Account(dis)ability

Who currently holds you accountable on your Christian walk through life?

The Bible summarizes the eyes of the world as doing the following: 1) God watches over me.  2) Christians watch out for each other.  3) The world is attracted to the light of Christ but often overcome by the distraction of darkness.  The first covers God’s grace to me.  The third involves our witness to the world.  But the second item here is the one that I’m a little concerned about today. 

This week I read a recent report generated by The Barna Group (whom I rely on heavily for up-to-date and accurate faith statistics) that suggested something I guess I would have expected, but it still feels a little shocking nonetheless.  According to this national Barna survey, only about 5% of Americans who describe themselves as “Christian and involved in church” indicate that “their church does anything to hold them accountable for integrating biblical beliefs and principles into their life.”  Only five percent feel their church holds them accountable!  (Interestingly, not a single Roman Catholic surveyed felt as though their church held them accountable.  And, no, an iPhone app probably ain’t gonna change that.)

Is this all really a problem though?  Well, to the person who asks this question, I’d say the same thing that I’d say to the person asking the very common question of the 21st century – “Do I have to be part of a church and go to public worship to be a Christian?”.  Well, if you can find something in the New Testament or the history of the early Christian Church that supports your point of view, you may have something.  Till then, being an active part of a local church and holding one another accountable are both simply part of the DNA of Christianity. 

So, if only 5% of Christians today think they’re church holds them accountable, we have a problem on our hands.    Biblically, there’s all sorts of places to which we could turn to stress the importance of Christian accountability.  I’ll try to keep it simple though. 

The writer to the Hebrews clearly saw the issue of accountability as important to his readers.  Hebrews 10:24 says, “let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds”, and Hebrews 13:17 follows, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account.  Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.” (NASB) 

And here’s a practical example of the importance of accountability in the early church: In 1 Corinthians 5, the Apostle Paul corrects a very confused Corinthian church about a total misperception on their part.  A man in their church was having a sexual relationship with his stepmother.  And Paul says that the church was proud of this!  It’s hard to say why.  Perhaps it was because they viewed themselves as very “unjudgmental” and “open-minded”.  Paul says that even the pagan unbelievers view this as inappropriate and disgusting.  And so his encouragement to the Corinthian church is to remove this unrepentant man from their midst, i.e. hold him accountable to God.  “Put out of your fellowship the man who did this…..hand this man over to Satan, so that the sinful nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 5:2,5) 

What I like about Paul’s words so much is that he makes very clear the purpose of holding the man accountable – that he repent, his relationship with God be restored, and that his soul be safe from God’s judgment.  The goal of accountability is never to judge people.  If you find yourself being one who is tempted to derive some twisted pleasure out of being a moral watchdog who points out everyone’s flaws, perhaps Jesus’ words about “judging” from Matthew 7:1-5 are more appropriate for you today.  The goal of accountability, rather, is to help someone escape God’s righteous judgment and exchange it for Jesus’ free forgiveness.  Accountability is a product of love.

If accountability really is such a good thing though, why are we so bad at it?  According to the numbers, personally and congregationally in America, Christians are apparently just not holding one another accountable.  Here are likely some of the reasons:

1) Fear/Dislike of Confrontation

Nobody likes to disappoint people.  Nobody likes to have people mad at them.  It might bother different people to differing degrees, but ultimately, nobody likes confrontation.  And everybody likes their own personal space and privacy.  Christians who are holding people accountable (addressing one another when unrepentant of sin) are going to face confrontation.  In every church it will happen.  That’s not easy.  That’s not fun.  But it’s healthy. 

Christ’s model for this kind of accountability when it comes to impenitence (Matthew 18) is to go and talk to a person privately first.  If that doesn’t bring any change, get other Christians involved.  If that doesn’t bring any change, get the church involved.  Unfortunately steps are often skipped here.  Part of the problem is that people don’t want to face the confrontation themselves.  We hate the thought of upsetting someone and making them angry at us.  And 95% of the time, if you address someone caught up in unrepentant sin, they will get defensive and angry.  But think about where that man in 1 Corinthians 5 would likely have ended up had the congregation not held him accountable.  We find out in 2 Corinthians that upon Paul’s instruction, the church in Corinth did hold him accountable.  The end result?  He repented!  Because they loved him enough to hold him accountable, a brother in Christ and child of God was saved.  If we don’t hold people accountable, in essence, we’re saying that we’re okay with where their sin is going to lead them.

