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I'll be honest. This is a hard book to write.
There's nothing more important than our relationship with God. But after 33 years of being a Christian (it's okay, you can say it: I'm old), I'm still learning how to grow in Christ.
Right now you may be thinking one of two things:
1. Who is this guy to write a book if he still doesn't have it all figured out after 33 years?
2. Phew! This guy's been learning for 33 years, and he still doesn't believe he has it all figured out. Maybe I'm not in such a bad place after all. Maybe I can learn some things from this Mark Matlock guy that can prevent me from making some of his mistakes.
If you lean more toward the second line of thinking, then join the club. I never trust anyone who believes he has it all figured out. In fact, I believe that's almost a certain sign that he's probably missing quite a bit.
I don't have it all figured out-but I've learned a lot in my 33-year walk with Christ. Some of those learning experiences were pleasant, while others were-not so much. (Let's just say I've learned a lot of things the hard way.) My prayer is that by reading about some of the things I've discovered along my journey, you might save yourself some pain and maybe-just maybe-help yourself mature in Christ more quickly.
Someone once said that learning from our mistakes makes us smart, but learning from other people's mistakes makes us wise. So I invite you to learn from my pain so you won't have to experience it yourself!
A NEW CREATION
I love new things. I love the smell of a new car or a freshly painted home with new carpet. I love Christmas and birthdays because I typically receive new clothes. In video game stores, I'm always looking for new experiences.
I like new things, and so does God. Our spiritual journey begins with a new work that God does in our lives. Second Corinthians 5:17 describes it this way: "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!"
The Bible teaches us that when we put our trust in Jesus, we become a new creation. Spiritually speaking, we aren't what we once were.
But what's changed?
In spiritual terms, we've been born again. But that's a hard concept to get my head around. I look at it as though something mysterious and supernatural has taken place-something that gives me the opportunity to grow spiritually. As a result, I have a chance to do new and incredible things with my life-opportunities that weren't available to me before. I can walk closely with God in a real relationship, I can have healthier relationships with people, and I can feel good about whom God made me to be.
It may be a mysterious process, but when I put this "new me" to the test, I see that I have the ability to make a difference in the world that I never could have made before.
Before I knew Jesus, I was lost. But now I've been rescued, and that allows me to live a new life-a life that looks more and more like the one Jesus lived.
A NEW CITIZENSHIP
In addition to making me a new creation, my relationship with Christ gives me a new citizenship. I may be a dweller of the earth, but my home is now in heaven.
It's likely that you were born in a hospital in a particular town. But if you're a follower of Christ, you're not from that town anymore. Now you're from heaven. You no longer belong to the world you were born into: "But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ" (Philippians 3:20). This means that our new home is a place we've never visited, and that's kind of strange.
I have a friend who's Canadian, but-with the exception of her first two years-she's lived in the United States all her life. When she was in high school, her family decided to move back to Canada. The people in the Canadian province she came from spoke mostly French, but my friend knew very little of the language. So while she was still in the States, she began learning about the place where she was born-including the language and culture of the people living there.
That's kind of what growing in Christ is like. Our citizenship is in heaven, but we've never been there. So Christ came to show us what that kingdom is all about. He told us that while we're away from heaven, we have a responsibility to live as though we're in our true "home."
A NEW CULTURE
Being new creatures and having a new citizenship sets us apart from the rest of the world. It makes us different. We no longer think and act like everyone else does. We belong to a different culture. And our new culture encourages us to be good and loving toward others and to do what is right.
While something mysterious and supernatural has taken place inside our lives, which is solely the work of God, the Bible also talks about our need to actively think and live differently because we are new. This new way of thinking and living is what we'll be discussing in this book because God's Word makes it clear that we are willful participants in this aspect of our new lives.
Look at Paul's words in Romans 12:1-2.
Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God-this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is-his good, pleasing, and perfect will.
