Strong and mature Christians do not simply pop out of the oven overnight. The fruit of the Spirit takes time to grow in a person.
I read this and immediately thought about pop tarts. Unlike the picture on the left, there was practically nothing inside. Very little filling compared to the dough. Not unlike a new Christian. Or even an “old” Christian who was satisfied with the initial “committing their life to Jesus” – and then does nothing after that. Someone who doesn’t allow the Holy Spirit to fill them and guide their lives.
The quote above is from Christian China and the Light of the World: Miraculous Stories from China’s Great Awakening by David Wang with Georgina Sam.
If you’re offended by what I just wrote – read on. I’m not going to apologize. I’m going to make my point. And hopefully get you to see it as well.
For instance, we read in Hebrews –
Heb 5:11 We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn. 12 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! 13 Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. 14 But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.
There weren’t any pop tarts back in those days. No toasters either. So the writer talks about about the difference between milk and solid food. Milk is for babies. We transition to solid food as we get older – and our bodies mature. One assumes that the mind matures as well. But time alone will not mature our minds. We have to take the effort to learns things. Just like the body will die without nourishment (starting with milk and moving on to eventually pieces of meat) – the mind will “die” without nourishment. For the mind, it’s things like observing, reading, learning, practicing those things we learned, and at maturity showing others how to do the same things.
It’s no different with Christianity. But there’s more. Sure – we have to do the observing, reading, learning, Etc. But there’s another piece that comes with being a Christian. A piece without which we really cannot do anything – including even understanding what Christianity is even about.
For instance, we read Jesus’ own words in John 14 –
Jn 14:22 Then Judas (not Judas Iscariot) said, “But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?”
Jn 14:23 Jesus replied, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. 24 He who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.
Jn 14:25 “All this I have spoken while still with you. 26 But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.
Jn 14:28 “You heard me say, ‘I am going away and I am coming back to you.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. 29 I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe. 30 I will not speak with you much longer, for the prince of this world is coming. He has no hold on me, 31 but the world must learn that I love the Father and that I do exactly what my Father has commanded me.
“Come now; let us leave.
The Holy Spirit will teach you (us) all things and will remind you (us) of everything I have said to you.
If we do not allow the Holy Spirit to teach us – we do not mature as Christians. We stay as pop tarts – no filling.
If we do not allow the Holy Spirit to remind us of what Jesus said – or if we hear the reminders but ignore them – we stay as pop tarts – no filling.
And what is one of the things we’re supposed to do?
Mt 28:16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
I want to point out a couple things here.
First – people are to be baptized in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. If we don’t know the Holy Spirit – how are we to do this? If we don’t allow the Holy Spirit to guide our lives – how are we to do this? Answer to both questions – we can’t.
Second – notice that Jesus sent out only the 11 disciples. Not all of His followers. Only the eleven. (Judas hadn’t been replaced yet.) Those 11 are the mature ones. The ones who don’t need just the nourishment like milk – but who would be able to eat solid food. Note – I said “would be able to” not “who are already” eating solid food. They weren’t ready. Because they didn’t have the Holy Spirit yet. But they soon would. Matthew’s Gospel ends at this point. We learn much more in Acts about the need for the Holy Spirit.
The point is – without the Holy Spirit – something’s missing.
Joel 2:28 “And afterward,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your old men will dream dreams,
your young men will see visions.
Joel 2:29 Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days.
This is God speaking through the prophet Joel in the Old Testament. The reference to pouring out is interesting though. We talk about people being “filled with the Holy Spirit” – just as this verse talks about God pouring out His Spirit.
When we “become Christians” – whether we refuse to even allow this pouring out onto / into us – or if we totally ignore / suppress the impact of the pouring out – we’re like a pop tart. Little to no filling.
With no filling we are an empty shell – and can do nothing other than survive.
With the filling of the Holy Spirit – we can do all things through the power of God.
Witness this from Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians –
1Th 5:12 Now we ask you, brothers, to respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you. 13 Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other. 14 And we urge you, brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone. 15 Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else.
1Th 5:16 Be joyful always; 17 pray continually; 18 give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
1Th 5:19 Do not put out the Spirit’s fire; 20 do not treat prophecies with contempt. 21 Test everything. Hold on to the good. 22 Avoid every kind of evil.
1Th 5:23 May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.
Or see what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians –
1Co 3:1 Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly—mere infants in Christ. 2 I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. 3 You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere men? 4 For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not mere men?
1Co 3:5 What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. 6 I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. 7 So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. 8 The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor. 9 For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.
Again, we see a group of people where they should have been more mature by this time – but still need milk because their faith hasn’t grown to the point where they’re ready for solid food.
Rather than allowing the Holy Spirit to guide them – they are following different people instead of following God. And they don’t even realize the difference.
Pop tart Christians – who don’t even have enough filling of the Holy Spirit to realize that they are following the wrong leader.
So – that’s a statement of what goes on when we are like pop tart Christians – little to no filling of the Holy Spirit.