2) Low Standards

I’m not going to sugar coat this: Good Lutherans who have a solid grasp on salvation by God’s grace alone and understand the perils of work righteousness sometimes miss the boat on guiding people in their sanctified lives as Christians because they’re paranoid of being labeled as “legalists”. 

Religious legalism, the belief that a person can do something to earn or merit salvation or blessing from God, is absolutely important to stay away from.  However, failing to guide young, new, or immature Christians in their journey through life with expectations and standards and accountability is sort of like giving a child a credit card and saying, “Dress yourself.  Feed yourself.  Get yourself an education.”  and then hoping everything just turns out great.  A congregation might not have to stress the importance of public worship, Bible study, prayer, the sacraments, Christian stewardship, Christian witnessing, etc. to their elders as much as others.  Ideally they’re spiritually mature enough to know these things already.  But the rest of us not only need expectations set for us and reminders given to us, we also need to be held accountable when we’re slipping away. 

3) Keeping Track of Everyone

It’s pretty easy to slip through the cracks in churches today.  We don’t practice the communal living of the early church.  Many people can’t name 90% of the people they worship with, which becomes a problem primarily if they have no desire to learn the names of the other 90%.  And the bigger the church is, the more difficult holding everyone accountable becomes.  If it would ever become exclusively the pastor’s job in a church to hold people accountable, the church wouldn’t stand a chance.  Many pastors could easily fill their time contacting people that they haven’t seen in the past several weeks.  But I would sincerely question the future health of that church.  The idea that one person can keep track of hundreds of people, as is sometimes expected, is absurd.  There has to be a better system in place. 

So…………….instead of merely talking about the problems, my hope today is to present some ideas to help improve accountable within Christian churches.  And I’d like you to help me – feel free to give your feedback (either personally via email or general thoughts for all to see and benefit from via the comment button below).   

Idea #1 Personal Accountability Partners

A number of Christian churches have picked up on this as a successful tool implemented by Alcoholics Anonymous.  Interesting that a non-Christian organization picked up on the benefits of this faster than Christian organizations like local churches.  Notice that I say “Christian organizations” because Christianity (via the Bible) itself has always promoted personal accountability.  “Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” (James 5:16)  Even private confession to clergy, though once quite regular in the church, has almost altogether gone by the wayside.  Yes, we generally confess our sins on Sunday mornings, which certainly has value.  But there is something powerful about enumerating to another human your private mistakes and having them assure you of Christ’s forgiveness.  Confessing to clergy is beneficial, but again, sheer numbers make it impractical.  If Christians regularly did this with accountability partners, I have no doubt that there’d be great blessing in it. 

Idea #2 Accountability Software

Although making some improvements, Christian churches are still typically woefully behind when it comes to technology.  I poked fun at the Roman Catholic “Confessional iPhone App” earlier, but, while I don’t agree with the theology, I applaud the perceived need to communicate to this age.  Martin Luther considered his greatest accomplishment to be putting God’s Word in the language of the people of his day.  Well, the language of today is a digital language.  And in some cases, the church is still trying to write with a typewriter to a WiFi world.  The point here is, there are all sorts of technology tools available to help us as a church develop accountability. 

One of the main technology temptations of the 21st century, without a doubt, is internet pornography.  Fortunately, groups like the people at http://xxxchurch.com/ have developed downloadable software that will regularly send your internet viewing history to an accountability partner for a minimal fee.  If online gambling or shopping is an addiction, there is software for that as well.  Every computer made today has password-protected codes available to help parents monitor and limit their children’s computer usage.  It would not be that difficult, with the right software, for a  church to keep track of everyone who was not in church from week to week and perhaps send them a reminder email after a couple of weeks that stresses the importance of the regular use of God’s Word.    It would not be that difficult, with the right software, for a church to keep track of offerings and regularly send members reminders of the importance of supporting God’s work on earth.  The opportunities are really endless here, but the idea is that the technology is available to help address basic Christian accountability.  And in today’s world where technology allows us to live far away from one another and church and access all sorts of spiritual trouble, it might very well take technology to help hold ourselves and one another accountable. 

