Mindfully Mature

One of our major goals as teenagers is to gain independence. To do this, we have to learn responsibility and realize what it means to care for ourselves. Growing in our spiritually is an essential part of caring for ourselves. God created us to rely fully on Him. We are not meant to be independent, but rather we are supposed to be mature.

 

NMI_2011_FashionYear_00014Maturity is a word we do not often use here at niNe. magazine because it is a word that is often distorted and misunderstood. Our society has defined maturity as being “experienced” – delving into situations and circumstances that are meant for adulthood such as sex, alcohol consumption and engaging in R rated media. Sometimes we’re thrown into these situations unintentionally. When we’re in these circumstances we feel like we’re expected to handle it. Often, the people around us don’t respect or honor the maturity of the situation, making it difficult to know how to respond. Our actions don’t make us mature. Our actions stem from our maturity. When we’re engaging in mature activities before we’re ready, then we’re demonstrating our lack of maturity.

 

Our society calls us to be mature in the things of the evil one (i.e. sex before marriage, foul language, alcohol consumption, etc.), but God has called us to be infants in these things. In 1 Corinthians 14:20, Paul says, “Brothers and sisters, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking, be mature.” (ESV) This is the exact opposite of what the world expects of us. God wants us to be immature when it comes to evil. He wants us to be naïve and inexperienced. When it comes to sin, it’s better to not know Satan’s intentions and to be free from his influence. But, when it comes to the things of Christ, it’s better to be intelligent – to have significant understanding and to be fully aware of who God is and His plan for this world. Wouldn’t you rather be smart in things that are good rather than in things that are evil? Wouldn’t you rather have a greater knowledge of God rather than insight from the devil? We need to be aware of Satan and his demons, just like an infant is aware of her surroundings, but we do not need to invest our energy and influence into his ways.

 

Most teens want to be mature, but until our brains are fully developed, we’re physically unable. By definition, mature means complete in natural growth, fully developed in body and in mind, settled, grown-up, adult, stable. Our brains are not fully developed until we’re in our mid to late 20s. Therefore, according to the definition of maturity, we cannot be mature until we’re about 30 years of age. No matter what we experience in life, our physical body isn’t completely grown until then.

 

While we’re physically growing in maturity, we must keep our hearts, minds and bodies away from the ways of the devil and preserve ourselves for the Lord – pursuing maturity in Him always. Then, when we are physically mature, we’ll be capable of being spiritually, mentally and emotionally mature as well. To reach full maturity, we must actually have a strong understanding of who God is and our identity in Christ. The more we can grasp that reality now, the more we will benefit as we become a mature age.

 

Few people in America have actually reached their fullest maturity because they lack an understanding of their creator. To reach our fullest potential, we must accept our identity in Christ. As we engage in a deeper relationship with Him, we will quickly launch ahead of the rest when it comes to our maturity. If we know our creator better, then we will know ourselves better as well. Knowing how to be complete, stable, grown-up, settled, stable and fully developed through Christ is the first step to maturity.

Samson

Additional Thoughts on the Feature Length Film

When people make fun of me for being a Christian, they usually say something along the lines of:

  • “Christians are wimps. You need to believe in something else because you’re not strong enough to believe in yourself.”
  • “You’re so lame for needing to believe that a God is in control of the world. That means you don’t have it all together yourself. You just need someone to blame when you can’t handle your life.”
  • “You’ll never amount to anything because you’re too weak.”

It’s statements like these that make me love the story about Samson (which opens as a feature film on Feb. 16). There’s nothing wimpy, lame or weak about the main characters of the story. Samson himself has supernatural strength and he has the brains to use it for God’s glory. Plus, he has the intelligence to protect his strength (he does protect it from Delilah’s conniving attempts several times before he gives in.) Delilah herself is strong. We overlook her as an evil temptress, but she uses human strength to face Samson. On addition, there’s all the soldiers that Samson defeats. These guys have pretty incredible physical might that should not be forgotten.