Notice two words in this passage: conform and transform. Both refer to the process of being formed, but they have distinctly different meanings. We're told not to be formed in one way and to be formed in another. What's the difference?
When I was in third grade, the first installment of the movie epic Star Wars came out. Immediately after seeing the movie, my friends and I put away our cowboy guns and our bows and arrows, and we picked up blasters and light sabers instead. No more cowboys and Indians for us; we were playing Jedi and Sith.
I remember receiving a Star Wars Play-Doh set for my eighth birthday. I was very excited. Play-Doh came in only three colors at that time: red, yellow, and blue. So I'd take out a wad of yellow Play-Doh, cram it into the Chewbacca mold, and clamp it down. When I opened it, what popped out was not Chewbacca, but a piece of yellow Play-Doh that had conformed to the "pattern" of Chewbacca. It was still yellow Play-Doh; it was just molded in the image of Chewbacca.
Conform means "to be or become similar in form, nature, or character." And I don't know about you, but I'm happy that God tells us not to be conformed. I don't like conforming to anything-especially the pattern or "mold" of this world.
That refusal to conform raises several interesting questions, one of which Paul poses in Colossians 2:20: "Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules?"
Following the "patterns of the world" and living by the rules of our "old" culture can lead to a real mess for Christians. In order to avoid such mistakes, though, we have to know what those patterns and rules are. Fortunately, God's given us some unmistakable clues in his Word:
Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world-the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does-comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever. (1 John 2:15-17)
Based on this passage, we can identify three patterns to avoid.
1. THE PATTERNS OF PLEASURE ("THE CRAVINGS OF SINFUL MAN")
In the days of the New Testament writers, the concept of doing what was pleasing to the body was referred to as "hedonism." The focus of hedonism was to satisfy the desires of the body, "the cravings of sinful man."
Of course, some cravings-or impulses-are natural. For example,
If you've stayed up late, then you'll feel the impulse to sleep.
If you're hungry, then you'll feel the impulse to eat.
If you're attracted to someone of the opposite sex, then you'll feel impulses to get to know the person better.
If it's cold outside, then you'll feel an impulse to seek shelter and find warmth.
Impulses alone aren't evil. However, if we allow our cravings to dictate our actions, then we'll develop some unhealthy-even destructive-patterns in life.
Consider how the following impulses, when distorted, can cause us pain and suffering.
The desire for food, when distorted, leads to gluttony, obesity, and other eating disorders.
The desire for sleep, when distorted, leads to laziness.
The desire to eliminate pain, when distorted, leads to substance abuse.
The desire for instant gratification, when distorted, leads to cheating, theft, and gambling.
The desire for sexual fulfillment, when distorted, leads to premarital sex and adultery.
The desire to escape from difficult reality, when distorted, leads to too much music, entertainment, video games, and Web surfing.
The desire to preserve one's self, when distorted, leads to fighting, gossip, backstabbing, cheating, and rebellion against authority.
God calls us to experience something more than slavery to our physical desires. As followers of Christ, we don't live to seek our own pleasure. Instead, we live to please God.
THINK ABOUT IT
What are some impulses that you feel but choose not to act on because you know it wouldn't be right?
What are some ways you live to please yourself?
What are some ways you try to please God?
Are there impulses in your life that you can't seem to control? If so, what specific steps can you take to get the help you need?
2. THE PATTERNS OF POSSESSIONS ("THE LUST OF HIS EYES")
The lust of the eyes, as John describes it, refers to our desire for things. In the Ten Commandments, it's called coveting. Imagine you're out shopping one day, and you see an item that you just have to have. You can't get it out of your mind. You'd do just about anything to get it. This is a prime example of lust of the eyes.
In relationships, we talk about guys "lusting" after girls (and vice versa). That's another "possession" problem. When a guy lusts after a girl, he sees her as an object rather than a person. There's a huge difference between love and lust!
I once saw a bumper sticker that sums up the lust-of-the-eyes mindset. It read "He who dies with the most toys, wins!"