Idea #3 Accountability Organization

Personal accountability and software accountability are great, but unless a body of believers are structured for accountability, it’s probably not going to happen.  In other words, that two Christians might come together and say, “Let’s have a conversation every week where we confess our sins to each other and point to Christ’s forgiveness”, well, it’s possible.  But it’s probably not likely for most, unless a church is encouraging it regularly and faithfully following up.

Just brainstorming here, but imagine if a church made a membership requirement that “every individual will have an accountability shepherd” – someone who regularly contacts his own small group of people when they are missing and regularly asks all of these people if there is anything troubling them.  Or, imagine if a church made a membership requirement that “every individual will have an accountability confession partner” – that every person regularly meets with another Christian to spend time confessing sin and comforting with Christ.  In all honesty, some churches don’t even have attendance requirements for membership.  And again, the argument sometimes is “But that’s legalism!” 

Here’s the thing: it’s legalism if you say that you can make yourself close to God by performing outward actions.  That’s not what I’m suggesting here at all.  God alone can look into a person’s heart and see if true faith exists there.  If a person exists in the Holy Christian Church and Communion of Saints, this is God’s work, to God’s credit, and this is God’s information.  What I’m suggesting here is enforced standards that say “this is the membership requirement and expectation established by the Christian leadership of this local church“.  So, if it’s possible for someone to not go to public worship for 10 years and still be a believing child of God, well, that’s for God to decide as he looks into hearts.  But if someone is going to be a recognized member of this local church, then the decade drought in public worship is simply not going to meet the accountability standards put into place here to encourage spiritual health. 

Now, the above suggestions are just ideas.  It’s absolutely true that having “membership requirements” could potentially slip into legalism, which would be a serious mistake.  But at some point in time I think we (i.e. Christian churches in America) need to start getting more serious about Christian accountability too.  Right now, statistics say that we’re not.

The current average weekend worship attendance by membership in our national church body is approximately 40%, which is about the national average for most church bodies.  Put another way, less than half of “active church members” feel compelled to go to a worship service weekly.  And according to the research, a big part of the reason is that no one is holding them accountable. 

I said it earlier, and I’ll say it again, accountability is a product of love.  It requires hard work, persistence, and at times, the guts it takes to know that someone might get upset with you.  Love isn’t always easy.  But it’s always worth it.  Accountability, therefore, is worth it as well. 

If you’re still with me at this point :), let me know what you think.  We (churches at large) could certainly use some good ideas.

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The Answers to Everything

The source of all knowledge. And the answer is.....Who is Man?...er...Who is Machine?...er...Who is God?

Monday marked the long-awaited debut of IBM supercomputer “Watson” on Jeopardy.  It was the start of a 3 day challenge between Watson and the two most successful (and therefore assumed smartest and best) contests in Jeopardy history – Ken Jennings, who had the famous 74-game winning streak back in 2004 and Brad Rutter, who has the highest dollar earnings in Jeopardy history at over $3.5 million. 

Now the game is being presented by Jeopardy producers as the ultimate Man vs. Machine battle.  Whether or not that’s a fair assessment has been debated.  Although Watson has an avatar that sits like a cool-looking inverted flat screen tv in between the other contestants on stage, in reality, he’s hooked up to the equivalent of 2,800 computers that are a conglomerate of 10 I.B.M. servers.  In other words, there’s really no legitimate way to say whether or not this is a 1-on-1 contest of man and machine. 

The results of the contest, nonetheless, have been quite fascinating.  In the first two days of competition, Watson has been dominant.  Watson processes all of the information from the clue and, the higher degree of confidence that he has in the correct answer, the faster he buzzes in.  And then, proclaiming the correct answer in his almost comically automated voice (still can’t believe they couldn’t improve this aspect), the vast array of scientists sitting in the audience who have been developing Watson for the past 7 years beam with an almost parental pride, and Ken Jennings looks like he wants nothing more than to spill coffee on Watson’s motherboard. 