The book I referenced – obviously – is about the church in China. If you haven’t read it – I urge you to get it. If you have anything of the Holy Spirit in you at all, it’s what Christians call “convicting” – it shows that a lot of Christians are much more like the images of home made pop tarts that I saw while searching for the image at the top. They are clearly full of the Holy Spirit – and are accomplishing amazing things with His power and in His name.
Here’s one example – from a church in China where a couple that had pretty much zero chance of having a baby because of physical problems that both of the parents had. But, miraculously, they conceived. They they found out from an ultrasound scan that the baby was deformed. Lots of people told them they needed to get an abortion. But they felt that after God allowed them to conceive in the first place – there had to be a purpose for this baby’s life – and they asked their pastor (Paul) to lead a prayer effort on their behalf. At first, Paul was reluctant to do it – couldn’t see how there could be a good outcome. But the parents had already been talking to others in their church – so Paul, as pastor, couldn’t possibly tell them that there’s no point – that God couldn’t do anything. So he agreed to lead this effort.
Here’s how it went –
Paul knew what he had to do. “I gathered the whole church,” he recalled, “and announced that we would be holding a special time of fasting and prayer for the baby and the couple.” The pastor had taken up his position, and the fervent attitude of prayer continued throughout the remainder of the pregnancy.
Grace came into the world two months prematurely. She weighed in at only two-and-a-half pounds and was kept in an incubator for two months in the children’s intensive care unit. During that time, neither mother nor father was allowed to hold or even visit their child. But the father was unmovable in his faith: He believed that their new daughter would be all right. Every day he diligently wrote out on a sheet of paper a different promise from the Word of God. He then asked his daughter’s nurse if she would please read this Scripture aloud to his child and then lay it on top of her cot afterwards. While not a Christian herself, the nurse was kind enough to carry out the father’s request.
Meanwhile, the church kept a prayer vigil going for Grace’s life in the hall outside of the ICU, with individual members taking turns in half-hour shifts to do spiritual battle throughout the day. A couple of months later, Grace had gained sufficient weight and was deemed healthy enough by the hospital to go home. Today, with no disabilities or disfigurements, she is flourishing, lively, active and, in Paul’s words, “a true miracle child!”
Would your church do this?
Would you do this?
This isn’t even anything that would endanger our lives, if we were to do it. There are other instances in the book where people risk going to jail – or even being killed. I’m not even talking about those things. I’m just talking about setting up a 24 hour prayer vigil that goes on not for days, not weeks, but months. Would this happen in your church and would you be willing to be part of it?
As “difficult” as that one may have seemed – here’s another one that went on for more than a year – different parents – same church –
In her heart, she felt that she could not allow her baby to be killed. It just did not seem to be the right choice. Her husband agreed with her. The more they both thought and prayed about it, the more they believed she should see the pregnancy through. They believed by faith that God had meant for this life to exist. So who would they be, then, to end his life? They determined then and there that she would give birth to this child, come what may.
Nine months passed, and by faith, their son was born. He was underweight and unhealthy looking. After checking the newborn over, the doctor announced that the infant had a defective heart as well as a nonfunctioning kidney and pancreas, among other problems. The atmosphere after the delivery was heavy and depressing. All the signs indicated that this child would not survive long in this world. Even if he did manage to make it through his first year and go on to grow up, he would most likely be severely disabled.
The new parents did not waver in their faith. They lovingly took their newborn to church, and everyone gathered around the new family to pray for them, especially for the child. During the next year the church also faithfully sent teams to the family’s home to continue the prayer ministry.
The boy’s first birthday came. He had made it after all. The one-year-old was then taken to the hospital for another medical checkup. This time the doctors and nurses could not find any problems with his heart, kidney, pancreas or any other part of his body. He was not deformed in any way that they could see. It was incredible to them!
These are amazing stories. Real. They had an impact – on the families at the center of each prayer effort – and on the members of the church who participated. It’s not “convenient” to do these things. Many people won’t do it even for one day. Fewer still for a period of weeks. It gets even harder when it goes to months. And then over a year!
That’s coming from someone who has something to give. Someone who’s not a pop tart Christian. Because they have lot’s to give from the Holy Spirit that’s filling them. The Holy Spirit that goes to overflowing as they continue to give more and more.
These examples are from churches and people who face trouble from the government. Officially, China is an atheist country. Yes – they have a “state church” – one that’s approved by the communist government. But it’s nothing like a real Christian church, where the Holy Spirit fills the people in that church. A church like that – like Paul’s church that we just read about – it’s always in danger of being shut down by the government.
But Paul still worries. He doesn’t use the words – but he’s worried that the church in China will become like the church here in the U.S. – and other western nations. As more people move from small towns to big cities, life is changing in China. As more people are OK with the state sponsored church – the message of Jesus is getting lost.
And the young people go to church in an environment different from their parents and grandparents. It’s different. While being a Christian in China isn’t easy today – it’s not as hard as it was before – like during the “cultural revolution”. These young people lose sight of the difficulties that previous generations of Chinese people went through to become Christians.
