Time to Grow Up?

Quart Bottle Milk Family

I just finished an article in the Christian Research Journal by Thomas E. Bergler who asserts that churches need to put spiritual maturity high on their agenda, pointing what we say, what we model and how we lead toward helping Christians attain spiritual maturity.  This post’s content is inspired by Dr. Bergler’s article with much of the content coming from there.  This post contains some tough teaching.  Hang on and hang in there!  There is hope at the end so read it all!

So, So True

The observation by Dr. Bergler that many people in our churches are “juvenilized Christians” (i.e, self-centered, emotionally driven, and intellectually shallow) hit home for me.  I’ve experienced first hand this kind of thinking and feeling from many, many people.  And, I’m not talking about “young” or “new” Christians who just are beginning their spiritual journeys and are expected to be immature in their faith and walk with God; I’m talking about people who have had ample opportunity, ample time and ample experience at least to be maturing, if not yet mature, in their faith.  Maybe that’s you; maybe not.  It’s probably more of you than would care to admit it.  I suspect after you read the rest of this post, you’ll have a better idea of whether you are maturing or not.

Spiritual Maturity is Desirable and Expected

Hebrews 5:11-6:1 – “We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn.  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!  Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness.  But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.  Therefore let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity ….”

Spiritual maturity is expected because it means becoming more and more like Christ.  That’s what being a Christian means: “little Christ.”  Over time, through the work of the Holy Spirit, we should be increasing our knowledge of the Lord as well as our “likeness” of Him.  We should be developing more fully the fruits of the spirit as outlined in Galatians 5:22-26.  We should become like our teacher, Jesus Christ (Luke 6:40).

Here are some of the areas/ways in which we should be attaining spiritual maturity:

Intellectually — A MATURE Christian knows the basics of the faith and is able to communicate them to another.  A MATURE Christian recognizes false teaching and is not swayed by such.  A MATURE Christian is routinely and regularly expanding their knowledge of who God is, what His Word says and what the Word means for all of us. An IMMATURE Christian doesn’t think it really matters what you believe as long as you earnestly believe it.  They don’t seek to dig deeper into the Word and are satisfied with what they think they already know.  They often say things like: “I don’t like to read” or “I don’t have time to study the Bible” or “I’m not comfortable in groups.”

Church commitment — A MATURE Christian recognizes the importance of the corporate church body as a place to connect with one another, and, more importantly, care for each other.  (Ephesians 4:7-16).  An IMMATURE Christian feels that a church home, and in particular regular corporate worship attendance, is an option if you need it or like it.  There is little value placed on commitment to a local church body beyond the individual feeling of whether it “does anything for me and my life.”  Their attitude is often “What has the church done for me lately” rather than “What have I done for the church lately.”

Serving and Kingdom growth — A MATURE Christian lives for others, serves others and joins others in serving others, all for the benefit of showing God’s love and introducing Him to other people.  They are “on mission” for God before themselves.  (Matthew 28:16-20).   They are sacrificial with their time and money.  However, IMMATURE Christians tend to see service as something that can be done to help the community at large, if and only if, they have the time, energy, money or interest to help a particular person or group of people.  They are happy to help someone as long as it fits in their schedule and makes them feel good.  They often point to one “community service project” event in the last year or a once-every-few-weeks service in the church as being “more than enough” to help the Kingdom.

Emotionally — A MATURE Christian is in control of their feelings rather than allowing their feelings to control them.  They do not feel sorry for themselves and they reject feelings of jealousy and anger towards others who are in different places economically, socially or physically.  They recognize that both suffering and comfort are regular parts of the Christian life.  (2 Corinthians 1:3-7; 4:7-18).  An IMMATURE Christian believes that negative emotions, experiences and circumstances are unfair, unique to them, and that they have a “right” not to have them.  They often believe that one of the benefits of being “on God’s side” should be that life should be care-free, struggle-free and happy-me.  They often “get mad at God” because He’s not doing what they think He should be doing in their life, or, at least He’s not doing it quickly enough.