Strength in the Bible

The Bible is full of other stories of God’s greatness and the strength of the people He’s called into His kingdom. No one is perfect, but they all have incredible strength. The same is true of His people today. We all carry an incredible amount of power and strength because we‘re His. Not only do we have His supernatural strength within us through the Holy Spirit, but we also have strength to hold up the truth and moral integrity in a world that has pushed it aside. It takes a lot of strength to let go of your life’s desires and follow God’s will. Christ has called us to a difficult selfless life that cares about the wellbeing of other people in the midst of a self-seeking culture. These realities build strength in character.

Neither is scripture wimpy or lame. It presents powerful truths that are strong enough to change a heart which can impact an entire culture and influence a nation. The words of the Bible penetrate deep into the soul. Nothing else is as piercingly strong.

The Reality of God’s Strength

Samson, like many other Biblical stories, has everything that makes a good Hollywood film, but it’s Christian. God is the driving force behind it all. This is life: temptation, scandal, romance, action, betrayal, tragedy, love, courage, passion, heartbreak, motivation, triumph, victory. This is the reality of Samson. This is the reality we live in now. It takes a lot of strength to live this life.

Life is messy. It’s full of highs and lows. It’s full of obedience and consequences. It’s full of pain and victory. It’s full of suffering and triumph. It’s full of challenges and joys. All these elements exist in every life because that’s the reality of our relationship with the Lord. He did not create us to be one-dimensional. He created us to be dynamic and effervescent. We created us to want something greater than ourselves, which only He can offer, so we utilize His strength to get it.

James, the Brother of Jesus

James, the brother of Jesus, wrote the New Testament book of James. It’s an incredible call of obedience written from a very humble voice. This fascinates me! When we contemplate the childhood of Jesus and James, we can very quickly realize that the book of James may be the most intimate reflection of our Savior. Out of all the books of the Bible, the author of this book knew more about Jesus than other writers. Sure, Jesus was tight with all his disciples, but no one else knew what Jesus looked like first thing in the morning when He rolled out of bed. No one shared family chores and other household responsibilities. No other author went to the same family reunion year after year, hearing the same story from Aunt Elizabeth… not that they had an Aunt Elizabeth, but you get my drift.

I am blessed by having two older brothers. Both of them I love tremendously, one of which I admire and wanted to emulate. There was a time in my life that I did everything my older brother did. He played an instrument, so I played that same instrument. He shopped at a particular store, so I shopped at that same store. He went to a certain college to study a particular subject, so I went to that same college and considered a subject very similar. This is the case for many siblings.

The other side of the spectrum are siblings who can’t stand being in the same room with one another. They’re always fighting over toys, attention, etc. They work hard to get the other in trouble. They make fun of one another. There’s little connection and there’s little desire to be like the other.

Which scenario is most likely the case between Jesus and James? We don’t know. But, in either case. These boys grew up with one another – either following or fighting. In either situation, you know your sibling intimately. You know their likes or their dislikes. You know what drives them, or what drives them crazy. You know how to lift them up or pull them down. You’ve fought over the bathroom in the morning, you’ve had late night conversations about the meaning of life, you’ve supported each other by going to one another’s sports games, you’ve ate at the same table for years.

Due to the sibling relationship between Jesus and James, we can conclude that James knew Jesus more intimately that any other disciple or New Testament writer. That certainly makes this book very appealing. If we want to know Jesus intimately, we need to read the entire book of the Bible, but a great place to start might be with his brother.

Trust Your Relationship with the Lord

A mother of four teenagers was speaking with me at church and mentioned how her daughter was struggling with knowing what God wanted her to do with her life. The teenager was asking her mother for advice and her mom responded, “What is God telling you to do?” The daughter than proceeded to tell her mom what she felt like she was being called to do. She then continued to talk about how that probably wasn’t what her mom thought was best, nor was it what she thought her mom probably believed the Lord wanted her to do. The mother quickly quieted her daughter by saying, “I trust the relationship you have with the Lord.”

The daughter was in shock. Her mom was okay with what she felt like the Lord was calling her to do. As the daughter continued to think about her mom’s comment, she realized how blessed she was to have such a supportive mom. Not because her mom supported her decision, but because her mom trusted the relationship she had with the Lord.