Towards the end of the chapter in the book that talks about Paul’s church, we see him say this –
Sometimes the result is that people do not truly understand what they are getting into. In terms of Christianity, while it is always positive when people want to commit their lives to Jesus, Paul cannot help but feel misgivings about the quality of faith today in some of these new converts, and their capacity to mature. He fears that their faith is under threat of being diluted and their growth stunted. In his opinion, the biggest challenge facing the Church in China today is that they will simply become “Sunday Christians.”
“Many people claim to be Christians,” he says. “But when you hear them talk about their values and see their world view, you realize they are actually very materialistic. Their spiritual understanding is not very deep, and there is not much devotion to Christ.” Paul believes that the reason for the widening shallowness and immaturity of faith is that many people do not read the Bible and, therefore, do not understand the Father’s heart.
Paul is worried about the church in China having more and more pop tart Christians.
Compare this with Jesus original followers. The information below – while not completely verifiable in 100% trustworthy historical documents – is from the Catholic Encyclopedia –
According to tradition, all of the twelve apostles died as martyrs during the first century A.D. Only St. John, the writer of the Gospel with his name and the Book of Revelation died a natural death. It is believed he died near the year 100 A.D.
The possible causes of death of each of the Twelve Apostles:
Andrew: Martyrdom by crucifixion (bound, not nailed, to a cross).
Bartholomew (Often identified with Nathaniel in the New Testament): Martyrdom by being either 1. Beheaded, or 2. Flayed alive and crucified, head downward.
James the Greater: Martyrdom by being beheaded or stabbed with a sword.
James the Lesser: Martyrdom by being thrown from a pinnacle of the Temple at Jerusalem , then stoned and beaten with clubs.
John: Died of old age.
Jude (Often identified with Thaddeus in the New Testament): Martyrdom by being beaten to death with a club.
Matthew: Martyrdom by being burned, stoned, or beheaded.
Peter: Martyrdom by crucifixion at Rome with his head downwards.
Simon: Martyrdom by crucifixion.1 or being sawn in half.
Thomas: Martyrdom by being stabbed with a spear.
It’s of note that John, the one listed as dying of old age, was tortured – including being burned in oil. Normally – that would be incredibly fatal. So it’s only by act of a miracle of God that John died of old age – imprisoned in a cave on the island of Patmos, in Greece.
Again – what I’m writing about here isn’t even close to the level of “filling” that these Apostles had.
I’m just talking about things like prayer vigils – visiting families and providing food / comfort / support.
Paul is afraid the church in China will turn into a church full of pop tart Christians.
I’m afraid that the church here in this country – and many western countries – already has lots of pop tart Christians.
In 1 Corinthians, Paul writes about what I call pop tart Christians –
1Co 3:10 By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds. 11 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, 13 his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. 14 If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. 15 If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.
Yes – pop tart Christians will be saved. But only as one escaping the fire. How much love does one truly have for Jesus – how much do we really believe Jesus – how much are we following Jesus – if the best we can do is to be saved as one escaping a fire?
If you see yourself as maybe being a pop tart Christian – don’t like the picture I just painted – and want to do something about it – consider what Paul wrote just after that last quote –
1Co 3:16 Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you? 17 If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him; for God’s temple is sacred, and you are that temple.
1Co 3:18 Do not deceive yourselves. If any one of you thinks he is wise by the standards of this age, he should become a “fool” so that he may become wise. 19 For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight. As it is written: “He catches the wise in their craftiness”; 20 and again, “The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile.” 21 So then, no more boasting about men! All things are yours, 22 whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, 23 and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God.
Then, consider Jesus’ words from the beginning of the book of Acts –
Ac 1:1 In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach 2 until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. 3 After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. 4 On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. 5 For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”
Ac 1:6 So when they met together, they asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”
Ac 1:7 He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
Jesus refers again to the Holy Spirit.
To not be what I call a pop tart Christian – we need to be filled. Not with strawberry, blueberry, chocolate, or some sweet thing. We need to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Filled to overflowing.
And then – consider this – which happened just after Jesus spoke the words above –
Ac 1:9 After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.
Ac 1:10 They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. 11 “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”
Look closely at what just happened there.
Jesus was taken up to Heaven. His followers were just looking up to the sky – just standing there.
The angels ask them – why do you stand here looking into the sky?
The implication was this – Don’t just stand around looking up in the sky. You have something to do. Jesus told you to wait for the Holy Spirit. And after you are filled with the Holy Spirit – you have another task – tell everyone about the good news – baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. And teach them to obey Jesus’ teachings – all of them, not just the ones that sound easy and don’t require anything of us.
And all of that means – don’t be a pop tart Christian. And don’t fill the world with more pop tart Christians. Be a Christian filled with the Holy Spirit. And help God fill the world with other Christians who are filled with the Holy Spirit.
Don’t be happy with escaping the fire.
Don’t be a pop tart Christian.
Be a Christian filled with the Holy Spirit – and through Him – help fill the world with Holy Spirit filled Christians.