I’m not exactly sure how impressed by Watson we should be.  On the one hand, there are interview clips from IBM geniuses telling me that this is as sophisticated as any technology on the planet in language recognition and information processing.  On the other hand, I can’t help but feel like Watson isn’t doing much more than flipping very, very quickly through an up-to-date encyclopedia. 

I guess what I found most interesting in this experiment was as much what Watson got incorrect as what he got correct.  For instance, in Tuesday’s final Jeopardy round, the question/answer was in the category of U.S. Cities (this is important): “Its largest airport is named for a World War II hero; its second largest for a World War II battle.”  Both Jennings and Rutter easily got the answer – Chicago.  Watson, who fortunately wagered very little due to his commanding lead, answered……”Toronto.”  Yes (or oui, oui) the great American city of Toronto.

On the IBM “Smarter Planet” blog, post incident, David Ferrucci, manager of the Watson project at IBM Research, explained how this is just one of those questions that’s “a snap for a reasonably knowledgeable human but a true brain teaser for the machine.”  Apparently Watson struggled with certain pieces of information like the fact that Toronto has a professional baseball team in the “American League”.   If you want to check out his final jeopardy blunder for yourself, click here.

Truth-be-told, I think the people at IBM are on to something pretty extraordinary here.  Language is one of the most nuanced sciences on the planet, very powerful, and very difficult to nail down.  I’m amazed at Watson’s recognition thus far.  But the combination of advanced technology and language recognition sounds so much like a famous Bible story that I couldn’t resist.

In Genesis 11, we hear the account of the Tower of Babel.  After Noah and his family had departed the Ark, his sons and their eventual clans would disperse in various directions according to God’s plan.  The Shemites, the group that God had given the special blessing of being the group that the Savior of the world would come through, went southeast, to the ancient land of Mesopotamia (modern Iraq or so).  In the Tigris-Euphrates valley they found a fertile area in the plain of Shinar.  The lush land seemed comfortable enough to settle permanently, and thus dispose of God’s command to “fill the earth”.  As a marker of their permanence and in a clear demonstration of their heart’s desire for sustenance, security, and status, the Shemites then decided they wanted to make a real big “city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth.” (Genesis 11:4)  As you can see, desires for comfort, wealth, and fame have been crowding God out of the hearts of his people for a long time now. 

Not surprisingly, the LORD was having none of this.  So he stepped in, reminding mankind who created the sciences of the universe and therefore authors technology, reminding mankind who created language and therefore monitors relationships, reminding mankind who alone grants life and prosperity and happiness.  Every once in a while, when the world’s most impressive creatures lose sight of their Creator, God stymies their creations.  From the Titanic to the Space Shuttle Challenger to the more recent problems of the Burj Khalifa (a modern-day Tower of Babel if there ever was one), the brilliance and insights of mankind have been coupled with our obvious flaws. 

At Babel, God scrambled the language of man, thwarting the Shemites attempts at any impressive building project and any longevity as a united people.  Martin Luther even called God’s judgment at Babel for the world more devastating than his judgment with the Flood, arguing that the Flood destroyed one generation of mankind, while language confusion has led to confusion, disharmony,  hatred, and war for every subsequent generation. 

There’s a very fine line between carrying out God’s instructions to “subdue the earth” (Genesis 1:28) and mankind’s arrogance in simply trying to make a name for himself and become like God.  Now I’d be the last person to suggest that advances in technology are bad things.  Quite frankly, 20 years ago I would not be able to do the very thing that I’m doing today – seeking to communicate God’s Word to people literally around the world.  This morning alone I’ve accessed several hundred pieces of information from various sources worldwide and communicated with over 50 people via email.  A world with seemingly unlimited God-given potential is quite a blessing. 

That said, while we can invent machines to keep people’s heart pumping, we still can’t invent machines to change people’s hearts.  While we can invent machines to read people’s brainwaves, we still can’t invent machines that encourage people to suspend their sensory experience to exercise faith.  While we can invent machines to enhance and temporarily help maintain life, we still can’t invent the machine that stops death. 