This is just an exemplary list, but it should get us all thinking.  Even while writing this, I had to stop and really, really think about myself and my own spiritual journey.  It was scary.  I have a long way to go.  Too many of the “immature” descriptions described me.  I didn’t like that and I don’t want that for me, for my family or for my church!  So, I had to ask myself these questions:

Am I allowing God to mature me?

Am I satisfied with spiritual milk rather than seeking deeper things of God?

Will I do anything about where I am and where I need to be?

I hope that you ask yourselves these questions too.  And, that you answer them!

Tough Teaching: Be a Slave?

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My sermon notes from the June 30, 2013 sermon “Be a Slave?” from the series “Tough Teachings of Jesus”.  You can hear the podcast on the Adventure website.

Be a Slave?

Intro:  Pastors, church staff and church leaders revealed in a recent survey that some of the most difficult challenges they face each week are church member’s apathy, inward focus and the inability to motivate and keep volunteers in ministries.  If “we” (meaning Christians) just understood and took to heart this one “Tough Teaching” from Jesus, it would go a long way toward eliminating those challenges.

Mark 10: 43-45 — “Not so with you.  Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.  For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Jesus tells his disciples, and us, that to be “great”, we must first become a slave — a slave to Jesus Christ and His purposes!

The Christian Paradox

This scripture, and teaching, reveals another aspect of the “Christian Paradox”.  A paradox is what seems backwards, inside-out, upside-down.  A paradox is not the natural way we think of things.  The Bible is full of them.  Examples:  to live you must die, to be rich you must be generous, to lead you must follow, and, to be first you must be a slave.

What Are the Characteristics of the Christian Paradox:  Be a Slave?

It’s Voluntary

No one is going to make you do it.  The word “slave” means “bondslave”, which is a voluntary position of servitude.

It’s a Choice

You can say “yes” or “no”, but not both, and not neither. — note:  saying “no” is obviously a rejection of doing what the master wants.  But, we need to also realize that failure to say “yes” (i.e., sitting on the fence, or trying to remain neutral) is also saying “no.”

Matthew 6:24 – “No one can serve two masters.  Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other….” — note: while Jesus was teaching on the love of money in this scripture, the principle remains the same: we cannot not be both devoted to the things of God and the things of “something else”.

It Means Submitting to the Master’s Will

Submission to God’s will and not your own will is the characteristic of a slave.  God is our master.  Submission to His will is going to require us to sacrifice.  We will have to sacrifice our comfort, our desire, our time, our energy, our money, and our priorities to what He wants.  We will be asked to do things that we may not want to do.  We will be asked to do things that we would rather not do sometimes.  But “slavery” to the will of God is doing what He wants, not what we want.  — This will become real in our lives as we serve in ministries in the church, as we allow our lives to molded in His holiness, and as we live a life as directed by the Bible.

Luke 22:42 – “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” — As Jesus prayed this on the night before He was crucified, Jesus gave a perfect example of what it means to submit to the will of God first, and to be willing to sacrifice everything.

It Requires Action Toward Others

Saying yes.  Declaring your intention to do something.  Wanting to submit to God’s will. — All of those things are great.  But they are all meaningless without action.  There is a big difference between saying you are going to do something and actually doing it.  We only reveal ourselves as “slaves of Jesus” when we actually act on what we say and what is in our heart.

Colossians 3:23-24 – “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, …. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.”

Remember that when you serve that you are not just serving another person, you are actually serving Jesus Christ, your master.  You are connecting to Him by way of the Holy Spirit as you submit yourself to Him and you are connecting another to Him as you represent the hands and feet of Christ to that person.

Conclusion

If all of our church would allow our hearts to be transformed by this one truth, we would make an impact for the Kingdom that would be beyond our imagination!

Church Matters: Commitment – Buddy’s sermon notes

church matters

Here are my sermon notes for “Church Matters: Commitment” for the message dated February 3, 2013.  The audio isn’t up yet but will be soon by going to the Adventure Church website.