That kind of lust isn't confined to just inanimate objects, either. In other words, the more you can get, the better off you'll be. The shortsighted nature of that philosophy inspired some wise person to come up with his own bumper sticker slogan: "He who dies with the most toys, still dies!"
God isn't opposed to our having nice things, but he wants us to pursue true riches, which aren't found on this earth. Look at Jesus' words in Matthew 6:19-21:
Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
According to Jesus, there are two types of riches. Consider how they differ:
Treasures on Earth
1. They can be enjoyed for 70 years or so while we're alive on earth.
2. They can be ruined and 2. destroyed.
3. They can be stolen or taken 3. away.
4. Jesus tells us not to pursue 4. them.
Treasures in Heaven
1. We have to wait 70 years or 1. so to enjoy them-but they last for eternity.
2. They can't be ruined or 2. destroyed.
3. They can't be stolen or taken 3. away.
4. Jesus tells us to pursue them. 4.
Traces of heavenly treasure can be found in our relationships with others. When I was younger, my friend and I each gave up our savings so another friend, who had no money, could go to summer camp with us. During that week at camp, our friend committed his life to Christ. Eternal riches? Yep. And they were better than the junk we would have spent our money on.
How can you use your possessions to provide for others instead of for yourself? (For more ideas on this topic, check out my book Wisdom On ... Time and Money.)
THINK ABOUT IT
Go to almost any store, and you can probably find something you'd really like to have. The list of things that people want to accumulate is virtually endless.
Can you add any items to the following list of things people "lust" for?
Cars Entertainment systems Cool clothes Video games Skateboard equipment Athletic gear Jewelry
What are some things you lust for?
How much stuff do you have that you once thought was important but no longer use?
How could you live so you store up treasure in heaven instead of on earth?
3. THE PATTERNS OF POSITION ("THE BOASTING OF WHAT HE HAS AND DOES")
When my son Dax was getting ready to enter middle school, he started to notice how things were changing all around him. Before he left for school one morning, he crawled onto my bed. I could tell Dax was troubled, so I asked him what was wrong. "It seems like the kids at school are becoming popular in the way that people are popular in the movies and on television," he told me.
My son was beginning to see the world's "pattern of position" emerge. All of a sudden, what you wear, how you look, how much money you have, and what activities you're involved in go a long way toward determining how you're treated. Dax was sad to see those changes. I am, too. The world judges us by standards that few of us can meet. And the end result is that many people often feel left out.
THINK ABOUT IT
Describe how the world might judge the social position of a person based on the following characteristics:
Skin color Nationality Education (how many years of school) Wealth Home address Looks (besides skin color) Age Accomplishments Talent
Our world tells us that we need to meet certain standards in order for our lives to matter. If we don't meet these standards, then we won't enjoy the status that many other people enjoy.
Write down your thoughts as to why students might believe they can improve their status through the following:
Getting involved in certain highly esteemed activities such as sports or cheerleading
Choosing a high-paying occupation
Being consumed with getting good grades
Hanging out with the popular crowd
Doing stupid things like taking drugs
Sleeping around to get the "right" guy or girl
What are the dangers of seeking status in the world's way?
God asks us not to conform to the principles of this world, but to be "transformed." Let's look at what that means.
Maybe you're familiar with the special effect called "morphing." It's used frequently in movies, music videos, and commercials. With modern technology, you can even do some morphing effects on your home computer. But when I was a kid, you could only see them in professional productions.
I remember an Exxon commercial that used the morphing effect. It showed a car (filled with Exxon gasoline) driving on a road. Then, right before our eyes, the car liquefied and stretched and became a tiger running down the road. The results were simply amazing. The commercial showed a transformation, a metamorphosis. One thing (a car) turned into a completely different thing (a tiger). What it had been before, it no longer was. That's transformation.
Excerpted from Wisdom On ... Growing in Christ by Mark Matlock
Copyright © 2008 by Mark Matlock. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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