Lots of teens rely on their parents’ relationship with the Lord. Plenty of teens don’t even have a relationship with the Lord because they haven’t been given the opportunity to build a personal relationship with Him, or they haven’t taken the opportunity to establish that relationship because it’s been defined for them by their family, church or community.

NMI_2010_FashionYear_00755A-2-791x1024For as long as this teen daughter could remember, her mom had nurtured her relationship with the Lord.  Her mom regularly encouraged her to connect with the Lord, challenged her to grow in the Lord and most importantly provided an active example of what it looks like to have a relationship with God.  Her mom has an incredibly strong relationship with her maker, therefore, it was easy for her to teach and train her children to do the same.

As I reflected on this story, I thought to myself, “There probably isn’t anything more encouraging or powerful than your parent trusting the decisions you make because you reflect your relationship with God.” What a blessing to have a solid grip on reality because you have a firm grasp on your identity in the Lord.

I pray this for every Christian teen and their parent.

Cosmetic Consumerism

Play on nostalgia to gain purchase

The cosmetic industry has taken a step toward indulging our senses. Scientists are now actually creating cosmetics to tailor to your sight, touch, smell, taste and hearing. This may seem like it’s always been the case, but in recent years, the industry has taken things a little further.

This is actually very delightful. As you put on your makeup, your senses are going to gauge more going on than just getting ready in the morning. Your foundation may spike a certain feeling of luxury. Your body wash may remind you of a particular spring moment that you never want to forget. The color of your lipstick might remind you of something in your grandmother’s house.

pexels-photo-354962 copyNostalgia and sensual connections are good and can provide a great opportunity to remember the beauty of the world in a way that is unique to you.  However, it can also provide an opportunity to empty your pocketbook if you aren’t careful. The cosmetic industry is hopeful of the later. They want to play on your nostalgia and your personal interpretation of the world to entice you to purchase more. Certainly, if a product does make you feel good, why not buy it?  That’s what society is convincing you, and well, we do that as well to a certain degree.

But, buyer beware. Take a moment to check in and ask yourself if the product is necessary, if it’s really worth it and if it really does what you think it does. Remind yourself of all the products you already have that are similar, or perform a similar function. Consider how the money you would spend on this one item could be used differently. You could set it aside for an item you’ve been saving for, you could spend it on someone you love or someone in need, or possibly spend the money on something more helpful to you. Perhaps it’s best to walk away from a purchase for a few moments or days and return only if your heart is really set on it.  That is a helpful habit that should be practiced anyway.

Try to recall what it is that is causing the nostalgia and create a new way to make that connection. If it’s a smell that reminds you of your Aunt, perhaps give her a call and ask if you can come over. If it’s a certain color that sparks a memory, wear a shirt you already have in that same color. If it’s the way the product feels on your skin, then allow yourself a little extra pampering this month.

When it comes to beauty, know that God created you unique and gorgeous. No one else sees the world the way you do and no one else has the same beautiful eyes, face, body, legs, torso, arms, nose, hair, etc. You are uniquely beautiful because you are uniquely loved. So, if you are going to partake in this new beauty trend, consider finding an item that reminds you of your own personal beauty as well as your creator. Find an eyeshadow that resembles the color of the ocean and reminds you of how mighty our Lord is. Look for a lotion that smells like the sweet flowers that God grows every Spring just to delight your senses. Discover a lip-gloss that reminds you of your favorite worship song because the name of the gloss speaks of heaven.

Your beauty is your own. How you enhance it is up to you. Chose to honor the Lord by not buying into your senses, but let your senses reveal your love for the Lord.

Organization Central

pexels-photo-670723 copyIt’s the New Year and I am feeling bombarded with the need to get my life organized. It’s time to declutter my house, set a schedule and tackle my “to do” list. Every store, magazine, blog and product seems to create a solution for how I can accomplish organization and balance in my life.

