of God’s word. We might do other things together, but the basis has to be the word of God proclaimed.
- Growth and maturity come with ministry. You want to know if you really know something – try and teach someone else what you know!? Each of us has been gifted by God for the work of ministry – probably we have more than one gift – and all of us have the gift of ministry. And the responsibility.
Why do we gather together…?
Colossians 3:16-17 “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”
With the word of God our task is to teach and admonish one another – to minister to each other’s needs and maturity. The Dummies Guide to Maturity says that ministry is not just formal or done from the front – but is informal – it’s about relationships – it happens over morning tea, it happens when you’re singing a tune, it happens when you pray with someone, matter of fact it’s happening right now.
Sorry – couldn’t resist!
When you speak to others after church will your aim be ministry or are you totally focused on coffee? If someone is hurting will you pray for them and listen to them – will you be obviously open to that – will you pay attention and offer assistance rather than wait for them to start? Will you share the truth of God’s word together or the reality of the weather?
Can I ask… Is it hard to ask the right questions or speak the truth?
“Hi George – how have you been?”
“What did you think of the sermon this morning? Do you know – I’m not sure I know how to encourage people with my singing – what do you reckon?”
“Hi there – I don’t think I’ve met you – I’m Alfred. Great passage this morning – that young fella Paul’s a gun preacher – but I’m not really sure I got his last point. What did you think?”
“You know… Paul really laid it on the line for Timothy. He was only 19 – big responsibility. I must admit I find it hard some days to read the Bible…”
One Track Mind
The Dummies Guide to Maturity has a bit of a single track – reading the Bible. It hasn’t said much about the Holy Spirit or prayer, or about helping other, acts of kindness and mercy, singing, worship, praising, meditation, fasting… all good stuff. But when it comes to maturing the big element is the Bible.
- The Holy Spirit works through the Scriptures to turn us to Christ.
- Prayer should happen in response to what we are reading and bringing before God the things on our heart – including our growth and maturity.
- Singing, worship, praising, acts of kindness – all worthwhile as we grow – all necessary responses to faith and the scriptures – but that’s what they are – responses.
Jesus says that growth comes from receiving, hearing, retaining and persevering in the word of God.
Luke 8:11-15 “This is the meaning of the parable: The seed is the word of God. Those along the path are the ones who hear, and then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. Those on the rock are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away. The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature. But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.”
Which one are you? When the seed comes do you…
- Hear but not believe and so are not saved?
- Have you responded with joy but lost hope and faith?
- Have you heard and responded but been choked by the world and are not mature?
- Have you heard, changed, retained the word and are persevering to produce the crop?
It’s interesting I think – there is only one crop that makes sense – there’s only one sort of Christian – the maturing persevering sort. The rest of the soils produce nothing – they are not growing – they whither and die.