Month: August 2020

Busywork or Fruit?

I love the online Bible commentaries of Bob Utley[1] and refer to them often in my personal study. He takes scripture 100% seriously as God’s word, but he is not a dogmatic follower of any theological system. He inspires me to reexamine my own interpretations; sometimes he leads me to change my mind. And when I disagree with him, he at least inspires me to examine why I believe what I believe.

I recently read a comment he made saying that forgiveness and mercy are the most important measures of growing Christian maturity. That struck me because I have always been curious about how you measure Christian maturity.

Unfortunately, maturity is too often measured quantitatively. You show you are mature by racking up the right totals of ministry activities and volunteering for things. But then you are never sure what the right total is. You might think you are doing OK, only to have someone tell you “You should be volunteering more!” Driven by guilt, you then put in even more volunteer time. Does that increase in quantity mean you are more mature … or that you are afraid of what people think and get bullied into doing things?

Another bogus Christian maturity measure is the quantity of Bible knowledge. Someone has memorized a mass quantity of Bible verses. And taken plenty of Bible courses, obtaining more knowledge of each book in the Bible than just about anyone. But has that created maturity…or just arrogance?

So I love that Utley is saying that the measure of Christian maturity is qualitative. And certainly forgiveness and mercy are important qualities. After all, what good is it if I am busy doing virtuous deeds while silently seething, replaying various grudges in my mind, and not releasing them and bringing them to the cross?  Or if I have very harsh feelings towards those who don’t participate in ministry things the way that I do?

That said, I’d like to make Utley’s point a little wider, by bringing in the fruits of the spirit. These fruits are all great qualitative indicators of maturity that grow in our own lives and allow us to encourage people instead of laying guilt on them.

 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (Galatians 5:22-23a)

Looking at these fruits has been beneficial during the pandemic. Since the quantity of stuff to do is being cut back, then the quality of what’s going on in my heart, head and brain is laid bare. A good opportunity to replace any slop there with fruit!


Taking Up your Cross: Grim Duty or Joy?

 Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.  For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. (Luke 9:23-24)

Over the years, I have heard a distorted version of  “You need to take up your cross” — it was  used as a motivational (or guilt-instilling !) pitch to urge people to give more money or to be involved in more church ministry volunteering.  I’d try to obey this command with a kind of grim determination, gritting my teeth and getting on with it.

But if being a Christian is a  grim duty, then I don’t have much motivation to  woo someone towards  the Christian life as something beautiful. I was far from saying “this lifestyle is a joy, you should join me.”

Certainly I don’t believe the prosperity gospel’s teaching that Jesus guarantees “your best life now”, but in denying this false teaching I went too far to the other extreme —- I overlooked the ways that Jesus does give  something wonderful right now. Remember, he says I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. (John 10:10b)

Jesus offers a delicious paradox:  by living in a sacrificial way, we end up getting so much more!

Jesus’ invitation is great for life during any time frame but especially during the pandemic:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

So I Take up the cross, take on Jesus’ yoke and end up getting rest for my soul.

He is not promising freedom from obstacles, but rather rest during them. I do get a lot, just in a vastly different way than the prosperity gospel says.

Now that’s an offer I can’t refuse!