When you start digging into the barrage of information thrown at you, it’s easy to see that everything is telling you the same thing. niNe. magazine is guilty of this too: Keep what you like, Throw Away what can no longer be used, Donate or Recycle what you know longer want. The same goes with your schedule and “To Do” list: Keep what you like and wat to do, stop or don’t do what doesn’t benefit you and hand off tasks to other people that you don’t want anymore. This is a good approach, obviously, otherwise the ideas would have changed by now. That’s the problem though, we haven’t come up with anything new and every year, we all dig into the same routine: keep, throw out, pass along to someone else.

We always need to organize our lives after the holidays when we’ve received a ton of gifts and we’ve stuffed our schedules silly. But, what can we do to avoid this disheartening cycle? Perhaps, we need to consume less.

Now, it would be disrespectful and ridiculous to take all our presents back, but we can certainly change our mindset throughout the year. Rather than gather items all year long, perhaps we need to be more discerning about what we purchase and why. Instead of spending our money on things that just create more clutter, we need to spend our money on things that bring us joy or better yet, bring us the joy of the Lord. The Lord calls us to live a simple life.

Paul says in 2 Corinthians 1:12, “For our boast is this, the testimony of our conscience, that we behaved in the world with simplicity and godly sincerity, not by earthly wisdom but by the grace of God, and supremely so toward you.” Living a simple life means not filling our space with unnecessary stuff. It means being at peace with our talents and what we’re able to do. To live simply means not to rush from one event to the next, but rather trust in the Lord and let Him guide you. Living simple means being responsible for what the Lord has called you to do and following through with your responsibility. It means relying on Him and making time with Him a priority. This means living life for Him and doing everything to honor Him. Yes, even doing your homework or washing the dishes can bring you and the Lord joy if you are doing your best and doing it unto Him.

To live simply means we aren’t trying to “keep up with the Joneses.” It means we aren’t seeking worldly possessions. We aren’t filling our time with unnecessary things just to feel busy. It means we aren’t finding or defining our worth through our possessions, our activities or our accomplishments. But, it also means that we aren’t supposed to live without. We are supposed to have a house, fashionable clothes, money, activities, talents, friends, food, etc. God has blessed us with all of this and He wants us to enjoy His blessings. We just don’t need to overindulge.

If we commit to living a simple life, then neither our closet nor our calendar will need to be decluttered. We won’t need to throw anything away because we will be utilizing everything we have for God’s glory. We won’t need to give used things to charity because we’ll be donating our unspent money and time to actually make a difference in someone’s life. It’s nice to donate our used stuff to those who are less fortunate, but there are other resources for them that could actually be more beneficial. If we spend time at the beginning of the year seeking God’s vision for our year, rather than sorting through the past, then we will be able to make incredible plans which will thrust us into a great year.

This is our organization challenge this year. Take every new moment, purchase, item and opportunity and give it to the Lord. What does He want you to do with it? Will it bless Him and you? If we can bring this process to our attention just once a day, overtime our intention will increase and we will have a very satisfying life. Soon, people will take note of how calm, balanced and organized your life is without having to go through the yearly “sort out” tradition.

Since we are following up the Christmas season when we do receive massive amounts of gifts, create a Christmas list. Then you will create a way to inform loved ones of your desires and you will receive things that you really want or need, therefore they will be used. Maintain your focus on what God wants you to have. You may be surprised by how much more He blesses you when your focus and intention is on Him rather than on stuff.

Take on this challenge and let the Lord delight you throughout the year, not just leading up to Christmas forcing you to decompress right after. This is another way to let His birth impact your life all the time, not just when we celebrate His coming.

Praiseworthy Pageantry

As is typical for this year, I was attending a flurry of holiday parties, pageants, performances and festivities. One particular event stood out to me this year. Three young men sang a popular Christian song at a Christmas pageant. As I joined the majority of the audience for a standing ovation after the performance, I realized that I wasn’t just standing to applaud the young gentlemen who did an outstanding job. I was also standing to applaud the Lord for giving these individuals such incredible talent that they could use to glorify God.

pexels-photo-756241 copyAs I stood there clapping, I thought to myself, “How many times in my life have I missed an opportunity to applaud the Lord?” I always focus on the performance, not the performer.  My attention zeros in on who’s in front of me and what they’re doing, not who gave them the talent and who they’re honoring. That’s why any of us have talent – to honor and glorify our maker. Our talents are not meant to bring us glory. Yes, we will get recognized for using our talents, but we should pass on that recognition to the One who created us with the distinct and beautiful talent.