The “mankind trying to play God” debate in science issues like cloning, and life preservation, etc. is interesting, but has been milled over enough that we don’t need to talk about it here.  What I’d want a Christian to understand here today is that God simply won’t allow his own integrity to be compromised if he indeed feels that it might be.  Every once in a while I get a vibe from a Christian that indicates an almost science-fiction type of fear of technology “taking over”.  Scripture and history have shown time and again that when humans think they are about to touch heaven, God reminds them that they’re human.  So we enjoy technology.  We pursue further technology in our “subduing of the earth”.  But no matter how many moons we land on, we stay humble and not forget who authors such knowledge, because man’s towers can crumble whenever God says so.

Or Would I Rather Just Die?

How hard should Christians fight to stay alive?

Friday night my wife and I went to see the movie that’s generated as much Oscar-buzz this year as any (up for both best picture and best lead male actor) – 127 Hours.  Even if the name of the film isn’t ringing any bells, the account that it’s based on from 2003 probably will.  The movie chronicles the survival of Aron Ralston, a Utah hiker who, after slipping and having his arm pinned by a boulder in the Canyonlands National Park in Utah for over 5 days, proceeded to cut off a portion of his arm in order to break free. 

Richard Roeper of The Chicago Sun-Times gave the film “Four Stars” and called the film “one of the best of the decade.”  Roger Ebert likewise credited lead actor James Franco’s work as a four-star performance and said “127 Hours is like an exercise in conquering the unfilmable.”  Going into the movie, I’ll admit, I was a little curious if/how I was going to enjoy watching a guy sit there with his arm stuck for 2 hours.  I have to say, it didn’t lack for excitement though.  With every decision that Aron makes, you find yourself questioning if you would have done the same thing.  And finally (and I’m not giving anything away here if you were alive and awake during 2003), you’re compelled to look inside and wonder if you’d have the same fortitude after 5 days of no food, 2 days of (ahem) drinking your own urine because you ran out of water by day 3, and very minimal stretches of minutes of sleep over those days, to hack off your own arm at the elbow with a dull knife, knowing that even if you somehow manage to break free, you will have to find your way through this canyon, repel 7 stories with one arm, and walk a good 20 miles to find other humans.  This is a story of resolve, will to live, and survival in a very compelling, basic form – the ultimate “What Would You Do?” game. 

Naturally, my wife and I were discussing it on the way home.  She said she thought she would have just laid down to die.  I said that at the point he knew his water bottle was empty and that he’d have to consider alternate fluids (and the road he went down for those fluids), that thought alone probably would have killed me.  I also couldn’t help but think of the Apostle Paul’s words from Philippians chapter 1:  “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.  If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know!  I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you (Philippians) that I remain in the body.” (Philippians 1:21-24) 

Paul is saying some really important and practical things here that express the mentality of a worn out, faithful Christian.  First of all, you have to understand Paul’s harsh history.  This is a man who experienced enough physical trauma to warrant Aron Ralston’s sympathy.  He had gone through beatings, floggings, stonings, near-death experiences at sea, and several series of imprisonment (that someone can get up from a stoning alone is beyond my comprehension).  Point is, the Apostle Paul had no shortage of resolve to live.  It was very clear to him that God had called him to a purpose in life and that he was going to carry out that purpose as long as he was alive. 

The other side of what Paul says here is that if he had his druthers, he’d die and be in heaven with Jesus this very minute.  Paul understood clearly that eternity in the home of God was a paradise that he was desperately awaiting.  All Christians want to be regularly thinking about this, hoping for this, looking forward to this. 

The problem sometimes arises for Christians, however, when they cannot seem to strike a balance between these concepts – desiring to depart and be with God in perfection & maintaining a sense of purpose in this lifetime.  These Christians know that Christ has taken their sins away.  They know that their risen and ascended Lord has prepared a place in heaven for them.  They know that heaven awaits.  But they’re tired of waiting and life seems so pointless and so fruitless and so tedious that it becomes joyless because it has become purposeless (i.e. without a truly worthwhile sense of purpose). 