Church Matters: Commitment

What a church should commit to you:

  1. To teach the whole  Bible – Acts 20:27 “For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God.”
  2. Leaders who set an example – Philippians 3:17 “Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you.”
  3. To care for you and watch out for you – Acts 20:28 “Keep watch over yourselves and all of the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers.  Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.”
  4. When necessary, to Biblically exercise church discipline – Matthew 18:15-17
  5. To seek to fulfill God’s will in our community and beyond. – Matthew 28:19-20 “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”

What you should commit to the church:

  1. To protect the unity of the church – Romans 14:19 “Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.”
    1. acting in love toward one another
    2. refusing to gossip
    3. following the leaders
  2. To share the responsibility of the church by:
    1. praying for its growth and influence
    2. inviting unchurched people to attend
    3. welcoming those who attend – Romans 15:7 “Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.
    4. giving financially – regularly and sacrificially
  3. To support the testimony of the church by – Philippians 1:27 “Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.”
    1. attending faithfully
    2. learning God’s Word
    3. living a godly life
  4. To serve the ministry of the church by:
    1. using my gifts and talents – 1 Peter 4:10 “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.”
    2. developing a servant’s heart
  5. To support others in the church and myself by:
    1. connecting with others for fellowship, encouragement, support and accountability
    2. allowing the Holy Spirit to transform me

 

Discipline Makes the Impossible Possible

This article continues my series on spiritual disciplines titled Why Men Need Discipline.”  Today’s article is called “Discipline Makes the Impossible Possible” and speaks to the continuing development of the Christian into a person who is “perfect”  as our “heavenly Father is perfect.”

Did You Say: “Be Perfect”?

Sometimes I am disturbed by what Scripture says.   An example is contained in Matthew 5:48 where we are commanded to “be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Really?  Be perfect?  That appears quite impossible.  I know I am not perfect.  Far from it.  Anyone who knows me knows that I am not perfect.  And neither are you.  So, why would God issue this seemingly impossible command to us?  (It is a “command” and not a “suggestion” by the way).

Well, I know that God is perfectly just, meaning that He is perfectly fair to us.  So, I can know that God would not require something of me, or from me, that would be impossible for me to attain.  Therefore, it is only logical that “being perfect” must be possible.  And, more than that, not only must it be possible for me to achieve, it also must be GOOD FOR ME! (see Matthew 7:9-11)

The good news for us is that God doesn’t leave this “possible impossible” task to us to attain on our own.  Quite the contrary.

We are Perfect because of Imputed Righteousness 

The Bible tells us that when we repent of our sin and believe in Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord, that God considers us righteous in his sight.  This means that even though we aren’t “really” holy, God chooses on His own to declare us holy.  Essentially, for our benefit, God “pretends” that we are completely righteous because Jesus has “covered” our unrighteousness with his sacrificed blood.  That’s the only way true relationship with a completely holy God can exist – if He chooses not to count our unholiness against us.  It’s imputed righteousness that “gets us into heaven.”

That’s the first way that the “impossible becomes possible” – just because God says so!

We are becoming Perfect because of Imparted Righteousness

It is not so difficult to accept that God can look past our transgressions and determine on His own that we are righteous (i.e., perfect) in His sight.  God is merciful.  God is full of grace.  However, it is hard to accept that we are also being made perfect; that in this life that we can live a perfectly holy and righteous life.  But that’s also what the Bible teaches.

In 2 Peter 1:4, we are told that we are “partakers of the divine nature.”  What that means is that over time, through our circumstances, our choices, God’s leading, and our decisions, that we become more and more holy.  We become more righteous as we are transformed into the likeness of Christ.  Our daily lives here on earth actually change from unholiness to slightly less unholiness to slightly less unholiness and on and on.