My challenge and hope for the rest of this Christmas season is that I can see how God uses people in their everyday tasks to bring Him glory. How does just being who we are give Him honor? Because of this challenge, I pray that I’m in a position where I can applaud the Lord numerous times each day for His power and majesty.

Young Christmas Characters

Generational Shift in Movie Genre

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATis the season for sappy Christmas movies! I am a sucker for heartwarming Christmas tales. I even enjoy the incredibly lame ones. There’s something redeeming about the main character discovering that the season of Christmas, and life in general, is about more than self-indulgence and personal-gratification.

As I watched these movies while I was growing up, I noticed that the main character was commonly a rich, self-reliant, arrogant adult who “had it all.” As the movie progressed, that character usually found love and realized how much they’ve actually been missing in their self-centered world.

Now that I’m an adult, the story hasn’t changed, but the age of the character has. At first, I thought it was just because I was older, but in reality, the characters are actually younger. They are no longer 40 or 50-year-old people going through a mid-life crisis, they’re individuals in their 20s or 30s who live a self-focused life.

What does this tell us about our culture? These stories used to be about the liberation of a lost soul who needed to discover the “true meaning of Christmas.” Now, it’s about a naïve young person who thinks they know it all, but realizes they have a lot to learn.

Christmas movies tend to be fun, heartwarming films. Now, are they a more accurate reflection of the nature of our society? Most statistics that report Millennials as being the most entitled and selfish generation would say that these movies are a true representation of our young society. Many young people are self-oriented and egocentric. Many young people think they know it all and won’t admit that they have no clue. Many young people believe their way of life and their view of the world is best. Current Christmas movie trends seem to respond to this reality.

It may seem harsh, but perhaps this should be a wake-up call to our younger generations. We do have a lot to learn and there are plenty of people in this world who are willing to teach us. The majority of people in this world are satisfied living a life that is very different than ours so perhaps our way of life isn’t the only way to live, nor is it the best. There are numerous people who know, through experience, what it means to truly give. Not to donate money to a good cause, but to give of your heart and mind. These same people know what sacrifice is all about. Sacrifice isn’t giving up Facebook for a month or Starbucks for a week, but to truly live without. In some situations, this includes the basic necessities of life. There are people in our communities who also know what it is to truly love. To serve others and always put others before yourself. There is a lot of wisdom that comes from learning from others, and embracing the life and experience of another person.

I challenge the young this season to seek the thoughts, ideas and heart of someone older. Learn from them. Reflect on their life. See the world through their eyes. If we spend more time learning from people with history, experience and knowledge, then maybe we won’t have to walk the path of the majority of these Christmas characters who think they have life figured out only to learn that someone older than them understands the true beauty and nature of a life lived outside one’s self.

As a young generation, if this isn’t really how you act, then it’s important that you realize the people who make these films see you that way… so, what are you doing that gives that impression? Perhaps this Christmas season is the time to analyze whether or not your actions reflect the character of your true heart. If so, then your challenge is to influence more people with your beautiful heart. If not, then your challenge is to make change in your life so your actions do reflect your heart.

Appearances are Deceiving

Same Kind of Different As Me

Excerpt from Production Notes for Same Kind of Different As Me

As written in this month’s cover article of niNe. magazine, a major theme of the feature film Same Kind of Different as Me is that of giving and helping others in a sacrificial way. But, another theme is the deception of appearances.

Ron Hall (Greg Kinnear) is a well-to-do member of Dallas’ privileged society and art scene who sells million-dollar-plus paintings. But beneath the veneer of his perfect life lies a corrosive secret – he’s grown apart from his wife and becomes involved with another woman.

Denver Moore (Djimon Hounsou) is a homeless man who acts out in enraged fury to keep others at arm’s length. A weary soul who’s lived nearly his entire life as a modern-day slave, he nurses deep wounds and hides a fount of wisdom and a heart of joy and compassion under his intense exterior.