So how does a Christian who vehemently seeks the joy of the “life to come” maintain a true sense of drive and purpose in this life?  The same way that the Apostle Paul did – recognize God’s purpose for you: fruitful labor for others

Now it’d be pretty easy to sit back and think, “Well that’s easy for the “Apostle Paul” to say!  He was God’s chosen missionary to the Gentiles.  Jesus came and spoke directly to him.  He’s the one who went on all these incredible church planting trips in the New Testament.  He’s the one who drove out demons and healed the sick.  He’s the one responsible for writing an enormous percentage of the New Testament.  Of course HE would have purpose from God in life!”  Let me ask you this though: do you seriously think that the Apostle Paul had any clue that he was going to play the role in the history of the Christian Church that he has?  Not a chance.  In fact, when he wrote 1 Corinthians he said, “I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power.” (1 Corinthians 2:3-4)  Notice the humility of a man who could not have imagined how God was about to use him for advancing his kingdom.  And the basic point is this: what drove Paul was not the enormous impact that he never could have anticipated his work was going to make.  What drove Paul was his purpose in life as a child of God – to touch other lives with the love of Christ.

In all likelihood, you and I will not be sailing off to strange lands and proclaiming the gospel in foreign marketplaces as the Apostle Paul did.  That doesn’t mean our purpose in life is any different than Paul’s or any less than Paul’s.  If God has you on this planet right now and has made you his child, that means that 1) you can look forward to the joys of heaven, and 2) he has a purpose for you as long as you remain here on earth.  That purpose itself is also clear: be Christ to this world, that God’s family may grow.  Let your world see your Savior in you.  You may not be in a position to preach sermons all the time, but you are in a position to love others, which creates the best possible environment for evangelism, i.e. by invitation, not by intrusion.  Not every occasion in life will be a calling to evangelism, but every occasion in life IS an opportunity to express love, respect, and service to others.  This is our purpose. 

When we attack life with the mindset that technology, organization, money, titles, information access, science, government, prosperity, etc., tweaked slightly perhaps, is all going to solve all of our problems and give us purpose in life, we end up feeling like life is meaningless.  And THAT life is.  It’s building sandcastle walls so that the ocean won’t drown us – foolish and massive undertakings that temporarily fill voids.  We Christians should know better.  Those created things can be great blessings, but they simply cannot provide true “meaning” to this world.  God has no intentions for us to latch on to temporary blessings.  Rather, he wants us to use temporary blessings to help form eternal relationships, relationships bonded by his everlasting love.  The sooner a Christian realizes that he/she continues to be on this planet (thus, not yet in heaven) because God still desires to express himself, through him/her, to someone else, the sooner that Christian will recognize his/her purpose in this life.  Would it be great to die and be in heaven with God?  Not just great….perfect.  But as long as I’m here, I’m going to seek to accomplish the purpose for which God still has me here. 

To the original thought…..whether a Christian should or should not feel compelled to chop their arm off like Aron Ralston, if needs be, to fulfill their “purpose” in life – this is a question so ripe with variables that I’m not sure it’s wise to even attempt to answer.  What we can say, however, is this: by virtue of the fact that you’re here right now, God has a plan and a purpose that he’s trying to accomplish through you.  Equip yourself for this purpose by regularly being in the study of God’s Word.  And when opportunities in life present themselves (and they’re too numerous to count), fulfill your purpose by unleashing the love of Christ on the world.

The Necessity of Lightening Up

Is it possible to be a Christian and have this as your default expression in life?

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven…..a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance.”  (Ecclesiastes 3:1,4)

I can’t always figure out why there is this vast misunderstanding about the relationship between maturity and seriousness.  It’s common for kids in high school to not understand this.  They assume being an adult means being serious all the time and being young means being fun.  They may even interpret parents joking around as “trying to be like kids” and “dorky”.  Unfortunately, some adults hold this misunderstanding too.  More unfortunately, some Christians hold this misunderstanding about maturity as well.

Maturity really has very little to do with who jokes around a lot and who is serious all the time.  Rather, it pertains more to your level of emotional development that allows you to respond appropriately to the context in which you find yourself. 

Here’s a quick example: when a teenage girl cries like the world is falling apart after her boyfriend of 2 weeks breaks up with her, this is an inappropriate response to the circumstances.  The feelings may very well be real, but they are immature.  She’s being too serious about the situation.  As she develops emotionally, she’ll eventually come to understand that relationships may come and go and 2 weeks probably is not enough time (particularly at that stage in life) to develop deep-rooted attachment. 