This takes training and it takes time.  Spiritual disciplines such as prayer, Bible study, participating in worship, learning self-control, seeking wisdom and patience and goodness and kindness, and allowing love to be evident in our actions slowly (and not so slowly at times) mold us into people who reflect Christ and are permanently changed.  This is referred to as “imparted righteousness” meaning that God is “imparting” (or “giving to us”) righteousness.

This training is not easy.  It takes the discipline of making the right choices daily.  It means sacrificing what we may naturally desire in exchange for what God desires.  It means being obedient to the Word even if we don’t feel like it and even when we don’t fully understand it.  It means learning from failure.  It means conforming our attitudes, our minds, our hearts and our actions to the Word of God and His ways, more and more every day.  It’s imparted righteousness that makes us better disciples and ambassadors for God’s work here on earth.

The Bottom Line

God gives us the ability to “work out our salvation” (Philippians 2:12).  As we “train” ourselves by engaging in spiritual disciplines, regularly and in increasing measure over time, we do just that – we work out the unholiness that wants to control us, and allow God to work in the holiness that He wants to control us.

What’s Next?

Hopefully, you’ve been reviewing the various spiritual disciplines that I outlined previously and have been identifying which of those could use some improvement in your own life.  If not, I suggest that you review them now.

It is now time to make a specific plan of action.  What is your plan for Bible study?  What is your plan for quiet devotion time?  What is your plan for prayer?  Where are you going to serve the Lord this week?  Make a decision to implement these into your life right now in specific, detailed ways.

 

We Always Reflect Something

[ F ] Lucian Freud - Self-portrait in a  hand ...

Lucian Freud – Self-portrait in a hand mirror (1967)

This article continues my series on spiritual disciplines titled “Why Men Need Discipline.”  Today’s article is called “We Always Reflect Something” and addresses a question all Christians should ask themselves:  “Do I always reflect who Christ is?”  Spiritual disciplines help us to be able to answer that question with “YES!”

We Always Reflect Something

How long has it been since you looked at yourself in a mirror?  I mean, really looked at yourself?  I tried it today and was startled.  As I stared at myself I began to see things that I just simply overlook most of the time.  Some of the things I saw were good.  Some were not!  It was those “nots” that I wished were not there.  So, being a man of supreme and extreme logic (chuckle, chuckle), I closed my eyes and “wished” those “nots” were not there.  I opened my eyes and guess what?  They were still there.  I just couldn’t wish away part of my reflection.  It is what it is.

Whether we like it or not, whether we agree to it or not, as we live our lives, as we interact with people, as we make choices and engage in relationships, we always reflect something.  And, that “something” is what is inside of us.  We reflect what is in our hearts.  We reflect what is in our minds.  We reflect what is really important to us.

Sometimes what I reflect isn’t very pretty (and I’m not just talking about my face).  My words can be harsh.  My temperament can be inpatient.  My values can be skewed.  My goals can be selfish and prideful.  None of those things is Christ-like.

If asked, I would never “choose” to reflect such things.  But, unfortunately, at times that’s what people see from me and in me. That’s the thing about reflections — they show what IS, not what we WISH.

“A New Command I Give You”

When you became a Christian, you also became an ambassador for Christ.  The “world” should be able to look at you and see who Christ is.  I am using the word “should” on purpose because ambassadorship is one of things you are committing to when you decide to follow Christ.  One of the ways that God shows Himself to people is through His people — through His disciples.  And, Jesus tells us what the world should see:

 

“A new command I give you:  Love one another.  As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:34-35

 

We reflect Christ when we love.  When we love, people see Jesus.

The Bible describes “love” as being patient and kind, as not self-serving, as having a spirit of forgiveness and gentleness, and as doing what is right even when it is difficult to do so.  Love is honoring and protecting our wives.  Love is raising our children to know the Lord.  Love is caring for the widow, the orphan and the disenfranchised.  Love is feeding the hungry, visiting the prisoner, and clothing the naked.  The Bible tells us that “God IS love” (1 John 4:8).