Debbie Hall (Renée Zellweger), Ron’s long-suffering wife, glides above the circumstances of her loveless marriage to keep up appearances for her son and daughter and her influential friends. But then she’s forced to confront her husband’s physical abandonment and emotional infidelity with a warrior’s resolve, vowing to fight for her marriage, and make a difference in her community, with a strength and passion few could have imagined she had inside her.

What the three central characters discover, and what the audience learns in watching their true-life story unspool, is that it’s a limiting, losing proposition to judge a book by its cover – no matter how pristine or tattered it appears.

The real-life Ron Hall wrote the book on which the film is based and co-wrote the script.

“I was a pretty bad guy, not a very good husband for several years, and that’s an important part of our story,” Hall recalls. “To watch those scenes replayed after I had tried to put them out of my head for so many years – it was opening up an old wound, so those were very, very painful for me. I had to walk away from the camera and the monitors on a number of occasions.”

Ron is challenged by Debbie to not only volunteer at a local homeless shelter, but to push through Denver’s walls and develop a true friendship with the man with whom he shares little in common.

“I don’t think there’s a character more inclined to judge a book by its cover than Ron,” explains co-screenwriter Alexander Foard. “But as his story progresses, he has his world completely rearranged, and at the end of the day finds himself with a much healthier marriage, and this friendship that’s going to last a lifetime.

“Debbie once told me, about Denver, ‘Don’t judge him; just serve him’,” Hall says. “In fact, Denver told me one time, when he caught me judging some people on the streets, ‘Mr. Ron, the courthouse is full of judges. God doesn’t need any more judges. He needs some service. That’s why you here’.”

That dollop of wisdom is pure and vintage Denver. As much as he is helped by the Halls through their persistence in convincing him that they truly love him, the real story and the film make pretty clear that as the blessings get passed around among the three of them, Denver may have handed out the most.

Denver’s message: As Moore himself put it in the book on which the film is based: “There’s something I learned when I was homeless: Our limitation is God’s opportunity. When you get all the way to the end of your rope and there ain’t nothin you can do, that’s when God takes over.”

Struggles

By Alicia Hayes, Speaker for niNe. magazine

StrugglesFor many of you, the “new year” may not begin on January 1st but on the first day of school. New classes, schedules, activities and possibly new struggles are starting in the fall. Some of these struggles may have to do with romantic relationships, new or old friendships, academic struggles or problems at home. Dealing with these things can make a new time in life, which is already stressful, incredibly difficult.

Understand that your struggles are unique, but there are always people who have gone through similar struggles who can help you. For instance, I had a Spanish teacher who thought that her students were arguing with her or disagreeing with her, but really, we were just confused and needed a little more clarity and explanation. Rather than helping her students, she would raise her voice in frustration because she felt as if her students were butting heads with her. This was a unique academic struggle, but I could always seek help from other people who had struggled with difficult, confusing teachers as well. Your struggles are important and unique but you’re not alone. Seek help from youth leaders, activity leaders, family members and guidance counselors to help you best resolve these struggles… no matter how big or small.

Seeking help not only resolves issues for the future, it can be incredibly affirming and comforting to find people who understand your problems. God says again and again that He’ll never leave us alone. One way that He prevents us from feeling isolated is by bringing people into our lives to ensure companionship and help. Do not isolate yourself in times like these. You’re not alone.

Though it’s important to find help and support, it’s also important to take time for yourself. It’s easy to avoid your struggles with busyness or noise. Hiding from your problems will not make them go away, and in fact it may make them worse. Taking time for yourself may force you to face your struggles head on. While in the comfort of your own, personal space, you can spend time talking to God about your issues, journaling about what’s bothering you or expressing your frustration in other healthy ways. God will use this time to reveal a lot of awesome solutions, or maybe even just remind you that He’s there, holding you up and protecting you from harm.

Now that the “newness” of the school year is wearing off, those struggles are still present. So, it’s time to face them head-on. Connect with people who understand, love and cherish you and spend time with God.