One more example: when an obnoxious teenage boy makes noise (of any sort – unfunny jokes, trite catch phrases, body noises – use your imagination here) in a classroom or hallway, he’s doing so merely to generate attention for himself, and this is an inappropriate response to the circumstances.  Other people are trying to learn.  Other people are trying to hold conversations.  He’s being too casual about the situation.  As he develops emotionally, he’ll eventually come to understand (hopefully) that not only do most people not want to hear him all the time, but that he’s actually alienating himself by turning people off for the future. 

Now you’d expect high schoolers to demonstrate this type of immaturity from time to time.  It’s part of the natural emotional development process of life that we all go through.  There’s probably not another stretch of 4 years in life when maturity development is expected as much.  So parents struggling to raise teens expect it, deal with it,  and are sympathetic to it. 

Spiritual maturity, on the other hand, has a relationship with emotional maturity, but they’re really not the same animal.  The definition of maturity that we’re working with remains about the same though – being serious when the circumstances call for it and being light-hearted when the circumstances call for it.  And it’s fairly transparent when Christians still have some growing up to do.

When Christians come across as “devastated” in a sluggish economy despite God’s promises to make sure all earthly needs are provided for (Matt. 6:25-34; Romans 8:32; Philippians 4:19), there’s still some maturing that needs to take place.  When Christians show up to worship on Sunday mornings with sourpuss scowls across their faces (or really when they have that look any other day of the week either) despite the 1,260 or so promises that God makes in Scripture, there’s still some maturing needing to take place.  When we Christians mourn the loss of a Christian loved one as though we’re never going to see this person again (spiritually in heaven & physically come the great Resurrection), and I know this is as tough as ANYTHING, but finally, it means we still have growing to do.  Losing a Christian loved one in life is, although tremendously difficult, in the grand scheme of things, not as “mourn-worthy” an occasion as losing a fellow believer from faith.  While mourning at physical death is natural and even healthy, a Christian in maturity MUST understand the Apostle Paul’s words: “But let me reveal to you a wonderful secret. We will not all die, but we will all be transformed!  It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, those who have died will be raised to live forever. And we who are living will also be transformed.  For our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies.” (1 Cor 15:51-53 NLT) Being lonely for that person is one thing, but if we mourn like it’s the end of relationship with that person, then we need to ask God for a maturing faith that increasingly trusts his promises. 

The reality is that when we add all of God’s promises up, and realize that he has every detail of our lives (and our eternal life) covered, we conclude that we have very little to get so bent out of shape about in life.  Things aren’t as serious as they appear.  So whatever the “captain of the football team who recently broke up with you” occasion in your life is, your perceived reality is not true reality.  Stepping back and looking at the big picture, it’s probably just not that big of a deal. 

If we Christians aren’t laughing……regularly……we’re probably taking ourselves and little things in our lives more seriously than we should.  Christians typically don’t have any fewer problems (circumstantially) than the rest of the world – they lose jobs; they get sick; they physically die.  And yet, Christians are afforded a drastically different perspective on the things of this world than unbelievers because they have spiritual maturity, faith based on the promises of God. 

A practical illustration of what I’m talking about here, in my experience, can be found at our national church body’s seminary (Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary).  One thing I always found interesting in my years at seminary was that the faculty had one of the better collective senses of humor that I’ve ever run across in a group.  It’s not that all the professors were the funniest guys I’d ever met.  Rather, it’s that across the board they typically always seemed to have a wonderfully mature perspective on things – they didn’t get bent out of shape about life and they were always smiling and open to laughter.  Not surprisingly, this was also probably the most spiritually mature group I’ve ever run across.  Probably not a coincidence. 

Christians are to get very serious about the welfare of souls – making their Heavenly Father’s will, relationship with spiritual family, and desire to extend that spiritual family top priorities in life.  Everything else they are to take in stride.  As they gather with their church, as a family at home, and out in the world, they joke, they laugh, they dance, they rejoice.  They do so because they know Jesus freed them to do so.  This doesn’t make them juvenile or cavalier or apathetic.  It makes them spiritually mature.