Spiritual Discipline Helps Us Make Christ Visible

Oh, is that all?  All we have to do is just love everybody all of the time?  Obviously, the problem is that none of us naturally is all of those things all of the time.  In fact, it is in our nature to war against such things much of the time.  That’s where spiritual discipline comes in.

Spiritual disciplines help us make Christ’s loving characteristics supreme in our lives.  For example, attending corporate worship reminds us of who is God (God) and who is not (us).  Learning to react appropriately and Godly in situations by controlling our tempers and our speech reminds us that our lives are about more than our immediate desires.  Regularly meeting with other men in Christian fellowship provides opportunities for rebuke and encouragement so that we will stay motivated to do what is right.  Actively and intentionally serving others reminds us that we are to be servants first.

When we regularly and continually engage in those types of spiritual disciplines, as well as others, God uses them to mold our hearts and shape our thoughts.  Our minds and hearts actually start to become more Christ-like as we “train” to be Christians, and soon we begin to “reflect Christ” to the world.

The Bottom Line

Being a Christian is a wonderful gift from God.  It is also an awesome responsibility.  Who we are to the people of this world shows what we really believe and who we really follow.  Our actions and our words reflect what is in our hearts and minds.

What’s Next?

Jesus Christ was the most influential person who ever lived, and is the most influential person living today.  Are you preparing yourself so that you always reflect who He really is?  Or are you just leaving your reflection to chance?

Ask at least three people in your life (if you are married, make one of those of people your wife) to make a list of the qualities you REALLY reflect.  You will have to give them permission to be completely honest and promise them that you will not hold anything they say against them.  Be prepared to be a little hurt because there will be some things on those lists that you probably won’t expect (remember my looking in the mirror) and that will not be very Christ-like.

Once you receive your list, make a plan to engage regularly in at least two more of the spiritual disciplines we previously discussed in What is a Spiritual Discipline, Anyway?  Then watch how God begins to change the things on your lists that are not reflective of who Christ is.

 

Discipline Makes the Conscious Unconscious

This is the fourth article in my series on spiritual disciplines titled “Why Men Need Discipline.”  Today’s article is called “Discipline Makes the Conscious Unconscious” and continues our discussion of the benefit of engaging in spiritual disciplines routinely, over time, in an ever-increasing measure.

We began this series with my previous articles: “What is Discipline?”, “What is a Spiritual Discipline, Anyway?” and “Men Are Easily Distracted.”

Making Choices …

We control our days more than we realize.  What we decide to do or not to do impacts so many other things every day.  Our choices impact our conversations, they impact our relationships and they guide our behaviors.  Our choices influence our very thoughts.

Even after counseling people in both spiritual and legal situations for over 20 years now, it still amazes me how little people understand the connection between the choices they make and the state of affairs their lives are in.  Too often, people fail to make the connection between how the little choices made (or not made) each day have set the tone for their attitudes and expectations, and, ultimately, their “day.”  Instead, many believe that their life situations are “caused” by some external forces beyond their control and that the chaos of their life is simply something that is “happening to them.”

But the reality is, that what we choose for ourselves makes all the difference.  What we choose to read, what we choose to watch, whom we choose to be around, where we choose to go, and what activity in which we choose to engage is OUR CHOICE.  And when we make poor choices, things don’t go as well for us.

The difference between a chaotic life and a peaceful life is developing habits so that the routine, everyday choices are made effortlessly, almost unconsciously.

Choosing without Thinking

Any great athlete will tell you that the main goal of practicing each day is to create an “unconscious response” to a given game situation.  More accurately, the goal is not just an unconscious response but the CORRECT unconscious response.

We make unconscious decisions all of the time.  If you have been driving a car for any length of time, then you experience unconscious decision-making.  You don’t “think about” moving your foot from the gas pedal to the brake pedal to stop the car, you just do it.  You don’t “think about” smoothly turning the steering wheel in a curve so that the car doesn’t jerk repeatedly, you just do it.  Why?  Because you have trained yourself to “think unconsciously” via days and days of practice and habit-formation.

The same mental capacity to “choose unconsciously” is also available in our spiritual lives.  We can practice spiritual disciplines until they are so habitual that in given situations we simply “respond without thinking.”

The Benefit of Spiritual Discipline

As we “train” in areas of spiritual discipline such as Bible study, scripture memorization, controlling our speech, and removing ourselves from problematic situations and conversations, the wise choices we make start to become part of us — Godly choices become natural for us.

In Psalm 119:11, the Psalmist exclaims to God: “I have hidden your Word in my heart that I might not sin against you.”

What an awesome goal!  The daily spiritual training of Bible study, reading, memorization and meditation eventually leads to God’s Word being “hidden” in us, almost at an unconscious level.  What that means is that when we are confronted with conflict, instead of reacting harshly (our natural selves), we respond with patience and kindness.  It means that when we are tempted, instead of giving in to the temptation to satisfy our flesh (our natural selves), we are actually repulsed by the temptation before us.

What we previously “thought about,” becomes “unconsciously natural” after we have hidden the Word in our hearts.

The Bottom Line

The more we engage in spiritual discipline activities such as study and scripture memorization, the more our decisions, actions and speech become Biblically unconscious.  Our nature actually becomes more “Christ-like.”

What’s Next?

Go back to the article titled “What is a Spiritual Discipline, Anyway?” and pick out three or four spiritual disciplines that you will seek to develop more fully.  Make a commitment to make these disciplines part of your daily routine so that they become habits.  As they do, notice the difference in your life — the difference in your relationships, in your attitude, in your outlook and in your behavior.

 

Why Men Need Discipline, Part 1 – “What is Discipline?”

Recently I was asked to speak at a Men’s “Advance” (I refuse to acknowledge that we should “retreat”) on the topic of Spiritual Disciplines. Based on the material from that talk, I have developed a several-part series that explores “spiritual disciplines” — what they are, why we need them, how to implement them in our lives, and what the consequences will be if we choose not to develop spiritual disciplines in an ever-increasing measure.

This article is the first in the series and is titled What is Discipline?

Is Discipline the same as Punishment?

When the word “discipline” is mentioned, what images come to your mind?  What do you immediately think about?

If you are like me, one of the first thoughts in my mind when I think of “discipline” is “punishment.”  In fact, when I looked up “discipline” in the dictionary, the third definition was “punishment inflicted by way of correction.”

Growing up, I can remember very well what it meant to be disciplined, at school and at home.  It went something like this:  if you break a rule, there is a consequence, and that consequence always was unpleasant and almost always involved pain.  So, the word discipline for me doesn’t always conjure up the most rewarding of images.   I literally chuckled to myself when I read that definition, thinking about what it must be like for some non-Christians to hear a preacher urge them to “engage in spiritual disciplines.”  (Sometimes, the language we use in the church without enough explanation probably can cause some pretty strange thoughts in people’s minds.)

Discipline in Spiritual Matters is about Relationships

But “discipline” is not, in and of itself, negative.  In fact, when speaking in terms of “spiritual disciplines” it is not negative at all.  Rather, “discipline” as it relates to our spiritual lives means the development of habits relating to the choices that we make regarding what we do with our time and energy.  It involves how we involve our minds and our hearts in our daily activities.  It is about acting a certain way because we have been trained to act that way, even when we don’t feel like acting that way.  It is about our priorities.

Spiritual disciplines lead us to make choices, form habits and develop priorities in our lives that enhance our understanding of who God is, determine God’s purposes for us, and keep us focused on Him even when we don’t feel like it.

Spiritual disciplines help us make wise choices in the moment, change how we speak to and work with others, direct how we love our wives and husbands, and impact how we raise our children.

The Bottom Line is Relationship Building

The bottom line is that spiritual disciplines are about moving us into deeper relationships with God and with others on behalf of God.

What’s Next …

What specifically constitutes a “spiritual discipline” and why we need to develop them in an ever-increasing measure are the topics of my next post. . . .